Hello, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to make a longer post, but I’ve had the opportunity to put my fingers to the computer, and so here it goes - I hope you enjoy the update !
I’m writing from Lima, Perú, where I’ve been collaborating and working for the Society of St. James the Apostle. Although this effort of mine is not officially part of Barriers To Bridges per se, it still carries the spirit of barriers to bridges, so I’m including a summary here for all of you.
I will be returning to Boston on May 2 to continue working for the St James Society through the summer, and then from there, there are longer-term decisions to be made. I will keep you updated.
From the Beginning
My first time coming to the district of Ate brought rain. It’s absolutely rare that it rains in the summertime here, so I took note of it. It brought my meditation to the theme of rain and water in the desert. As you can see from images from my first visit, this area of Peru - including Lima - is actually a desert.
Figs on the fig tree
At the center house, there are several fruit trees, including passion fruit, pomegranate, and two fig trees. In my first arrival, the fig trees were in bloom. These fresh figs were some of the best fruits I’ve ever tasted, really addictive to eat. And they were used for all types of baking as well by the staff, so it was a tasty time! I did some reading up on fig trees and found out that that happens typically only twice a year, for a few weeks at a time. Depending on the tree, if it is raised well, it will bloom early in spring time, but those figs are not really edible. The second bloom, which happens near the mid-end of summer, typically bears the good fruit. So it was good timing to be here. And a time to bear good fruit.
Children’s Food Kitchen
One of the barrios in the parish has a soup kitchen for children, which was started more than 10 years ago and has gone through its share of cycles. Almost 100 children are fed a large, healthy lunch each day, Mon-Fri. It costs less than a dollar a day for each child, and the mothers are in charge of the operation with oversight from the parish and some hired professionals. The mothers take turns cooking as well, so it is mostly a community activity.
I wanted to go and visit, and along with Pd Loreto I brought my projector and tablet to put on a video for kids in a large, separate room for before and/or after eating time in the dining area. The first day a few kids showed up to watch some videos. The next day we tried again, and just a few kids showed up again. We were trying to get the timing down, as some kids were coming while others were going. After that, I began to buy some arts and crafts supplies, and we got a large sheet of drawing paper. More kids came. The next time, I got a flute, jump rope, a rubber ball, and some playdough. More and more kids started coming, and we got more supplies each time. We got a jenga game and chess game for the older kids, and now it seems like all the kids come over after or before eating - it’s a bit of a zoo! But the parents have liked it, and there are now plans in place to keep that going after I leave. The mothers will be present to the kids, while the parish provides supplies.
The project is a great project, the mothers and the staff put in a lot of committed effort. And as I said, it has gone through cycles. When I arrived, it seemed to be down, with the kids not socializing too much together. Now, it’s a place of food and healthy, social play - a little more lively. A place of water in the desert.
Local Children’s Group
The parish has over 10 communities with their own chapels. The community where I was living also had their own chapel, with a weekly Mass. There were also a group of people from the parish would visit to start activities with the local kids. I began to participate with them, supporting them by sharing the ideas and resources that I had accumulated in my own experience with kids. It gave a lift to the group and the adults leading it, and it helped me to get to know the local kids! Many of the kids come from difficult family situations, so the meetings are really a good opportunity to experience community together in a healthy environment.
Lenten Workshop: Water in the Desert
I offered to have a two-part spiritual workshop in Lent. It was about finding the hidden surprise gifts in one’s life and in the Gospels. It was really something had vaguely on my heart coming into Ecuador, and seeing that I was now in Lima for Lent, a few more pieces came together to make it what it was. The theme was Water in the Desert, and it focused on a simple beginning in finding hidden gifts in life and in the Gospels. Each part had components of finding actual hidden gifts hidden in the room, and it had a component of life and scripture, and group discussion or teamwork. I thought it was a special experience, and those who participated liked it, too (We had about 10-12 people). It was certainly something different! And it also punctuated and fed into my whole time here: the theme of water in the desert.
Home for People with Disabilities: Casa Hogar de Santa Maria
When I heard that there was a community of people with disabilities, I wanted to go and visit. The first time, I gave a little presentation and introduced myself with some family pictures. Since they had requested a topic as well on Lent, I shared some of the story of the Hoyt family, who run the Boston marathon. After that I visited each week, and completed the Via Crucis with the folks and the broader local community on Good Friday. My last day in the parish was the 52nd anniversary of their organization, and folks from all over Lima had come.
The organization runs throughout the Andean countries of South America, and is completely run by people with disabilities. The concept is the Christian solidarity among people with disabilities. This particular location is for people who live in the rural mountain areas who need to come to Lima for temporary medical attention. Folks might come for several months or up to a year or so, and then go back home. Casa Hogar provides temporary housing and food, in community, to those are members of the broader organization. So there is always turnover happening at this location, but folks are always connected through being members of the organization.
Climb to the Cross
The parish of El Resucitado is in the city of Ate, or Ate Vitarte, a city (or sub-city) of 600,000 people situated mostly in the valleys among dry hills. Folks with less resources typically end up living more in the hills as the population expands.
One of the central peaks is called the Mirador, or the Lookout. On top is a large cross. The community Mirador is a bit below that, and we went up for a Mass one day. Afterwards, we decided to climb the rest of the way to the peak. From there, there are beautiful views of the area. The climb and decent is a bit dangerous, as you can see. There are a group of people that have in the past climbed to the peak as part of the Holy Week tradition, though this year, there was only a climb up to the village. Enjoy the views!
Señor de Muruhuay
Right behind where we live in the community of Monterrey is a stairway and road system that leads up to the hill community of Señor de Muruhuay. I had been wanting to visit more of the hills in my time here, but I had problems with swelling and pain in my feet during these times, so I had been holding off. Near the end of my times, I started to make my way more to the hills and the stairways. I would go and take a walk around and just greet people and get to know.
On my first time, I encountered two women with a young girl, trying to manage their food shopping supplies. One of the women was pregnant. So, I offered to help, and ended up carrying some of their stuff for a while as we wove our way through the hills. A short time together, but getting to know people. You can see them finishing their journey in the picture here.
Fortunately, this stretch didn’t include any stair-climbing. The other picture here shows some of the stairs leading to another section. I would have difficulty managing those! They are obviously dangerous, but they are the primary way of getting up and down for the poorer people in the hills. Previously, people would form zig-zag paths up the hills, and those are considered safer, but they take much longer. Now, there are times when people are hurt falling down the stairs.
The community where I lived, Monterrey, has an archeological dig location. I had the chance to wander around in it, and I’m not sure of the period of history that it comes from, but it seems presently unkept. The community has the chapel as well as a large school, a court for sports, and other larger buildings growing up. Surprisingly, there seems to be some nice homes scattered here and there, though there is clear poverty in many situations, especially in the hills.
I made it up some of the stairways - just those with railings - in my later days. Some of the stairways do have railings installed, at least for part of them. The extensions probably came later, or maybe there weren’t enough resources to complete the task. There is often a decoration to the entrance to the stairs as well, with a name - like a gateway to the community. But as you can see in some of the photos, in the poorer locations, the stairways are long, and dangerously lacking railings. People who access those stairways typically live in small, one-room homes made of cardboard - as it never rains, that suffices through the seasons. In any case, you don’t want to forget anything when you leave your house! There, the people learn to make sure they have everything before leaving to come down the hill.
One time I went up a stairway, and on my way down, I encountered a woman with groceries. I helped her carry them up the stairs, and had good conversation. Afterwards, I went down again, and the same thing happened. I was on the stairway for quite a while, going up and down. Afterwards I thought, if I ever came back, that would be a good ministry: assisting people with bringing things up the stairs. Helping others to carry the burden, leads to getting to know others.
The parish fiestas happened during my visit. After a Mass, there was some light food, plus a lot of music and dancing. It was fun!
I also had the opportunity to visit a home for a birthday party, and also attend a renewal of marriage vows in the community. Other traditions of anniversaries includes death - month, 6-month and year anniversaries are usually honored and celebrated with a gathering, with drinking and music. The party often goes to the wee hours of the morning, which can take sleep away from neighbors!
One evening, on our way back from the parish to the St James house on the coast of Lima, Pd Loreto and I came across some traditional folklore dancing at the city center. There are programs where these groups are trained, and this was a performance. I took some videos, I hope you enjoy: (the third video, although a bit less clear at dusk, is an impressive display of energy)
Other Odds and Ends
There are a variety of other odds and ends in living in the parish, too many to write and include. Water tanks are important staple here, and there is running water and plumbing. But the operation of the large backup water tank in the house wasn’t understood well, and it was thought to be broken and wasn’t being used. With my engineering background I was able to clarify how it was setup and that it wasn’t in fact broken - so the house has backup water when the water might go out. At one point, we didn’t have water for several days because of construction work in the district. Because it is a growing area, there is often new construction work, and that makes the water tank still important to have. I was also able to sort out the same machinations for the water tank at the kids’ food kitchen. The engineering background came in handy as well in figuring out an internet connection problem we were having in the house. Now it’s much improved.
We returned each week for a few days to the center house on the coast in Lima. I decided to offer English once a week to the staff that works in the house. We were able to have several sessions together over my time there, and it was an opportunity for language exchange, as well as bringing the staff together and getting to know each other more as well.
Pd Loreto was alone at this time in the parish, so it was some support to have me there. In addition to the usual acitvities for a pastor, he leads a monthly women’s group in collaboration with professionals in art and dance therapy. He also leads a monthly group meeting to discuss theological topics of interest.
Finally, here are a few odds and ends sights from various times and places:
Indigenous & Quechua
The primary native language that is still spoken in Perú is Quechua, which has its roots in the Incan peoples. There are different dialects of Quechua, and the dialect spoken in Ecuador, for example, is called Kichwa, or Quichwa. So, some of the words and phrases that I knew from Ecuador are different from those spoken in Perú. It was fun to learn some new expressions, at least for now.
One of the men in the parish lent me this introductory guide to Quechua. I scanned it into a pdf file with my phone, and uploaded it to the cloud on Onedrive. You can click on the image here to open the document, and download it from that site if you wish. Granted, it is Spanish-Quechua, but with the drawings you can infer many of the words in English, too. Have fun!
Click on to open the guide:
The center house in Lima receives a wide variety of groups for retreats and conferences. At one point while I was there, a national group representing indigenous peoples in Perú had their meeting. A part of their meeting must have been either making or just display this array of dolls with different styles of dress.
In my very first visits to Lima a few years ago, I was taken to some of the primary church destinations, like those honoring St. Rose of Lima and Martin de Porres, the cathedral, etc. This time, I wanted to be able to get to a few museums that covered the history of Peru and the people.
Two fantastic museums I visited - in the same day - were the National Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology, and History, and the National Museum of Memory, Tolerance, and Inclusion. The first was an absolutely amazing set of exhibits that cover the whole history of the Peruvian part of South America, from the prehistoric to present. It was amazing, and needed more than the two hours I spent there.
The second also needed more time than the additional two hours I spent there. (they really need their own separate days for visits!) This museum covered the history of the country from the 70s to the 2000’s, which includes the height of what is called the time of the terrorists. Two terrorist organizations that splintered out from the collapse of the communist movement in the late 60s to 70s, took a foothold in some of the poorer, rural Andean provinces. It was a time of great suffering and death in those communities, and many people migrated during the 80’s and 90’s to Lima on the coast. So many of the people in Lima are now there because of that great migration, and it’s necessary to be on the road to understanding that - and its roots - in order to know the people. This museum is also fantastically done, and helped me to put into context the situations of the people that I was coming to know in the parish.
I took a lot of pictures in both museums, and you can reach the collection of pictures by clicking on the respective museum below. The first one, on the left, includes many English translations. The second, on the right, is only in Spanish. Enjoy!
At another point, I was able to get to the Museum of Contemporary Art, near the center house in Lima. The interesting part of the museum is that each visitor becomes part of the museum in a way. As you can see below, I had my picture taken, and put on the wall to become a part of the museum. We are all contemporary works of art!
Each community celebrated its own Holy Week activities, except the Good Friday and Easter Vigil celebrations were celebrated together as a parish in a local parish school (there’s no central parish building yet).
On Palm Sunday, I made the celebration at a community called Las Americas at 6:30 in the morning. This community doesn’t have a building for its celebrations - they are all outside at the local park. I had been going to Sunday Mass each week there, so I joined them for Palm Sunday as well.
On Holy Thursday, I focused on two communities: Maria Reina, in which the community of disabled people Casa Hogar attends, and Monterrey, the local neighborhood where I was living. Each had a Mass of the Last Supper with washing of the feet.
In Monterrey after the Mass, there was some time in silent prayer with the Eucharist in the tabernacle, as is the tradition. A few people stayed around for that afterwards, and I was invited by one of the people there who had come to the workshop I offered to give a few short reflections on scripture. We all enjoyed the experience. Unfortunately, it was one of the only times I actually participated in a ministerial way in all of Holy Week, as the folks planned everything as usual and I wasn’t included! That said a lot to me.
On Good Friday, I accompanied the community Maria Reina in the Stations of the Cross. Later in the day, each community pilgrimages to the place where the Good Friday celebration starts at 5pm. So I returned to Monterrey to join with them in their procession, accompanying, singing, offering a spiritual reflection now and then. When we arrived at the school where the celebration was, it was full - so we got some standing room or sat on the floor. It was great to accompany and share the way with them.
On Holy Saturday morning, I went to the school to help with the setup for the Easter vigil. Later that evening, I brought out my charango to Monterrey, and we had a small gathering at the chapel for the fire and Easter candle blessing, and then we made our pilgrimage to the school again, as did all the other communities, for the Easter Vigil Mass. After the 3-hour Mass, including a number of people receiving sacraments of initiation, we all returned together to Monterrey.
When we all went our separate ways, I arrived at the soccer court at the center of Monterrey. It was filled with people playing soccer (there was an organized tournament still going on), and a lot of people sitting in the stands watching. It was a typical Saturday night - the court is the social center of the neighborhood. They were oblivious to what was going on with the church. I remember during our walk to the celebrations, most people along the way had nothing to say. What was happening?
As I saw the crowd at the court, a crowd I have sought to get to know and get closer to, I reflected that I myself was not invited to participate in the parish ministries of Holy Week and Lent. I was never invited to read a reading at a single Mass. I was never invited to give a reflection at a celebration or a service. I was never asked what is it that I do, where I might fit into the ministries in the church. It was only a few last-minute things that I was invited into, by one person. In fact, everything I had done, was all my own initiative. I felt, in a word, uninvited.
But as I looked at the local people there at the court, I saw that that was the word that described them, too. They were all, uninvited by the church. So, I was in good company.
This is not a new experience in the church for me, and I am glad to have been here. In fact, I feel certain to have been called here. But it is something that I note and keep as I go forward and review my own next steps.
The views of the sunsets from the center house never get old. Here is a time-lapse of a sunset from yesterday. If you watch it all the way to the end, you’ll see how the clouds always light up after the sun has gone down.
Now I am returning to Boston, and will be assisting the St, James Society this summer in a variety of ways. In the meantime, I’ll be reviewing next steps for Barriers To Bridges, for the relationship with Ecuador and the people there as well. As for this Lent and Holy Week in Ate, Peru, I can say that the theme of water in the desert hits home.
I have found water in the desert for myself.
And I have been water in the desert for others.
Until next time, have a great month of May!