Evangelization thriving in Peru


May this 2000 year of our Lord be for you a time of rich blessings! May the Child who entered the world 2,000 years ago fill you with that peace that the world can neither give nor understand! The year 2000 here in this parish has been a year in which many things are coming to fruition. Others “planted and watered” long before I arrived, but this year “God caused the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-8).

As I left for our annual St. James meetings in late August, Liliana, our secretary who also runs Catequesis Familiar (Family Catechetics), gave me a list of 1,074 participants who needed to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. These people are widely spread out in 21 different towns and villages. For almost two years, leader-couples in these 21 pueblos have been receiving weekly instruction in God’s Word from a team who visits them. Then each leader-couple shares what they’ve learned with another five or six couples in a weekly meeting in their home.

Then all the couples teach their children what they’ve learned as they prepare them for first Communion. The parents are the catechists who teach God’s Word to their own children. It usually changes their relationship with their child and the whole atmosphere in the home. It concludes with the parents receiving Communion with their child as he makes his first Communion. Last Sunday in the town of La Crux, 124 children processed through the town and into the stadium wearing their special first Communion ponchos over their school uniforms with their parents on either side with their arms around them  to receive their first Communion. After Communion a couple and their child gave thanks to God saying that two years ago their home was filled with fighting and friction  now there is peace and joy. This wonderful program has spread throughout Latin America and is mandatory in our diocese.

Reconciliation for these 1,074 participants in Catequesis Familiar doesn’t of course include the hundreds more awaiting the sacrament of reconciliation before receiving confirmation, matrimony, making retreats or taking part in other programs in the parish. More than 100 adults alone are receiving confirmation. Faced with this, I went to Lima looking for help.

God is good! My first day there I met an ex-St. James priest vacationing from Australia. He came up and labored like a Trojan for a week and a half. With vacations like that, who needs work? His only pay was the gift of a purple stole to remind him of the hundreds of reconciliations he’d helped with. I told him he’d need to return to his own parish to rest! He’d helped give the sacrament of reconciliation to 125 spouses in two matrimonios masivos (massive marriages)! Look out, Dr. Moon, for we’re catching up to you.

As I look back over more than seven years in this parish, I realize so many things have started seemingly “by chance.” But I now believe God’s providence was guiding the process in ways I couldn’t imagine.

When I arrived in this parish, I used to ride down the coast and see little clusters of shacks on the beach. Most of the hundreds of people there were Catholics but had no contact with the parish. I’d think, “Someday the Lord will ask me, ‘As pastor of these people what have you done for them?'” I knew the answer, “Nothing,” but I didn’t really know what I could or should be doing. However, during my first year here couples from our main city, Piura (five hours to the south), wanted to give talks to married couples here in something called Bodas de Cana (Marriage of Cana). I’d never heard of this, but all they sought from me was something for their bus fare.

I’m always happy to have anyone do anything, so I gave them a few solis each week. I didn’t know they were launching a major movement in the parish with hundreds of participants. I didn’t know that a few years later these Bodas de Cana couples would be sleeping in the mud with these people on the beach giving them six-day missions. I didn’t know that every Saturday a truck load of them would go down the coast evangelizing all the little clusters of shacks.

I never dreamed the people there would be trucked in to the monthly Mass closest to them  or that they’d be taking part in Catequesis Familiar, matrimonios masivos, John XXIII retreats, parish soup kitchens and other activities. I didn’t know these same Bodas de Cana participants would be doing the same work of evangelization in a nearby parish as well.

Now they’ve just prepared the 124 spouses for marriage as well as organized the marriage ceremony and the marriage fiesta. They give an all-day workshop to the couples the day of the wedding. And all this happened “by chance.”

Men and teen-agers who try to eke out a living from shrimp larvae and fish on the beach started banging on the garage door in the early morning asking for bread and bananas for their breakfast. The banging became more and more constant. Our recent 17 visitors from the states were often asked to meet this need.

Finally we started giving out four large rolls and four bananas only at 7:30 a.m. But now when we open the door, the first in line are small children, as young as 3 years old, each with their plastic bag. The adults let the children go first, but behind the children the line is now about 150 teen-agers, men and women and the line keeps growing. Most have walked some distance to receive what is their breakfast or lunch. Recently Jupaz teen-agers have been arriving every Saturday to my surprise. They butter one of the four rolls and give out a cup of an oatmeal drink to each person. And this whole new ministry has started seemingly “by chance.”

Speaking of “by chance”  another team of lay missionaries of the parish give six-day missions in all 17 villages in the mountains. Sometimes six missions went on simultaneously. Then the mountain people wanted some kind of ongoing follow-up so a parish council was established in each village. We now have 25 parish councils!

Then the people started asking for more help and teachings and the Eucharist; all the while 1,700 parishioners had been making the weekend John XXIII retreat. So now a team of 40 parish lay missionaries give a weekend mission every month  giving the people Communion as well.

I don’t think anyone planned this or even knew it would happen. It all happened seemingly “by chance.” The well-known spiritual writer Carlos Carreto says that one day he discovered an important secret that filled him with joy. He discovered that nothing happens by chance  that there is no such thing as “coincidence.” There is only God’s providence or what I like to call “Godcidences.”

I see much of that here. I reflect on my own health and wonder what God’s providence has in store for me. I continue to feel fine, but my PSA (prostate-specific antigen) count is rising after the radiation treatment which may mean the prostate cancer wasn’t destroyed and is growing. What does this mean for my health and mission in this parish? Only God knows that answer. What I do know is that for 67 years the Lord has enveloped my life and ministry in an abundant love and care that has been constant and unfailing. I have no reason to believe he won’t continue this. In fact, the very Gospel I preach gives me every reason to believe he will continue.

Each day I see the results of the prayer and sacrifice of so many people. I’m very grateful. We here try to repay this by a continual remembrance at Mass. When we go before the same Lord in prayer all distance vanishes, and we are made “one.”

In that unity we pray that the child born 2,000 years ago is filling you and yours with his love!

Msgr. Donald Gorski, a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, ministers to the people of Zorritos, Peru.

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, avoiding the Peruvian Post Office. Only one thank-you acknowledgment will be sent to contributors, and it will come directly from Peru.