By Msgr. Sean G. Ogle
The Blessed Frassati Fellowship undertook a mission trip to Peru this summer, and I was privileged to accompany its members in rebuilding people’s homes and lives.
A ministry of the Capuchin Friars of the Renewal, founded by the late Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., the Blessed Frassati Fellowship is a community of young adult professionals in their 20s and 30s, many of whom live in Astoria parishes, but meet regularly for prayer and social time in Manhattan churches. Each year they take on a mission trip to assist with manual labor in another country.
I was invited to assist the group’s spiritual directors, Father Enrique Salvo and Brother Malachy, C.F.R. We clergy joined the 27 missionaries both in manual labor and in doing pastoral visitations and home blessings for families living in the shantytown of Laderas de Chillon, outside Lima, Peru.
What was accomplished? First and most evidently, we built four new homes for families on the ledges high above the city, on narrow ledges cut into the mountainside. Although they are small and lack modern amenities, at least the families can move out of a dirt-floored canvas or cane shelter into a cement-floored wooden structure. It was hard and dirty work, but most rewarding. (Some pictures of the trip are currently viewable on the Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish website.)
Different Experience of Church
Second, we shared a very different experience of being church. The parish of San Damian of Molokai where Laderas is located is partly staffed by a confraternity of consecrated younger laywomen called the Marian Fraternity of Reconciliation. They collaborate with the parish priests who cover not one or two, but many different worship sites in that part of Lima.
The “Fraternas,” as they are known, not only run a camp for shantytown children, but have organized the women of Laderas in a community kitchen. This kitchen not only feeds people, but also serves as a community and adult education and leadership space. It was they who arranged for our construction sites, home visits and lodging. Parish ministry in the developing world seems rather different from the U.S. parish experience of societies, schools, sports and socials.
Perspective Through Prayer
Finally, the experience had a great impact on most of us volunteers, many of whom spoke and wrote about both the difficulty and the elation of helping others in such need. Our group also shared extensive prayer time with lauds, vespers, Rosary Holy Hour and Mass every day to provide us with perspective and strength.
I suggest that this unique journey was indeed one of those liminal experiences when we glimpse the spiritual realities of human existence that often elude our vision in our normal everyday lives.
While in Peru, we celebrated the feast of the Transfiguration. For the people of Laderas’ mountains, their lives are perhaps as mundane and difficult as our own; for us volunteers, we were able through them to have a glimpse of the resurrection, as did the Apostles when Our Lord was transfigured before them on Mount Horeb.
Like Peter, James and John, let us all continue “to discuss what to rise from the dead meant” (Mk 9:10).