Fr John Boles is an English Columban who has worked in Peru for 20 years. After studying at the Xaverian College in Manchester and Hull University, John started his working life as a town and country planning officer for Macclesfield council and then South Staffordshire council.
In the early 1980s his ambition to serve the poor abroad became a reality when he became a town and country planning officer in Nicaragua. The Contra war was at its height at this stage and huge swathes of the population became refugees. John’s role was to identify and set up places where refugees could settle in some kind of safety. This was a very dangerous task which saw his team come under constant threat and, sadly, this included the murder of one of his closest colleagues.
It was at this point that the idea of the priesthood first occurred to him, and he started training as a Columban. After ordination he was first based in Peru, in the Quechua speaking region of the Andes. Danger still loomed large here as the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) terrorists worked to destroy all modern influences in Peru including the Church. A fellow priest and a nun were both murdered in the region while he was there. He then worked in the shanty town areas around the capital, Lima.
John is now on mission in Santiago, Chile. The Columban parish of Santo Tomás de la Pintana, where he is based, is in one of the city’s most underprivileged areas. “I always finish a visit to the sick with a blessing of the home” he said recently; “I feel I am giving something to them in return for the inspiration that they are giving me”.