Considering that I was raised in a comfortable home, given an excellent private Catholic education and never missed a meal, it would be easy to close my eyes and pretend that misery does not really exist , that some of all the nice people that I have met during my time in mission have been ignored by their governments for so long and that basic needs such as water or electricity are only met when neighbors gather to weigh their options.
I can easily see how Columban missionaries are hope to these communities. There is work to do in so many areas that it’s overwhelming to even think about where to start. And the best part is Columbans’ intentions are not to manage a parish forever but to get it stable enough to be given to the diocese.
Take St. Peter and St. Paul, for instance, a nearby Columban parish. After 25 years of our presence, it’s about ready to be given back to the local Church. On top of the pastoral and sacramental life of the parish, St. Peter and St. Paul has been able to open 25 soup kitchens, form women’s groups that make and sell crafts to help with the expenses at home and establish chapels where community leaders thrive as catechists and ministers.
When we were touring St. Peter and St. Paul several months ago, Fr. John O’Connell pointed out the soccer fields that they had been able to build with donations. After all, when kids of all ages are playing soccer or volleyball, they are probably not thinking much about how their parents can’t make ends meet. They are just being kids for a little while.
One particular soccer court was interesting because it was made with softer and more expensive materials that made running on it easier on the kids’ knees. That means someone donated the funds to build a sports-court but wanted the best for their health. It’s just a seed of hope in the mist of a hurting community, but the fact that other people care too motivates me to work on what I CAN do as a lay missionary with the Columbans as long as I am able.
I can’t expect much change while I am here or after I leave. Some families will continue to be poor, the new wave of politicians will continue to make empty promises and basic services will only be available for those who act fast enough. Will I change my community’s reality at all? No. Will I continue to plant a seed of hope in the girl who made her First Communion or the adolescent from a remote area who chose receive Confirmation? I hope so, but only God knows. Maybe the boys and girls I taught how to play the guitar will be a discovered talent in the future or they will simply and willingly run the choirs in their communities.
It is sad in a way. As missionaries we come and go and never witness the end of the story. But one thing is for sure: We hope from the bottom of our hearts that our presence here inspires a potential pastoral leader, a hidden musician or anyone who needs a push to reach higher.
When the time arrives we will probably go home with a mix of emotions. It will take time to rebuild our lives again, not knowing whether we made any difference in Peru. But what we certainly know is that Peru made a huge difference in our lives.