Entering into a new culture

Farmer collecting Coca leaves in the Peruvian Jungle

Farmer collecting Coca leaves in the Peruvian Jungle

For every missionary venturing into a foreign land, the most formidable task is undoubtedly assimilating into the new culture. The initial stride in this direction is mastering the language of the locals, which serves as the gateway to comprehending and embracing new thought patterns, customs, practices, and a distinct way of life.

The Andes region of Peru is home to a diverse population, with many individuals fluent in Spanish and Quechua. While most people in the region can communicate effectively in Spanish, they often feel more comfortable conversing in their native Quechua language. This is particularly true during religious ceremonies and other important events, where the use of Quechua is seen as an essential part of preserving local traditions and cultural heritage. For this reason, it is common for formation courses and other educational programs to be offered in Quechua, as it helps to ensure that these important teachings are accessible and understandable to everyone in the community.

The coca leaf was chewed for centuries by the Incas to give endurance and so was a valuable symbol in ceremonies in our programmes to represent the force we receive from our Saviour.

When St Paul arrived in Athens, he told the Council, which had assembled to hear him, that he had first strolled around the city and discovered an altar inscribed ''To an Unknown God.'' Now I have a point of contact he thought and told the Athenians that it was this God that he had come to tell them about.

As we live and work in our culture today, may we too discover signs of God's presence.''Sunrise and sunset, mountains and valleys, kauri and pine, sparrow and tui, Maori, Pakeha and people of all races: give to our God your thanks and praise.''

Columban Fr Don Hornsey now lives and works in Aotearoa/New Zealand, after spending many years as a Columban Missionary in Peru.

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