LATIN AMERICAPERU: Challenge for a new Oblate
(Fr. Roberto CARRASCO tells of the challenges he faces in his ministry in Santa Clotilde, Peru.)
The density and the distances of the Peruvian Amazon are immense, as is the challenge of being of service to a wide range of cultures and native ethnic groups.
In 2008, the Oblates of Peru assumed the Santa Clotilde mission. This was a moment of grace for me, fulfilling all I had been prepared for in the last years of formation. I was working in Radio Amistad, the radio transmission the Oblates run in Aucayacu. To leave this work was an important decision for me.
As a seminarian, I had heard of Santa Clotilde, but had never been there. So when I accepted the position, it was a new beginning for me . . . new experience, new community, new responsibilities, new everything.
I made my final vows and was given the obedience to Santa Clotilde. On August 6, 2008, I started my new life as a missionary. On Sept 22, I was ordained deacon in Lima and one day later set out for Santa Clotilde.
The sight of rivers, trees, lush vegetation and beautiful open skies augured well for me. It was all a challenge but on entering the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, I knew I was joining a religious family experienced in distant and difficult missions.
I was anxious not to miss the opportunity God was giving me. My first wonderment was at the peace and tranquility one feels in this place. Nature herself embraces you. It is a time of grace that I am still enjoying.
Before long, our bishop proposed that I assume charge of the indigenous ministry for the Vicariate. In our zone, the population is native, and there is a big ‘time bomb’ brewing: the presence of the petroleum companies. Add to that illegal deforestation, the gold panners in the rivers and the coca cultivation for the cocaine trade. All this is radically altering the lives of the people. It is a dilemma for the more than 100 native communities in the parish.
The indigenous ministry is a large undertaking, coupled with the social and ecological dimensions. The harvest is great but the laborers few. There are only nine priests in the whole Vicariate.
Our objective is to see the Indigenous Face of Christ. We integrate ‘Indian Theology’ into intercultural and interfaith dialogue. It is a tall order, but it fits our missionary challenge: to faithfully live our Oblate community and the charism of Saint Eugene de Mazenod in the midst of the Amazon. (Oblate Spirit, September 2010 – OMI Lacombe)
The phrase “wounded healers” certainly applies to the Catholic Church in Haiti. It is struggling to meet the humanitarian needs of its people — both physical and spiritual — while working out of damaged or destroyed parishes, schools and clinics.
So far, most of the money collected by Catholic churches around the world for Haiti relief — about 304 million US$— has been put to use to provide food, water, shelter, jobs and medical care to the hundreds of thousands of Haitians who were injured and displaced by the January 12 earthquake.
While that work will continue, Haiti’s Church soon will get some aid of its own, as some of that donated money will begin to be spent on rebuilding the facilities of the Church itself. To do so in an efficient and transparent way, Haiti’s bishops held their plenary session in Miami, Florida USA, September 22- 26 with bishops from the United States, Canada, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Guadeloupe, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, France and Germany, as well as representatives of the Holy See, Catholic relief organizations and the Inter-American Development Bank. During this historic meeting, the bishops agreed to put in place a structure that will oversee how the work of reconstruction is carried out.
Known by the acronym PROCHE — meaning ‘close’ — it will consist of a joint steering committee chaired by the president of the Haitian bishops’ conference and composed of representatives of the Holy See, the Haitian bishops, religious orders working in Haiti and donor dioceses and agencies. Under them will be a reconstruction unit, staffed by competent lay people with experience in engineering and architecture. The office will be responsible for drafting and approving reconstruction plans, and ensuring that all Church buildings adhere to safety and structural codes. A companion document entitled “Partners in Mission” was approved by the Haitian bishops and offers a set of guidelines for those wishing to partner or “twin” with parishes or other church groups in Haiti.
The bishops are asking that all building work be channeled through PROCHE. This structure will allow Haiti’s bishops, in partnership with donors from around the world, to make sure that the reconstruction work is done in a most efficient but also in a most transparent way.
The Oblates of Mary Immaculate are the single largest religious congregation in Haiti, as well as enjoying the largest percentage of religious bishops among the country’s hierarchy. Having so many Haitian Oblates brings with it a 4,000-strong solidarity corps of fellow Oblates from around the world. (Fr. Andrew SMALL in OMI USA, November 2010)
Father Joseph DEVLIN is pastor of the parish of ‘Jesus Salvador’ in the Peruvian jungle, approximately 630 kilometres and a 13-hour bus ride northeast of Lima. Aucayacu is the capital of the District of José Crespo y Castillo. The District is home to about 35,000 people, 20,000 of whom live in Aucayacu with the rest spread out among 110 rural villages. Here, he speaks of some of his challenges.
After establishing parishes in Chincha and Comas, the Oblates opened a new one in the jungle in 1967. Andres GODIN and other Oblates who followed him contributed much to the development of the area. The land could produce almost anything, and the farmers organized co-operatives. All was going well until the government started importing rice from Ecuador, and the local farmers could not compete.
Then the farmers turned to the production of coca, and the drug trade began. The Shining Path terrorist group moved in and began to control the area. Between 1980 and 2000, more than 69,000 people were killed in Peru. The District of José Crespo and Castillo was affected the most. Apart from the hundreds or thousands killed and dumped into the river, 748 people disappeared. Despite the violence, the Oblates and the Dominican Sisters remained in the area.
I arrived in Aucayacu as pastor in 1999. Having had a good experience forming 82 small Christian communities in Chincha between 1990 and 1998, I hoped to do the same in Aucayacu. It took a year to prepare the facilities – a parish hall and lodgings for people from distant villages.
In September 2000 we had our first retreat and a couple of communities were born. There were pastoral activities and groups in the parish. One of them is Family Catechesis. This is a First Communion program involving the parents who prepare their own children for the sacrament. The parents meet weekly in groups of 10 couples to prepare the teaching that they pass on to their children. On Saturday or Sunday, young catechists meet with the children to celebrate what they have learned. We also have the Holy Childhood program that prepares children to share their faith with other children.
In 2005, I was on the move again. I became bursar of the Oblate delegation and moved to the Centre House in Lima. In 2007, I was assigned to Chincha and I was living there when the devastating 7.9 earthquake struck on Aug. 15. A year later, I returned to Aucayacu as pastor. Two Oblate scholastics, Leonard AGUIRRE and José ZUMAETA, four Dominican Sisters of the Presentation of Mary, and two permanent deacons and I form the central team of the parish. The coordinators of the different parish groups are members of the Parish Council.
We also have a radio station that enables us to maintain contact with all the rural villages, offering programs of evangelization, human rights, and education. Thanks to a group of volunteers, the radio is on the air daily from 5 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Oblate Spirit, September 2010 – OMI Lacombe)