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Peru: Maryknoll removed from Juli diocese

NewsNotes, November-December 2008

Bishop Jose Maria Ortega Trinidad, who was appointed in 2006 to the Juli prelature in southern Peru, recently asked Maryknoll missioners to leave the diocese after 65 years of service there. The following is a letter of support for Maryknoll, signed by over 1,200 people in Juli and from around the world.

The year 1943 was moving along when, invited by the bishop of Puno at that time, Mons. Salvador Herrera, some young and enthusiastic missionaries of the Maryknoll Society arrived in Puno from the United States. Right from the beginning they loved the Quechua and Aymara cultures and their people. Many learned their languages and lived in the same peasant farmer communities.

They did not come to judge the people, but to accompany them in their process of coming to know and follow Jesus. Their work was intense and progressive. They constructed countless parish complexes. They created credit cooperatives. They also started parish schools like St. John the Baptist in Puno where the children of poor farmers were received as boarders.

Their concern for local vocations led them to collaborate in the foundation of a minor seminary, San Ambrosio … They also promoted community libraries and entrusted them to the administrative council of each community. In the same way they established community pharmacies and formed health promoters. With great determination, they set up a massive alphabetization program using the Onda Azul Radio Schools, the radio station of the Puno diocese which they themselves had created. They enthusiastically went about developing well prepared catechism lessons for the reception of the sacraments in the parishes of the different communities and cities, and in the primary schools and high schools under their charge, making sure that the indigenous people were not marginalized. A theme that ran throughout their pastoral work was the promotion of the laity - men and women.

In 1957 the Prelature of Juli was entrusted to them with the naming of Mons. Edward Fedders as the first bishop. While faced with this challenging mission, as they continued and strengthened the pastoral work undertaken, they also began to coordinate their pastoral activities with other nearby church jurisdictions such as the diocese of Puno and the prelature of Ayaviri. Together the three created and directed the San Martin seminary in Puno. They also started the Puno Catechetical School whose program served as a model for other parts of our country and in foreign lands.

In the same way, following the guidelines of Vatican II, CELAM [Latin American Episcopal Conference] and the Peruvian Episcopal conference, they learned how to integrate the proclamation of the good news with sacramental life, human promotion and a commitment to the poorest of the poor. In 1964 the Institute of Rural Education (IER) was founded to promote agricultural techniques, a critical awareness of social and economic realities and leadership; in 1981 the Institute was attacked by the Shinning Path and other enemies of the progress of the farmers. In their desire to promote the culture of the people they served, they also set up the Institute of Aymara Studies (IDEA) in 1974.

Their identification with the Aymara men and women led them to support the farmers’ right to recover their lands. Alberto Koenigschnect, along with other bishops of the region, presented a letter to Alan Garcia Pérez, the president at that time, strongly supporting a government decree to that effect - which was finally approved by the government in 1986.

During all this time, the Maryknoll Fathers, because of their Christian faith commitment, constantly showed their solidarity with the poor and marginalized, who at some times suffered through droughts and, at others, floods; these disasters were always characterized by the indifference of the government; from the early 1980s on, they were faced with the invasion of the political violence started by the Shining Path and responded to by the armed forces, its main victims being peasants. To reflect on this delicate situation, the Maryknollers created a circle called “Justice and Peace.”

Then in 1988, along with the laity of the prelature, they gave life to the Vicariate of Solidarity of the Prelature of Juli, which from that date until its “disregard” as an “ecclesial entity” in 2007, defended the life of the poorest of the poor, while helping them concretely to enjoy their rights and, at the same time, creating an overall climate of peace. In 1997 they started the University Pastoral in the National University of the Altiplano (UNA) of Puno. This university apostolate has resulted in the revitalization of the faith and Christian commitment of many young professionals.

These many relevant missionary activities of the Maryknoll fathers show their constant evangelical service to our entire region, for which the people are profoundly grateful. This gratitude was made evident on November 4, 2007 when Luis Butrón Castillo, mayor of Puno, gave them the order “Andean community in the grade of Uros” in a public show of appreciation. Shortly afterwards the Farmers Federation of Puno recognized them with its maximum distinction: the “Tupac Amaru” award.

That’s why it surprises, worries and even scandalizes us as citizens and believers, that the current bishop of Juli, Mons. José Maria Ortega Trinidad, a member of the society of the Holy Cross, affiliated to Opus Dei, does not want the Maryknoll fathers … to continue in the Prelature. They have generously given their lives and their youth to this Prelature as a gift; in the same spirit, the Maryknoll society has morally and economically supported the maintenance and development of the mission during decades. Their dismissal is only one expression of similar actions against ecclesiastical institutions and against laity of the same prelature who were fired abruptly – without their social benefits. In the same vein some other lay people are being pressured and many others are marginalized and poorly treated.

When the people were waiting for gratitude on the part of the Catholic hierarchy for the prolific apostolic contributions of our missionary brothers during these 65 years, they were ordered to leave the Prelature without any explanation.

The Maryknoll Fathers will never be far from our hearts or out of our memories and this we want to express publicly to the world and to the whole Church because we see no reason for fear or small-mindedness, looking for an easy way out or using pharisaical language. What moves us are our love and recognition for authentic missionaries like the Maryknoll Fathers. What moves us is love for the Aymara and Quechua people. In the end, what moves us is our love for Christ and His South Andean and Universal Church. And it pains us to see its history ignored or distorted.
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