Fr Kevin Dring writes from Peru (iv)

 (This is Fr Kevin's fourth letter. It was accompanied by pictures which we are unable to publish on-line at the moment. However if any readers would like to see them - drop me an e-mail & I'll forward the original message. J) Dear Friends... Queridos amigos, It's now the middle of January and I've descended from the heights (i.e. the hill country of Frias) down to the sweltering heat of Chulucanas...the beginning of summer in the desert. I hope you had a very joyful and blessed celebration of Christmas. Below, is something of what's been happening since I last wrote in November. It's hard to know where to begin as so much has happened since then - but maybe best to begin where I left off with the Feast of San Andres ... the Big One !!! Patronal Feast of San Andres (end of November): everything that people had promised (or warned about!) was fulfilled in the days of our patronal feast. The week long build-up gave way to a huge market filling the square and all the side streets, vast numbers of people and animals making their way in from the campo, the music and dancing starting early in the morning and into the early hours of the next day, the explosion of more fireworks just when you thought "that MUST be the last one...", the amazing colours and smells and sounds that lasted for a full week of festivities. At the end I breathed a massive sigh of relief as the last of the 'mercantes' packed up their stalls and headed off to the next town and next fiesta. Really though it WAS great fun... but you can have too much of a good thing... so only once a year please! On the Feast Day (30th November) we celebrated 260 Baptisms which was an amazing and moving experience. What joy on the faces of the mothers especially. . What was also great (and typically Peruvian) was that afterwards a team of volunteers had prepared lunch for 600 of the poorer folk who'd come in from the campo to have their children baptised... very Biblical! How and what do you cook for 600, all on an open fire at the bottom of our garden?: a whole cow with 60 kilos of potatoes, buckets of garlic and onions and a sack of rice! A week later on December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) we were back into fiesta mode with the celebration of 300 First Holy Communions which was also a wonderful celebration with the children full of joy and excitement on their special day... In December we also had the Encuentro Pastoral - a meeting of about 150 clergy, religious and lay workers from all the (18) parishes of the Diocese. It was a really uplifting experience: the enthusiasm; many young people; and a great and real sense of the collaboration of everybody working together as equals for the good of all in the diocese. Just as it should be. We finished with our Christmas party during which I played the part, in a skit, of Bishop Dan having his recent accident in Bolivia - in the picture he's behind my shoulder at the table and clearly able to laugh even over a near- death- experience. Thank God Bishop Dan is making a good recovery... helped I'm sure by the threat of another Bishop in the wings ready to take over!! The next day saw the joyful Diaconate ordination of our very own Santos (from Frias) and Idelmo. Then came my first Peruvian Christmas. Padre Lazaro headed off with the Sisters (Angela and Palepa) to Lagunas, the other end of the parish high up in the Meseta Andena. I stayed in Headquarters (Frias) with Deacon Santos. A lovely present was the surprise Christmas arrival of four lovely young Americans (sorry... Peruvians are also 'Americans' but you know where I mean!) who've become good friends over these first months. They're working as volunteers in Chulucanas until June in all sorts of good and worthy projects... and they're great fun and lovely people (he says knowing they'll be reading this letter!!) Christmas itself was lovely. There was a simplicity - helped by the lack of electricity and shopping centres. The children received there little gift (more or less a doll for a girl, toy car for a boy...). We hosted about 300 children on Christmas afternoon in the house with hot chocolate & cake Our Christmas eve Mass was very special with children acting out the nativity for the Gospel and then at midnight I headed off with my visitors to eat Christmas dinner (turkey!) with a family - 26 of us around the table - followed by dancing... everything ends with dancing in Frias! That brings me up to Christmas and then came the New Year... and more dancing and another turkey! I'm now away from the parish for a few weeks on various courses: parish administration and canon law (a challenging theme in the desert heat of Chulucanas... in Spanish!); then to Huancabamba this week for a planning meeting for the Religious Education Commission that I've somehow become a member of...; then to Lima for a retreat followed by a one week one-to-one language course........ then back to Frias where hopefully (for the sake of the crops and campesinos) the rains have started and will continue for the coming months - please say a prayer for the rains that are so needed. Which seems a good place to end for now! Sincere thanks to all of you who very kindly sent Christmas cards and good wishes- much appreciated. Take care amigos y paz en este Ano Nuevo! con mucho afecto y rezos, Kevin

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