“The Church’s biggest challenge is to be present and to accompany”, says Peruvian bishop

During a conversation with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Marco Antonio Cortez of the Diocese of Tacna y Moquegua, Peru, spoke about projects related to religious communities, and the need to reach everyone in a country where the lack of vocations and missionaries is a constant concern, especially in the more remote regions.

Peru is still a mission country. The Diocese of Tacna y Moquegua covers an extensive area, which includes a large part of the Altiplano, the plateau between the Andes and Lake Titicaca, where many people live. According to Mgr Marco Antonio Cortez, the local bishop, “the main challenge is to support the men and women’s religious communities so that they can do their work of evangelisation and better care for the faithful.” Other difficulties, the bishop says, have to do with the country’s overall economic situation and difficulties in reaching the more distant mission zones.

The Catholic Church in Peru
Bishop Marco Antonio Cortez

The diocese has 30 religious sisters and four brothers who dedicate their time to mission, prayer and caring for the faithful who live further away from the urban centres. The difficult geography leads to isolation that the religious try to overcome. The sisters often walk long distances along the steep trails of the Altiplano to be with the faithful. “The biggest challenge is to be present and to accompany. The people who live in these places rarely have the opportunity to see a priest, often these only manage to reach them once a year”, Bishop Cortez says. “Some places can only be reached by boat, and so that is what the sisters do, so that they can give the local communities support and, at least, provide Eucharistic adoration.”

“They all do commendable work. They accompany the young, do charitable work, such as taking food to the elderly and caring for them. There are many elderly people in the region who have nobody to look after them”, the bishop explains, because “the young people move to the cities to find work and opportunities, and the elderly stay behind in these isolated areas, where it is very difficult to visit them, and the population has dwindled”.

The Catholic Church in Peru
Construction of the monastery of the Discalsed Carmelites

ACN has an ongoing project to support the Catholic Church in Peru by supporting ten communities of women religious in the heights of the Andes in the diocese. “This aid is a response to the local Church’s concern with the support of these missionaries who operate in very distant and difficult places, over 3000 metres above sea level.” The project covers the needs of the religious in terms of transport and daily living, so that they can continue to evangelise and work with these communities.

Immigration in Peru

Though the population of the Altiplano plateau may be leaving, other parts of the Tacna y Moquegua Diocese, which borders Boliva and Chile, have seen an influx of immigrants from both those countries, as well as from Venezuela. “Immigration has increased considerably in Peru over the past few years; many migrants make their first stop to rest in Tacna, and then either decide to remain there, or continue down to cities such as Lima or Arequipa”, the bishop tells ACN. Around 1.6 million Venezuelans are currently living in Peru, according to estimates by the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants, though there could be more, since, as Bishop Cortez explains, “not all migrants register, and most live in vulnerable conditions”.

The Catholic Church in Peru
720 Ordinary Masses and 18 Gregorians for 18 priests of the Instituto del Verbo Encarnado

“The pastoral care of migrants is very important”, the bishop added. “The Venezuelans who arrive in search of work and a better life bring with them incredible stories. Many arrive on foot, having crossed mountains. There are also families with small children, and that is why pastoral care for the family is also important.”

During his visit to the international headquarters of ACN, Bishop Cortez makes a point of saying that in the midst of the challenges of the Catholic Church in Peru there are also great fruits. “We have many families that are already well integrated, with jobs, and there are many catechists among the Venezuelans. They have dedicated themselves to evangelisation. Pope Francis says it is important to have youth evangelising youth, and it is beautiful to see Venezuelans evangelising Venezuelans”. He adds that he has been praying for “the first Venezuelan vocation” in his seminary.

With so many projects taking place in his diocese, the bishop stresses that the support to carry them out is crucial. “ACN’s aid is essential and cohesive. We can feel the proximity of the benefactors. Their support goes beyond financial aid, it is another way of being close to us. We recognise this, and it is very beautiful”, Bishop Cortez concludes, with a smile.

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