ROME, JULY 6, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Johannes Habsburg for Where God Weeps in cooperation with Aid the Church in Need interviews Bishop Kay Martin Schmalhausen, bishop of the prelature of Ayaviri, Peru.
Q: Peru has extraordinary natural wealth and yet suffers from severe poverty. Why this contrast?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Peru is a diverse country, with enormous contrasts. A country rich in resources, opportunities, certainly with a complicated geography because we have a coastline, a very high mountain in the middle and then a vast forest …
Q: … And does this complicate matters of, for example, agriculture or land development? …
Bishop Schmalhausen: …With that we already begin to answer the question … yes, indeed this leads in part to a scenario of economic development. Given the variety of climates, geographical and climatic floor, and the heights and lowlands, so to speak, makes it difficult for the country to be productive quickly, promptly, but moreover, requires much more investment and patience to harness the natural resources so that they can then also reach the most poor and needy.
Q: I imagine that one persistent problem is the phenomenon, unfortunately very common in Latin America, of corruption. Is this problematic phenomenon also in Peru?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Of course, it is a problem that has a long history and we felt it with a certain acuity, especially in the last 15 or 20 years, especially in the Fujimori regime where corruption became, we would say, almost to a chasm and is a situation that affects us, as well as affecting the entire Latin American continent. Peru, their governments need to show political, economic and institutional transparency.
Q: The region where the Prelature you lead is located is an extremely poor region, one of the poorest in Peru. What are the reasons for this agricultural economy of survival?
Bishop Schmalhausen: There are several reasons why we live in extreme poverty. I would say that 60 or 70% of the population live in poverty and extreme poverty and 30% in a little better situation. On one hand, I would say that a reason is the altitude and cold weather. We live between 4,000 and 5,400 meters. It is very high, we need the air,and, what grows at 4,000 or 5,000 feet? Practically nothing. Agriculture is very poor, very limited, livestock farming is mostly poor cattle, sheep for wool, and alpaca for wool as well. The wool prices today in the domestic market are very low and that makes people either in agriculture, livestock either have a survivalist economy.
Q: What about other areas?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Well, in the lower parts and even in the forest, access roads are virtually impossible, so that even when they are most fertile places, production is very difficult to extract at a reasonable cost in order for that to be productive. And to be truthful, an unfortunate issue, perhaps the most unfortunate product today, apart from mining, which is an up and coming investment; but outside of mining, is the coca leaf. All that this creates a complex and difficult to social reality.
Q: Let’s talk a moment about the issue of coke and drug trafficking. It has done tremendous damage to some Latin American countries. What is the situation in Peru?, I know that the region where you are is one of the regions of Peru that produces the most. Do you feel the presence and violence of drug trafficking too?
Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, indeed, and today in Peru even when it is over the issue of terrorism, we begin to see a new alliance of narco-terrorism, in which drug traffickers produce and extract of coke and terrorism. The terrorist cells that remain protect and in turn are financially sustained by the drug trade. Then comes a sequence of social problems, young people leaving school to go pick coca leaves … make money fast and easy and,for example, earn more than their teachers school. By the time of secondary education they usually leave and then go into alcohol and drugs. It is an issue that corrupts the moral life of the population or communities living in the jungle, near the jungle of Peru.
Q: If we were to give a major reason why people choose to plant coca, is it out of despair because there are other ways to survive or because it is easy money, comfortable and all that that might entail: power, wealth, prestige, etc.?
Bishop Schmalhausen: I think there are two things. As I said, first in the jungle we live today, there is often still a situation of poverty and a lack of status, lack of decent health services, lack of education that is even halfway decent and well established. Thus, the poverty is not only economic but also cultural, and leads to searching for easy solutions. But on the other hand, we must keep in mind that there are other opportunities. We have actually in the lowland one of the best coffees, and it recently won an international award in the Netherlands, Tunqui coffee, but …
Q: Much less profitable …
Bishop Schmalhausen: Indeed … even when it is a beautiful and valuable business, however it is much less profitable and both coffee and cocoa plantation are decreasing while coca plantations increase. .
Q: In the prelature, 90% of people are indigenous, or Quechua-speaking, what challenges does this pose in regard to the ministry of evangelization?
Bishop Schmalhausen: For us as a church, it is a challenge at the level of evangelization because it involves a bilingual evangelization, certainly it must be taken into account that Quechua, although I do not want to be pessimistic about this, but it seems to be going through a forced disappearance. The new generations, the youth , by a desire to enter the world, abandon the language of the family and…
Q: Prefer to speak Spanish … …
Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, they prefer to speak Spanish because it opens up possibilities in the world. But be that as it may, we have a challenge here. Recently, we revised our bilingual devotional song which is the first bilingual document will will release and then we will have manuals in preparation for the sacraments: first communion, confirmation, marriage which is also bilingual. Little by little, this is one of the challenges and I think it’s a beautiful challenge, because our own catechists, especially those living in remote places who speak Quechua have a concrete tool to help in the evangelization.
Q: Your episcopal motto is “my life is Christ.” Who is Jesus Christ for you? In deciding to follow that call, it would mean that there is a very real relationship with the Lord. Who is Jesus?, Who is He for you that you would like to communicate to others?
Bishop Schmalhausen: He is my Lord, my friend, my joy, my happiness, my fortress … In the end, what I am trying to say is …. well, without the Lord I do not know what would become of my life. So I wanted to choose this theme because it basically expresses what is proper for us Christians and our Catholic faith: that Jesus is the center of our lives. For me life is Christ, and everything else a loss without Him.
Q: What is the desire of the heart of Christ for the Prelature of Ayaviri and how do we, as a church, can fulfill these desires of the heart of Christ and support your mission?
Bishop Schmalhausen: The desires of the Lord in the prelature are the desires of the Lord for the church. I do not think they are very different, maybe the Lord has in his heart some particular things, but I think he wants a young church, a church full of joy, a church full of vocations, a thriving church, not economically, though that with time may come too and I hope it does come because we actually live in a very, very difficult situation, but not spiritually. This means that this deeply religious church, though sometimes very poor or has no training, can get to know Jesus, to love Jesus and follow Jesus.
Q: And how can we help you realize these aspirations?
Bishop Schmalhausen: We can help, for one, with scholarships for the seminary, we have 10 young men right now studying philosophy and theology and certainly for us, as I said, we are a bankrupt prelature because we really have no income and live from outside charities. We have also opened a few years ago the first parochial school and I have the intention in the future of opening two schools, at least two more parochial schools to offer a truly Catholic education and on the other hand also a fairly good education in an aread where education is highly undervalued.
A third aid would rely on charities that we need such as medicines. Sometimes we have cases of sick people, disabled people that humble people hide in shame or fear and we try, through our Caritas agency, to send them to Arequipa or Cusco to be operated or to be cared for or to have their physiotherapy, etc.. And finally, another medium that is essential is prayer, we need prayers for the mission. Those who are not the mission, but live in places where the church has a certain stability and security, pray for us who need the strength of
their prayers and that God hears them and gives us help.
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This interview was conducted by Johannes Habsburg for “Where God Weeps,” a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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