Fr Kevin writes from Peru - earthquakes; fiestas; five hours of Confessions

 Fr Kevin Dring is a diocesan priest from Arundel and Brighton. Once again his letter is accompanied by some wonderful pictures. Unfortunately we don't have the facilities to post them on this site yet. If any readers would like to see them - drop me a line and I will forward the original message to you. - Jo Dear Friends ... Queridos Amigos, My last letter was sent at the end of July - nearly 3 months ago. The past few months have been incredibly busy and full of activity, hence the gap between letters. Firstly, I hope you and your family are well and settling back to the post-summer (schools & work) routine. At 6-40 pm on Wednesday 15th August the south of Peru suffered a major earthquake. Earth tremors are very common here and sadly every now and then the "tremor" becomes a major quake with tragic consequences. It's amazing how in just a few moments (seconds) the power of the earth can wreak so much destruction. The affected area was south of Lima - Pisco, Ica and Canete. Many people were killed, including a large number in a Church, gathered for the celebration of Mass. Many more were injured and lost homes and livelihood. Amidst all the horror were some very touching stories of survival and heroism. Also very poignant was the incredible solidarity of the Peruvian people in support of "Los Hermanos en el Sur" (the brothers / sisters in the south) - every street corner became a gathering point for food / blankets / bottled water and you really felt people would do anything to help those in need. Aftershock tremors were felt throughout the whole country and every school in Peru closed for a few days to assess earthquake damage / risk. The Peruvian coast was on a Tsunami alert and still, two months later, there are regular tremors, the last two being only last Thursday (8.30 pm & 11.45 pm). A few weeks ago I was asleep in a house in the campo at about 11.30pm and suddenly had a really weird and intense dream of the floor opening and my bed plunging through the ground. In the morning the family told me there had been a really strong earth tremor... so much for the dream!!. Thanks to all of you who sent messages of solidarity and support / prayers for the earthquake victims. Like all tragic news it's now been overtaken by plenty of other "news items". After months of wondering and waiting, finally Alberto Fujimori, x-President, was flown in from Chile to face human rights charges. The irony is that the current government of Alan Garcia is considered to have been equally, if not more, abusive of human rights in the fight against terrorism in the 1980's. Fujimori still has plenty of support in the country - including his daughter being the most popular congresswoman in Lima. We wait and see what, if anything, comes of Senor Fujimori! On a lighter domestic note after 30 years we've put in a new bathroom - same bathroom but new fittings. Living in Peru generally is a great test of patience but the "bathroom replacement" was a supreme test. Day 1: I opened the front door to be confronted by the two builders - large grins and each with a huge mallet in hand. They proceeded to demolish our bathroom. Day 2 - Day 50: The demolishing seemed fairly smooth unlike the subsequent replacement! "It'll take two weeks" we were assured by Serafin, the man in charge. The problem was that poor Serafin has a drink problem which meant that he'd work for three days, go on a binge and be off for three days, work for three days, off for three days .... If he didn't work, neither did his right-hand-man. Two weeks ended up being 6 weeks. During that time - showering from a bucket in the garden and living in the middle of CHAOS. Fortunately, we at least had a toilet in the Church. They had to put in a new major waste pipe to go from the bathroom to the street. To my horror I discovered that they planned to run this large pipe through the middle of the house which would have meant digging up the whole of the solid concrete corridor and probably, in the process, the house would have fallen down! Thank God I intercepted them. Finally we have a nice new bathroom - and in the process re-painted the house. So a "happy ending"! Once again, in September, we had a very happy weekend visit from dear Bishop Dan with lots of singing, dancing and celebration of the life of the parish. He's such a great and inspiring man and a real blessing for the Diocese. His support for the poorest (often voiceless) campesinos, and defence of the environment against terrible contamination from the mines, has put him in conflict with the powerful mining companies and even the Peruvian government. Lots of prayers for +Dan and the campesinos - that a just and peaceful resolution can be found. The visits in the campo have continued over the past few months. We've now, thankfully, nearly completed all our visits. Just a few to go and we're now well and truly into the season of fiestas. Maybe I'm becoming a bit of a "party pooper" but I have to confess that my enthusiasm (and stamina) for fiestas is definitely declining rather than increasing. I've mentioned before that here in Frias we are basically in "Fiesta mode" from the beginning of October through to Christmas. This means loud music day and night, fireworks exploding over the house (directly above my bed!) at 6am most mornings, constant processions and a makeshift market surrounding the house. A week of fiesta is great, two weeks okay but two and a half months!! Last week I had an amazing experience of helping with Confessions & Masses in Ayabaca, high in the mountains on the other side of the Diocese. In 1751 the parish priest commissioned three visiting sculptors from Ecuador to carve a statue of Christ from a solid trunk of wood. The "sculptors" had mysteriously, and without any invitation, arrived just at the moment the priest was to look for somebody to undertake the commission. They specified that they were not to be disturbed by anyone until the work was complete - to be locked in a room and food to be left outside the door. After a few days no food had been eaten. The worried villagers forced open the door to find no sign of the "sculptors" and a powerful lifesize statue of the suffering Christ with hands bound - El Cautivo de Ayabaca ... Christ the Captive. The people believe the sculptors were angels and many miracles have been claimed over the years. The devotion is incredible with thousands of pilgrims arriving for the feast. It's Catholic "popular religion" in its extreme form - wouldn't sit very comfortably with the local Baptist minister!! Beneath all the high emotion, though, lies a strong faith and for me the most powerful part of the fiesta was hearing four - five hours of confessions each day. A deep and genuine desire to live better, more Christian, lives. The sadness here is that for so many life is SO messy and poverty breeds many domestic / relationship problems that it's very hard to escape from or change. We just try to help people to do the best they can. What more can we ... or they do?! Pictures show: Pilgrims arrive, many crawling on hands and knees, some having walked for days, weeks or even months ... often carrying large crosses. - sleeping on the Church floor, in the square and on the streets, which at 3,000 metres with only a blanket makes for a chilly night! - Gathering for Mass in the main square - One of the three and a half hour processions - with my new friend Tony (I expected a more exotic name, dressed like that!) - with the Police Chief who quietly told me that "Tony" wasn't quite as squeaky clean as appearances might suggest! Well folks on that high note (3,000 metres) I bid you farewell until the next letter by which time it will probably be Christmas!! Take care and let me know how life is with you. I remember you all in my prayers and thank you for yours. Dios les Bendiga. con afecto, Kevin EMAIL ADDRESS: Please note to use [i.e. save to your Address Book] as this allows me to change my ISP if necessary...without having to inform you! Thanks. PERU POSTAL ADDRESS: Casa de la Fraternidad, Calle Cuzco 381, Chulucanas, Piura, PERU

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