By the FSSP, exclusive to Rorate:
The second annual St. Francis Xavier Mission Trip of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter began in Miami airport on August 1st, 2013 and prepared to set out to work in the city of Piura in northern Peru. The group was nearly twice as large as last year and came from more diverse locations across the US and Canada. After an overnight flight, we arrived exhausted. Our spirits, however, were quickly revived by the warm welcome given by the people of Santisimo Sacramento Parish, which proved an accurate overture for our stay in Piura.
Santisimo Sacramento is a parish of over 40,000 souls comprising 26 chapels in outlying villages extending eastward from the city of Piura. The pastor is Fr. Joseph Uhen, who hails from Oklahoma, but has spent his entire priesthood in Peru. After spending time with the Missionaries of Charity Fathers, he decided to be ordained for the archdiocese of Piura where he has worked for 20 years. The extent of his labors caring for the souls and bodies of the people entrusted to him is immense. He is aided by an able staff of lay workers and a near constant stream of missionaries from the United States and elsewhere. (Visit the parish website www.santissimo.org). He graciously welcomed our group and put us to work in a great variety of activities.
Each morning and afternoon a list of jobs would be posted to which the missionaries were assigned. Some built houses, some worked in the free clinic at the parish, others assisted with hospice care. Still others delivered food and other goods to the poor. We spent time visiting the three orphanages cared for by the parish. There is also a parish school, a senior citizen home, a drug rehab center, a women’s shelter, and much more.
The two FSSP priests who were part of the trip spent much of their time making sick calls and blessing houses. Several young missionaries accompanied the priests on each of the visits, and many them related afterwards that these were among the most memorable experiences of the trip as they witnessed the great faith of these simple people as Our Lord visited them in Holy Communion. Though these encounters were brief, there was a profound realization that great distances and cultural differences were instantly bridged through the mystery of the Sacrament before which all bent theirs knees in adoration.
Of course the objective of the FSSP making this trip was not merely to give the young people the opportunity to be glorified social workers for two weeks. The goal was to give them the chance to deepen their relationship with Christ through the performance of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. The grace to do this derives principally from their daily participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Having ourselves benefited tremendously from this daily offering of our Lord’s sacrifice in the extraordinary form, the St. Francis Xavier Mission Trip strives to share this treasure with those to whom we minister, remembering that Pope Benedict XVI taught in Summorum Pontificum that the traditional liturgy is the common heritage of the whole Church.
On the Feast of the Transfiguration we were invited to offer a public Solemn High Mass at parish. Nearly five hundred were in attendance. Many of the older parishioners were excited to share how they had dug out their old mantillas and missals for the occasion. For most this was a new experience, but all were greatly edified. Afterwards, Fr. Uhen commented that the spirituality of the traditional Mass fits very well with Peruvian piety. We also had the opportunity to offer a Solemn Mass at the Madre del Redentor girls home where more than fifty young ladies live under the care of three hard working nuns. Later that week, Fr. Uhen asked us to offer the weekly Mass at the parish school for several hundred students. Afterwards, one of the seminarians had the chance to spend the morning talking with students and teachers about the liturgy and answering some of their questions. One of the teachers commented that she never had prayed so well at Mass and that the silence of the canon following the beautiful Gregorian chants made her feel transported to heaven. “What a blessing it is that you shared this with us!” was a common response.
Our final Sunday in Piura, we traveled about an hour outside of town to offer a Solemn High Mass in the small rural town of Buenos Aires where a priest is able to come maybe every third month. The landscape here was stark. It is a veritable desert, complete with sand dunes. At first glance structures of the town itself only seem to add to the inhospitableness of the area as the people live in homes consisting of little more than bundles of dry sticks tied together. Nevertheless, they have a modest chapel, whose painted colors inside and out present a vivid contrast to the surrounding scenery. As the bells tolled signaling the beginning of Mass, hundreds of people emerged from the barren environs and filled the chapel beyond capacity. The timeless chants, the immemorial ceremonies, and the infinite graces poured out from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass could easily were able to make one forget what a desolate place he was in. After the Mass, there were tears to be seen in the eyes of not a few of the older people who were present. The celebrant, despite his protestations, was treated as some sort of living saint for having seemingly brought heaven down to earth in this poor village. We shared a meal with the villagers following the Mass and journeyed home trying to digest the experience of where we had been and what we had just participated in.
Before leaving Piura, we had the chance to meet several families that were sponsored by our group. Through Santisimo Sacramento’s Family to Family program, $300 a year allows one to sponsor a poor Peruvian family, providing them with monthly food donations organized and delivered by the parish and the missionaries who come to assist them in their work. One of these families was also a recipient of one of the new houses paid for and built by our group.
The trip concluded with a day and a half in the capital city of Lima. There we visited the relics of four of Peru’s five saints: St. Martin DePorres, St. Rose, St. John Macias, and St. Toribio de Mogrovejo. We were also privileged to be able to offer a Solemn High Mass at the beautiful church of San Marcelo in Lima. This was a fittingly joyful conclusion to the trip realizing that this church in the heart of colonial Lima, a city that was once the capital of the Spanish empire in America, and had likely been the setting for many such Masses long ago. Like last year, although we were all exhausted from the work of the previous two weeks, there was much sadness that the trip was coming to an end. The chance to live for two weeks devoted to the service of those who are less fortunate, the forging of new friendships, being challenged to deepen one’s spiritual life and being given the means to do so, the first-hand experience of the catholicity of Christ’s Church and the palpable realization of our union in the Mystical Body of Christ all contributed to give the missionaries a more vivid understanding of Our Loard’s promise: “that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled.” John 15:11
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