Letter from Fr Kevin Dring in Peru

 Many thanks to Fr Kevin Dring, originally from Arundel and Brighton Diocese, for letting us publish this vivid account of his work in Peru. The letter is accompanied by some beautiful pictures. Unfortunately at the moment we don't have the facilities to publish them on ICN but hope to be able to soon. - Jo Dear Friends...Queridos Amigos, I hope you are keeping fit and well. I'm down from the mountains for a few days and have access to electricity...and internet so thought I'd send newsletter .. let you know how things are looking here. I arrived on 23 September in the parish of San Andres in a small town called Frias, a two hour drive into the mountains from the main town of Chulucanas (where I'm now sitting and writing this letter). The parish is HUGE by UK standards with 97 village communities to be cared for - two priests and two nuns! It's not, however, the biggest parish ... the largest has 165 communities! The geography is mountains and the vast flat expanse of the Meseta Andina . My first week we went for three days to the high Meseta and stayed in different villages. The pace of life is SLOW and the people are warm and friendly and all dressed in their bright ponchos and colourful outfits... against the clear backdrop of the blue sky - all very photogenic! The children all have bright rosy cheeks from the altitude and cold... over 3,000 metres. The children are one of the real joys of being here. They're so friendly, full of laughter and uninhibited... and there are just so many of them. Staying in the Meseta was like being in a different world. The nights were sooooooooo cold and when i returned back to Frias (1600 metres) immediately I was hit by a bad attack of flu/cold and promptly lost my voice for a few days... now safely returned. Since then I've been out on a longer five days and nights visit to more of our communities, so now have seven under my belt...and only 90 to go!! Let me describe a typical pastoral visit:- as all follow much the same programme:- you're met and escorted on foot or on a mule/horse by one of the pastoral team from the village you're heading to, arriving mid afternoon. You sit and wait, and wait, making small talk with the folk as they gradually arrive, in preparation for a community meeting in the evening at around 7ish (you have to give a lot of scope for the -ish factor in Peru!!). You could be sitting waiting for three or four hours or more. At some point a simple meal will be served. The meeting consists of singing lots of songs, some prayers, some teaching (e.g. I've been giving talks on the Eucharist), an evaluation of how the Church / spiritual life of the community is going, more songs and prayers. Then sleep wherever you can - either on the Church or school floor or in a house. Usually wake up fairly knackered, cold and flea bitten...ready for the morning with Confessions and then Mass. Then a shared lunch and (usually) football follows. Interspersed will be blessings of houses, visiting and annointing the sick, hearing confessions, and lots of just "being with the people". So far I've found it physically VERY challenging - you get very tired (language/ moving from place to place/ high altitudes) and have to let go of a lot of the "comfort zone"... no idea where you'll sleep (or with whom...human or animal !!), no idea when or what you'll eat, no loos and hardly any facilities for washing. But (the BIG BUT) the people are great and so welcoming and appreciative & it's their ONLY MASS for the year. After a couple of days of feeling sorry for myself I had a brainwave: "Kevin - Think of this as an adventure holiday...people would pay fortunes to be trekking on foot or horse through the Andean foothills, eating REAL Peruvian food and sleeping in villages...this is the REAL THING...lucky you!". That helped, but even more helpful one night as I lay in my sleeping bag in the dark feeling cold and a little down in the dumps (with a chicken for company) the words of Jesus came to my mind "Go into the villages and proclaim the Gospel. Eat whatever is set before you and stay with those who offer you shelter..." . There's certainly a great sense of fulfilment, and the hunger of the people for Christ, their simple but strong faith, their desire to be part of the parish and Church and the relevance of the Gospel in their lives is all very real and touching. The efforts they make to practice their faith put some of the petty squabbles and "debates" we have in the UK into a new perspective! A couple of amusing anecdotes :- BLESSINGS... Blessing of water and seeds at Mass is a big feature of the visit, as are blessingS of houses. In one village though, having blessed the football pitch (absolutely middle of nowhere!) and all the immaculate team kit laid out plus the two footballs... I then went to bless a house. All was going well when suddenly I found myself looking down the barrel of a handgun (almost definitely loaded) and a huge dagger pointed towards me. What have I said...done? The sweet old lady, as I'd thought her to be, said "Please bless these Padresito (Fr)...they're for defence". Shall I tell the about the "Neighbourhood Watch Scheme" I wondered! "But surely you don;t need these... you're such a NICE community" I suggested. In the end I agreed to bless them but with the words "Lord, may these never be used". FOOD... Another feature of the visits is the food. Every time you sit down a plate/bowl of food appears. This could be anything from a plate of tortillas with a small lump of strong cheese to a bowl of soup, a plate of plain boiled potatoes, rice & piece of meat. But it just keeps coming...and coming. One day breakfast was 8 large boiled potatoes and lump of cheese, then a mid morning snack of 4 large potatoes and an egg, then a bowl of potato and bean soup for lunch, followed by another bowl an hour later and then dinner (in the next village)....yes you guessed right... a large bowl of plain boiled potatoes with a small lump of cheese! After a couple of days I couldn't take any more. Having already eaten lunch Don Junio said "Padresito please come to my house where we've prepared a lunch for you". I gripped his shoulders firmly (but gently!) with both hands and with slight desperation in my voice I looked him square in the eyes and said "Thank you but I can't....I'm sorry but I physically can't eat any more!". He smiled and nodded. 15 minutes later I was sitting in his house with a big plate of food in front of me. This was Day Two with three more to go! We've also had a couple of Big Fiestas in Frias with days on end of music, fireworks, dancing, processing, Masses, Confessions. Great fun but it starts at 6am and goes on through to the early hours so also a relief when it all comes to a close and some peace and quiet returns. Fr Ian Byrnes has been here for a couple fo weeks celebrating his Silver Jubilee. I came out with him in '82 so it;s great to spend some days with him now and catch up on some of the news from back home. Last Sunday we had 40 baptisms after the morning Mass in Frias. On November 30 (Feast of San Andres) we're due to have about 200 baptisms and then on 7 - 8 December we have about 500 children making First Holy Communion... preceeded by two full days of hearing their First Confessions. Well amigos that's all my news - until end of November. Take care and please pray for us here, as I do for you each day. Dios les bendiga. Con mucho afecto, Kevin

Share this story