Father Agustin Rodriguez is determined to help drug addicts in the slum [Olmo Calvo Rodriguez/Al Jazeera]
The Slum

Spain: A Father in hell

Meet the priest supporting residents of western Europe’s largest shantytown in their daily fight for dignity.

As part of the ‘Where I live’ series, the Al Jazeera Magazine asked people from around the world how their lives have been influenced by where they live. Meet Father Agustin Rodriguez, a priest in Madrid’s Canada Real slum.

If Madrid’s Canada Real slum – the largest shantytown in western Europe – has become synonymous with drugs and deprivation, it is in sector six of that settlement that its reputation has been truly earned. And it is here that Father Agustin Rodriguez tends to his flock – in his Santo Domingo de la Calzada Church and on the unpaved roads of this infamous drug market.

The 51-year-old has united with the local mosque, NGOs and Gypsy organisations in a bid to help the drug addicts who live in the slum and the hundreds who visit it daily for their fix – some making their way from the closest underground station, others in so-called kundas, drug taxis that charge their occupants between $9 and $11 for the round trip from downtown Madrid.

Once, they would have found the purest cocaine and heroin at Canada Real, but in recent years the quality has declined considerably. That has not, however, done anything to diminish the numbers heading there.

“You can never get the drug out of the drug addict; it’s more like the person gets out himself,” Rodriguez says, adding: “All we do is ease the way out. There are many who have achieved it, and every one comes with great satisfaction.”

Once Rodriguez has helped somebody get clean, he contacts their family and tries to encourage them to take their relative back in. He will often follow up with them for years after to check on their progress.

For him, the struggle facing all of the residents of the 14km-long slum, which was originally founded more than 40 years ago by farmers heading to the city in search of work and which has homed waves of migrants and impoverished and marginalised Spaniards in the years since, is one of visibility and dignity. Drawing inspiration from the Prophet Hosea, he says: “We must fight united, and make an exercise of compassion, of recognising each other’s dignities, where the administration only sees irregular files and houses to demolish. We don’t look for someone to blame, only for solutions.”