In 1985, when the then Pope John Paul II visited Ayacucho, Peru, he was deeply impressed by the large number of orphans resulting from the brutal violence of terrorism. He donated $50,000 to the local Church to establish homes for the care of these children.
At that time, Archbishop Federico Richter Prada of Ayacucho established the first Juan Pablo II Homes in Huanta and Huancapi, two of the areas most devastated by terrorism. In subsequent years, three more homes were opened: one in Vilcashuamán, and two for young adults in Villa Paloma and Villa Haydee, both in Huamanga.
Recognizing the need to continue the work initiated by Saint John Paul II and fund the maintenance of the Homes for Children and Youth Homes, the non-profit organization Asociación Emergencia Ayacucho (AEA) was established in Lima, the capital of Peru, in 1985. Two years later, a branch was set up in Miami.
Over the past 37 years, AEA, as stated by Úrsula Castañeda, Vice President of AEA in Miami, “has helped more than 1,800 children.” Today, with the support of the Canossian Sisters of the Cross, the Pallottine Fathers, and the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary, around 90 minors, aged 3 to 18, are cared for in the three homes. Additionally, 26 young adults without financial support, education, or essential life skills are accommodated in the two homes for young adults until they complete a technical or university career or reach the age of 23.
These children, many of whom are orphans, are no longer direct victims of terrorism. According to Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro of Ayacucho, during a visit to Miami, many have been abandoned due to family violence, parental abandonment, alcoholism, or because their parents are in prison and surrender their children to authorities. These authorities, in turn, place them in these homes.
“There are now many children who have been abandoned by their families because they do not have the means to raise them. There are also many families living in remote mountain areas, and these homes provide a safe place for their children to grow up,” said Castañeda.
In this region, “there is more than poverty. I would say there is a lot of misery. There is nothing, not even a factory,” added Castañeda. The only economic income comes from craftsmanship and tourism, and the Coronavirus pandemic has severely affected these sources.
The homes provide minors with an environment that addresses their biological, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. They are given shelter, food, care, and education funded by the association through events in Lima and Miami, such as galas, lunches, Christmas sales, and private donations.
During the latest gala in Miami on October 22, renowned Argentine tennis players Juan Martín del Potro and Juan Mónaco auctioned their time to play, contributing nearly $4,000, according to Castañeda.
“It is a very beautiful work, and we want to give it visibility,” she expressed. The visit of Archbishop Piñeiro to Miami, conveying a powerful message, “helps us raise awareness about this situation and find more people willing to help,” she added.
The Diocese of Ayacucho
The Diocese of Ayacucho is located in the Andes Mountains, between Lima—the capital of the country—and Cuzco, home to Machu Picchu. Founded in 1606, it is a very ancient diocese.
“Ayacucho is a very beautiful city, preserving all the Sevillian history of the first missionaries. The Ayacucho Baroque churches, processions, devotions from the first evangelization harmonize with the creative and artistic character of our people,” stated Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro after meeting with Archbishop Thomas Wenski at the Pastoral Center in Miami on October 24.
However, it is a very poor region with a challenging geography. In 1980, the terrorist movement Shining Path began in this region, spreading to other parts of the country and causing the most violent armed conflict in Peruvian history for 20 years. This conflict resulted in approximately 70,000 deaths and the disappearance of around 21,000 people, according to the last report issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the Peruvian government in 2003.
Many families in the diocese still cannot find closure and provide a Christian burial for their loved ones. “Unfortunately, we don’t know where those dead are. There is a lot of pain and a lot of suffering,” Archbishop Piñeiro lamented.
The diocese has 25 active parishes, 50 diocesan priests, 18 religious, and 20 seminarians. The most significant challenge faced by the diocese is its rugged geography. It is very difficult to reach the entire population due to the considerable distances between settlements, explained Archbishop Piñeiro.
While there is no shortage of vocations, poverty is a significant obstacle. Many seminarians cannot continue their studies because they have to financially support their families, leading them to leave the seminary and seek employment.
How to Help
If you want to learn more about the work of the Asociación Emergencia Ayacucho, make a donation, or volunteer, you can visit their website: call 305-299-2497, or visit https://aeamiami.com/.
Interested individuals can also volunteer for the organization, sponsor a child with an annual donation of $100 to provide them with a Christmas gift, including a pair of shoes or sneakers, an outfit, and a small present, as mentioned by Castañeda. Additionally, becoming members of AEA gives individuals the opportunity to travel to Ayacucho and meet these children.
“Helping these kids is giving them a chance to get ahead, and I believe that with the education they receive, we give them the opportunity to do so,” Castañeda concluded.