(from Panama) Panama has two faces: there is a rich, visible, dazzling Panama with its glass skyscrapers. But that face of Panama is not the real one, for it represents only a small minority of the population. The real Panama is poor, covered in sand and clutter. It’s populated by people who struggle every day to find a job, to access healthcare services, education, drinking water. Far and beyond the political games of the Country, Pope Francis has decided to travel all the way over here. He decided that on Sunday January 27 he will visit Casa Hogar El Buen Samaritano that provides assistance and care to people affected by HIV/AIDS. The Centre is located in “Corigimiento de Juan Diaz”, only 3 km from the city centre, near the parish church of Santa Maria del Camino.
It all began in 2005, with an idea developed in the parish during the Holy Week. “If we believe in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus we must also believe that life is greater than death, anywhere in the world.” In order to give concrete witness to this intuition, it was decided to open the doors of the Centre to people with AIDS. They are the poorest of all.
They are victims of discrimination and prejudice, left alone, often abandoned by their own families.
This scourge affects 1% of the Panamanian population (especially indigenous peoples) totalling 30 to 40 thousand HIV/positive people.
Casa Hogar houses 16 people (11 men and 6 women), whose age range goes from 18 to 76-year-olds. Those are the most serious cases. The live in clean rooms, provided with basic necessities. A man is lying on a bed. He is suffering from withdrawal symptoms: high fever, tremors. Casa Hogar is also this. But there is also a dining hall, a kitchen, a laundry room, as well as a canteen that offers 60 free meals to poor people in the neighbourhood every day. In addition to residents, the Casa assists approximately 30 “external” families with a family member affected by AIDS but without the financial means to ensure medical treatment. The Centre had adopted a sexual education and prevention program addressed to youths in schools.
Dignity. In August Father Domingo Escobar, Director of the Casa, received a phone call from archbishop Ulloa Mendieta. He thought he was being contacted to be transferred to another parish. Instead, unexpectedly, he was told that Pope Francis would be visiting Casa Hogar during the WYD. “By coming here – he said – the Holy Father gives value not only to what we do but also to all those who live here. People with HIV/AIDS feel that they are worthless.
Once they contract the virus they feel that everything is lost, including their dignity.
With his presence Pope Francis will show that this is not true, that their life has immense value and that everyone can and must have a place in society. It helps them recover self-esteem.” Father Domingo is also the parish priest of Santa Maria del Camino , where he created an educational centre for children and adolescents at risk along with a carpentry workshop where he is working (he used to be a carpenter before entering the priesthood) on the creation of the chair and the kneeler that will be used by the Pope.
The program. The Centre is preparing for the Pope’s visit with a major revamp and cleaning up of the whole compound. The Pope will be welcomed at the main entrance by the directors of four Charity organizations of the Church. These include the Mother Teresa Sisters of Charity as well as homes for orphaned children and homeless people. The Pope will be meeting the guests of the Centre in a dedicated cloister. Father Domingo Escobar will welcome the Holy Father in person. We will thank him – he said – “on behalf of all people suffering in the Country and on behalf of the merciful face of the Panamanian Church, a Church that embraces the suffering Christ.” The Pope will be given a painting of the Holy Virgin depicted with the typical features of the indigenous people and wearing typical Panamanian garments. “We expect a strong message”, Rodriguez said, “focused on the poor, on those who are discarded, on people with HIV/AIDS. A message that touches people’s hearts with a gaze of Mercy to people living in the peripheries, that include the existential peripheries of our world.”