By Murcadha O Flaherty and John Newton
RELIGIOUS Sisters are transforming communities across Latin America by travelling to isolated parishes that have not seen a priest for years. Mother Lorena told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) about the impact of the work being done by the Misioneras de Jesús Verbo y Víctima (Missionaries of Jesus Word and Victim). When she started working in the parish of Virgen del Carmelo de Villa Ygatimy, Paraguay three years ago some of its chapels had not seen a priest since 2013.
Mother Lorena said that the parish is made up of nearly 100 chapels for 20,000 faithful living in scattered rural communities. She described the transformation that had occurred since the Sisters’ arrival. She said: “In the past, the people hardly took part in parish life. The church was dirty, uncared for. Hours of spiritual retreat have led to a change. Now there is more solidarity and less alcohol and drug abuse. The sick receive better care.”
After four years waiting for a priest, the Missionary Sisters took Father Ernesto Zacarías to the chapel of St Anthony in December 2016. It was a 12 kilometre drive, mostly on dirt tracks, to the small settlement with only 34 houses. Mother Lorena said: “They brought the sick out to him. He visited those who cannot be moved at their homes to administer the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.” She added: “We ‘kidnapped’ him so that he heard confession for hours on end. He was completely exhausted afterwards.”
(MJVV Sisters riding horses to visit isolated communities in Cochabamba Diocese, Bolivia © Aid to the Church in Need)
Mother María-Luján also of the Misioneras de Jesús Verbo y Víctima (MJVV) said: “Our sisters live and work in the most remote areas of Latin America. They take care of people with no known postal address, the poor and the forgotten in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay or Peru.”
ACN has provided the Sisters with transport to enable them to minister to the faithful whether they travel by car, boat or donkey. Due to parishioners’ pastoral needs in remote areas without priests, the Sisters have received episcopal dispensation permitting them to officiate at marriages – as well as baptisms and funerals.
Mother María-Luján is also working in Ciudad del Este Diocese in Paraguay, an area the size of Belgium, where the parish of Virgen del Carmelo de Villa Ygatimy is situated. She explained why the MJVV Sisters are needed to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and bring the Eucharist to the sick. She said: “Three priests work in Curuguaty, more than 45 kilometres from here. They administer to 92 chapels, which means that they only manage to visit them from time to time. They go to the parishes that do not have any paved roads. They reach them on dirt roads that become impassable when it rains.” She added: “The parish of Katueté is located more than 160 kilometres further on – the priest makes it there three to four times a year.”
Mother María-Lujan spoke of one of the priests having travelled more than 27 miles over difficult terrain. She said: “In one week, he visits the chapels, celebrates Holy Mass and hears confessions, which can sometimes take an entire day. The believers wait patiently for hours to receive the sacraments.”
More than 400 MJVV Sisters are ministering to Catholics in 38 missions in various Latin American countries – including in hard-to-reach mountainous regions. ACN is helping the Sisters with transport and training projects in Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru. To assist the work of religious sisters wherever the Church is poor or persecuted please donate at www.aidtochurch.org
(Missionary sisters of the religious order Missionariae Jesu Verbi et Victimae crossing a river on their way to visit isolated communities in Peru © Aid to the Church in Need)
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 172 languages and 50 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
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