Minor Seminary in Mountains of Peru Builds up Local Church

Father Carlos López Tells of the ‘Gregorian of the Andes’

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

ROME, JUNE 20, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Father Carlos López Bonifacio wrote to ZENIT after reading the liturgical column about the use of the pipe organ. He works as a formator at a minor seminary in Peru, where 150 school boys study, and which has given the local Church 36 priests over its 28 years of existence.

He is in charge of the musical formation of the boys in what today is recognized as the “Gregorian of the Andes,” in the words of the Irish bishop emeritus William Dermott Molloy McDermott, who founded the seminary at close to 5,000 meters of altitude. The diocese hopes to be able to acquire soon an organ for the seminary.

ZENIT: How did the idea arise of opening a minor seminary in the Diocese of Huancavelica?

Father López: It arose 28 years ago, when an Irish missionary, Bishop Dermott Molloy, on taking charge of the diocese, was faced with a very large diocese and 17 priests. He was committed to fostering native vocations but they achieved little because of the material poverty of the people and a difficult situation given the terrorism at that time: hence the need to promote vocations at a younger age. This is how the minor seminary Saint John Mary Vianney arose.

ZENIT: What benefits has the minor seminary brought to the boys, their families and the local Church?

Father López: It has brought great benefits. The main one is the promotion of priestly vocations. However, while not all are called to the priesthood, all have the opportunity to receive a better education. Many parents want their children to study in this seminary, especially the rural catechists. They are pastoral agents, leaders in their peasant communities, whose testimony of life is very edifying for all. A seminarian told me that his catechist father used to take him to Mass every Sunday and to do so they had to walk for five hours over the mountains before reaching the parish; then they returned happily to their home. Today several sons of catechists are young priests who work in the seminary, take care of the parishes, or teach in the seminary.

ZENIT: What are the characteristics of the education imparted here?

Father López: This minor seminary is also a private school where we prioritize human, spiritual, artistic and intellectual formation. The boarding school regime facilitates making good use of time and makes possible a fraternal and ordered coexistence in which the necessary virtues of every priest can be acquired: sincerity, obedience, responsibility, chastity, etc. Here boys learn to value life in grace and to fight against sin through confession and weekly spiritual direction; they discover the Lord in the Holy Mass and in the daily liturgical prayers. In these offices sacred chant is a powerful resource to nourish our spirit. In regard to intellectual formation, they are taught to serve God and their neighbor with serious study.

ZENIT: What is the artistic formation like that they receive? What type of music is performed?

Father López: We cultivate music because Bishop Molloy wanted all of them to have that opportunity, and because he discovered that Andean boys have a special sensitivity for it. Our principle is that all the boys have musical talent, it’s only necessary to motivate and support them in their progress.

The boys listen daily to popular, sacred and classical melodies, which they later play on their instruments, while at the same time learning to read scores. There are monthly recitals, which are held in the municipal auditorium.

Keeping in mind that sacred chant is not marginal adornment but a liturgical necessity, we also try to have the boys learn Gregorian chant.

ZENIT: Does the seminary have all it needs to achieve its objectives?

Father López: We try to work with what we have but our desire to excel creates even higher aims for us. However, the materialism and hedonism prevailing in the outside environment, which also affects our seminarians, is an ever greater difficulty that didn’t exist before. Nevertheless, we continue to be blessed every year with several priestly vocations. Those boys enter our diocesan major seminary where they do ecclesiastical studies and prepare to receive their priestly ordination.

ZENIT: What are the main needs of the formators and of the bishop to carry this seminary forward?

Father López: The economic need continues to be important even though it is improving socially and economically. In fact, we function with aid from Spain, without which we could not subsist. Our boys, who in general come from large peasant families, are well aware of the enormous debt they have to the benefactors and they try to correspond by taking better advantage of the formation received and by praying for them. This is a difficulty that is understood only by a person of Christian life, as it is more difficult to get grants for seminarians than for social projects.

ZENIT: Tell us about Huancavelica, its characteristics as a Department of Peru, the numbers of dioceses it has.

Father Lopez: Huancavelica is a Department of Peru embedded in the Peruvian Andes, which has villages at between 2,500 and 5,000 meters of altitude, with a cold and dry climate. It was important and rich during the Viceroyalty because of the mines, but that initial prosperity has now been lost. At present, it’s the poorest Department of Peru as reflected in the rate of infant mortality (29 out of every 1,000 children); chronic infant malnutrition (53.6%); illiteracy (77.9%); and extreme poverty of its inhabitants (72%).

As a diocese it has an extension of 22,000 square kilometers, with a population of 485,000 inhabitants. The 42 priests, almost all young, are not enough for the 1,627 rural villages (each one of us has between 80 and 100 villages). There are nine religious communities with flourishing vocations and we have a Pedagogical Institute to form the teachers of religion. We have a home for abandoned elderly people and six soup kitchens that feed 2,000 poor children daily. Caritas carries out important self-sustaining projects in the countryside.

ZENIT: Would you like to make an appeal to ZENIT’s readers?

Father López: I would like to ask them for prayer for this diocese hidden among imposing mountains. Prayer alone will enable us to overcome the pastoral difficulties we have, and will continue to awaken vocations for Huancavelica and for the Church.

We’d like readers with a generous heart to help us achieve a dream for the benefit of the formation of our seminarians: we would like to have an organ, an instrument very much recommended for the liturgy. Thus we will also form organists for our parishes. Music expresses what words can no longer do and it’s necessary to offer it to God, who has been so kind to us.

I also take advantage of this opportunity to thank the Spanish missionaries for their priestly testimony, which we have witnessed since we were seminarians. Now it is for us native priests to go forward with the minor seminary and with the diocese. Our prayer and gratitude also to ZENIT for this wonderful opportunity.

Father Carlos López can be contacted at: carlosperu33@gmail.com

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