Equally encouraging was the of the Affiliates’ witness to mission. The legacy of Maryknoll animated so many of them to commit themselves to living the reign of God. Individually and collectively in Chapters, the action pillar is particularly strong. Affiliates work with indigenous people in the campo, prepare catechists, attend to abandoned children, work on justice issues, and more. It was especially touching for Patty and me to hear them recount what Maryknoll meant to them.
We did not ask, but in every gathering they spontaneously spoke of how Maryknoll priests, sisters, brothers and, where present, lay missioners gave them a sense of self-dignity and missionary vision. Niño Jesus Chapter in Ciudad de Dios, Lima, is starting a new mission commitment for abandoned children. They said with a great sense of pride, “We ourselves are poor, but Maryknoll taught us that we can be “los pobres apoyando a los mas pobres” (the poor helping the more poor). At a meeting in Pamplona Alta, a woman spoke passionately, “We must teach our children to be the third missionary movement of Maryknoll!!” The comments from Cochabamba, Santa Cruz and Arequipa Affiliates were similar: filled with gratefulness, conviction, and affection.
A minor, exciting theme throughout our visit was the traffic, specifically taxi rides. By 2013, Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and Arequipa all had about one million population. Multiply that by nine for Lima. Traffic is everywhere and taxis find ways to, using a colossal euphemism, negotiate the traffic. Patty and I took many taxi rides. Just about all of them were in small cars from the 70s and 80s; safety belts were a rare commodity and air bags a complete anomaly. The driver snaked through traffic, missing surrounding cars by a paint molecule or two, leaning on his horn at very short intervals, and timing left and right turns by guessing how long it would take the oncoming traffic to get over the speed bumps strategically placed across the road. We were forever swallowing unfiltered gas fumes and feeling our heart-rate drop in about equal measure. Think somewhere between bumper cars and demolition derby. However, by the third ride and still no crashes, I built up enough courage to lift my head, open my eyes, and reluctantly admit that these taxi drivers were rather skillful—kind of.
Finally, in so many ways, a moment during the last full day in the indigenous village of Chiguata spoke to the breadth and depth of the entire trip. Juliana and Satuca, two older members of the Arequipa Tahuacani Chapter, approached me before breakfast to share a bit of their story. Though fully integrated into the mainstream culture, Juliana has Aymara roots and Satuca, Quechua. They spoke of how mining excavation throughout Peru is ruining their beautiful land, and of how American and European companies come in fancy trucks, sometimes posing as agronomists who’ll help them grow better crops, while their only interest is in extracting gold, copper, and other minerals for the company’s gain.
Juliana and Satuca then spoke of their mission commitment, so much of which they learned from Maryknollers as little girls. Juliana’s eyes filled when she told me that age and significant health problems would no longer allow her to stay in the altitude to work with the people she had known all her life. “Mission is my life,” she said. Satuca’s health is fairly stable, but she too knows that aging is catching up with her. This reality is very hard for them. Yet, almost simultaneously they added, “Now we must allow God to use us for something new. God has been good to us.”
As we so often say, while we go to other lands to give of ourselves, inevitably we receive so much more.