Family of Irish priest (70) shot in Peru campaign to replace parish money stolen in violent attack
An online campaign has been started to replace funds stolen from an Irish priest when he was robbed at gunpoint while working in a parish in Peru.
Father Gerard Desmond was returning to Christ the Liberator parish in San Juan de Lurigancho on April 28 from a bank in Lima when three men demanded the money he had just withdrawn.
The 70-year-old Irish-Columbian missionary priest had just taken out $2,000 (€1,655) to pay the wages of builders who working on construction of the only primary school in the district and was adamant on not handing over the money.
“He’s sort of stubborn in that way, but there was no way he was going to give up money that was going to help so many people,” said Michael Kelleher, Fr Desmond’s nephew.
“It’s weird, too, because he said he felt like someone was following him and then when he was nearly opening the doors the three guys just jumped him out of nowhere,” Mr Kelleher told Independent.ie.
Two of the three men had guns and threatened to shoot if Fr Desmond didn’t hand over the money. When he refused, he was hit in the head with the revolver butt and then shot above both knees.
“He didn’t even feel the pain at first so he was still holding onto [the money] till the second shot,” said Mr Kelleher. “Luckily, the bullets went through the fleshy part of his thighs and didn’t hit anything life-threatening.”
Luckily, an ex-policeman from Venezuela was working on a nearby building site and witnessed what happened. He was able to temporarily bandage Fr Desmond’s wounds and drive him to the nearest hospital.
Mr Kelleher said despite the trauma his uncle experienced, he was in “good spirits” only days after the violent attack. The Irish priest was ordained in 1969 has worked in Lima, Peru for the last twenty years.
According to Mr Kelleher, there was massive upset in the local area when news broke of Fr Desmond’s injuries: “Peru is very religious and priests are held in a very high regard, so for this happen there’s huge outcry. The area the parish is in is a bit troubled so stuff like this happens all the time, but not to priests.
“People gathered outside his house to show support, so it was nice to hear that the work he does is appreciated.”
Fr Desmond’s nephew said the focus is now on replenishing the funds lost in the attack. Over €1,000 of the €1,700 goal has been raised so far. Following the attack, the priest spent some time in America with family, but returned this Thursday to continue working to improve his parish’s district.
“He was in America visiting family and taking some time to recover, but now that he has returned we are just focusing on getting some of this money back so he can continue helping the people of Peru. He’s been there for twenty years now and it’s what he loves, so I don’t think even something like this could deter him,” said Mr Kelleher.
You can follow the progress of the campaign here.