Native missionaries spread the light of Christ in Peru

ZORRITOS, PERU — After 44 years of priestly ministry, I’m finally retired — a 70-year-old retired priest of the Diocese of Charleston. Thanks to my bishop and the Society of St. James, I have permission to continue serving here in Zorritos. Someone told me, “If this is retirement, who needs work?”

My work here is now more explicitly to prepare the parish for my leaving. My sister (who is two years older than I am) and I hope to continue here as long as the Lord gives us the strength and calling to do so, but always preparing the parish for our absence. The Society of St. James cannot replace me. Hopefully, the diocese here can do so when the time comes.

We are working to make the parish more financially independent. The envelope system of parish support is almost non-existent in Peru. Consequently, church economic support through the Sunday collection is minimal. Last year our total weekly collection from all the Masses was about 180 soles, or $50. With gas costing more than $2 a gallon, that doesn’t take us very far.

This year we finally bit the bullet and introduced tithing and the envelope system to our coastal churches. The weekly collection on the coast in May was more than 1,000 soles — an increase of more than 500 percent. Just as important, the people are experiencing the rich blessings obtained from God through generous, sacrificial giving. We hold out to them the example of parishes and persons in other countries who are sending us part of their tithe. Many have met the challenge, and from their poverty are giving with great generosity and real sacrifice. We thank those who are a model and inspiration for our people.

Last year, month after month, the experts kept saying the Nino would arrive this year to once again devastate our poor people with floods. At Sunday Masses month after month, we prayed against the Nino, and it never arrived.

However, what did arrive was a terrible drought — almost no rain. Usually the rainy season is during our summer here, January to May, and then there is no rain whatever until the next year. June through December are dry.

In May we asked our 27 parish councils to pray for a rainfall of unity and water in the mountains. Due to political and other problems, there has been great discord and division in our mountain people this year.

Last Saturday and Sunday, all the mountain parish councils met in the central village for a two-day workshop on Christ’s prayer “that all may be one” and on the parish council as an instrument to produce this oneness. It was a very powerful and unifying experience.

Interestingly, as I drove out to the workshop last Saturday [June 21], it was raining, and it continued to rain most of the way to the workshop. That night at Mass on the coast, after praying for a rainfall of unity and water, we could hear the rain begin and continue to fall on the roof until the end of Mass. It also rained during the workshop participants’ Mass in the mountains. But everyone here knows it doesn’t rain in June. We still need more rain, but that was a great help for the crops and thousands of goats and other animals that need pasturage to eat – not to mention a great help for the people.

“There was a man sent from God and his name was John.” A day before the workshop, a priest whom I had never met arrived unexpectedly at the rectory, looking for a place to stay for a few days while he took care of some business in our area. I have a deservedly bad reputation among the priests. However, Father John said, “I love the mountains.” The next day he went out to stay for the two-day workshop – reconciling the participants and celebrating the Eucharist.

He liked it so much that he got permission from his bishop to stay until next week when we have a three-day Rosary Mission in our furthest and most isolated villages. We call them “the end of the world.”

This coming weekend, 38 new missionaries finish their third and final weekend of formation in our Diocesan Retreat House. They return this Sunday night to our parish for a special closing Mass in which they are commissioned and sent forth as missionaries. When they enter the church, it’s like a fire coming through the door that ignites the whole congregation waiting to receive them. They’ll join our two groups of missions that will evangelize every Saturday on the coast — and others with a monthly or bimonthly weekend mission in the mountains.

Of all the things we do with donation money, we believe this training and formation of leaders is the most important. Our hope and prayer is that many years after we’re gone from here, and hopefully looking down (not up) on what is happening in Zorritos, we’ll see the fruit of this formation as these people and their children continue to evangelize and build up the Body of Christ. Hopefully, they will continue to be that leaven and yeast that God uses to create his reign and his kingdom. Hopefully, the seed of God’s word that they are planting in the most remote villages will be yielding a rich harvest hundredfold.

The prayers of so many people seem to be watering the harvest as we watch it grow. Things are changing and something new is happening.

Two of our older teenage altar servers spent most of their young lives living in terror and great poverty. Machismo is alive and well in Peru. As is so common here, their father had other women, drank excessively, and physically abused his wife and children. They still need a lot of inner healing ministry to heal their nerves, anger, and painful memories. But four years ago their father made the “Bodas de Cana” (Wedding of Cana) weekend retreat.

Saturday nights he’s no longer drunk in the cantinas, but with 200 married people of Bodas de Cana in the La Crux church. Saturday mornings he’s a missionary evangelizing our small coastal villages. He tells the men how not to raise their children and gives a powerful testimony. His sons give life retreats to other teens.

Your prayer and support make these things happen, and we are very grateful. May you, your family and church experience the ‘life’ that you are helping to give to others.

To contribute materially to this mission, checks may be 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 acknowledgement will be sent to contributors, and it will come directly from Zorritos.