In the Peruvian Mission, ‘We do what we can, with what we’ve got’


GREENVILLE — Mary Helen Ragland and I travelled to Peru this summer, spending 14 days in a large parish north of Lima, located on the equator. The pastor of this massive parish, Msgr. Donald Gorski, was our pastor at St. Mary Church in Greenville for seven years, and is now a missionary with the St. James Society in Zorritos Tumbes, Peru.

I was struck by the simple holiness of those beautiful people, and the mighty work of The Lord of Miracles in that part of the world.Perhaps because they are some of the poorest of the poor and are often hungry, these are God’s joy-filled, faith-filled children, whose hearts and mouths are open to praise and thanksgiving.

The liturgies are packed with men, women, mothers, fathers, teenagers, babies — their voices and spirits surely in complete harmony and communion with the heavenly hosts. Their pastor and shepherd, Msgr. Gorski, has 31 churches in his parish. He is always attended by eight or so altar boys, and he leads them in their celebration of the holy Mass.

The day before our return to the U.S., we attended the monthly meeting of his parish council. Approximately 60 people, representing their churches from the campo (countryside), la costa (the coast), and surrounding villages, traveled up to three-and-a-half hours on dusty roads, making their way to El Senor de Los Milagros Church.

Padre Jaime (as Msgr. Gorski is known) and his seven-member leadership team welcomed the council members. They prayed together, and then shared parish information and concerns. The parish monthly calendar is always one of the most important items on the agenda, and took an enormous amount of time and coordination. With the vast numbers of liturgies, meetings and parish-wide activities, the calendar is a primary communication tool for the various pueblos.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the council members celebrated Mass together before returning to their villages and churches, completing about a 10-hour day. The commitment of this group, while amazing, is far from unique.

Huge numbers of parishioners are dedicated to helping to meet the spiritual as well as the physical and emotional needs of the parish family through dynamic programs. We were stunned at the many evangelization and social efforts in place, and were blessed to travel to the countryside three times to participate in the meetings and celebrations of the Eucharist.

Some of the various evangelization and social programs include:
    •    The Catechesis Familia curriculum, which edifies and encourages mothers and fathers as the first and primary teachers of their children in their faith formation, including preparation for reception of the Sacraments. Coordinators meet monthly, then take printed material, instructions, and activities to parents in the various pueblos.
    •    The Boda de Cana program inspires married couples in their faith and exhorts them to assume leadership roles in the parish. Each week, Boda de Cana groups travel to the mountains and along the coast to share the good news, and to encourage and support fellow parishioners, especially the most physically isolated members of the parish.
    •    The John XXIII Program begins with a retreat for parishioners by parishioners, with the purpose of faith building and evangelization. A culminating Mass completes the weekend immersion in prayer, instruction and exhortation. Weekly follow-up gatherings include praying the rosary together, praising God in song, and sharing their faith.
    •    The Ministers of the Eucharist participate in a monthly retreat for spiritual renewal. These parishioners travel weekly to the countryside and coast to bring the Eucharist to people who may not be able to otherwise attend Mass on a weekly basis.
    •    The prison ministry is a group of men and women who meet weekly to pray together and plan visits to the prison. They celebrate the Mass before spending time with the inmates. We accompanied the team and visited with the female prisoners, their babies and small children.

One of Msgr. Gorski’s myriad gifts is energy. He begins his day in prayer at 5:45 a.m. At 8:30 a.m. his team arrives, and they pray together for the parish and to learn what Jesus wants of them. While they finish the day’s planning and information exchange, people gather in the driveway, waiting to receive the Scripture readings of the day and pray together. After receiving food for the soul, each person receives nourishment for the body — two pieces of bread and four bananas.

Meanwhile, Father Gorski, Sister Caridad (his retired sister) and parish team members work enthusiastically to serve “Our Lord of Miracles.”

Several soup kitchens on the coast serve daily meals to hundreds of children and families. A year or so ago, Msgr. Gorski had to send word to the volunteer cooks that there was no more money to buy food, so these outdoor kitchens would have to close. The next day, an old friend and former parishioner, Gally Gallivan, arrived for a visit, bringing with him several thousand dollars from supporters.

“We do what we can, with what we’ve got,” said Padre Jaime.

Msgr. Gorski does what he can until about midnight each night. He can be found in his little chapel the next morning at 5:45 a.m.