By Jacques Berset
WHEN the Missionary Sisters of Jesus, Verbo y Víctima from Peru arrived toward the end of the 20th century, it caused a veritable sensation in the rural enclaves of Virgen del Carmelo de Villa Ygatimy, a sprawling community northeast of Paraguay’s capital of Asunción. Today, the sisters serve some 20,000 faithful through about 100 “chapels,” which is the name used for the scattered parishes of the Ciudad del Este Diocese, which is the size of Belgium.
Mother María Luján, a sister originally from Argentina, reported: “Three priests work in Curuguaty, 30 miles from here. They make it out only three or four times a year.” Meanwhile, sisters perform marriages, baptisms and funerals in rural parishes that do not have a priest. They conduct liturgies of the Word and administer the Eucharist to the sick.
This is precisely the charism of the Missionary Sisters of the Teaching and Atoning Saviour: to work in those places that have not seen a priest for months or even years.
“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,” Mother María Luján explained.
The villagers of Virgen del Carmelo de Villa Ygatimy appreciate that the Peruvian nuns are there. “They say that they are very happy that God visits them—that He travels so far to visit the simple people. They are poor, but have a great hunger for spirituality,” said the Mother Superior.
In the parish of Our Dear Lady of Fatima in Ypehu, led by Mother Beatriz, the Peruvian nuns perform pastoral care in 13 chapels. The furthest of these is 25 miles away. However, all of these chapels can only be reached by roads that are in terrible shape and that put the sisters’ long-serving all-terrain vehicle to the test.
A priest based in Brazil visits these villages four times a year. During Easter Week, a delegate of the bishop of Ciudad del Este comes to celebrate the sacrament of Confirmation.
In Ypehu, the influence from a variety of Protestant sects from Brazil is Mother Beatriz’s greatest worry. She said: “the Elohim Christian Church targets poor people, distributing food and offering classes to them. This is the main reason why people go to this sect. The pastor forces them to attend divine services. However, they still attend our liturgy on Sundays. The people want to have their children baptized in the Catholic Church because they have a deep reverence for Our Lady of Caacupé.”
More than 400 Missionary Sisters of the Teaching and Atoning Savior work at 38 missions in remote and inaccessible places in various Latin American countries. The sisters call these places Patmos, after the Greek island where St. John the Apostle lived in exile. They often drive for hours on unpaved roads or even go by foot, ride donkeys or take ships to visit a deserted village or farm inhabited by just a few families.
It is said that there, where the paved road ends, is where the work of the missionary sisters with their special charism begins.