The presence of the Franciscan Order in Latin America and the Caribbean dates from 1493, when the first Friars of the Observance stepped on the soil of the West Indies after the second voyage of Christopher Columbus. In the 18th century the Capuchin Franciscans came too, and although Conventual Franciscans were present in the 16th and 17th centuries in some parts of Latin American, it wasn’t till the middle of the 20th century that the Conventual Friars were there officially. Currently, the Order is present in 14 Latin American countries, in addition to United States and Canada.
The Province of Cracow took on the the new mission in Peru, sending three missionaries: Zbigniew Strzałkowski and Jarosław Wysoczański (the author of this article) arrived on December 2, 1988, and Friar Miguel Tomaszek arrived on July 25, 1989.
Friar Zbigniew and I lived apart from each other during the first months, in hopes learning the language better and to understand and appreciate more the culture and religiosity of the people to whom we had been sent, and in this way to adapt to them more deeply.
In the beginning we hoped to get to know the rural farm folk and the people of the city of Chimbote, become part of the local Church, and learn Spanish and Quechua. We aspired to become deeply inculturated.
A diocesan priest named Paul Fink had a profound influence on Friar Zbigniew, introducing him to the Peruvian worldview. I, for my part, had the opportunity to observe and participate in the pastoral project of the Diocese of Chimbote, accompanying the Bishop and other people who worked in the diocese.
Another major challenge in that period was to actively participate in a town that was steadily growing and a diocese which had recently held an International Theological Convention on the topic “Hunger for God” and hunger for bread, inspired by the words of Pope John Paul II, “May you be hungry for God, even more than for the daily bread”. We slowly, progressively, became familiar with social problems (violence, injustice, terrorism, poverty, migration from the mountains to the city, etc) and some important emerging ecclesial phenomena: popular religiosity, CEB’s (ecclesial base ommunities), organization of Caritas, etc.
After an initial exposure to life in Peru, we left for the town of Pariacoto. On August 30, 1989 we three missionaries officially took on the Pariacoto mission. That day was the feast of Saint Rose of Lima, the first American saint and the patron saint of Lima and of Peru. To better understand our missionary effort in Pariacoto, I want to remember some inspiring words that St. Francis left us in the Earlier Rule:
”The Lord says: Behold I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves. ...As for the brothers who go, they can live spiritually among the Saracens and nonbelievers in two ways. One way is not to engage in arguments or disputes but to be subject to every human creature for God’s sake and to asknowledge that they are Christians. The other way is to annonce the Word of God, when they see it pleases the Lord, in order that [unbelievers] may believe in almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, the Son, the Redeemer and Savior, and be baptized and become Christians because no one can enter the kingdom of God without being reborn of water and the Holy Spirit.” (ER XVI:1-2, 5-7)
We reached the Pariacoto mission with few resources and the circumstances invited us to be subject to every human creature. Our attitude aroused the curiosity of the peasants, who have an amazing capacity for observation. Our simple and austere lifestyle facilitated communication and nterdependence from the outset. We experienced ‘being with the people’ in every way.
As Francis had taught, "When they preach, their language be well-considered and chaste for the benefit and edification of the people, announcing to them vices and virtues, punisshment and glory, with brevity, because our Lord when on earth kept his word brief.” (LR IX:3)
Faithful to our missionary vocation, we followed the pastoral guidelines given by the local Bishop. We were “among the people”, and when we preached and taught, we wanted to be faithful to the Mission received from the Bishop. To organize the school for catechists, visit communities, and prepare people for the sacraments were our first concern, as we attempted to meet the daily needs of the people.