By MSGR. J. DONALD GORSKI
May God’s peace and grace fill you during this holy season! May the crucified and risen Lord fill you with new life! I pray that these final months of the second millennium are for you a time of growth and blessings!
Sister Helen is recuperating from her second operation, and we pray that both she and Sister Elizabeth can return and continue their work here very soon. My sister — Sister Caritas — is studying Spanish at present in Bolivia, and we look forward to her return here in June. In July, she shall be celebrating with joy the golden jubilee of her life as a religious.
Here in Zorritos, Peru, this is a time of intense evangelization. In my 40 years of life in the priesthood I’ve never been busier, and I doubt that this parish has ever been busier. At the moment we are taking advantage of two things that are happening simultaneously. “La Nina” has turned our usual rainy season into an almost rainless summer. This means we can easily work in the mountain areas of our parish during the summer vacation season. At the same time, seven of our seminarians are free to do their pastoral work and training here in their own parish. So we have pulled out all the stops and are plunging into what Pope John Paul calls the “new evangelization” leading up to the next millennium.
Last weekend, 124 men (mostly from our parish) finished their amazing Pope John XXIII weekend retreat in Zorritos. Last night, they along with the women who had completed their retreat also gathered in our church with others for the usual Thursday night Mass. We celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes (whose grotto is in front of our rectory overlooking the ocean) and the World Day of Prayer for the Sick. We prayed for the sick members of our community and sprinkled them with holy water from Lourdes. The church was packed, and the Lord did a lot of healing as the people almost lifted the roof off the church as they sang with full voice. Afterward, we had the usual weekly meeting of John XXIII. The people are on fire and want to share what they have received.
Tonight, we have a meeting of the small team of laity and seminarians, who this week have been evangelizing in the mountains. They have registered people to take part in next week’s parish mission, which, for the first time ever, is taking place in five villages simultaneously. Thank God we have more volunteers than needed to carry out this ministry of evangelization. Teams of six people will live and work in each village, conducting the mission separately for children, teen-agers and adults. This will commence on Monday and terminate on Thursday. Then, on Friday we shall truck everyone into the central village for an all-day workshop. It will include teachings on the word of God, prayer, and the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation. There will be lots of singing, music, and a big fiesta meal, culminating in the celebration of the Eucharist. Almost all of the people in these five villages have signed up to take part. Their response has been good, and we pray that they keep their commitment and that the Lord blesses this mission.
What helps us is that many women, along with an amazingly high number of 25 men, from the mountain villages have just made the John XXIII retreat. Their enthusiasm is contagious. Our seminarians have been working in the mountains encouraging the people to make these retreats. We are now reaping the fruits of their labor.
This coming weekend the “Bodas de Cana” marriage retreat movement will put on the parish retreat for 80 married couples on the coast. I was able to get another priest to help me, and we spent more than three hours giving them and the leaders of the retreat the sacrament of reconciliation. Next weekend we shall be having our second “Jupaz” teen-age retreat in the mountains in one of our farthest villages. This powerful retreat is actually for the parents of the teen-agers as well. The teen-agers eat and sleep in a school from Friday until Sunday.
But we have to truck the parents in for their “mini-retreat” on both Saturday and Sunday. The focus of the retreat is reconciliation with God and between parents and children. The Blessed Sacrament is exposed during the retreat, and people are praying for this reconciliation around the clock during the retreat. It happens on Sunday.
The parents are hiding behind the church as the teen-agers are brought in and seated in every other pew. After prayer and a talk, the teens put their heads in their hands with eyes closed. While beautiful music plays someone gives a talk on love, family and reconciliation. Most of these people have suffered the devastating effects of what I consider to be the greatest evil in Peru: “machismo.” They bear the wounds and scars in their hearts.
During the talk, the parents are led and placed in the pew behind their children in total silence. The parents carry flowers. At a given moment their children are asked to stand and turn around. They see their parents presenting them with flowers. Then something like a wail rises up and fills the church. There isn’t a dry eye in the church as parents and children hug and embrace as God unites his people. This goes on for some time as the music continues, and then all are united in prayer as they celebrate with a beautiful Mass.
The team of over 300 teen-agers who put on this retreat are all receiving the sacrament of reconciliation as part of their preparation. Tomorrow they go into the mountains to train team members living there.
Meanwhile, on the coast, other seminarians are evangelizing those who live in little one room huts on the beach. They are living with the people, teaching them and trying to build community. Last Tuesday, these people were trucked in to the monthly Mass in Acapulco and 44 of their children were baptized. The same thing will happen this Tuesday in the coast village of Bocapan.
Of course in the midst of all of these beautiful events there are constant failures and disappointments. Sin and selfishness keep raising their ugly heads. The perfect community doesn’t exist anywhere this side of heaven. Yet in the midst of all the darkness there is a fire burning here. Something deep and beautiful is happening in many lives.
Last Sunday, as 124 men gave their testimonies, their families were brought before them. Before hundreds of people — speaking one at a time into a powerful microphone — over 100 of these men went to their knees and asked with tears for the forgiveness of their families. They were received with hugs and kisses by their families and friends. About a dozen men (many of whom haven’t been in a church for years) publicly proclaimed: “Jesus is happiness.” “Jesus is joy.” Perhaps for some the forces of the world, the flesh and the devil will suffocate some of this new life and faith. But I don’t think it can ever totally erase what God has done in their lives. So many men have said that they’ve come to “know the Lord” for the first time.
To those of you who collaborate by prayer or gift, thank you on behalf of hundreds of people. We couldn’t do much of this without your help. Prayer is what makes the life flow. We charge the teen-agers $3 for the weekend retreat. Some can’t pay even that, and, of course, we don’t refuse them. But what they give hardly covers our gas bill, as we truck the teens and their families around the mountains. Thank you for making this ministry of healing and reconciliation possible and fruitful.
Some of you may have heard that last November a routine medical check-up revealed cancer of the prostate. I continue to feel fine, thank God, and my energy level is good. A prayer will be greatly appreciated.
We continue to pray for you. Your name will be placed on our altars during our Easter Masses, and you’ll be lifted up in the prayers of all of us.
To contribute materially to this mission, checks may be made out to the St. James Society and sent to: Msgr. Robert Kelly — Missions; P.O. Box 1257; Folly Beach, SC 29439. The Society of St. James will forward the checks through their banking account in Peru — thus avoiding the Peruvian Post Office. Only one thank-you acknowledgment will be sent to contributors and it will come directly from Zorritos.
In a recent robbery suffered in Peru, some of the most recent thank-you acknowledgements were taken in the theft. However, not all of the letters were taken, and some of these notes will be arriving in the states shortly. If a contributor does not get a reply in the mail, those were the circumstances behind the lack of response. But all possible efforts are being made to cite recent gifts.