November 21, 2018, Sister Gayle Desarmia and Providence Associate Mary Olenick left Kingston for Peru. They spent two weeks visiting the Sisters of Providence and the Providence Associates in Carabayllo, Peru. This trip was memorable because Mary was the first Canadian Associate to visit the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul mission in Peru. Each day unfolded with its own variety of experiences as recounted below.
Twice Mary and I visited the Thursday program at the mental health clinic that Sister Rose-Marie Bokenfohr operates. We had an opportunity to meet the volunteers and interact with the clients. Sister Rose-Marie introduced us to several of the women who, because of family violence, are living in difficult circumstances and are being helped to better their lives through the Marillac Mission Fund. One afternoon we were invited to the local Medical Clinic for its 49th anniversary celebration. Mary and I were privileged to witness Sister Rose-Marie being honored for her 50 years of healthcare service in El Progreso, which is the area of Carabayllo where the Sisters live.
One Saturday we visited Fray Martín in the countryside where Sister Sara Jiménez Angulo ministers. That day there were five baptisms during Mass in the small chapel. The priest was very good with the children, ranging from 3-10 years of age, being baptized. He was not disturbed by the 6 dogs who wandered in and out during the service. Another day we went with Sister Sara to visit Las Lomas de Torre Blanca Alta and see the foundations for the chapel which will in time be constructed. The women who came to meet with us were very proud and excited about the prospect of a chapel in their area. Currently it is very difficult for them to attend Mass because of the distance and the lack of public transportation.
Mary and I had several opportunities to meet and interact with the Peruvian Associates. Carmen Alomía Guía, Peruvian Associates Coordinator, met with us at the house and other Associates came individually to visit. Other Associates and Candidates came to the house for a “meet and greet evening”. The maple cookies we brought from Canada proved to be a special treat that evening. One Sunday afternoon the Associates held a fund-raising lunch to purchase a statue of St. Vincent de Paul for Christ Light of the World Church in El Progreso. At that event we met many of the Associates, Candidates and their families and had the opportunity to sample typical Peruvian food. Because it was Mary’s birthday, the meal ended with a birthday cake and the singing of Happy Birthday in Spanish.
The students who are being assisted through the Marillac Mission Fund meet monthly at the Sisters’ house to discuss current events and to share what it means to live Gospel values. Mary and I met with two groups of students. They are attending high school, college, university and technical institutes. It is very touching to hear these students reflecting on their lives and expressing their hopes for their future and the future of their local community.
We had a number of other interesting experiences during our two weeks in Peru. We experienced the devotion to “El Señor Cautivo de Ayabaca” at an outdoor Mass in El Progreso. Mass was followed by a procession of the life-size statue of Christ through the streets. It is a devotion from the north and new to the Christ Light of the World parish and there were pilgrims from near and far in attendance.
Mary and I spent one day in metropolitan Lima as tourists. Sister Rose-Marie was our tour guide. The highlight of the day was our opportunity to visit the Labyrinth with “The Eye that Cries”. Because it was December, North American influence was visible in the prolific Christmas decorations.
Another day we toured the “far side” of the Chillón River which does not have any extensive urban development. Here we toured a church and a fort dating back to the Spanish era in the 1500s. Next, and in contrast, we passed a large modern nuclear facility. Finally we drove past plantation fields with cash crops where we saw very poor campesinos at work in the fields. Another day we took a “moto” to the top of the hill where the Sisters live and then we walked down through the streets in our neighborhood to gain a better perspective of living conditions in El Progreso. We were fortunate to speak with a number of people as we passed by their homes.
Although communication can be a challenge because of the two languages – English and Spanish – it is becoming easier now that some Peruvian Associates and Candidates can speak English. It was indeed wonderful to have a Canadian Associate visit the mission, meet the Peruvian Associates and see some of the works made possible through the Marillac Mission Fund. I was personally very pleased to re-connect with friends from previous visits and to make some new friends.
by Sister Gayle Desarmia