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SMC students serve Peruvian communities

HALEIGH EHMSEN | Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry gave five students the opportunity to travel to Peru on a pilgrimage over fall break.

Upon their arrival in Piura, Peru, the Saint Mary’s pilgrimage group was greeted by staff from the Santismo Sacramento parish, Assistant Director of Saint Mary’s Campus Ministry Regina Wilson said. 

“[The students] talked about feeling nervous, about what to expect, but being welcomed by smiling faces and a big sign communicated that there were people on that end happy to see us arrive,” Wilson said. “It was an important gesture of hospitality and helped put everyone a little more at ease.

Sophomore Ambar Varela said the people they met helped her and the other students feel at ease.  

“No matter what their situation was all the Peruvian people I met were welcoming and excited to meet our group,” Varela said.

The group built a bamboo house for a Peruvian family from the Santismo Sacramento parish, Wilson said. They were helped by several men from the parish and completed the project in one morning.

Junior Kristen Millar said she felt the Saint Mary’s group developed a solidarity with the Peruvian people.

“We had the opportunity to interact with Peruvian workers and we were able to meet the family whose home we were building,” Millar said.

Wilson said working together as a group and working side-by-side with Peruvians was a rewarding experience.

“We were sharing our gifts with in concert with other Peruvians who were serving too in a situation of need and we were providing someone with something that she needed. And we were working together as a group of pilgrims helping one another accomplish the work,” Wilson said.

Fr. Joe Uhen, a 1980 Notre Dame graduate, is the pastor at the parish, Millar said. She said she was struck by one of his homilies during the week.

“In one of the homilies at mass [Fr. Joe] said, ‘because we have been given much, we have much to give,'” Millar said. “Here at Saint Mary’s I may not physically see the poor as I did in Peru, but it is important to continue to educate myself on the realities of the world and to be conscious of what I can do for others.”

Wilson said that the people they encountered were extremely poor, but it didn’t affect their faith. 

“We were surrounded by prayer, simple prayer, but it was just part of life there, everywhere we went,” she said.

The group also visited the Sisters of the Holy Cross in an archdiocese of Lima, Peru, Wilson said. The sisters are currently serving in an area that has traditionally had little to no pastoral care due to their mountainous location.

Millar said the work of the Holy Cross sisters and their joy in performing it was inspirational.

“The Holy Cross Sisters were truly inspiring people devoted to caring for the Peruvian people,” Millar said. “There was an immense amount of joy everyone we met had in their work and service to the poor.”

The students experienced Christ in the people they met, Wilson said.

“I think most of all the students were impressed and moved by the warmth of everyone we met: the people, the pastoral staff at the parish, the sisters, “Wilson said. “The warmth of everyone from the poorest to the least poor person helped us make the journey with confidence because that hospitality was Christ meeting us in a very real way.”

Millar and Varela both said that the pilgrimage was very humbling. Varela said now that she has returned she has a greater appreciation for her situation and wants to enrich her own community.

“This trip had made me more conscious and appreciative of what I have here in the U.S.,” Valera said. “I hope to share my experience with Saint Mary’s students and others in hopes to raise awareness of what struggle people live with around the world. The pilgrimage has taught me that community is an important aspect for happiness and I want to take part in the joy of the community.”