By Monica Hernandez
On Sunday, May 21, our group of travelers departed from Cusco to Lima to meet up with Sr. Katty and the other sisters who reside there: Mirella, Yvonne, and Carmelita. The sisters gave us a warm welcome and had dinner laid out for us in anticipation of our arrival. Going to the sisters’ was like going to a grandparent’s house; they encouraged you to have a second helping of food and then ushered you into a bedroom for a nap. There was not an empty bed in the house as the sisters made sure we were all well rested for our overnight trip to Chimbote. However, this was not before we all exchanged introductions. Sr. Katty was even able to give us a little history and background of her roots. She grew up in Lima where her parents live, but her grandparents came from the Andean highlands of the Apumac region. This she pointed out to us on a map. Her first language at home was Quechua.
After a seven-hour bus trip, we arrived in Chimbote, the city where we are doing service for the next week. Chimbote is noisy, crowded, and not necessarily on the map for tourists. But what it does have going for it is people who are warm, friendly, and compassionate. Incarnate Word sisters first began serving here over 50 years ago, and now its missionaries live and work for associated projects. As one of the poorest and most polluted cities in Peru, the work that CCVI sisters and ministries such as WGC does here has deep meaning.
Once we checked into our hotel, had some breakfast, and took a nap, we all took taxis to the place where the sisters live. From the outside, it’s very nondescript and indistinguishable from the others habitations surrounding it and many of us were uncertain we even had the right address. But once Juan, an Incarnate Word Missionary from San Antonio serving in Chimbote, opened the door and his arms to Sister Martha Ann, we knew we were what she called “our home in Peru.”
After a warm exchange of “holas” and “con mucho gustos” at the front door, we all sat down in the living room and met more formally. The group was able to meet and talk with four missionaries and four sisters, one of which is Sister Hirayda, an Incarnate Word sister, who has been in Peru for many decades and has spent the last two-and-a-half years as principal at a school in Nuevo Chimbote which houses approximately 1,500 students in every grade level, primary and secondary.
Then it was time for the receiving ceremony, a WGC tradition, where a candle is lit and a blessing offered to compliment the sending ceremony which was done in San Antonio at the CCVI Generalate Chapel before we left on our long journey.
The church adjoins the sisters’ residence, a small yellow building with a church bell. Here we learned of the three priests, Fr. Micael Tomaszek and Fr. Zbigniew Strawloski, both from Poland, and Padre Alessandro Dordi, from Italy, who were murdered in 1991 during the the Shining Path’s reign of terror in Peru. Mark Tribo – an Incarnate Word Missionary serving in Peru along with his wife, Dianne – informed the group that the priests, who worked among the poor and taught peace to the people, were beatified, which means they are in the beginning stages towards sainthood. There are murals around Chimbote, which bear their likeness in honor of the three.
Next on our agenda was to tour the Incarnate Word System Hospice – we had toured the system’s busy professional medical clinic earlier in the day. The hospice visit was what really touched me deeply. The hospice is the only one of its kind in all of Peru and quite possibly South America. Unlike a hospice in the United States where patients with terminal illnesses go to receive care up until their final days, the hospice of Chimbote accepts those who simply do not have family to care for them.
The hospice currently has ten of their twenty-four rooms occupied with patients. A team of ten young medical professionals from Mexico are expected to arrive in Chimbote within the week to serve the city. They will take up the remaining space. On our visit we met the kindest gentlemen, a patient who suffers from a heart condition and has no family to care for him. He was very sweet and his smile and excitement at having visitors was evident as he took photographs with us. I remarked on the taxi ride back to the hotel to Selena, another Incarnate Word Missionary, that being a part of this simple exchange made me want to become a professional visitor when I grow up. I was greatly affected at the thought of him having no immediate family, yet he recognizes his family as the doctors, nurses, and rest of the staff at the hospice who offer him so much loving-care and compassion.
Once we arrived back to the hotel, we were greeted by the women Pushaq Warmi, the women’s artisan collective that partners with Women’s Global Connection in San Antonio. This group of strong and lively women made me feel not so far from home – for they are fearless and independent and possess such strong personalities and great sense of humor! These are traits I see in my own female family members and the women I work with at The Ettling Center for Civic Leadership at University of the Incarnate Word.
The women of Pushaq Warmi met us in the lobby of the hotel and offered us warm hugs, “besos,” and beautiful single red and yellow roses. Then our fun-loving group of travelers walked with the women to a nearby restaurant to meet up with the missionaries. Mar & Luna Rock & Grill is like the Hard Rock Cafe of Chimbote and plays the great tunes of the 70s, 80s, and 90s. The restaurant is adorned with music memorabilia and is the local night spot for ceviche, beer, and good times. This is where we ended our first night, laughing and getting to know each other better and becoming an even bigger family of peace and changemakers who all strive to make an impact on the people who live and work and call Chimbote home.