Roquetas de Mar - Mission in the peripheries (PeBeFa nr 39)
The phenomenon of migration is not a new reality. Even our European countries have been shaped by migration throughout history. Today, as we can see around us, this phenomenon has polarised certain segments of the population. The misunderstanding of the problem of migration, as well as the poor explanation of the facts, make the answers given equally insufficient. Neither the politicians who invest incredible sums of money in strengthening the borders, nor the media help to see with serenity and a positive vision the arrival of new and different people on these lands. Fear and suspicion seem to have the upper hand at the moment; the challenge of moving from hostility to hospitality remains.
The Community of Roquetas de Mar was born during the mandate of the Provincial Father Benito Undurraga (1992-1998). At the Christmas meeting of priests in Aguadulce in 1997, a Missionary of Africa proposed to the Bishop a possible collaboration of the Missionaries of Africa with the Diocese of Almeria among African immigrants. The bishop was very interested and suggested to the White Fathers to make a proposal. Several options were considered: to take charge of a parish or to dedicate themselves to the integration of Africans in the different parishes where they were. The latter option was chosen, and the missionaries helped the parish priests in this task. At the end of 1999 the dialogue with the Bishop of Almeria was resumed and at the beginning of 2000 a contract was signed for three years, valid until January 2003 and renewable every three years. On 12 January 2000, Fathers Joaquín Alegrías (missionary in Malawi) and Gabriel Cuello (missionary in Mali) were temporarily installed in the parish of Parador (Roquetas de Mar) and the following year they moved to Roquetas de Mar, to a house in the “neighbourhood of 200 houses”, where many African migrants live; at the same time, they were entrusted with the parish of Saint John the Baptist, which had not yet been built.
The Community welcomes migrants (mainly Sub-Saharans) who come to Roquetas de Mar, full of dreams and illusions after having put their lives in danger during the long journey on the sea. It is a project of welcome, attention to others and help in the integration of so many brothers and sisters from the desert and the sea.
There are two aspects to this project: The first is directly pastoral, with a catechumenate for young people and adults, and the second is of a social nature. In these two areas, we collaborate with a group of more than twenty volunteers: retired or active teachers, doctors, lawyers, religious and priests.
We are an international and intercultural community: Oscar, a Mexican, who has worked in Ghana; Cesáreo Hoyuela, a Spaniard, missionary in Burkina Faso; Alick Mwamba, a Zambian, missionary in Burkina Faso and Mali, and a Rwandan seminarian. We live in the “neighbourhood of 200 houses” which, despite its bad reputation in the rest of the city, is a friendly, lively, colourful and multicultural place. Here you get a taste of Africa in this city which is renowned throughout Spain for its tourism.
The neighbourhood where we live is also a place where newcomers from Africa are often welcomed by people from their own country: they welcome them, feed them and help them take their first steps in this new country, even to find a small job in agriculture.
Welcoming and accompanying, promoting and integrating as Pope Francis proposes, seems to be the best way to describe our mission in Roquetas de Mar. These attitudes are united in a concrete way, on the one hand, by the social dimension of our presence (Africa Intercultural Centre and all its social services), and on the other hand, by a specifically religious dimension (Catechumenate for African migrants in several parishes in our region). The experiences of the mission in Africa, which have transformed us into what we are today, help us in our ministry of compassion, which is essential in these circumstances.
Migrants live in a social context that does not always value them; they live in groups, but far from their own families; they are alone and have little opportunity to find a suitable spouse. They live with the pain of knowing that the “milk and honey” they were looking for is within their reach, without yet belonging to them. They are all strong and resilient people.
This is how we remain faithful to our missionary vocation and to the charism of our founder Lavigerie who invited us to “love Africa and Africans”. Our mission continues in this coastal town in the south of Spain, which is right across from Africa. It is the same mission that we accepted the call in our youth to announce the Good News to Africans.
Juan Manuel Pérez Charlín