Monday, October 29, 2012

On The Life Of Fr. Luis G. Verplancken, S.J.

The nurse stopped before a wall decorated with enlarged photos converted into pictures. They were images of Tarahumara children, wrinkled like old men and women , with sparse hair, arms without muscles, bellies swollen by misery or skin so taut that all their ribs were showing as if they were washboards. A sign identified one of the "little skeletons" with the name of Lorena. Next to it, another photo taken months later shows a small chubby and smiling girl held up by a priest. It is Lorena. "When her father came for her and we brought her to him, he said to us: 'No, this is not my daughter.' He did not recognize her", commented the nurse smiling. Then he continued to walk through the Santa Teresita Clinic in Creel, the most famous town in the Tarahumara Sierra. The priest, who in these and many other photos, holds the undernourished and sometimes agonizing Tarahumara children, is the Jesuit Luís Guillermo Verplancken, the creator of the mountain clinic which, according to the calculations of one priest, at one time, managed to save the lives of more than 400 children a year. Saturday at 6:00, overcome by cancer, this man died who had lived for 52 years dedicated to the Tarahumara Indians or "Rarámuris" as they call themselves and who became in institution in the mountains. He not only made a hospital for the Raramuris from where medical brigades for giving attention and taking care of the community went out. He also founded two boarding schools where the students learned in their language and in Spanish. He created the first craft store where the Indians can sell their products. He translated the Bible to Raramuri. He built a museum of sacred art and several temples. He dug more than 50 wells in isolated communities and in others he implemented systems to capture rain water. He collaborated with the Arareko community on the creation of an artificial lake which is a tourist destination. With the donations he obtained annually he filled warehouses which, during the years of drought, have served as food banks and shelters distributed throughout the mountains. He delivered scholarships, materials for homes and until his last day, obtained financing for all his works. He endured four weeks of agony, three in Chihuahua and one in Santa Teresita, the clinic which he built in 1979 and, as he explained was founded when he discovered that more than 75% of the Raramuri children were dying before five years of age from malnutrition, tuberculosis or respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses. Verplancken was born in 1926 in Guadalajara and entered the Company of the Jesus in l943. He was assigned to Creel in l952. Thirteen years after his arrival, he began to operate a small clinic with eight beds for infants and five for adults, which soon became insufficient for the number of sick people who arrived after walking several hours looking for a doctor. In these years, Creel was no more than a commons without basic services, a train station, the stop before the Copper Gorge. In l979, the Santa Teresita Clinic had already been established. It was equipped with 75 beds, a pharmacy, X rays, laboratory, dining room, operating room, emergency area, pediatric, dental, maternal and nutritional services, an area for adults and cabins for the volunteers and family of the patients. So that it would function, he first piped water to the town. Later, he would also install electricity. The first years were difficult. there were not enough doctors or nurses , so he asked all the people he was meeting if they could volunteer for a few days, a week, a month or whatever. This is the only clinic in the state of Chihuahua where the Raramuris can be consulted in their language and fed their own foods. Here tortillas, beans, "pinole" (a drink made from ground corn) things they know, are found. Luis always looked for these things so they wouldn't feel like strangers. "It took years to create confidence among the Raramuri so that they would come and give birth in the clinic, because they did this out in the mountains. Besides, they knew that they were not going to be bound to here. And although he created it thinking of the children, each time more adults came to be tended to", said Richard Lapuente, the Superior of the Jesuits of the Diocese of Tarahumara and who was with the priest during his last days. Yesterday next to his wooden coffin congregated the Governor of Chihuahua, Patricio Martínez, inhabitants of Creel, family members, young volunteers or ex-volunteers of his projects, rural teachers, nuns, priests, benefactors of Chihuahua and many Raramuris. One of them, Gerardo Marín, a 15 year old, was looking from a corner at a group of children who were singing "Aminá Siné Rawé", a song of thanks and farewell to a man with a beautiful heart "natemáame semático suraká." He was looking as if he was upset. Later he explained why, "I feel a great affection for him because I arrived at the clinic as a very ill newborn, and thanks to the clinic, where I stayed for two months, I survived the illness. Later he gave me to my mother".
Link (here) to the original article by Marcela Turati

1 comment:

Romaine Dennistoun said...

May Padre Verplancken rest in peace.
I had the privilege of meeting him in Creel, Sierra Tarahumara, Mexico in 1967 when he showed Juanita (UK), Alicia (Belgian) and me (UK) round the little clinic of St Teresita, and the emaciated children that were so beautifully cared for there. Every Sunday he played classical music from the tower of the church he had built, and it seemed that the Raramuri people came from all over the sierras to seek his help. They were never turned away. Safe journey Padre.