Report Visit to Peru                                                                                                  August 2015


From April 18th until May 2nd Marco Mancaglia (responsible for Latin America Section I at Aid to the Church in Need) and Regina Lynch (Director of Projects at Aid to the Church in Need, International) visited the southern part of Peru. This is the part which benefited the most from the Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in 2014 among the countries of the LA1 Section (in 2014 we approved 101 projects, for about 1.2 million Euros). There are two principal areas where ACN helped the Peruvian Church in the last years:

  • The pastoral outreach in the large urban suburbs of Lima and Arequipa (construction of new parish churches, chapels and pastoral centers, pastoral aid for evangelization, with particular attention to the young and to vocation)
  • Aid in the mission field, both in the northeast Amazon region and in the southern mountain regions (aid for the religious congregations and pastoral workers visiting the most isolated communities, support for evangelization projects, purchase of vehicles for the regions where there is the greatest difficulty of access)

The visit led Marco Mencaglia and Regina Lynch to three ecclesiastical provinces (Lima, Arequipa and Cusco) and eight different jurisdictions, mostly in Southeast Peru (Arequipa, Puno, Juli, Ayaviri, Sicuani, Cusco, Abancay, Callao).

It became apparent: The shortage of priests is acute in Peru. Even though some 81 percent of Peru’s population of 27 million has been baptized as Catholics, and in spite of remarkable forms of deeply rooted popular devotion, there is a great lack of even the most basic knowledge of the Catholic faith and an acute shortage of the necessary pastoral care.

Because of the shortage of priests, especially in the regions of the Andean Highlands– sometimes 4000 m above sea level – with a large number of small communities (anything up to 100 in a parish) the holy mass can be celebrated at the utmost once a month. This is why most of the small communities in the mountains and in the Amazonas area are looked after by religious sisters or lay missionaries, who conduct liturgies of the Word and prepare the faithful for reception of the sacraments.

Peru is no easy pastoral territory. Not only are the regional differences immense, but in society also there are extreme differences between rich and poor: The famous town of Cusco for example profits from the enormous touristic attraction of its beautiful churches, but only some kilometers away in the mountains the poverty is almost unimaginable by Western standards. In the Altiplano there are still houses without running water and electricity. Most of the Catholic faithful are simple campesinos who barely manage to scrape a meagre living from the land.

Marco Mencaglia and Regina Lynch were especially impressed by what they saw in Juli and Ayaviri, two prelatures in the Andean Highlands (Juli 3800 meters above sea level and Ayaviri up to 4500 meters above sea level). In 2006 the two newly appointed bishops José Maria Ortega (Juli) and Kay Martin Schmalhausen (Ayaviri) visited the headquarters of Aid to the Church in Need in Germany and spoke about their difficult beginnings. The authority of the Church was not accepted. The people even rejected the hierarchy of the Church. Since 1970, foreign organizations were active in the two prelatures and focused on social interests. The new bishops found many buildings, but people lacking even the basic knowledge of the faith. There were almost no seminarians (only one in Juli). In the last 10 years a lot changed: Today the prelature of Juli has 48seminarians, in Ayaviri nine men are in the Seminary. Today the Catholic Church is accepted as an important and helpful institution. Marco Mencaglia: “In such quite isolated regions of South Peru, the stands beside the people, often more than political authorities itself”.

The priorities of the new bishops were a good formation of seminarians and pastoral care for the faithful. Aid to the Church in Need has supported them since 2006 with 97.982 Euros, mainly for scholarships for the formation of seminarians and catechists.

Totally different to pastoral care in the highlands is the enormous challenge of the pastoral work in the immigration suburbs, for example in Callao, the Northern suburb of the Peruvian capital Lima. With a population of almost 10 million, Lima is the third largest city in Latin America, just behind Sao Paulo City and Mexico City. Callao is constantly growing as a result of the intensive migration from the rural areas. Two million people are living in Callao, most of them in barracks built in arid sandy areas – often without water and electricity and with no transportation. As in the suburbs of other urban contexts like Arequipa, they suffer from cramped housing conditions, promiscuity and violence in the family, a deeply spread alcoholism. Many young women live abandoned with their children.

Since 5 years Bishop José Luis del Palacio y Pérez-Medelis the shepherd of the diocese of Callao, after more than 30 years of missionary work in Callao. The immigrants come there hoping to find work and to have a better life. “Priests are really missionaries in these urban areas. There is a deep need to let the people feel the presence of the Church, in these almost forgotten areas, yet so close to a rich and developed city centre”, Marco Mencaglia reports. Often a parish priest has to look after 40 to 50.000 faithful in wide areas with very poor living conditions. The bishop, in Callao as well as in Arequipa, especially cares for religious and lay formation and an ambitious vocational pastoral plan. For this purpose he is building a vocational house – two of four floors are ready. In this house, lay people can get formation. Aid to the Church in Need supports this project with 40.000 Euros. The number of seminarians increases, today 92 are in the Seminary in Callao, coming also from some neighboring dioceses.

Contemplative life came for the first time in some mountain regions of Peru, and yet found there a sudden growth of vocations:  Young girls come to pray with the sisters and often show interest for their simple life, joining the convent which is a precious gift for the faith of the dioceses. Marco Mencaglia and Regina Lynch met Hermanas Trinitarias in Ayaviri, they are about to open a house in Sicuani. In Abancay they met Hermanas Carmelitas and in Arequipa Hermanas Justinianas. All supported by us in recent projects of existence aid.

Antonia von Alten,