Our 2nd year pre-theologians spent their winter break serving on mission trips, one group in Peru and the other in Arizona. Seminarian Ben Pribbenow of the Diocese of Green Bay writes about his experience.
I am incredibly blessed and thankful to have been able to spend about five days in Piura, Peru serving the faithful of Santisimo Sacramento (Blessed Sacrament) Parish. Father Brian Welter (Vice Rector of Formation), Father Ed Pelrine (Dean of Admissions), eleven of my classmates, and I made the adventurous journey from the bitter cold of Chicago to the hot and humid climate of Peru.
We arrived in Piura, a city in the northwestern part of Peru, at dusk and were blown away by the intense heat and the warm welcome of the people of our host parish. They were waiting for us outside of the airport with a huge welcome banner and balloons! After a welcome like that, I knew we were in for a great trip.
Throughout our time in Piura, my classmates and I partook in many different ministerial activities. We built houses, delivered food packages, accompanied the priests on communion visits to the homebound, and did various other jobs for the poor of the community.
The faithfulness of the people in Piura is astounding. They have a deep love for the Sacraments and sacramentals. Almost as astounding as their faith is the widespread poverty in which they live. Most of their roads are dirt, making them subject to flooding during heavy rains, and it is considered a luxury to have a floor in your home that isn’t sand or dirt. Despite these difficult conditions, the people are joyful because they have their faith. They make tangible what Jesus says in the Gospel: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours” (Lk. 6:20).
It is difficult to summarize and do justice to all of our experiences in Piura, but a major highlight for just about everyone was our visit to the Hogar del Madre del Redentor (Home of the Mother of the Redeemer. I had heard about this all-girl boarding school from seminarians who had gone on this trip before me, but I did not know what to expect. As we stepped off our bus, we were each welcomed with hugs from each of the approximately 50 girls currently attending the school. Then we were joyfully escorted to our seats on their large outdoor patio.
As we sat awaiting the program they had prepared, I began to speak with two girls sitting next to me, Aidé (pronounced ‘Ayeday’) and Simth (pronounced ‘Esmith’). They were very patient with my less-than-stellar Spanish-speaking abilities, which allowed us to communicate fairly well. We spoke about what they liked to do and what life was like there at the Hogar.
Before long, the program began, featuring various traditional Peruvian dances performed by the girls. Little did we know that these dances would involve us seminarians and priests as well! It did not take much to get each of us on our feet and dancing with those sweet girls – it was a blast! Between songs and when there were non-participatory dances, I continued conversation with Aidé and Simth. During our time together, I began to feel truly connected to them, and I felt a deep desire for their good. It was an experience of spiritual fatherhood which I had not felt before, one that I imagine is similar to the spiritual fatherhood I hope to someday experience as a priest. As the afternoon concluded, I found it difficult to leave my new friends, my spiritual daughters, and I hope to remain in touch with Aidé and Simth, maybe even visit again someday.
In reflecting on my experience at the Hogar del Madre del Redentor, I recognize the capacity to love that the Father has placed in my heart. I am humbled by the fact that my capacity to love pales in comparison to God’s infinite love for each of us. The people of Santisimo Sacramento Parish know God’s love, and because of this they are able to live in great joy – even amidst so much poverty. Their joy and the love I experienced during my time in Peru are two things that I will carry with me from this impactful mission trip.