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A priest who fights drugs in “enemy territory”

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Father Piedrabuena is giving his all to save the kids in his community.

Father Federico Piedrabuena is a parish priest in Buenos Aires, Argentina—and for nine years, he has been fighting to teach children values in order to keep them away from drugs. Even though he is putting himself in danger of attack by organized crime groups, he says that as long as he has the physical strength and energy, he will keep fighting to send a message of hope.

“Poverty affects all of us, and where the state’s efforts do not reach and security is weak, situations arise that often end up taking the lives of the youngest. It’s a path that leads to death,” he says. “The drugs that enter the neighborhood are of such poor quality that using them for just two years destroys the young people’s minds and makes them like zombies, leaving them like ‘living dead.’”

For Fr. Piedrabuena, the Gospel speaks to us of the deepest reality of being a Christian, and it reaches its fullness when it’s put into practice through service to others. As a result, no hope can be offered without concrete proposals to help provide for both spiritual and material needs. “It is difficult to speak of God without a plate of food or a coat.”

That’s why his mission offers a variety of activities throughout the day: a house where he hosts 300 young people every day to give them food, positive attention, and academic tutoring; soccer and hockey clubs for teenagers; and a workshop for vocational training.

“We know that, in the poorest places, sports play a fundamental role. That’s how we get kids off the street, and that means getting them off drugs,” he says. “A boy who is in a soccer club or a girl who is playing hockey isn’t on the street.”

Drugs are a powerful and tempting enemy. When faced with the message of not getting involved with drug dealers, many kids see that selling drugs allows them to earn, in a single week, twice what their parents earn in an entire month working a normal job. That’s why the fight is really a “fight for values.”

Fr. Piedrabuena isn’t doing this work alone. He’s working with local professional soccer teams and their social responsibility departments to transform the neighborhood. There are companies that come forward with job offers for young people, and other people from the community also collaborate with his work.

The priest says that there are many people of good will who, despite the serious difficulties involved, continue to help with firm conviction. “I feel that it’s been a path we’ve all shared. There are people who have a giant heart with the desire to move this forward. I’m always impressed by the strength and capacity of people who have a lot of faith.”

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