Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Padre Chiqui – Part 3: Paul Maquet’s Biography

I first learned about Padre Chiqui from a Web page designed by Paul Maquet in 2004 as a digital journalism project at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Unfortunately, the University has now removed the project from its Web site. I found a copy of the page in the Internet Archive, though without all of its wonderful photos. Here is a translation of Maquet’s biographical article on Chiqui:

In El Agustino, there is nobody who doesn’t know his name. "Cura Chiqui, Padre Chiqui, Padrecito Chiqui”. Who is this Spanish priest who came to Latin America following the trail of Che Guevara and the music of Silvio Rodriguez, who became a buddy of the bravest gang members in the Southern Command when he was chaplain of Alianza Lima, their beloved team, and who, according to popular myth, is one of the founders of Los Mojarras, as well as a confessor of Fidel Castro?


The beginning

José Ignacio Mantecón, better known as "Cura Chiqui”, was born in Saragossa on March 16, 1949, during the administration of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. One may wonder where the son of a wealthy right-wing family in Franco’s Spain, got the impetus for social change that led him, years later, to Latin America. Except for one Republican uncle who fought in the civil war and therefore had to go into exile in Mexico when fascism triumphed, Chiqui did not have much of a "leftist" background in the family. But since he only knew his Mexican relatives many years later, we must wait until his 17th year, when he entered the Jesuit novitiate, where he found another world, a world of committed people. Thanks to the work of the Company, he discovered the reality of the poor in Spain, inequality, popular struggles. The labor unions, for example, came clandestinely to the parishes to print their fliers, because the only available mimeograph machines were those of the Church, which was not, as is usually thought, completely “in alliance” with Franco.

After the novitiate, he moved to Madrid and was in the classroom for 4 years, studying the material required to become a priest. Chiqui confesses that his experience with philosophy was "a disaster" because he didn’t like it. However, he liked to sing, something he had begun to do in the Latin American clubs he used to frequent. Thus he established his first contacts with the sudacas. He made Peruvian friends and was linked very strongly to Latin music and folklore, listening to Victor Jara, Atahualpa Yupanqui, Silvio Rodríguez ... He also got to know liberation theology and was seduced by our continent, where revolution seemed to be just around the corner. "The problem," he says, "is that the block never ends.”

In Peru

In the 10 years that separated his leaving the novitiate and his settling in Peru in 1980, he spent two years at a high school in Alicante, four working in a support center for children from marginal sectors, and came for four summers to support the work of Fe y Alegría in Lima. Finally he decided to settle here. "I came to Peru as I could have come to any other place," he admits. However, priests usually come once, help out, visit and go back to their homeland. "But I do not know this was how it was done and I came four times."

Once settled, he returned to the old ways and the hectic life. He worked in the office of Fe y Alegría, an international organization for popular education that had about 30 high schools in Peru in those days. Part of Chiqui’s work was visiting all of them from time to time, so he was able to get to know north, center and south, coast, sierra and jungle. He was often in Cusco, Huaraz, Jaén, Piura, Tacna and countless places in which Fe y Alegría is present. According to him, he travelled "by air and by truck, with pigs and lambs."

All this activity did not prevent him from resuming his bohemian habits. He began to frequent Barranco and its bars where, apart from making friends, many of them musicians, he started to sing again, even if only once in a while. He was a regular at "Taberna 1900" in the center of the district.

The choice of El Agustino

Little by little he became convinced that he should live together with people he worked with. Thus in 1985 he moved from downtown Lima to Cerro El Agustino. From then on he worked in Virgen de Nazaret parish, a few blocks from the municipal building. Gradually, Chiqui became known in the neighborhood, working with the street musicians, playing soccer with the boys from the area, working with civic organizations, which were more vigorous then than today. Among other things, he help to form Los Mojarras and organize the first Agustirock in 1989, a historical event through which some of the best rock bands in Peru were discovered.

Chiqui came as El Agustino was reaching its peak of political violence. More than 70 agustinianos died during the war between Sendero Luminoso, MRTA, and the state. The three private banks that existed in the area were blown up then. It was a time of fear: civic leaders, managers, workers, some of them close friends of Chiqui, were killed. During the same years, Chiqui developed a ministry of personal support for the many prisoners in jail for terrorism in Lurigancho, Castro Castro, and Chorrillos. Coming every week, he met with the prisoners, talked to them, and offered Mass.

The work today: Gangs

The Shining Path terror ended, as we know, in the early 90s. However, the long experience of violence, extreme poverty, family disruption and drug use became a dangerous cocktail that encouraged the emergence of up to 53 youth gangs. Chiqui’s love of sports and his aliancista heart, which led him to be chaplain of Alianza Lima, enabled him to gain the confidence of the then most dangerous leaders of the Southern Command, the hooligan fans of his beloved team. So, for those things in life and thanks to the initiative of individual staff members concerned about street violence, Chiqui has spent the last decade involved in the rehabilitation of gang members, who are currently serving their community.


Chiqui is a priest. He is, officially, since he got out of the novitiate in 1970. However, there seems to be no way of identifying him, physically, as a priest, unless one knows. He only wore a cassock for two years, a black one that had nothing to do with the colorful character that he is today.

Service, hope and dignity

"What does the priesthood mean to you?" I asked. "It's a way of serving the needy" he replied with confidence. "But," we insist, "you have a very distinctive way of being a priest." "Well," he laughs, "there are as many ways as there are people." Chiqui is upset when we say that he stands out. He prefers to go unnoticed, as he has always done. In high school, on the soccer team, in the novitiate, in the bands he has played in ... he has always been the smallest. Hence his nickname.

"The gospel of Jesus," – now he is inclined to talk -- "leads me to try to do what He did with His life. He worked with the marginalized: the prostitutes, the poor, the social sinners -- because they were not "sinners" in the religious sense but were marginalized. If I, as a Jesuit priest, have given up other things, it has been to bring words of hope and dignity to those in need."

Mass with Chiqui?

"Chiqui has always gotten into our heads that a Mass does not have to be dead," says Daniel, a friend of El Agustino. His homilies (or, in common terms, his sermons) are very brief, lasting only 10 to 15 minutes and aim to encourage people to participate, to think. He always deals with issues of social context and can say controversial things, or use double entendres, seeking to light a spark and for the faithful to “come out of their shells,” says Daniel. And he doesn’t just talk, but celebrates the Mass in such a way that the participants have an active role.

As a priest, Chiqui has a very strong profile. He doesn’t view the gospel from a contemplative perspective, but as a living testimony that makes sense with, for and among people. At the same time, he doesn’t worry about priestly "paraphernalia". "I am as I am," Daniel tells us he once heard him say, "and I feel that God accepts me this way. I have no reason to live with hypocrisy." He only wore a cassock for two years in the novitiate and one other time: in the extremely Spanish allegiance to the flag ceremony, when young men finish compulsory military service. Chiqui did not serve, since he was exempt thanks to the priesthood. But, yes, he had to attend the ceremony, and he had to do it in his black cassock. For two years he has worn an earring in his left ear. He says he always wanted to wear one, but was recently inspired after working with the gang members: all of them wear some kind of chain. He also wears all sorts of chains and, when he still had enough hair, he wore it long. When we took the photos [no longer available, alas] for this Web page, we asked him to wear a small cross – at every moment we would say: "Look at the cross, hold the cross in your hands, point to the cross ...". At one point, being fed up, he surprised us by saying: "What a fetish you are making of this cross, when I never wear a cross!"

"What does being a Jesuit mean to you?," we asked him at another time. He replied that the Society of Jesus has always been a kind of "frontier post" of the Church: its priests settle in places where nobody else goes and work from there, where it’s happening. He is not just referring to the communities in the Paraguayan jungle, in the colonial era. There are also the anti-Franco worker priests, American priests who supported the civil rights movement, and the Church committed to the poor -- in Latin America, to liberation theology.

Daily revolution

Religion is not just offering Mass and blessing images, and our character has serious problems of principle with the latter role. Viewing the priesthood as service and commitment has led Chiqui to some political participation. We asked how he has combined both aspects in his life, and the first thing he told us was that there is one human being, and you cannot artificially separate the various aspects.

Daniel told us that Chiqui is distrustful of broad social change and he has chosen to make the revolution in everyday life instead. Through direct contact with those around him, bearing witness and being an example in the trenches themselves, understanding people, listening to them. Chiqui, however, felt uncomfortable when asked again if he tried to make revolution in his daily life. "The true revolutionary would say that I haven’t done anything," he said. "I'd love to, but I’m not up for it." Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Monseñor Romero, Che Guevara made revolutions ... those who risked their lives to make "what the world should be" a reality.

We insisted, and we asked him what he thought of that phrase that is so popular in this era of (anti) globalization: "Think globally, act locally." "Acting locally, in any case," he says with conviction. It is very easy to say "I love the whole world," but if you don’t love those around you, those are empty words. "In this global world dominated by the few, I hope that some of the things I do in my particular world will serve the rest of humanity."


Popular legend has him as one of the founders of Los Mojarras, the agustiniano rock group that, led by Cachuca and fused with chicha, criolla music and other local rhythms, was an icon of Peru in the 90s. Chiqui said it wasn’t that much, he only sang with them a few times at the beginning. What is true is that, in many ways, music has been a consistent feature on the life of our character.

Playing and listening to all good music

As a young man, over there in Spain, he says he started, without knowing English, listening and playing the folk songs of the 60s, especially Bob Dylan. Then he discovered Latin American folk music and was enchanted. He knows all kinds of cuecas, Argentinian zambas, and Brazilian, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan music... In Alicante, where he stayed for two years, he frequented the Latin American clubs that had become popular and began to sing in them. He was also part of a group called "Mezcla" ( "like Mocedades," he says) that played with voices and sounds. They were 7 boys and girls who played at festivals.

Through music he made his first contacts with Cuba, a country with which he has close ties and for which he has great admiration today. He was also in Nicaragua in the mid-90s, and met Carlos Mejía Godoy, a well-known popular singer linked to the Sandinista Revolution and author of the famous "Misa Campesina." In Peru, in his early years, he was a regular at the barranquina "1900 Tavern," where he also sang, for example, songs by Joaquin Sabina, another of the musicians he admires.

Then we asked him what music he liked. He answered: "All good music" and then, recognizing that this phrase is tantamount to saying nothing, he made a list. He listens to classical music, especially Baroque -- Mozart and Beethoven. He loves world folk music, and in terms of rock, he prefers the 60s. He says that blues is essential and that he loves salsa, but is a disaster when dancing it. And, of course, he listens to the so-called "singer/songwriters": Sabina, Silvio Rodríguez, Serrat ...

What about Mass music?

When we talk about music and a priest, we immediately ask about the songs of the Mass. On this issue, Chiqui is withering: "Church music is usually very bad." In previous centuries, the most beautiful melodies were composed to be played during Mass. The classical symphonies of Beethoven and Bach, the Gregorian chants (which fascinate him), are all examples of music with a religious purpose. "How is it possible," he complains, "that now there is nothing that compares to that?" For him, what is played during Mass is boring, inappropriate and simply wrong. But he can’t do anything. The choir sings, and he usually lets them.


"Agustirock" is the well-remembered annual agustiniano rock festival. Its first version took place in 1989 and was a tremendous boom for national music. Los Mojarras and La Sarita came out of it, among other local groups, and played Mar de Copas, G3 and other important Peruvian rock venues.

Chiqui says that a group of kids who played and composed went to SEA (Servicios Educativos El Agustino, an NGO located in the local parish), and it facilitated space for them. Later they got to know Cachuca, who had emerged as a local youth leader. With the support of the parish they got their first instruments, then the idea of organizing a great musical event came up. The dream, still unfinished, was that El Agustino would become a cultural district, a center of attraction and dissemination of Peruvian culture. In the earlier versions, Chiqui sang some songs accompanied by Los Mojarras. Chiqui insists that, in fact, he is a terrible singer and that those who have played with him have a lot of patience. Due to work, he has stopped playing continuously for several years, even though there is a rehearsal room in the parish.

Kura Chiqui" was announced on the poster for the most recent “Agustirock” organized on October 30th of this year, and titled "In October there are miracles", since up until 6 years ago it didn’t happen. We attended to listen to him. However, he failed to participate: a baptism, a marriage and a Mass prevented him from doing so. Anyway, we took the opportunity to see the latest versison of the historic concert and listen to Cachuca live. All kinds of groups played -- some very bad, others remarkably good. Almost invariably, the songs talked about reality. The audience was mixed: there were the youngest ones, dressed in black and imitating the anarchist aesthetic, who boogied again and again in the center; and there were also those who were kids in 1989, who shouted, when the “main dish” came out: "Cachuca, I love you!"


He's Sullivan. Once he was one of the most dangerous members of “Los Picheiros”, the primary one among the 53 youth gangs in El Agustino. Today, none of those gangs is active, and Sullivan is president of the Asociación Martin Luther King, which does community work, organizes sporting events and empowers young people as workers and microentrepreneurs. How did this change?

The first experience

In 1996 about 53 active gangs existed in “El Agucho”. Violence between them was an everyday occurrence. On any given day they could take over Riva Agüero Avenue, and in their war without quarter, confront each other with chains, knives and firearms, damaging shops and houses around the area. The gangs, spontaneous youthful fraternities built around theft, intertribal fighting, drugs and unconditional support for a soccer team (in the case of "Los Picheiros", Alianza Lima), was one of the problems characteristic of El Agustino.

The first experience of community work with gang members began at the initiative of Pablo the “chino”, a neighbor who, concerned by this problem, began to meet with other interested people in his home. He summoned the mayor, Chiqui himself, since he was an important figure in the neighborhood by then, and Commander Vizcarra, the chief of police. The latter was particularly enthused with the subject and began to meet with the gang members. Because of all this, the first inter-gang [soccer] championship was organized. According to Sullivan, that was "very cool, because the gangs got together but for something else, something healthier."

From prison to association

Unfortunately this first experiment ended thanks to a bad move by the mayor, Francisco Antiporta, who used his work with the gang members as political capital but never allowed access to a fund created to support this project (a fund that no one still knows anything about). After that, Sullivan, who was president of the Alianza hooligans, the dreaded "Southern Command," was arrested for attempted murder and remained in Lurigancho prison until 1998. There he had time to reflect and ask himself what he wanted to do with his life. And he made the decision to change. That's why today he can tell us that the first step, definitely, is to want to transform oneself. When he was released, he resumed contact with Chiqui, who was then serving as chaplain of Alianza, and he proposed to continue the project. From there the Asociación Martin Luther King emerged, which takes its name from the famous black fighter for civil rights. "He is a person who understood the value of peace and fought for racial equality," Sullivan explains.

Today they are all 100% dedicated to the success of this work. The association conducts training workshops and job training courses, finds psychological support for its members, organizes soccer tournaments (the association has 3 teams in different categories) and tries to spread this experience. They work together with gang members from other parts, who they locate from the squads, and encourage them to organize themselves in a similar way. Chiqui was recently invited by the Jesuits in Ayacucho, along with two boys of the association, to get to know the situation in Huamanga, a city now experiencing a very violent youth gang phenomenon, and trying to put together a similar project. The last time I talked to Chiqui, he was in a hurry. They had an important meeting because the El Agustino district had been chosen for a pilot project for rehabilitation of minors who commit a crime, so that, instead of going to jail -- where, on the other hand, "rehabilitation" is often purely hypothetical – they would do community service work.

"We are still a gang"

The gang is a type of brotherhood. They proliferate where the family has been broken, where parents have to work all day and the children see how they can get some money themselves, and along the way they get together with the other kids in the neighborhood and they find friends in them, accomplices who they trust completely. That situation has not disappeared. The gang as a human group continues: it plays fulbito, cleans the neighbors’ walls, which it used to daub with paint, organizes a Christmas party for children in the area, including chocolate. "We continue to be a gang," says Sullivan, "but not to do harm."

1 comment:

  1. Querida Rebel girl,
    Encontré de casualidad tu blog, y me siento muy feliz. Muchas gracias por la cita. Y espero que esta linda casualidad sea una buena oportunidad para seguir en contacto. Ahora mantengo un blog:
    Paul Maquet