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Fr Pepe and women

· The Testimony ·

It is not possible to describe Fr José María “Pepe” Di Paola solely through his works in the villas miserias of Buenos Aires, the improvised shanty towns that have spread in the opulent heart of the Argentine metropolis. And yet what he does among these little shacks of metal sheets has brought this true prophet of our times into the limelight. In his own way Di Paola continues the experience of those priests who at the time of the Council chose to go and live in the Argentine favelas to support the struggles of the people in that marginalized world who were demanding their fundamental rights, such as drains, electricity and schools. “My task is to foster in the heart of the villas a fabric of Christian life to save the lives of children and young people from the scourge of drugs and alienation”, says Fr Pepe. Today, among the ramshackle alleys of Villa La Cárcova – which sprung up on a rubbish dump in the municipal area of San Martín – he has been entrusted with the pastoral care of three other villas on the banks of the Río Reconquista, the second-most polluted river in the country. “I am deeply grateful to Francis for his messages and, above all, for his call to the poor Church for the poor. In the northern hemisphere too, there are Souths, as well as many opportunities to bear witness to a ‘Church that steps out of herself’”. We asked Fr Pepe what he has learned over the years from the men and women who live in the villas miserias: “The first response that comes from life in a favela is giving, asking nothing in return, which is the exact opposite of exploitation. Only giving freely allows one to struggle for a different future where the sad ritual of hatred does not trample on the taste for life, on human relationships and, with them, on all hope. Giving freely is the basis for building together and seeking solutions today. Another important aspect is that redemption from suffering and from poverty already begins, in the villas miserias, by defeating alienation and discouragement, individualism and indifference. We can all learn religious devotion and solidarity from the villeros [inhabitants]. In the villas religious feeling is their daily bread: there is no agnosticism but everyone, those affiliated to different denominations too, has a religious sense”. What is the life of women like? “They are fundamental and, paradoxically, poverty accelerates their social insertion. They must work and this becomes an important element for understanding the relationship of parity between men and women which predominates in these districts. There are women who work down in the city in hospitals or in hotels, with humble jobs for just over 1,000 pesos per month. Here men care for the children and prepare the food. We know very well that the crisis mainly affects women because, among the poor, it is they who are the poorest. Indeed, all too often the complementarity between men and women has been described in androcentric and hierarchical terms based on stereotypes. Development that accentuates the difference between the sexes, creating discrimination in social activities between male and female, is synonymous with underdevelopment, and paradoxically, here there is development in underdevelopment. This complex life system of the villa miseria has a concrete poverty which consists in satisfying daily needs of a material kind but which does not go hand in hand with another form of poverty: a cultural poverty that concerns the sphere of the man-woman relationship”. (@PerezSilvina)

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