LIMA, PERU with CAFOD – 31 January to 9 February 2012
On Saturday, 28 January, I concelebrated the CAFOD Golden Jubilee Mass of Thanksgiving in Westminster Cathedral. It was heartwarming to hear Bishop John Arnold, the current chairman of CAFOD, mention women from the Diocese of Northampton who were involved in setting up CAFOD and one of my predecessors, Bishop Charles Grant, who was the first chairman of the organisation.
Three days later I was winging my way to South America to visit communities and projects funded by your generous donations and sponsored by CAFOD. Accompanied by Tom O’Connor and Clare Dixon, two CAFOD staff members, I was based at the Columban Fathers’ Centre in Lima, Peru.
Most of the Columbans were Irish and Australian. For sixty years they have developed parishes in and around Lima amongst the poorest of the poor. One Columban, Father Ed O’Connell, was from south London. He took me to visit his parish beginning with an evening Bible Study session attended by 120 adults. They take responsibility for prayer and the teaching of the Faith in twelve chapels around the parish. In rotation six chapels have Sunday Mass and six chapels have a lay led liturgy.
One day I was taken to the outskirts of Lima, to San Benito on the barren lower slopes of the Andes. There families live in shacks with no running water. Many of the women and their families have been deserted by their menfolk. But I met two groups of women who were upbeat and growing in self-esteem. In projects sponsored by CAFOD one group was learning about hygene and nutrition with a view to passing the knowledge on to neighbours. The other group had developed a cottage industry based on knitted goods. Through the internet they received orders from a supplier in the UK and they had a regular income.
On another day I went out to a centre where young people were learning to set up small businesses from shoe making to baby clothes, and then visited businesses which had already been set up.
I had two shocks. One was when I celebrated Mass and confirmed 17 young people in Spanish, and I do not speak Spanish! The other was leaving Lima in 30 degrees of summer heat and touching down amid ice and snow at Heathrow!
Thank you to Father Ed and the Columban Fathers. Thank you to all the dear brothers and sisters I met in Lima. Thank you to CAFOD for organising the visit. Thank you to all of you for your generous support of CAFOD.