By SISTER CARITAS GORSKI
I arrived in Lima, Peru, last year on Sept. 30 and visited three good friends Saint Rose of Lima and the Dominican lay brothers Saints Martin de Porres and John Macias as well as Peru’s Patron, Jesus, Lord of Miracles and the International Potato Center (which protects 5,000 varieties of potatoes and tubers). I then boarded a plane for Zorritos, an hour from the border of Ecuador to visit my brother, Father Don Gorski, a priest of the Diocese of Charleston serving with the St. James Society.
I’m impressed with the rectory, which was built as a rest and relaxation center for Saint James priests in the north. At present there is only one St. James priest in northern Peru my brother, whose huge parish of 35 villages as well as part of another, was the hardest hit by El Nino in all of northern Peru. Big windows look out on a sweeping curve of the Pacific and on the single lane Pan-American Highway which follows the coast. When I first arrived men were in the ocean dragging small baglike nets for shrimp larva to sell to shrimp farms in Ecuador, but there’s been no activity for a long time. Some small fishing boats stay anchored in the distance. They tell me some farmers from the mountains who’ve had their topsoil washed away by El Nino are trying to find work on the cast, but there is little fish, and at present no larva even if they had the nets and the know-how.
The problem is “The Girl” (La Nina) is following “The Boy” (El Nino), and she brings cool, dry weather. It’s pleasant and often overcast, but summer below the equator ought to be hot to bring the fish and larva. The many coastal villages are mostly houses strung along the highway with mountains just behind them; most make their living from the sea from day to day. They have no savings, and now they have no food. Hand-held horns blow outside in the morning and afternoon, and my brother goes out to fill large flower sacks with tasty rolls call “pancitos” from big baskets carried on bikes or on foot; they cost about 3 cents each and more than a thousand are given to the people each week as they come to the rectory.
A large tray of rolls is constantly refilled at the rectory entrance as people come with a stream of problems: a 16-year-old boy is alone without food in the house. His mother left home weeks ago to vote in her hometown; voting is compulsory. He fears she won’t return. He fills up on rolls, water, and bananas. Bananas are favorites but are harder to get, for El Nino destroyed many banana fields. Most now come from Ecuador and when bought by the hundreds cost about 2 cents each. Over 600 are given away weekly to people coming to the rectory. The banana peels are saved for a man who raises pigs. People are delighted when they come and find bananas! The boy is given work for a bag of food.
A single mother with an unhealthy boy says she has no food; she’s staying with her own mother who won’t give food to either, for she says the baby shouldn’t exist. They both enjoy bread and water and bananas. She’s counseled to legally pressure the father a religion teacher who abandoned them to support his son, and she is given work for food, including a large can of powdered milk for the baby. Some women come wanting to open soup kitchens in their villages. There is no larva, and they have no food. One young child with them gobbles up 10 rolls! Though the soup kitchens have fed thousands mostly children at present, other than three sacks of rice donated monthly by the government, all food comes from donations. A family comes wanting $125 to put on a barbecue to raise money for treatment for their mother, who was sent to Lima with cancer. A leader comes about transportation to Lima for leadership training in the Pope John XXIII retreats (they’re somewhat like a Cursillo but are for everyone drug addicts, prostitutes, even atheists are invited!) They will then be better able to put on the retreats here. The people continue to come all enjoying bread and water and bananas (when they are available). For some it will be their only food.
Isael comes by selling bread about 6:30 each morning. He’s 15. He and his brother left their distant mountain village some months ago looking for work. A bakery gives him a place to sleep, and he makes the hour-long trip by bike each morning to sell bread around Zorritos. He’ll be glad when the construction repairs on the Pan-American Highway are finished; he’ll make the trip faster and be less likely to fall in the dark of morning. He’s saving and looking forward to visiting his mother on Mother’s Day. He’s had no way to get word to her about how and where he is. He has a gift of flowered bedsheets for his mother and hopes to take gifts to his father and two young sisters.
Carlos, a cousin of Isael from the same mountain village, lives near Zorritos but travels a long way to sell bread in another village where he can borrow a bike. He’s 17 and lives with an aunt and helps support his two younger sisters. His mother died two years ago, and his father abandoned them. Carlos has begun to serve Mass with the many altar boys. There is night school for working children, but many are too tired or lack the motivation to go.
Both Isael and Carlos have made the Jupaz youth retreat.
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.