After an absence of a couple of years, I am grateful to visit once again our Holy Cross Family Ministries work in Peru. As I was ordained in Peru and gave about 17 years of my life to service here, returning to Lima is always an evocative experience. Moreover, this year the Congregation is celebrating 50 years in Peru. I find myself asking: What has that ministry been? What has my ministry been?
As soon as I left the airport, I was reminded that Lima is an intense place: dry mountains, dense traffic, scorching sun, vast tracks of poor barrios that look much more like a rundown construction site than a neighborhood. You can sense that underlying aggressivity that unfortunately characterizes most of the world’s megacities.
My image for this place has long been of an old jalopy racing at 75 miles an hour that might break down at any instant … To be fair, however, a relatively strong economy and a couple of half-way decent mayors, new building and some advances in the infrastructure are noteworthy.
I clearly remember a decisive moment, when I had lived in Lima for a couple of years and I was feeling a bit beaten up by the place when I realized: I don't like this place and I never will. But I am not here because I LIKE it. What I DON'T like has a lot to do with why I am here! Actually this was a moment of real spiritual freedom for me.
Our Holy Cross Constitutions teach us: “The cross was constantly before the eyes of Basil Moreau… The cross was to be ‘Our Only Hope’ … Jesus entered into the pain and death that sin inflicts.” These words have always rung true for me here: to be a man “with hope to bring,” for whom “resurrection is a daily event” (8:118-119).
As this experience freed me, I also knew that I have always loved the Peruvian people – their welcome, their warmth, their faith – and outside “la Capital”, the country is beautiful, as we see expressed in a rich culture. With them I was learning much and growing closer to Christ.
Constitution 8 continues: “There stood by the cross of Jesus his mother Mary, who knew grief and was a Lady of Sorrows” (8:120). For 50 years Holy Cross has intentionally tried to stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross in Peru, specifically among the poor! I am grateful to the Lord that I have been a part of that history for a good many of those years.
We came here in 1963 to serve the workers in a sugar plantation in the north of the country. Trying to follow the Lord brought us to Chimbote, to Lima, to the high Andean Plateau around Lake Titicaca, and to Tacna on the Chilean border … always with this fidelity to Christ Crucified, particularly among the poor.
Men of faith, men of dedication and purpose! That is not to say perfect men! Men of character, yes - but some of us have been real characters! There have been big challenges, but we have been men who take seriously the Incarnation, who long to encounter the Lord in the middle of the complexity of this world – and have done so!
Now we are present in several parts of this sprawling city. We have often felt our littleness and fragility, but as I come back to visit for a couple of weeks now, I am once again deeply impressed by so much great work for the Kingdom of God: in our parish of 250,000 residents, in health clinics, schools, and in two works of Holy Cross Family Ministries, the Family Rosary and the Peyton Institute of the Family, which reach out to thousands of people around the city and the whole country.
The main celebration of the 50th Anniversary will be the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th of this year. Lord willing I will return for that. For now I am grateful for this "homecoming,” and for the opportunity to begin to think about what this anniversary means. May the Lord continue to bless our Holy Cross mission in Peru.
Fr. Jim Phalan, C.S.C., is the Director of Family Rosary International, which is a part of Holy Cross Family Ministries. HCFM was founded by Servant of God Patrick Peyton, a Holy Cross priest who had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and preached that the “family that prays together, stays together.” Fr. Phalan will be writing for the Spes Unica Blog each month to share with us the great work of Family Rosary International, yet Family Ministries is one of the creative ways that Holy Cross continues to reach across borders of every sort to spread hope. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross.