Since August of 2018, I have been at the Parish of San Pedro in Lima, Peru. It is a colonial church dating back to the arrival of the first Jesuits to come from Europe. The Jesuits were sent by St. Francis Borgia, SJ, in the second wave of missionaries. The church that we are in is one of two so-called “confessionals of Lima,” where people come from all over to go to confession every day for most of the day. The fact that I lost my capacity to walk by walking too much on my previous assignments helps to keep me in the church and mostly in the confessional.
Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic changed all this, but we hope that it will fully go away eventually. The church is downtown, and that means very few people live close by. The question is whether they will all come back after the pandemic is over. Will it ever be over, or will it just begin to fade with the passage of time?
Before I got to San Pedro, I was in Trujillo, Peru, at a parish that celebrated Mass twice daily during the week and three times on Sundays. There were also two chapels with Masses on weekends. I had a Mass in a different place each weekday morning. Then I had to see to it that the place kept running—gathering supplies and legal documents, repairing broken things, etc. Sometimes there were funeral Masses or visits to sick people. In the afternoons, the parish office was open to prepare for baptisms, matrimonies, and plenty of unexpected things. Several confessions and meetings of parish groups took place in the evenings. Three or four of us were there at a time.
Sometimes you hear teachers say that they have learned more from their students than their students have learned from them. This is certainly true in my case, and I think everybody feels something similar. I am favorably impressed with the number and quality of spontaneous groups that arise. Many of them are inspired by a patron saint, and people will organize an annual procession, complete with a festival; prepare and sell food; and then contribute to a worthy cause. If someone in a group tries to say, “Instead of making 50 sandwiches, I will just donate money,” the answer is usually, “We want your active participation, too.” There are groups dedicated to Bible study, charismatic prayer, visiting the sick, choirs, liturgy, and more.
Working with the parish groups has helped my own prayer life. Some things I have done were just “doing my job,” such as saving the house when the sewers were being replaced on our street and the sewage started flooding us. That was just “doing my job,” but dealing with the people in a pastoral setting is really living.
Fr. Charlie Murtaugh, SJ, is a Jesuit of the Midwest Province, originally from Chicago.
He currently resides in Lima, Peru, where he serves at the Parish of San Pedro.