by Maddie LaForge, Tacna, Peru 15. Spring Hill College 15.
As with many words I learn while living here, compartir (“to share”) transcends the translation. Compartir means food and drink, family and friends, and time together. This week was a special time to compartir here in Tacna. Now I’d also like to share with you—family, friends and those of you who like a good drink.
This week was important for the community here because we said goodbye to Father Fred Green. This beloved Jesuit priest and Tacna hero has moved to live and pray at an elderly home in Lima. Although he is just a (long) bus ride north, all will miss Fr. Fred dearly. Padre Fred, originally from Hawaii, served in Tacna for 57 years. He founded two schools, Colegio Cristo Rey and Colegio Miguel Pro. He was also influential in the other Jesuit works here: Colegioi Fey y Alegria, Centro Cristo Rey niño y adolescente and Centro Loyola. Over the years the Jesuit works, true to the Jesuit mission, have educated the youth in Tacna. Their mission reaches a variety of young people—from the most affluent to those with great economic need. The Centros also offer after school programs, support for families and pastoral ministry. Over twenty years ago, Padre Fred brought volunteers from JVC here. Today, we serve in all of the Jesuit works and live alongside the community in Habitat, a neighborhood on the outskirts Tacna’s center. Our neighborhood was built by Habitat for Humanity, also brought here by Padre Fred.
Our neighbors tell us stories. They walked for miles in the middle of the desert like God’s chosen people. They carried their food, water, equipment and hope for their future. Together as a community they built their homes, one by one. They built our school, Colegio Miguel Pro, which started with just one grade in a house. They built the capilla (church) on the only piece of sturdy, cement ground. Padre Fred, with great humility, arrived here and allowed the Grace of God to work through him. Padre Fred chose these people. He led them here in the desert, helped them organize and create a strong Christian community. Now, like the capilla, this community will always be here. It lives on. The people laugh and cry, celebrate and mourn, survive and support all together. They never forget give thanks to God for Padre Fred who brought them here and brought them together. They always pray for his health in their prayers of petition. Y para el salud de Padre Fred.
That’s the thing. I realized it sitting in the cathedral at Padre Fred’s goodbye mass. I looked around the large cathedral packed with friends of Padre Fred. I saw every occupation, every socioeconomic status and every age represented. Padre Fred brings people together. I see him in the physical space- the neighborhood and the schools he built. I hear him in this chosen people’s stories. I hear how he gave his time, talents and love with extraordinary humility. The way he serves is far more striking than the works and accolades that bear his name. The way shows how he lives and accompanies this community. Because of the way he is these people’s saint and hero. It’s like the Gopel of John says, “I am the Way.”
Each JVC house bears the name of one of our Christian heroes, for example, Oscar Romero House (Newark), Henri Nouwen House (Baltimore), Casa Dorothy Day (Oakland), Helen Prejean House (Houston). In addition to our litany of modern day saints, the international communities carry the names of heroes who inspire our new cultures: Beatrice Cayetano House (Belize City), Wangari Maathai House (Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania), Paulino Cantero House (Pohnpei, Micronesia). In Casa Fred Green, we are blessed to know the person from whom we draw our inspiration. This week, we partook in the celebration by inviting our friends, family and neighbors to our house for a compartir with Padre Fred and dedication/blessing of our home.
Our home carries his name, his love and his service. It honors the sacred service of each volunteer who has lived, breathed and found their being here. Our community delights in the sacredness. We carry Padre Fred into our work and while we live our mission. Each day his name reminds us how to walk along The Way. He will continue to light the way for each community of volunteers who brightens this sacred space. Our community shines, with all its Grace and vulnerabilities, as a beacon of Christian hope, an oasis in the desert. Each time someone passes Casa Fred Green, I pray they are reminded to see the stars that brighten the dark, desert sky.