"What I've Learned Here Is What I've Always Known": A Letter Home from the Andes

(With the author's permission, here's a letter received at our parish this Gaudete Sunday.  I like to think it's not solely because of parental pride that I'm passing it along...but I can't be sure. 

A couple of notes by way of orientation:  1) "God is good...all them time....And all the time...God is good" is almost as familiar a call-and-response prayer of greeting in the Black church across the US as "The Lord be with you...and with your spirit" is for Catholics. 2) "Sr. Mary" ran the afterschool program and summer camp at our parish for 33 years and mentored a generation of young people in and around Roxbury. 3) Newly arrived in Boston and walking home from Mass one Sunday in the fall of 1988 my wife said, "This feels like a parish that could be a good place to settle in and raise a family."  As is so often true, she was right.)

Dear Parish Family,

God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. When we see each other, we rejoice.

God is good here in the mountain town of Andahuaylillas, Peru.

God is good at Fe y Alegría 44, the Jesuit-run school I teach religion at. I see His goodness reflected in the faces of my 400 elementary school students as they sing songs like “Padre Abraham” (shout out to Summer Camp for giving me a fun song to translate and teach), as they draw their image of heaven, as they pray for their classmates' ill family members. I feel God being good when the teachers help me with the difficult students, and when the student who I had pegged as the worst behaved student at the school proved Sr. Mary right that there are no bad children, and by the end of the year was the most helpful student in his classroom.

God is good at Parroquia San Pedro Apostol (St. Peter the Apostle Parish), the 345 year old parish in this town that is dubbed the “Sistine Chapel of the Andes.” I hear Her goodness in hymns sung in Quechua (the most spoken indigenous language in the world) that give praise to Apu Tatayku (Dear Father God). I dance Big G's goodness out in traditional dances on the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, only after carrying God's goodness as part of the procession that saw all 72 saint statues carried out of the church and paraded around town.

God is good in the rural community of Secsencaya, where I go every Tuesday to help the pastoral assistant out with catechism. You can't expect everyone to come to the church to hear the gospel; sometimes the church has to bring the gospel out to everyone. As the pastoral assistant reminds the kids, we praise God in everything we do if we do it with joy. When we play soccer, when we watch movies, when we sing songs, when we listen to the Bible reading, when we pray – we praise God in our rural catechism class.

God is good on Thursday evenings, when all the foreign volunteers (from the US, from Spain, and from Lima) come together with the Jesuits and a Sister of the Sacred Heart to share a Mass and meal of reflection and sharing of our experiences. I taste God's goodness whenever we host Mass and I bake the communion bread that St. Katharine's offers up on Holy Thursday.

God is good in this Catholic – this universal – Church. That universality is so striking here. But universality doesn't mean uniformity. Mass parts are so easily recognizable and the feast days are so dazzling different. Just as some people might look at our parish and doubt our claim to be Catholic, it would be easy to look at Andean Catholicism and doubt that the people here are even monotheistic. But we know that God makes himself known to each people through culturally relevant means. We know that God speaks every language, and is a native of every culture.

What I've learned here is what I've always known. The more I live, the more I learn just how true it is. As I reach the halfway point of my two years of striving to live out the four JVC* values of Spirituality, Simple Living, Community, and Social Justice in this small town in the Andes, I learn and re-learn every day that God is good all the time...and all the time God is good.

I am so blessed to have grown up in such a profoundly spiritual parish community. Please keep me in your prayers in 2016 and know that I will do the same. God bless. And when we see each other again, we will rejoice.

-Benjamin Hill

PS – If you want to stay up to date on my life as a Jesuit Volunteer in Peru, check out my blog at peruben.blogspot.com.

*Jesuit Volunteer Corps. That's the name of my program.

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Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

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