I spent two months of the summer living and working with our Holy Cross community in Canto Grande, Peru. It’s a remarkable place – an enormous, busy, growing neighborhood in one of the poorest areas of Lima. Three hundred thousand people, the vast majority of whom are Catholics, live within our parish boundaries. I spent most of my time working at two of our apostolates. I either served as a teacher’s aide at Yancana Huasy, a center for children with special needs, or I taught religion and English at our school, Fe y Alegria No. 25.
The generosity and welcome the community and our collaborators extended to fellow seminarian Ryan Kerr, C.S.C., and me was so impressive. From the moment we arrived, people went out of their way to help us get acclimated to the culture and involve us in their lives.
Of course, we lived and prayed with the local Holy Cross community, but that community extended outward and helped us share life with our neighbors, even for the short span of two months that we were there. I think this kind of integration between our community and the people we live with and serve is one of the hallmarks of Holy Cross, and it was great to see and experience it in a Peruvian context. Through praying and worshipping, working and teaching together, eating and sharing meals, even playing pickup basketball on Sunday afternoons – there was a strong sense of community, and getting to jump into that was one of the highlights of my experience.
Canto Grande is one of the poorest sectors of the capital city. The needs of the people there are tremendous. Our parish is itself the size of a small diocese, and it’s not easy to provide all the sacramental and catechetical ministry that the people deserve. There’s a lot of work to do, and it was easy for Ryan and me to stay very busy working and helping out as we could in our ministries. I learned a lot in the process. Spending time with students in special education classes and getting to know their parents, I saw some amazing examples of patience and love. Students at our high school became my most demanding teachers as I was learning Spanish – I’m convinced that if I can manage to understand teenage slang in Spanish, I can understand anything.
I’m very grateful to have had this experience in Peru. It was great to see how God’s presence, love, and grace are evident in places and cultures very different from my own, and a real privilege to participate in that life and work.
Stephen Jakubowski, C.S.C., with fellow teachers at Yancan Huasy.