In 1975, Fr. Jack Lynch began working with Fr. Denis Hebert, an Edmonton diocesan priest and pastor of Christ, Light of the World parish in a dry, barren, and dusty area on the outskirts of Lima, Peru. At that time, there were 50,000 people in the parish living with no electricity, water, sewage, or mail service, and only rudimentary streets. Fr. Jack said at that time, “There is little doubt in my mind that our vocation calls us to be identified with the poor, to be close to them.”
After working in Japan, Scarboro missioner Fr. Bill Schultz went to Lima in 1980 to accompany the poor in the time of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), the vicious rebel group that terrorized the country for more than a decade. This group destroyed the crops of poor peasants, threatened the municipal governments and put on public trials of local officials followed by instant sentencing and execution. During this dangerous time, Fr. Bill chose to stay with the people rather than return to Canada. While in Peru, Fr. Bill also helped to lay the groundwork for Japan’s first-ever lay missionary program in which Catholics from Japan went to work as missionaries in Peru. He is buried in the cemetery of the poor community of Carabayllo, his grave still lovingly maintained some 27 years after his death in 1986.
Scarboro’s second Peruvian mission was established in 1980 in the parish of St. Joseph the Worker, La Victoria, Chiclayo, in the northern coastal desert. Invited by the Diocese of Chiclayo, the Scarboro missioners were part of a team consisting of the Sisters of Charity and priests from the Diocese of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Then Archbishop of Halifax, James Hayes, had participated in the Second Vatican Council and sent the first team of diocesan priests to Chiclayo in 1968 in response to Pope John XXIII’s call to mission in Latin America.
Scarboro’s mission team in Chiclayo was comprised of priest and lay missioners, including a married couple. They served the parish, celebrating the sacraments and doing faith formation through base Christian communities where the people prayed and reflected on their lives in the light of the Gospel. Missioners also worked with CEPAS, a popular education and social action group through which the illiterate learned to read, the marginalized learned to organize, and women were empowered. Despite living in conditions of extreme poverty and death, the people of Chiclayo continued to proclaim and celebrate the God of Life and Goodness.
Former lay missioner to Peru, Armella Sonntag, recalls: “The images that continue to motivate me are images of people who carry on scratching out a living for their families, in the daily grind of poverty, yet have their sights and faith set on a different and transformed society. These people, at great sacrifice, are active in unions, politics, civil society, church, and any avenue that creates spaces for social transformation.”
Another missioner, Gerry Heffernan—the first lay person to join Scarboro Missions when it opened its doors to the laity in 1974—was publicly recognized in 1990 by the people of La Victoria for his continuing efforts to help this poor community to obtain proper housing. Gerry organized a housing project and worked alongside the people as together they built almost 200 houses for themselves.