Venezuelan does funerals alone in Peru cemetery amid virus

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Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, walks along a paved dirt road lined by graves, inside the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 4, 2020. Wearing a white robe and shoes worn down by dust, Marin is one of the few who administers funerals in this cemetery far from the center of Peru's capital. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

LIMA – Wearing a white robe and shoes worn down by dust, Venezuelan layworker Ronald Marín is the only one who administers funerals in a cemetery far from the capital’s center.

At a time when Peruvian authorities calculate that more than a quarter of Lima's population may have been infected with the new coronavirus, Marín is one of the few Catholic Church representatives who remain in cemeteries alongside the mourners.

“What we do is try to make people find hope,” said the man who until 2018 was a school teacher, managed the dining room of a parish in the Venezuelan city of Guacara, and visited the sick. He ultimately took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.

Catholic churches in Peru closed their temples to avoid contagions while virtual Masses on the internet has multiplied, but a handful of the devout, including Marín, believe that their duty is to pray with the sick, provide support in cemeteries and pray with family members of the victims.

Brother Marín carries a rucksack with a worn-leaf book with the title Funeral Ritual, a silver cross, and a copper sprinkler with which he splashes holy water at the end of the last prayer for the deceased in a cemetery that looks like a miniature city wedged between two desert hills.

In his reflections, shortly before the coffins wrapped in transparent plastic are buried, the layworker quotes Job and the calamities he experienced, Ezekiel walking through a valley of dry bones and Tobias listening to his father’s advice on how to bury him.

Marín, 30 years old and with an education degree from the University of Carabobo, arrives before noon and leaves at night when the cemetery of the Comas district of Lima, with more than half a century of existence and no electric light on the grounds, empties of the living and only the dead remain.

When he is not tending to the deceased, he visits the surrounding neighborhoods where since 2018 he has taught catechism to almost a hundred sons and daughters of bricklayers, florists and candy vendors so that they can receive baptism and first communion in a nearby church.