Entry Five, Part Two: Canto Grande

In Lima, we were staying in Miraflores, an upscale tourist district along the coast. More than ten million people, about one-third Peruvian population live in the metropolitan Lima. Canto Grande is located in the district of San Juan Lurigancho, which is the most populated district in Peru, with a population of about one million. Canto Grande is a world away from Miraflores, not in mere miles or kilometers, but in socio-economic opportunities.

Canto Grande sprung up as a result of political unrest. The Shining Path, a Maoist guerrilla group, formed in the 1960s. It terrorized the countryside of Peru from 1970 through 1992. Their goal was to drive people from the countryside into Lima, to overwhelm the city and to overthrow the government. People fled their homes and sought refuge as squatters in the streets and parks of their capital. The government responded by ousting them from the city center to desert wastelands beyond the proper city.

In 1976, that the Congregation of Holy Cross was asked to accompany 400 squatters to this desolate area. There was no running water nor electricity, never mind basic city services. Previously, this barren area had been used for military training, as it had little use beyond that.

Starting from nothing in 1977, a small and unbelievably dedicated group of men of the Holy Cross Congregation took up the challenge of their founder, Blessed Basil Moreau, “…to go forth with zeal to make God know, loved, and served, and thus save souls.” How does one begin such a monumental task to build something from nothing? God’s divine providence took hold. Lacking basic building materials, the men of Holy Cross brought something better. They brought hope. The Lord of Hope Parish began to emerge.

In just over forty years, Lord of Hope Parish has grown to over 250,000 people, the largest parish in the country of Peru. While growth has been rapid, the entire district of San Juan Lurigancho remains one of the poorest areas of Lima. The harsh desert environment can almost be viewed as a symbol of the enormous challenges of the poverty in the area.

Yet, on the forefront, these men of the Cross toiled relentlessly to improve the lives of their brothers and sisters. Starting with chapels made from straw mats, the Congregation of Holy Cross accomplished extraordinary work in the most complicated of places.

Our first stop in Canto Grande was to pick up Fr. David E. Farrell, C.S.C., at the Peyton Center. It was a fitting place to meet up with Fr. David, as he was the driving force to make the idea of the Center a reality. The Peyton Center is a hub of the Congregation in Peru. It houses support offices and meeting space for the mission, a formation center, and the pastoral institute known as Father Patrick Peyton Family Life Center. At the day’s end, we would return to the Center to celebrate the 20th anniversary of INFAM, another brainchild of Fr. David and the Family Life Center.

We were then off with Fr. John Phalen, C.S.C., to visit the Fe Y Alegría, a primary and secondary school. The mission of the Congregation of educating in the faith with a special option for the poor manifested itself in one of the mission’s first projects, Fe Y Alegría, in 1978. The school now serves around 2,000 students in two shifts, along with vocational training. An important feature of the school is the inclusion of children with special needs, thus incorporating the belief in the inherent dignity of each individual.

We returned to the Peyton Center to be welcomed most hospitably at the Formation House. Here we had the opportunity to meet those who work tirelessly to support the work of The Congregation, along with other Holy Cross members, who had come for the Celebration of 20th anniversary of the founding of INFAM and the dedication of the Father David E. Farrell, C.S.C., Pavilion.

Combating poverty is core to the mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross. In Canto Grande, poverty had a stranglehold effect on family life. Lack of healthcare, poor nutrition, high infant mortality, high rates of children born with mental and physical disabilities, lack of access to education and job opportunities, and family violence were prevalent. To combat these issues, Fr. David created the Family Life Center Program known as INFAM. The purpose of the INFAM Institute is to create, analyze and evaluate social programming to understand and improve the life of the poor.

The day concluded with Mass and a joyful celebration of the 20th anniversary of INFAM. Undeniably, Fr. David was at the heart of the celebration. The people of The Lord of Hope Parish were elated to have Fr. David back home and to share their deep love and appreciation for this servant of God.

Liz, her husband, and her daughter are all Stonehill graduates. Liz’s ties to the Congregation deepened after tragedy struck on 9/11, with the loss of her husband. Her mission to transcend evil through offering light and hope to those in dire need found a home through the Congregation’s work in Peru.Check out this article to learn more about Liz.

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