When I arrived in Peru a little over four years ago I was heartened to hear the familiar strains of Alma Misionera (Missionary Soul), a song I had learned in Chile years before and had sung with groups of students there, hundreds of times.
The words, melody and rhythm are full of youthful energy and idealism, and the song frequently concludes with arms-over-the-head clapping, while shouting out the lyrics: … just call me to serve, Lord … no matter what it is, I’m ready to do whatever you want ….and continues: Take me where people who still don’t know you, need your Word and my great love of life. Lord, I have a missionary soul; take me anywhere people long for you.
Those words and sentiments were very much present these last couple of weeks during our evening reflections at the end of each day of Summer Mission 2012, sponsored by the Vocations Office of the Holy Cross District of Peru.
Every day for two weeks we climbed up the rocky hills of a far corner of our parish know as the Community of Jesus of Nazareth. There we visited families, brought the sacrament to the sick, prepared parents and godparents for the baptism of their children, and dedicated the major part of the work force to running workshops for 5 to 12-year-olds in dance and body movement, puppet making and performance, creative storytelling and writing, and Bible theater. The missionaries were a number of young men from our parish who have been participating in our vocation groups during the year and some friends of theirs, accompanied by a few Holy Cross seminarians and priests and a couple of experienced teachers.
There were so many memorable moments during those weeks, especially around the interaction with the children who came from the poorest neighborhoods of our sprawling parish and eagerly filled the schoolyard at the beginning of each day. But two things in particular caught my attention that had more to do with the young missionaries than with the children: the mission doesn’t have to be far away, and zeal is energy with a mission.
A good number of wonderful volunteers come to our parish in Canto Grande each year from colleges, schools and parishes in the States to participate in service-learning activities for brief periods of time during breaks in the US academic calendar. But our missionaries, who are just about the same age, didn’t travel very far physically nor socio-economically from home.
It was just a 20 minute van ride up the rugged hills from the center of their own parish. Certainly there are nuances in the poverty within the parish boundaries, but in fact these were young missionaries from a very poor parish, serving children from an even needier area of the same. And I’m sure that much of what they saw in the students they taught resonated with some of their own experiences as children, of the strains that economic poverty can put on the family.
So, I don’t think it was poverty they saw. They saw children like any other they had ever met including their own brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. And they wanted to provide some happy, fun-filled moments in the children’s summer while planting the seed for things that the boys and girls could carry with them long after the summer was over—above the love of God they themselves had felt, given unreservedly in return.
One of the hallmarks of Holy Cross is the apostolic zeal lived by so many generations of Holy Cross religious from the time of our blessed founder Blessed Basil Moreau. Blessed Moreau chose the word “zeal” to insist with his brothers on the urgent intensity of the mission and the intentionality of the energy dedicated to it.
It was much more than youthful energy let loose on a project that I saw in these young missionaries. It was really zeal, simply defined as great energy or enthusiasm for a cause or objective. They were intentional, they chose to turn all of that talent and energy to a certain end—inject happiness and hope into the lives of these children and their families.
And they were willing to make the sacrifices that zeal requires to meet the objective. To dedicate two weeks to summer mission and a week to preparing for it is not easy, since just about all of the participants in our vocation community “A Further Step” work to support their families and study as they can. But when we began planning the mission with this community some months ago, one of the members said, “It’s part of who we are as a community; I’ll do what it takes to be able to be there.”
Some simply couldn’t do it without risking their jobs, but another asked me to write a letter to his boss, to explain the importance of the mission and to support the request that his work schedule be adjusted so he could participate. Still others sacrificed their vacation time for the mission to return to work the day it was over.
It struck me that this was a glimpse of Blessed Moreau meant by apostolic zeal. It’s the kind of stuff you want to save in a bottle and bring out on a tough day—energy with a mission.
Fr. Don Fetters, C.S.C., is a member of the District of Peru, one of several foreign missions overseen by the United States Province. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog reflecting on the work of Holy Cross in the missions. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross priests and brothers to extend the Good News of Jesus Christ across “borders of every sort,” including Peru.