A Christmas letter from a Fr. Ed in Peru

Fr. Ed O'Connell is a Columban Father, born in Somerset and educated by the Salesians in Battersea. He works as a missionary priest in Lima, Peru, and provides an end of year update for Columban supporters.

The total number of Covid-19 cases in Peru up to yesterday: 2,266,205 and the number of deaths: 202,295. The number of cases are now higher outside Lima (51.55%), also the number of deaths slightly higher outside of Lima (50.85%). Health Authorities say the next wave is on the way but the figures nationally have yet to prove it. North Lima, in the districts of Carabayllo and San Martin de Porres, where I work, have seen a larger increase in cases than other districts. In the notices at the end of Masses I have been encouraging all to take extra care with the basic bio-security precautions and above all get the booster jab.

Peru has vastly improved on the vaccination front, with weekend all night long vaccination campaigns. There is concern that over a million 12 to 17-year-olds have yet to get the vaccine and a similar number of 18 to 29 year olds. The 5 to 11 year olds are planned for January 2022.

The new total population from the Institute of Statistics and Information (INEI) from the bicentenary study (2021) puts the total population now at 33,035,304. Today’s figures for vaccinations, using the 2021 population figures, is 73.2% of the total population with the first dose and 63.4% with the second dose. It is worth noting that 75.5% of the population are 15 or over and using that statistic we are looking at 96.9% of over 15s with their first dosage and 83.9% with their second, much nearer the reality. Note, some children between 12 and 14 are also included as they are now being vaccinated.

I accompany the Manuel Duato Special Needs School, a Columban project. Since March 2020 our teachers have worked virtually with 428 students, the highest number we have ever had, most are severely disabled. Four times in 2020 and now four times in 2021 we have supported 32 families, giving larger amounts to eight families who either have a special needs child with Covid-19 or are families with a member or more with Covid-19 or other serious illness. The last time was this week to 32 families.

The Inauguration of Point of Encounter

Mid November saw 32 students return to the school, only one day a week, Tuesdays. Over the summer months of January and February we hope to work with those children who have dropped out or fell behind with the virtual work, with a limited program of presence some mornings a week. It is hoped all students will return to school in March 2022. We have put in emergency washing facilities at the entrance of the school to comply with the Education Ministry bio-security measures.

The Warmi Huasi project accompanies children at risk in the Lima districts of Carabayllo and San Martin de Porres and in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara, high up in the Andes in the department of Ayacucho. We have teachers visiting homes, in a very limited way, in Lampa (Ayacucho) and also there are small numbers of children of the homework clubs meeting in the Warmi center in San Benito (Carabayllo), respecting protocols of bio-security and safeguarding. It is an effort to help children catch up with their studies, as many have dropped behind in their school work.

I visited this week, the five communal kitchens – in San Benito and the one in Misiones parish – to thank those who run them for all they do for their communities, they serve a grand total of 1,000 meals each weekday, including 132 social cases. We have helped each communal kitchen with the purchase of vegetables, chicken or fish, gas, bio-security equipment and a small fire extinguisher. Of the social cases: 32 are elderly, 73 children, 16 with Covid and 11 disabled and all these are helped with meals at no cost. The communal kitchens, out of their poverty, are showing their solidarity with the most vulnerable. The children and elderly will have a special Christmas lunch!

Latest news from Ayacucho: two of the Warmi Huasi team visited Ayacucho, a 24 hour trip up the Andes, and carried out end of the year activities and also coordinated with officials of the provincial and district authorities and with representatives of health, education, police and judiciary sectors to plan the work of 2022. Part of the work is to undertake a survey of the number of disabled children in the Province of Paucar de Sara Sara.

Latest news from Lima: working with Unicef and the educational authorities of northern Lima, a Warmi Huasi team has started up 14 “points of encounter” in community and chapel meeting rooms to work with children who have dropped out of school over the past two years. Three of the points of encounter are in the parish where I work. Over 1,000 primary and secondary school students are being brought back into classes for next year 2022 and they are being helped to catch up in their studies, with the help of teachers and volunteers.

I am five months now back into parish life. This time ‘Holy Archangels’, a massive parish, population wise the size of a small diocese, with 130,000 people. There are 18 chapels and at the weekends, I accompany five of them, each twice a month, four on Sundays and one on Saturday evening. I also visit during the week to do bible reflection, in a format that encourages personal prayer. I have two midnight masses and I shall remember you and yours at them, one at 7pm in an old hacienda community and the second at 9pm in the Sacred Heart chapel. I hope to quickly visit a family afterwards before getting back to the Centre House before the curfew starts at 1am!

I find the people resilient by nature but somewhat worn down, by the length of the pandemic, and grieving for those they have lost. Hopefully the Christmas Spirit, of God’s love for us, will reignite our hope for better times and that our humanity will be renewed!

Love and blessings,

Ed O’Connell

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