It was the week before Holy Week when I received a phone call from Rosario Vargas, a volunteer worker at Puericultorio Pérez Aranibar, an orphanage for poor children in Peru. She was calling to inquire if I were free to celebrate Mass in the chapel of the orphanage for nearly three hundred children on the coming Sunday. At first I was surprised by the call, but after talking with Rosario for a few minutes, I agreed to celebrate the Mass.
Fr. Diego Cabrera Rojas lives and works in Peru.
On Saturday, while arranging things for the Mass, I experienced some rather mixed emotions. I had not celebrated Mass for children very often, and the next day I would be celebrating Mass for 300 children aged 5 to 18 years. Another thought that weighed heavily on my mind was the fact that I had spent my childhood and adolescence at this orphanage, and I would return as a missionary priest 35 years later.
On Sunday I went to celebrate the Mass at the orphanage. At the main gate, a woman named Charito was waiting for me with a big smile. She explained to me the way they do the Mass. I was a bit nervous as we walked to the sacristry, as many memories came back to me. Even the smell of the place was familiar. I went into the sacristy. Fortunately, the children looked at me with hospitable smiles, and I smiled back at them. I put on the vestments for Mass and went to the altar. The Mass was very moving and filled with emotion. At the end, I greeted Charito and the other volunteers and the Brothers of the Institute of Sacred Heart in charge of the children’s home. When the Mass was finished, I went back home.
Later in the day, Charito convinced me to help them with the celebrations of Holy Week, and I agreed again. That was the beginning of a long-lasting friendship with Charito and her family and also with Br. Juan José Zabalza, a Spanish Brother of the Institute of Sacred Heart who has been working at Puericultorio for twenty-five years.
It has been four years since I said that first Mass at the orphanage. I have happily been going back “home” every Sunday and on feast days to celebrate hope and life with the orphaned and poor children of Peru. I’m happy to give something back to the institution where I spent my childhood.
This article originally appeared in the October issue of ‘Columban Mission.’