‘The Church exists in order to evangelize’


The words of Pope Paul VI describe what’s happening here in Peru for the work of evangelization in this parish continues at a rapid pace. I ask myself if this parish is doing more than it’s capable of doing.

I’m not sure of the answer, but I know we’ve scheduled four major parish weekend retreats in a row and three of them are in the mountains.

Yesterday (Sunday), we finished our second consecutive Pope John XXIII retreat in the mountains. Two teams of more than 100 people each put on the retreats for 60 men and 80 women.

Part of the team left last Friday in two trucks loaned to us by the mayors of Zorritos and Corales. One is a garbage truck, but this time it is filled with precious human beings.

Using a public address system, I offered a blessing and prayer asking for God’s protection and safety. The people and trucks were sprinkled with holy water before leaving on the long trip into the mountains over what are at times dangerous roads.

Four hours later I was finishing a talk to 100 teen-agers of Jupaz before offering them the sacrament of reconciliation for two hours. They are preparing to give next weekend’s teen retreat in the mountains. I was interrupted and called to the church door.

Our secretary had phoned to say there had been a bad accident in the mountains, and ambulances were carrying the John XXIII victims to the Tumbes hospital. My first instinct was to ask the teen-agers to pray for the victims (including their parents and relatives).

Wiser heads than mine prevailed, and we decided to seek more information. I kept thinking and saying, “But we just asked the Lord to protect these people.”

When we finally made phone contact with our secretary she had just learned that it was a truck with 20 policemen that had turned over. All of our people were fine and already in the village of Canaveral.

Perhaps you can imagine the relief I felt. We prayed with the teens for the police victims and gave thanks to God that our retreat teams were fine.

Last night at the closing ceremony in Canaveral, we offered prayers for the protection of all the hundreds of people and all the trucks returning to their different towns and villages.

The closing Mass and the reception of the retreat candidates were held on the church steps overlooking the town plaza. A powerful public address system carried everything into the homes of all the people  including the testimonies of all the retreatants. It was very impressive.

Each retreatant is asked four questions: their name, what the retreat meant to them, what they’re going to do for Christ and other people, and what do they want to say to their family.

During this last question, their family and friends are brought before them. I was seated behind the retreatants looking right into the faces of their families. It was beautiful to see what happened.

For example, one man said it was the most wonderful weekend of his life because he’s met and come to know Jesus Christ. He asked forgiveness of his wife and three children.

They were all crying as he called them by name telling them they now had a “new husband” and a “new father.” He then went forward to hug and kiss his family. This sort of thing went on for an hour and a half.

What makes these retreats work seems to be the intensive prayer and penance offered for the retreatants. People are praying for the retreatants before the exposed Blessed Sacraments 24 hours a day  during the entire retreat.

A large number of people with their John XXIII T-shirts went through villages carrying a large, heavy cross and praying the rosary and stations of the cross as well as preaching the Gospel.

These were the most heavily subsidized retreats we’ve ever given. Tumbes charges 35 solis (about $11). We lowered that to 20 solis. But our leaders in the mountains said most of the people don’t even have that  especially if the wife wanted to make the retreat and then the husband. The effects of El Nino and La Nina are still with us.

So we sent word that no one was to be refused for lack of money and relied on donation money to cover most of the costs. The people gave six goats, chickens, eggs, etc. They built a makeshift shed since the school classrooms weren’t big enough and contributed in many ways what they could. We had some mattresses, but many slept on the floor.

The whole project is a community building experience. And now these parents are encouraging their teen-age children to make our Jupaz retreat that begins this Friday in just four days. It will take place in the village of Chaza, an even more distant mountain village. And then there will be another Jupaz retreat the following weekend on the coast.

This Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday our parish truck will go daily into the mountains to begin our two-year program of family catechetics  with an all-day workshop on Sunday. We teach the parents how to prepare their own children for first Communion.

The following Saturday we have all-day teen-ager workshops in two mountain villages, which will begin our two-year program of preparation for the sacrament of confirmation.

We are grateful to all who support these works by prayer and/or gift. We could not do this work without your help. I ask you to join our nine-week novena to the Lord of Miracles, the patron of the parish.

We’re asking the Lord to give work and employment to the people. Many have no food and our soup kitchens feed hundreds of people every day. Many ask for work which we pay with bags of rice, etc.

The Nina’s extraordinarily cool weather has destroyed the shrimp larvae and fishing on which so much depends. So we’re praying for more foods of the sea, crops and other means of employment. Please join your prayers to ours.

Msgr. J. Donald Gorski, of the Diocese of Charleston, serves in Peru. To contribute materially to this mission, checks may be made out to 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 bank account in Peru, avoiding the Peruvian Post Office. Only one thank-you acknowledgment will be sent and it will come from Zorritos.