This report is contributed by Eva-Maria Kolmann of Aid to the Church in Need.
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The shortage of priests is acute in Peru. Some 81% of Peru’s population of 27 million has been baptized as Catholics, and the country is home to forms of deeply rooted popular devotion—but there is a great lack of even the most basic knowledge of the Catholic faith and an acute shortage of the necessary pastoral care.
That was the conclusion of a recent fact-finding mission to Peru sponsored by international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN).
Because of the shortage of priests, especially in the Andean Highlands—where parishes might serve up to 100 small communities—Mass can be celebrated perhaps only once a month. The rest of the time parish life is overseen by women religious or lay missionaries who conduct Liturgies of the Word and provide overall pastoral care.
Peru is no easy pastoral territory. Regional differences are immense, and there are huge gaps between rich and poor throughout society. Most of the Catholic faithful are simple campesinos who barely manage to scrape a meagre living from the land. Especially “in isolated regions, the Church stands beside the people, often more than political authorities themselves,” said Marco Mencaglia, whose portfolio as grant manager at ACN includes Peru.
A very hopeful trend is the rise in vocations among young girls in certain mountainous regions, thanks to their exposure to the care and prayer life of women religious.
In contrast with the challenges of providing pastoral care in the Andes regions, the Church faces a particular task ministering in large cities, such as in Lima, the capital city, which with a population of 10 million, is the third largest metropolis in Latin America. Within the metropolitan area of Lima is Callao, home to 2 million, a port city that is the destination for migrants from the countryside looking for better lives in the city.
Their living conditions are very poor; they live in barracks built in arid sandy areas that often are without water and electricity and there are no means of public transportation. Domestic abuse and alcoholism are rampant. A great number of young women have to fend on their own for themselves and their children.
“Priests are really missionaries in these urban areas. There is a deep need to let the people feel the presence of the Church in these almost forgotten areas which are yet so close to a rich and developed city center,” Mencaglia said.
Bishop José Luis del Palacio y Pérez-Medel heads the Diocese of Callao, where he has worked for three decades as a missionary.
In Callao, a single parish priest may be responsible for the pastoral care of up to 50,000 faithful spread out over a huge area. The bishop’s priorities include the formation of religious and lay leaders, alongside an ambitious pastoral plan to promote vocations. Success has come, if slowly: today, the Diocese of Callao counts 92 seminarians, including some from neighboring Sees.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN)