Dozens of Benajarafe residents gathered in front of the village church on Sunday morning to show their support towards Father Jesús, who has been suffering xenophobic insults and threats since he was appointed priest of Benajarafe and Chilches parishes eight months ago.
The residents’ platform, which says it is neither political nor religious, came out to show its support for the priest and to protest over lack of police presence in the village, for which it blames the “impassiveness” of Vélez-Málaga town hall.
“Although we are apolitical and not religious, the priest is a neighbour here who provides a service to members of the community and we want to show him our full support,” said a spokesperson during Sunday’s protest.
Since Jesús Ramesh Babu Gudapati, 37, who is originally from India, started his job at the parish church, he has been the victim of regular insults, threats and vandalism to his property by a group of youths, many of whom are thought to live in the village.
He says that they gather in the area around the church to consume drugs and alcohol and despite regularly reporting them to the police, little can be done about the situation due to the fact that the delinquents are under 18.
“The police move them on but when they have gone the youths return and are even more violent,” Father Jesús told SUR.
They have knocked on his door during the night and demanded money and vandalised his car and house. He has had to listen to racist insults including, “Black, we are going to cut [off] your head so you don’t get up tomorrow morning,” and “We are going to cut off your tongue so that you leave here.”
The priest said that in the beginning there were about a dozen youths in the gang and that they would meet at around 6pm. However, over time the numbers have grown to over 30 people and that they start to meet at around 3.30pm.
Not only have they caused damage to church property but there have also been reports of vandalism to the local library, sports centre, school playground and other services. An elderly lady who was on her way to Mass has also been verbally abused by the group.
The Bishop of Malaga, who appointed Father Jesús, is aware of the situation and has suggested that the priest stay in a clergy house in Malaga and go to Benajarafe to work, which is what the former priest did. The man was 86 when he resigned from the post having also suffered at the hands of the gang. However, Father Jesús has said that he believes that by doing so the situation “will get worse” and that he wants to be in the village for his parishioners.
The National Police have said that they have opened an investigation into the incidents and that the priest is not the only person who has reported them. Mayor of Vélez-Málaga, Antonio Ferrer, shared a message on social media on Sunday, condemning the gang’s behaviour, but did not appear to provide any kind of solution.