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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Monday, 13 October 2008

Going On Pilgrimage: Sr de los Milagros, Sr Cautivo


As I am only allowed seven articles, I am including the Introduction in this "post".- this edition covers the second half of October and the first half of ovember. In the time since the last edition we have taken possession of land that was "invaded" by a land speculator, and we are on our way to acquiring the land permanently. things are pretty tight economically, but we are plodding on. Our postulant left, which was very sad, but monastic life is quite challenging, and people can only survive with deep motivation, with the confidence that this is meant for them. two others are currently guests of the monastery seeking a monastic experience. Meanwhile, it is pilgrimage time among the faithful. Our present edition is very papal, largely because I think the media often does not understand his motives as they are very theological I hope you enjoy the videos where you will see something of the Ambrosian, Mosarabic Rites, and even the Seum Use of the Roman Rite. Remember the other blog at Also, on the front page, the enedictine website gives you access to the websites of practically all the western monastic orders, while there is a website that gives you access to all the Orthodox monasteries in the world.


When I first came to Peru an American priest told me that, if I wanted to understand Peruvian popular Catholicism, I should read Chaucer. 1492 was the date when Christopher Columbus discovered America. In the same year Granada fell to the Christian Spanish army, and the Moorish Empire was no more. It was from the impoverished south of Spain, the part that had been under the sway of the Moors that people flocked to the newly discovered lands on the American continent to seek their fortune and, if they were lucky, the ownership of land which made them nobles under the Spanish system. While they fought the Moors or served under them, they were caught in a time warp. They were medieval crusaders rather than people of the XVIth century, and their religion was also from the Middle Ages too. One practice that is typical of Medieval Christianity is going on pilgrimage. Every diocese has its place or places of pilgrimage, and people walk there on pilgrimage – going by car does not count – for days, weeks, or even months on the annual celebration every year. Another is the veneration of images.

For several years I wondered about the peasants’ use if images. Was it a form of idolatry? Was it superstition? In many places, every statue in a chapel had its feast day. The statues were objects of such reverence. Why? The trouble with finding out was that the peasants were not very good at explaining things. There was very little intellectual content in their religion, but much devotion and custom. Then, one day, I met a highly articulate peasant, not all that educated, of course, but what he lacked in formal education was amply made up for by an acute intelligence. I seized my opportunity and asked him why the statues were venerated so much. He thought for a little and then said in his precise way, “After a statue has been blessed by the Church it becomes a point of contact between God and the people, a manifestation for them of the divine.” The 2nd Council of Nicea could not have put it more clearly: the statue or picture is an icon. . The peasants did not learn this from the priests, because the doctrine of icons was not “received” by the West as it came from the East, and the Greeks were not popular in the Frankish Empire; but it was part of the popular religion imported from Spain. Two such icons are “Senor de los Milagros” in Lima, and “SenorCautivo” up in the northern Andes in Ayabaca.

In the 17th Century Lima was a relatively small city, even though it housed the Viceroy and the Archbishop. There were also very poor areas like Pachacamilla, a place where Indians from the sacred valley of Pachacamac were moved to by their Spanish masters. There was also a sizeable population of escaped or freed African slaves from Angola.. One such was Benito who, during an outbreak of yellow fever in the grand estate where he was a slave, was so attentive to the sick, without any care for his own safety, that his master freed him at the end of the epidemic. He then went to Pachacamilla and joined the growing number of ex-slaves. They formed a Brotherhood that met for prayer and bult an adobe meeting place. Benito painted a picture on one of the walls of Christ crucified. Above the cross is the Father and the Holy Spirit, because the Jesus on the cross is a theophany, a revelation of the inner life of the Blessed Trinity as self-giving Love. On either side at the top there are the sun and moon to indicate that the crucifixion is a cosmic event. At the foot of the cross are Our Lady and St John who represent us who share in the self-offering of Christ on the cross through our participation in the Mass. I believe it was the present Pope who said that all pictures of Christ, even those of Jesus on the cross are really pictures of the Resurrection. Unable to adequately depict the Resurrection, they show Jesus offering himself to us in loving obedience to the Father to the last drop of his blood. As a permanent gift it is an essential dimension of the risen Christ who is the Lamb both dead and standing (Apoc. 5). The Resurrection is referred to in the title, “Lord of the Miracles”. The Lord, Protector of his people in Lima and in the rest of Peru, manifests his presence through the image. When people direct their prayer towards the icon, it is the risen Lord who hears their prayer; and when they carry the icon through the streets, Christ is visiting his people.

On November 13th at 2.45 in the afternoon, Lima and Callao were struck by a huge earthquake which caused thousands of deaths. The poor were especially vulnerable and all the houses in Pachacamilla of the Angolans and Indians were destroyed Only the wall on which was painted the crucified Lord remained intact. Fifteen years later, thelone wall with its painting was discovered by an Antonio Leon who suffered from a tumour on his face. This was cured when Don Antonio invoked the Lord in front of the picture. This attracted others, and they re-built the house and came there in ever increasing numbers. It had become a place where miracles happen. Soon the authorities became worried at large meetings of Africans and Indians. They thought it might be an occasion for rebellion, and they forbade the cult, ordering the wall to be white-washed. However, when they approached the wall, the earth began to shake. A soldier tries to destroy it but failed, and the numbers grew and grew. Finally, the viceroy revoked the order, built a chapel and had a Mass celebrated there on the feast o the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in 1671. However the feast continued to attract only the poor and the Angolans. Then, in October, 1687 there was a sea-quake and an enormous tidal wave that wiped out Callao and part of Lima. Once again all the houses were destroyed, including the chapel built by the viceroy, but the adobe wall with the picture of Christ crucified remained intact. All Lima took notice. A replica of the painting was made in oils, to be carried in procession on the 18th and 19th of October every year; and the adobe wall with its painting were incorporated in a Carmelite convent. Nowadays, in October, all Lima goes purple

Ayabaca is a small town set in spectacular scenary 2,815 metres above sea level in the northen Andes. In October thousand of pilgrims wind their way on foot to the shrine of Senor Cautivo de Ayabaca. Some carry crosses. Besides pilgrims, many other people come by car and bus for the feast day on October 13th. Once I spent a week in Montero, the last town before walking the final day to Ayabaca. My job was to hear the confessions of pilgrims. One had started out from Lima carrying a heavy cross on August 16th, doing twenty six kilometres a day, and he arrived at Montero on the 11th with swollen feet. He told me that he once lived up in the North, not too far from Ayabaca, but work led him to live in Lima. He had made a promise to go on pilgrimage every year for so many years. Then he moved, but did not want to break the sequence. For the months before August 16th, he trained to improve his fitness so that he would be able to undertake what must have been a gruelling journey. I tried to lift the cross and it was very heavy indeed. The altar boys of Tambogrande would pride themselves in doing the pilgrimage in three days. This was an act of endurance indeed, because it entailed one night without sleep. In order get there in time they had to walk fast and hard with little rest. Older people would do it in five days. It is normal to go to confession before starting out and to receive communion at the shrine itself. Certainly, in northern Peru, many people are very devoted to Senor Cautivo.

Every shrine has its story. In 1751, the parish priestof Ayabaca, named Garcia Guerrero, wanted to give the people a statue of Christ. Someone had given him a large block of cedar wood which, he thought, would be ideal for the purpose. He sent two members of the parish to Equador in order to contract a sculptor to come back and carve the statue. However, they hadn’t travelled very far from the town when they met two who told them that they were wood carvers. Spared from a long journey, the group returned to the town. The wood carvers made some very strange conditions. They were to have a house to themselves. Food would be left inside the door once a day. They were on no account to be disturbed in their work, and they wanted no contact whatsoever with the townsfolk. When these conditions were agreed to, they set to work. Each day someone brought food; but no one saw the sculptors nor heard them. After some time, curiosity grew among the people of the town, until it became too strong to control. One day, some of them went into the house which they found empty. All the food was there uneaten, and the completed statue was there waiting for them. They never saw the wood carvers again.

The statue is of a kind very popular in southern Spain, and goes under several titles of which Senor Cautivo and Jesus Nazarene are the most common. It is of Christ, with bound hands, as he was before he was crucified. In contrast to his plight as a prisoner, this image is wearing a gold crown and purple robes which signify both royalty and penance.

I believe it is the present pope who has said that all pictures and images of Christ are really of the risen Christ, even when they are of Christ before Pilate, as in Ayabaca, or of Christ on the cross, as in Senor de los Milagros. In St John's Gospel, Jesus is glorifies, as is his Father, on the cross. The cross really shows, better than any other depiction of Jesus, who and what he is. Christ is self-giving Love to the last drop of his blood. We cannot imagine the Resurrection, but we can imagine Christ's passion and death, because they belong to our world. Hence the paradox: a captive wearing a gold crown, is addressed as "Lord Captive"; a dead body on a cross is called "Lord of the Miracles". If the picture depicts the Passion, the title reminds us that Christ has risen.
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