14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 24 August 2017 – He arrives close to noon with a tin cup and a plastic bag. Roberto is one of the many elderly who eat lunch at the Milagrosa parish hall in Havana’s Santos Suarez neighborhood. The ration he receives for breakfast, lunch and a snack is the 78-year-old retiree’s main sustenance; his pension is 220 Cuban pesos (CUP) a month, less than ten dollars.
The place, managed by the Catholic Church, is packed during meal times and the nuns who manage the kitchen say they can barely help all those in need. The humanitarian service will continue, despite the recent death of its leading light, the priest Jesus Maria Lusarreta, who was 80.
Since he settled on the island in the early 1990s, the parish priest, born in 1937 in the Navarre town of Lumbier, in Spain, promoted various programs to help the elderly and disabled, as well as providing a space for children and young people with Down’s Syndrome. However, the impoverishment of the surrounding neighborhoods has limited the temple’s capacity to help all who knock on its doors.
The place, managed by the Catholic Church, is packed during meal times and the nuns who manage the kitchen say they can barely help all those in need
Lusarreta also established a system of home help to bring food to people who could not get to the parish, and he not infrequently asked for money from his own family in Spain to defray the expenses of a support system that has not stopped growing in recent years.
According to data from the Provincial Directorate of Assistance and Social Security in Havana, 335,178 retirees live in the capital city, with a monthly average income of 272 CUP apiece. Although some have relatives abroad who send them remittances, others must sell cigarettes and newspapers to survive, or live off public charity.
The center, a two-story building attached to the Roman-style temple built in 1947, also has a hairdresser offering free personal grooming, laundry and manicure services. At first there were only a dozen elderly people but today more than 200 show up every day.
In a statement to 14ymedio, a few weeks before his death, the priest regretted that the facilities where they kept some of the resources to help the most disadvantaged frequently fell victim to “robberies and vandalism.” However, he said that, despite the damage caused, he could understand “why people did it.”
One of the retirees, Roberto, separates some of the beans and rice he just received for lunch. “Next to my house is a man who has nothing and I always take him part of what they give me,” he explains.
Roberto and the other neighbors of La Milagrosa cross their fingers so that the project does not falter now that its main inspiration has died.