The work of the Lord continues in Peru

As we celebrate Easter, may the Lord transform your crosses into sources of life. That’s the great miracle of love that Jesus strives to work in our lives.

I see people struggling and carrying so many crosses here. I really don’t know how they do it, and I marvel at their capacity to suffer.

A young girl’s struggle

Four days ago I visited a little dirt floor shack to give the anointing of the sick to a teenager, the oldest of three children. She hasn’t eaten for a long time, is extremely thin and just lies listless in bed. Her father has another eight years in jail and her mother has no regular work. She’s spent the almost nothing she has on medical expenses.

She’s now working with the parish council of her village to have an activity to raise money for more medical aid. I suggested she find another four families with whom she can start a parish soup kitchen. This provides a daily hot meal for all children, and the family pays only 30 cents a week.

As I was leaving, the girl asked to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. Between her weakness and her sobs I could hardly understand what she was saying as she unburdened herself for almost half an hour. I then prayed over her that somehow, in some way, the Lord of life would fill her with his life and that life would flow out of her heavy crosses.

That, I believe, is the meaning of the Pascal Mystery. Please join me in praying for her and her family.

Peruvian seminarians

The priesthood is one of God’s ways to make present the Pascal Mystery and facilitate its growth in the life of his people. I’m now celebrating 44 years of priestly ministry. As I approach the end of my priesthood in this world, I hope to leave behind others who will carry on this ministry. Cardinal Cushing, our founder, expressed the charism of the St. James Society when, more than 40 years ago, he said, “I’m sending you down to South America to work yourselves out of a job.”

In the ’70s I worked in Negritos, Peru, for six years. St. James left the parish after 25 years. On that occasion a young man of Negritos was ordained to become the pastor of Negritos. As I’d known him and worked with him I went back for that beautiful ordination celebration. Another Negritos priest now works here in my next-door parish.

This month our parish hopes to send eight young men to the seminary. They will join our five seminarians who are now studying. It reminds me of my being one of 12 seminarians belonging to Sacred Heart Parish in Charleston. That was back in the ’50s.

Our seminary in this diocese has experienced many problems. In my opinion it was an effective seminary with a good staff. Two years ago, apart from aspirants, it had 45 seminarians; nine were ready to be ordained that year.

Then in mid-year the staff was dismissed and replaced by a Neo-Catechumenate group from Lima. Of the 45 seminarians 37 left looking for another seminary and diocese. As many of them have been working in our parish as part of their pastoral formation, most of them came here looking for help. Our parish assisted them with phone calls and bus tickets.

Thanks in part to the donations we have received they are now pursuing their vocations in other seminaries and dioceses. As most of them are very poor, we’ll also help our 13 parish seminarians with some of their expenses. Our eight new seminarians will be in a seminary 20 hours away from here.

Seven seminarians have been living in our rectory and working in our parish during summer vacation, which is now ending. Their presence, zeal and joy have helped attract others to pursue a priestly vocation. For that reason we have 13 seminarians this year from our parish. Please join me in praying for them and for several girls who are pursuing a religious vocation.

If they persevere and are faithful to their priestly and religious vocation, they will have a marvelous opportunity to bring light into a world filled with so much darkness. Even if some don’t go on to become priests or religious, they’ll return to their parish with a good formation and be able to do so much in this community. Other ex-seminarians are now key pastoral workers. It’s a win-win situation; great if they go on to become priests and religious and great if they return to work in their parish.

The joy of the priesthood

I remember conversing about nine years ago with a young fellow on the side of the road in La Cruz, the largest village in the parish. He’d made the very first John XIII retreat in this area, and he asked my why I’d left the States to work in Zorritos and La Cruz. I answered something about feeling called by the Lord to help the people here, and he said, “Yeah, but what do you get out of it, some kind of reward, or do you get to become a bishop or something?”

As best I can recall, I said, “No, I’ll just work here, serve the people, and then like everyone I’ll die.”

I recall he looked somewhat incredulous, but the interesting thing is he’s now in the seminary and has been for several years. I’ve sometimes wondered if he remembers that conversation. Maybe I should ask him.

The Lord uses all sorts of circumstances and situations to extend his call to “follow me” in the priestly or religious life. The Lord says in the Scripture, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.”

I pray that many young people hear his voice without hardening their hearts. The harvest is abundant — the work is immensely satisfying — and the pay is eternal life. You can’t really do better than that!

I was one of 1,854 priests in the States who recently received and filled out a questionnaire from the Los Angeles Times. It was a survey of priestly attitudes and opinions in the midst of the recent sex scandals. I was struck that despite all the problems, 91 percent are satisfied with their lives as priests. That’s got to be one of the best-kept secrets that the media rarely communicates. I pray that our young people here discover and experience the truth of Jesus’ words when he says, “There is no one who has given up home or wife or brothers or children for the sake of the kingdom of God who will not receive back a hundredfold in this age and eternal life in the age to come.”

Year of the Sacraments

In this parish we’ve decided 2003 to be the “Year of the Sacraments.” We want all our 30,000 Catholic people to experience the grace and life the Lord gives through the sacraments.

Day after tomorrow two trucks leave for the mountain villages carrying 54 pastoral workers. They’ll team up with 16 of our mountain parish councils to visit all the homes personally inviting the people (especially the adults) to receive any sacrament they lack, especially confirmation or reconciliation, first Communion, marriage or even baptism.

The same thing will be done in all of our coastal towns and villages. About 50 catechists will spend a weekend in our local retreat house receiving the training needed to give the six-month preparation program for adults to receive these sacraments.

In April 50 catechists of confirmation will spend two weekends in this retreat center, and then new missionaries will spend three weekends there being trained. Donations fund all this training and formation. Our hope and prayer is that long after we’re gone the fruit of this formation will continue as these trained leaders carry on the work of the Lord.

Daily hardship and continued hope

As classes now begin, our parish is working to provide new school shoes and uniforms for about 300 children. (All the public schools in Peru wear the same uniform.) Parents are now in anguish as they struggle to help their children go to school. Some parents even commit suicide, as they can’t provide what’s needed to educate their children.

As the same time, the parish continues to provide hot meals and food to hundreds of people every day along with medical help provided by our 27 parish councils.

For instance this morning a teenager came here with his mother. He was playing where apparently the military had their exercises, and he had picked up a bomb that exploded.

Amazingly he survived, but it blew off his hand. Since then he has always had his arm in the coat pocket of his heavy jacket in the heat.

The parish council had a sleeveless jacket made for him, and the soup kitchen of this area raised some money to help buy an artificial hand. The parish council will help the family to put on a meal to raise the rest of the funds, so he can have a hand and hopefully take it out of his pocket. The arm is in bad shape from lack of use. We hope he enters the preparation program to receive confirmation along with first reconciliation and Communion.

The good news is that after months of prayer the predicted El Niño never arrived. The bad news is that we’re in drought and are now praying for rain. A special Mass in the mountains offered for rain last Saturday was packed. Please join us in this prayer.

As we celebrate Easter, your name will be placed on the altar as we gratefully pray for those who help make all these things happen by your economic and/or prayer support.

Please keep the prayers coming for all of our young people following priestly or religious vocations, along with our hundreds of pastoral laborers pursuing their vocation as laity. They are really living their baptism and confirmation. What a joy it is to have the privilege of serving them!

P.S. Shortly after receiving the sacraments the sick girl began to eat and walk.

Msgr. Donald Gorski, a priest of the Diocese of Charleston, ministers to the people of Zorritos as a member of the Society of St. James.

How to help

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.