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Sisters of Mercy travel to Peru to remember and celebrate

February 20, 2015
Liz Dossa
Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community

Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community traveled to Acora, Peru, this past December to celebrate a vital Mercy link established in 1964. Sister Biviana Chique Espezua made final vows and Sister Carmen Rosa Ccallomamani celebrated her 25th jubilee in the Church of San Juan Evangelista in Acora on Dec 13. Thirty-nine sisters of Mercy came from areas of Peru and the U.S. to recognize the 50th anniversary of a community begun in hope as a mission from Burlingame.

The group traveling from Burlingame included many who had ministered there: Sisters Gloria Avila, Judy Carle, Patsy Harney, Phyllis Hughes, Martha Larsen, Anne Marie Miller, Gloria Miller and Mary Waskowiak, Associate Regina Bailey and Lenore Greene.

Fifty years ago, four Mercy sisters from the Burlingame Region boarded a plane in San Francisco to respond to the call of Pope Pius XII to spread the Gospel to Latin America. The sisters chose for their mission Peru’s Altiplano, at an altitude of 12,500 feet, a region the United Nations had declared a permanent disaster area because of its inadequacy to sustain life. The region was attractive because in addition to the profound need, the help of more experienced Maryknollers who had served there for years was available to the sisters.

Over the years, 14 sisters ministered in education of lay catechists and in health care. As the sisters settled into the culture and some learned to speak the native Aymara, their mission grew into human rights and the empowerment of women. The Peruvians in turn began their education of the sisters in the native wisdom of the people.

Their work has had rich rewards. Peruvian women began to be attracted to the Mercy community. In 1989, Sister Carmen Rosa entered the community and several others have followed.

The December ceremony reflected the color and the melody of the local church. A choir of young guitarists, drummers and singers dressed in bright embroidered jackets and brilliant skirts contrasted with the white of the priests’ robes. The weaving of local customs with those of the worldwide church thrilled Sister Martha Larsen who served in Peru from 1981 to 1993. She was happy to note the use of the Aymara language in the ceremony.

“The parents of Nidia Huanacuni Quispe, another of our Aymara sisters, offered the traditional penitential rite with lots of incense,” said Sister Judy Carle.

As the North American sisters returned to what was once their mission and is now an independent community of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, they found memories but also growth.

“An image of the days of celebration that stays with me is that of a huge tapestry, “said Sister Deborah Watson, who is now in Argentina. “Past, present and future were beautifully woven together in Aymara, Spanish and English. History was so well remembered and represented, especially in the person of Regina Bailey, who served in Peru from 1965-1975, one of the first ‘Peru missionaries.’ Then for me Carmen Rosa symbolized the present, the community in Peru expanding the Circle of Mercy and reaching out in compassion to those most in need. And in Biviana, fully beginning her life in Mercy, we live our hope for the future and our commitment to search for ever more creative and effective ways to minister.”

Dossa is communications manager for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest Community.

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