Father Ignatius Mary Donoro’s life changed some twenty years ago, when he saw children dying of malnutrition in the mountains of Panchimalco, San Salvador. Some of these little ones were sold to traffic with their organs. In Bogota, he also saw many minors wandering through the streets, drugging themselves with glue. He met children who earned their living ingesting gasoline, then setting it alight in their mouths to call attention to themselves and beg for coins at traffic lights. He suffered unspeakably when coming into contact with these children, who suffered all sorts of abuses. When learning of these situations of extreme moral and material misery, the Spanish priest felt he had no other option than to request a leave of absence as military chaplain to found Nazareth Home in the Peruvian jungle and live as a poor man among the poor. In this interview with ZENIT, Father Ignatius shares his vital testimony and reminds readers that “God is in the crucified children.”
ZENIT: How did your missionary vocation arise?
Father Donoro: Being a military chaplain, I was assigned to the Inchaurrondo barracks of the Civil Guard. Those civil guards lived with the constant threat of the ETA terrorist band, taking honor to its ultimate consequences. The principle of fulfilment of duty of a civil guard limits his will as a moral necessity; morality that must be internalized as one’s own. With a small group we created Anaitasun Eusko Elkartea and we presented ourselves in the town councils of Guipuzcoa –sympathizers of ETA, asking for subsidies to create homes for children in San Salvador. This obliged us to visit widows, to meet for dinner, to go out to breathe fresh air …. and, at the same time, save lives, giving that money a noble end. When you see a really crucified child, you forget yourself. I think God marked a before and after there <in my life>. The parish of the Inchaurrondo barracks became a missionary parish.
ZENIT: Is it the same thing for you to be a priest and a missionary?
Father Donoro: I always prayed to be a holy priest, I preached this … but deep down I didn’t believe it. Either saints or dead I repeated to myself frequently. The years passed and I became more bourgeois… Perhaps I was too attached to the loyalty of the Civil Guard, I loved them too much, and if I became a missionary it would be as though betraying them …
The generosity and kindness of my Bishop, Monsignor Jose Maria Yanguas Sanz, whom I scarcely knew as I was exercising my priestly ministry in the Military Archbishopric, encouraged me … When a Bishop so loves his priests and is a father, how easy it is to say yes.
ZENIT: What was the first thing you thought when you arrived in Peru?
Father Donoro: My God, what have I done … I won’t be able to get used to living in such precariousness and, even worse, I will never be able to distance myself from pain. The blood of the crucified children, Christ’s blood, was falling on my head. Either I ran away or remained at the cross by Jesus’ feet. And Mary is always at the cross; having your Mother by your side you lose all fear; there is no better company.
ZENIT: At some point did you feel disappointed, wanting to abandon your undertaking?
Father Donoro: Every night, after praying Compline, I said: Lord, I’ll leave tomorrow. When you want to back down, God is silent … The next day, I heard His answer: you are going away, but I will stay here.
I will recount a little anecdote: I had been in Puerto Maldonado only three months and was thinking of the possibility of closing Nazareth Home, as I couldn’t stand the suffering of the children. For twenty years I had traveled to countries founding rescue homes in risky situations … However, it’s very different to help from Spain, obtaining resources as is spending time in extreme situations … Now I was sharing their same fortune, being one of them. I wasn’t prepared for so much suffering.
One night Tarek arrived, with a policewoman holding him by the hand. The court’s psychologist said that he had never seen such a damaged patient, who was only five years old; he had been used for sexual and bloody sado-masochistic practices.
He spent one night with us. The doctors decided to send him the following day to a children’s hospital in Lima, to be treated by psychiatrists. When those connected with the court left, he began to scream. The hours passed and not knowing what to do, I woke up the ice cream vendor at two o’clock in the morning and I put a chocolate ice cream in his mouth and he fell silent.
The next day they did not come to collect him. The days passed, his stay was extended because of the complicated bureaucracy. One day I took him, singing and dancing, to the kindergarten, and from then on he wanted to do the same thing every day. Vitamins, medicines for parasites and much affection changed his physical appearance. He was baptized; we celebrated his birthday … He felt loved.
Four months later they came to take him to the hospital. He was unrecognizable, he looked like a normal child. The policewoman who had brought him, wept. The psychologist couldn’t believe the change. They asked Tarek if he wanted to stay or go with them “to a super house.” His answer was: “Who will take me singing to the kindergarten? I must take care of Father Ignatius; the children are very mischievous. “
I hadn’t done a thing for him, I only loved him, knowing that for one night or two, or whatever the time, I had the privilege of taking care of the Child Jesus. How could I close Nazareth Home when God was showing His will so forcefully? Children are His favorites, and He works innumerable miracles. Tarek stayed for a year, until the Judge gave provisional custody to his Aunt. He comes to see us often, and continues to like chocolate ice cream.
ZENIT: Why did you decide to dedicate your life to Nazareth Home?
Father Donoro: God is, without a doubt, in the crucified children. It is God who lives on the street terrified with fear; it is God Himself who works as a slave … He has been sexually abused. I cannot look elsewhere. Nazareth Home is His home. Jesus returns two thousand years later to His home. It is a work of mercy of the Church, which tries to restore to the poorest children among the poor, the rights that have been infringed: the right to identity, to health, to a family, the right to feel special and to be loved.
Beyond the adverse circumstances lived, their real family is not that which is given them by birth, but that which they freely choose. Nazareth Home is a supernatural family born of God’s dream, who claims new men and women, a true family forever.
They are accepted just as they are; they don’t feel judged. Each child is unrepeatable, essential, unique. They learn to communicate and to relate. They are not educated to be happy in the future, but to be happy today. The successes and happiness of another, is that of all.
It’s not only a place where they grow; it is an indispensable pillar for their emotional wellbeing, where their personality will be forged, their interior balance and control of their will. They know God as a loving Father who loves them to the point of folly, who always listens to them, and with whom they can talk, the best friend whom they can trust. The Lord acts and they let themselves be acted upon.
When new children arrive, they are surprised by the welcome, generosity, good humor and attitude of service. Each child is one more brother who must face challenges, who is not permitted to feel sorry for himself and who helps to forgive and to forgive himself. They assume responsibilities in keeping with their age. Their opinions, aspirations and desires are taken into account. We ask them not to be afraid to take decisions and to assume the consequences. One profits more from errors than from successes The children are not the future for Nazareth Home, but the present full of future.
ZENIT: How can one evangelize when the situations are so difficult?
Father Donoro: Nazareth Home is Christ’s cry on the cross. It’s impossible not to see Christ among the poorest of the poor and to feel His presence. The soul is pierced again and again and to talk about what you try to live, being one more of them, is difficult. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
ZENIT: Where do you get your strength to remain faithful?
Father Donoro: Without a doubt, from the Mass.
ZENIT: What other projects are you working on at present?
Father Donoro: From the first moment Monsignor Rafael Alfonso Escudero Lopez-Brea welcomed Nazareth Home with much enthusiasm. It was a great desire, of the diocesan church of Moyobamba, to look after children in extreme situations. We have created a Nazareth Home for girls in San Jose de Sisa and in a few months we will finish the construction of the home for boys in Carhuapoma, Bellavista … and two other homes are planned beyond Moyobamba.
ZENIT: What is the Christmas message for people today?
Father Donoro: Christmas without Jesus isn’t Christmas. And, being born in a stable, God shows the way to follow. Nazareth Home is one of the mangers of the world where God is born. Put yourself in an attitude of listening. It is the Child God that, cradling in your arms, now asks that you cradle His own, and to trust. I beg you to look at www.hogarnazaret.es the Child God’s tenderness will not leave you indifferent. You can leave your gift to the Child God in: La Caixa ES32 2100 5450 6102 0009 4211