Fr Kevin Dring writes from Peru (vv)

 (This letter from Fr Kevin once again, is accompanied by some beautiful photographs which we are unable to publish on-line at the moment. If any readers would like to see them - drop me an e-mail & I'll forward the original message. J) Dear Friends.... Queridos Amigos, Another month rolls by and we're now into Easter Week so first thing is to wish you all a very Blessed Easter, or as they say in these parts Felices Pascuas. I arrived down from Frias on Sunday afternoon to the usual desert heat of Chulucanas - always a shock from the mountains - for our four day Encuentro Pastoral. This is the twice yearly gathering of all the priests, deacons, religious and lay workers of the Diocese. We're about 160 in all and the programme is full, from 7.15am to 9pm each day, but good to meet up with everyone and important for planning ahead for all the pastoral work in the coming months. Thankfully the temperature has dropped a few degrees since I was last here a month ago - though it was still 111 degrees on Sunday afternoon. Presidential Elections Peruvian-Style: Since the last Letter we've celebrated Holy Week, which I'll come back to shortly, but also Peru has been to the Polls to elect a new Presidente; Congresistas (MPs); and Reps for the Parliamento Andino which brings together reps from Columbia, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela in a sort of 'Latin America Brussels'! The problem is there was no clear winner so it all has to be repeated in a months time. But let me describe what happened. There were three main candidates: Candidate 1: the former President Alan Garcia who led the country in the mid-80's during the height of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terror campaign. His main point of popularity was setting up a system of interest free bank loans (Banco Agrario) for the poor Campesinos - a noble enterprise but the problem was that nobody wanted to (or was able to...) pay back any money. The country was plunged into terrible inflation and debt. Candidate 2: is Ollanta Humala, a former left wing army officer who has a lot of popular support but has been slightly plagued by members of his family giving impromptu "press statements" e.g. his mother saying that all homosexuals should be shot ...thanks Mum! and his brother (speaking from his prison cell serving time for terrorism) saying that all sorts of other peoples should be shot... thanks Bro! Candidate 3: Lourdes Flores, a very wealthy lady of the upper / powerful class who has a lot of support.... from the wealthy upper class. To win you have to achieve 51 percent or more of the vote. Ollanta (No 2) had 31 per cent but they're still working out who's in 2nd place. The re-run in a month's time will be between Ollanta and the runner-up. We wait to see and pray that whoever wins will be honest and genuinely concerned for the poor masses who make up the vast majority of the country. One poster reads: "Remember it's Obligatory to Vote" and "No Vote = 136 soles fine " (a HUGE amount for a poor Peruvian.... over a week's wages) One stern candidate glaring out from a poster carried the nickname "El Zelota" (The Zealot) - just the sort of person you'd want representing your nterests. My friend Rodrigo who has the Frias public address system was on a great earner (20 pence per broadcast) - giving broadcasts for six political parties three times a day, all with the usual awful music before and after each broadcast. That's 18 broadcasts a day. And, he says groaning inwardly, it's all got to be repeated next month!! Semana Santa (Holy Week): Holy Week started with "Palm SATURDAY" as elections on Sunday meant no other public gatherings allowed, including religious ones. The week was full of beautiful and moving, and occasionally odd, moments. We also had large crowds making their way in from the campo and down from the Meseta Andina, the high and distant part of the parish. On Holy Thursday, after the lovely Mass of the Lord's Supper and washing of the feet, we had a four hour vigil at the Altar of Repose. Each of the four areas of Frias was designated to cover one of the hours. Unlike in the UK where it's all quiet and meditative the atmosphere was more like a picnic with prayers and hymns - each group arriving with food and drink to share. At one point I found myself sitting before the Blessed Sacrament with a large plate of popcorn, tortillas, cheese, cake and a mug of hot chocolate - not exactly the Garden of Gethsemane, but I'm sure the Good Lord would understand! The food theme continued into Good Friday where the tradition is a seven course lunch. Having to follow local customs I headed off to the family of Walter, a seminarian in the parish, for the: soup, fish and rice, ceviche (raw fish), tortillas and cheese.... and three different puddings. Maybe it was Divine reproval but the next day I did NOT have a "happy tummy"! The morning of Good Friday the young people of the parish acted out the Via Crucis through the streets with Jesus being convincingly Crucified on a hill outside the town. It was all done with great sensitivity and powerfully brought together the ordinary people onto the streets, just as it would have done in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Then on Holy Saturday we celebrated the always beautiful Easter Vigil, again with large crowds coming in from the campo and hundreds of buckets of water to be blessed. During the Scripture readings I noticed all the people staring at something on the opposite side of the Church. I didn't think anything of it until afterwards when I was shown a large very poisonous snake that had been spotted slithering across the sanctuary straight in the direction of the priests, appropriately during the creation reading from the Book of Genesis. One of the young choir members valiantly disposed of the poor creature. Easter Sunday morning was an early start with a procession at 5.30am followed by Mass. A nice quiet and gentle end to the three great days of Holy Week. The final word, on a more mundane note than the Resurrection of Jesus, we're still waiting for the Big Day when we're connected at last to the national grid. On that note I shall sign off but once again wishing you all and your families the Peace of the Risen Lord. ... (nearly) electricity at last Take care and, as always, Dios les bendiga and pray for each other. Con mucho afecto, Kevin

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