Father Eckar Rolón does not expect his workload to evaporate on 15th October when his small landlocked country, Paraguay, reopens its borders with neighbouring Argentina and Brazil after seven months.
Fr Rolón has co-ordinated a massive food programme in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay’s second-largest city, since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March and borders were closed, eliminating jobs and depriving the city of goods. His city, along with Puerto Iguazú in Argentina and Foz do Iguaçu in Brazil, form a zone known as the Triple Frontier that survives on trade, including a huge amount of illegal goods.
Smuggling used to the No. 1 concern along the Triple Frontier, attracting international attention, but pandemic-driven hunger has replaced it. “Our biggest problem is hunger; we are helping feed people who have watched their livelihoods evaporate with the pandemic,” said Fr Rolón.
“The border will reopen, but it will take time for jobs to follow, and people need to make every cent they have last.”
The priest runs the diocesan social ministry, and the lockdown shifted focus from regular programmes to organising 1,300 small soup kitchens, or “common pots,” that feed tens of thousands of people daily. There were no family feeding programmes in the city prior to the pandemic.
Photo: A volunteer wearing a protective mask is pictured in early October preparing one of 300,000 daily meals served to the needy in Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este, during the Covid-19 pandemic. With the border with Brazil closed since March, the local diocese has opened 1,300 sites to serve food to those who need help because of the pandemic and economic downturn. (CNS photo/Father Eckar Rolon, courtesy Pastoral Programme)