Living the mission

Sister Irene MacDonell with the soccer team in Peru.

A Sister of Providence who has lived in Peru for 40 years, offered insight into a harsh and dangerous country during a visit to Providence Motherhouse in early September.

Over 50 people turned out to listen to Sister Irene MacDonell. She was accompanied in her presentation by Sister Dianne McNamara, General Council Liaison for Peru, and a recent visitor to Peru.

Sister Irene is a diminutive woman. Her voice often trailed during her speech, but her passion for Peru was clearly evident.

“Despite all the hardships they face, they are happy, happy people,” says Sister Irene.

The Sisters arrived in Peru in 1967 and immediately set up the Marillac Mission Fund to support those most in need. The donations support justice & peace initiatives, education, access to clean drinking water, and funds to help people set up businesses.

Sister Irene referred to a quote from Pope Benedict that encourages her to keep pushing forward in her mission to help the poor of Peru, more specifically, Carabayllo, a town north of the capital Lima.

“Pope Benedict said that if we don’t give to those who are hungy, we are killing them with our own hand.”

Lima is the economic centre of Peru which provides employment, education and housing. The rest of the country seems forgotten for many reasons, including unequal distribution of wealth and high unemployment. The residents of Carabayllo can’t even afford the transportation money to get to Lima, about 25 kilometres away.

Together, the Peruvian Sisters and the Canadian Sisters, who live about 7 kilometres apart, are making real changes in this forgotten corner of the world. Upon arrival 40 years ago, the Sisters worked tirelessly to get safe water to residents. It took 5 years of hard struggle and lobbying, but their efforts paid off. They set up the Associate program, now very active in Church ministry. The Oscar Romero Centre provides theological education and retreats. They are extremely proud to have made real strides in treating the mentally ill, who are treated as outcasts within the community. But the Sisters have been able to make medicine available.

Sister Irene is heavily involved in the Christian Workers Movement. The group tries to get residents employed, but more importantly, keeps spirits high. Recently, the CWM is working to attack Global Warming.

Sports is not forgotten amid all this poverty. The Sisters helped establish a soccer team called the Vincentians. Players proudly wear their jerseys bearing a picture of St. Vincent de Paul.

It hasn’t been an easy journey these past 40 years. Like the residents, the Sisters live in a heavily polluted area due to indiscriminate use of pesticides and the lack of pollution controls on public transit. It’s hot and the dry mountainous terrain is unforgiving. It’s also risky because anyone who helps the poor, is seen as a threat from government. But they forge ahead, quietly ministering and working for change.