Thanks be to God that my service in Holy Cross Family Ministries has led me to spend most of this year in Latin America. I was ordained in Perú and a good chunk of my heart will always be there. I realize that the seventeen years I spent in Perú will always remain as a foundation for who I am as a priest, wherever I am. Just about the time that this blog will go live, I will have the opportunity to participate in celebrations of fifty years of service of the Congregation of Holy Cross in Perú and I thank God that I have shared in that history.
Another event for which I thank God I could participate in was World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in July. WYD is, of course, an event of the Universal Church. But that said, it is not a contradiction to observe that really this World Youth Day was an event of a Latin American Pope with a hugely Latin American convocation.
It was amazing to see Pope Francis in action in Rio. World Youth Day gave him a platform from which to present his vision to the Church and the World. The power of his message – in his words and in his witness – is none other than the Gospel. He is calling the world to understand and to live the heart of the Word of God. The practical simplicity is compelling. With his heart fixed on Christ and with Our Lady, he is determined to reach out as far as he can to the poor, the needy and the lost – and to bring the Church with him!
The message inspires me and challenges me. At the same time I realize that this is the vision in which I was formed as a deacon and then a priest as I served in Perú. This is what has always motivated the Congregation of Holy Cross in Perú for these 50 years.
When I first went to Perú and found myself working in Chucuito, a parish we staffed in the Andes in the south of Perú on the shores of Lake Titicaca, I realized the cultural jump I had made was beyond my comprehension. We didn't have electricity in the house (nor an indoor toilet!) and a good chunk of my time was spent on foot getting to the otherwise inaccessible parts of the parish. I loved the people, I loved the ministry, and I loved the challenge. I knew also that I was “following in the footsteps of a great band of men”, as our Holy Cross Constitutions say, who had also taken up the challenge of the Perúvian mission. Since the beginning, the commitment to the poor and the marginalized has stood out in relief, first working among workers on sugar plantations and then planting ourselves in the new urban neighborhoods that started to sprawl in the 60's, particularly in Lima.
It took a certain toughness that sometimes got excessive, so it wasn’t easy. Some guys who went simply couldn't take it, and didn't last too long. To be honest, there were some tough times in the history of the Holy Cross District of Perú.
Yet the Lord doesn't expect perfection from us, rather He hopes for commitment, and Holy Cross in Perú for the last fifty years has demonstrated a superabundance of it: to the Gospel, to the Kingdom of God, to seeing Christ in the poor. Five decades now demonstrate maturity in the commitment and in the way of doing the mission. When you see the impressive network of spiritual, educational and social works of the District, you wonder how so few could have done so much.
Fifty years is certainly a milestone that calls for celebration, and for thanksgiving to the Holy Cross men and women who have given their all to service in Perú. In them, we give thanks to God. Personally, I am honored and humbled to be a part of this history. I look forward to years to come. Pastoral challenges in Perú are shifting rapidly, as they are in the whole world. It is not a coincidence that a Latin American Pope now affirms the spirit that has animated Holy Cross in Perú – and challenges Holy Cross and the whole Church now to re-commit ourselves to it.
God bless Holy Cross in Perú. Our Lady of Sorrows, Mother of Mercy, guide us.
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.