ZORRITOS, Peru — This morning it was almost 1 a.m., and I was working on a sermon for tonight (Saturday) and tomorrow. I heard a noise, looked out the window and saw a large number of people carrying and walking with the image of the Lord of Miracles. I went out on our little balcony overlooking the Pan-American Highway and the Pacific Ocean. My sister (whom I believe never goes to bed) was already standing there with one of our seminarians. We looked down, and what we saw was both beautiful and impressive.
Thirty light bulbs surrounded and illuminated the beautiful silver rays that circled The Lord of Miracles.
The large image shone in the night.
Twenty-four men and teenagers were laboring mightily. With cushions on their shoulders they carried the large and heavy image of the Lord of Miracles. The image is carried on a flower-filled platform with long beams extending out from it. These beams rested on their shoulders as they carried their Lord. As they processed with this heavy load they swayed together with a certain rhythm. The image they carried is that of Christ crucified, the Lord of Miracles, the central devotion in Peru. As I watched them straining together, it all seemed so fitting and appropriate. Out of love for him, they were carrying on their shoulders the Christ who carried a cross on his shoulders out of love for them.
As they reached our rectory and the Grotto of Lourdes on the other side of the road overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the 200 people accompanying the procession all stopped. Immediately young boys placed wooden horses underneath this enormous platform and image of the Lord of Miracles. The 24 laborers all stopped for a much-needed rest, and some were being replaced by others anxious to carry their Lord. They wore purple cloaks. During all this time the singing and prayer never stopped. Someone with a powerful public address system led the rosary, songs and other prayers. Someone else was in our church pulling on the ropes as the bells chimed in the night. Traffic was stopped and backed up. Friday night here can be a time of drunkenness, vice and sin. But last night Friday meant that the Lord of Miracles was being lifted up and carried on the shoulders of his people.
After a period of time, the leader gave the signal. Immediately the 24 laborers all lifted together — young boys pulled out the wooden horses — and all began moving and swaying slowly down the highway in the midst of song and prayer. Cars began to slowly inch by on the fringe of the crowd. But I noticed one large bus full of people. It could have also inched forward, but it didn’t. It stayed to one side out of respect for the Lord of Miracles. After the image passed, the bus continued on its journey.
The Lord of Miracles continued his pilgrimage with his people, being carried to his next specially prepared place for the night. This pilgrimage of prayer continues, stopping in places in Pueblo Nuevo, Tucillal, Zorritos, Villar and to the very end of Los Pinos. The people have decorated the roads with purple and white paper cutouts, balloons, and even some arches over the Pan-American highway. This heavy image is carried for miles up and down the roads of the towns and villages as the people come out to greet the Lord and pray.
October is the month of the Lord of Miracles, and the same kind of thing is going on in the more than 30 churches and villages of our parish — not to mention throughout all of Peru. Who knows what goes on in the mind and heart of God? But I would think the Lord takes delight to be with his people in this way and to receive their simple gestures of love and praise — and in a sense to be carried on their shoulders.
The arrival of the Lord of Miracles interrupted my sermon preparation, but then became a part of my sermon. I’d begun by quoting Father John Fuellenbach, S.V.D., who’s spent the last 30 years giving retreats and workshops to pastoral workers — clergy, religious, and lay. He’s worked here in Peru, as well as in Ecuador and dozens of other countries. He began his work thinking the pastoral workers needed new insights and updated theology. He discovered the real problem is that many had lost their enthusiasm for the Gospel. Many were tired, overcome by work and disappointments. The fire had gone or was only a smoldering spark.
Jesus said, “I came to cast fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already blazing.”
But often the very ones commissioned to cast this fire had themselves lost it. Father John discovered a way to rekindle this fire, and told of it in a fine book called “Throw Fire.” That’s what he’s been teaching all over the world. A couple of centuries ago, St. Peter Julian Eymard discovered almost the same thing when he said that to keep the fire burning, “Dwell continuously in the thought of God’s inexhaustible goodness to you; observe in Jesus the activity of His love for you.”
I think the key word is continuously — constantly every day focusing on the incredible Good News that God loves you.
Mother Teresa asked the question, “How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say, ‘I love you’? Impossible. Our soul needs that as much as the body needs to breathe the air.”
It was at this point in my sermon preparation that the Lord of Miracles arrived. In the sermon I told the people this, and I told them that as I watched what happened in the procession I reflected: “God is so good to the Peruvian people! What is the image of God recorded in the mind and heart of the Peruvian child, youth, and adult? It’s the image of God the Father — painted above the crucifixion — loving the world so much that he gives his only Son. And this son, Jesus, loves us so much that he gives himself — shedding his blood and dying out of love for us. And this is the dominant image engraved in the Peruvian heart and soul. How good is God to engrave there the very image that will keep the fire in our hearts enkindled and blazing!”
How strange and marvelous is the Providence of God! Almost 400 years ago an unknown black slave painted this image on a wall in Lima. It survived outdoor abandonment to the elements, natural disasters like earthquakes, and government orders to erase it, and today in Peru it’s the dominant religious symbol, and October is the most religious month of the year. May the Lord of Miracles be praised!
And may that Lord, who first came to the world as a Child in Bethlehem, touch your heart and ignite a mighty fire that will never stop burning. Your gifts and/or prayers are making that happen here in hundreds of human hearts. For this we are grateful to you and to the Lord!
Msgr. Don Gorski is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston who ministers to the people of Zorritos, Peru.
How to help
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 acknowledgement will be sent to contributors, and it will come directly from Zorritos.