For Aristide Gazzotti, a lay missionary from the province of Reggio Emilia, these are weeks of extraordinary activity. Its “creature” is called, precisely, Cittadella dell’Arcobaleno, based in Cochabamba, one of the main Bolivian cities, was born in 2007 and welcomes minors in situations of hardship, fragility or illness, together with their families. But since Covid-19 began to make its effects felt in Bolivia too, the activity of Gazzotti and his collaborators has expanded. Up to looking the virus in the face which, despite the official data, enters many houses and affects, even indirectly, the most fragile. It is then that Aristide intervenes, who for his ability to move in a city blocked in the past weeks since the lockdown has received from the health authorities the request to accompany those in need of health care to the hospital

There is the girl with down syndrome, infected by Covid-19, “saved” thanks to the providential oxygen. Or the Salesian father who, in respiratory crisis, while all the confreres also contracted the virus, receives providential help. Thus, the rainbow keeps popping up between suffering and death on the Bolivian plateau. For Aristide Gazzotti, lay missionary from the province of Reggio Emilia, these are weeks of extraordinary activity. Its “creature” is called, in fact, Citadel of the rainbow, based in Cochabamba, one of the main Bolivian cities, was born in 2007 and welcomes minors in situations of hardship, fragility or illness, together with their families. In all, around 100 families and 300 minors are housed in the structures of the Citadel.

But since Covid-19 began to make its effects felt in Bolivia too, the activity of Gazzotti and his collaborators has expanded.

Aristide Gazzotti

Up to looking the virus in the face which, despite the official data, enters many houses and affects, even indirectly, the most fragile. It is then that Aristide intervenes, who for his ability to move in a city blocked in the past weeks since the lockdown has received from the health authorities the request to accompany those in need of health care to the hospital. But with the Citadel he is also working to get respirators. And Aristide has turned into a real “oxygen angel”, “I would like to give oxygen to everyone”, he confesses. His story is a testimony of the Gospel and, at the same time, a cross-section on what are the consequences of Covid in a very poor country like Bolivia, with a health system, as the president of the bishops, Monsignor Ricardo said in recent days Centellas, already collapsing even before the pandemic.

The effects of the pandemic on already sick children. Starting with the children, both those hosted in the Citadel of the Rainbow and the others visited or accompanied to the hospital. There are sick children of Covid. An example is the down-epileptic girl mentioned: “A nun called us, we went, lives in a poor family, we washed and swaddled her, and we brought her oxygen, in four to five days has recovered ”. However, there are few people infected with minors, but the effects of the current situation on other sick children are clearly evident. Gazzotti tells us what has just happened, the moment we speak: “One child died this morning, another yesterday. These are not Covid-19 patients, but other pathologies, for example tumors, or kidney pathologies. The cases are many, everything has stopped here for four months. Public hospitals no longer welcome anyone, no visits or checks are made. And the usual channels for providing special drugs, in some cases very expensive, are also closed. Today, for example, I managed to buy a drug in Argentina. The consequences of the pandemic have dramatic consequences. In recent days we were assisting two children with cancer in intensive care, a boy with Covid-19 arrived and the other two were immediately discharged from intensive care “. We must not forget that “many doctors and nurses have been infected with coronavirus, various services have been suspended or decreased”.

Contagions increase in an atmosphere of fear. In this context, the presence of the Covid-19 is however in marked increase. In an atmosphere of fear and confusion, as confirmed by the director of the Cittadella dell’Arcobaleno: “People are disoriented, the infections increase, I have been touring the city for four months, everything is stopped, nothing is done. Many here support themselves by working the day. We must survive, and people are forced to go out, to try to get food.

There is a terrible confusion, in addition to doctors, many military and police officers have also contracted the virus. The state gave a voucher corresponding to around 70 euros, but the contribution is spent in a week. The data are not as high as those of other countries, yet the number of infections increases, and everyone seems to have one patient per family “. In short, even on the numbers, there is something that does not return (officially the positives are so far about 70 thousand, with over 2,500 deaths).

A virus to “touch”, like Jesus with the leper. In this situation, as mentioned, Aristide Gazzotti has decided to “face the virus”, despite all the precautions and safety devices. “For example, a community of Salesians called me. Their superior is already dead, there are 5 infected in their community. I went, I comforted them … nobody had the courage to enter. One of them needed oxygen. It is useless to go to the hospital, I am collapsing and you risk not going out alive. We are not doctors, but we managed to get oxygen cylinders, which seem impossible to find here. So we brought one to the Salesian, but the requests are many. We move, enter houses, visit children. But we are cautious and do the buffer every week, so far we have always had negative results “.

The reflection of the lay missionary continues: “My thoughts go to the epileptic down girl, whom we have cleaned, wrapped and treated, as Christ did with the leper. Even with due care, we must touch this virus, look it in the face, we must enter the lives of people who have been infected and who are suffering. This asks the Gospel to overcome fear and isolation, certainly with all precautions. He asks us to enter the pain of all these families, and a profound change of mentality. “

journalist “The Life of the People”

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