Several months ago I was invited to accompany Bon Secours Sister Fran Gorsuch to Peru to join with the Peruvian Sisters there in implementing a water filter program called Water With Blessings. I serve as Director of the Bon Secours Associates in the U.S.A. and this is a project the Sisters and Associates will be working on together. 50% of Peru’s population live below the poverty line so a basic thing like clean water is not to be taken for granted, as it is here in the U.S.A. I was anxious to help. It was a great opportunity for me to meet the people of Peru and to travel to a country I had always wanted to visit. “Compassion, healing and liberation” are mission directives for the Sisters of Bon Secours as well as for their associates and I got to experience our mission being lived out in Peru!
We worked in Huancayo, high in the Andes. Huancayo is 10,500 feet above sea level. We flew from Lima, basically at sea level to the heights of the Andes. I’d had trouble with high altitude before in the Himalayas and in the American Southwest, where I’d lived on a Navajo Reservation. To prepare for the Andes, I weaned myself off of caffeine in the weeks prior to the trip and once there our interpreter, Andres, bought me some coca leaves to chew on, the preferred native remedy for altitude sickness. I’m here to tell you that the folk remedy worked!
The Sisters live in one of the most impoverished areas of Huancayo, where they run a school. Fifteen women, moms from the school, gathered from the local community and learned how to use a filtering device which is 99.9% free of biological contaminants to provide water for their families. A simple device with huge, long-term benefits for health and wellness.
The women were wonderful to meet and work with. Fortunata and Jessica, two of the first women to come and meet us, were very motivated to learn the filter system and be able to filter water in their homes. Here’s a picture of Fortunata and her well. You can see that almost any type of filtration would be an improvement in these conditions.
I was so impressed with how quickly these motivated moms learned how to use the filters and were able to share how it worked. When the Bishop of Huancayo came to visit the class (and receive a filter himself!), Jessica, after just one day, did the demonstration herself:
It was hard to see the conditions these remarkable women had to deal with. It broke my heart, as well, to see all of the stray dogs and cats. Most of them were hungry and scrambling for food. This dog was asleep on the side of the road in the middle of the morning.
One of my favorite saints, St. Martin de Porres, is Peru’s patron of social justice and people of mixed race ancestry. He is loved across the country and depicted in every Catholic church with a little dog and cat and mouse eating from the same bowl, at his feet. He loved the animals and the poor, the vulnerable ones, and the poor love him. I felt it was a touch of God’s hand that we visited his shrine in Lima on Nov. 3rd, his feast day, and this was by chance. As is said, there are no coincidences in God. His compassion still speaks to modern Peru, and inspires me.
The Sisters live a simple life in Peru, often in the poorest neighborhoods and regions, as these are the people and places that they serve. In the midst of this, there is joy, laughter, and an intense sense of mission and love for Christ.
Living in community, and serving the larger communities around them, through ministries of health care, education and assistance to the poor, The Sisters of Bon Secours in action in Peru inspired me and moved me to want to do more in my own community in Maryland. I also saw the deeper significance that we have a Latin American pope. When so many of your flock are very poor, I think it gives you a more grassroots perspective, by necessity, than that of leaders in North America and Europe. I am deeply grateful for my time in South America.