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Venezuelan does funerals alone in Peru cemetery amid virus

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.

Brother Ronald Marin, a layperson from Venezuela, traces a small cross on the forehead of Aurora Davila, during the burial service of her 35-year old son who died from the new coronavirus, at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 4, 2020. At a time when Peruvian authorities calculate that more than a quarter of Lima's population may have been infected with the new coronavirus, Marin is one of the few Catholic Church representatives who remains in cemeteries alongside the mourners. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

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.

Aurora Davila, right, comforts her grieving 15-year-old granddaughter Tatiana Palomo as she lies on the grave of her father who died from the new coronavirus, during a burial service at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 4, 2020. Peru has the highest COVID-19 death rate per million in the Americas, above Chile, the United States, Brazil and Mexico. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

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.

He left Venezuela after protesting for more than a decade against the socialist government and when in 2018 he became infected with tuberculosis, a doctor recommended that he migrate in order to feed himself better.

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, carries his crucifix, a funeral ritual booklet and an implement used to sprinkle holy water, at the end of a burial service at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 4, 2020. Marin left Venezuela after protesting for more than a decade against the socialist government and when in 2018 he became infected with tuberculosis, a doctor recommended that he migrate in order to feed himself better. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

His worn-out cell phone, with the screen cracked into dozens of fragments, rings in the early morning with calls, audios and text messages from people who ask him if he will be in the cemetery the next day to pray for someone who has just died.

Sometimes they invite him to pray at the homes of the deceased after the first month of death.

The presence of the laity in areas where the church never came summons neighbors who dressed in facemasks come to pray.

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, enjoys a free lunch between burials, at the entrance of the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Friday, July 17, 2020. Marin, who until 2018 was a school teacher, managed the dining room of a parish in the Venezuelan city of Guacara. He ultimately took vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Marín asks for a chair and reflects on the teachings of the Bible. He uses simple words like when he was a teacher in Venezuela, a profession he practiced until traveling to Peru in search of work like 830,000 other migrants.

In Lima he sold hot coffee on the streets and slept in a car depot. Shortly after, he met the parish priest of a church where he was assigned a janitor job for a month before being sent to the cemetery to comfort the mourners.

Peru has the highest death rate per million in the Americas, above Chile, the United States, Brazil and Mexico.

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, leads a prayer service for Pantaleon Pinedo and his son Antolin Pinedo, who both died in May from the new coronavirus, at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Marin is the only one who administers burial services in the cemetery that looks like a miniature city wedged between two desert hills. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

At the moment 395,000 are infected and 18,600 have died so far.

The crucifix of Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, sits on top of the tombstone honoring Richard Gomez, who died in May due to the new coronavirus, during a visit by Marin to say a prayer for Gomez, at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Marin arrives to the cemetery before noon and leaves at night when the cemetery with more than half a century of existence and no electric light on the grounds, empties of visitors. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, leads a burial service for Juan Tito Ramos who died from the new coronavirus, at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Monday, July 6, 2020. Catholic churches in Peru closed their temples to avoid contagions, but a handful of the devout, including Marin, believe that their duty is to pray with the sick, provide support in cemeteries and pray with family members of the victims. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, prays standing over the freshly dug grave that contains the remains of 62-year-old Arturo Sotelo, who died due to the COVID-19, at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 18, 2020. Marin is one of the few Catholic Church representatives who administers funerals in the cemetery far from the capital's center that looks like a miniature city wedged between two desert hills. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, talks with mourners Ines Rodriguez and Elisa Sabogal, as the remains of their 62-year-old uncle Arturo Sotelo, who died from the new coronavirus, are buried at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 18, 2020. "What we do is try to make people find hope," said the man who until 2018 was a school teacher and ultimately took the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, holds up his crucifix before a tomb offering a prayer for the dead requested of Marin by relatives, inside the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Saturday, July 4, 2020. His worn-out cell phone rings in the early morning with calls, audios and text messages from people who ask him if he will be in the cemetery the next day to offer a prayer at the tomb of a dead relative or to preside over a funeral. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, accompanies to a burial site the relatives of 87-year-old Juan Tito Ramos, who died due to the new coronavirus, at the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Monday, July 6, 2020. Peru has the highest COVID-19 death rate per million in the Americas, above Chile, the United States, Brazil and Mexico. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, prays over the coffin that contains the remains of Keizer Quinones and Sarai Araujo's unborn daughter, at a burial service in the "Martires 19 de Julio" cemetery in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. Marin is one of the few Catholic Church representatives who administers funerals in the cemetery far from the capital's center that looks like a miniature city wedged between two desert hills. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, adjusts his protective face mask as he prepares to lead a memorial service marking the death anniversary of Julia Ascencio, who died from the new coronavirus, in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. Sometimes Marin, who is one of the few Catholic Church representatives who remain in cemeteries alongside the mourners, is invited to pray at the homes of the deceased after the first month of death. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, visits with relatives and neighbors after leading a memorial service marking the one-month death anniversary of Julia Ascencio, who died from the new coronavirus, in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The presence of the laity in areas where the church never came summons neighbors who dressed in protective facemasks come to pray. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, sprinkles holy water on the coffin that contains the remains of 97-year-old Ruben Val, as granddaughter Leslie Gonzalez holds her cell phone in place so that her parents can take part in the service via video conferencing in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Val died of natural causes. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, prays with Jose Munoz, who suffers from osteoarthritis, in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Catholic churches in Peru closed their temples to avoid contagions, but a handful of the devout, including Marin, believe that their duty is to pray with the sick, provide support in cemeteries and pray with family members of the victims. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

A child looks out her front door while Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, visits to pray with family members of COVID-19 victims, in Comas, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Shortly after arriving in Lima, Marin met a parish priest where he was assigned a janitor job for a month before being sent to the cemetery to comfort the mourners. When he is not tending to the deceased, he visits the surrounding neighborhoods to pray with faithful and teach catechism to children. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

Brother Ronald Marin, a 30-year-old layworker from Venezuela, entertains himself with a video game while his friend Jimmy, a barber, trims his hair, in Los Olivos, on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, Thursday, July 23, 2020. Marin, with an education degree from the University of Carabobo, left Venezuela in 2018 after protesting for more than a decade against the socialist government. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)