Motorcycle Diaries

The roar of engines, a plume of dust, a mean machine slicing through the desert sands…

It is Columban missionary Fr. Liam Carey, speeding to his next Mass in the parish of Jicamarca on the eastern edge of Lima, Peru.

Fr. Liam

Fr. Liam is a frontiersman. Indeed, most of our work in Lima is conducted on the “frontier” of the urban area. Lima is a typical underdeveloped “mega-city,” with thousands of people flooding in from the impoverished countryside every year in search of a better life. As it is surrounded by desert, many of these peasant migrants simply squat in huge shanty towns, erecting flimsy wickerwork huts on the bare hillsides that ring the metropolis.

Life is hard for the newcomers. At first, there are no services of any kind. They must organize themselves and press the government to extend electricity lines and paved roads. Drinking water is provided by tankers, which every morning weave a path through the morass of makeshift dwellings. Sewage is disposed of in pit latrines. Rubbish is burned in the streets. People must travel long distances each day, either to work or to hunt for a job. Schools and clinics are slow to arrive. As for housing, the folk are left to their own devices, slowly improving their homes when they are able.

Ever since the Columbans arrived in Lima in 1952, it has been a priority of ours to accompany these people and serve them from the outset. Our parishes grow up like the neighborhoods – evolving bit by bit. In Jicamarca, the scale of immigration is astounding. “Twenty years ago this was empty space,” recalls Fr. Liam, “apart from a few pig farms. Now there are over 100,000 people here, and the government reckons that, when fully occupied, there’ll be over half a million!”

Eventually, the area will have to be split into two or three parishes, each with at least two priests. For the time being, however, there is just Fr. Liam. Similar to the other residents, he first lived in a tiny two-room hut, perched on a steep slope. Over time he has been able to make a few improvements, but conditions are still fairly basic. From here he fans out to the seventeen Christian base communities that the Columbans have fostered to date, strapping his Mass kit and other essentials onto the back of his bike. “You see, there are still hardly any paved roads round here,” he explains, “and the dirt roads are just that – dirt. A motorbike is ideal for cutting through all that.”

Mission is about “being sent” to share God’s love in service to one another. God lives within us and nudges us, sends us to do something good, something important, something loving. God sends us out to one another, to serve, to smile, to encourage, and sometimes to help in more concrete ways. In Fr. Liam’s case, that means traveling by motorcycle! Thank you for being a missionary disciple of Jesus, for making possible the work of Fr. Liam and all of the other Columban missionaries through your faithful and prayerful support.

And Fr. Liam? Well, as a true Columban frontiersman, pretty soon he’ll move on to another fringe area and start all over again. Thus a new chapter will be opened in his “motorcycle diaries.”