After spending a week at our mission in Chimbote, Peru, 20 volunteers from the Diocese of Pittsburgh agree that the experience is one they will never forget.
Jim Manion, of Holy Trinity Parish in Robinson, was part of team 4A which travelled to Chimbote from June 16-26. “The travel was physically exhausting, the experience was emotionally exhausting, but it was so inspiring,” he explained. He specifically remembered the work done by the capable staff that provides care at the maternity hospital, clinic, and orphanage, and the nurses who make home visits to the poor in the barrios. “As the week went on, I felt so inspired.”
Two teams of ten volunteers each spent a week in Chimbote this summer to gain a better understanding of the services offered by the Center for Social Works (Centro de Obras Sociales, or COS) and to become mission ambassadors within the diocese. Despite having seen photos and videos from earlier mission trips, they were all surprised by their personal experience there.
Jim Luteran, of St. Bernard Parish in Mt. Lebanon, came home with a new outlook. “The whole experience was life-changing. I’ll never take for granted being born in the United States anymore.” His team provided two mattresses to a family whose living conditions were quite poor. “I’ll always appreciate the mattress and pillow I’m on, no matter how lumpy,” he said with a smile. “It was overpowering to me, I’m still processing it.”
Gracious People with Deep Faith
“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve done in my life, in a really long time, but it was really fulfilling,” said Linda Piso, of St. Mary of Mercy Parish in Pittsburgh. Piso, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Africa, was part of team 4B, which travelled June 30-July 10. She was astonished by the magnitude of the mission that grew from such humble beginnings, and had a special fondness for the older Chimbotanos that she met on the home visits. “I learned so much from them. They’re so gracious and grateful.” She already has plans to attend another mission trip next summer.
Deacon Richard Caruso, of St. John Neumann Parish in Franklin Park, was surprised in a different way. “I was absolutely struck by the depth of faith,” he explained. His group visited families in the barrio, and at the end of one visit, the residents asked him to bless the house and the family. “I looked around, and the only things hanging on the wall in this house made of woven reeds were pictures of their grandchildren receiving the sacraments. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, faith is so key to them!’”
No Medical Background Required to Bring Comfort
Some team members had a specific medical skill to offer, but most did not. Nevertheless, every team member found a way to contribute. Sometimes the most important “skill” was listening, which Luteran had a knack for, with some help from the team’s interpreter.
“I found most of the people would really just want you to sit there with them and acknowledge that they’re human, that they have dignity, and so I just sat down and I would let them talk, hold their hand. I just wanted to be a presence. They just wanted to tell their stories a lot of times. So you looked them in the eye and say, you know, this is human dignity. We all look at each other at the same level like Jesus wants us to.”
Carolyn Kiliany, of St. John Neumann Parish, is a physical therapist who attended with team 4B. She was surprised but glad to see the great number of people who could benefit from the maternity hospital, the clinic, the pharmacy, and the other mission programs. “What struck me was the scope of people that they reach. It’s the poorest of the poor but it’s also other people who can come and receive good care that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she noted.
The COS serves about 1,000 people each day on average. The mission offers services free of charge to those who cannot pay, and uses a sliding scale for those who can.
Piso of team 4B shared news of a recent milestone at the mission. She explained that on July 10, 1966, the maternity hospital opened its doors for the first time, and exactly 51 years later, on July 10, 2017, they recorded the 97,000th birth!
Spreading the Word about the Mission
Upon returning home, all the travelers were eager to tell their friends about their experience and to share information about the life-saving work being done at COS. Each of them received Chimbote Foundation business cards that provide information on how to get involved. Manion had so many people at work ask about his trip that he gave one presentation there already and has another one planned for co-workers who could not attend the first one. In addition, he is a member of the Holy Trinity Knights of Columbus and will present to them in August. “I want to let everyone know what their contributions to the Chimbote Foundation are doing there,” he explained.
Upcoming Mission Trips
If you are interested in attending a mission trip, information is available on this website under the Get Involved tab. For specific dates or other details, you can call the diocese at 412-456-3085 or e-mail us.
Photos from the Mission Trip
Click to enlarge photos.