Visiting the Society of St. James in Peru

Last week I traveled to Peru for the annual meeting of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle. The St. James Society, as it is commonly called, was formed 49 years ago by Cardinal Richard Cushing in response to the call of Pope John XXIII for priests and religious from North America to aid faithful of South America.

The archbishop of Boston is the titular head of the society, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year.

In those years, over 300 priests have served in the Andean countries Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador through the Society. There are approximately 40 priests currently serving. Those who participate learn Spanish and incorporate themselves into the St. James Society with the commitment to serve for at least five years in Latin America. From the beginning, Cardinal Cushing envisioned this as an association of diocesan priests not only from Boston but from other parts of the English-speaking world. Today there are Americans, Irish, English, Scottish, an Australian and two Philippinos in the group.


A recent photo of the priests of the Society

Boston is, I believe, the single diocese with the most priests presently serving the Society in Latin America. However, by nationality, I think there are more Irish than Americans there at this point. It is interesting to note that many of the Irish there are actually priests of the Archdiocese of Boston, though they never served here. Cardinal Cushing ordained them for the archdiocese so that they could serve in the St. James Society.

We hope that in the future, more priests from the archdiocese will be able to participate in this mission. We are very glad that diocesan priests from other dioceses are joining because that makes it possible for the wonderful work of the St. James Society to continue.

The countries in which these priests serve have far too few priests to serve their large Catholic populations so the presence of these additional priests has made a significant impact. They have been particularly involved in some of the most difficult and the poorest areas of these nations. In fact, they have made a special effort to target their ministry to those areas.


A new church being built by the Society

Yet, the benefit of their work has not only been seen in Latin America. Many of the Boston priests who have served the Society in Latin America have returned to work with the Spanish-speaking Catholic community here in the archdiocese. Thats the case with our recently ordained Bishop Robert Hennessey as well as many other priests.


Touring the new church

The annual meeting of the Society was held at La Sede, their central house in Barranco, which is a suburb of Lima. Last year I was unable to attend, but this year I very much wanted to be a part of the meeting. During my visit, we invited all the bishops from the dioceses where the St. James priests are serving including Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani Thorne of Lima to meet with us. They all expressed their gratitude for work the Society was performing in their dioceses.

In the evening of the annual gathering, the priests would come together and sing Irish songs late into the night. There was a Scottish priest from the Diocese of Galloway, Father Martin Chambers, who played the guitar and led us all in the singing. There is a great spirit of brotherhood among the priests, and at the central house, where they gather each week. It is a wonderful dynamic to see how supportive they are of each other, particularly when you see the difficult situations in which they live and the pastoral situations they must deal with. It is a great source of strength for them to come together and enjoy each others company. There is a great spirit of fraternity among these priests even though they are diocesan priests from many different dioceses. They have a sense of unity of purpose and mission, and their devotion to the Church and to the poor and the ministry that they have is very inspiring.

The parishes in which these priests minister are huge by American standards. Many have a central church and then many chapels. One priests I met there, who is not part of the society but is from Westminster, England, told me that his parish consists of 150 chapels which he visits by mule. The rural parishes are like that: very large areas with many small communities of people who have no means of transportation.

I had the opportunity to visit one of the parishes in Villa El Salvador in what is called the Pueblos Jvenes. The area, on the coast of Peru, is home to four or five million people who have come down from the Andes. Many of the residents have made their way there fleeing areas in which conflicts with the Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path guerrillas) have made life difficult and dangerous.


Los Pueblos Jovenes

One of the most striking things about that area is that, despite being on the coast, it is parched desert. This is caused by an oceanic current, called the Humboldt current. The Humboldt current carries cold, nutrient rich water from the Antarctic up the western coast of South America, past the coast of Peru. The water, in turn, cools the air, which makes it much less likely to produce rain.


Here you can see the desert terrain the shacks are built upon

This lack of rain is evident in the way people construct their houses. When people come down from the mountains they start by building rudimentary shacks but without roofs. Only later, once they are more established, do they add a roof and perhaps brick walls.


Children at play

The Pueblos Jovenes have electricity, but no running water. Water must either be trucked in or carried from great distances.

One of the people I met during my visit to some of the shacks was a lovely 14-year-old girl named Sylvia. Despite her living conditions and the fact that she was severely disabled, paralyzed and mute, her smile was just radiant. She lives with her grandmother and has an aunt who is also unable to speak but can walk.




Her aunt

In another hut I met an old man who is dying and covered in bedsores.


Visiting the elderly man

I think places like these Pueblos Jovenes help to destroy the romantic image some have of poverty because they show the human suffering and some of the dehumanizing aspects of people turning to alcoholism and domestic violence which are very common in those areas.


Touring Villa El Salvador with Fathers Simon and Adrian

There are many faithful Catholics living in these communities as well. Oscar, the man who drove me from the center house, has six children. He and his wife were part of the Catholic youth organization in the parish, married in the parish and they meet with couples every week to pray together and study the Scripture together. Their main concern is passing the faith onto the children. In the midst of all of the human suffering you see the nobility and the goodness of people and the joy of families who have great love for each other and a sense of working to help community. I am sure that is what gives the priests from the Society the great faith they need to continue in faith.

Two of them Father Adrian Crowley from Dublin, Ireland and Father Simon Cadwallader from Liverpool, England have helped to create an orphanage that I visited. It is run by the Sisters of the Cenaculo. The Comunita Cenaculo is an Italian movement that works with young people who are suffering from addictions. They have been very successful in helping people turn their lives around and live good Christian lives of discipleship.

Out of that community has come a group of sisters, consecrated women, and three of them responded to the call to begin this orphanage there in the parish run by the Society of St. James. They take in abandoned babies there from newborns to children who are six years old, and do their best to create a home-like atmosphere for them. There are many cases where the children came to them starving to death, and the sisters nursed them back to health.


The sisters, volunteers and children of the orphanage


It was inspiring to see that the sisters depend entirely on providence for food, all the other supplies for the children and even the orphanage building itself it was built entirely by volunteers.


Getting ready to go

I was pleased to celebrate Mass for the sisters, the volunteers and the children.

Also during my trip, I visited the cathedral in Lima, and its adjacent parish church called Parroquia del Sagrario.


The cathedral

At the church they have a statue there of a theme, which I like very much. It is a statue of the apostle St. John giving Holy Communion to the Blessed Mother. Of course St. John received Mary into his home, and it is quite logical that he would have celebrated the Eucharist and given her the Eucharist. I have only seen it twice before, once in Italy and again in Charlestown at St. Mary Parish. It is a wonderful statue.

stjamessoc-dsc00666.jpg stjamessoc-dsc0066-detail.jpg

The interior of the Parroquia del Sagrario and the statue

I passed by the presidential palace, which is just across the plaza from the cathedral.


The presidential palace

Then we walked a short distance to the church where Saint Rose of Lima is buried.


Praying at the tomb of St. Rose of Lima

We also went to the Dominican monastery where San Martin de Porres lived.


The monastery of St. Martin and his tomb


We also took this picture of the episcopal palace, which is next to the cathedral. There is a statue on top of the palace of San Toribio de Mogrovejo, who was the bishop there.

stjamessoc-dsc00661.jpg stjamessoc-dsc00661-detail.jpg

At the airport, heading home, I met up with a couple that I knew when I was in Washington, D.C. I officiated at their wedding and baptized their children. Last month when I was in Washington for the March for Life, I spoke with a Peruvian boy who served the Mass in the crypt church of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. His name is George Becerra.


Looking at the picture of George’s Baptism in Washington D.C.

He showed me a picture of his baptism, which I had performed. He told me that his parents had since moved back to Peru, and I responded that I was making a trip there soon. George told his parents the dates of my trip and, fortunately, we were able to meet up briefly before my flight.


A brief reunion with Elio and Eusebia Becerra at the airport

Finally Id like to leave you with my photo of the week: This beautiful image of the sun setting over the ocean just beyond the Pueblos Jovenes. Within these waters runs the Humboldt Current which both bring abundant life to the waters off Peru but, at the same time, denies the coast rain and turns the land into desert.


31 thoughts on “Visiting the Society of St. James in Peru”

  1. Que gusto poder seguir sus huellas y sus memorables experiencia con nuestro hermanos peruanos, que Dios le siga bendiciendo con buena salud y muchas bendiciones. Paz y Bien, Orlando

  2. I heartily agree with the last two comments. Something has to be done, your Eminence. Your Priests here do not come up to the plate and as a result many Catholics are no longer interested in what the Church has to say. I never thought that we would be so bogged down in Massachusetts as we are now. The faithful are not getting the support from their Priests which is their due. I think your blog is well done; your ministry exemplary, but your Priests need to be free to preach the Word, in season and out of season, even to those with itching ears…..
    Ruth Schiavone.

  3. I”m from Poland,(country”s Jan Pawe? II) but I love read blogs, where are write for cardinals and people”s Church. Sorry for mistakes, but I can”t speak english very well. You should read my coment and pleas you, write to me…
    See you leter

  4. Dear Cardinal O’Malley,
    Regarding vital matters in our Archdiocese of Boston, what advice do you have for parents in light of the tragic decision today(Feb. 23) by Federal Judge Mark Wolf, that gives the public schools, where most of the Catholic children in the state receive their education, the unrestricted right to teach our children all about same-sex sex and same-sex marriage as being good and positive in” preparing students to become engaged and productive citizens in our democracy.” . The court case involved children in the early elementary school of Estabrook School in Lexington but effects all public school children in Mass.. What advice do you have to give to the pastors of Sacred Heart and St. Bridgid’s parishes in Lexington who are responsible for supporting the religious education of Catholic families
    in their parish? Parents are crying out for this support and your advice!

  5. Thank you for your continued outstanding job of sharing your daily activities with all of us. We hope and pray that someday your work will bring you to Belgium and Bolivia.
    May God bless you.

  6. I never really thought of John giving the Eucharist to Blessed Mother…what a wonderful meditation that is!
    Its always uplifting to me to see how the Church is present all over the world. It proves the truth of Jesus’ word that the gates of hell & everything else can’t prevail against it. Appropriate for the Chair of Peter feastday, eh?

  7. dear Cardinal,
    As regards your trip to Peru that is fine and well, but back at home in Boston there is great sorrow. I lived in your archdiocese for 34 years and have suffered through appalling Masses and innane sermons – worldly priests and, sad to say, bishops are the culprits. And now you want to close the one Church where the holy traditional Mass is offered! Instead of more such churches you are extinguishing this place of reverence. Thank God I have found a traditional parish in another state. But alas, for Boston

  8. Thank you your eminence for all you have done to revive the archdioscese of Boston. I enjoyed the pictures of your work in South America. One question I have….I always wonder why priests choose to wear street clothes instead of their clerics. Certainly they couldn’t be trying to distance themselves from the visable sign of Christ’s church
    or could they? I appreciate your example and I ‘ll continue to pray for all our priests….God bless them!!

  9. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    Hello. Once again, I read your very informative blog. It is the fourth day of Chinese New Year and the Catholic Church here participates in the celeb by hanging all the red lanterns outside the church’s santurary.

  10. As I read your blog, I felt thankful that our leader has seen and felt places that most of us never think of. Someone who has been to Pueblas Jovenes probably never sees the world quite the same way again.

  11. Dear Cardinal Sen,

    Thank you for your blog and particularly for this post. I was in Peru for seven years (1987 – 94) and admired the work and spirit of the St. James priests.

    Fr. Phil Bloom
    Pastor – Holy Family, Seattle

    P.S. It was good to see the OSV article on how you and other bishops are using the new media to evangelize.

  12. I enjoyed reading of your Peruvian journey. I have known of the St. James Society since the days of my youth (’60’s), Cork City, Ireland. I was a member (1979-1985) and worked in Ecuador. I’ll never forget the experience. Since my return to the Savannah, Georgia diocese I have worked, to the present, with the local Hispanic population. My prayers and best wishes are daily with the Society and it’s members.


    Frank Higgins

  13. Your Eminence,

    Your article helped me piece together why we have priests from my diocese down in Ecuador. I enjoyed reading this article and seeing the tombs of two great saints. It must have been be nice to go about looking like an ordinary friar without all the cardinal and episcopal regalia.

    Let us pray for one another.


  14. Dear Cardinal Sen,

    I just cannot help but once AGAIN extend an enormously heartfelt and gracious thank-you for ALL of your seemingly endless service and work in the name of Our Blessed Mother and Her Divine Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ all while representing, of course, your fantastic Order and the American Catholic Church.

    Likened to those before you and along with you in your time, just to name a very very few – Frank Kelly, Bishop Fulton Sheen, Fr. Patrick Peyton, Fr. John Carapi, Fr. Andrew Apostoli, Fr. Frank Pavone & Fr. Benedict Groeschel and of course Pope John Paul II – The Great and his successor Pope Benedict XVI, may God bring abundant blessings and graces upon you and them for all of eternity with the recognition of Sainthood in Our Catholic Church! Because, through your perpetual and tireless (however surely exhausting!) efforts you, right alongside the blessing of Mother Angelica & EWTN and all those there, St. Mother Theodore Guerin (and ALL who have been chipped from the same diamond as Christ Himself) have redeemed The Catholic Church of the U.S.A. in the eyes of the entire world!

    We should all be forever endebted to you and pray and also do whatever else we all can in order to help with your work currently, pass it on to those we know now and to our own children and heirs so the bearing of fruits may last until Christ comes in glory honce and for all!!

    God Bless you and we beg you, PLEASE never stop!

  15. Aloha Your Eminence:
    I was born in Peru and haven’t been back since I was 2. It was so heartwarming to see the photos especially those of the tombs of Santa Rosa de Lima and San Martin de Porres. Mahalo for sharing this with us.

  16. Your Eminence,
    Once again, thank you for the inspiration at this weeks post. One of the Filipino priest that is part of the Missionary society of St. James the Apostles, Msgr. Allen Aganon, used to be the parish priest of my town of Las Pinas in the Philippines. I did not know until now that you as the Archbishop of Boston is the titular head of the Soceity. It seems cool, its like a Franciscan Capuchin founded another missionary society. You’r really an inspiration. Please keep me in your prayers as I continue my discernment to the preisthood. God bless you and always. May Mary, our mother and Francis, your father keep you always.

  17. Cardinal Sean, woderful discussion of life in Peru. I worked both with St. James and Columban fathers, wonderful groups, while living with the Jesuits in Peru, a mix of Spaniards, Peruvians and Americans, in the 1980’s. I also remember well the dedicated religious women who serve the pueblos jovenes. One humorous memory. I was serving in a pueblo joven, through contact with Irish Columban fathers, and Cardinal Juan Landazzuri drove his VW to the parish for confirmation. He had done three that day, it was around 1 pm, very hot. After mass, we had dinner with the sisters who worked in the parish. At the end of the dinner, he left the table and did not return. I began to worry, did he have a heart attack in the bathroom? The sisters just laughed, telling me he was taking a siesta in one of their rooms before driving back. It unnerved me, as a Pennslyvania (Scranton diocese) catholic, I could never image a bishop going to take a siesta in the bed room of the mother superior of a convent! This would have raised a lot of eye brows in Pennsylvania. But humor aside, these are hard working priests and religious from all over the world who are doing their best to bring hope and courage to people in extreme poverty. The fact that they could relax on Sundays and share in some good humor is a powerful witness to their hope in the gospel.
    Seeing many of the processions of the Peruvians remined me of the Irish-Catholic Knights of Columbus and other Italian devotions (St. Rocco) throughout neighborhoods in parish Churches in Pennslyvania. We are not so different from our brothers and sisters south of the boarder.
    Keep up your great work in giving us the human, personal dimensions of your ministry of evangelization.

  18. Dear Cardinal O’Malley,

    I am a sixteen year old in the Archdiocese of Boston and I have an idea for the upcoming bicentennial…an Archdiocesan Youth Chorus! This would be an auditioned chorus for high school students whose purpose would be to come together, learn sacred music, and perform for the bicentennial. I am hoping you can direct me to someone who can assist me.

    Thank you very much,

  19. Dear Cardinal,
    I appreciate your willingness to enter the blogosphere and communicate with the rest of us. Your blog is full of content and nicely designed, too. I pray daily for the intentions of Pope Benedict, and that the Church will quickly overcome its present troubles. Although I live on the other side of the continent, I pray that the Boston Archdiocese will emerge from its troubles in a strengthened condition. With God everything is possible.

  20. To my friend the Cardinal,
    I was over come with emotion when I saw the picture of you standing by the bed of the man covered with bedsores. It brought me back to another time in Fall River, at Espirito Santo Church. As you Processed into the church, the bands playing behind you and the people in church waiting for you. A mentally disabled woman ran in front of you as Msgr, Oliveira tried to prevent her, you gave him a singnal to let her come. She threw her arms around your waist, gave you a big hug, and continued talking to you. As you listened, it appeared to me you treated her as though she were the only person in the earth at that moment. Cardinal that particular sene left such a strong impression on my mind. I no longer saw you, I saw Jesus. The same feeling came over me looking at the photo (mentioned above) in this blog. Thank You is just a small sign of appreciation for the service you give all of God’s People.
    I love you with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary,
    Rose Marie Benoit

  21. Dear Cardinal Sean,
    I’ve just read your biography on the english wikipedia. It says when you were in Washington you was named Episcopal vicar. But given you were a religious priest didn’t you receive the honorary title of Monsignor, did you?

  22. aS USUAL, i DELIGHT IN READING YOUR BLOG EACH WEEK. The photos are done beautifully and add to your comments. I belong to Holy Cross Parish in Easton and in conjunction with Holy Cross at Stonehill College in Easton, Ma., they often visit our sister Parish in Peru. Some one of these days, I would love to take that trip. You made that somewhat possible for me with your trip. Thank you, Shirley S.

  23. I’m very glad you met my country, a very beautiful place with lots of children and with a strong faith. We are catholics by centuries but we need more education and particiation in the Church and Society. Thanks for Society of St. James!

  24. Cardinal,

    Was this your first trip to Peru? I had the opportunity to visit there this past June and I fell in love with the country. Did you have the chance to take a taxi in the city? Riding in along in Lima was a little nerve-racking for me. I didn’t have a chance to go inside the cathedral, so I’m envious. Next time you go to Lima you should check out the restaurant L’Eau Vive. It’s run by an order of nuns out of France and they have wonderful food.

Comments are closed.

February 2007