LIMA, Peru — As soon as John O’Connor, OFM, was introduced as Provincial Minister of the Franciscan friars from New York, Jenny Tello, one of the mothers at a clinic here, supported by Holy Name Province, approached him. “We,” she said, with a sweeping gesture to include the dozen other mothers and babies in the waiting room, “want you to know how important this clinic is for our poor neighborhood. We want to thank you for your support.” The group applauded in agreement.
“I’m delighted to be with you,” John responded. “I’m so impressed by the friendliness of the people, by your faith in God, and the hard work you do to build your homes and to nurture your families.”
Visits with Six Friars
Though he had previously travelled thousands of miles for meetings and visits in Europe and North America, this was John’s first trip to a developing country. By visiting the six friars from Holy Name Province who serve in two parishes in the southern outskirts of Lima, John saw firsthand how poor families struggle to survive and still celebrate life under difficult circumstances. He was in Peru from Jan. 19 to 23.
Paul Breslin, OFM, guardian and mission coordinator, showed John the parish school, the clinic which provides a host of services and the soup kitchen. “Our goal,” said Paul, who is shown in the photo at right, “is to make these projects self-sustaining and turn them over to Peruvians.”
Christopher Dunn, OFM, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes parish, took John on a walking tour through the sandy streets where at least 50,000 people live. Everywhere houses are in process of construction. People start with estera, or straw reeds, for walls and roof, then graduate to bricks and cement, with reinforcing rods sticking out in anticipation of a second floor.
Christopher described a litany of problems faced by his parishioners — poverty, delinquency, single mothers, gangs. “The new evangelization has to be through the family,” Chris said. Through the Neocatechumenate way, he now has 15 small communities of men and women who meet regularly to pray, discuss scripture, and share problems.
In addition, Chris, a volunteer chaplain to the firefighters in Station 120, took John, a veteran firefighters’ chaplain himself, and introduced him to the Peruvian firemen there, all of whom are volunteers. The Provincial Minister also saw the antiquated pumper truck the men had to use.
On the other side of the Pan-American Highway, John visited hillside Santa Ana parish where Anthony Wilson, OFM, is pastor, assisted by Carlos Sarmiento, OFM, the first Peruvian friar in Holy Name Province. The problems for the 20,000 parishioners also hinge around poverty.
“We try to build hope and perseverance through faith formation and material help,” Tony said. He showed John the parish school for some 200 students from kindergarten to grade six, the soup kitchen and the posta medica (clinic) which offers comprehensive medical service. John also saw women at sewing machines making products for sale. It’s the beginning of Anthony’s dream to complete a vocational skill-training center for youths.
Tony also took John to see Holy Name of Jesus parish in the San Borja district of Lima, started by Joseph Nangle, OFM, and where Tony was pastor for 12 years. The friars developed it, materially speaking, to one of the finest plants — spacious new church, nursery, primary and high school and adult education center — anywhere, including the United States. The friars turned the parish over to the archdiocese of Lima in 2001.
Inspired by Ministry
In addition to his ministry at Santa Ana, Carlos is starting a new parish among the eight chapels he serves in Lima’s Manchay area along the Lurin River. He drove John to several chapels, including St. Francis Assisi Chapel, soon to be the main parish church, and introduced him to the two Spanish sisters who run a nursery school there.
“I am both impressed and inspired by the Christ-like ministry and simplicity of our friars,” John said at the end of his visit. “They clearly see Jesus in the people they serve, and I’m sure the people see Christ in them. I only wish members of our St. Anthony’s Guild and the others who support our work so generously could see for themselves how this mission work inspires hope in people.”
Before returning to the States, John paid respects to the Provincial Minister of the Twelve Apostles Province, Fr. Emilio Carpio Ponce, OFM. The Province is one of the two Franciscan provinces in Peru.
“I found the trip very enlightening,” John said.
— Frank Maurovich is the former editor of Maryknoll magazine and now a contributor to The Anthonian magazine. He traveled with Octavio Duran, OFM, who took photographs of John O’Connor’s trip.