Expansion of the pastoral outreach program in the Amazon rainforest
Forty-five years ago Sister Maria Luisa Maduell left everything to follow Christ by joining the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus. A vocation that took her from Spain, deep into the Amazon region of eastern Peru into the apostolic vicariate of Yurimaguas, a region largely covered by Rainforest. She believes that it was Providence that sent her to the indigenous peoples of the Rainforest.
The living conditions of the indigenous peoples are very simple and they are very poor. Their huts have roofs made of palm leaves and most of the small riverside settlements are only accessible by boat. There are no roads, the only medical and educational help they receive comes from the local missionaries. The women cook their meals on open wood fires and grow a few basic vegetables in little garden plots. Their basic diet consists of yucca, plantain bananas and occasionally a little fish. “As a religious, I often sit with the women and cook alongside them. It is important to be close to the people, simply to be with them,” explains Sister Maria Luisa.
The apostolic vicariate of Yurimaguas covers a vast area of some 70,000 km². The Catholic faithful are thinly scattered across this area and there are far too few priests. Sister Maria Luisa works in the parish of Saint Thomas, or Santo Tomàs del Rio Paranapura, providing all the pastoral care, since at the present time there is no priest here. She has two other sisters and a few lay helpers to support her. The lay helpers in this work of evangelization are themselves very simple people, and Sister Maria Luisa speaks of them with enormous admiration: “They have only a minimal formal education, and yet in their own way they are theologians, mystics, people of great faith and above all of unbelievable generosity,” she says. Every month, each of them visits the people in the area assigned to him and prays with them, helping them to understand the Gospel message and grow in faith and in love for Jesus Christ. In this way they manage to visit three quarters of their vast parish area each month.
Bishop José Luis Astigarraga, who sadly died in January 2017, was delighted at their commitment and spoke of a “truly missionary undertaking.” He had been bishop of Yurimaguas since 1991 and was for many years a friend of ACN. Thanks to the continuing and faithful support of our benefactors, we were able to help him regularly and generously. Only shortly before his death he again thanked us and all our benefactors for the help they have given for his apostolic vicariate over the years. It was his cherished wish that the activities in the parish of Saint Thomas on the Rio Paranapura not only be continued but indeed intensified, and he wrote to us saying, “I not only approve this project but want to see it go further.” And he urged us to support Sister Maria Luisa and her helpers by providing catechetical material, training up more lay helpers and giving further in-service training to those already involved in this work, and also so that they could take part in retreat days.
We are delighted to report that we have been able to fulfill one of the last wishes of the late bishop and are planning to support the project with $21,750.