Staking a claim — and outsmarting a fox — in Zorritos

ZORRITOS, Peru — It is now 3:15 a.m. I’ve just helped load our truck with 40 12-foot bamboo poles. About 15 parishioners are planting these deeply in the ground alongside the Pan-American Highway. Wires will unite the poles which surround a piece of property (about 800 yards) to which the parish is laying claim. It is a long strip of land between the highway and the cliff that drops down to the beach below.

Three large signs announce that our parish is claiming this property to be developed as a recreation park for children and for rest and sightseeing for families. We’ll ask the support of the municipality and the whole pueblo on this project. There is a law to protect the coastal area for the use and good of the whole community. However, in violation of the law, the municipality is selling the whole coast. We hope that others will imitate what we are doing, and try to protect what is left of our coastal area. The project is also an attempt to block a man known as Zorro (Fox).

In the town of which we are a part, he runs a so-called hotel that is actually a center for prostitution. About 100 yards from our church, he built another small building on the Pan-American Highway — probably to be used for the same thing. With the help of a young lawyer, Civil Defense condemned the building as hazardous, as it is built on the side of a dry riverbed.

Last month, Zorro bulldozed dirt on the other (beach) side of the highway, and prepared to build the same thing. Our park, as part of that land, will block his effort. Hundreds of young people come to our church, and must pass that area. We want to eliminate this danger to them.

In Peru, what we are doing is done secretly at night. In the morning the people and authorities will wake to see the newly claimed land. I am sitting here on call to confront Zorro or any other irate people affected by what we are doing. Hopefully, they are all sound asleep in bed!

I once wrote, “Life in the Missions is nothing if not interesting.” If you had told me last year that I’d be up all night secretly staking out land for a park, I’d have thought you were delusional. But here I am, and it’s now 4 a.m. So far, so good. Our seven-person parish team and a lawyer all concurred in what we are doing. But I am aware that a lot of things could go wrong, and I am praying that doesn’t happen. I especially pray that there is no sort of violent confrontation. Our young lawyer (of 10 months) will have the press out tomorrow to take photos and do a story. The mayor, who has sold the coast, will have the opportunity to look good by backing the effort to develop a small family park. Say a prayer that all this falls together, and doesn’t absorb a lot of time and energy.

I really didn’t come all this way to Peru to provide family parks. Useful as it is, not to mention blocking a prostitution center in close proximity to the church, many things are more important, and deserve most of our time, energy and resources. Our major thrust is evangelization, and we do more of that than any parish I have ever been in or seen. It deeply pleases me to see hundreds of people actively proclaiming and sharing the Gospel with others. I see more and more why Pope Paul VI said: “The church exists in order to evangelize.” That — in God’s plan — is what churches are meant to do. That’s what every Christian is meant to do. And it’s so beautiful to see people actually doing it.

It’s now 5:30 a.m. The men finished more quickly than I expected, and everything went smoothly.

After their work, I helped serve them some chicken and french fries. We’d bought five rotisseries-cooked chickens, each cut into four pieces. After their work, the men came in starving, but two didn’t touch their chicken. They said it would be lunch for their children. Another young fellow was saving his piece of chicken for his mother. Knowing how hungry they all were, I was impressed. Fortunately, we had bought enough to have a piece for them and another for their families. However, the two married men left with their pieces in a bag, and I suspect it’s all for their children. We gave each of them a bag of food (rice, beans, cooking oil and sardines) and also a bag of bananas and bread. That’s all that they expect, but we’re giving them an economic surprise, as well. Meanwhile, two young men continue to guard the area. The two married men will relieve them as night watchmen around 10 p.m.

Life is very hard for most of the people, especially in the mountains, where a three-year drought has crippled the economy. Our parish team is talking about trying to provide some kind of relief for that area. All seven of us meet each morning, Monday through Friday, in our chapel overlooking the Pacific Ocean. We begin the day with more than one hour of prayer and discussion as we try to form a common vision and plan for the renewal of the parish. By the extraordinary grace of God, he is keeping us all in communion with each other. If we ever lose that communion and unity, our authority to build community and unity in the parish will be lost. Please pray that does not happen. It is 5:45 a.m., almost my usual time for getting up. At least today I don’t have to bother getting out of bed, as I am already up and, hopefully, ready to face the day. In the name of so many people, thanks for your prayers and support. It keeps us all going, and results in so many beautiful blessings. You are remembered daily at Mass.

Msgr. Don Gorski is a priest of the Diocese of Charleston who ministers to the people of Zorritos.

To contribute materially to this mission, send donations to the St. James Society, c/o Msgr. Edward D. Lofton, St. Theresa the Little Flower Church, 11001 Dorchester Road, Summerville, SC 29485. Checks should be made out to the Society which will forward them through their banking account in Peru, avoiding the Peruvian Post Office. Only one acknowledgement will be sent to contributors, and it will be sent directly from Zorritos.