ORANGE, Calif. — Almost 50 years ago Cardinal Richard Gushing of Boston sent diocesan priests to South America and told them he was sending them down there to work themselves out of a job.
He invited priests from the English speaking countries of the world to join the St. James Society and sent them to Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. Their mission was to move into difficult areas and build up parishes that could then be taken over by the local church and native clergy.
This special charism of St. James gives great importance to the development of native priestly vocations. Thus it was a joy for me to return to Peru in May of this year to take part in the priestly ordination of the first young man from Zorritos, Peru, where I served for almost 13 years. Another six young parishioners are in the seminary, with three due to be ordained in two years and two more the following year. Another parishioner just entered the seminary last year. Monetary gifts from donors like those in South Carolina are helping with their formation.
I have asked many people to pray many times for Zorritos. I believe this increase of priestly vocations is the result of their prayers. In his own day Jesus himself complained that there weren’t enough laborers to do God’s work. “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few.” (Lk 10:1-12) Then he gave the remedy for the problem: “So ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.”
In my 48 years in the priesthood, Zorritos is by far the most difficult parish I have served and the difficulty is largely geographical. The parish is almost four hours wide, almost the size of South Carolina. It is comprised of more than 30 churches spread out in as many towns and villages on mostly dirt roads. And just one priest in the parish serves about 35,000 Catholics.
When I arrived in 1993, I knew that Pope Paul VI had said the task of evangelizing all people constitutes the essential mission of the Church. The Church exists in order to evangelize, but how could this be done practically in such a situation?
Pope John Paul II gave the very practical answer when he said all Catholics are missionaries. The Vatican Council gave the answer when it stated that all are commissioned by the Lord himself through their baptism and confirmation to participate in the saving mission of the Church.
I now help out in different towns in southern California. At various Sunday Masses I have asked if anyone had received a special mission directly from God. Usually just one hand goes up, my own. Most Catholics don’t know that on the day of their baptism and confirmation, the Lord called them to participate in the saving mission of the Church by proclaiming Christ to all people and spreading the faith.
A few years ago the Peruvian archbishop launched an ambitious program which he called “La Gran Mision.” It was an attempt to evangelize and touch with the Gospel everyone living in the archdiocese. In Zorritos, our parish team trained 250 leaders for several months. They formed small neighborhood sharing groups using Father David Knights’ Parish Renewal Program.
Door by door invitations resulted in 3,600 people discovering that their baptismal anointing with chrism symbolized their calling to share in the work of Christ. The result has profoundly affected the people.
Last May, I rejoiced to see the parish jeep and pickup truck along with large rented trucks and buses carry many dozens of our missionaries out in every direction. Weekly and monthly the parish missionaries are proclaiming Christ and his good news to the people scattered through this enormous parish. At least two missionaries spend a weekend each month in the many mountain villages to bring them the good news and the Eucharist.
The church bulletin is not given out at Sunday Mass. Missionaries, working two by two, carry it to the homes and invite the people to take part in what is in the bulletin. Their offer to pray with those in the home for any special need is almost always accepted.
The people also engage in the corporal works of mercy. Thanks to our donors’ help, there are now more than 500 children, elderly and sick people receiving a daily hot meal in one of the parish soup kitchens. Many others receive food for their homes.
One of the ex-seminarians who works on the Zorritos Parish Team told me that every month 14,860 servings of food are given to Christ by giving to the needy. That is the single biggest expense in the parish. We hope and pray that this help can be maintained during the usually lean, difficult months before Christmas. I saw for myself that all the help that is sent is reaching and serving the people.
I’m very grateful to God and to the diocese and people of South Carolina for having helped me and my mission in Peru and for continuing after my return to the United States. It has and is making a difference in the lives of many people.
To donate to Zorritos, please make checks payable to:
Sisters of St. Joseph
c/o Sister Caritas Gorski
480 So. Batavia
Orange, CA 92868