After several months of holiday in his native city of Ballarat, Columban Father Leo Donnelly returned home to Lima, Peru where he has lived most of his 80 years since arriving there in 1958. Before leaving he shared some of his insights and stories with Fr Dan Harding ssc on the value of witness and fellowship as a missionary in Peru, reports Catholic Relgious Australia.
Many people must wonder why you don't retire here in Australia?
"I am happy to retire in Peru because of the witness value. I believe it's important that the Peruvian people know that we Columban missionaries meant what we said. We did not just come here, do things for them and then go home. We came here to share our lives with the Peruvian people, to live close to them and to value them as people. As missionaries, we could not bring them the faith because they already had strong faith. What we could do is value them as human beings."
What was it like in the areas where Columbans worked in Lima in 1958?
"Bloody awful! A page out of Tolstoy! Families were just beginning to migrate to the outskirts of Lima from poverty and oppression in the rural valleys and tableland of the Andes Mountains. There was dust, dust and more dust everywhere! There was no electricity, no town water and very few sealed roads."
What is it like now 55 years later?
"For many people, the standard of living has gone up. Serious problems like poor public health and education and the social divisions between rich and poor remain of course. The use of cocaine is a serious problem. Drugs are given out to school kids to get them hooked."
Which period was the most difficult for you?
"It was undoubtedly the last four years of the Shining Path guerrilla war. The Shining Path guerrillas were a Maoist terrorist movement that began their armed insurrection in 1980 and continued until the capture of their leader, Abigail Guzman, in 1992.
I spent 10 years at the height of the Shining Path guerrilla war as parish priest in the valley and town of Huasi Huasi, an area where the guerrillas were active. Huasi Huasi is 350kms east of Lima and situated high up in the Andes Mountains between 3000 and 3600 metres above sea level."
In my time there, I buried 28 people who had been murdered by the Shining Path guerrillas. In the beginning they shot people but later it became even worse as they started to kill people with knives.
The ordinary farmers and village people of course suffered from both sides. The military would go into a village and burn it down so that the Shining Path guerrillas could not hide there."
FULL STORY Returning home to Lima (CRA)