Christmas letter from Peru

 Dear Friends... Queridos Amigos, My last letter as 2007 fast approaches! We finally reached the day of the municipal elections (November 19th), after about two months of incredibly noisy (and at times dirty) political campaign. Frias has a NEW MAYOR! The old Mayor (Manuel Holguin) seemed a good guy to me - most people share that view - but the electorate voted for a change. They voted in (another) Manuel..... Manuel Elera. He's the young son of a previous mayor who was very popular and loved by the people and died tragically when his car went over the side of the mountain a few years ago. The campaign slogan for young Manuel was basically: A good Dad, a good Son !! Simple but effective and it won him the day. Please God he'll live up to his promises and be good for the people, especially the poorest and most abandoned in the parish i.e. the poor Campesinos (farmers) who make up the majority. Life has been pretty hectic for the past eight months. The shear size of the parish and trying to keep "a handle" on all the teams, groups, catechists, communities never gets any easier. Instead the number of "communuties" in the parish has increased since my arrival in September 2005. We now have 105 "zones" each with a team of: co-ordinator, catechists, secretary, treasurer (usually fairly redundant as there's no money), youth rep, health rep, justice & peace rep, small communties co-ordinators, liturgist, house-to-house misionaries (giving a bit of competition to the Jehova Witnesses and Evangelicals!!!) etc. That's a lot of people to train, support and "animate", and visit through the year. But, as they say here we do what we can do "poco a poco" (little by little), and then hand the rest over to the Good Lord who's got (thankfully) more energy, imagination and patience than we have. I finished my last pastoral visits recently with Sr Palepa, the young sister from Samoa (see Letter # 11). As always the welcome was generous in each place. In Contorhuachina, on night # 2, we began our evening meeting in the little Chapel but immediately had competition from the Evangelicals up the hill who've installed a loud Public Address System .... the bane of my life ... PA systems that is NOT evengelicals!! Mysteriously they began their "address" at exactly the time we began our meeting. Throughout the whole evening for about five hours they blasted out their music and appeals for our conversion. I was actually quite impressed with a lot of what they were saying but had to register a healthy disapproval for the sake of the Catholic faithful gathered with us in the Chapel. I'd leave them completely confused if the Padresito in his one annual visit showed too much approval of the competition up the hill. Waking up in Contorhuachina I strolled outside looking for water for a wash and came face to face with the whole family butchering the pig - team work at it's best. Please don't be breakfast was all I could think as I smiled limply at the grinning blood stained children! Prayer answered: breakfast = tortillas and cheese. We moved on from Contorhuachina to San Jorge and then the next day began our walk back to Frias. We walked for about 4 hours, all the time climbing higher and higher. The heavens opened and we got drenched but thanks to Sr Angela back in Frias a kind man on a motor bike intercepted us half way. On the bike: driver, me behind with 2 rucksacks, behind me Sr Palepa with rucksack and guitar...... and the rain pounding down. Great joy at the end of November with the visit of a dear friend from Arundel & Brighton, Mgr Benny O'Shea. Benny (Padresito Benito) had been parish priest in Frias for five years from the mid 80's. He's held in the highest regard and affection by the people, having been responsible among other things for the building of the new Church in '88. Happily he arrived in time to celebrate the Patronal Feast of San Andres and we had a great few days. Even Benny admitted on a number of occasions that yes the NOISE LEVEL in Frias was never like this in his day! On the Feast Day (30th) we celebrated, with Benny's help, around 200 baptisms - a few down on last year but enough to keep us busy, not to mention the poor parish secretary Maribel who has to then enter all the details in the parish books. Benny headed back to the UK via Lima on the 1st December, leaving me with eight cans of "Abbot's Ale" and six packets of Fig Rolls. Thanks amigo. I shall be spending Christmas with Sr Helen in Lagunas, on the other side of the parish high up on the altiplano, where we'll be celebrating First Holy Communions and no doubt a good number of Baptisms...... and the birth of Jesus of course. I won't be in touch again until the new year but will then be coming back to the UK for a visit from mid Feb to mid March which I really look forward to. I'll be in touch nearer the time with, I hope, a mobile contact number I can use while I'm back and really hope our paths will cross somewhere during those weeks... and that your neighbourhood is "PA System" free!!! So finally Wishing You and Your family Great Peace and Joy as we celebrate once again the Birth of Jesus Christ Saviour Prince of Peace Light of the World "To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God" [John 1: 12] "A todos los que lo reciben, a los que creen en su nombre, les da el ser hijos de Dios" [Juan 1: 12] Well dear friends - Happy & Holy Christmas, Feliz Navidad, and hope to see you soon. God Bless. Con mucho afecto y saludos, Fr Kevin is a priest from the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton

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