Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The motivating spirit of Padre Chiqui

Another article about one of our favorite Jesuits...

By Luis Silva Nole (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Comercio
November 2, 2012

He says he remembers he's a senior citizen only when they give him a seat on the combi. That changing the streets into attractive spaces full of art, music, and sports is the infallible formula for getting young people away from gangs and drugs. That what he most detests is the contempt that people often have for their neighbor.


At 63, José Ignacio Mantecón Sancho, Father 'Chiqui' to everyone, is one of the most beloved personalities in El Agustino, and he's clear about it. "Many treat the gang members like animals and they aren't aware that they're human beings who just want a helping hand. I understood that the best way to help them is to put oneself in their context, to know what they lack, their needs."

This Jesuit priest came to Peru in 1984 to work in the Fe y Alegría schools, but it was in the working class 'Agucho' that he solidified not only his pastoral work as the pillar of Virgen de Nazaret parish, but also his effective work of separating the hooligans, gang members and addicts from vice and violence by channeling their misdirected energy positively through music and sports.

After more than two decades of making ways straight, 'Chiqui' continues to be the driving force behind the Asociación de Grupos Juveniles de El Agustino Martin Luther King (MLK), which he formed in the mid-1990s with former members of the Los Picheiros gang. Soccer was, and is, the main expression of the association. Its major team is a regular star of the league championships on dirt fields. Its minor divisions, thanks to Chiqui's measures and contacts, rub elbows with the coaches of the Real Madrid Foundation both in Lima and in the Spanish capital.

"In El Agustino I've seen kids who have known people killed by bullets or stoning. That's very sad. Although this has decreased, there's still a lot to do. That's why I promoted soccer and music with Agustirock [an annual rock concert in the neighborhood], so that these young people would have meaning. Happily, the police also support the work," the priest tells El Comercio.

"I feel Peruvian. My people, my life is in El Agustino. "If the Church transfers me some day," he exclaims, "I would like it to be to a place where there's also need." Although he was born in Zaragoza, Spain, Father Chiqui now has a Peruvian DNI [national ID card] and he admits that nostalgia is the last thing he feels when he visits his native land. That's what happened last week when he was in Madrid, heading up the Peruvian delegation that participated in a 3-way, under-13 7-a-side soccer game, with a Chilean team and Real Madrid itself.

Most of the delegation were members of the team from the Fe y Alegría school No. 3 in Pamplona, which got its trip to the Old Continent after beating MLK in the final of the third Endesa Cup. That tournament took place thanks to support from the company which generates and distributes electricity, and the Real Madrid Foundation, which promotes the sport among kids with limited resources thanks to an agreement signed with Chiqui's MLK Association.

He doesn't like being addressed by the formal "usted" and wears sleeveless shirts. The earring that protrudes from his left ear and the contagious rock beat that he shares whenever they get a guitar for him show his youthful spirit.

"I would have gone on playing soccer if I hadn't torn the ligaments in my heel a couple of years ago," the priest states. And he laments the many times the Church forgets to look for the lost sheep, leaving behind the ninety-nine others, as Jesus himself preached.

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