I have been in Peru for 11 years, the last three of which I spent in Huánuco, a plateau city at an altitude of 1,800 meters surrounded by mountains. All its hills are filled with settlements with temporary cottages.
It’s difficult to get into the city centre due to the various levels, and although motorbike taxis are helpful, the roads are narrow and winding. People live doing precarious jobs or as street vendors. Being close to the jungle, all kinds of fruits and tropical products can be found at a good price at the local market. There are also natural medicine stalls for just about every ailment.
These times have been marked by the pandemic, which has been particularly hard on the people I share my life with. The Church in Peru has made a great effort to be by the side of those who suffer and to help those most in need. From our parish of San Pedro, in Huánuco, we have implemented various initiatives to reach the most vulnerable.
We bought eight oxygen respirators for the most seriously ill, but above all, despite the closure of the schools, we kept two soup kitchens open. As a result, we fed a hundred children and handed out bags of food to many people who came to the door for help. Fortunately, the situation is returning to normal.
This large parish of ours presents many challenges. In addition to the city’s five communities, we serve more than 100 small villages scattered across the mountains, some of which are up to 50 kilometres apart and have very poor communications. However, in the highland villages, people are very happy that the priest comes to visit them.
Our priority is to ensure that, at least in the larger cities, there are well-trained catechists to lead Sunday prayers when the priest is not around, and also to train children to receive the sacraments.
Here, popular religiosity is particularly evident during the festival of Los Patronos (patron saints). On those days, no one is absent from Holy Mass and there is no shortage of candles or holy water. It is a meeting point for families and a moment of return for those who have emigrated to the big cities.
As for funerals, it is very difficult for us to attend them all, but since it is customary to celebrate a Mass for the deceased every month, six months or a year, we try to celebrate the Masses and also respect the custom of going to the cemetery to bless the graves.
Another commitment of the parish is towards schools and higher institutes. Unfortunately, many children drop out of school as their families are unable to pay for school supplies, uniforms and various taxes.
On the part of the parish, given that, according to what has been approved by the Government, all schools must offer religion lessons, our priority is to accompany these teachers to train them and ensure that they devote adequate time to these Christian formation lessons.
I am very happy to be in missionary service in this Church of Huánuco, so large and with so few diocesan priests.
(Father Paulino Aguilera Heredia)