Ismael’s conversion after witnessing a wounded Creation

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Ismael’s conversion after witnessing a wounded CreationThe protagonist of this story is a Catholic activist in a small town in Catalonia who, deciding to live in poverty like St. Francis, founded a shelter for injured, abused and exploited animals. Having moved away from the Church, two years ago he felt the desire to re-embrace his faith and commit himself to the care of Creation and its creatures.

What would it be like to live in a community where the lamb grazes alongside the wolf as in St. Francis of Assisi’s day? At the Foundación Santuario Gaia in Spain, Ismael Dobarganes has made this courageous choice after a profound ecological conversion, dedicating his life in particular to caring for mistreated animals from the country's farms, homes and food industries. Here, in this place in Catalonia, surrounded by greenery, the Catholic activist and influencer cares for donkeys, horses, cows, goats, pigs and chickens every day: he bathes them, feeds them, administers the therapy prescribed by the veterinarian so that they can live without pain, and when there is nothing more to be done, he ensures that they die in a dignified place and environment.

Some 300,000 people, (94,000 on his Instagram profile alone, the rest on the foundation's account) follow the Foundation’s stories of Ismael and his animals through social media, plus he has written two books, "Animales como tú" and "El rescate de Samuel," which are already in their third reprint. "What I do," he says, "I owe to God; the obstacles are many, the difficulties related to the climate, payments, bills, space, finding hands that can help, yet Providence never abandons me, that's why I say that this work is God’s doing.”

Returning to the faith

Ismael, however, was not always such a believer. In fact, as he himself, tells us, he "came home" a little over a year ago. "I entered the Church when I was 14 years old, went on a long journey with the neocatechumenal communities, but after a few years, scandalized by the sins of others, I moved away from it. In the 20 years I was away from the Church, however, I discovered that I was no better than others: I was the classic type who looks at the speck in his brother's eye and doesn't notice that he has a log in his own."

It was through animals that God drew Ismael to Himself once again: "A little less than a year ago I decided to go to Africa. There, an elephant put his head against my forehead, and I heard in my heart a single word that nonetheless, sounded like an imperative: 'Love!’ "That word, so powerful and yet so difficult to put into practice, I had already heard 20 years before: love your neighbor, love the stranger, love your enemy, love everyone, give of your life. But how difficult is it? After my trip to Africa, I came back to Spain; I felt changed inside and above all, I began to see God in all things around me: in Creation, in the earth and in all its creatures."

The impact of Laudato si’

After his conversion, Ismael had to return to his usual activities, his work, and the hustle and bustle of everyday life, but his outlook and heart had profoundly changed. "By chance I read Pope Francis' Encyclical Laudato si'," he says, moved. "And this text brought me closer to God. I met members of the Laudato Si' Movement, and I saw how hard they were working, caring for the planet, animals, the poor, ecology. So, with some trepidation, I chose to take the ultimate step and to follow Jesus Christ again. I believe, and faith dictates my actions, but I have many non-believer friends who are enthusiastic about Laudato si' and who, thanks to the Pope's exhortations, have decided to espouse the cause of the environment."

Although he has been mocked and attacked by some social networks precisely because he is Catholic, Ismael feels that his example has inspired others to get involved in caring for our Common Home: "There are days," he says, "when I get up to pray the rosary and someone who is not a believer ends up joining my prayer. I take out my guitar to sing and praise God and they accompany me in the songs. Many of them have come back to feeling like Church because of these moments of sharing, of love."

Ismael candidly admits that he has discovered that through animals, God’s creatures, the Lord teaches us how to live a more Christian life: "We must learn to be silent where God speaks. He also speaks to us through the vulnerable, through the least, and sometimes He does it through animals. It is a learning process: I feel called to imitate them, to be meek and humble like them, as Jesus told us."

A lifestyle similar to Saint Francis of Assisi’s

"I deeply identify with Laudato si'; I love Pope Francis because he is the Pope that the Church and the world needed, and needs, in these times. Loving Creation, animals, was what the Poverello of Assisi did." And like St. Francis, Ismael is certain that God is asking us Christians today to repair his house, building a new covenant between us and nature. "We have a difficult task, but I am happy because we have been given a time of change in the world and of total renewal in the Church. I feel 'blessed' because I spend time in nature, and I feel called to do this and to help others to love as well."

Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Ismael has also felt called to take to the road, reaching out to the Eastern European country to assist refugees and animals. "Thanks to our followers who kept on donating," he says, "we were able to fill a hotel in Ukraine every week, far from the conflict’s hotspots, and to bring 200 Ukrainians to Spain, assisting them throughout, as well as 250 animals which were also victims of bombs or abandonment. With that money we were also able to buy an ambulance. Ismael concludes his interview with an appeal to all those who hear this call: "do not think that your contribution is worthless or cannot change things. If you feel this impulse of love toward Creation, jump in, take action, become change-makers."

Sandra Estrada *

* Laudato Si’ Movement