Peru: Paths of Hope

A small Comboni Missionary community lives and works among the poorest and neediest people on the outskirts of Lima, the Peruvian capital. They share their experiences.

Pamplona Alta, on the outskirts of Lima, is home to 30,000 people. The history of this particular shanty town dates back to the night of December 31, 1999, when thousands of people invaded the dusty hills of the region, setting up tents and small houses built from wood, plastic, and sheets.

The place still lacks basic services like clean water, electricity, and drainage, but a small Comboni Missionary community of four Sisters decided to settle there. The Sisters, who are all from different countries, walk up and down the hills of this area every day to provide support to the inhabitants. Sister Amine Abrahão is from Brazil. She has spent more than 20 years in Peru, and she tells us that she and the other sisters arrived in Pamplona Alta on February 23, 2002 with the purpose of sharing the lives and struggles of the poorest.

The four Sisters try to create small ecclesial communities. They train local people to lead these communities, enabling them to change the areas for the better, both socially and spiritually. Sister Amine says that “everything is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and the result of the collaboration and organisation within the community. We train the community leaders of each area, so that they can take control of their own history.”

Each community’s name is inspired by hope. “Vista Alegre” (“Pleasant View”), “Alborada” (“Dawn”), and “Paraíso” (“Paradise”) are all names that evoke a beautiful land. Just like the people of Israel, people in the area are looking for “a new land flowing with milk and honey”.

This task has been challenging for the missionaries to carry out, but they have already achieved several goals. Four basic health clinics have been built, as well as a number of schools – among them the “Faith and Joy College”, the best school in the area. It is managed by Jesuits and attended by 1,800 children. There is a public dining hall providing children with nutritionally balanced meals, and a public pharmacy. Educational programmes are organised in order to encourage schooling and literacy for women. People can attend catechetical courses in all communities, and the celebration of God’s Word and Eucharist take place once a month. In this way, “faith and life go together”.

Sister Martha Duma from Ecuador says: “In my community, I organise Baptism and First Communion catechism, for adults as well as for children. I visit families and make sure that people who suffer from diseases have access to hospitals. We also offer extra educational support to people who have learning difficulties.”

In addition, the four Comboni Sisters run the ‘Women Entrepreneurs’ project, which delivers training courses to women in subjects as diverse as home economics, knitting, pharmacy, and natural medicine. “We want women to be protagonists, and no longer victims of domestic violence. We want to make sure they can contribute to the family economy”, Sister Amine says.

Sister Asmeret Aregay from Ethiopia, who has spent eight years in this mission, adds: “Women are the heart of the world. That’s why I encourage them not to be afraid to face problems. I also encourage them not to feel sad, or overwhelmed. They can overcome any difficulty. They must trust God; then they will be able to face any problem.”

Why do the nuns stay in this place? Sister Amine responds, “Meditating on and alleviating the suffering of these people enriches our spirituality. This place is theological; we can hear God’s word here. He makes our pastoral work alleviate the suffering of these people. We live with them; we share their experiences. We have a great chance to create a theological place around us  here – to listen to God’s word and act in the true spirit of Christianity”.