Again, we picked up our guide, Fr. David. Our first stops were to chapels. In this District, chapels evolve over time beginning with what is attainable from straw mats or sheets of corrugated plastic or tin to enduring houses of worship. While it was impressive to see the transition of buildings, it was more momentous to meet the people of the neighborhoods. At each stop, it became clear that we were traveling with a rock star. The people’s Padre David was back!
I came to appreciate how from the humblest of beginnings, accompanying 400 squatters, Holy Cross pressed forward to meet the deeper needs of an expanding parish of over 250,000. It was not merely all they “had” accomplished, but “how” they accomplished it. The men of the Congregation embedded themselves into the daily lives of their congregants. They nourished the dreams of the people, assisted in structuring the projects, and accompanied the parishioners in creating a better life for themselves and their families. What became evident was the immense pride and sense of ownership individual parishioners felt towards their church. The role of Holy Cross was to bring hope to the suffering; and through this connection to Jesus of the Cross, the Holy Spirit, and God our Father, these men continue to make a difference in the lives of the poor.
After visiting the neighborhood chapels, we landed at Martires Latinoamericanos. This complex integrates three separate institutes. The complex is burrowed within a highly congested marketplace. As I departed the van to the cacophony of blaring horns and untamed traffic, a seasoned veteran warned: hold on to your wallets; do not stop; do not look people in the face; just head for the entrance. I descended into the mayhem. For a moment, it seemed like I landed in the exotic Marrakesh marketplace. Immediately, we were engulfed by teeming throngs of people, street vendors selling wares, shoppers haggling and bystanders standing, staring at the visitors, who seemed obviously out of place. It was both intriguing and unnerving at the same time.
Once ushered beyond the secured entrance, we discovered an oasis of peace. In the heart of the complex, a beautiful chapel had taken shape. On my previous visit, there was only an open space, a few, planks joined to make rough pews, a crucifix and a statue of the Blessed Mother. Now there was a sanctuary.
Brother Andre’s Clinic was founded to fulfill a need. The local hospital, overwhelmed by the growth in population, could not care for the all the sick, and Holy Cross sought solutions. Seven years ago, the clinic was a fledgling operation. Today, I was amazed to see the myriad of services: pediatrics, gynecology, urology, cardiology, neurology, ophthalmology, rheumatology, gastroenterology, psychiatry, dentistry, general medicine and limited surgery. Again, a need was there, and the Holy Cross Family Ministry came to serve.
Our final stop was the place that opens my heart. Yancana Huasy was created to serve the needs of children born with physical or mental impairments, including children with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy. Due to the lack of prenatal care, poor nutrition, lead and other toxins in the water, along with other detrimental environmental factors, there is an increased incidence of birth defects. This adversity is further compounded by cultural stigma. At Yancana Huasy teams of therapist, teachers, and parents work together to treat these beautiful children with disabilities. In addition to the treatment, the children are recognized as valuable members of the community, and parents are supported. The fundamental belief in the inherent dignity of each individual is witnessed continually.
Part of my love for the work of Yancana Huasy emanates from early childhood memories. My Uncle Francis lived with my family along with my mother’s sister. My uncle had been completely paralyzed due to forceps trauma at birth. He could not speak. He could not move. His body was contorted in spasms. All his food had to be liquid. Each morning my mother and aunt would lift him from his bed and into his wooden Adirondack style chair. My mother stayed at home tending to all of his needs. My uncle never left his room, until he was gone. I remember the love, the dedication and the heartache it caused my mom. My uncle was born, now over a hundred years ago. Life and services for the disabled have come a long way, at least in some parts of the world. As I see, the young moms working with the staff at Yancana Huasy, my prayers go out to them. I thank Holy Cross for their work, and I thank God for the Congregation of Holy Cross.
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.