To visit the Peruvian Amazon

An Oblate Presence on the Rio Napo

By Séamus P. Finn, OMI

In mid September I was able to fulfll a promise made, and a dream long harbored, to visit the Peruvian Amazon where the Oblates have a missionary presence. The mission of Santa Clotilde on the river Napo in the vicariate of San Jose de Los Amazonas reaches north some 450 km to the border with Ecuador, and south almost to the city of Iquitos. The principal transportation routes for the people living in the region are a network of rivers, motor bike paths and welltrod footpaths.

The mission center is located in the town of Santa Clotilde. The “Santa Clotilde Health Centre” that was established by Fr. Maurice Schroeder, OMI some thirty years ago, provides health care to people living in roughly 100 villages along the river. Frs Roberto Carrasco, OMI and Edgar Nolazco, OMI are the respective leaders of the parish and the ministry to the indigenous. They are joined by Norbertine, Fr. Jack McCarthy O. Praem, who heads up the health ministry in the region and directs the work of the health center today. Suffice it to say that the expanse of the mission keeps all of them and their many collaborators extremely busy. This vast region that stretches from the mouth of the Amazon across its tributaries to its point of origin in the Peruvian jungle, which we frequently refer to as the “lungs of the earth”, is so much more than that. For centuries, it has been, and continues to be, home for thousands of small villages and communities scattered throughout the region.

While the challenges and pressures of daily life have always been more than enough to occupy the time and energy of the people who live there, the numerous and expansive oil and gas concessions granted by the government in recent years have brought a host of additional concerns. According to recent studies, the Peruvian Amazon is being overrun by the intrusive operations of oil and gas industries. It is estimated that 41% of the Peruvian Amazon is covered by 52 active oil and gas concessions. This is more than fve times as much land as was devoted to such activities in 2003.

Nearly all of the hot button issues on the agenda of development agencies are being played out on a daily basis in the region. Among these concerns is the quandary about facilitating the entrance of modernity, including its ideas, services and products into the lives of peoples who have lived in virtual isolation for centuries. In addition, the penetration of large oil and gas corporations into the region places standards like “free prior and informed consent” on display and on trial. The tools for assessing the impacts of exploration and production on the environment, health and ways of life are also being tested.

One day in the village of Lagarto Cocha – where we traveled by boat for two hours, walked for thirty minutes, took another boat ride, and completed our journey with a ten minute trek – we visited the local school and heard about a project organized by the primary school children to address the problem of garbage in surrounding villages. They organized themselves into teams and were advised by teachers who helped them to develop the needed resources and organize their strategies. We were privileged to be there to hear each group of students report on their experiences and to listen to their assessment of what seemed to work, and what proved less successful.

Another morning, we met with the multi-sectoral committee from the region as they wrestled with diferent challenges and gathered to consider what changes they expected to encounter in the coming fve to seven years. Was it time for more roads, a small airport or at least a heliport? How can electric power be extended beyond the present four-hour-a-day period? Is solar power an answer? Should they try to develop a tourist industry? Can food production for export be expanded? Do they have raw materials or products or services that can be exploited to create jobs or engage the growing number of young people, especially those who are migrating from rural communities? How can the intrusion of globalization, especially through telecommunications and mass media be a positive infuence?Te institutional presence of the mission and the health center provide a framework, a space and an environment where the people and communities (indigenous and settlers) are able to gather and talk about the challenges and opportunities that they face.They are also an important part of the global network that is a needed resource to protect human rights, safeguard the environment and promote sustainable and appropriate development.

Oblates from Bolivia, Peru and the United States participated in an international conference o

Respecting natural resources

June 23rd, 2011 – Peru

On June 14-16, Oblates from Bolivia, Peru and the United States participated in an international conference on Extractive Industries that focused on “the problem of natural resources in Latin America and the mission of the church”. The conference, held in Lima, was organized and sponsored by the Justice and Solidarity Department of CELAM (Bishops Conference of Latin America) and MISEROR.

Roberto CARRASCO ROJAS, Edgar NOLASCO from the Oblate mission of Santa Clotilde, Peru, Gilberto PAUWELS from Oruro in Bolivia and Séamus FINN from the United States Province’s JPIC office in Washington, DC, joined more than 70 participants from dioceses and communities that are on the front lines of the extraordinary expansion of the extractive industries in Latin America.

Extractive industries, including mining and petroleum, are under new pressure to respond to the demands for minerals and energy that are continuing to increase across the world. The price for basic commodities like gold is also an important driver in the increased demand for precious and rare metals. The development of new technologies and processes for exploration and extraction has made it possible for mining and oil companies to penetrate deeper into areas and regions that were previously inaccessible. These developments have brought them into contact and conflict with communities and areas that were previously untouched by their activities, especially indigenous communities and peoples.

During the opening days of the conference, people from all regions and communities, including bishops, priests, religious, indigenous, and peasants, have shared their experiences, including the great suffering, destruction of livelihood and conflicts that have become a part of their daily lives as a result of this increased incursion of extractives into countries such as Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Guatemala and Colombia. Also included were an analysis of the input from the opening session and proposals and recommendations for actions.

The seminar was organized to search for a way to place the challenges of the extractives industry within the mission of the Church, the People of God. It sought to increase knowledge about the actual state of this type of industry in its global dimensions and the social, political, ecological and economic character of its consequences, beginning from a doctrinal, theological reflection that will guide the design of certain lines of pastoral action. (Séamus Finn)

“Now you will meet Manuela; she is a woman with a lot of energy.” – MUJERES VALIENTES

Some very energetic women

Fr. Roberto CARRASCO is a young Oblate serving in the mission of Santa Clotilde in Peru, along the River Napo, a tributary of the Amazon River. In his blog, he speaks of some of the dedicated women religious who tirelessly serve the people.

After my diaconate ordination, I immediately moved to the Loreto region, specifically to the new mission taken on by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate at Santa Clotilde – the Napo River. It was in September of 2008.

It was surprising – and this happens to many when they have their first contact with the tremendous Amazon – floating on and on towards the town of Angoteros in the district of Torres Causana. I went with Fr. Edgar NOLAZCO – my brother and companion in the mission – and when we got to that place, the first thing that surprised me was to find an indigenous community that preserves their language, their customs and their entire worldview. A couple of years before, Fr. Juan Marcos Mercier, OFM, had died. I met Manuela, Virginia and Janet for the first time.

The mission house is in the midst of the community, a house like all others, palm bark on the floor and the roof of palm leaves.

Manuela and Virginia, the older members of the community, welcomed us, and with them the youngest member, Janet, who also arrived that year. I remember every expression, every aspect of the three Peruvian Sisters, Mercedarian Missionaries, who had come to the High Napo at the request of Juan Marcos, so as to continue the mission in this part of the Vicariate.

Manuela, the incomparable Manuela. The first thing Fr. Jack told me when I got to Santa Clotilde was: “Now you will meet Manuela; she is a woman with a lot of energy.” I cannot help but remember that, when I met Manuela, I was greatly impressed by her dedication to the people. Her closeness; her wanting to dialogue and understand the culture. The first thing she said to me was: “Quickly, quickly. We have to leave soon. I still have a lot to do. What a disgrace that you are just sitting there.”

A lovely little expression that sticks with us all these years. Manuela is, true to her style, the one who carried on, in her way, Christ’s mission among the Napurunas after Juan Marcos. There are many examples and anecdotes that come to mind. Her intensity and strength for doing things correctly and being in the communities. Her desire to arrive on time at every village to begin her visit. All the old papers and materials, ready for talks and workshops. Her little notebook in which she wrote down everything about her daily life. How many baptisms were done; the most pressing problems in each community; the names of the new community authorities. At every moment, she was like a little ant, busy doing something. She was a veterinarian because she would inject a chicken that Virginia or Janet considered sick; she was a plumber, a builder; she could grab her ax to chop firewood. She knew exactly how to use each tool and where everything belonged. What was surprising was not so much that, but that as a woman and a big woman, she had such enviable energy. “Man, you must be useless…” she told me and I burst out laughing.

Beyond all these things, I want to highlight about the Mercedarian Missionaries that, true to their charism, sitting in the floor, they prayed every day in the morning and took communion. There was no priest in the mission. They presided over the faith community. Thanks to Florentino, Ronald, Roger, Lino and the youngest, the beloved and unforgettable Amable. The kuyllur runa – Christian leaders – laity formed by Juan Marcos and maintaining the Napurana Mission when the “missionaries” are not there, as it is at this moment as I write these lines. Thanks to each of them for their testimony, they faithfulness, their love of Pachayaya (Father of the Earth) and the community of faith.

Is an important experience that should be continued. – PROYECTO RECREARTE

Recreate yourself 2012: in the Peruvian rainforest

February 28th, 2012 – Peru

The Peruvian rainforest remains more than ever a very impressive target for foreign investors. Statistics tell us that in 2011, Peru grew economically by 7%. They say that was a good year. They speak of a country that is growing and is in good condition to face the economic crisis. In the executive branch, they speak of a policy of social inclusion. The development of a powerful oil industry is starting in the Napo-Loreto basin.

On the other hand, the indigenous communities are concerned about such topics as the pollution of the rivers because of oil spills; the spread of drug trafficking; the increase in illegal logging; the unlawful mining of gold; the taking of large quantities of fish from the lake in freezers; the increasing lack of teachers on all levels. And there is only talk about social inclusion, but they don’t have much on the policy level.

In the midst of this reality, the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption in Santa Clotilde-Rio Napo-Loreto, for the fourth consecutive year, is focusing on the education of indigenous boys and girls and teenagers of the Kichwa peoples. The RECREATE YOURSELF project is a program created by the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate for providing a place for the integral formation of the children and youth of the Napo. This January 2012, a total of 24 indigenous Kichwa communities in the basin were present at Santa Clotilde by sending their representatives: 51 boys and girls, accompanied by a team of young leaders and professionals. The central theme for their work was “Children and care for creation.” Each day, there was academic enrichment, group work, a workshop for painting and drawing, a puppetry workshop, a singing workshop, catechesis for the first encounter with Christ, and a workshop on indigenous Kichwa values. Nor did we leave out recreation, sharing, the common life, and interchange with the neighbors in the barrio. Each participant was examined by the doctors of the Health Center of Santa Clotilde.

recrearte

At the same time, 25 indigenous youth from the Upper and Middle Napo received pre-university training at the St. Eugene de Mazenod Academy. For the third consecutive summer, their academic background was reinforced and they have been prepared for entering the National University of the Peruvian Amazon. The young students, many of them high school graduates, found in the SEM Academy an opportunity to learn and to prepare themselves. This year, the focus of discussion was “The presence of oil in the Napo river.” They shared information about oil spills in the Loreto region in the past five years, the increase in deforestation and illegal logging, as well as the increase in drug trafficking in the area. Their concern was evident in their faces and in the prolonged dialogue. Our thanks to the professionals who guided this academic formation. We are happy that this year, two Kichwa indigenous youth from the High Napo, Edgar Jota and Ítalo Noteno, have succeeded in getting into the university, Edgar for a career in nursing and Ítalo for pharmacy and biochemistry. They are the first indigenous Kichwa youth to take this step. Now it’s up to us to accompany them in their training.

The mission of Santa Clotilde is grateful to those who were involved in this task: the benefactors, the youth leaders of the parish, the professionals from the Health Center of Santa Clotilde, the lay professionals who came from the Parish of Nuestra Señora de la Paz–Comas–Lima. May God, the Father of the Earth, whom we call in Kichwa “Pachayaya,” bless the work and the efforts of each one. We believe that this work is a contribution to the Amazon and to the indigenous communities. We believe that RECREATE YOURSELF is an important experience that should be continued. We believe that by listening to the indigenous children and youth, we learn a lot. (Edgar NOLAZCO ALMEYDA y Roberto CARRASCO ROJAS)