I didn't know our church could hold that many people!!!"
When we arrived in San Hilarion, we were greeted by a large group. The people were giddy with excitement at the idea of having Catholic missionaries in their pueblo. All this fuss and activity made it seem like the Catholic community was alive and strong.
Unfortunately, our initial impression was misleading.
After the novelty of our presence wore off it was back to business as usual. At the Sunday services there were only about 25 people (including the 6 of us). "Where is everyone else?", we'd ask. The people would discouragingly shrug their shoulders as if to say, "Who knows?"
We've been talking to the people about the importance of establishing a community of believers. We constantly encourage them to invite their family members, friends and neighbors. We gather up the children, welcome them with open arms and ask them to go home to get their parents.
Each time we notice a new person in church we celebrate quietly; however, the progress has been slow and most of the seats have remained empty.
|Jack and Michael in front of our church with some of the faithful attendees.|
On a Monday afternoon we learned that one of our local priests would be available to celebrate Mass the following night. Tuesday night? How could we ever get people to come to church on a Tuesday night if they aren't even willing to come on Sunday morning?
"We probably need to invite them!" one of our brilliant young team members said.
And so we did.
Tuesday was dedicated to visiting people's homes to personally invite them to Mass. Most people offered us something to drink, smiled, stumbled through some broken conversation with us, kissed us on the cheeks and bid us farewell. We assumed that this all translated to "thanks, but no thanks".
To our amazement and delight over 60 people showed up for Mass. Our priest was ecstatic!! He happily announced that he would return the following Tuesday.
We knew we had our work cut out for us. Once again we made our rounds, talking with people in their homes and inviting them to Mass. Once again, people smiled, offered us a drink and kissed us on the cheeks.
|A snapshot of our community gathering at church - |
before it even got full.
Each time I noticed people streaming in tears trickled down my already wet cheeks. When I turned around and realized there was standing room only the flood gates opened and I wept.
Many times, when I made eye contact with someone, they would give me a big smile and nod. Now, I haven't mastered the art of Peruvian non-verbal communication yet, but I think that translates to "I'm happy to be here. Thanks for inviting me!"
After Mass we personally thanked as many people as we could. Our priest was in awe of the attendance and praised them repeatedly for making time for Jesus. The joy and excitement in the church was real.... People were happy to be there.
As we walked out of church Jack and Michael asked, "Mom, why are you crying." All I could say was, "Because it's working!"
Thank you Jesus for sending us out to find your lost sheep. Thank you for shepherding this flock.
Please continue to pray for our work here in San Hilarion, Peru.