News 11 Dec 2023

Bishop Cortez Shares Challenges and Triumphs in Peru's Missionary Landscape

In a discussion with the pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Bishop Marco Antonio Cortez of the Diocese of Tacna y Moquegua, Peru, addressed projects concerning religious communities and the imperative to reach every corner of a country grappling with a persistent shortage of vocations and missionaries, particularly in remote regions.

Peru remains a mission country, and the Diocese of Tacna y Moquegua encompasses an extensive area, including a significant portion of the Altiplano—the plateau nestled between the Andes and Lake Titicaca, where numerous people reside. According to Mgr Marco Antonio Cortez, the local bishop, "the primary challenge is to support the religious communities of men and women, enabling them to carry out their evangelization work and provide better care for the faithful." The bishop notes additional hurdles tied to the country's overall economic situation and difficulties in reaching the more distant mission zones.

The diocese is home to 30 religious sisters and four brothers who dedicate their time to mission, prayer, and tending to the faithful residing farther from urban centers. The challenging terrain results in isolation that the religious endeavor to overcome. Frequently, the sisters traverse long distances along the steep trails of the Altiplano to be with the faithful. Bishop Cortez explains, "The most significant challenge is to be present and accompany. People in these places seldom have the chance to see a priest; often, they only manage to reach them once a year." Some areas can only be accessed by boat, prompting the sisters to use this means to offer support to local communities and, at the very least, facilitate Eucharistic adoration.

"All of them perform commendable work, accompanying the young, engaging in charitable activities like delivering food to the elderly, and looking after them. Many elderly people in the region lack someone to care for them," the bishop elaborates, pointing out that "young people migrate to cities in search of work and opportunities, leaving the elderly in these isolated areas, where visits are challenging, and the population has dwindled."

ACN is actively involved in a project supporting ten communities of women religious in the Andean heights within the diocese. Bishop Cortez underscores that this aid responds to the local Church's concern for supporting missionaries operating in exceedingly distant and challenging locations, situated over 3000 meters above sea level. The project addresses the needs of the religious in terms of transportation and daily living, ensuring they can persist in evangelizing and collaborating with these communities.

Discussing immigration in Peru, Bishop Cortez notes that while the population of the Altiplano plateau may be decreasing, other parts of the Tacna y Moquegua Diocese, bordering Bolivia and Chile, witness an influx of immigrants from both those countries and Venezuela. According to estimates by the Interagency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants, around 1.6 million Venezuelans currently reside in Peru, though Bishop Cortez points out that not all migrants register, and most live in vulnerable conditions.

Underlining the significance of pastoral care for migrants, the bishop adds, "The pastoral care of migrants is very important. The Venezuelans who arrive in search of work and a better life bring with them incredible stories. Many arrive on foot, having crossed mountains. There are also families with small children, and that is why pastoral care for the family is also important."

During his visit to the international headquarters of ACN, Bishop Cortez emphasizes that, amidst the challenges, there are also notable successes. "We have many families that are already well integrated, with jobs, and there are many catechists among the Venezuelans. They have dedicated themselves to evangelization. Pope Francis says it is important to have youth evangelizing youth, and it is beautiful to see Venezuelans evangelizing Venezuelans." He concludes by expressing his prayers for "the first Venezuelan vocation" in his seminary.

With numerous projects unfolding in his diocese, the bishop underscores the critical importance of support to carry them out. "ACN's aid is essential and cohesive. We can feel the proximity of the benefactors. Their support goes beyond financial aid; it is another way of being close to us. We recognize this, and it is very beautiful," Bishop Cortez concludes with a smile.

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