Capuchin friar walks the world to bring attention to HIV/AIDS

Fr Marcelo Monti as he arrived in Puno, in Peru

Fr Marcelo Monti, a Brazilian Capuchin  intends to travel the whole world on foot, talking about the prevention of HIV/AIDS, which took the life of his 10 year old sister.  In the past 11 months he already travelled 3,600 miles, passing through six countries and will be going to Quebec on the first stage of his journey.

The Capuchin walks on average 18 miles each day, carrying all his belongings in a cart. He doesn’t have any money and depends exclusively on donations and on the hospitality of the people he meets in the cities and towns he travels through.

“Only three times I wasn’t welcomed by the people who would host me – unfortunately, they were priests in all three cases,” he told Crux news agency. But Monti said he prefers to remember the numerous times people were welcoming and even gave him their own bed.

The goodness of people

“Along the trip, I learned to trust the goodness of the people. I know that there will always be someone that will invite me to their home,” the friar said.

It all started last year, on August 26 – the day he turned 40. Monti left the Brazilian city of Pelotas and walked through Uruguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile and Peru. He sometimes had to pay for lodging – using money from donations – or slept in his tent. He usually walks alone, but at times a fellow Capuchin friar or young community members accompanied him during small parts of his journey.

“Maybe due to the Franciscan charisma, I feel very integrated to the environment when I’m alone, and it’s not a problem for me. This way, I’m also very open to know people everywhere”.

Monti doesn’t wear his congregation’s habit while walking, explaining that for Saint Francis of Assisi, the habit was the garment of a destitute man.

“Being a religious person, he didn’t want to be treated differently from the other people, on the contrary,” he explained. With civilian clothes, Monti wants to avoid any possible privilege.

“I’m a dark-skinned Latino-American and the people who see me on the road pushing my cart can take me for a poor wanderer. I want to feel the way these people feel,” he said.

There are currently thousands of Venezuelans migrating throughout South America, fleeing political and economic turmoil in their country and pursuing a better life. Monti has met with many of them.

Prejudice is real

“I once arrived at a city in Peru and realized that people were staring at me. I asked a man what was happening, and he told me people thought I was a Venezuelan and feared I’d rob them or ask them for money. I didn’t tell anybody I wasn’t a Venezuelan – I wanted to be treated properly not because I’m from Brazil, but because I’m a human being,” he said.

“Imagine what it is to be seen with mistrust and to know that people fear touching your hand. Unfortunately, prejudice is real and long-lasting.”

The first impetus for his journey came when he was a novice and his superior told him about the beginnings of the Franciscans and the idea of itinerancy.

“There’s a text in which Saint Francis calls us to live as pilgrims and strangers in this world. I always think about it,” he said.

In that first experience, he roamed with a colleague for thirteen days, with no money. He did two other short journeys, but then wanted to do something more profound, noting “this is a permanent mission for some of our provinces.”