Iquitos is composed of many old traditions and home to many diverse people. Iquitos is the capital of the Peruvian Amazon and is the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by land. The only way into Iquitos is by air or water. It is surrounded by three rivers: the Amazon, the Nanay, and Itaya. It has long been inhabitated by indigenous people whom the Jesuits encountered in the 1700’s. The Amazon rainforest is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
Two sisters minister in Iquitos. Both work in schools, Maritza Jarro in a high school and Maria Inez Gutierez supports the administration of a ‘Fe y Alegria’ school for the poorest children.
Both sisters are very involved in parish ministries besides their work in schools. I was only there two days, but in the days I was there I witnessed an incredible amount of outreach by the sisters: in the parish helping with Sunday Mass; recording a one hour radio interview; teaching confirmation night classes; visiting parishioners at the hospital; assisting the pastor in baptizing a dying seven year old in her home; visiting a mother of three in a room with no doors or windows whom the youth group supported by putting on a new metal roof that would not leak (there was black mold everywhere); meeting with a parish group at night; assisting in a retreat for young people interested in religious life; teaching at the school; coaching a soccer team; taking part in a demonstration to stop domestic abuse of women; and taking a two hour boat ride to visit the Amazonian children in a small village.
All in two days and again it was all about being the presence of God’s loving embrace, for in some cases there was nothing to do but be there as that presence.
I came to Peru for 2 days of ‘conversation’ but left with so much more than words, for it was the images of our Peruvian sisters who live the Gospel of Jesus in their service to the poor that I bring back with me. These images are deeply implanted within my heart. My Peruvian sisters have helped me take that leap of faith towards my dear neighbor in the streets of Peru and the streets of Santa Ana and I will never be the same. I am deeply grateful for this life giving experience and pray that I can live the Gospel as radically as I saw it lived in Peru.