Built on Rock

It wasn’t until I left the green flatlands of my native Indiana that what my Notre Dame Freshman Earth Science professor Fr. Mike Murphy, C.S.C., told us about rocks began to make sense. Now I live in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes where I’m surrounded by more rocks than I would ever have wanted to see. Our hills are solid rock, with no native vegetation, and a challenge even for the experienced climber. But here the population continues to creep up those craggy hills, because the space in the flatlands is sparse, occupied or too expensive.

Hill in Canto Grande

A couple of years ago, on summer mission in one of the remote areas of our parish, I met Señora Rut, who unknowingly has taken up where Fr. Mike left off in the freshman classroom so many years ago. But what she has taught me is how the poor eke out a living in the midst of this inhospitable rocky terrain.

One night, as I stepped out of our mission chapel, I noticed flickering lights in the hills from which smoke seemed to rise, as if people were camping out. Señora Rut informed me that those were new settlers clearing land to build their homes. As she explained, the small plots of land available in the hills were measured not horizontally as if by a birds-eye view, but on the total visible land surface sometime inclined at a 30-45 degree angle.

As a result, the way to create a flat spot big enough to build on is to heat the solid rock with burning tires (which unfortunately burn and pollute forever) and when the rock is hot enough, douse it with cold water. The rock cracks and, little by little as the process is repeated, a flat space is created. The rock fragments are then piled up without mortar to build the retention wall below the cleared land.

That’s the technical part. The human factor is even more impressive. When settlers arrive to begin a new life, neighbors join in the laborious task of breaking rocks, clearing land, building the wall and raising the house, just as others had done for them before.


Jesus said that his Church was to be built on rock, and here we can’t help but be aware of the fragmented rock upon which our local Church is built; it’s all around us. It reminds us that the greatest part of our ministry is to lead the effort to gather fragmented lives into community, built on faith and held together by the mortar of solidarity, suffering, and sacrifice.

Fr. Don Fetters, C.S.C., is a member of the District of Peru, one of several foreign missions overseen by the United States Province. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog reflecting on the work of Holy Cross in the missions. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross priests and brothers to extend the Good News of Jesus Christ across “borders of every sort,” including Peru.

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