- Written by Jim Peterson
Looking back over the trip, now a week removed from the experience, I just smile every time I think about it. It's so much easier to talk about and explain the challenges Padre Martín, Madre Teresa, and the brothers face every day. At the same time I feel like I can convey the joys and the triumphs, the laughter and the love, because I've experienced it in such a personal and touching way. But it had to end. As we left for the airport, Padre Martín had Brother Pio drive us. Brother Benito and Brother Miguel Ángel came along as well. They said they just wanted to spend a little more time with me. It was a great compliment.
On the way to the airport Brother Benito asked about all the countries I had visited while in the Air Force. It's a long list numbering toward 35 or so, and some of them surprised him. Then he wanted to know the weirdest food I had eaten and the strangest experience. He wanted to hear about some of my adventures. I felt a bit like Bilbo Baggins telling his Hobbit's tale. As we approached the airport it was Brother Pio who put it all in perspective for me. With Padre interpreting, he said he would have thought that someone who traveled and saw as much as I did would be more stuck up. Everyone got a great laugh from this. He then said I really suprised him with how full of love and joy I was. He didn't expect it at all. That was an even greater compliment.
After check-in we stayed in the food court for a while until it was time for them to leave and me to head to my gate. It was almost 11:30 pm by then. We were saying our final goodbyes and Brother Miguel said, "I really wanted to give you a gift, but I do not have any money for a gift. Will you please take my rosary? It was given to me by a very holy priest and I want you to have it." All I could think was how on earth could I take his rosary when he has so little already? I tried to refuse, but he said he would be very offended if I didn't accept it. So I relented and now have a beautiful wooden rosary blessed by two holy priests - his priest and Padre Martín who added his blessing on the spot. It was a fitting end to an incredible trip, and probably the greatest compliment.
If you are reading this and wondering if there is something you could do to help this community, there is. Find the donation button on this page and give whatever amount your heart is telling you. Trust me when I say they could use it. I've seen the need, and it is great. If you'd like to help one of the brothers you read about, please go to the Biographies page and sign up for the Adopt a Brother program. It's so easy and will make such a difference. Plus, we will put you in touch with the brother you select. If you were touched by Madre Teresa's story and would like to help her fulfill what God has planned for her and her new community, then please become part of the Missionary Sisters Sponsorship program. You can sign up for that on the Donations page. Help in all these areas is so desperately needed. These holy men and women are truly doing God's work. Help them. Please help them.
Day 1 - Prayers and Futbol!
Day 2 - Outside the Walls
Day 3 - Into the City
Day 4 - Help From a Saint
Day 5 - More Amazing Stories
Day 6 - Madre Teresa's Story
- Written by Jim Peterson
As I mentioned in the last blog post, the Sunday morning routine was quite a bit different from other mornings. Prayers started in the Oratory in the house rather than in the chapel. It turns out Padre Martín was scheduled to say an 11:30 a.m. Mass in Santa Eulalia, a small city up in the hills. As the community said their prayers, I wrote the Day 5 blog knowing there was a busy day ahead. Our Sunday breakfast was these large square tamales with a bit of chicken inside. I remember buying them in the market the other day, but they were wrapped in large green leaves and tied with string. I had no idea they were tamales when we bought them.
Before we left for Santa Eulalia we were joined by Madre Teresa of the female branch and her first Aspirant, María de Guadalupe, a young girl of 17 who moved into the female convent with Madre Teresa in May. Also joining Madre Teresa was her niece, Marice, who also lives in the convent but not as an Aspirant. She is actually a lawyer and has a sweet, bubbly personality. With Brother Pio driving the van, newly repaired after breaking down on Saturday (but still needing a new radiator), we set off for Santa Eulalia. Padre Martín told me it was only 15 minutes away, but it took over 30 minutes to get there.
I had never heard of Saint Eulalia, but she is the co-patron saint of Barcelona and was a 13-year-old Roman Christian virgin who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the persecution of Christians in the reign of emperor Diocletian. This local church was built by the community over a hundred years ago so they would have a place to worship. As the preparations for Mass were underway, Brothers Domingo and Miguel Ángel played guitar and sang. The musical talent displayed by some of the brothers is just astonishing. There are at least four who play guitar and sing.
The Mass and homily were all in Spanish of course. Padre Martín had told me he would not be speaking as slowly during the homily and an interpretation would be difficult, so I didn't bother asking Br. Luis to try. I do know toward the end of the homily he mentioned the video we have on the website where The Lord made his presence known during the Mass in San Antonio. I have the original on both my iPhone and IPAD, so I showed it many times during my trip. The link was since posted by the brothers or other friends of Padre, and it's been viewed in several South American and European countries since then.
The Female Order
On the drive back Madre Teresa pulled out her wallet and showed me it was completely empty (it was relevant to the conversation at the time). I had several coins in my hand, so I gave them to her along with a Peruvian $20 bill. We made it back to the convent and had a very lively lunch. Madre Teresa really wanted me to visit her convent before I left, and Padre Martín had to perform a burial service so it was a good time to go. Br. Luis and I accompanied Madre Teresa and the two young ladies back to her convent. We were dropped off on a main road, and then we took two motorcycle taxis up the hill to the convent. These little three-wheeled vehicles were all over the place, and I had really wanted to try one. Once was enough!
Madre Teresa gave me a full tour of the convent explaining the improvements and plans she had to build the new order from scratch. When I say from scratch, it is in the most literal terms. There was very little furniture and many empty rooms. We sat down for a full interview so I could learn her story. She felt something stirring at the age of 13, but confirmed her calling to religious life at 16. Her family did not (and still does not) approve. She took her first vows in December of 1983 to join Canonesas de la Cruz in Lima and rotated to several houses of the Order, ending her time with the Order in Huaraz, Peru.
From 1992 she developed a great devotion to Divine Mercy. She spent about seven years discerning the calling she felt to found her own order centered on Divine Mercy. She was very nervous about it, but she knew it was the will of God and it would be okay. As an example of how her trust in God works, she mentioned how in the morning she had no money to pay the motorcycle taxi driver, but then I gave her the coins in the car, "See? Providence!" After conversations with a Franciscan Capuchin priest and another Mother Superior, she was introduced to Padre Martín. Her order did not want to let her go, and they still want her back, but she recieved approval from the Vatican to be released to found the new order, Hermanas Misioneras de la Misericordia de Dios, or Missionary Sisters of God's Mercy. She also took on her new name, Madre Teresa de la Misericordia de Dios.
Through her outreach efforts at mostly girl's schools she has about 20 young women who would like to come and "have an experience" as they call it. This is where the young women come and live in the convent for one or two weeks to see if they would like to become an Aspirant. She said it would cost about $100 each, and that would include travel for the girls. She wants to host 10 at a time. I asked about the process to become a nun, and it is somewhat similar to becoming a priest. They spend six months as an Aspirant, one year as a Postulant, and then two years as a Novice (wearing the full habit). After the Novitiate, they take "simple" vows then spend five years in formation as a "Juniorado" (in Spanish). They then take perpetual vows and recieve their ring.
Madre Teresa is so full of love and joy and trust in God. She has a great clarity of purpose about her, but she is in great need of benefactors to help fulfill her vision. Her focus this year is on getting vocations, but she knows she must also establish longer term connections with benefactors for ongoing support. It's important, I think, to emphasize again that both branches rely solely on Divine Providence for their existence. They do not receive support from the Church. They rely on people like you to be inspired to help them. I've never met a more thankful group, even for the smallest contribution.
- Written by Jim Peterson
A Homily to Remember
No one told me that the weekends start 30 minutes later and the schedule is slightly different, so I had to clarify things a bit to make sure I didn't miss anything after I was woken up at 6:00 instead of 5:30. Because we were out so late Friday night, I had to start writing the Day 4 blog Saturday morning. I also decided to get some extra sleep Saturday night instead of staying up late to write the Day 5 blog. Padre and the brothers are in the small Oratory upstairs praying right now instead of in the Chapel where they would normally be, so once again I really don't know what the schedule will be. In any case, I know I have to write the blog now while the events of yesterday are fresh.
I'll get right to the point. Padre Martín's homily was just amazing. I could write the entire blog about it, but I'll share some important points that will hopefully give you something to think about. The gospel today was from Matthew where Jesus says you do not put new wine into old wineskins. Padre said for a long time he didn't understand what Jesus meant about the wineskins. It didn't make sense. Now he understands it is not really about wineskins and wine, it has to do with having a new heart. The new wine is the grace of God that can only be poured into a new heart. If your heart is not newly changed, the grace of God cannot stay in it. It will burst out. Many people go to healing masses, retreats, or pilgrimages but their lives don't change because they're not willing to accept the change God wants them to make. They do not let their hearts become new. The new wineskin means a new heart of humility, generosity, and mercy.
Another point he made was that God doesn't have to learn how to be merciful. We have to learn how to be merciful. This is a common mistake people make, and it has to do with their pride. Conversion is only possible when human nature cooperates with the grace of God. It is not automatic. I can be in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but if I have a heart of stone, the grace of God means nothing. To underscore a point he often makes (God cannot be outdone in generosity), he told us how he said to Jesus in the morning, "I send you a thousand kisses." Jesus responded, "And I send you a million."
There was an interesting moment at the end of the homily when Padre suddenly stopped Mass and called Br. Juan Diego to the Sacristy to talk with him. The two of them stayed in there for about five minutes, then they came out and Mass resumed. I asked Padre later what it was about, and he said he had to ask Br. Juan Diego to forgive him for an incident on Friday he thought he had handled poorly. That's Padre Martín. Forgiveness is so important, and our consciences must be clean before receiving the Eucharist.
More Amazing Stories
I spent much of the day trying to finish interviews for the Biographies. Saturday is a work day with cleaning and laundry and other chores, so it was a bit of catch as catch can. First I spoke with Br. Benito. He is from the Piura province in Peru, which is about an 18 hour drive from Lima. He felt the calling to the priesthood when he was 17, but he says in the years before that it was curiosity which then turned into a decision. It turns out a friend of his attended a retreat led by Padre Martín in Piura and told him about Padre and his new community. Through his friend he made contact and entered the community in February of 2004. It was funny because when I asked him when he entered the community, he actually said "2 February 2004 at 7:00 a.m." As for his religious name, he had a devotion to St. Benedict because of his contemplative nature, but he considered a few others. As he was discerning this, Benito became stronger in his heart. He sort of laughed because now he prefers to be more active (i.e. out doing good works) rather than contemplative.
Brother Juan Diego has had one of the most interesting journeys to the priesthood I've heard. He started the interview by telling me it was the fault of the Holy Virgin that he is here. He felt the calling to the priesthood at age 19. He's now 47. His life went through many twists and turns from entering a Diocesan seminary when he was young (and he says he let his anger and the devil stop him there) to being in a different community in his mid-thirties. In his mid-twenties his father died and he was very angry with God about that. With the help of the Blessed Mother, whom he has a great devotion to, he was led to this community and joined in December of 2010. In the days I've been here I've noticed he has a great enjoyment of cooking, and he is very good at flower arrangements. He does all the flower arrangements for the community. Our interview got cut short for the afternoon prayers, so there is more work to do there.
Brother Miguel Ángel is a Postulant from Bogota, Colombia. He entered the community in October 2013 at the age of 19. He felt the calling to the priesthood at age 15 and would make jokes with his friends about being a priest. They only thought he was joking, but he felt he had to joke because he didn't want them to make fun of him. He spent three months in discernment with a Colombian priest who had a Lay community. A close friend of Padre Martín's in Colombia met him and remarked to her friend, "This boy has a vocation." He was introduced to Padre Martín when Padre was visiting Colombia in July 2013. His friends told him that Padre would ask The Lord as they were talking, and he could say no. Within five minutes Padre Martín told him The Lord was waiting with open arms for him in Peru. Their first conversation occurred right after a Mass while Padre was dressed in vestments. Afterward when Miguel saw him in his habit (the first priest he had ever seen in a habit), he thought to himself, "I want to be like him." Miguel says he has a gift of joy (which I can heartily confirm) and he wants to share that joy with the world. He is convinced many people who are sad can feel joy through him, and he realizes that this joy is a tremendous gift from God.
One last thing about Miguel has to do with Colombia's compulsory military service, and how Padre Martín had to write a letter explaining that Miguel was joining his community so he would be excused. Padre sent the letter to his friend Patricia. Miguel did not have the $5 for the bus ride to pick up the letter, so he rode his bicycle three hours each way (in the rain) to meet with Patricia and pick up the letter. He did this in one day. His father asked him why he would do this. He simply told him, "I need the letter." I think this story is worth remembering when we feel the need to complain about nuisances or small things we have to do in our lives. There are people in the world (like Miguel) who face much greater challenges, and rather than give up their situation as hopeless they persevere because they know it must be done.
- Written by Jim Peterson
The day started out as the other days with prayers and Mass. Padre Martín gave the homily again, and I'll share just one quote because I have so much other stuff to cover today: "It doesn't matter how many rosaries or sacrifices you make if your heart is like a stone. God cannot be deceived." This was an allusion to yesterday's homily where he talked about how at every Mass God provides the machinery to break away the rocks in our heart. Padre mentioned to me yesterday how his morning homily's are used to help form the men. This is not as easy as it may seem. Life in a religious community can be very stressful, and the formation includes the building of a family as well as the making of priests. It's not easy.
Friday is typically a day of fasting, but because I am here they did not fast. I asked Padre Martín about this, and he said that even St. Benedict said you should not fast when guests are present. They have a cook that makes lunch every day except Friday, so knowing how much Padre likes Italian food I offered to be the cook and make a big pot of marinara with Italian sausage. So off we went to find the ingredients I needed, which is actually a short list. The local market is very typical of markets I've seen in other travels, full of small niche booths for each type of thing you might need. It was bustling and fun, and I enjoyed watching Padre Jose Maria and Br. Juan Diego interact with the locals. The two things we could not get there were canned tomatoes and the sausage, so we had to go the big supermarket in the larger town. Once we got there the only tomatoes they had were in small pouches, and there were no Italian sausages. What to do?
I threw caution to the wind and bought 30 small packets of Italian tomato sauce, and then got some kind of Peruvian sausage to flavor the sauce. I figured I'd add lots of fresh basil and hope for the best. Once we got back and I started cooking, there was a great curiosity with Br. Pio snapping pictures and those who like to cook watching how I made the sauce (in case they wanted to make it again). The sauce itself turned out very well. It was a shame we didn't have the Italian sausages, but Br. Juan Diego (who likes to cook) gave me a great compliment when I gave him a pre-taste and he exclaimed, "Gloriosa!" All in all, it was a great success. Whew!
After lunch I interviewed Br. Domingo and discovered another fascinating story (which you can read in full here). Br. Domingo felt his calling at age five as he was watching a very famous Our Lord of the Miracles procession on TV. When the camera zoomed in on Jesus' face, he saw Jesus open his eyes and stare at him. From that moment forward he knew he would be a priest. That's followed by a wild story about how he met Padre Martín and ended up in the community. It's very much worth reading. Sometimes you hear these stories and just cannot believe the way God works. But we know that, right? "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor my ways your ways." I think it's just unusual to see that scripture illustrated so plainly. I will also add that he has considerable musical talent and a beautiful singing voice. He sang "Here I am Lord" (the Spanish version) in Mass, and...wow...just...wow.
When the interview was complete, Padre Jose Maria and Br. Agustín took me into Lima to see the tomb of St. Martin de Porres which is in the convent of Santo Domingo. St. Martin de Porres is one of the many Patron Saints of the community. We got there just before 5:30 pm, but it was closed. I will give credit here to Br. Agustín for persistence in trying to find someone who would agree to let us in, but he was getting nowhere in his efforts. I quickly said a prayer of intercession to St. Martin de Porres begging him to intercede so I could see his tomb. About a minute later one of the priests of the convent showed up, and he let us through and into the convent. But there we found the door to the shrine room was locked. Once again I asked St. Martin de Porres to help, and Br. Agustín quickly found someone with keys and we ended up by ourselves in the room with the tomb. Of course I thanked St. Martin de Porres in my prayers for the graces we had received. The Saints are very close to us, and they want to help us. Don't be afraid to ask.
We milled around the convent for a while, which was really beautiful with a stunning courtyard, many old paintings of various Saints, a chair that had been used by St. John Paul II, and several relics of other Saints. I was marveling the entire time that we were just sort of let loose in the convent, no doubt partly enabled by my two companions in habits.
We left the convent area and went into their Basilica to look at all the side chapel areas. It was very much like the churches and cathedrals in Europe. Br. Agustín and I were toward the front when he spotted a lady in a pew just crying her eyes out. He went over and started talking to her, and I continued my tour. After I had looked at everything, Fr. Jose Maria and I met up in the back. Br. Augustín was still talking to the lady, so we patiently waited. He spent 20-25 minutes consoling her and finally left her with a big hug. A nice moment to see. We went into a few other churches within walking distance, including the main Cathedral. While in the Cathedral, an older couple stopped Fr. Jose Maria and began talking to him (the woman doing most of the talking). Again, we sat off to the side and waited. At the end of the conversation, he blessed each of them as I quietly snapped photos with my iPhone. Again, it was very touching. Then as we made our way to the front again after more touring, two more ladies stopped Fr. Jose Maria and asked for a blessing. This seems to happen a lot.
We made our way back to the car and I thought we were on our way back to the convent. Along the way we stopped for some dinner because we were all very hungry. They chose a food court in a shopping mall, and when Br. Agustín saw the KFC sign, he got very animated and said, "We go to Kentucky? You like Kentucky?" I could tell he really wanted to eat at Kentucky Fried Chicken, so that's where we ate. I still thought we were on our way home, but Fr. Jose Maria started making strange turns and the two of them were speaking in Spanish. We stopped. We reversed. I finally asked, "Are we lost?" What they didn't tell me was that we had to pick up some donated grocery supplies from a benefactor's house. She lived in a residential area, and we went through three security gates to get there. Security here is a big thing, from electrical shock wires to metal spikes to broken glass, the tops of walls are always protected from thieves.
By the time we finally made it back to the convent it was after 11:00. I was exhausted from all the walking and ready to crash. But Padre Martín was still in his office so I talked with him for a bit. I went to bed thinking the 5:30 am bell awaited me, but it turns out they sleep in until 6:00 am on Saturdays and everything starts a bit later. But that's for the Day 5 blog...
- Written by Jim Peterson
Padre Martín's Homily
Today was the first day the homily was given by Padre Martín since I arrived. I am used to hearing his homily's, but he always seems to offer something special. Padre has a very special relationship with Jesus, and he often says that he just wants to be Jesus' microphone. Today was no exception. Here are few quotes: "When you die everything you have is gone. The only things that are worth bringing to heaven are the actions of mercy and good that you have done in your life." Speaking directly to the brothers about their vocation he said, "If you don't let Christ live in you, then Christ cannot speak through you." "The devil doesn't want you to be free. He wants you to be a slave to sin. In that slavery your will and your heart will be very far from Jesus' heart." Then after Mass, he added this nugget: "If we don't allow Jesus to change us then his graces just bounce off of us. We're wasting our time."
Prayers and the City
After the mid-morning prayer hour, five of us went into Lima to a monthly Rosary group run by several ladies in the city. Padre Martín has a strong friendship with them, and they provide supplies (groceries, etc.) to the community. It's pretty clear these ladies are in the upper class in Lima. They are a lively group and were extremely welcoming and gracious to me. They were thrilled to see the video of The Lord showing His presence during a Mass in San Antonio last month. Once everyone had arrived and settled down, each person offered their intentions before we recited the Rosary. The recitation went from person to person, so it was completely in Spanish until it got to me, then I recited my parts in English. After the Rosary, Padre Martín gave a brief reflection on today's gospel where Thomas doubted the other Apostles when they told him they had seen The Lord. Brother Luis Gerardo once again interpreted for me, but I found I knew some parts based on the small amount of Spanish I've picked up from the daily prayers. I didn't understand exactly what he was saying, but I knew the point.
Almost all the ladies spoke English, so it was very easy to talk with them. As I was talking with a lady named Claudia, and we were sharing our experiences with Padre Martín, she started telling me a story. I quickly discovered I knew exactly what she was talking about because I'd already heard it from Padre. It is so great to meet these people that I've heard about over the past few years. Claudia's husband is a lawyer and has been setting up a Peruvian non-profit for Padre's community similar to this one. It is a very good and necessary step.
We were supposed to go see the tomb of St. Martin de Porres, but the meeting ran long and we all needed some lunch. We went to a seafood restaurant where Padre knows the owner. I tried the ceviche, which was excellent. We headed home after the meal (it was after 4:00 and traffic is horrible in Lima). Along the way home we detoured so I could see the Ministry of Education building. It is designed to look like a stack of books, and it does. We did have a minor incident where a driver banged on the side of our van and yelled at us as Padre Jose Maria (our driver) was trying to merge. We just laughed.
After dinner I interviewed Brother Juan Francisco for his biography, but I was without my human translator as he was ill. We used the Google translator program to work our way through it. Brother Juan Francisco heard his calling to the priesthood at the age of 13, but he was discouraged by many people. He was fortunate to have a priest become a father figure to him and help him fulfill his vocation. He is from Peru, but his hometown is about 12 hours from Lima. The answer as to how he ended up in the community was too long, he said, to type into the translator. Our interview got cut short due to night prayers, but I found out enough to know there is a lot more to his story. I'm looking forward to talking with him again.
Tomorrow should be a busy day. We are still trying to see St. Martin de Porres, and I have a lot more interviews to do. Oh, and I offered to cook lunch! I'm making a big pot of marinara sauce with sausage -- assuming I can find the ingredients I need at the market. For now, though, that 5:30 am bell lingers in my thoughts. I need some sleep.