LATIN AMERICAThoughts of a newly arrived missionary
Fr. Nicholas HARDING arrived at his new assignment in the Delegation of Peru in February 2016. The 64 year old Oblate from the USA had spent several years in the Mission of Baja California, Mexico. Here, he describes some of his first impressions in his new mission.
I have now met all of the men (fewer than 20) and can say they are remarkably amiable and easy-going. … Peru has three main geographical areas and the Oblates have at least one mission in each: (1) The coast: missions in Comas and Chincha; (2) The Andes mountain: Huancayo; (3) The Amazon jungle: Aucuyacu.
Mission at Chincha (Pueblo Nuevo):
Geographically it is many times bigger than the mission I was at in La Morita, Tijuana (Mexico). And the mission serves two or three times as many people as in Tijuana. The parish of Cristo Rey has three main areas. The first area is a lot like Tijuana…a main church with 16 satellite chapels which in turn have comunidades de base. The estimated population is over 100,000 people. They are still paving roads. There are over 1,000 little adobe houses which the Canadian Oblates have built over the years. An 81 year old Brother, Blaise MacQUARRIE, is still active in that work after 30 years. He proudly says that only the Oblates in Peru have a gravel pit. There is still visible destruction from a terrible earthquake in 2007. …
The second section is a vast area of shacks (estimated population, 100,000) where there is no running water or sewage. One sees children bathing in the acequia, a canal fed by river water. As in Tijuana, trucks with water tanks come around to fill barrels. None of the roads are paved so there is a lot of dust. At the far end is a prison served by the parish. Brother Blaise recently obtained 1,000 blankets and material for handicrafts, even though it is a high-security prison. He told me he began outreach there after he had a mystical experience telling him to go there. The government only provides food…nothing else. There are 2,000 men incarcerated there.
The third sector is the sierra…high mountains with river valleys populated only by indigenous people. There are a few towns like Chavin and San Pedro Huanacapa (a six hour drive from the parish on unpaved road). There are only two Oblate priests and the Brother, but several religious sisters and many laypeople take seriously their baptismal call of co-responsibility as disciples in mission.
Recently we had a big event here to celebrate 50 years of OMI presence and the 200th anniversary of the founding of the OMI’s. The bishop came for the main mass and afterwards there was entertainment, mostly folklore dancing by the youth. This parish is also quite extensive. A Dutch Oblate has, over the years, constructed one hundred comedores (food pantries) for nutrition and building community.
Future: I will soon head out for a week or so to the mission in the Amazon and then, for Holy Week, the one in the Andes with the indigenous people. Afterwards, there will be a discernment of where I should go…where I best fit to serve the Lord and help build his Kingdom. … Each site has its blessings and crosses/challenges. I will try to heed the advice given to me by old missionary priests: "Be natural, be yourself.”--"Be like a child.”--"Waste time with the people.”--"Help everyone see they are called to be disciples and missionaries.”
Fr. Miguel FRITZ, General Councilor for Latin America, recently visited the Oblates in the State of Goiás in the Central-West of Brazil.
The Oblates arrived from Ireland in the 1960’s and continue to work in the southernmost part of the State of Goiás in the Central-West of Brazil. The parishes of Paranaiguara and Sâo Simâo were established by them. Above all, Fathers Jeremia and Thomas (called "Martin”) were there for decades, during the big changes that occurred when villages were flooded for the construction of an enormous dam in the 1970’s.
Miguel BRADY is still somewhat new in Paranaiguara. Among his ministries, I would like to focus on three areas that are worth knowing about in the context of Oblate commitment to JPIC.
Prisoners: The little town has a small jail. Miguel is by no means unknown there. He got permission for me to accompany him. There are only seven cells along a single corridor. Twelve prisoners in five cells looked at us behind barred doors and windows. It was a bit strange to greet them, one by one, shaking their hands through the bars. The guard stays in front of us at all times. Miguel introduced me and invited me to speak. I told them about Eugene who had to suffer being far from his country and from his mother. And I told of how he in turn got together with the youth (the majority of the prisoners are youths); how he visited the prisoners, even giving the sacraments to the condemned. How attentive they were! When Miguel spoke to them about the Bible, five of them had one at hand and they looked up Matthew 25 (When did we see you in prison?); and John 19 (The mother stayed next to her son..). They joyfully took the oranges we had picked in the Oblates’ garden.
Water: That’s the theme of the "Campaign of Brotherhood” for this year (an ecumenical Lenten campaign). Representatives of different churches, together with government agencies, are planting trees to protect the springs. At the same time, they are investigating reports that the drinking water of the city is already in bad shape. Pesticides are suspected: Goiás is an area of huge sugarcane farms -- for the production of ethanol; i.e.: to give "food” to vehicles.
The landless: This very situation of bigger and bigger farms always leaves more peasants without land. So a large estate, where a landowner plants a large amount of sugarcane (they say he has seven other farms) was declared free for agrarian reform in 1999. We went to visit the farming community in the middle of the cane field: after kilometers of cane, suddenly there were beautiful plants of corn, cassava, etc.
In the first humble little house, an old bachelor excitedly told us what we had already heard. A little further on, near the community shelter, we could see the car: all the windows were broken and the radiator shot out. And a little further on, two young men show us their injuries. A few days before, at nine in the morning, there arrived a beautiful and armored black truck, with three guys. They got out and began to attack the car, damaging it with the lug wrench and a revolver, and then beating the youth with their feet and their fists, shouting that next time they would kill them.
We listened to them calmly; Mike encouraged them, told them that they have done well, that they should go to the hospital and to the police. He encouraged them also to contact the "Land Ministry” with their lawyers. He told them that they are within their rights. We prayed with them. Of course, in an interview on a local radio, and in the next Masses – the issue was brought up.