(Originally published on omiworld.org)
He was 31 years old when he was sent from the cold of Germany to be a missionary in the “green hell” as they used to call the Chaco area at that time. Today, Paraguay has become “my land,” says Father Norberto SCHLECHTER, signaling that he is not thinking of packing his bags for a final trip to old Europe. This is something that hundreds of people appreciate who come each week to the simple chapel of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, at Villa Morra, to receive advice, hope, and above all, the so necessary sacrament of pardon.
The silence in the lovely chapel is frequently interrupted. The sharp and creaking sound of hinges share the space and mark the coming and going of young people and adults to this place in Villa Morra. All of this is due to this man of 78 years, who behind a discrete, light-colored door, daily and for several hours, fulfills his task, “his mission,” as he would say: hearing the confessions of those who wish to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
Fr. Norbert lives his vocation primarily in a tiny space in this chapel, ventilated by a simple wall fan. He has been a priest for 48 years, but he does not remember at what age he entered the seminary. “When you get old, the memory fails you,” he adds, as he gives his quirky smile, a gesture that transforms his rigid features into expressions of warmth and tenderness.
His humor is constant, like the serenity and peace that he transmits by speaking with his legs resting on a bench -- due to the “infirmities of old age,” as he likes to say -- sitting in the little confessional, daily hearing the confessions of young persons and adults, including seminarians, priests and sisters who come to the place to receive the sacrament of reconciliation.
“It’s a good service (confession), but it is also tiring when you are there all day, but I am the only beggar who has time for that,” he laughs. And as he settles into his chair, he adds that he has never thrown anyone out. “You just have to hope,” assures the religious who was born to a family of coal miners.
Besides the confessions, he takes communion to the sick of the barrio and celebrates Mass in this chapel, known for its celebrations in the German language, and sometimes also in French, for the Catholic foreigner communities.
“Paí Norberto,” as some like to call him, says that in the matter of the sacrament of Penance, one cannot speak of feelings but of a reality: it is God’s pardon, beyond what “we feel”, when there is repentance and a desire to change, trust in God and confession of sins, states the German priest, born in 1933 in a city in the area of Dormund. (Comunicaciones, Easter 2012)