Mission Trip to Peru – Fr. Innocent Smith (August 27, 2017)
In early August, the Frassati Fellowship of Young Adults organized a ten-day mission trip to Peru. Fr. Dominic Bump and I served as chaplains for the trip, along with two Franciscan friars and a diocesan priest from New York. Fr. Walter asked me to share with you some of the experiences of the trip.
The main part of the trip was spent in Laderas, a poor suburb outside of Lima, where thousands of people live in makeshift houses. The purpose of our visit was two-fold: to help with the material needs of the people of Laderas by building new homes for families without adequate housing, and to see to their spiritual needs by visiting families, offering house blessings, and giving the opportunity for people to go to confession and receive the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. Each day, most of the thirty young adults worked on the houses under the direction of a local contractor, while the priests were led from house to house under the direction of women from the parish of Laderas. During these visits, the young adults rotated so as to get the experience of visiting the families, while at the same time not overwhelming those we visited with too many people! While several of the priests spoke Spanish fluently, Fr. Dominic and I were able to receive the assistance of members of our group who served as translators, even assisting (under the seal!) with the sacrament of reconciliation.
For me, the visit afforded many opportunities to see the grace of God at work in our chance encounters. At one point, my group climbed to the top of one of the tall hills surrounding the main part of the village to visit a woman who was very sick. For some reason we weren’t able to see her, but on the way up we met a man walking his bicycle up the hill, and he invited us to bless his home. This led to us then being invited to bless a series of other homes on the ridge. It was a reminder that sometimes failing at what we set out to do can lead to other opportunities to do God’s will. On another occasion, I noticed two beautiful cats on a door step, so I stopped to take a picture. While I was doing this, a woman opened the door, either by chance or to see what was going on. This led to us being invited in to do a house blessing. A reminder of the apostolic efficacy of a love of cats!
Some of our home visits revealed a distressing aspect of life in this community. It is characteristic for homes to have at least three generations living together, but unfortunately this is often because the men of the second generation have abandoned their wives or partners. There’s a tragic cycle of infidelity and
abandonment that seems to keep repeating itself. And yet at the same time one could sense joy and faith in the midst of the pain and suffering. It was a reminder for me of the importance of working to encourage growth in the virtues that make healthy and happy families possible.
The trip was also a chance to encounter anew my own Dominican heritage. On August 8, the feast of
St. Dominic, we celebrated Mass in a makeshift chapel on the top of one of the tall hills of Laderas in an open air area illuminated by a few flashlights. I preached, assisted by a translator, about how St. Dominic would climb the mountain of Fanjeaux during the ten years he spent at the first Dominican nuns’ monastery of Prouille in southern France, a mountain of similar dimensions to that which we were on. At the end of the trip, our group had the chance to spend a day in Lima, visiting the shrines of St. Rose of Lima, St. Martin de Porres, and St. Juan Macias, three great 16th century Dominican saints from Lima. Encountering these saints was a wonderful chance to be renewed in the spirit of St. Dominic – now I’ll have a new sense of connection with them when I look at their icons in our Guadalupe triptych at St. Vincent Ferrer!
Yours in Christ,
Fr. Innocent Smith, o.p.