“The contemplative prayer of the Carmelite is also the strength of the active apostolate.”
– Blessed Titus Brandsma
For Carmelites in El Salvador, Mexico and Peru, our goal is to be missionaries who help the local people uncover Christ within their culture. Like Elijah, modern-day Carmelites call people back to the center — to find God as the important point in their lives and to live out that relationship in their daily lives.
In our missions, the Carmelite friars provide pastoral services, education, and support among poor areas in and around Lima and Torreon.
Back in 1985, Father David Blanchard, having just been ordained, visited El Salvador as part of the Province’s Justice and Peace Commission during the El Salvadoran civil war. When asked at the time what the Commission could do, the archbishop of San Salvador noted that war atrocities are less when foreign nationals are present so he asked the Commission members to simply visit and be present at times. The archbishop took the question to heart and called the PCM Provincial, Reverend Murray Phelan, O.Carm., and asked if the Province could send any Carmelites to El Salvador. Father Murray called Father David and asked if he wanted to go. He has worked in El Salvador since.
The parish he was asked to pastor, Our Lady of Lourdes, is in an area that was hit hard during the civil war. Father David quickly concluded that the area greatly needed economic development so not only does the parish offer the “usual” aspects of parish life—Masses, catechetical and sacramental programs, choirs, youth ministry, and a heavy emphasis on adult faith formation—but the parish has become the economic mainstay of the area.
The parish really is a diversified company. There is a restaurant, open daily, that does it biggest business on weekends, selling 3000 tamales on an average Sunday. There is a computer repair workshop, reconditioning old computers from the US mostly for school use throughout El Salvador. There is a literacy program working towards 100% child literacy. The parish operates health clinics both in the parish center and in the surrounding mountain villages. There is a carpentry shop which specializes in church furniture such as altars, pulpits, credence tables, etc. There is an agricultural department of the parish called “Chinampa” that teaches hydroponic farming to the area farmers to help them increase their output and runs its own teaching gardens, that teaches more efficient ways to raise chickens and turkeys with its own 2000-chicken farm, and teaches area farmers beekeeping with 25 hives of its own. Chinampa is soon to start fish farming, not only to domestically raise fish for market but to teach fish farming to area farmers to supplement their income. Because clean water was a need, the parish opened a water purification department called “Hidrochinampa” which now provides clean water for 300 households. There is a pottery workshop which recently won a contract to provide ceramics for Sanborn’s—a chain of coffeehouses throughout Latin America.
Recently the parish won a prestigious award from the International Association of Architects. The project started simply to provide readily available and affordable housing in the area. Nataniel Lastra, currently a Carmelite seminarian in Mexico City, formerly worked as an architect. He drew up designs for housing using alternate construction materials. For example, bamboo grows in the area but is not used for construction; yet it grows quickly and so is a readily renewable, environmentally-friendly, and inexpensive resource. Nataniel worked with the parish’s construction department in building a bamboobased hall for the parish. At first they were doubtful, but they became convinced when the design resulted in a beautiful and well-built building. It is this building and design that won the architectural award, with the prize awarded in Dublin (Ireland) last Spring.
Most notable of all these projects is the Foundation. This foundation distributes $13- million in consumable goods annually to the poor and those in need throughout El Salvador and beyond, with warehouse after warehouse used for storage and distribution.
The gem of the parish is the Retreat House. Located on a hill across the highway, the dome of the chapel of the retreat house can be seen for miles in all directions. Around this chapel on the slopes of the hill are the retreat rooms and meeting rooms, done in a Mediterranean-style, fronted with flowers and hanging plants. The whole complex is well-built, beautiful, peaceful, and comfortable.
“Looking back, vision is 20-20. To look ahead you need imagination, vision, and compassion.”
– Tom Jordan, O.Carm.
During less than a decade of service in Mexico, our friars have attracted enough young men interested in our way of life to open a house of studies in Tlalpan in southern Mexico City.
Since 1995, Carmelite friars have lived and worked in Torreón, Coahuela, meeting the needs of the people in Transfiguration Parish. The city of Torreón, in north-central Mexico, is less than 100 years old. “The population is young, attitudes are young” as a result, says Fr. Tom Jordan, one of four Carmelite friars who began the mission in Mexico. Because it sits close to the U.S. border — less than 250 miles from Laredo, Texas — the city attracts a variety of industries. The parish has 14 chapels throughout the region to serve the 30,000 people of the area. Each chapel has a range of services, including catechesis, youth ministry, and sacramental preparation. The parish is important for building a sense of community and prayer among the people.
As young men expressed interest in joining the Carmelite way of life, the province needed to find a suitable place to build the Carmelite community. Because opportunities for higher education are limited in Torreón, the eight young men interested in the Carmelite way of life are now in a house of studies in Mexico City. From this base, they are 20 minutes away from a certified school of philosophy. They are also close to the Intercongregational Institute of Theology and Formation in Mexico where they study theology.
The house in Mexico City, Casa del Carmen, is also a place where the students have an opportunity to live with experienced Carmelites in a community structure. Three professed friars live and work with the young men to help them through their studies and to grow in understanding of the Carmelite life. This year, half the students in Mexico will go to Lima, Peru for their novitiate year with other Carmelites in formation.
“Sometimes I just stood in the middle of the yard and took my shower with water from a five gallon tin that collected what little rain water we had.”
– Sylvan Boyle, O.Carm
Since 1949, Carmelite friars have served the people of Peru, centered in the Miraflores section of the capitol, Lima and expanding to the Prelature of Sicuani. Since 1949, we have shared the hardships and poverty of the people among whom we live and work. More recently, friars have begun a huge ministry in Jose Galvez in the new Diocese of Lurin.
– Jose Lucchesi, O.Carm.
There is unspeakable poverty. Thousands of people appear overnight, moving into the city in a desperate search for jobs and food. Here the Carmelites run three parishes; a school that serves 1,800 pre-school, grade school, high school and special education students; soup kitchens that serve breakfast to hundreds of children and lunch to those who would otherwise go hungry; a clinic and sewing co-op.
There seems to be a mobile give and take among friars in the United States and their missionaries in Peru. Every year when he returns to the United States, Jose Lucchesi, O.Carm, seeks out his friars in Chicago-area parishes. Every year, they send tons of unusable items from their churches and chapels. In Jose Galvez these items are repaired and turned into goods that have helped to start up 200 parishes in Peru. Local artisans have even made molds of donated statues and they now can cast statues of St. Therese and other figures for local parishes.
Carmelite friars also run the St. Joseph Bakery, which helps rehabilitate 30 men at a time and trains them as bakers over an 18-month period. The men are often literally taken off the streets and sometimes need drug or alcohol counseling as well. Over 10 years, close to 1,000 men have participated in the program, which is supported in part by bread sales.
Because of our presence, local men have started to join the Carmelites. There is now a formation program in Peru with seven men studying to be friars.