Experiencing the St. James Society mission

An 11 day trip to Peru with six other seminarians and two of our priest faculty members during this past Christmas break was a great opportunity for us to gain appreciation for the work of the Missionary Society of St. James. It was made possible in large part through generous donations from many priests and parishes. The trip took place a few weeks before the silver anniversary of the Society of St. James. The Society of St. James was begun by Cardinal Richard Cushing. It provided the opportunity for diocesan priests to spend time working in the missions, in order to share the Gospel message as well as to bring the fruits of their experiences back to work with immigrant populations in their home dioceses.

This trip was a great blessing for the group from St. John’s Seminary since it provided us with an opportunity to experience the Church living and growing in a developing part of the world, as well as to experience the many dimensions of the work of the Society of St. James. Between our visits to parishes in Lima and Cuzco, we visited Machu Picchu as well as several pilgrimage sites in Lima.

We arrived in Lima on Dec. 27, 2007 and spent some days at the center house of the society. The center house is the central base of operations in Peru for the society; it also provided a place for the priests to gather when they come in from their parishes both for some time of fraternity as well as some rest. From Lima we took a flight to Cuzco. Arriving in Cuzco we needed to spend some time simply relaxing as the drastic change in altitude affects most people because of the lower oxygen level. It forces you to move more slowly, and often causes headaches and other pains. On Dec. 30 sufficiently rested and having explored Cuzco a little, we left Cuzco at approximately 5 a.m. in the morning to head far into the mountains to visit a town named Santo Tomas. This journey should have taken about nine hours, but ended up lasting 14 hours with some diversions. The road the group was traveling on was not paved and straight like the Mass Pike. Rather it was a bumpy, narrow one-lane dirt road that crisscrossed the Andes. It was a very scenic ride, and along the way we were treated to the sight of many llamas, and the opportunity to cross a traditional Inca rope bridge by foot, but the group was very happy when we finally did arrive in Santo Tomas.

The parish of Santo Tomas has been shepherded by a Revere native, Father Jerry Pashby for the past 15 years. His parish covers a territory as large as all of Eastern Massachusetts minus the Cape and the Islands. His main base of operations centers on a large church, but he is also responsible for the care of many villages, some of which are only accessible by his motorbike, and others only by foot.

Besides the care of souls, Father Pashby has undertaken many projects which have benefited the people of Santo Tomas. He worked for the chlorination of drinking water to make it safer, he secured the financial assistance of a parish in Germany in order to build a hospital, and he has secured the help of a group of surgeons from Cleveland who come down once a year to perform medical procedures pro bono. In addition he is currently working to build a school for the mentally and physically disabled of the area.

The local community welcomed us into their midst. They cooked for us, joined us for games of soccer, and they also joined us for prayer. The faith of the people was very inspiring. We had eucharistic adoration on New Year’s Eve, and though it was unplanned and only announced by the ringing of the Church bells 15 minutes prior, we were joined by 150-200 locals.

After our time in the mountains we returned to the center house in Lima, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The first day back we toured the cathedral, the Franciscan and Dominican churches, and the tombs of St. Martin de Porres and St. Rose of Lima.

The trip concluded with a tour of parishes run by the society around Lima. One group went to Carabaillo with Father Joe Martin, a native of Somerville who has been in the missions for over 40 years. The second group went to Via Salvador with Father ­­John O’Leary, a native of Ireland. They visited a newly constructed church, which was mainly funded through the generosity of Immaculate Conception Parish in Easthampton, Mass. in the Springfield Diocese. The area surrounding the parish is very poor, and the society has done much to help the people in their care. During these visits, we were encouraged by the love and respect that the Peruvians have for the Church. One of our last stops in Peru allowed us to pray at the grave of Father Timothy O’Leary, a priest of Boston and former faculty member at St. John’s Seminary who passed away during his time of missionary work with the society.

This experience of the Church in Peru provided us with a clear understanding of the importance of missionary activity. Many of the seminarians mentioned that this trip opened them to the possibility of doing missionary work, and gave them a deeper appreciation for the richness and universality of our Catholic faith.

Eric Bennett is a seminarian of the Archdiocese of Boston and David Bearse is a seminarian of the Diocese of Springfield. Both study a St. John’s Seminary in Brighton.