Yesterday the Fundación Secretariado Gitano presented the “Solidaridad con G” prize, in its individual modality, to Mª Carmen López Arjona FI. Born in the Caceres region of the Jerte Valley 85 years ago, this Daughter of Jesus carries, on her shoulders, 61 years of a ministry dedicated to the promotion of the people of the gypsy community. Today, based in La Coruña, she continues to make visits to families and do adult literacy work and tutoring in the civic center of her neighborhood.
“I am a religious of the Daughters of Jesus, well advanced in years and, above all, with great enthusiasm to work for the benefit of the neediest”, Carmen introduces herself with these words.She left her birth place Cáceres from a very young age, and after formation in Salamanca, ended up in Galicia to remain there “for as long as God and his needs will it”.
“We would go out to the streets of Vigo to pick up children”
When Carmen arrived in Vigo in 1958, she dedicated herself to the school and to the Teacher Training School that her community ran in the city. However, a pupil’s father opened her eyes – and her heart – to a reality that would eventually take up her vocation as an educator totally: “That father was complaining about the large number of neglected gypsy children in the neighborhood, and asked us if that did not call our attention,” she admits. “And he told us so clearly that we could not refuse to do something for them.” Thus, the congregation, aware of her abilities, offered to Carmen the possibility of hosting them in school.
A project that, little by little and with the help of the community, grew until the Puente School became reality. The immeasurable work of Carmen is a palpable fact in the streets of Vigo. However, her humility and her fraternity transcend the reasons, the prizes and the accounts: “I have never been alone; I have always been supported by my community as well as by other religious congregations and volunteers.” And she admits being “proud” because so many people, both in Vigo and in La Coruña, have been led “to work with the Gypsy ethnic group”.
“Solidaridad con G” prize
From the beginning, she continues, “our entire community has been totally dedicated to these children.” From the day we took them into our school, “on Saturdays and Sundays we would go to Vigo, all over the city, to pick up children”. A work that, in Vigo, first developed only with gypsies. Then, in La Coruña, “we opened ourselves to all,” she says. “Because there is no doubt that we want integration, that they be all together”.
This Thursday, in her individual capacity, she will receive the “
Solidaridad con G”, awarded by the Fundación Secretariado Gitano. An award that, as she confesses, “is a recognition, but not in my personal capacity, but to the Church, our congregation”; because “it was the congregation that began all this.”
The Abandoned: Her Best Prayer
When I speak to her about Jesus of Nazareth, she is quick to say what she lives by heart, feels, and believes: “I see Him in them, and when I sometimes find it hard to pray for any reason, I go out into the street”. And not just to the gypsies, she says, “but to so many people who need to talk and have you listen to them.” And for those who, in the midst of despair or when the storms of life challenge their faith, find it difficult to believe in his words? I ask her. “I see Jesus in them, deep within the children of the street. And I, fully embodied, try to do the best I can and know.” But “He helps me a lot, there’s no doubt about it.”
About to end the conversation, I ask her if, after so many years, she still keeps alive the love she gave herself to and for which she has served 61 years as a consecrated woman. “In love? Maybe I should be more, although it is true that I have been dedicated to Him all the days of my life and that I keep hugging Him in each of those I hug in the street. I only know that if I were to start living today, I would recommend and be a Daughter of Jesus. I would not change it for anything”.
Each of the 85 years is worth it
85 years is nothing when love is for life. But what about the secret to keep that flame alive? Carmen, who does not hesitate in her faith, acknowledges that “it is in abandoning oneself to Jesus, and nothing more.” Thus, “when I see some difficulty, I say to myself, let him answer.” Each of the 85 years, she goes on, is worth it: “Yes, I mean it, it’s worth it! The pity is that the youth of today do not dare, because the calls are there”. Although, perhaps, as she asserts, it is the Christians who “fail to give the testimony we owe.” But, she repeats, “at 85, I say that you can and that the secret is to live with enthusiasm and live it anew each day.”
And she resumes, smiling, over and over again: “We should not look at the years, but the availability” and “go where they need us most; not look at the years, but the heart, that although it may not always have the same disposition, there is the Lord, with his mercy, to embrace us.” Indeed, Carmen, with her life and her testimony, testifies that love, like loving, has no age …