Father John Prochaska, a priest of the Diocese of Oakland, anoints the sick at a senior center in the Prelature of Sicuani, Peru, where he is serving as a missionary.
REV. JOHN PROCHASKA/SPECIAL TO THE CATHOLIC VOICE
Smelling the sheep — and alpacas and cows —
in Andes ministry
|How to help|
Gifts to support Rev. John Prochaska's work in Peru can be made to:
The Missionary Society
of St. James the Apostle Inc.
24 Clark St., Boston, MA 02109
Dear People of the Diocese of Oakland:
In January, there was an article in The Catholic Voice about my new ministry in Peru. I arrived in my assignment at 13,000 feet on the high plains of the Andes Mountains of Peru in the middle of March, beginning my ministry on Palm Sunday.
After having lived all of my life in the suburbs of California, I now find myself in the middle of ranch land where people raise their alpacas, sheep, cattle and a few llamas, and they also grow potatoes, quinoa and oats. I am living in Tocroyo, better known as Pallpata, and on Google Maps it is Hector Tejada.
I have been given responsibility for four parishes in the Prelature of Sicuani, and 15 other communities that may or may not have chapels. From one end to the other, the territory is about 70 miles long and about 15 miles wide. My furthest parish takes about two hours to get to depending on the road work — and that is with a 4-wheel-drive truck, not a llama. One of my parishes is at 16,000 feet.
Though I have lots of territory and communities, the populations are small. Because there has not been a regular priestly presence, participation in the Catholic faith has diminished. Some have joined other faith traditions.
Most who remain Catholic, have learned to celebrate their faith communally only on the popular feast days and celebrations like weddings. You can't really blame them, because that is the only time a priest would be present. So there is much work to be done, especially to those who are no longer active in a relationship with Christ or who have never been introduced to him, especially the youth.
When I first arrived, I learned that I would be receiving a new truck and a new house. I thought to myself, this was not what I was thinking of when I had the call to do missionary work. I thought it was to live a simpler life. Well, the 4-wheel-drive truck is a definite help with all of the dirt roads here, some that are not very well maintained.
The new house was not completed when I first came, so I lived in an older building, with the bathroom in another building about 50 yards away. It had been mostly cold showers for the first three months with water exposed to the 15-degree nights, and no electricity for two months. Buildings do not have heating, even in the new parish house, so I have about 30 pounds of sheep/alpaca wool blankets on me at night. Though the nights get cool, the days get into the 50s and 60s, and in the sun it is quite nice.
My annual backpacking experiences in the mountains of California and jumping into the snow-melt lakes have prepared me well for the lack of comforts, but of course, I did not respond to the call for missionary ministry to be in a five-star hotel.
I believe Pope Francis once said that the pastors of the church need to smell the sheep. Well, I am smelling the sheep, alpaca and cows — and the people who work hard in raising them.
It is obvious that some people take very infrequent showers or baths, and perhaps really don't have access to them. The washing of feet on Holy Thursday, was a literal washing of feet of some of the people who came forward. After a lifetime of taking daily showers, I have learned to take them much less frequently.
Father Paulson Mundanmani, pastor at Christ the King Parish in Pleasant Hill, came for a visit in September, and we were able to enjoy some of the beautiful mountains in this area. We took a five- day, 60-mile hike from Salkantay Mountain ending at Machu Picchu. We also visited Rainbow Mountain, and some of the other beautiful local mountains.
My ministry here is through the St. James' Society of the Archdiocese of Boston. I spent a few weeks in Lima at the Society Center when I first arrived in February, updating my Spanish and getting to know the ministry of the St. James Society in the poor areas of Lima.
I feel very, very blessed to have this opportunity to live and minister in another country. I am grateful for the support of Bishop Michael C. Barber, SJ, the parishioners of my previous parishes and of course, my family. God's blessings to all of you.
(Rev. John Prochaska, former pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Fremont, is on a three-year assignment with The Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle.)
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