Welcome to our site
Welcome to this site. You will see that it is organised like a book and that it is unfinished. In fact, it will take quite some time to finish it. Even the chapters that are "finished" are really only draft and will undergo some modification. You can help with your comments and advice. Help me to write this work on the Church as it is discovered in the liturgical life of the Church. A ccording to Pope Pius XI, the liturgy is the principal expression of the ordinary magisterium of the Church. According to the present Pope, Benedict XVI, it is the principal expression of that Tradition that comes down from the Apostles. When it was suggested that the pre-Vatican II liturgy should be abolished in favour of the post-Vatican II liturgy, he said that this was beyond the powers of both the Pope and the bishops because it is their job to serve and cultivate Tradition, not abolish it. In fact, he teaches, it is the same Holy Spirit who works in synergy with the Church in every age. Hence, the post-Vatican II liturgy must be interpreted in the light of the pre-Vatican II liturgy and vice versa. This he calls the hermeneutic of continuity, which is the only manner of interpretation open to Catholics. In its Constitution on the Liturgy, Vatican II teaches us that the liturgy is the source of all the Church's powers and the goal of all its activity. The Pope calls the Mass the constitution of the Church. Al this leads to the conclusion that if we want to understand what the Catholic Church is all about, we must study the liturgy. Let us get started.
Chapter Six The Eucharist: Constitution of the Church
Chapter Ten The Ordained Priesthood
Chapter Eleven The Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Sick
Chapter Twelve The Divine Office
Chapter Thirteen What we have Learned
Our monastery was the brainchild of the Archbishop of Piura, Mgr. Fernando Vargas Ruiz de Somocurcio. He believed that every diocese should have a centre where depth of spirituality is more important than looking after large numbers of people and travelling long distances. He knew that his priests were so overwhelmed by the size of their pastoral tasks, their efforts were spread out over such a large area, that they were tempted to skate over the surface of their faith, without the time or the inclination to seek God with their whole heart and soul. A monastery, he believed, would solve this problem. He decided to ask the Tyburn nuns who had a house in Piura, if they knew someone he could contact. It just happened that, the year before, Abbot Jerome of Belmont had given the retreat at Tyburn Convent in London, and it just happened that Abbot Jerome and Mother General of Tyburn were friends. The rest followed. The year was 1979.
It cannot be said that Belmont was a monastery with a superabundance of missionary zeal. Since I joined, several requests to make foundations in different countries had been turned down. Father Christopher, who was not accustomed to attribute community decisions to the Holy Spirit, used to say that if ever the Belmont community had been moved by the Holy Spirit, it was when we decided to make a foundation in Peru. The abbot sent Fr Paul out to talk with the archbishop and to see the place where he wanted us to go. The next year, Abbot Jerome sent a team which reported back to the chapter.. This resulted in three of us, Fr Luke, Fr Paul and I, coming to Peru on the feast of the Transfiguration, 1981, after some months learning Spanish in Cochabamba in Bolivia; and we arrived in Tambogrande on the feast of St Bernard, September 20th.
Tambogrande was founded in the 18th century by the Bishop of Trujillo, Martinez de Companon, an incredible genius who merits a book all to himself. The houses were built where no crops could grow; but the explanation for this was unknown at the time. In fact, just under the surface, there is the second biggest deposit of zinc in the world, the purest copper in the world, and, just as an afterthought, gold. The houses and streets are built over this treasure trove. The people are attached to their town and don’t want to move. It is also true that the town is thriving as an agricultural centre – I have seen mangos on sale in Tesco’s in Hereford from “San Lorenzo, Peru”, and that is Tambogrande – and they know that a mine on the surface would threaten the agriculture. A Canadian firm that wanted to mine the area offered them new houses a little distance from the mine. “Our wealth is in agriculture. What good are posh houses if we starve to death in them?” said people, and, in a straw poll, 98% of the people voted against: allowing the Canadians to mine. However, all that is in the future. Back in 1981, we were welcomed with open arms by the population.
Father Luke and I had been priests in Whitehaven, and, to our surprise, and in spite of the many external differences, we found the people of Tambogrande were very similar to the people we had left. We had a little game: we used to give Whitehaven names to people in our new parish. Fr Paul and I were also surprised to find that the kids who swamped our house and would have remained there the whole day if allowed, were very much like Belmont boys. They had the same interests, the same jokes, the same fears, the same music, the same questions, the same everything, except for their prospects in the future, which were very, very different. It took me a couple of years before I found another difference. One day, I said to the youngsters who crowded into my room, “the “Chavela” is a good woman.” “Yes”, said one, “but she is a witch.” “She is a WHAT?” I asked. “She is a witch and turns into a duck every Tuesday and Friday.” “Do you believe that?” I asked the rest. All nodded solemnly. “I have an aunt who turns into a pig – there is good evidence that she does,” said one, and he wasn’t joking.
WE combined the Divine Office more or less as it was at Belmont with our parish work, trying to balance our communal life with our visits to the countryside. Our monastic day began with Matins and, after an interval, we celebrated Lauds. Conventual Mass had to fit in with the parish. We had Mid-day Prayer before lunch, Vespers at 5.30pm and Compline at night. We started with one novice, Brother Juan, who met us as we landed in Piura, the main city, having been recruited by the Tyburn nuns in Sechura. All this lasted until the rains of 1983.
There were over eighty villages with chapels, and this grew to 123 villages by the time Fr Paul left in 1986 to found the monastery apart, because, once a hamlet builds a chapel and a school it becomes a village. The parish was divided into three parts, with Fr Paul in overall control of the pastoral work, while Fr Luke was religious superior. The parish of Tambogrande covers an area as large as Herefordshire, so there was plenty of room for us to work.
There are a number of anecdotes associated with our first months. One concerns Fr Luke in the village of La Rita. Fr Luke is the only priest I know who has been canonized by the people before his death. Santa Rita was a village in his part of the campo. It now has a chapel dedicated to St Luke; and, when St Luke is mentioned, they do not think of the evangelist!! Anyway, he went to celebrate his first fiesta in the village of La Rita, accompanied by a Notre Dame sister. After the Mass, baptisms, marriages and procession which are the normal ingredients of a fiesta, he was taken to the place where he would eat. Fr Paul had come for lunch and tells the story. Fr Luke was presented with an enormous pile of rice, half a chicken, and a spoon. He scraped the side of the chicken with the spoon to no effect. The sister called over the majordomo of the fiesta and explained that Luke did not know how to use a spoon, and asked him for a knife and fork. Sometime later, the knife and fork arrived, and Luke was content. The next time he went to La Rita, he was without the sister. When it came to mealtime, he was given a plate of soup and a fork!! Of course, peasants eat the chicken with their hands: the spoon is for the rice.
I was surprised, and even a little scandalized by the great devotion that was centred on the statues in the parish church and chapels. Each image had its fiesta; though two or three were sometimes combined in one celebration. Sometimes a “campesino” ( peasant) would stand in front of a statue holding a bundle of candles, and would stay there in prayer until the candles burned down. I used to wonder what they saw in the statues. Was it idolatry? They often spoke as though the statues were alive. One day, my curiosity was satisfied. I asked an unusually articulate campesino why so much reverence was shown to statues. He thought a bit, and then said, “After a statue has been blessed by the Church, it becomes a point of contact between God and us.” That could have come straight from the 2nd Council of Nicaea!
A parish the size of Herefordshire with a population of a hundred thousand people, almost all Catholics, could not be adequately cared for without a lot of lay help; which is why Peruvian parish life is far more developed than in England. Fr Paul’s genius for organization came into its own. With the enthusiastic help of the Notre Dame sisters who trained and supported them, catechists were chosen by the people of each village, and a course of talks were given to young parents in preparation for their children’s baptism. Other catechists specialised in preparing children for First Communion and others prepared boys and girls for Confirmation in the last year of secondary school. 123 villages are a lot of places to organize and the results were uneven; but, little by little a system was put in place that is still running twenty eight years later. Tambogrande town was given a similar system which is also still functioning.
In 1982 I was asked to celebrate Mass in a village because they had had no rain for ten years. “If there is no rain this next year,” said one, “I shall go and live in the town.” If he and I had known, about every ten years, the Nino Current coming from the Equator swamps the Humboldt Current coming from the Antarctic, and the weather world-wide is affected; but nowhere is the effect more dramatic than on the desert coastline of Peru. What happens when a desert is hit by tropical rain forest rains? About four o’clock in the afternoon, the rain fell as though God was emptying a big bucket in the skies; streams became rivers which cut through roads like wire cuts through cheese. It came straight down and took our breath away, melting adobe houses, destroying crops, bringing down cables and breaking open the water mains, so that our lights wouldn’t work and our taps were without water, even though the countryside was awash with it. So straight was the falling rain that I could pass out of it on my motorbike into sunshine, the border between rain and sunshine being marked by a straight line on the road. Very frequently, any visit to the villages meant we had to stay the night because we were cut off by the swollen streams that cut across the roads. Moreover, all the food and medicine that was sent to relieve the poverty and need brought about by the rains, whether it was sent by the Church or the state, was placed in the capable hands of Fr Paul, the parish priest. The rains left our monastic day in ruins. We lost our novice; and it was clear that looking after the parish of Tambogrande and founding a monastery were each too absorbing to be combined in the lives of the same monks. We had to make a choice; but first, a new monastery had to be built.
None of us had time to build a monastery. Hence, Father Mark Jabale came out to supervise the construction. Now there were four of us. Father Luke was superior; Fr Paul was parish priest; Fr Mark helped in the parish but mainly concerned himself with building the monastery. We had bought twenty two hectares of land in a place called St Lorenzo in the Parish of Cruceta, fifteen kilometres from Tambogrande. Fr Mark dedicated himself to building the monastery. Afterwards, he returned to Belmont. He was to become prior under Abbot Alan, was elected abbot in succession to Alan, and his second period as abbot was interrupted when he became Bishop of Menevia.
There had been several attempts to found a Benedictine monastery of monks in Peru which had ended without achieving their object. It was sometimes said that the Peruvians were simply incapable of becoming monks. This we could not accept. We came to the conclusion that one difficulty was Peruvians and “gringos” living together as a single community. Another conclusion was that attempts to adapt to the “Peruvian reality” by European monks are useless and counter-productive.: the more the “gringos” adapted, the more “gringo” they became. Only Peruvians can adapt, because our very idea of “adaptation” is a “gringo” one. The third conclusion, perhaps the most important one, one that was not immediately obvious, was that we should not try to do too much. It is a mistake to combine monastic life with activities that can obscure the nature of monasticism in the minds of people who are without any monastic tradition. We often heard from those who had attempted to make foundations that the Peruvians could not grasp what monastic life is all about. We gradually came to realize that the fault does not lie in the Peruvian mentality, but in the confusion caused by trying to resolve too many Peruvian problems at once, as though monasticism were already established.
Hence, it is best to start with a Peruvian community with only one “gringo” in charge of formation, a number which can increase as numbers of Peruvians grows, simply following the Rule of St Benedict without frills, and with little or no outside work. Later, the Peruvian community can do whatever activity it believes God is calling it to do: but there has to be a community of monks first. Fr Paul went alone to found the monastery, while Fr Luke and I remained on the parish, not too far from the monastery if help were needed.
It would be hard to exaggerate the difficulties of the bringing to birth a new monastic house. It seemed that all the ecclesiastical misfits and expelled seminarians in Peru came to try their vocation, so that any normal person would have to have had a very strong character and be very sure of his vocation to survive. Fr Paul certainly suffered much. Out of all the people who came, only Fr Luis stayed, and he was to become the first monk to be solemnly professed and the first to be ordained on Peruvian soil. However, at the time, the situation often looked hopeless, and it was very hard going for Fr Paul and Br Luis. Meanwhile, Fr Luke and I divided the Tambogrande parish between us and represented that other side of EBC tradition.
On January 1st, 1990, we gave up Tambogrande. Fr Luke returned home to Belmont, and I became parish priest in Piura. Br Luis and another young monk who later left came to live with me in the parish during the term as they began to study for the priesthood; while Fr Paul continued to have unsuitable people in the monastery. Then, all at once, this flow of misfits stopped. There were to be unsuitable people in the future, but they were at least normal unsuitable people. In 1991 I moved to Negritos, a “charismatic renewal” parish on the most western tip of South America, and Br Luis moved to Rio de Janeiro to study theology; and he stayed in the monastery of Rio for four years. Of course, he returned to make his solemn profession on June 29th, the feast of St Peter and Paul,1993. He was ordained priest in 1995.
In 1992, Fr Joseph Parkinson came from Belmont. He brought as companions two tractors dated 1947. He loved to work on the land, and he ploughed te land belonging to neighbours as long as they agreed to cover the costs. Fr Paul continued to have people who came and left. He took over a portion of the parish around the monastery, and then the whole parish of Cruceta at the request of the Archbishop. After Fr Luis’ ordination, he divided the parish into three and gave one part to Fr Joseph and another to Fr Luis.
The most senior person in the present community after Fr Luis is Br Mario, a medical doctor, who arrived in the monastery in 1997. People continued to come and go, but, little by little, the beginnings of a stable community began. Mario took his first vows in October, 2,000 and his solemn vows in 2,005. Alex was clothed as a novice by Fr Joseph, just before Fr Paul was elected Abbot of Belmont in 2,000; and he was the first to take his solemn vows in the new monastery on August 15th, 2006; but that for the moment, is in the future.
Life in the San Lorenzo monastery was hard , with intense heat, inadequate supplies of water and electricity, mosquitos and, on occasion, an incurable form of malaria not too far from the monastery: luckily it never reached us. In the rains, the monastery could be isolated for days because the lane to the monastery became a quagmire. Work was hard too. The monks worked on the farm, gathering lemons and bananas once a month and mangoes in the summer, and they grew their own vegetables and had a few animals from time to time. There were over twenty beehives, and the honey was sold. All the domestic work and cooking on Sundays was done by the monks; and there was a cook who came in during the week. To make it harder, a small minority of the neighbours stole lemons and livestock from us, which was rather disheartening. With the help of A.I.M., Fr Paul was able to get a regular electricity supply and later to extend this to the village.
We were left in no doubt how much the people prized our monastic presence when we were invaded by armed thieves while we were singing Vespers one day. Five men entered with guns, “We are police! You are terrorists! Everyone on the floor! The first to move will be shot.” Then their leader asked who was in charge. Fr Paul stood up and was ushered outside, his dog, Bernardo, following him. The man with a gun told him to put the dog in a room, so Fr Paul put him into the nearest room and closed the door. They then asked for the papers of his car, which the monastery had bought only some days before. Still thinking they were police, Fr Paul replied that he could not remember, but that they were probably in his office. They spent the next hour ransacking his office without success. Meanwhile I was asked for the papers of my car; but I had not been able to find them before I departed from Negritos for my visit, so I had chanced travelling without them. The truth was that, without the car papers, they could not sell the cars. Other members of the gang abandoned all pretence of being policemen and searched the place for loot. At 7.00pm it is dark, and two went out to talk to their driver who was sitting petrified in their car, and the whole population of the village, men, women and children, were silently waiting for them with stones.
A small boy had seen them enter, and he went and told his mother. Soon small boys were going from house to house. It just happened that the men of the village were holding a meeting some distance off to form a “ronda” or peasant police force. A boy arrived and told them the fathers were asking for help because armed men had entered the monastery. The villagers hurried back to the monastery, gathering stones, and they dragged a tree trunk across the road so that the thieves could not escape.
When the two thieves saw the people, they shot into the air to scatter the people and to warn those inside. In a moment, all had rushed out and we were free. Fr Paul went immediately to his dog and found the car’s papers on the table in the only room the thieves had not searched! Two of the thieves jumped into Fr Paul’s car with the loot and left at speed – only to find the tree trunk blocking their way. They tried to ease round it, but a root caught the underside of the car and would not let it go, in any direction. Unnerved, they left behind the sack of stolen things and a sack of bullets , and walked back along the road. One other thief got into their own car beside the driver, and the people threw their stones, breaking the windows and stopping the engine. When the two got out, one shot himself in the foot in panic. They climbed into my car and everybody escaped, crossing tree trunk with high velocity. The next day, the police identified them by the car they had left behind and they were all arrested. We did nothing to defend ourselves, but the thieves didn’t stand a chance. Count the coincidences!
At the end of 2,000 Fr Paul was elected Abbot of Belmont and Fr Simon McGurk took over as superior of the monastery. He invited me to help with formation. Meanwhile, relations with the surrounding people continued to develop and deepen. The young monks took catechism classes on Sundays, and did manual work during the week. The community grew, until there were eleven Peruvian monks. Fr Joseph moved to live in the parish house of Cruceta, which is the parish in which the monastery is situated. A.I.M. is a charitable organization in which well established European and American monasteries help the poorer monasteries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. It paid for the construction of a parish house where Fr Joseph began to live. Fr Luis had already gone to Lima to care for his mother after the death of his father. He supported himself by helping in a parish and by teaching religion, and was later to re-join us again once we moved to Lima. Thus, formation of the young monks was in the hands of Fr Simon, assisted by me. The three monks who are now in simple vows joined us during that period. Br Juan had studied education at university before he arrived. Br Percy had been sacristan in a parish in Chiclayo which gives, practically every year, a steady flow of vocations to the Church. Br Wilmer comes from Chulucanas, not very far from Tambogrande, and had been a practising nurse in charge of a medical centre in which the doctor did not always attend. It was a happy community that was chugging along nicely.
Then came two events that tested to the community’s stability; and these proved to be a catharsis in the life of the community. The first was our move to Pachacamac and the second was the departure of Fr Simon.
Leaving San Lorenzo was hard for everybody, including the people of the parish. It is not in the nature of a Benedictine monastery to tear up its roots to move to another place. We are not friars, and our community life is associated with a particular location. For the people it meant the destruction of a holy place. A monastery exists for one reason only, to provide a context in which its members can more easily seek God, and we can only seek God if God is already seeking us. This two-way search gives a monastery a kind of peace, a sense of the presence of God that is almost palpable. People come to monasteries to find God and the peace that the world cannot give, and they often do so more easily, it seems, than the monks do themselves!! The people of San Lorenzo have had to watch the land put to another use, to see people drinking beer in the very place where monks praised God. Nevertheless, we had to go; and, if any confirmation is needed that it was the right thing to do, more people speak of the sense of God’s presence in our monastery in Lima than they ever did in San Lorenzo. However, it remains true that, for the people of San Lorenzo, the monastery was a sacred place, and it no longer is.
The other side to leaving San Lorenzo was our going to an unknown place on the outskirts of Lima. This, together with the other blow which was the news that Fr Simon would not be going with us to Pachacamac, would cause anyone who was merely seeking security in the monastery walls to know that he was in the wrong place. Fr Simon had been asked by the Abbot President to become Prior Administrator of St Anselm’s Abbey in Washington DC. Because he had come to identify himself with our community, and the community had become accustomed to him, it was a wrench for him and a blow to members of the community. For this and various other reasons five people left the monastery before we made the move.
Fr Paul had been looking for an alternative site for the monastery in the Lima area, helped by Fr Luis who was stationed in Lima. Eventually, a site near Pachacamac-Lurin was chosen, partly because of the enthusiasm of the bishop, and partly because of the nearness of the Cistercian nuns in Lurin. They are a foundation of the royal Abbey of Las Huelgas, near Burgos. Fr Paul and their superior saw that our proximity to Lurin would be of mutual benefit to both houses: and so it has proved. Fr Leo came over from U.S.A. to supervise the building of the monastery. It is an eleven hectar plot, eight and a half of which are above a public canal by which water is brought to the farms. The part that is below the canal and upon which the present monastery-guesthouse was built we bought outright; but the part above the canal, which is mostly steep and barren hillside, was not registered by the state, and hence could not be owned. Fr Leo bought possession and was told that, in time, it would automatically become the property of those who possess it. We did not know what a headache this would become. The institutions that deal with property have been completely changed three times since the monastery began; the laws governing property have changed four times. Most people own their land informally; but those who strive to do things according to the law face a number of obstacles: so much change that even the lawyers don’t know all the implications of what they are doing; inefficiency in the offices of state which not only have to deal with present cases, but must also sort out and digest all the information contained in the records of the institution they are replacing; land traffickers who take advantage of the chaos to lie and to steal and to invade other peoples’ property, many of whom have no document to back up their possession; and corrupt officials who benefit from the confusion to sell their services to the highest bidder. While Fr Leo was visiting us in Tambogrande, a petty criminal called Porras invaded our land. We regained possession after a couple of years of litigation, but he has tried to get it back by force which, thanks to the support of the local police, was unsuccessful. However, he continues to bother us through the courts, but his efforts are gradually turning against him.
Fr Leo hired an excellent architect, Javier Garrido Leca, to design the temporary monastery-guesthouse. It is a beautiful building with a small chapel. It was largely paid for by PORTICUS, a charitable organization run by the Brenninkmayer family who own C&A clothes stores. On their advice, we first built the guest house. We live in half, and we take guests in the other half, this being our main money earner. Fr Leo also began to lay down a decent garden. If you saw the dust and boulders that made up the site when the house began, and then came to see the house and garden as they are now, you would have no difficulty believing in miracles.
On August 15th, 2006, the community began life in the Pachacamac monastery which smelt of paint and newness.. It was exactly twenty five years since we arrived at Tambogrande to take up monastic life. We celebrated this anniversary with the solemn profession of Br Alex Echeandia on August 20th. Once the bungalow was ready for his mother, Fr Luis returned to the community. Br Mario was appointed superior. It was the abbot’s dream that all the main offices in the community would be filled by Peruvians. After my stint as “formador” in a small community of seminarians called “Jesus Vive” in Lima, I returned to the monastery in time for Christmas. Things settled down and became normal. We were four in solemn vows, Fr Luis, brothers Mario and Alex and myself. Brothers Percy and Wilmer were in simple vows: a small beginning, but none of the four attempts to found a Benedictine monastery had come that far. The monastic timetable was the same as before; the only difference being that we have no regular outside work at all. All our apostolate is within the cloister. In fact, we are the only cloistered community of men in Peru. On September 29th, the feast of St Michael and All Angels, I had spent fifty years a professed monk of Belmont, twenty five of them in Peru.
The year 2007 was very eventful. In January, Br Alex began his studies for the priesthood in the “Civil and Pontifical Faculty of Philosophy and Theology”. This faculty is the oldest establishment for studying theology and for preparing for the priesthood in the Americas: it is over 450 years old. In keeping with its age, it requires a high standard from its students. As Br Alex was also bursar of the monastery, and was responsible for the accounts, there was little time to relax: student during the week, and bursar at the weekends, with Br Percy standing in for him as keeper of the day-to-day finances..
If we jump from January to July, it is not because we were doing nothing during that period. In fact, it was full of activity, the only activity that really matters: we were quietly following the monastic timetable and seeking God by trying to do his will as it reveals itself from moment to moment in our daily tasks, Hence, the official blessing of the monastery took place, almost as an interruption, on the feast of St Benedict, July 11th , 2007. Many people came in spite of the weather, including the Papal Nuncio, the Bishop of Lurin, Carlos, the ex-Bishop of Lurin, Jose Ramon who was so enthusiastic about our coming to Lurin, Bishop Pineiro of the Armed Forces who has always showed himself to be our friend, and Archbishop Oscar, the retired Archbishop of Piura. The nuncio conveyed to us the papal blessing and told us how much Pope Benedict XVI values the monastic presence in the Church.
The next interruption was Mario’s illness in September. It became clear he could not continue as superior. Because Luis is occupied looking after his mother and Alex is studying for the priesthood, the abbot had no choice but to appoint me as superior, even though I am a “gringo”. Mario had quite enough to do defending our land from speculators who are trying to take it from us through the courts. The land traffickers have no hope of winning their case, only of wearing us down so that we will pay them a hefty bribe to go away. It is in the hands of lawyers, but Mario does most of the investigation and is becoming an expert on Peruvian law in this area. He has also retained the job of interviewing prospective vocations, because he is very good at that, and his opinion is always worth listening to.
Perhaps the best news of 2008 was the return of Br Juan Edgar to the monastery in February. He is from Iquitos in the Peruvian jungle and had been one of the five who left the monastery before it moved from San Lorenzo. Almost immediately, he had felt it to be a mistake, but he doubted his own motives for wishing to return. Was it because he couldn’t find a job? He decided he could not ask to return until he had a good teaching job and liked it. He eventually found one, thoroughly enjoyed it, but still wanted to return to the monastery. He arrived in February and was sent to Belmont to do his canonical noviciate again. He took his temporary vows in August, 2008, and returned to the monastery here afterwards, and is now being prepared to become bursar when Br Alex goes to England for his theological studies.
Brothers Percy and Wilmer also started studying “theology at a distance” which is run by the Chosica Seminary. This is a very good course for religious and laypeople. They study at home and meet once a week for formal classes and exams. Br Wilmer is in charge of the kitchen and makes jam and bottles honey that comes from our bees in San Lorenzo. He is also a highly efficient guest master, and guests are our most lucrative activity. Br Percy is sacristan and makes rosaries, Eastern prayer ropes and very original greetings cards. All these things, honey, jam, rosaries and cards are sold in our shop. We also make candles, and there is a growing demand for paschal candles from parishes. These are beautifully painted by Br Alex who also paints (writes) icons according to the traditional method, each icon being, not so much a work of art, as a spiritual project. Studies and exams have forced him to postpone his icon painting until he gets to Belmont next year; but Easter waits for not man, so that, by hook or by crook, he is put to work on the candles, starting after Christmas. In December of 2008, there was the first “feria monastica” (monastic fair) in the monastery grounds. We were given much food to cook, money to spend in the preparations, and games to play, so that what was made on the day was all profit. It was decided to repeat the activity again the next year. Thus, in August, 2009, we were given more food, more money, and many more people came, and the profit was over twice as much as the year before. We are getting a reputation for good food. Overall, we earn about half our normal costs; but, every year we get a little less from England, so we are struggling to keep going.
In August, 2009, the land we are waiting to buy from the state was invaded by Porras and his family. They arrived early in the morning and immediately began to build makeshift buildings and they introduced chickens to give the settlement an air of normality. They are experts in what they do. On the level ground, inhabiting the building, they put women and a seven year old little boy. These would be the first to meet the police, should they arrive. On the high ground were the men, who collected rocks to throw at anyone who approached them. All they had to do was to delay twenty four hours before leaving, and it would need a court case and long delays to evict them: such is the law of Peru.
After Matins we noticed their presence and knew we had to chuck them out within twenty four hours. Mario and I went to the police station in Pachacamac and asked for help. The major said that he could only move with permission of the “Fiscal” whose office is in Lurin, but he would send a couple of policemen to investigate. I felt alarm in the pit of my stomach because we already had experience of this office and the impression they give of being on the side of the land traffickers. We went with the policemen to see the invaders who met us with insults; but they offered no evidence to support their claim that they were only claiming what was theirs. After returning the policemen to the police station, Mario and I went to Lurin, We were not surprised to find that, contrary to their own rules, there was not a single fiscal in the office. However, fate had taken a new turn. A lady of Japanese origin came to buy some medals of St Benedict in our shop in the monastery. She saw what was happening, reached into her handbag for a fistful of celular phones, chose one and phoned a police general. She explained what was happening and said, “I want thirty policemen to come here immediately to throw out the invaders.” When we returned from Lurin, the police station was already getting ready, and the major was on the phone to the assault police for backup. When we eventually arrived at the scene, there were fifteen police. “I asked for thirty policemen!” shouted the Japanese lady down the phone, but fifteen were enough. There were small wounds and three arrests. Two were charged with trying to kill a policeman because of the size of the rocks that were thrown, but they were out of prison a couple of days later. We had a group of seminarians on retreat at the time. They accompanied the police and then helped the monks burn the makeshift buildings. “I have never enjoyed a retreat so much in my life!” exclaimed one young student for the priesthood, “All this and heaven too!” The chickens were taken away by the policemen under sentence of death.
Our guests and visitors are a very varied lot. Priests, religious and committed lay people come for a few days of silence and prayer, desert days and, sometimes, meetings. A good number of our visitors teach or have taught at universities: law and psychology being the main subjects. There are lots of pious women, of course. One business man who is managing director of a firm based in Sao Paolo en Brazil is translating my book “Heaven Revealed” into Spanish where it will be called “Las Bodas del Cordero”. We have a close relationship with “Pax Tv”, which is a Catholic television channel whose members are volunteers and live their lay lives according to the spirit of St Benedict’s Rule. They started to film interviews and details of our life for a programme on monastic life. It took a long time to prepare and was put on the air in August of 2009, a year later; but it was worth the wait There is a great demand for medals of St Benedict.
During the last three years we have had visits from Fr Francis McKenna who became very fond of the place, as we came to welcome his visits. The Peruvians were amused by his sense of humour, slightly alarmed by his temper, and impressed by his goodness. He was unwell during his time with us in the first part of 2009 and had a little lump on his neck. It was sad to hear that he had cancer, though Br Mario had already guessed this when he examined it. When we heard from Belmont that he was on his deathbed, the monks here were visibly upset.
About three times a year we have a visit from Abbot Paul who stays about a week, giving us spiritual guidance, instructions and practical advice. He is the founder of this community, more than anyone else, and he feels at home here. He is also the one who has to worry about where our financial support comes from, because, although we now may about half of our normal, everyday expenses, the other half, plus studies, plus health and any extraordinary expense, comes from England. Then there is the need, in the not too distant future, to build a purpose built monastery so that the present building can become completely dedicated to guests. Fr Paul and the Peruvian community are constantly in contact on the internet. Under his influence, contact with Belmont is increasing. Br Juan did his noviciate there, and D. Alex will be studying in Oxford at Blackfriars, and his house of residence in the holidays will be Belmont.
All the time we have been in Peru we have been helped and supported by sisters and, without them, we could not have done the things we have done. There were the Tyburn nuns in Sechura who suggested we should come out here in the first place and whose friendship has always been there, supporting us. There were the Notre Dame sisters of Namur who welcomed us to Tambogrande, who supported us in the process of adaptation to a new reality, and whose apostolic zeal was an example for us to follow. If Fr Paul showed his ability to organize an impossibly large parish, it was mainly the sisters who made things work. In 1989, the Dominican sisters of San Sixto came to the parish of Cruceta in which the old monastery was situated; and they have continued to work with the sick and in the schools. In Negritos, it was the Vincentian sisters of Fort Leavenworth, a congregation founded to go west with the covered wagons and who are now found in all the “cowboy” states of America. They introduced me to “Catequesis Familiar” in 1991, so that Negritos was one of the first parishes outside of Piura to make it the only preparation for First Communion. It is a very intelligent and practical course which concentrates on enabling the parents to teach their own children. Now it is used throughout the diocese. The Dominican sisters continue to support Fr Joseph in the parish of Cruceta.
A Church without the monastic charisma is seriously incomplete. It has been Belmont’s vocation and historic privilege to make up for that lack in the Church in Peru. We are a small, fragile community of seven monks and two aspirants, a mere mustard seed. The twenty eight years it has taken to get here are full of incidents and stories, like the time I was on national television news for having a ten year old mermaid in my bedroom in a tank of sea water. More seriously, schools have been founded, medical centres established, a museum opened and many kids have been given a future they would never have had without us. We have been truly blessed without deserving it. With your prayers and your help, may the next twenty eight years be as eventful and as full of blessings as the last.