March 2010| April 21, 2010
I am because We are is an African proverb I learned not long ago. A Christian version of that would be,we are One Body in Christ. When one suffers, the whole Body suffers. When one is healed, the whole Body is healed.
By our baptism, we are all called to be missionary, to move out of our comfort zones and encounter people and places unlike our ourselves and usual surroundings. We are called not just to anyone or anyplace, but to the people and places that suffer in the world. We are called to be healers and restore wholeness to our broken world. It is in that encounter outside of ourselves when we experience the Oneness of the Body, when the I am because We are becomes tangible.
Recently, through the Columban Mission Exposure Program, five people from the U.S. responded to their call to move beyond their comfort zones and spent two weeks in Peru encountering a culture and place which invited them to see Christ and themselves in the light of our Andean sisters and brothers. Below is a reflection about the experience by two of the participants. They saw hope amidst the barren hillside. They found joy where hardships prevail. Their “I” became “We.” Read on to hear about their experience.
Amy Woolam Echeverria
Columban Mission Exposure Trip – Peru 2010
Walking in the barrios and meeting people who work and live in Lima, Peru, we spent many hours each day visiting Columbans in their ministries. We heard stories of how parishes were founded, the struggles of the people to build and support their chapel, how local people are so active in the worship and educational programs for their children and other aspects of parish life. Among the many ministries we visited were the innovative worm composting microenterprise; the sowing and harvesting of hydroponic tomatoes and lettuce in greenhouses on barren hillsides; and a family-style orphanage for children who are abused and suffer from disabilities of all kinds.
As we walked through the neighborhoods we often saw comedores which are small, roughly equipped cooperative kitchens, supported to some degree by both local government and the parishes, where neighborhood women volunteered in turns to cook 50 to 100 meals a day for neighbors who needed help. We had a great conversation with two mothers who were cutting up potatoes and greens for a large pot of soup to feed 60 people who would come that day with containers to take soup back to their families living on the hillsides nearby. Their cheerfulness and commitment was inspiring and a joy to encounter.
Spending time at the center house each evening was also a good time to hear the history of Columbans in Peru and other countries where Columban missionaries live. We met lay missionaries from Chile, Korea, the U.S., and associate priests from Ireland, England and Myanmar. We heard of the painful chapter in Peru’s history of a country torn apart by civil war, violence, and economic hardship; a chapter in which Columban missionaries also suffered and endured with the people.
On two occasions we were invited to join parish celebrations. One event celebrated the Confirmation of seventeen teenagers while another celebrated the despedida, or farewell, of one man as he retired from that parish. The friendliness and openness of so many people on these occasions was again a source of joy to us. We experienced the warmth and hospitality of the entire Columban community throughout our time in Lima.
After our time in Lima, we took a side excursion to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, the heart of Incan culture and history. We toured Inca remains and colonial-traditional towns and churches. The precision and extension of Incan culture is amazing. The blend of gold, statues, painting, sculpture, and scale in some of the churches made us wonder at the expressions of faith they might indicate. While we were visiting the outdoor remains, our guide made it very clear to us how some of the peaks we were near had been glacier-covered as little as twelve years ago and were now just rocks. We saw very intricate systems devised by the Incas to bring water to steep terraces from those glaciers.
We saw how dry and dusty Lima is now and how the city is dependent on water from the mountains as well as underground water. We also saw how floods from the previous month had destroyed towns built along rivers in recent years. We heard how the Inca would never waste good farmland on buildings. Our guide said that the Inca hoped to get revenge on the Spanish conquistadores by convincing them to build their city (Lima) on prime farmland so they might eventually starve themselves to death.
We are very grateful to the Columbans for providing such hospitality and an opportunity to experience life through their eyes, as both separate from and as a part of Peruvian society. Our eyes were opened by the cross-cultural encounter with the people of Peru and creation.
Eileen Luster and Columban Father Al Utzig
2010 Peru Mission Exposure Participants
If you would like to experience a transformative cross-cultural encounter with people and places unlike those you know, consider joining one of our upcoming Mission Exposure trips. For more information visit our website or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
March 19 – 22: Ecumenical Advocacy Days – Washington, D.C.
March 21: Affiliates Gathering – Chicago, Illinois
March 21: Affiliates Gathering – Omaha, Nebraska
April 15 – 20: Mission Exposure Trip – U.S./Mexico Border
April 24 – Easter Season Retreat – Chicago, Illinois
May 22 – Dancing for the World fundraiser – Los Angeles , California