Two weeks from today and I´ll be back home in (hopefully) sunny Detroit. While it is true that six weeks will have passed by - a scant amount when one really thinks about it - it is enough time to have had a deep and lasting effect on my spirit.
As I type this, I look through grime-covered windows out onto a busy street where dogs roam freely and men seem to take every occasion to relieve themselves against the wall directly across the street. Because Lima is situated in a desert and it hardly ever rains, there is no drainage so to speak so the urine pools on the side of the road and, even when it has evaporated, the stench does not dissipate. Poor children and their mothers beg me to buy gum and sweets and old persons in wheelchairs beg at the side of the road. Horns blare each night and with a dearth of traffic lights crossing the road can be a perilous adventure.
The grime, the cloudiness, the pollution, the noise, the poverty...
If I lived here, I think I´d be miserable.
And yet, the people here are not simply miserable. The situation here is far too complex to be reduced to a single word. Nor are they without hope - yesterday, for instance, we visited the ¨Fe y Alegre¨ system of schools which provides free education to those who would otherwise go without. A work of the Society of Jesus, it is an endeavor to transform culture slowly through education. This work responds to the need of the people, a need they voiced and called out for...not unlike many who Jesus healed. When you think about it, Jesus never forced a healing on anyone; instead, he responded to their need for healing, for their desire to put themselves in his hands, to their trust in him. The cry of the people has been heard here in Latin America and, as a result, nearly a million children are currently students in this system.
I mention this today because it´s something affecting my own prayer. Often we look at the ¨poor¨and see the whole system of sin and devestation and resign ourselves to the enormity of the problem and excuse ourselves from having to do anything with the plaintive thought, ¨but, what can I do?¨ Maybe I´m just speaking for myself, of course, but I think this is a pretty common experience. But here I am learning of how much of an effect we can have, whether it be by dedicating our lives to teaching children technical skills or by supporting those works which aim to transform sinful structures. Such missionary zeal need not look afar! How can we contribute to the faith and values formation of our young (and not-so-young) that they find a living Christ who calls them more deeply into service. How do we bring ¨faith and joy¨to a jaded world, a soothing balm that reminds others that we are not without hope.
Very often people will say to me, ¨oh, your church has lots of money. What are they doing to help the poor?¨ Usually I cite a number of our works and try to demonstate to my interlocuter that the Church really does care for the poor. But I´m tempted to start asking, ¨Well, what are you doing?¨ because I think we are pretty good at passing the buck when it comes to the question of service and it´s far easier to throw stones at big institutions than to subject ourselves to critical reflection that may lead us from indolence into action.
Jeez, I feel unusually preachy for 7.30 am!!
I´m now off to learn Spanish. I wish all of you well and, while it will be hard to leave Live, I do look forward to returning and sharing with you the pictures of Cuzco and Macchu Picchu as well as heading off for vacation and preparing to take vows on August 13th.