BY SISTER SANDRA SHANNON
Today is December 10, 2017 and the temperature is 24°C, hot and sunny. How can this be? It is possible as I am in Peru.
Today has been a long anticipated day by the Sisters, Associates, people of El Progreso, Carabayllo and yes by Sisters Gayle Desarmia, Joey Doiron and myself, Sister Sandra. We are here to celebrate with everyone the 50th Anniversary of our Sisters coming to this area of Peru.
Our Associates took responsibility for the organizing and planning of the Mass which was the principle celebration to mark this pivotal event in the lives of the Sisters and the people of Carabayllo.
José Ignacio Távara Castillo known to us as Pepe, one of our original Associates, prepared large wooden structures covered with pictures depicting the history of the Sisters, starting with St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac, to the various Sisters who were missioned in Peru. These structures stood out in the entrance area (a sort of square) of the Church. People milled around talking about the Sisters they had known like Sisters Rose Healy, Irene MacDonell, Jean Higgins, Theresa Moher, etc.
The Mass was a true celebration in the Lord. Carmen Alomía Guía, Associate contact for Peru, had written a script which again told the story of the Sisters. Sister Sara Jiménez Angulo welcomed the very packed Church – standing room only. With the sound of loud clapping from the Assembly the Sisters walked up the centre aisle to their places.
At the time of the procession of gifts, Carmen began the narrative of the Sisters coming to El Progreso starting with Pope Paul VI in 1966 requesting that religious congregations come to Latin America to serve the poor. The elders of the community, long-time friends of the Sisters, carried large photos which they panned across the assembly. Adults with the names of the different Latin American Bishops’ Conferences came next. Youth carrying signs and photos of the various social justice and humanitarian works followed the adults. Three little children, dressed in typical costumes, came next. They carried the Bible and small flags of Peru and Canada signifying our close relationships based on the Word of God. At the very last Sister Joey and I carried the bread and wine. How important it was to the Sisters that the people they have come to know intimately took part in the celebration.
The Mass continued as usual with lively music. The whole assembly sang along with gusto. Two Associates proclaimed the readings.
At the end of the Mass, Sister Gayle spoke in Spanish on behalf of the Congregation. She emphasized the great partnership that has developed between the Sisters, the Associates and the people. Sister Rose-Marie followed with her words of gratitude to those who came to celebrate the occasion and special gratitude to the Associates for their work.
We could barely move out of the Church. People flocked to us giving us embraces and expressions of their gratitude for the presence and work of the Sisters. I felt very humbled to be shown such honour but I took it in on behalf of all the Sisters who had ever worked in Peru as well as the Sisters in Canada who have supported our Peruvian Missions in one way or another. Joy, happiness, gratitude and pride filled my heart. Sisters Sara, Rose-Marie and Joey were lost in a sea of people trying to get to each one for personal hugs. All in attendance were pleased to receive souvenir pens, keychains and a book of the history of the Sisters in El Progreso beautifully written by Pepe.
As people drifted away after a long time of socializing, I was left with feelings of pride for the influence the Congregación de las Hermanas de la Providencia de San Vincente de Paúl has had on these beautiful people. I am grateful for the respect and acceptance the people have for our Sisters. Also I feel confident in our Associates’ ability to carry forward the charism and presence of Providence in this one, very important part of the world.