We visited the Church of Santa Maria Virgen yesterday evening. I was invited on Thursday by Padre Aurelio. He is a magnetic and effusive priest, an inveterate evangelist and church planter. His enthusiasm for Jesus is only matched by his passion for his flock and to share the Gospel. Aurelio ministers on the south side of Lima in a sprawling poverty stricken area just close to Chorillos.
Aurelio welcomed me by asking if I had brought my stole. I had. He sat me down on a chair outside the church door to hear confessions – he sat on the other side and was doing the same. The idea is that confession is essential before coming to receive holy communion. Therefore personal confession with a priest is available right there at the church door. WOW! I have to say that I agree totally about the need for confession before communion. I had never seen it taken quite so literally! I am hugely grateful to Aurelio for showing me this in a new way. This is but another instance of my being led like a child into new parts of God’s Kingdom and ministry.
As I “heard” confessions two things were clear to me. The first was that Aurelio had prepared the folk well as to how to examine their consciences and thus to make a proper confession. The second was that I was simply a vehicle for people to unburden themselves to God. I only understood a small part of what I heard as my language skills are still small. I was there to make real God’s listening and God’s gift of forgiveness. What a contrast to the priest in another place who ripped me up and down once for having confession at the Easter celebration! I sat there for about forty-five minutes; the service did not begin until all who needed to come had done so.
The service was joyful, boisterous, youthful. The church was full; many stood at the back and just outside. The majority were under twenty. We were celebrating two adult first communions and one adult baptism. I was drafted to perform the baptism! What a joy that was since I could understand those words. The whole service became a lesson for the huge group of young folk who (as I later understood) came as part of their preparation for first communion. This will happen tomorrow, Dec 8, a national holiday that celebrates first communion. How wonderful to live in a country where the state celebrates Christian occasions and virtues.
Two things of note in the baptism service:
Both the candidate for baptism and his sponsors/godparents signed documents in front of the congregation committing themselves to their vows taken at the service. The second was the explicit use of words of exorcism prior to the baptism. In older rites this used to happen at the church door prior to the liturgy. Used here, it was a powerful reminder that all Christians take their place on the front line in Spiritual Warfare. The enemy is driven out and the Holy Spirit enters in. The armor of God protects without and the Holy Spirit makes us temples of the same Holy Spirit.
After the service Polly was surrounded by girls. She is like a magnet to young Peruanas. I was just amazed by her ability to relate, to have conversations. While I know that she was blessed, I could see that she was blessing these young women. What a joy for us both!
Click on the pictures to enlarge – worth it!