Cardinal visits St. James Society in Peru

BRIGHTON--The spirit of fraternity was evident among some 40 priests who serve in South America at the annual gathering of the Missionary Society of St. James the Apostle, said Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley after a trip to Peru from Feb. 7-11. The society’s meeting was held in Barranco, a suburb of Lima.

“In the evening of the annual gathering, the priests would come together and sing Irish songs late into the night,” the cardinal said in his blog post on Feb. 16. “It is a wonderful dynamic to see how supportive they are of each other, particularly when you see the difficult situations in which they live and the pastoral situations they must deal with.”

Cardinal O’Malley is the titular head of the St. James Society, and many of its priests are from the Archdiocese of Boston.

The St. James Society was founded 49 years ago by Cardinal Richard Cushing in response to Pope John XXIII calling priests and religious from North America to aid the faithful of South America. In its almost 50-year-long history, over 300 priests have served in the Andean countries. Currently there are about 40 priests serving through the society.

“From the beginning, Cardinal Cushing envisioned this as an association of diocesan priests not only from Boston but from other parts of the English-speaking world,” said Cardinal O’Malley. “Today there are Americans, Irish, English, Scottish, an Australian and two Philippinos in the group.”

The priests serve large congregations in Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador. A rural parish there has one central church with many chapels. Cardinal O’Malley was able to visit parishioners in Villa El Salvador in what is called the Pueblos Jóvenes, he said.

Millions of people have moved to the desert area on the coast of Peru, fleeing areas in the Andes with guerrilla conflicts. The desert is caused by the Humboldt ocean current that carries cold water from the Antarctic up the western coast of South America. The water cools the air and makes it much less likely to rain, he said.

“This lack of rain is evident in the way people construct their houses,” he said. “When people come down from the mountains they start by building rudimentary shacks -- but without roofs. Only later, once they are more established, do they add a roof and perhaps brick walls.”

Two of the priests who serve there -- Father Adrian Crowley from Dublin, Ireland and Father Simon Cadwallader from Liverpool, England -- have helped to create an orphanage that the cardinal visited. The orphanage is run by the Sisters of the Cenaculo.

“They take in abandoned babies there from newborns to children who are 6 years old, and do their best to create a home-like atmosphere for them,” he said.

The St. James Society has benefited the Archdiocese of Boston as well as the diocese in South America. Many of the priests return to work with the local Spanish-speaking Catholic community, Cardinal O’Malley said.