By Borja Bergareche
MADRID—Antonio de la Calle, a 46-year-old priest who runs the church of the Patrocinio del Señor in the Vallecas neighborhood, has been playing God to avoid his neighbors’ descent into hell. In this working-class neighborhood of more than 300,000 people, the most extreme consequences of the economic crisis roiling Spain are transforming day-to-day life. The door of the church is never locked.
Last Easter, a man came in, heated and nervous. “Antonio, I can’t stand it any more. You have to help me. For two months I have heard my kid complaining that he is hungry. I’ve been unemployed for a year and a half. I’m no longer entitled to unemployment payments and my wife isn’t eligible for the emergency subsidy. Either you help me or I will start selling drugs at the corner. I cannot take it any longer.”
For weeks, Father Antonio used his own cash to keep this father of a hungry child away from crime. A few months ago, the man found a temporary job.
“It’s been a tough winter,” the priest explains. “People can’t get enough to eat. The worst is seeing kids evicted because their parents can no longer pay their rent.”
In Spain, 4.69 million people—20.3 percent of the workforce—were unemployed in 2010, according to figures published by the National Statistics Institute. The December 2010 average for the European Union was 9.6 percent, just above the 9.4 percent posted in the United States. Spain, with a population of 46 million, has lost more than 2 million jobs in the last two years— 623,000 in 2008, 1.21 million in 2009, and 238,000 in 2010, according to government statistics.
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Borja Bergareche is the digital editor of ABC, one of Spain’s three main national newspapers.
[Image courtesy of flickr user cesarastudillo]