As part of their preparation for next week's World Youth Day, some 560 Australians are doing mission work in Lima, Peru, through Saturday.
The missions were organized by the Marian Community of Reconciliation in conjunction with the Christian Life Movement in Australia and Harvest World Youth Day Tours, the Australian travel agency that organizes Catholic pilgrimages and trips to World Youth Days.
The young people are accompanied by three bishops, including the archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, as well as 23 priests from dioceses and Catholic groups of Australia.
This venture came about as a way to respond to the desire for the young people traveling to WYD in Rio de Janeiro to spend a few days beforehand helping in a social project in an under-developed country so as to make this event be an experience not only of receiving but also of giving time, knowledge and material and spiritual goods.
Various Australian Catholic groups are participating in this initiative, including the Archdiocese of Sydney, the Australian Catholic University, the Catholic Education Office (which is bringing a large group of school students from Sydney), the Maronite Community of Australia, the Antioch Youth Movement of Australia, as well as dioceses from the state of Victoria in the south of Australia.
An encounter of two cultures
The Australians' schedule includes participating in various social work projects in Pamplona Alta, an area of extreme poverty in the district of San Juan de Miraflores in the Peruvian capital. Local inhabitants lack public services, live in homes made of reed matting or cardboard, and the few roads that exist are dusty and stony. Access is generally very difficult.
Pamplona Alta is located high up on a dusty hill, and the people who live there lack public services and their houses are made of reed-matting or cardboard, and there are no paved roads.
The Australian missionaries will build three cement staircases in order to make it easier for the inhabitants to get to and from their homes. They will also lay cement for a sports pitch and they will do improvements to stop roof-leaking at a local soup kitchen.
In Pamplona Alta they will perform health campaigns, dental hygiene campaigns, as well as give catechesis to the children and help build a Catholic chapel. Currently the area has no chapel and evangelical and Protestant groups are continuously growing.
The inhabitants of Pamplona Alta also prepared enthusiastically to receive the large delegation of Australians. Local men and women put down the foundations for the chapel. Some learned a bit of English so as to be able to communicate better with the missionaries. When members of the organizing committee arrived to oversee the work, they were offered food and invited to play football. The locals are very grateful for what they have received and share joyfully the little they have.
The chapel will be inaugurated Thursday. Forty-one Australians from the Australian Catholic University will be present.
Jenny Espinoza is the Fraterna in charge of receiving the Australian delegation in Lima. For her it has been an occasion of a lot of apostolate to the locals of Pamplona Alta, to local politicians from San Juan de Miraflores, who have offered resources and machinery for this trip, as well as to the Australians.
"It is very edifying to experience the kind heartedness and sense of responsibility among the local population. It is great to see how solidarity can unite two such different cultural realities – from the Australians to the Peruvians living in conditions of extreme poverty,” Espinoza said.
In addition to the mission work, the Australians will go on a pilgrimage to the centre of Lima where they will visit the shrines of St Rose of Lima, St Martin de Porres and St Francis Solano.
Espinoza added that “it is very important that the Australians are enriched by the popular religiosity that is present here where the first evangelization took place a long time ago and there is still a strong Catholic culture.”
With this mission trip the Australians are making real Pope Francis’ exhortation to “give up a comfortable life” and will understand that the best complement for World Youth Day is to serve the poorest of the poor, because they are the “flesh of Christ.”