THE LEGACY OF PACO ANDREO
Paco Andreo García passed away on 15th February 2013 at Nariokotome Mission, Turkana, Kenya, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 71 years of age. Paco was born and spent his childhood in Totana, Murcia (Spain). The dire economic condition of his family forced them to move to Barcelona when he was a young boy. There, he worked for several years and it was only during his military service that he discovered his vocation. In 1968, Paco was accepted into the Casa de Santiago and was ordained a priest on 7th March 1976 at the Parish of Santa María in Badalona (Barcelona). During his formative years, he spent some time in Cameroon; this was the beginning of his love for Africa. After some years serving as a priest in Barcelona, he was finally able to move to Kenya in 1988 where he lived until his death. Paco formed a group from the youth he got to know in the various parishes he served during his years in Spain. This group later became the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle (MCSPA), which now comprises members from Spain and other countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, Germany, Malaysia, Italy, Mexico and Colombia. Let us now summarize Paco’s legacy.
Paco, developer of persons
Paco was constantly sensitive to the needs of others. From the first time we met him, he always taught us to be aware of and look for answers to the problems that we could see, without avoiding them or giving excuses for not doing anything. We had to propose a solution – there and then offering everything we had and with all of our means at hand.
Paco also taught us to believe that change is possible, that the solution to problems does not just fall from above but from the little acts by each of us. Being proactive in the face of particular situations and concrete persons was considered the genuine way towards transforming reality for the better. Our
own conversion, our leaving behind those hearts of stone and embracing hearts of flesh, without fer of the suffering that this transformation might bring, was, we learnt, the vital step towards achieving everything else. Facing hard work and trusting completely in providence, and being very demanding of ourselves, always without losing hope, and with deep faith in God’s response whenever we worked for others, is the indelible mark that he has left deep inside each one of us. This was the way Paco always encouraged us to embark on “impossible” projects in the most remote and least equipped of places, without giving up in the face of difficulties but through Faith, Hope and Charity.
Paco invited and moulded persons according to what he called “the map of the Gospel”, men and women whom he called to re-live the experience of Christ’s followers by being disciples and apostles; everyone was welcome.
Paco was always very critical of both himself and others, seeking deep down for the truth, one’s deepest motivations. He despised frivolity, mediocrity and lukewarmness. He was passionate and strong-willed, but at the same time taught us the importance of humility. He used to say that “humility is truth”, the sure path of self-discovery because it is only in humbling ourselves that we are able to accept ourselves as we are and thus recognize that we are nothing special. That was how he saw himself.
The purpose of leaving everything behind and following Christ was to bear fruit; that the reason for giving up having children of one’s own was to raise spiritual children i.e. children who are already born of others yet remain unloved or uncared for.
Paco, provider of answers to human suffering
From Paco’s way of being, there arose different initiatives, especially in Kenya and Ethiopia where all his concerns focused on providing water for all, food for the hungry, clothing for the naked, taking care of the sick and so on. His boundless creativity made him a most innovative person in many aspects.
For Paco, the most vital issue was that everyone would have enough to eat; the principal objective was to fight against hunger and to contain its causes. In Turkana, drought is the main cause of a permanent lack of food for the people. In Ethiopia, illiteracy and lack of means cripple the development of enough resources for everyone despite the huge areas of fertile land available. In all these situations, mothers and children are always the most affected. Hence, Paco’s priority was always mother and child care, from the aspect of health as well as nutrition. The human life that begins in the womb of the mother cannot develop properly without adequate nutrition. Hence, care for the mother from pregnancy onwards and for the child during its early years to ensure that it grows up healthy, is vital. Thus the initiatives and projects focused in this direction have been many: reaching out through the dispensaries and mobile clinics to as many people as possible in the most remote of areas; or the creation of Mother-and-Child centres, nurseries, child nutrition units etc. always with the aim of solving this problem. After years of experience, Paco discovered that the lack of water was the main obstacle to overcome. Recalling the land of his birth (which had been struck by drought over long years, thus forcing his family to leave when he was still very young), Paco started, with barely any support, the construction of infrastructures for collecting rainwater in Turkana. The first rock catchment was built in Turkana in 1996 in Ngiburin and today almost 200 rock and earth dams have been constructed. Besides promoting the sustainable development of the population, this system of water supply in an arid land has proven to be fundamental for the survival of the local population and for the improvement of the environment.
With available water, the focus then shifted to local production of food, especially fruit trees that are suited to the climate of the area. Paco worked very hard in this endeavor and he introduced new varieties of fruit. He enjoyed seeing the children of Turkana eat fruit in the middle of the semi-desert. Despite the great difficulties faced while introducing agriculture in a pastoralist culture, he always thought that the effort was worthwhile and that the results would be seen in the long run; this is precisely what is occurring now. Small family gardens close to permanent water points are now a reality in Turkana. In Ethiopia, many families have also learnt to produce food in small gardens that are managed by women. The overall result of all this is an improvement in the nutrition of the population.
For Paco, spreading the Gospel meant bringing that specific Good News to people, helping them stand on their own feet, improving their quality of life and their human and practical formation so as to be self-reliant, living in the dignity of God’s children.
Paco, universal missionary
Just like his patron saint, St. Paul, Paco was also a universal missionary, travelling unceasingly throughout the world, becoming a beggar and always appealing for the means to be able to do more things for others. This has always and everywhere been his apostolate: through asking others for help, he invited them to change their lives, calling them to be generous in making a serious commitment to others. He always had time to talk with whomever approached him and, consequently, to help that person discover the true potential. He did all these things just based on a very simple proposal: “Follow the map of the Gospel”.
Just as some of us who were called to leave everything behind and to follow Christ, each and every Christian, because of his or her baptism, is equipped with the Gospel as a map, to imitate Jesus Christ in his or her concrete actions which are fundamental for the defense of the dignity of the person. Different groups have arisen in countries in Europe, Asia and America from all this work, and all of them have as their focus Africa, the poorest continent. These groups share with us the missionary spirit inspired by Paco Andreo.
This community that he has built up, stone upon stone, is a group where everybody is welcome: people from all races, languages and conditions. Priestly vocations are vital for the life of the Church and Paco taught us that we should promote and help these vocations. However, at the same time, there are the laity women in our case, who are called to place everything we have at the service of others.
The promotion of vocations to service in the Church was the engine of Paco’s life wherever he was as he learnt at Casa de Santiago where he was formed and moved by his great love for the Church, for and with whom he suffered ever since the day of his pries
Paco started his priestly life in Badalona and ended it in Turkana, where together with all of us, he had the sole aim of doing good and calling many others to a life of generosity and forgetting about our own selves. His body, like a seed, is buried in this land that he loved so much and that was such an inspiration for him. “From Turkana, soar like eagles to the entire world”, those are his words to us.
This is our home and, God willing, we will remain here so that from this place we may continue to spread this seed to the five continents, so that through Paco’s legacy and its continuation through ourselves, many others may come to know Christ, to love him with a generous heart and to serve more and more each day the favoured ones of God: the children, the hungry and the naked.