Fr Kevin Dring writes from Peru (21)

 Dear Friends ... Queridos Amigos, Life here in the parish of "Jesus Artesano", Lima, is certainly busy and full. In fact the weeks are flying past. The people have been very kind and welcoming to me from Day One, saying how nice it is to have a "padresito jovensito" ("a young priest"). I tactfully passed this on to the holidaying parish priest, Fr Joe, in Bantry Bay!! With the four chapels, and four fairly independent communities, and all the accompanying youth groups, adult groups, bible study groups, childrens' catechesis, sic calls, school visits, baptisms, weddings and funerals it certainly provides plenty of variety and activity. As I did in Frias and the mountains, I try to walk as much as possible. Already some people are recognising me and greeting me in the streets. Apart from the exercise, it's always a good way of getting to know people and feeling "part of the community". One factor here which is different from Frias, where nearly everybody is born and intermarried in the community, is that most of the adult population has moved here from somewhere else - many from the mountains. In that sense we're all "outsiders" which helps break down barriers! Walking everywhere gives a rich experience of "street life and culture". The streets are dominated by two distinct groups: young people (often in "hoodie stlye" gangs) and dogs! Hundreds of each. Many of the young folk are friendly or at least neutral (give no reaction to my nod and "buenos dias") but some are definitely to be avoided at all costs. Sadly there are plenty of muggings, robberies and assaults - in as many weeks I've been to pray in the houses of two 18 yr olds have been stabbed and killed in gang fights, one in front of our house. No disrespect intended to the young people, but amazingly the hords of dogs seem to mirror exactly the same "street culture" - some friendly, most indifferent but plenty who are dangerous and to be avoided. One minute I'm walking along minding my own business and a couple of dogs appear and give a bark (a sort of "see what we've got here!" bark) and another six dogs gather at the end of the street menacingly. Every known breed of dog can be found co-existing happily on our streets in cosmopolitan "gangs" - a boxer, dalmatian, doberman, bassett hound, spaniel, alsatian ... and from group dynamics it's quite clear that the dopey looking basset hound is the Boss !!! The other day going to visit a very sick parishioner we passed a house with the most vicious looking (huge) rotweiller tethered outside. Clearly it wanted to kill and eat us, but only for a flimsy piece of rope we were saved. Enough on dogs - but as with the youth gangs, a certain amount of caution needed! On a more serious note In the recent news there's been a lot of coverage of escalating food prices (linked to oil prices). One man, speaking the other day on the BBC, pointed out that for most people in the rich developed countries the increases create a slight inconvenience and maybe a small dent to people's pockets, whereas for the majority of the world's population living in abject or relative poverty in the developing countries (where most spend 80% of their income on food) the increases amount to a real & life-threatening "crisis". You can really feel this here. Rice, part of the staple diet, has nearly doubled in a year and all food has gone up considerably. This means people earning relatively little are now buying only half the food they could buy a year ago for the same money. It's the children and the sick & elderly who suffer most. One really good initiative here, started in the 1970s/80s are the "COMEDORES COMUNALES" (communal eateries). Families pool their money to buy food in larger (cheaper) quantity and then do all their cooking communally, taking it in turns to prepare the meals or paying someone to coordinate the buying / cooking. We've a few of these in the parish. The large number of cases of TB in the parish I'm told is very much linked to poor / insufficient diet. So we all need to pray and act so governments / the UN / World Bank / Euro Union / Gordon Brown / the USA etc etc do all they can to avert worse and worse suffering for the poorest folk on the planet. Talking of solidarity with the poorest, I had the privilege the other evening of attending the launch of a book to mark the 80th Birthday of one of the greatest modern champions of the poor, the Peruvian Catholic priest and theologian Gustavo Gutierrez. The photo below doesn't do justice to the moment which was a great honour for me ... and even Gustavo looks happy to meet me! On a lighter note to finish. A few times a week I buy a local newspaper, "Peru 21", which always has some great quotes. The (very left-of-centre) President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has just made public comments about Alan Garcia, President of Peru ... "When I first knew Alan Garcia he was thin and anti-imperialist. Now he's very fat and only slightly anti-imperialist!" Alan Garcia then made a public response to his Bolivian opposite number ... "When people speak they show clearly their education. I don't go around fixated with men's waistlines!" (my translation). This is a case of Presidential "bridge building" Latin American style!! Well folks that's a little bit of news from Lima. I hope life is treating YOU well. Take care & Dios les Bendiga. con afecto, Kevin

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