Interview with Ronnie

By Fr Chris Saenz
Ronald Daniel Perez Arbazua
Puerto Saavedra, Chile
February 14, 2014

Ronald Daniel Perez Arbazua, known as ‘Ronnie’, is a 69-year-old man who was born and raised in Puerto Saavedra in southern Chile. At the age of 15 Ronnie entered the Chilean Navy and served for eight years. After that he went to Santiago where he lived and worked for 23 years. In 1983 he returned to Puerto Saavedra upon the death of his mother.

Who is Padre Hurtado?

San Alberto Hurtado SJ

In 1995, when I was a seminarian, I was sent to Puerto Saavedra, a Columban parish at that time. There I first met Ronnie as a chronic alcoholic. The few times I saw him sober he was timid and shy. The drink always made him aggressive and belligerent. Often, after drinking, Ronnie would enter the church. Sometimes he would cause a disturbance and twice I had to physically throw him out. I left Puerto Saavedra in 1997 convinced that he would never change and would die on the streets. 

In 2001 I returned to Puerto Saavedraas a priest. When I celebrated my first Mass in the town I was surprised to see Ronnie stand up and walk to the lectern to proclaim the First Reading.  He was clean-shaven and wearing a suit and tie, and sober!  I was shocked by this miraculous change.He stopped drinking completely, reformed his life and was active in the church.  For years I talked about Ronnie in my homilies but had never sat down and talked to him about his conversion, until now. Ronnie agreed to be interviewed.

Ronnie, how did you begin your road to alcoholism?

Previously I drank, but not heavily, on some social occasions. In 1983, at the age of 38, I returned to Puerto Saavedra when my mother died.  I was an only child, my father had died when I was 23 and my mother was really the only family I had. When she died I entered into depression. That is when I began to drink heavily and continued to drink every day for 18 years.

What was the worst thing about alcoholism?

The moments when I was sober I had visions of demons pursuing me. I drank so the visions would stop. After I would wake up in the streets and not remember what happened before.  It was terrible.

So what happened?  What made you stop?

I remember the day precisely. It was 26 March 2001.  I drank so much that I passed out on the street. Somebody rushed me to hospital. I had passed out on the street before during my 18 years of drinking but had never been taken to hospital before. In that moment I felt I had ‘gone away’ but then I suddenly returned to myself.  When I woke up I saw Columban Father Michael Howe, parish priest at the time, standing over me, praying and anointing me.  I didn’t recognize him.Then the doctor entered and told me that I had alcohol poisoning and that I had been in the hospital for three days!

What more did the doctor say?

He said if I drank another glass I would go directly to the cemetery.  The tests they had done on my body showed the damage of my drinking. The doctor made me swear to never drink again. I did so and also promised Padre Hurtado that I would never drink again. I put myself under his protection.

And from that moment you never drank again?  You stopped ‘cold turkey’ as we would say in USA?

Yes, I’ve never had a drop since.

After the hospital, what happened next?

I was taken to Hogar de Cristo to begin rehabilitation. There I discovered I had a place to go to. There was a community to share food and life. It was the family that I didn’t have. All prayed for Padre Hurtado to protect me. And it worked!  In November 2001 I returned to the doctor and had my check-up.  The doctor returned with the results and asked me, ‘What did you do?’  I didn’t know what he meant.  He showed me the test result and said that 98 percent of my body was completely healed. ‘It’s nothing short of a miracle,’ he said.  I then knew it was a miracle from Padre Hurtado.

What more did Padre Hurtado do for you?

Because of Padre Hurtado I was able to participate in his canonization in Rome in 2005. 

How did that happen?

There was a national lottery for Hogar de Cristo to send 36 persons from around the country.  There were seven spots for volunteers/workers of Hogar de Cristo and 29 for those who, like me, received aid.  Different names were submitted from around the country, including mine and a few others from the Ninth Region..  When the first ticket was drawn at the lottery my name was on it. I knew than it was Padre Hurtado’s hand again. In fact, I was the only one from our Region to go.

So what was the experience like, to go to Rome and be at the canonization?

First, the people of Puerto Saavedra raised money for me and gave me a farewell ceremony.  I than went to Santiago and joined the group that was going. We had a week of talks, workshops and retreats with the Jesuits. Than we flew to Rome on a military plane, accompanied by President Ricardo Lagos, ministers, and VIPs.  But the highlight of it all was the canonization ceremony.  It was beautiful.  I got to shake the hand of Pope Benedict XVI. For me it was a great privilege to receive after surviving the hell of alcoholism. But, somehow I knew something like this would happen to me.

What do you mean?

Well, before all of this, I had a dream.  In the dream I was in a large church filled with people.  Suddenly Padre Hurtado arrived, wearing a black cassock. He came up to me and handed me the collection plate and told me to collect from the people. I did, going around the whole church and the people gave. Then I went to Padre Hurtado to give him the collection.  He said, ‘Give it to him,’ and pointed to a person dressed in white sitting near the altar, a pope-like figure.  Padre Hurtado added, ‘Give all to him.  Not a cent is to go to you because it all belongs to the Church.’  And I did.  From this dream I understood I was to serve.

How do you serve the Church?

In Hogar de Cristo I was a volunteer, taking food to the bedridden poor.  I participated in all the activities of Hogar de Cristo. I even began collecting funds for it. I have since retired from that. In the church I am a lector and participate in the choir.  I always help out in the Month of Mary. Father Ulrich once gave me a watch as a gift for being the ‘Best Lector’. Many times the priests will ask if I can participate in the parish council and other meetings. 

What can you say about the Columbans?

I admire their work. They are missionaries who leave their country and culture and proclaim Christ in other lands. And they take a big risk of being rejected and maybe even losing their life.  Also, I admire how they have to learn other languages.

For you, what makes Columbans different from other priests?

Columbans are very close to the people.  They share with all, as the song says ‘Niimporta la razas, ni el color de la piel’. They share with the whole world. They can’t be just in one place; they go where they are sent.

You know several Columbans, who do you remember the most?

Fr Michael Howe.  He was my confessor before I went to Rome.  He always said to me, ‘Don’t change.  Don’t return to drinking; maintain your faith in God.’  Also, apart from the Columban charisma of ‘being close to the people’, Father Mike is a very mystical, spiritual person.  He prays a lot. 

What message do you have for our readers?

No one has to feel abandoned; God always gives a helping hand.  Also, you don’t have to live in the past, or go back to what was before. 

End Note: Ronnie is happily retired.  He continues to help the Church and at the end of each Sunday Mass, he collects money for church renovations. As a priest, I am blessed to have known Ronnie.  I am happy to say I was wrong about Ronnie, ‘that he would never change and die on the streets’.  God proved me wrong and showed me an instant conversion, like that of Saint Paul. 

Box
‘Ni importa la razas, ni el color de la piel’
‘Race doesn’t matter, nor the color of the skin’

Cristo tenecesitaparaamar, paraamar.
Cristo tenecesitaparaamar.(x2)

Christ needs you to love, to love.
Christ needs you to love. (x2)

No teimportenlasrazasni el color de la piel.
Ama a todoscomohermanos y haz el bien.(x2)

Neither race nor the color of the skin is of importance.
Love all as brothers/sisters and do what is good. (x2)

Al quesufre y al triste dale amor, dale amor.
Al humilde y al pobre dale amor.(x2)

To the suffering and to the sad give love, give love.
To the needyand the poor give love. (x2)
To the needy and the poor give love. (x2)

No teimportenlasrazasni el color de la piel.
Ama a todoscomohermanos y haz el bien.(x2)

Neither race nor the color of the skin is of importance.
Love all as brothers/sisters and do what is good. (x2)

Al que vive a tulado dale amor, dale amor.
Al queviene de lejos dale amor. (x2)

To someone who lives beside you (or with you), give love
To someone who comes from afar, give him love, give love.

No teimportenlasrazasni el color de la piel.
Ama a todoscomohermanos y haz el bien.(x2)

Neither race nor the color of the skin is of importance.
Love all as brothers/sisters and do what is good. (x2)

Al quehablaotralengua dale amor, dale amor.
Al quepiensadistinto dale amor.(x2)

To one who speaks a different language give love, give love.
To one who thinks differently, give love. (x2)

No teimportenlasrazasni el color de la piel,
ama a todoscomohermanos y haz el bien.(x2)

Neither race nor the color of the skin is of importance.
Love all as brothers/sisters and do what is good. (x2)

Al amigo de siempre dale amor, dale amor.
y al que no tesaluda, dale amor.(x2)

To one who is always your friend give love, give love,
And to the one who doesn’t greet you, give love, give love. (x2)

No teimportenlasrazasni el color de la piel,
ama a todoscomohermanos y haz el bien.(x2)

Neither race nor the color of the skin is of importance.
Love all as brothers/sisters and do what is good. (x2)

[Cristo tenecesitaparaamar, paraamar.
Cristo tenecesitaparaamar.(x2)

Christ needs you to love, to love.
Christ needs you to love. (x2)

No teimportenlasrazasni el color de la piel,
ama a todoscomohermanos y haz el bien.(x2
)

Neither race nor the color of the skin is of importance.
Love all as brothers/sisters and do what is good. (x2)

[Thanks to FrJovito Dales for help with the translation.]

 

Who is Padre Hurtado?


San Alberto Hurtado SJ

Ronnie, the friend of Fr Chris Saenz, Speaks with great fervor and trust in ‘Padre Hurtado’. Who was this man? In the last printed issue of MISYON, March-April 2008, we published A Priest, I bless you – Alberto by Columban Fr John Griffin who died on 25 September this year.


A Hymn to Alberto Hurtado SJ
 Written by Pablo Coloma for the beatification of Blessed Alberto on 16 October 1994, Sung by Pablo Coloma and Ximena Concha 

Alberto, hoy resuenatunombre
Se escuchatupalabraencendida
Turostro hoy recorrelascalles
Tuhuellamarca un nuevocamino
Profetaqueanunciaste el Reino
Supistedenunciar el dolor
Reíste con un canto a la vida
Mostraste un caminomejor.

Alberto, your name resounds today,
your enlightening word is heard,  
your face is seen today on the streets,
your footprints mark a new path.
A prophet who proclaimed the Kingdom,
who knew about pain,
who laughed with a song to life,
who showed a better way.

Alberto contemplétufigura
incendiandolascalles de unaoscura ciudad.
Y vique mil rostrosreían
y otrosmáscomprendíanque era el paso de Dios.
Alberto has tocadonuestraalma
y yasientoqueenciendeesefuego de Dios.
Tuvidafue un regalodivino,
unahistoriaquehizo de este Chile un hogar.

Alberto, I watched you
lighting up the streets of a dark city.
And I saw a thousand faces laughing
and others who understood that that was the way of God.
Alberto, you have touched our soul
and I feel that I am lit by the fire of God.
Your life was a divine gift,
a story that made this Chile a home

Maestro queenseñaste a vivir
la vidacomo lo hizoJesús,
mirando en los hombres quesufren
sucuerpocastigado en la cruz.

 
A teacher who taught how to live
as Jesus did,
looking at those who suffer,
his body punished on the cross.

Apóstol, compañero de pobres,
viviste en tu carne el dolor
de tantosquevivándespreciados,
tusmanosfueron pan y un hogar.

Apostle, companion of the poor,  
you lived in your flesh the pain
of the many who are despised,
your hands were bread and a home.

Alberto contemplétufigura
incendiandolascalles de unaoscura ciudad.
Y vique mil rostrosreían
y otrosmáscomprendíanque era el paso de Dios.
Alberto has tocadonuestraalma
y yasientoqueenciendeesefuego de Dios.

Tuvidaderramada en lascalles
sealsainmensa hasta el cielo en lasmanos de todos.
 
Alberto, I watched you
lighting up the streets of a dark city.
And I saw a thousand faces laughing and others who understood
that that was the way of God.
Alberto, you have touched our soul
and I feel that I am lit by the fire of God.
Your life poured out on the streets
is infinitely raised to heaven in the hands of all.


Stamps issued in Chile for the beatification of Fr Alberto Hurtado SJ, 16 October 1994


Hymn for San Alberto's Canonisation
 Canciónparaunsanto amigo 
 Written by Jaime De Aguirre and Sergio Bravo, sung by Cecilia Echenique

Padre Hurtadoestasconmigo.
Me abres la puerta de tuhogar
Sientoquetengo un santo amigo,
un santoqueconmigo se sienta a conversar

Father Hurtado, you are with me.
you have opened the door of your home for me;
I feel I have a holy friend,
a saint who sits down to chat with me.

Padre hurtadotu me pides
que hasta quedueladebodar.
Quenuncapuedoconformarme 
puescuandosufrealguien es Cristo queahíesta.

 
Father Hurtado, you ask me
to give until it hurts,
that I can never be at ease
because whenever someone suffers Christ is there.

Contento, Señor, contento,
es un regalo de Dios,
un santoquees el milagro
de hacer el mundomejor.

How joyful, Lord, how joyful,
a saint who is a gift from God,
a mi
a miracle
to make a better world.
Lo veo en Valparaíso,
lo esperan en Puerto Montt.
Portodaspartesbuscando
que a nadie le falte Dios.
 
I see him in Valparaíso,
they wait for him in Puerto Montt.
Looking everywhere
so that no one will miss God’s presence.
Obrero entre los obreros,
minero en el mineral,
compañero en el trabajo,
amigo en la soledad.
 
A worker among workers,
a miner among miners,
a companion at work,
a friend in loneliness.
Contento, Señor, contento.
Contento me sientoyo.
El santo de los chilenos
hoy llena el mundo de amor.
 
How joyful, Lord, how joyful.
I feel joyful.
The saint of the Chileans
now fills the world with love.
Padre Hurtadoeresconciencia, 
conciencia de la humanidad,
sueñas con un país de hermanos
poniendo en nuestrasmanos el pan de la unidad.

 
Father Hurtado, you are
the conscience of mankind,
you dream of a country of brothers
holding in our hands the bread of unity.

Padre hoy tienestantoshijos,
todostequierensaludar.
Gracias pormostrarme a Cristo, porlasobrasqueyo he visto. 
hoytomo mi lugar.

 
Father, today you have many children,
all wanting to greet you.
Thank you for showing us Christ, for the works that I've seen.
Today I take my place.

Contento, Señor, contento,
es un regalo de Dios,
un santoquees el milagro
de hacer el mundomejor.

How joyful, Lord, how joyful,
a saint who is a gift from God,
a miracle
to make the world better.

Lo veo en Valparaíso,
lo esperan en Puerto Montt.
Portodaspartesbuscando
que a nadie le falte Dios.
 
I see you in Valparaíso,
they wait for you in Port Montt.
Looking everywhere
so that no one will miss God’s presence. 
Contento, Señor, contento.
Contento me sientoyo.
El santo de los chilenos
hoy llena el mundo de amor.
 
How joyful, Lord.
I feel joyful.
The saint of the Chileans
now fills the world with love.

Insert image of stamp for canonization
Stamp issued by Chile for the canonization of San Alberto Hurtado, 23 October 2005