Something from Nothing

Category: Reflections

By Anne Spring

Padre Luis Cordero Rodríguez was enjoying a final few minutes of solitude as he finished his lunch at a high-class restaurant in an affluent suburb of Lima, Peru. As he reflected on his afternoon commitments, he was interrupted by a ragged boy who had been watching from the entrance and had finally mustered the nerve to approach the padre. The dark-skinned boy was not selling sweets or cigarettes, as many poor boys his age do in Peru and other developing countries. Instead he asked, “Sir, if you are not going to eat the rest of that lettuce on your plate, do you mind if I do?”

His heartstrings touched by the boy’s obvious need, Padre Cordero immediately took the boy through the buffet line, inviting him to take whatever he liked. Ignoring the looks of disapproval from the waiters in attendance, he then led the boy to his own table. But instead of sitting down and diving into the feast before him, the boy bolted out of the restaurant.

Puzzled by the urchin’s erratic behavior, the kindly Cordero waited to see how things would develop.

The boy reappeared a few minutes later—this time with two other bedraggled boys trailing sheepishly behind him. He had wanted his friends to share in his good fortune.

As they ate, the boys explained what Padre Cordero had already surmised: They came from impoverished families that lived in the dusty shantytowns on the outskirts of Lima, where tens of thousands like their parents had migrated from mountain villages and the Amazon region in search of employment. The boys helped their families try to survive by washing cars in the restaurant parking lot, hoping for tips from the cars’ owners when they returned.

Face to face with such need, Padre Cordero felt Jesus speaking to him. His life would never be the same.

Cordero decided to set up a center for boys—a place where they could be freed from burdens of life that no children their age should have to bear. There was only one problem: The good padre had nothing to start with—no land, no buildings, no building fund, no sponsors.

He believed in prayer, however, and in answer to his prayers the mayor of a Lima suburb offered Cordero a 5,000-m2 (1.25-acre) plot of municipal land on which to build. As word spread, generous sponsors donated building materials.

Not everything went according to plan, however. Residents of the affluent area where the center was located complained about the scruffy children who were now filtering into their neighborhood from the shantytowns, and they filed a petition with the municipality. As a result, the Padre was required to build a high wall, nearly 300 m (1,000 ft) long, around the property, which by that time contained a school and other buildings for the children. Cordero did not want his center to make the boys feel confined, but he soon realized that the wall would be for their benefit; it would give them more freedom to be themselves as they studied and played.

To build the wall, Cordero needed 23,000 clay blocks. A factory owner offered him 1,000. That was a start, to be sure, but where would he get the rest? As he was discussing details with the factory owner, a discontented customer stormed into the office and insisted on returning a large order of blocks that didn’t meet his expectations—all 23,000 of them.

Padre Cordero’s center, Instituto Roncalli del Perú, has seen its share of other miracles since it opened in 1987. The greatest of those are the young lives that have been transformed through the love, faith, and prayers of Cordero, now 80 years old, who continues to oversee day-to-day operations of the center.

God doesn’t create saints out of thin air; He creates them out of flesh and blood, normal people who love Him and let Him use them.—David Brandt Berg