Nancy Bourassa, a Maryknoll Affiliate from Wisconsin, recalls the inspiring witness of mission parishes in Peru in living out Jesus' call to "love one another as I have loved you."
After reading the Scripture readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, I was struck by the excitement of the disciples proclaiming the Good News and the words of Christ: "Love one another, as I have loved you."
My mind jumped to a recent article on the 50th Anniversary of liberation theology. I was introduced to liberation theology on a trip to Peru a number of years ago. While meeting with a long time Maryknoll Missionary priest, the conversation turned to liberation theology. He told me about the first conference he attended, which focused on this kind of theology and its impact on his congregation. The missionaries in attendance at the conference took notes furiously, then stayed up until the wee hours of the morning discussing what this theology of God’s "preferential option for the poor" would mean in their work in the Altiplano of Peru. Sleeping only a few hours, they would be up again with such fire and excitement over the possible change in their approach to their work with the impoverished people of the Altiplano. Getting back to their mission parishes couldn't happen fast enough.
I met the poor of the Altiplano many years after the introduction of liberation theology. Not knowing what the parishes were previously like, at that time, I can't describe the change this new theology made, but I can truly say that I witnessed the truth of Jesus’s call to "love one another as I have loved you” within the culture of the parishes.
The love in the eyes of the parishioners for their pastors was inspiring. Watching their faces light up, as Father came to them for a blessing, with the Eucharist, or just a handshake was pure joy. And the love of the pastors for the people was evident in the long hours spent in service without losing their smiles or fervor for their work.
I especially remember the Feast of St. Andrew and the Blessing of the Vehicles. There were rows and rows of bikes, bikes with a passenger seat at the back, buses, trucks and an assortment of other vehicles. I saw Father going around giving blessings for hours, even blessing several parts of the large vehicles. There were no breaks and each vehicle owner waited patiently for their vehicle to be blessed. No one left before the last vehicle had received a Holy Water blessing. The importance of the blessing was not lost on Father and there was a special reverence in his actions that touched me.
Whether or not liberation theology changed the lives of the poor, it did change the lives of the missionaries, who heard this theology of God’s love for the poor and saw the possibilities it presented for ministry. And for a woman from Wisconsin, seeing these missionaries at work, giving a preferential option to the poor, it felt like truly a new heaven and a new earth.
Photo available on Unsplash.