In Peru, the Church aims to be ‘present’
During a conversation with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Marco Antonio Cortez of the Diocese of Tacna y Moquegua, Peru spoke about the need to reach everyone in a country where there are few vocations, especially in remote regions.
Peru is still a mission country. The Diocese of Tacna y Moquegua covers an extensive area, which includes a large part of the Altiplano, the plateau between the Andes and Lake Titicaca, where many people live. According to Monsignor Marco Antonio Cortez, the local bishop, “the main challenge is to support the men and women’s religious communities so they can do their work of evangelization and providing better care for the faithful.” Other difficulties, the bishop says, have to do with the country’s overall economic situation and the distance between mission zones.
The diocese has 30 religious sisters and four brothers who dedicate their time to mission, prayer, and caring for the faithful who live far away from the urban centers. The country’s challenging geography creates isolated pockets of the population, something the religious try to overcome. The sisters often walk long distances along the steep trails of the Altiplano to be with the faithful. “The biggest challenge is to be present and accompany. The people who live in these places rarely see a priest, who sometimes only comes once a year,” Bishop Cortez says. “Some places can only be reached by boat, so that is what the sisters do, so they can give the local communities support and, at the very least, organize Eucharistic adoration.”
“They all do commendable work. They accompany the young and do charitable work, like bringing food to the elderly and caring for them. There are many elderly people in the region who have nobody to look after them,” the bishop explains, because “young people move to the cities to find work and opportunities, leaving the elderly behind in these isolated areas, where it is very difficult to visit them.”
ACN is supporting an ongoing project to support ten communities of women religious in the heights of the Andes. “This aid is a response to the local Church’s concern about the support of these missionaries who operate in very distant and difficult places, more than 10,000 feet above sea level.” The project covers the needs of the religious in terms of transportation and daily living, so they can focus on evangelization and work with these communities.
Immigration in Peru
Though the population of the Altiplano may be dwindling, other parts of the Tacna y Moquegua Diocese, which borders Bolivia and Chile, have seen an influx of immigrants from both those countries, as well as from Venezuela. “Immigration has increased considerably in Peru over the past few years; many migrants make their first stop to rest in Tacna, and then either decide to remain there, or continue on to cities such as Lima or Arequipa,” the bishop tells ACN. Around 1.6 million Venezuelans are currently living in Peru, according to estimates by the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants, though there could be more, since, as Bishop Cortez explains, “not all migrants register, and most live in vulnerable conditions.”
“The pastoral care of migrants is very important,” the bishop adds. “The Venezuelans who arrive in search of work and a better life bring incredible stories with them. Many arrive on foot, having crossed mountains. There are also families with small children, and that is why pastoral care for the family is also important.”
During his visit to ACN, Bishop Cortez makes a point of saying that amid challenges, there are also great fruits. “We have many families that are already well-integrated and have jobs, and there are many catechists among the Venezuelans. They have dedicated themselves to evangelization. Pope Francis says it is important to have youth evangelizing youth, and it is beautiful to see Venezuelans evangelizing Venezuelans.” He adds that he has been praying for “the first Venezuelan vocation” in his seminary.
With so many projects in his diocese, the bishop stresses that support to carry them out is crucial. “ACN’s aid is essential. We can feel the proximity of the benefactors. Their support goes beyond financial aid. It is another way of being close to us. We recognize this, and it is very beautiful,” Bishop Cortez concludes with a smile.