Sharing My Life with the Quechua People
My main role is that of parish priest of Combapata, which includes many outlying farming communities, and I also have temporary administrative responsibility for two neighboring parishes with no resident priest. These are a few of the most important things I do.
There are over 50 communities of varying size under my pastoral care. All these communities have their own internal order, so someone is in charge and no community feels paralyzed due to the absence of the parish priest. Whatever I do in a community happens in dialogue with the community and coordinating with the leader of the community. I cannot possibly respond to all the requests for Masses or other religious services, but all understand this and, in each community, there are people prepared (at times quite well but not always) to lead a variety of religious services.
Community leaders rotate and need preparation courses for their personal and faith development. With help from benefactors in Australia, New Zealand and the U.S., we have developed facilities in the parish center to cater for up to 80 men and women coming into town for a few days of seminars on the Bible or other topics of common concern. In November 2010, the center was completed with a bright, warm chapel where we can seat 80 people. Having a retreat house without a chapel has been like having a car without a motor. This parish center provides us with the means to help our community leaders grow in faith, ability and confidence to lead and animate their communities. I regularly visit the communities under my pastoral care for meetings and celebrations. Weekly meetings are held in each community and are led by their own leaders or missionaries from nearby communities.
Also, I am now 72 years old so am slowing down a little, albeit involuntarily. This factor has helped the people here to live out the missionary role that all of us receive at baptism.
These days most leaders in our communities are literate in both Spanish and Quechua, which makes it easy for us to put on short Bible and sacramental courses for community leaders and catechists. I have taken the lead in preparing materials for these courses which are run by lay people. All costs are covered by the Diocesan Department of Catechesis, for which I am responsible.
To help me better prepare the materials I have been doing an online Bible course for the past three years, which helps me work out how to make real the Bible message in the context of our people’s lives. In fact, I have been so impressed with the online course that for the past three years I have invited its author, Marcelo Murua, an Argentinian layman resident in Bariloche, to give dynamic Biblical and catechetical courses to youth and adult lay leaders. Marcelo’s courses help participants in the areas of both content and methodology.
I am still in the process of writing a series of booklets using much of the material from this course. Parish workers edit, design and put together the booklets that will be teaching aids for those working on catechetical and Bible programs in parish communities in the prelature. All our basic courses for rural lay leaders are run in Quechua, while similar courses for leaders in the main towns are in Spanish.
As regards outreach to society in this part of our world, there are four major areas in which I either support or lead initiatives: the parish first aid post, collaboration with civic leaders, an ecological garden to help put vegetables back into the typical local diet and hospitality in the parish center.
The parish first aid post is run by Sabina, a mature woman who is a trained nurse and has extensive pastoral experience. There is a State-run medical center just two doors from the parish center, but they do not have an adequate stock of low priced medicines. The parish first aid post buys generic medicines from an NGO in Lima, Peru, and has them transported by bus every now and then and makes them available to the public at a price that covers the costs of running the store. Sabina also makes a point of spending time listening to and counseling those who come to the first aid post.
There are a variety of government and civic organizations in our town, and I do what I can to collaborate with them. I am invited to meetings of civic leaders and am on first name terms with all of them. I see this as a way of encouraging and supporting them in their respective responsibilities. I also believe that being on good terms with each other makes it so much easier to collaborate in the service of the community when the occasion may demand a united effort by all. I am a member of the committee in charge of organizing the town’s centenary celebration.
The ecological garden project is an extension of work being done by a local engineer in the neighboring town of Checacupe. Rice, pasta and other non-traditional foods have become a major part of the diet of families in our area. The change has led to a deterioration of the dietary habits of many who tend to eat few vegetables and little fruit. The garden project with its accompanying education program will hopefully put vegetables back into the diet of all, including the poorest.
Finally, I want this parish center to be like an oasis in the desert, maybe mirroring characteristics of some of the monasteries of medieval Europe. The parish is not a monastery but in a sense I feel like a monk: I have a habit of regular study; we have a chapel in our parish center; we will soon have an ecological garden up and running. I want individuals, parish groups and communities to feel free to come here to rest, to find peace in their hearts, to have an opportunity for quiet conversation with Our Lord, to study and reflect together on the Bible, and to share the joy of being called to be missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. I want the stranger to feel welcome in our parish center.
A number of things keep me here. I revel in the natural beauty of the countryside. I have always enjoyed bushwalking. I see so much of the beauty that is God reflected in all that I see, hear and feel in the hills, valleys, rivers, fields and forests where our parish is located. As a missionary dedicated to crossing cultural boundaries, I feel privileged to be sharing my life with the Quechua people of the Andean highlands. I feel that we mutually enrich each other. Perhaps, most importantly, I am constantly moved by the rugged toughness and straight forward, matter of fact approach to life that I see in those with whom I share. There is little comfort in their lives, but I don’t hear complaints. Often I see them suffering injustice at the hands of their own or from outsiders, but they find ways of working together to resolve their problems. Above all, they are a joyous people whose lives are imbued with celebration.