In a noisy and smog-choked section of this capital city rests a brightly painted Catholic monastery — a colorful oasis that offers its weary visitors hope, cooperation, renewal and love.
The first thing new arrivals notice inside the centuries-old complex is an abundance of light. The monastery's open-air construction allows sunlight to nourish fragrant plaza gardens and brighten the faces of the many children who scurry about playing tag and hide-and-seek. Standing at the center of all this bustle and light is Brother Seferino Montin — a Leonine, Italian-born monk who serves as spiritual leader and best friend to all who find themselves inside the monastery walls.
This monastery serves a specific, essential purpose. For more than a decade, it has been a refuge for impoverished HIV-positive mothers in need of medicine, shelter, counseling and prayer.
Br. Montin is thankful for many friends who help the monastery function — including service missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who provide needed provisions and support. The monastery and the Church enjoy an ongoing relationship that is helping several mothers and their children reclaim health, independence and dignity.
"We have taken these people in because we want to do something for the Lord," said Br. Montin. "We thought of the people who are HIV-positive. We help people who are cast out from their homes, [some] were living on the streets and some of them wanted to commit suicide."
Since 1995, the monastery has provided shelter and assistance to Lima's HIV-positive mothers and their children who have no place to call home. Many have been neglected in care centers. Almost all require physical, psychological and spiritual support.
The monastery becomes like a family for the mothers, said Br. Montin, who greets his frequent visitors from the Church with a smile and a bear hug. "We need to build lives ... and dignity."
The monastery provides a dormitory for the mothers and their children. They also enjoy access to medical care and food. HIV-positive mothers are unable to nurse their infants, so milk and baby formula are also available to help nourish children. Most of the youngsters at the monastery are healthy, but a few also battle AIDS.
The mothers here can also enroll in school coursework and learn skills that will help them find work and enjoy self-reliance when they leave the monastery.
The LDS humanitarian efforts have assisted the facility by providing wheelchairs, medicine and hygiene supplies such as cotton, hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol. Such supplies also help HIV-positive children take care of themselves
"It's important that the child know how to clean a wound without help from others," said Br. Montin.
The monk relishes the friendship he shares with the missionaries and his other LDS friends.
"I want to thank the Church with all my heart," said Br. Montin. "I think solidarity among churches is important. It is something that Christ taught — to love one another."
He spoke of the trust and respect he shares with the LDS service missionaries and marvels at their humility and commitment to caring. When such groups of diverse faiths and backgrounds work together to care for the temporal needs of those in need, they are also providing the first steps to spiritual healing.
"It's important that people have access to health care and medicine, but the most important thing is when a person's dignity is restored," said Br. Montin.
Maria Quizpe is a 20-year-old single mother. She is also HIV-positive. Ms. Quizpe arrived at the monastery when she was five months pregnant, scared and even suicidal. At the monastery she found the love and services she needed to continue. "There is hope for me. I was discriminated against at the hospital, but I feel great here."
Since receiving the love and services of the facility, Ms. Quizpe has reunited with her family. Such unity, said Br. Montin, defines the monastery and the efforts of its many friends, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Solidarity," he said, "has no limits."