Father Juan Carlos Cortez is the parish priest of San Saturnino in Santiago, Chile. He was ordained 16 years ago and had taken over the parish in a desolate state. Parish life had come to a standstill, the parish centre had completely collapsed in 2010 earthquake and the parish church was so badly damaged that it was in danger of collapsing at any moment. There was no money even to demolish the building, a protected monument, let alone for the renovation and rebuilding of the urgently needed parish centre.
Nonetheless, now there is a real buzz of activity in the very cramped space of the makeshift parish centre and multipurpose hall. Thanks to the commitment of this priest, and of numerous unpaid volunteers, the parish has become the most important place to turn to for hundreds of Haitian refugees in the capital, and the spiritual life of the parish is once again flourishing.
Father Juan, who shares his simple wooden cabin in one corner of the grounds with a refugee family, is a shining example of the Holy Father’s wish that “the shepherds should have the smell of the sheep above them”. “His loving manner with his parishioners immediately shows that he is moved by nothing else but the love of Christ. How beautiful it is when a priest like him can say that the pastoral work in the parish is particularly fulfilling for him and that even after all the years he ‘still feels he is on a honeymoon’ with his priesthood” says Ullrich Kny, Head of Section of Latin America II at ACN.