By Murcadha O Flaherty and John Newton
RELIGIOUS Sisters are transforming communities across Latin America by travelling to isolated parishes that have not seen a priest for years.
Mother Lorena told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need about the impact of the work being done by the Misioneras de Jesús Verbo y Víctima (Missionaries of Jesus Word and Victim).
When she started working in the parish of Virgen del Carmelo de Villa Ygatimy, Paraguay three years ago some of its chapels had not seen a priest since 2013.
Mother Lorena said that the parish is made up of nearly 100 chapels for 20,000 faithful living in scattered rural communities.
She described the transformation that had occurred since the Sisters’ arrival.
She said: “In the past, the people hardly took part in parish life. The church was dirty, uncared for.
“Hours of spiritual retreat have led to a change. Now there is more solidarity and less alcohol and drug abuse. The sick receive better care.”
After four years waiting for a priest, the Missionaries took Father Ernesto Zacarías to the chapel of St Anthony in December 2016.
It was a 7 mile (12 kilometre) drive, mostly on dirt tracks, to the small settlement with only 34 houses.
Mother Lorena said: “They brought the sick out to him. He visited those who cannot be moved at their homes to administer the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick.”
She added: “We ‘kidnapped’ him so that he heard confession for hours on end. He was completely exhausted afterwards.”
Mother María-Luján also of the Misioneras de Jesús Verbo y Víctima (MJVV) said: “Our sisters live and work in the most remote areas of Latin America.
“They take care of people with no known postal address, the poor and the forgotten in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay or Peru.”
ACN has provided the Sisters with transport to enable them to minister to the faithful whether they travel by car, boat or donkey.
Due to parishioners’ pastoral needs in remote areas without priests, the Sisters have received episcopal dispensation permitting them to officiate at marriages – as well as baptisms and funerals.
Mother María-Luján is also working in Ciudad del Este Diocese in Paraguay, an area the size of Belgium, where the parish of Virgen del Carmelo de Villa Ygatimy is situated.
She explained why the MJVV Sisters are needed to celebrate the Liturgy of the Word and bring the Eucharist to the sick.
She said: “Three priests work in Curuguaty, more than 27 miles (45 kilometres) from here. They administer to 92 chapels, which means that they only manage to visit them from time to time.
“They go to the parishes that do not have any paved roads. They reach them on dirt roads that become impassable when it rains.”
She added: “The parish of Katueté is located more than 99 miles (160 kilometres) further on – the priest makes it there three to four times a year.”
Mother María-Lujan spoke of one of the priests having travelled more than 27 miles over difficult terrain.
She said: “In one week, he visits the chapels, celebrates Holy Mass and hears confessions, which can sometimes take an entire day. The believers wait patiently for hours to receive the sacraments.”
More than 400 MJVV Sisters are ministering to Catholics in 38 missions in various Latin American countries – including in hard-to-reach mountainous regions.
ACN is helping the Sisters with transport and training projects in Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.
Aid to the Church in Need is a Pontifical Foundation directly under the Holy See. As a Catholic charity, ACN supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in need through information, prayer, and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope St John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in 140 countries throughout the world.
Undertaking thousands of projects every year, the charity provides emergency support for people experiencing persecution, transport for clergy and lay Church workers, Child’s Bibles, media and evangelisation projects, churches, Mass stipends and other support for priests and nuns and training for seminarians.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow and another office based in Lancaster that covers the North-West.
Please always acknowledge Aid to the Church in Need as the source when using our material.
For more information, contact Senior Press Officer Dr John Newton on 020 8661 5167.