Our first couple of days in Lima, Peru was started in preparation of understanding the culture. Day one was about historical culture. We visited sacred churches that were examples of the Maryology religious aspect of the people, the monastery of the Franciscans of St. Frances of Assessi group – and the catacombs where the bones of all the saints and hierarchy of the church were still found. We also visited the Museum of the Inquisition and learned the history of the persecution of the Peruvians that did not follow the doctrine of the Catholic faith, which lasted 300 years. Detailed pictures can be found on my facebook page.
Day two theme is about the religious culture. The team split up and visited many churches and worshiped with the people. I went to Cristo Redentor with Fr. Michael, Dcn. Paul, and Richard. The four of us and our translator Jherlly squeezed into Fr. Anderson’s Honda CR-V when he came to pick us up for church. He gave us his testimony on the drive. He was born in Peru, but lived for many years growing up and adult life in Las Angelas, CA. He and his brother came back to Peru about 15 years ago for a wedding and he decided he was not going back to the USA. He left his home his job and his family (mother, father and brother) to accept his call to Jesus and ministering to his native people in Peru. We arrived in time for a tour of the school. The church served 240 children of the neighborhood, feeding them 2 meals a day and teaching them primary school. The service was started in contemporary music with drums, electric guitar and a vocalist. I found out later, the building itself does not have power, that one of the parishioners has electricity and they “share power” with the church. The 4 of us were asked to give our testimony to the parish during the time of the sermon. I shared how we were resisting God’s call in our lives for many years. We were consumed with our successful careers and building a life according to the “American Dream”. We thought that as long as we gave our money and some of our time to the church that was enough. I then talked about the eye opening experience we had when we went on a mission trip to a village where there was no running water, no electricity, and no cement floors. Our lives were changed. We realized we were not giving 100% of our lives to Christ as he insists upon. So we decided it was time to accept God’s call to seminary. We began to scale down by selling what we didn’t need, a car, house, pool table and basically leaving behind all that would not fit in 2 PODS that would meet us in Nashotah, WI to begin our journey. My testimony was not unlike other seminarian testimonies, it was a testimony of faith. I am not one to speak in a crowd, but this morning, God held my hand literally. I was not afraid, I did not get the jitters that normally accompany public speaking and I was breathing with God’s grace and peace. Our worship experience at Cristo Redentor was amazing. The differences I saw (other than the obvious Spanish language spoken) was that the ushers did not “pass the plate”. Offering baskets lay at the altar, and the people were to come up to the altar and drop their offering in the offering basket. Many came, one by one, than all together, young, old, some with coins and some with folded papers – all giving with joy when it was evident they did not have much to give. After the service Fr. Anderson told us we had 3 more passengers to squeeze in to the Honda CR-v (now 9 people in this small car – transit Latin style!!).
Which brings us to Day 3; the mission culture. Today we were introduced to how the church is branching out in mission in many areas. We visited Padre Aurelio Rodriguez at Santa Maria Virgen. His vision is promoting hope in many ways. The first evident is the beauty he has created in the vicinity of his church. Plants are everywhere. He says that plants are a natural expression of hope and God’s love. The other wonderful ministry he supports (with the help of 21 ladies in his church) is a micro finance project. The women sew together, knit, make jewelry and shoes and sell the items at the church to help support their families. The court house is on the same street as the church, and Santa Maria serves many people that are in both civil cases and criminal cases for either way a judgment goes. Then Padre took us to the Sagrada Familia mission. It is located higher up on the mountain, some call it “shanty town” others with a vision of hope call it “pueblo jevan” meaning young town. The young towns are built away from city in hopes that they will grow and be able to support themselves. Sagrada Mission today (will add pictures later) was started with a piece of mountain side land bought by the diocese. The women in the town cleared the rock by hand. It was hard manual labor, they do this as well as cook together in the village. The men are traveling salesmen they call it in English. They are gone for days at times or locally as street vendors so the women are left to do all this work. Padre is very proud of the mission – and has dreams of its completion soon. Mission teams have come to help with the foundation and the bricks for the walls. There is still no roof yet, but his plants of hope are all around. He points out where the baptismal will go and where the nativity scene will go. His vision is an inspiration! You wouldn’t know it by looking at him, but Fr. Aurelio is sick with TB. He said that because the village does not have running water, the sewage is absorbed in the ground – creating contamination in the ground, there is a cement plant to the east – creating contamination in the air, and his work at the cemetery has all been contributing factors. The cemetery (seen in pictures) is the largest cemetery in the world. You may not be able to notice, but some of the pictures you’ll see the graves all the way up the mountain. The reason the cemetery is contaminated is because the ground is desert, no vegetation, and the bodies are only buried 30 centimeters down in the ground. The smell of decay and death is evident in this place. The cemetery is guarded and usually a bus would not be allowed in the gate for “tours”, but with Padre with us, he is a well known and respected man here. He wants to show us how death is respected as well as feared here. It is evident in the shrines and handmade memorials. He told us it is too expensive to neither cremate nor embalm the bodies, so they are buried in a casket and sometimes after a respectful amount of time, the family will have someone dig the body back up and remove it from the casket so the wooden casket can be used again. This day was so powerful. So many things to process and take in. I am still not sure I have gotten it all down, but the one thing I want to take away with me today is the sadness in the eyes of the boy who was thirsty. May I never forget the thirst in the world. May I never take for granted the running water that we often waste in the USA with unnecessities. The people of Sagrada must drink contaminated water (which is sold to them at a high price) because they do not have running water.