Diocesan Digital Media Adviser, James Atkinson is part of the group currently visiting Peru. Here he describes their day in the rural area surrounding Arequipa.
Yesterday we were given a tour of the surrounding rural area of Arequipa by Ricardo, the diocesan treasurer and local schools director. We hadn’t made it very far before needing a pit stop!
Our first stop was Yarabamba, a rural mining district about 15 miles outside of Arequipa. This district has had a huge amount of money invested in it, which is obvious from driving along some of the best roads in South America and the twenty new public parks and sports stadium.
What really stood out though was the lack of people, the pristine roads and parks were empty! With a population of 2000, most people are out working in the fields or mines and nearly all the children go to school in the city. The local school has about 20 children.
We met Zoila Navarro, the deacon who oversees Santa Natividad, a mission church in Yarabamba. Zoila makes the long journey from Arequipa by bus each week to lead the Sunday service.
Previously a priest from Arequipa would be sent, but not on a very regular basis. At the local Roman Catholic church a priest just comes for the main festivals throughout the year. So it’s fantastic that Zolia is able to lead services each week for this community.
A small gathering of families, mainly women and children attend the weekly service. Zoila also runs courses and creative workshops for children during the week. The local area has problems with alcohol and violence, and Zoila also offers pastoral support. This is not even her full time job, so she has her work cut out!
Zolia was ordained deacon nine years ago and has been at the mission church for three years. In her time here the church has been painted and now has electric lighting.
Our next stop was Santiago Apóstol, a mission church in Villa Ecológica, the highest part of Arequipa. It has taken several years to build and when work began in 2009 there was nothing else around, but now the surrounding area is developing quite rapidly.
The church is starting up a project aimed for young people from wealthier families, the church hopes they can come and experience “reality”. Some young people might not value what they have and realise how lucky they are compared with those who have nothing. The young people will be involved with charity and community projects, ranging from helping the elderly, building houses and other practical work. The hope is that this will lead to an understanding and respect of others as well as gaining new skills.
The church also offers help, support and counselling for young mothers and single mothers from the local area, making sure these mothers realise that they aren’t alone.
As there are only four priests and six deacons in Arequipa with ten churches spread over a very large area to manage, it’s down to the laity to ensure a weekly service takes place here. We met Lita, a Lay Minister who leads the weekly Sunday service.
We’ve met two women doing hugely valuable work in the Diocese of Peru. One of the hopes is that the synod this week will open the door a bit more towards the ordination of women as priests in Peru. 2015 saw the first women to be ordained as priests in South America, but it can be a slow process changing tradition, especially those which are still strongly rooted with indigenous culture.
We then headed back to Arequipa, but not before hitting another problem with the bus!