45 years ago Sister Maria Luisa Maduell left everything in order to follow Christ in the congregation of the Sisters of Jesus. A vocation that took her from Spain, deep into the Amazon region of eastern Peru in the apostolic vicariate of Yurimaguas, a region largely covered by rainforest. She believes that it was Providence that sent her to the indigenous Indians of the rainforest. 

The living conditions of the indigenous Indian peoples are primitive and they are very poor. Their simple huts are roofed with palm leaves and most of the small riverside settlements are accessible only by boat. There are no roads and the only medical and educational help they receive comes from the missionaries. The women cook their simple meals on open wood fires and grow a few basic vegetables in little garden plots. Their basic diet consists of yucca, 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.

(Sister Maria Luisa Maduell with one of her lay helpers)
© Aid to the Church in Need

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, as presently there is no resident priest. She has two other sisters and a few lay helpers to support her. The lay helpers in this work of evangelisation are themselves only poor villagers, but 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 Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Thanks to the continuing and faithful support of ACN benefactors, the charity help him on a regular basis. Shortly before his death he again thanked ACN for the help given to 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. In a letter he wrote “I not only approve this project but want to see it go further.” 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. ACN will fulfil the last wishes of the late bishop with a grant of $21,000.

The vital work of Catholic charities like Aid to the Church In Need provide a lifeline to the Church wherever she is poor, persecuted or threatened. Please help our work by donating online or send your donation to Aid to the Church in Need, PO Box 7246 Baulkham Hills NSW 2153. Ph: (02) 9679-1929 

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