– In the wake of Pope Francis’s 2015 trip to Paraguay, a local charity was founded in order to help feed dozens of children whose parents struggle to make ends meet.
The “Pope Francis Children’s Dining Hall” belonging to the Virgin of the Rosary Parish in the Diocese of Villarrica del Espíritu Santo in Paraguay, marked their first anniversary feeding almost 100 children of people who work part-time; and they hope to have many more anniversaries, giving love and care to the littlest ones.
Both the creation of the dining hall on Aug. 8, 2016, and its name are the fruit of Francis’s visit to Paraguay in July 2015, a tour in which he also visited Ecuador and Peru.
“Two years ago we had Pope Francis’s visit which was very moving for many people. Because of his closeness to the people, we wanted to put his name on the dining hall,” parish priest Father Claudio Figueredo told CNA.
“The pope with the children is even seen on the logo and we always keep him in our prayers, for his ministry.”
The dining hall is located in the rural town of Natalicio Talavera with a population of about 7,000 and lies 112 miles from Asuncion. Some people work in “changas” – sporadic jobs – and mostly in the country’s main crop, sugar cane.
“We started at zero. We had the house, but not pots, plates or utensils. Everything was borrowed. We started out with a stove and the first day five children came,” the priest said.
“There was a lot of leftover food. But already on the second day 30 children came and from there we steadily have between 60 and 90 children.”
Figueredo said that they began with the weekly lunches and two days with snacks. Today they are able to provide lunch and snacks every day and they also take care of the children while their parents work.
The children and adolescents cared for range from 1 to 15 years of age and their conditions include malnutrition, respiratory illnesses, loneliness, and teen pregnancy; and so the social work provides medical care, catechesis, recreational activities and food assistance for families.
“The dining hall is a place where (the children) meet each other and feel good. We do everything possible to take care of their needs,” the priest said.
Figueredo, who belongs to the Saint Michael the Archangel Congregation of Polish missionaries, came to Peru in 1976. He explained that the dining hall is sustained by donations from the faithful, other organizations and the Secretariat for Social Action of the government of Paraguay.
The house where the Pope Francis Children’s Dining Hall is provided has been equipped little by little with what it needs to function. On other occasions contributions even come for recreation such as a portable pool used in summer or a projector for use throughout the year.
Figueredo explained that other income that helps pay for expenses is the sale of baked goods that they make in the same facility every afternoon.
“We struggle every day. Our parish is very poor. Every day it’s hard to have what’s needed, but by the grace of God and Providence, we never lack,” he told CNA.
With that enthusiasm and faith in God, the priest said that they are already thinking of developing some craft projects for the children they serve there, “something which could help them develop their talents.”
The Virgin of the Rosary Parish also supports the Virgin of the Rosary Home, where 12 elderly reside, as well as the Saint Anthony of Padua Soup Kitchen in Doctor Botrell town.