Kiko Arguello, is the iniciator of the neocatechumenal way. This is an extract of the introduction of his book “The Kerygma: In the Shantytown with the Poor”.
I had a painter’s studio near the “Plaza de España” in Madrid, and it was customary to spend the Christmas season with my parents. One year I went home to celebrate Christmas, I went to the kitchen and I saw the cook crying. I asked her, “Bertha – that was her name – What’s wrong?” She told me her husband was an alcoholic who wanted to kill their son and that in turn the son had rebelled against them. Bertha told me a story that left me horrified and I felt from God that I needed to help her.
Kiko’s ShackI went to see where she lived: a horrible shack, among many others. The poor woman woke up early in the morning to go work. She had nine children and was married to a lame, cross-eyed, alcoholic man. He would beat his children with a stick, yelling at them “Defend your Father” and other times when he was extremely drunk he would pee on his daughters. This woman, quite pretty even though she was already older, told me these horrible things.
I took the man and I brought him to the “Curcillios in Christianity.” He was impressed when he heard me speak, and for some months he stopped drinking, but after he began again and there were new problems. His wife would call me “Mr. Kiko Arguello, please come, because my husband wants to kill everyone. Call the police!” they wouldn’t leave me alone. In the end I thought: “And if God is telling me to leave everything and go live there with them to help them?” I left everything and went to live with that family. I would sleep in their extremely small kitchen with the cats.
The inside of Kiko Arguello ‘s homeI lived there and was extremely impressed, to tell you the truth, by the whole environment. There were many people living in terrible situations. I don’t know if you know the book of Camus, “The Plague,” that tackles the problem of the suffering of the innocent. That woman, Bertha, told me that her lame husband, to take revenge for all the humiliations he received, told everyone that he would marry her, the most beautiful girl in the neighborhood. Everyone made fun of him. But do you know how he married her? He said to her “If you don’t marry me, I’ll cut your fathers throat” and he would have done it. Her father was a widow and she was extremely timid and afraid.
Photo of the inside of Kiko Arguello’s homeI asked myself: what sins has this poor woman committed to deserve a life like this? Why not I? She wasn’t the only one. There was a woman next door that had Parkinsons, her husband left her and lived begging for alms and another, and another.
In front of all this suffering there are only two answers. Are you familiar with the famous phrase of Nietzsche: “Or God is good and he cannot do anything to help these poor people, or God can help them and chooses not to, so he is evil.” This is a poisonous phrase. Can God help this woman, or not? Why doesn’t he?.
IThrough this situation there was a great surprise. Do you know what I saw there?Not what Nietzsche says, if God can or can’t, but I saw Christ crucified. I saw Christ in Bertha, that woman with Parkinsons, and that other one. I saw a mystery. The mystery of the cross of Christ. I was extremely surprised, I say it sincerely.
The shacks of Palomeras AltasLater I was called for military service and they sent me to Africa. When I returned I told myself, “Kiko Arguello : if Christ returns to the earth in his second coming tomorrow, I don’t know what will happen in the world, but do you know where I would want Jesus Christ to find me? At the foot of the cross.” And where is Christ Crucified? In those that are carrying the greatest sufferings, the consequences of everyone’s sins. Sarte says: “Woe to the man that God’s finger crushes against the wall.” I have seen people there crushed against the wall, many weak people crushed by the consequences of sin, weak and anonymous people.
José Agudo and Rosario in front of their shackWhen a person lives among the poor either they lose faith and becomes a guerilla warrior “Che Guevara” style, or they go quietly in front of Christ and is sanctified. I am grateful to the lord for the mercy he has had on me. There I saw Christ crucified and so when I returned from Africa I met Carmen’s sister, and I thought it was necessary to go to the social ‘catacombs’ and preach the gospel to these people, help them, give them a word of consolation. And so we formed a group that was dedicated to homosexuals, prostitutes and other undesirables.
Carmen’s sister was part of an association, called “Villa Teresiata,” which was dedicated to recovering prostitutes. They went to prostitutes’ homes and offered them to those that wanted a job. This was very good work. In the end I realized that in that group they did everything more as a “hobby.” I told Carmen’s sister: “I am going to live with the poor.”
Kiko Arguello con Manolo e Joaquin Charles de Foucauld gave me the formula; to live in silence, as Jesus of Nazareth, at the foot of Jesus Christ in the midst of all those people. I met a Social Worker that showed me an area of Palomeras Altas with a wooden shack, a refuge for dogs. I was told, “Go there and don’t worry.” There everything sort of began. I wanted to live in the shack as Charles de Foucald. In contemplation as one in front of the Eucharist, at the foot of the only real presence of Christ. I wanted to be at the foot of Christ crucified, in the midst of the poorest and most miserable people.
The lord brought me there with this spirit: I was the last one. They were Christ. Maybe someone could have told me, “Kiko! Help them!” Here there is a very important point for those that like to get to the bottom of things. “But how? You put yourself in adoration, when these people are dying of hunger? Give them food to eat.” I had nothing, I brought nothing but a bible and a guitar, I slept on a mattress placed on the ground, I had nothing else.
Mons. Morcillo in the shack with Kiko Arguello ppraying Morning PrayerAt the time of the Nazis, I had read in a book something that touched me. It recounted a historical fact that happened in a concentration camp in Auschwitz. A captain of the Gestapo realized the atrocities that were being committed in the genocide of the Jews. One day, during an inspection in a camp, he saw a column of men and women heading towards the gas chambers, all naked. He felt in his heart a great pain. He asked himself “what do I have to do now to help them, to have peace with myself?” Do you know the answer he received from within himself? (The fathers of the church speak of a talking Christ, inside of you. Something very deep). The book said that he felt he should strip himself and join them in line.
We can ask ourselves: where does this voice come from? Was it a suggestion? Was it True? Was it from God? Wasn’t it better to stop them and free those people? Maybe he couldn’t do it. Why was the truth to strip himself and join them in line? Here is a possible answer. A person that is in that line in front of the reality that maybe there is no God, that there is no love in the world and if there is no love in the world God does not exist. Life is a monstrosity, therefore we die in absurdity. But if someone comes with you, Christ himself is made man and puts himself in line with you for love. Now, love does exist. God exists. You can live. You can die. Truth and death have meaning.
Kiko Arguello, Carmen and Mons. MorcilloWhat value does this have? The only thing you have to do is Social work? Maybe man lives only for food? Or does man need to know if God exists or if he doesn’t, if love exists or not? I did not go to the shacks to feed the hungry, nor to teach them to read. (They were all illiterate, except for one or two: José Agudo, that was in jail and knew how to read, but his wife didn’t. Gypsy’s, “quinqui,” kids that knew how to read, but just barely). I went there, and if you want to know did not think that I would preach. You know that the Little Brothers of Foucauld stay “in silence.” I wanted to give witness living in the midst of these as Jesus of Nazareth.
Kiko Arguello with his first companions Domingo and ManoloAnd what happened? That which always happens. One day it was freezing, because it was winter and it was snowing – I warmed myself with stray dogs that lived with me- all of a sudden my neighbor entered and told me: “I brought you a brazier (a container for fire) because you are going to freeze to death!”.
Slowly people came and began asking: “who is this guy who’s here, with a beard and a guitar?” For some I was one who made a vow, others a protestant, because I always had a bible. The gypsy’s came for the guitar… They didn’t know who I was. José Agudo, who was in a fight with another clan of “quinqui,” approached me to ask me what the bible said on fighting. I gave him the sermon of the Mount that said not to resist evil and he was in awe: “But how? If I don’t defend myself they will kill me! What do I have to do?” I gave him the “Little Flowers” of St. Francis to read. That stuck him a lot and he never left me again.
Well, I won’t start talking about these stories because it would take too long.