Postcards from Peru
Fr. John Boles is from England, but he’s spent the better part of twenty years in Peru as a Columban missionary. He lives and works on the edge of Lima, the nation’s capital, where many of his parishioners live in poverty as they try to build a better life for their families. His “job” is accompanying the people he lives with, sharing in their joys and their sufferings.
He recently visited the United States and in this week’s reflection shares three vignettes from his two decades in Lima.
1. Counting Your Blessings
Living and working in a country that is not my own, and indeed is a lot poorer than my own, has affected me in a number of ways.
First, it has helped me to “count my blessings,” to realize how fortunate I am to have been born and brought up in a developed Western country. I know men and women, families, in Peru that lack basic necessities like a living income, decent housing, or even enough food to eat. They do not have access to adequate health care or education. They suffer from rampant insecurity and domestic violence. This grim picture helps me to put into proper context any “problem” I feel I might face in Britain. It means I am now very slow to moan or complain about anything once I go back home.
Second, though, despite this grim picture Peruvians maintain their faith. They celebrate it. This has strengthened my own faith. If they can hold on to their faith through all of that, what right have I to give up on mine!
2. Saving My Life
In 1995, Peru was reaching the end of a civil war with the Maoist subversive group “Sendero Luminoso” (“Shining Path”). In those days the Columbans had an Andean parish that had suffered greatly from the violence. When the conflict was apparently over, I was asked to visit a number of isolated villages in that parish to celebrate the sacraments there – something we’d not been able to do for several years.
One evening, after Mass in one of the villages, two local catechists came to me and said that the next day, instead of taking the path down the valley to my next destination, I should take a short cut which they’d show me. Well, the “short cut” turned out to be terrible - it led over a mountain. We left at dawn and arrived after dark exhausted. I was so tired that the two men had to take turns carrying my pack.
It was only later that they explained to me that they’d received a tip-off that a detachment of Sendero Luminoso had infiltrated the area, was aware of my presence, and was laying an ambush for me on the valley trail. The efforts and bravery of those two men saved my life.
3. Advocating for Justice
You become more aware of injustice – and eager to do something about it – when you witness it “in the flesh”. For example, walking in-person through the Amazon Rainforest only to see vast tracts of forest laid waste by logging has stoked my indignation.
I’ve seen Peruvian rivers made un-drinkable because of pollution from un-regulated mining. Huge groups of Peruvians are kept in misery because of an unequal distribution of wealth, because government corruption siphons money away from health care and educational services. I celebrate mass with women and girls abused and raped, and with victims of violence, most of whom cannot demand justice because of an inefficient and corrupt legal system.
These are the messages that those of us who are “on the ground” can bring to advocates like you, so you can better agitate for a fairer world. In some cases, pressure from outside a country can have a greater effect than pressure from within. At the same time, the struggle for economic and ecological justice aims at improving the lot of all the earth’s inhabitants, those at home in countries like England and the United States, as well as those at home in countries like Peru.
Weekly Reflections on Justice & Columban Spirituality are written by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, and visiting Columban Missionaries. We hope these reflections help to guide you on your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.