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Home International Outreach Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lima Peru, Fall 2008
Diocesan Pilgrimage to Lima Peru, Fall 2008 PDF Print E-mail

"If you want peace, reach out to the poor!"

By Arlene Corrigan

At the Annual World Day of Prayer for Peace on January 1, 1993, Pope John Paul II reminded us that:

“If you want peace, reach out to the poor! May rich and poor recognize that they are brothers and sisters; may they share what they have with one another as children of the one God who loves everyone, who wills the good of everyone, and who offers to everyone the gift of peace!”

woman_with_child
Peruvian mother and child

This past fall 15 people from the diocese had the opportunity to reach out to the poor of Peru during the second pilgrimage from the Diocese of Pembroke. In 2006 a diocesan partnership with Lima was created that saw Bishop Smith of the Diocese of Pembroke and Cardinal Cipriani of the Archdiocese of Lima sign a statement of solidarity that prompted pilgrimages to Peru in November 2006 and again in November 2008.

A number of orientation meetings occurred prior to this recent pilgrimage. Led by Sr. Pauline Coulterman and Yvonne Sklepowicz, the pilgrims prepared themselves for this wonderful experience. The group collected shoes, toys, toiletries, medical supplies, etc., and packed these items into suitcases to take with them. They left on November 24 from the Ottawa airport, with heavy suitcases in tow and hearts full of warmth and anticipation.

The pilgrimage included visits to some parishes of the Archdiocese of Lima, historical church sites in Lima, a trip down the Pacific Coast to visit the people of the Chincha Valley, which has been served by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Pembroke since 1964, and an excursion to the Andean City of Cuzco and Macchu Picchu.

The group arrived in Lima after an eight-hour flight. The warm air was a stark contrast to the cold snowstorm that they had left behind — a vivid reminder that our two countries are very different. The pilgrims soon realized the benefit of traveling with religious and clergy as some of the group were whisked away at customs for inspection but were soon rescued by Sr. Pauline. The pilgrims received warm smiles and greetings from those who recognized their Canadian nametags as they walked through the airport. This was the first of many times that they would be treated like heroes. Since there are safety issues in Lima the group stayed at a retreat centre which was surrounded by high gates and fencing and was guarded around the clock.

Lima is a large city without the benefits of expressways. Traffic is absolutely chaotic. The only rule of the road seems to be that if you are ahead of someone you have the right of way. Cars travel dangerously close to one another constantly beeping horns to announce their presence. The unofficial population of Lima is approximately 10-million people, making it difficult to get employment. Beatriz, the group’s interpreter, pointed out how inventive the people of Peru had become in obtaining work. For example, each major intersection included people with clipboards who would keep track of the bus schedules and make recommendations to the bus drivers to maximize their business. Each bus carried a ‘shouter’ or ‘recruiter’ who would shout routes out to the people on the sidewalk. Vendors were everywhere on the streets and rush hour traffic was so slow that vendors could travel between lanes to sell their wares.

night_picture_of_the_city

The group visited several churches and cathedrals in Peru, all of which are also museums and art galleries. The Cathedral of Lima was spectacular, consisting of room upon room of amazing art, magnificent carvings, shrines, altars, chorus chairs (including ‘cheat’ seats), and tombs. Here the visitors met with Cardinal Cipriani who proudly introduced the signed agreement between Pembroke and Lima, beautifully displayed on a marble pillar. Several of the churches and monasteries had crypts and catacombs that artfully displayed bones and skulls.

Escorted by staff from the diocese of Lima the group visited several poverty-stricken areas that the church supports. The first of these was in Chorrillos, a district of Lima that is on the side of the sandy mountain just behind the rich façade of Mira Flores, the ocean-front tourist area. Here, huts were without water and sanitation. The group received a heroes’ welcome at the feeding project that the Pembroke Diocese supports. They then traveled to Manchay and witnessed the absolute poverty of this area where over half of the housing is reed construction with earth floors and workers receive 500 Peruvian nuevo soles per month ($175 U.S.), part of this would pay for the water delivered by truck to a rusty barrel in front of the house. The church is a significant presence here, providing all of the health and educational services, as well as tremendous hope in an otherwise bleak environment.

peruvian_marketplace

The Pembroke Diocese has also contributed a great deal to the improvements in Chincha, which is not only very poor, but is recovering from a major earthquake in August 2007. The group stayed at the convent of the Sisters of St. Joseph who have a mission there. Sr. Pauline had served in Chincha for many years and it is evident that she is loved by all and dearly missed. Homes in Chincha are about 12’ X 12’; the “bathroom” is a pail in the corner that is emptied into a hole in the roadway. Swarms of children and dogs greeted the pilgrims at every stop. The beautiful churches and chapels look out of place among the streets of straw homes but are a source of hope and dignity to the people. The group visited several of the projects that are supported by people of the Pembroke area, including the pre-fab nursery school that was funded by the St. Michael’s School, Douglas, community, and housing and educational programs supported by Christine Gervais, founder of ACCESO International and formerly of Westmeath, Ontario. The Pembroke Diocese has contributed a great deal to the improvements in Chincha since the earthquake.

Part of the group flew to Cusco, capital of the Inca Empire, at 3, 360 meters above sea level. While there they drove through the Sacred Valley and marveled at the many ruins. From here they traveled to Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world. Five pilgrims traveled to Puno on Lake Titikaka, at 3,810 meters above sea level. They stayed on the Bay of Puno and experienced the culture and customs of the people of the Uros “floating islands”and enjoyed the scenery of Lake Titikaka and the island of Taquile as they climbed a further 500ft straight up. This was truly magnificent!

children_in_peruvian_dress

The whole pilgrimage to Peru was a wonderful experience. Not only did pilgrims see the magnificence of the Spanish-inspired churches, museums, and holy places but they were able to meet Christ in the Peruvian people by experiencing their poverty and their wealth of spirituality, history, and culture. It is difficult to describe the type of poverty that was witnessed. It is much more meaningful to witness it in person and to feel the solidarity that comes from the realization that we are one people filled with hope and dignity. For this reason it is important to continue with pilgrimages such as this.

The lives of these pilgrims are changed forever because of this experience and the chance to ‘reach out to the poor’ as Pope John Paul II asked.

QUOTES

“One can read about or watch TV concerning third world poverty, but only when one sees and experiences it first hand, does it impact your life. We are so fortunate and have so much. This chance to see a true picture of the poor, to view, to share and to help, made me feel like a "servant", on a very small scale. Despite the lack of basic needs and material things, the people were so committed to their faith, they loved, laughed, smiled, expressed true gratitude for every little thing, and also, were willing to share with us whatever little they had. What a lesson to learn about living the gospel! We should all be so thankful and generous.

Patricia Charrette

“The pilgrimage allowed me to step out of my many roles at home, and through interaction with other pilgrims, and especially the Peruvian people, I deepened my relationship with Christ. He was everywhere around me; in each person I met and each place I visited. Having twelve days to put aside my work and familial responsibilities renewed my spirit and redefined some directions in my life”

Allison Vandergraght

“Reflecting back on the November '08 Peru Pilgrimage, I continue to remember it as an eye opening experience. The sharp contrast between the crowded and noisy streets of Lima and the lush terrain of the Sacred Valley of the Incas is a reminder of travel around different areas in Peru. The beautiful cathedrals and churches we visited were most impressive. However, first and foremost, as I reflect back, was being part of the children's Liturgy in Cincha. The participation of the children, the music and the gratitude of families presents a life long memory for me.”

Barbara Wood

 

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