The Pilgrim of Peace visits her children

Pope John Paul II has declared this to be a year dedicated to Our Lady and her rosary. Here in Peru the priests, religious and laity of the six parishes in the north have been meeting to plan this special year. I’ve been impressed by the enthusiasm and interest shown by all the participants.

A weekend Marian congress will be held in September with many activities preceding it. For example, during May our laity knocked on every one of the thousands of doors in this huge parish to motivate the people and families to pray the rosary each day.

They prayed a decade of the rosary with the families for any special needs. These special intentions were written down and kept beside the Blessed Sacrament and are on our altars during Masses — tens of thousands of names and needs. This door-to-door ministry has been extremely well received by the people.

A pilgrim statue of Our Lady carrying her child was sent by our Archbishop to the six parishes in northern Peru. This image of Our Lady Pilgrim of Peace is spending two months in every parish. It stayed at least a day in the 35 towns, villages and churches of our parish.

The statue was often carried by our people in procession for miles from one village to the next. After two months in our parish the statue was carried by our people to the parish of Zaramilla — an hour away — on the border of Ecuador. Our people filled 16 buses, trucks and vehicles to accompany the statue in a public profession of faith. When they arrived with Our Lady on the outskirts of Zaramilla, hundreds of people from all the parishes in the north were eagerly awaiting them and gave an emotional and fervent welcome.

Together, people from all of northern Peru accompanied Our Lady of Peace for two miles to the plaza of Zaramilla where the mysteries of the rosary were acted out and proclaimed publicly as a powerful evangelization of the people. The pilgrimage concluded as the people filled a stadium to celebrate a beautiful Mass with excellent participation.

The people of each parish sat together and had their own special colored T-shirts. It was a rainbow of color in the stadium as the people prayed during Mass that the Virgin of Peace would bring a swift end to the war in Iraq.

The newspapers and TV here had been full of war news, all indicating that the battle for Baghdad would be a prolonged bloody process. Many were astonished when a day after that Mass for peace, the headlines here said, “The War Ends As the Baghdad Government Falls.”

I know a lot of people all over the world were praying for peace but you’ll never convince me that the prayer of those Peruvians with their Mother was not a significant factor in bringing this about.

The last Sunday of May all the people of our parish were invited to Mass in Zorritos. The church has been doubled in size and they filled it to capacity. They then carried the pilgrim image of Our Lady of Peace in procession to the church of Bocapan, a village four miles down the coast.

Hundreds processed in the blazing sun for over five hours. During the procession they stopped in several public places where people acted out five mysteries of the rosary.

As I raced to get things ready for Mass in La Cruz, I could hear the booming voice of John the Baptist calling the people to repentance. I got back in Bocapan for the final glorious mystery, the coronation of Our Lady. I was moved by the beauty and meaning of the event. Mary sang beautifully and powerfully and then spoke to her sons and daughters. Her son crowned her while God the Father and the Holy Spirit looked on. Young children gave her roses and then on a special platform, without moving, she disappeared to prolonged applause.

Carrying out these Marian devotions and writing about them seems to be something very natural and normal. Mother’s Day here (unlike Father’s Day) is almost a holy day.

Since our Catholic faith teaches that Mary is really and truly our mother, devotion to her is very natural, strong, and genuine. The Peruvian people love her and express that love. Pictures of her abound in homes, on buses, in public schools and hospitals, and in the many small shrines in parks and neighborhoods. After Masses large numbers of people touch the tabernacle and statues, and carry home their blessed water and religious objects along with images of Our Lady.

I’ve not heard any criticism here of these Marian devotions. Perhaps some in the United States would question this use of money and human resources focused on a statue and a saint. With so much poverty and so many problems, is this what the church should be doing?

My answer is yes.

The Gospel and the kingdom of God are, at their very core, all about relationships — our relation to God and to others. And among the deepest relationships that form us and mold us are our relationships with our parents.

In 44 years of priestly ministry, I’ve seen that touching on people’s relationships with their fathers or mothers produced tears more quickly than anything else. And discovering that God is both father and mother and that he sends others, including his mother, to represent him as our fathers and mothers brings us great healing and freedom and deep joy.

We are called to be sons and daughters. Both processes are immensely rich and satisfying. My sister, like most nuns here, is called “mother.” I’ve heard convents called homes for unwed mothers though they’re actually wed to Christ. They are called mothers because their vocation is to give life to others.

A terribly large number of our young people have been abandoned by their fathers and some even by their mothers. One teenager here has not seen or heard from his parents in over three years. They live in a remote village 15 hours away. He lives with an uncle in an isolated little shack near the beach with no electricity or running water.

His uncle doesn’t believe in God or in life after death – most unusual here. Yet this 18-year-old serves Mass faithfully, is active in the parish and loves to help give life retreats to other teens. He hopes to enter the seminary after graduation.

He once told me that Mary is his mother and that she fills him with her maternal love and warmth and helps him draw close to Jesus. She fills the void in his heart for a mother.

Two thousand years ago a teenage girl called Mary boldly proclaimed, “All generations will call me blessed.”

Two thousand years later, a teenage boy living in an isolated shack near the beach calls her “blessed” hundreds of times as he prays her rosary.

During this year of the rosary, I ask you to pray the rosary for this little mission in Peru. We promised to do the same for you. Hundreds of your names were carried in procession next to Our Lady and are now on our altars during Mass. We ask her to fill your hearts and families with the peace of Christ.

Msgr. Donald Gorski is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston. He ministers in Peru through the St. James Society.