Sticking plasters

The Bishop of Malaga has announced that Father Jesús Ramesh Babu Gudapati, the priest who has had ongoing xenophobic abuse from a gang of youths, is to be moved from the parishes of Benajarafe, Chilches and Cajiz to Monda and Guaro in September and Father Jesús will be replaced by José Danilo Moreno Pérez. Father Jesús is originally from India, but has lived in Spain for four and a half years and has been in the Axarquía parish for eight months.

While I sincerely hope that the youths of Monda and Guaro are far more respectful than that particular group in Benajarafe, it seems that the Bishop has simply covered the problem with a sticking plaster, rather than finding a real solution. The police for their part have been accused of not responding to the regular calls from Father Jesús who endured both verbal and physical attacks at the hands of the gang members.

One 16-year-old has been given a six-month sentence in a youth detention centre for his part in the torrent of abuse that Father Jesús has been subjected to in the eight months that he has been the local priest. However, reports suggest that the gang grew considerably in number and spent longer hanging around the church during the time the priest has been there and up to 30 would congregate (no pun intended) at any one time; far more than those who dare form part of the actual congregation for Father Jesús's services, such was the fear of having to pass the gang to get to the church.

The Bishop's decision to move Father Jesús and the sentencing of one 16-year-old does not tackle the root of the problem. Would more officers on patrol in Benajarafe have prevented the attacks? Father Jesús reportedly contacted the police in Vélez-Málaga on a number of occasions before any real action was taken and the priest has said that the situation has not really improved.

The Bishop needs to do more than simply move the priest to a new area and parachute a new one in. While the mayor of Vélez-Málaga, Antonio Moreno Ferrer, did show his support for Father Jesús and condemn the gang of youths, he did not appear to go any further and use his power to really address the problem. According to Father Jesús, the police did go to the church and move the youths on a few occasions, but said that as soon as they had gone, the gang would be back and even more abusive, threatening him again for having called the police.

Whose job is it to really stand up to the culprits and flush out the xenophobia? A sticking plaster might ease a wound, but it is a short-term fix and the wound won't heal completely until it has been treated properly by the right people. Benajarafe's parishioners took a stand and now those in authority need to act to send out a clear and united message of zero tolerance towards any form of racism and xenophobia.