Abstracts from THE MALTESE MISSIONARY EXPERIENCE – 02
by Fr John Caruana
Fr Raymond Portelli of Nadur Gozo has now been serving deep in the Peruvian Amazon for the last fifteen years or so in the town of Iquitos, a two hour flight away from Lima. On finishing philosophy in Gozo, he decided to spend his sabbatical year in Peru on the advice of Fr Arthur Vella S.J. who at that time was the spiritual director at the Seminary of Gozo.
In Iquitos, now as a priest, Fr Raymond organised several religious activities. He has as many as 430 agentes de pastorales to help in administering the parish.
In Iquitos the woman has no value – she is used and disposed of at will. Aids and the drug problem are widespread. 12 and 13 year olds are expected to be pregnant so that their families will have future workers for their fields.
The wish to become a doctor never left Fr Raymond. After obtaining permission from his superiors, he enrolled as a student of medicine at the State University of Amozonina which was situated half an hour by car from his parish. Today as a doctor, apart from his duties as a priest, he takes care of the health of the parishioners who look for his help. Fr Raymond has a clinic and receives about 20 patients a day. The city of Nadur, his birth place, bestowed on him the Ġieh in-Nadur award, which he has humbly accepted.
When he went to Iquitos there was already a school which belonged to the government but it was practically abandoned. Under his guidance, the school today has 1600 students between primary and secondary level.
Fr Raymond managed to open a clinic for Aids patients with 15 beds. The government only provides the medicine. The average age of the inmates is 28, but even if they are not cured, at least they die with dignity under a roof and a on clean bed.
To help drug addicts, a Centre called Talita Kumi was opened. Fr Raymond tries to find a job for them. The parish also opened Casa Betania where the elderly are given shelter for the night.
Fr Raymond, with all these responsibilities, still finds time and strength to teach philosophy and theology in the seminary, and medical ethics at the University.
Fr Portelli writes “Time for prayers? At seven o’clock in the morning I pray Lauds with a group of parishioners. At night I celebrate Mass either in the parish church or in the communities. I have my little crisis from time to time. I feel I should stop, surrounded as we are with crass egoism and individualism. But these are fleeting moments in my life. I can say that I am happy and satisfied with my life”.