Peru opened its arms to me in the first days of September 1978. That meant learning the language, and the language school was in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Cochabamba was a beautiful place, and I finished an intense language course there.
After language school, I went to Huancavelica, Peru. Huancavelica was my choice of mission which was born out of reading The Far East (the name of Columban Mission magazine in those days) and learning of the needs of one of the poorest provinces of Peru. Despite my intense language course, I now faced the Peruvian sierra where Quechua was the native language. The Diocese was situated at 3,000 meters and over above sea level and not the language, but the altitude was the main problem, a problem I could not overcome. For that reason I was ordered by my doctor to leave the Sierra because I could not survive there.
At this stage my superiors took control of my destiny, and I was sent to a Lima parish. It was a humiliating reverse of missionary desire as I did not see Lima in terms of urgency within a missionary context. I was very wrong. Lima did not have the crude externals of rural poverty, but it has other more dangerous evidence of exploitation and worker manipulation. The evidence was present all the time.
Parishes were big, and every parish had a few chapels where Mass was celebrated at least every Sunday. The work in parishes was not confined to saying Mass. The most important parish work was catechesis. Every year brought to the fore classes of first Holy Communicants. Classes of 100 and more needed instruction and who would instruct these large classes of enthusiastic youth? The parents were too busy, and the schools considered that it wasn’t their job. The priests were fully occupied in other parts of pastoral care, so those who provided the instruction were the youth recognized for the practice of the faith and between the ages of 16 and 19 years of age. Who prepared these young educators of the faith? The priests of the parish. It was about a two month job, but it worked well. Confirmation had a similar preparation. The Mass schedule was always very full no matter how you may try to keep it within reasonable limits. The parish apostolate in Lima was always understaffed and in urgent need of help. I spent the next 35 years trying my best to alleviate the demand on parish work in Lima.
I retired after 55 years of missionary work (first in Korea then Peru). These were 55 years which I would not have exchanged for all the wealth of the world. Peru went through many social and political trials, but it did not hold back the missionary work that was unfolding there by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Columban Fr. Maurice Foley now lives in Ireland.