Santiago, Chile, Sep 18, 2018 / 12:06 am (ACI Prensa).- Every Wednesday night, 87-year-old Elena Donaire goes out onto the streets of Santiago, Chile, to meet the homeless and attend to their needs.
For 40 years, Donaire has taken part in the “Street Route” of the Hogar de Cristo (Christ’s Home), an organization that includes numerous outreach programs and facilities to help the poor.
Donaire starts her evening by fixing sandwiches, boiling water and organizing the warm clothing that she will give to the people she encounters on the streets. When everything is ready, the volunteers leave in their van.
Donaire is often the first to get out of the van to begin serving. Many of the homeless people on the streets of Santiago know her and greet her by the affectionate title “Dear Mama.” The other volunteers call her by the nickname “Grandma.”
In an interview with the Archdiocese of Santiago’s communications office, Donaire explained that her mission has its origin in her friendship with Saint Alberto Hurtado.
Known in Chile as Padre Hurtado, the Jesuit priest, author and lawyer founded Christ’s Home, a network of homeless shelters that also included trade schools, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities to serve the poor.
He was beatified in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and canonized in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI.
Before Hurtado died in 1952, Donaire said she had “promised him to continue serving the people just as he did.”
“That’s the biggest reason I have to continue helping – it’s a joy for me,” Donaire said. “I am going out on the street until he calls me from above. I know that if he were alive, he would be here on the street helping along with me, I would like to be at his side.”
Remembering the Jesuit saint, Donaire said that “he didn’t smile a lot, but when it was an occasion for smiling, he was always there with us. He enjoyed sharing with the people, especially the children, he treated them with such love and affection that it still moves me to this day to remember those moments. I have never met a person as good and committed as he was.”
For Donaire, who lives alone in a small house and works selling clothes in a street market, “It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, or cold, there are no excuses for not going out on Wednesdays.”
“I anxiously wait for [the other volunteers] to come and pick me up for the simple reason that I want to be with these people. I like them and they make me happy. I know their stories and they tell me them.”
She acknowledged that she sometimes feels bad that she cannot do more to help the homeless people she encounters on the streets.
“I know I am going home to a house, I’m going to get a good night’s sleep, and I see that these people aren’t going to,” she said.
Still, she stressed the importance of doing what one can to help those in need.
“Help your brothers on the street,” she encouraged. “Many times, it’s enough just to talk with them, to listen to them, to find out how they are doing. I assure you that [they] feel happier just to share their troubles with someone. We all have commitments or things to do, but making an effort doesn’t cost anything.”
This article was originally published by our sister agency, ACI Prensa. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.