2019-07-24

Curas Villeros: the Social Leaders inside the villas of Argentina

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Many of Voluntario Global’s projects are in the villas —deprived neighborhoods in the outskirts of Buenos Aires— and inside them the social and political activism is completely merged with religion.

The main leaders of the communities are the curas villeros. We decided to interview two priests, Padre Néstor Cruz García and Agustín Martens, and ask them about what religiousness in the neighborhoods is like and the role of religion and politics in the community. 

What is it like to be a cura villero?

AM: Being a cura villero is living in the neighborhood, feeling, praying, enjoying and suffering the things that happen in the neighborhood. I can think of plenty of situations that could be a sign of this.

NCG:Being a cura villero is choosing to live next to the disadvantaged, immersed in the neighborhood’s reality. It's also leaving behind the priest’s idealized image. It's to be simple and approachable, acting like an ordinary person. It’s speaking about Jesus from the community’s reality and to live in a similar way as Jesus did, whom also immersed himself in the neighborhood’s life.

According to your experience, what does it mean for the community having a church in the neighborhood?

NCG:We talk about having A COMMUNITY in the neighborhood because a church is all the territory that a priest covers, whereas a community is a meeting between neighbors who live faith together. When a community is created, many things start occurring in the neighborhood: people meet to share God’s word, organize meetings and parties, worry about children and families and help the poors. It can be said that the church is present in the community and this kind of church is different: it is the church where the poor are the leaders.

AM: Sometimes for the neighborhoods having a church means not being forgotten, remembered by God. Sometimes it means having a defense when rights are violated and need to be protected. Having a church is also having a meeting venue and a growing space; for example, when a baby is born or when the national holidays are being celebrated and people go around the neighborhood with their own joys and sorrows.

What are the current challenges in building a community in the neighborhood?

NCG: The big challenges are that people are losing faith, that everything has become very individualistic, that we need good and enthusiastic leaders. Today’s poverty is a big challenge because just as it can disencourage us and make us give up, it can push us to unite more and fight for justice and peace for everyone.

AM:We have to acknowledge that the call to revision and renovation that churches have received, hasn’t given enough results so they can be closer to the people and there can be spaces of live comunion and participation. The pope says that the church is “the same church that lives in the homes of its sons and daughters”. This means that it should really be in contact with the households and the town’s life and that it shouldn’t be transformed into a prolix structure away from the people.

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