When I came to the parish of Our Lady of Peace in Villa El Salvador on the outskirts of Lima in 2004, I received some wise advice from missionaries with a great deal of experience: do not construct a church building until you have built up the community and when you begin the construction, be prepared for your patience to be tested to its limits. Those guidelines served me well and both turned out to be so true. Forming a community is a process which goes on continuously as in all parishes and, by 2006, with a good spirit developing within the parish family, we started to consider ways of funding the project of building the church of Saint Rose of Lima.
The fact the Bishop of the diocese of Lurin has recently inaugurated and blessed the church, just prior to Easter 2016, tells you it has been a long and winding road and not without trials en route. One thing that Peru does not lack is administrative bureaucracy and it can be very exacting. If I had known in advance the tangled network of regulations and prerequisites that the local municipality and the College of Architects insist you abide by and overcome, I might have thought twice about beginning the endeavour. So many forms to fill, so many requirements to meet, and so much money to be handed over in the process of gaining permission.
As we were looking at land with maximum danger of earthquake activity, there was an insistence that the building have deep-rooted steel foundations to support the edifice in the event of seismic movement. That is understandable and necessary, but to demand that the area outside the front door of the church be no less than the area covered by the interior of the building had us scratching our heads. It was stated that security precautions dictated that people must be able to evacuate the church to an area of equal proportion within the boundaries of the property. While speculating that it was highly unlikely that the congregation would hang around outside should an earthquake strike, it was nevertheless futile to argue the case. Because of this stringent requirement, the church would now have to be much smaller than originally envisaged, but nevertheless the show had to go on.
Once plans had been accepted and construction initiated, a realisation sunk in fast that the parish priest might need to don a foreman's hat more than anticipated. It has been a giant learning curve in terms of geometry, climate considerations, contracts not being completed on time, and so many fine details to be chewed over. It has also been a wonderful community and friendship building experience. To help achieve our financial targets, parishioners prepared and sold breakfast after every Sunday Mass for the past couple of years. People shared ideas, gave what they could and prayed that God would do the rest. We are hugely thankful to have been blessed with financial contributions from many people, especially those of the Archdiocese of Liverpool through the generosity of the LAMP collections, from parishioners of St Luke's Church in Whiston and St Peter and St Paul in Crosby.
Now we are up and running, the task is to make the church site a missionary centre for the evangelisation of the local district. The plaque that hangs outside our recently opened church of St Rose of Lima, one of three chapels in the parish, says that this building has been blessed for the greater glory of God. May that always be so.
The joy on the faces of parishioners on the day of inauguration was certainly wonderful to see, and though a ten-year journey of construction has come to fruition, many challenges lie ahead. Just as in diocesan life in England, there are many baptised here who do not develop their faith journey. Poverty and the fight for survival are factors in this; many of our people work such long hours that they are exhausted by the end of the week. Yet there is also the issue of indifference and family disunity which exercise the minds and hearts of pastoral planners in the Lurin diocese in Lima. The questions facing parishes here are not so different from those at home. Missionary life is everywhere.