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Celebrating 50 Years of Franciscan Ministry in Peru

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Joseph Nangle addresses those who gathered to celebrate the anniversary, while Bishop Carlos García looks on. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Dunn)

LIMA, Peru — Friars, sisters and partners-in-ministry gathered this month at Santa Ana Parish to renew friendships and to recognize their Franciscan history. At a Dec. 14 Mass celebrated by Bishop Carlos García of Lurín, the community commemorated Holy Name Province’s half century of service in Peru.

“The 50th anniversary celebration of our Province’s mission in Peru provided the people with an opportunity to acknowledge the remarkable work done there by our friars,” said Provincial Councilor Joseph Nangle, OFM, who in 1963 was the first HNP friar to go to Lima. He founded the mission in 1964. “The 26 members of Holy Name Province who served or are serving there were mentioned by name as the Mass of Thanksgiving began. As Bishop García commented, that number speaks volumes about the extent of our generosity to the Church and people of Peru.

“Another feature was the presence of two busloads of parishioners from our original ministry in Peru, Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, which the Province turned over to the Archdiocese of Lima some 15 years ago,” Joseph added. “Not only did those parishioners represent the earliest days of our Peruvian mission, but they came as witnesses to what the friars highlighted by leaving that affluent parish to work in the exceedingly poorer areas south of Lima: a serious option for the poorest of the poor. This might be what history will remember most about our presence in that country.”

Eight HNP friars including Joe, the founding pastor of Holy Name Parish who now lives in Washington, participated in the anniversary Mass and reception. They were Paul Breslin, OFM, of Wilmington, Del., former mission superior, and the friars currently stationed in Peru: Christopher Dunn, OFM, a fire chaplain and pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Mariano Gagnón, OFM, stationed in the Amazon region, Emerson Rodríguez, OFM, educator, Carlos Sarmiento, OFM, of the Lurin River Valley pastoral center, Dac Tran, OFM, of the Santo Tomás pastoral center and Anthony Wilson, OFM, mission superior and pastor of Santa Ana Parish.

Also participating were representatives of the sister communities who have supported the mission, including Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Franciscan Missionaries of Mary and Canonesas. Laypeople from various ministries attended, including firefighters and parishioners from Holy Name Parish and School, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish and Day Care Center, Lurin River Valley, Satipo in the jungle, and Santa Ana Parish and School.

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Former mission superior Paul Breslin with a family from Our Lady of Lourdes Parish. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Dunn)

A Two-fold Beginning
Holy Name Province began ministering to the people of Peru in early 1964, when Joe celebrated the first Mass at Most Holy Name Church in the San Borja section of Lima.

“The history of Holy Name Province in Peru began with a two-fold purpose,” Joe noted in HNP Today last year. “It was as a response to Lima’s archbishop at the time, Cardinal Landazuri-Ricketts, OFM, who asked that we take a parish there, and our need for a vacation house to serve our friars working in the Bolivian highlands.”

Joe’s experiences were recounted in Birth of a Church, published by Orbis Books in 2004. “The slender but powerful book describes how an upper-middle-class parish in Lima, Peru, was transformed in concert with the poor people in its midst, largely through the efforts of its founding pastor,” according to America magazine. “The book recounts how this controversial transformation began and flourished. Joseph does so primarily through stories about poor residents, some so powerful that the reader’s heart may well feel scorched by both the injustices and the hopes they illustrate. Indeed, the book begins with just such a story.”

During the Mass, the bishop thanked the friars for their years of service. “He noted that the friars started in Chacarilla with Holy Name Parish when there was nothing there but empty property lots. As that parish was built up, the friars moved out into very poor areas of Lima where there was little or no pastoral services,” said Christopher, who provided photos. “The bishop mentioned the importance of being signs of love in action like St. Francis as so many friars had done in the Holy Name mission.”

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More than 400 firefighters graduated from training school on the morning of the jubilee celebration. After the Mass, the new firefighters from neighboring stations 120 and 106, who formed an honor guard for the bishop, received a blessing from chaplain Christopher Dunn. (Photo courtesy of Christopher)

Pastoral Work with Poor
“While the actual celebration of this historic event predictably included scores of people, a festive reception complete with words of congratulations, toasts and folkloric dance, another reality spoke even more loudly to the moment: That was the day-to-day pastoral work of our brothers in what has to be one of the poorest slum areas of Peru,” said Joseph. “The friars serve these ‘least of the sisters and brothers’ faithfully, cheerfully and considerately. They live much the way their impoverished people live and display a degree of happiness that is enviable. For an outside observer, this was an Advent lesson: the flickering ray of light represented by our brothers in that ocean of poverty and even misery is the light which John’s Gospel tells us cannot be extinguished.

Though St. Francis’ words about “up to now we have done nothing” were cited during the celebration, “it was clear affirmation that up to now enormous good has occurred in the half-century of our Province’s presence in Peru,” noted Joe.

The anniversary event was “a joyful time to celebrate the current apostolates, renew friendships from older apostolates and to start anew,” said Christopher, who has been working in Peru more than 30 years.

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The new Perpetual Adoration Chapel is blessed by Anthony Wilson and Bishop Carlos García. (Photo courtesy of Christopher Dunn)

Varied Ministries
During the past 50 years, friars have served for short or long periods of time in Peru, completing pastoral internships or participating in the Spanish language learning program.

The mission has included apostolates such as parishes, educational and social services programs. The parishes comprise Holy Name of Jesus, now administered by diocesan clergy; Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, with three pastoral centers; Santa Ana Parish with eight pastoral centers; and Manchay in the River Lurin Valley with 13 pastoral centers.

The pastoral centers provide medical, psychological, dental, legal, and food services, support to public schools in shanty town areas and the Amazon, and temporary housing for sick natives while in treatment in the city.

The Franciscans’ educational programs comprise Holy Name of Jesus School (primary and secondary schools), Holy Name of Jesus Education for Adults (primary and secondary), Santa Ana Grade School, Friends of St. Francis Day Care Center and Kindergarten, and a parenting skills program. Some friars also work as university and seminary professors.

The friars also have run chaplaincies at hospitals, schools, prisons, retreat programs, and fire departments and in the Amazon region, had integrated social and pastoral services for the Ashaninka in the jungle.

In November 2013, the Province announced that Holy Name Province friars would be starting a new approach to missions in Peru. Then Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM, signed a document that officially began the integration of HNP friars into the Province of San Francisco Solano, one of two Peruvian OFM provinces.

Jocelyn Thomas is director of communications for Holy Name Province.