Peru Adventure Mission in partnership with John Vianney Theological Seminary (Denver), 2019
By Chris Lanciotti, Creatio Spiritual Formation Director
The greatest gift from the heart of the Church is the Eucharist. Don’t take my word for it; this has been the understanding of Christians from the beginning. St. Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred for his faith in approximately the year 107 A.D., called the Eucharist the “medicine of immortality” in a letter he wrote to the Christians in Ephesus. Tradition has long understood Sts. Ignatius and Polycarp, who were close friends, to be direct disciples of the Apostle and Evangelist John himself, the beloved disciple of Jesus. It seems apparent that from the very beginnings of the Church, truly from the Apostolic times, the Eucharist was understood to be central to the Christian faith.
More than 1,912 years later, a group of seminarians, priests, and lay brothers from Denver, Colorado helped bring this same gift of the Eucharist, the True Presence of our Lord, to several poor communities in northern Peru. During the week in which we celebrate (yes, celebrate) the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we were able to give to the communities of St. Pablo and Chaquira (near Piura, Peru) an opportunity to literally commune with our Lord through the gift of the Liturgy and the Sacrament of Sacraments. Two communities, where the Liturgies of Holy Week had never been celebrated, were able to experience for the first time the great mysteries of the Triduum Paschale, the Passover of the Lord. Never had I been able to participate so palpably, in my ten years of missionary experience, in the commun-ication of the Gospel in which I believe. I had for the first time an opportunity to invite others, who before had not experienced it, into the great mystery of Christ’s suffering for themselves. I found myself again asking the questions that I ought to ask myself every year: What makes this week Holy? What really happened those nights leading up to Passover in Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago? What did Jesus do, feel, pray? How did the followers of Jesus react?
John Paul II reflects in his encyclical letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia how the whole Paschal mystery is somehow “foreshadowed and ‘concentrated’ forever in the gift of the Eucharist”.(1) On the morning of Holy Thursday a group of us were privileged to visit one of the poorest communities in Piura and bring the Eucharist to the sick and homebound. We entered into homes made of straw and plywood, with roofs of thatch or tin, with floors of packed mud, and set our Lord down onto broken tables of wood or plastic while we prayed the Our Father. The sick, the blind, and the lame that resided in these miserable homes received the Lord with open hearts and tear-filled eyes. I had no doubt that they were gazing on the face of Our Lord in the Eucharist that I brought to them. It is in these moments when I question my own faith: do I receive the Lord worthily? Do I receive him with such expectation and hunger? Do I prepare my heart to receive him well each day or do I fall into routine too easily at mass? John Paul II further remarks in the encyclical that “to contemplate Christ involves being able to recognize him wherever he manifests himself, in his many forms of presence, but above all in the living sacrament of his body and his blood.”(2) Here, on the day which he offered himself as the Lamb that would take away the sins of the world, these poor, sick, and suffering souls recognized the Lord of the Universe in the host brought to their home. He had come to them, and would not forget them.
One final image remains to be recounted from the many beautiful moments of our Holy Week mission: the joy in the faces of the children. All of our Paschal liturgies were full of wide-eyed children who curiously contemplated the great many signs that the Church sets forth in the liturgies of Holy Week. They crowded the front of the Church to watch the washing of the feet; they marveled at the smoke from the thurible during the Thursday Eucharistic procession; they prayerfully watched the adoration of the cross; they giggled and squealed around the new fire; they excitedly gathered around the font to watch the Baptism of eighteen infants at the Easter Vigil mass. The children are a reminder to us to do as Christ commanded the apostles in the Garden: “Watch and Pray.” The week was a reminder to me to appreciate again “the gift of God,” which we can receive each and every day at mass, and a gift of which so many are deprived.
(1) John Paul II. “Ecclesia de Eucharistia.” The Holy See, 17 April 2003, w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html, 5.
(2) Ibid, 6.