Priest rescues child from organ traffickers

September 22, 2021

Robaird O’Cearbhaill
Hong Kong correspondent

The deadly fate of a boy, due to be killed for organ trafficking, was reversed when a priest intervened – by pretending to be a criminal. The story was revealed by El Pais, a leading Spanish National newspaper and Aleteia Catholic news.

Spanish Fr. Ignacio María Doñoro de los Ríos was in El Salvador as a chaplain for the Spanish National Police who were on a mission, in the 1990s. He discovered, in shock, that a 14-year-old named Manuel was on sale for organ trafficking.      

This was not the common case of organ trafficking, the-buy-one kidney-from-consenting-impoverished-adults. Or those who are tricked into organ donation by another fake surgical pretense, who usually survive the operations. The boy was paralyzed, described as “defective merchandise” in the plan to sell him, Doñoro de los Ríos said.    

The traffickers aimed to sell all usable organs, after Manuel had been murdered. After cutting him into pieces, they would be packed into boxes, slaughter house-style done to pigs or cows.

Doñoro de los Ríos decided to act to save Manuel, despite the danger of dealing with criminal gang traffickers. He could not go as a priest but disguise himself, pass himself off as one of the criminals, when meeting the parents.

In preparation Doñoro de los Ríos did not shave for a week, dressed as common people do, and hired a truck. He drove up to the remote mountains of Panchimalco to talk with Manuel’s parents who had five children and were desperately poor.   

Presenting himself as an organ dealer, the priest offered an extra dollar above the price of  $25 offered by the potential buyers, who would expect to sell at vastly higher prices for their killing deeds. The parents accepted. Doñoro de los Ríos found out where the money was destined: food for their other kids, four daughters.

Manuel had double luck having his sponsor. First he escaped murder and once he was in safety, Doñoro de los Ríos found medical treatment successfully. Doctors not just treated his underlying disease but cured his paralysis. So the “defective merchandise” was no longer defective but could lead a normal life.

The priest received a grateful letter from Manuel stating  that the priest had been “the most important person in his life.”

Doñoro de los Ríos said that this was an opportunity to grab which may never happen again.

“In tenths of a second, I realized that this was a train that would pass only once in my life and you have to take it or leave it. And if you take it, it will take you where you never thought you’d go … I was very aware that that child was going to change my life.” And it did.

For the next 25 years, after the boy’s rescue and rehabilitation, the priest was focused on supporting orphans and children from impoverished families in the Peruvian Amazon. He founded Nazareth Home with local parents to do that.

Nazareth Home is an institution entirely dedicated to caring for orphaned children and the children of desperate families, like Manuel’s in El Salvador. These families find themselves facing an overwhelming battle against poverty and are vulnerable to falling into the most tragic attempts at escape: prostitution, crime or, still today as 25 years ago, the horror of human trafficking, dead or alive.