In 1998 there were three of us—three women sharing our Mercy lives in the Sierra of Northern Peru—a trinity of cultures from Peru, Newfoundland and Aotearoa/New Zealand.
Our ‘parish’ community consisted of 48 towns and villages, about 30 thousand people scattered across very isolated mountains—no priests, no other religious but 40 wonderful lay catechists.
My main work was with the catechists, facilitating their role as celebrants and leaders in their local communities, also encouraging the formation of women’s groups and developing a rural mobile library through the mountain primary schools. (Joy Cowley was a generous supporter of this project.) I was a celebrant, an animator, a teacher, an advisor, a community developer—but most of all I was a LEARNER.
As many of my previous perceptions turned upside down and inside out, I often felt like Alice in Wonderland—down the rabbit hole and inside the teapot at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
It was the anawim of the Cajamarcan mountains who taught me how to be present in my hello, to say goodbye in pain and tears, to celebrate, to laugh, to hope, to be priest, to live simply with a grateful heart and graciously receive, to come to the prayer of life with my heart rather than my head, to hear and move to the sounds of kinship. These simple, priestly people in a priestless church, were primary revealers of the sacred for me.
A host of faces, eyes and hearts rise up in me. A celebrating, dancing God touched me in Juan of Chantaco. His twisted face and half shut eye smiled at me through mud, fog, and lostness—always with a foot to tap, a drum to beat —ready for the dance.
I will carry in my heart forever the welcome in the out-flung arms of Maria. From her poverty she enriched me with the weathered wisdom of her 98 years. Illiterate and deaf, she gifted me with new eyes and gave me ears for sounds of the Kindom.
God reached into me each time I climbed the mountains to celebrate with Leoncio—my Nathanial de Jucat—servant and priest to his people, husband, father, catechist, teacher and student. Just the memory of him stills my being and depths my spirit.
I watched Leoncio kneeling with his little family in his hand-ploughed furrows, as they prayed for a blessing on their planting. I participated in their ritual of thanksgiving as they gathered the corn. His integrity was transparent and his faith a mantle around his community. He was becoming the gratitude, compassion, and unconditional love and forgiveness he pours out every day.
My years among the people of the Peruvian Sierra gifted me with my most treasured memories. Because they allowed me to touch and be gifted by their reality, the last word I say each night and the first word on waking is GRACIAS—thank you.
I returned to ANZ in 2004. En route, during a time of study and reflection, I discovered that what I had seen in the mountains—a people living toward right relationship with their God, themselves, one another and earth—was being named Engaged Cosmology. Leoncio and Maria would be very surprised! Here, the Māori people would call it whanaungatanga.
The sombrero now rests on the back of a chair. The bare-footed children smile at me from their frames. But the word gracias still graces my office wall.
Now I move among a community of people in their autumn wisdom years. Juan, Maria and Leoncio come each day with different names—people revealing the sacred.
I sit beside new migrant-refugees and remember my struggle in another land—people revealing the sacred.
Around a table, directors make decisions to support a community development initiative—people revealing the sacred.
The Eucharistic community gathers in another way and place—people revealing the sacred.
I listen to Earth—primary revealer of the sacred and write another song.
In the face of a world torn by war, injustice, violence and the increasing destruction of persons, groups and of Earth herself, I know we are called to the labour pains of birthing in truth the mystery of who we really are. We are called to walk in solidarity toward our Oneness beyond the borders and boundaries of our perceptions, our religions, cultures and languages.
Great Spirit, help us breathe one holy breath of Gracias!