Jesus said: Let the children come to me

As long as they are wearing long sleeves and skirts below the knees. Those wearing shorts must wait outside.

No?

Missionary churches in Peru are typically far more conservative than their counterparts in their home countries. We went to a baptism last weekend, in a Catholic church in a poorer part of Cusco. I had never been to this specific church before and didn’t realize the church has mostly missionary clergy and nuns. All gringos in other words. The baptism was a group baptism for about 40 kids (ages between 1 – 10 maybe), with a concurrent/additional Confirmation service for about 60 or 80 kids from the local school. The entire service was 4 hours, uninterrupted. They saved the baptism for the youngest kids (less than 3 years old) until the end.

4 hours uninterrupted in church with our Brianna Nayaraq. Wanna know how that went? Nah, I’ll spare you the details.

A while into the service I stepped outside with the baby. Upon entering the church again, a boy of maybe 7 years old ran into the church alongside me. The nun who was guarding the entrance stopped the boy and pointed to the dress code sign beside the entrance: “You can’t enter wearing shorts.”

A few minutes later, inside the church building, a nun walked by a grandma with her 6 or 8 year old granddaughter. The little girl was wearing a sleeveless shirt. The nun asked the grandma to remove her coat and cover the child with the grandma’s coat.

Just in front of us 2 kids were playing, they couldn’t have been more than 3 to 5 years old. Suddenly one of the boys fell, hurt his head and started to cry. His mom picked him up and he stopped crying in no time. Not soon enough though. One of the patrolling nuns – who looked like she was in charge of things – quickly approached the mom. A Rosary in one hand, with her other hand she pointed the mom with her crying baby towards the exit door.

You thought she was coming to see if the crying boy was ok?

I sat through it all because we were invited by friends. Alright, you got me, I sat through it because there was food at our friends house afterwards. But I can’t get over how many of the missionary churches in Peru are so conservative in their “tribal customs”. Forget the Scriptures, I’m no Bible scholar but none of this is religion, it’s control.

Women who belong to a missionary church are typically required to wear heel-length skirts or dresses. Strange when “our” religion requires women to dress a certain way in the name of God, it’s a beautiful thing but when another religion does the same it’s discrimination?

I respect the so-called Mormon Church in that they work the same way in Peru as they do in their home of Utah. But the church we visited was a Catholic church and they operate in a way that would at best be considered lunatic fringe and at worst illegal in the home countries of those gringo nuns and priests. Make no illusions, many missionary churches here have a large following only because of strategic decisions (invest in nice buildings in poorer areas of town) and because of their centuries of built up wealth. Ironically, much of that wealth was plundered from the so called “New World”.

But Jesus called them to him, saying, ā€œLet the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Luke 18:16

Proselytizing in Latin America

9:00 am the doorbell rings. You know who it is because it happens all the time: somebody wants to talk to you about the Bible. American (US) churches are relentlessly proselytizing in traditionally Roman Catholic Peru. Many homes have stickers on the door saying “we are Catholics, don’t bother”. About once a month somebody will come to our house, I usually say that I don’t have time because I’m trying to get the kids dressed and off to school and all that good jazz.

Now don’t get me wrong, I respect when someone has a strong faith and they want to share that faith with others. But the truth is, it doesn’t always feel that way. The proselytizing by US churches here in Peru has almost a corporate feel to it, a strategic plan kind of feel. They know the population here is young, the economy is growing, and that many Peruvians are receptive in a very mundane kind of way.

On flights back and forth to the US, I’ve sat next to Americans who came on missionary trips quite often. Many times they struck me as just nice people who wanted to come speak about their religion and do some humanitarian work. I’ve sat next to a doctor and a dentist who had come to spend their vacation in a small town providing medical work. They let it be known they came out of religious motivation, but in a respectful way.

On the other hand, I’ve had quite a few experiences like this: I was sitting in the Plaza Tupac Amaru one day when Brianna was only 6 months old. It was a beautiful day and she was enjoying the sun. We were approached by a group of US missionaries:

“Sir, do you know what’s going on in this world?”

Me: “Well, I try to do the best I can every day…”

Of course that was a dead give-away that I was a Catholic, and US Evangelicals have a very different theology, all about good vs. evil (and then they wonder why they’ve been practically non-stop at war for the past 70 years).

“Well Sir, we’d like to talk to you about the end of the world that is coming soon and that there is still time to prepare.”

Me: “Lady: I have a 6 month old baby. I know I can get run over by a Tico any time or struck by lightning or that our sun can go Supernova or the end of the world can come some other way, but I’d like to think my baby is going to have a full and happy life. I’m really not interested in hearing your end of the world come to our church and you’ll be saved preachings today.”

I know that wasn’t very tactful of me at that time but before you get offended ask yourself: when you’re enjoying a nice day in the park with your family, or when you’re rushing to get ready for work in the morning, would you be appreciative if somebody came to your door to talk about the Tipitaka or the Upanishads or the Qur’an? Would you really? What if they came every month? If you knew they were coming because it was part of an assignment? Almost like a corporate scorecard?

I respect people who have a strong faith and want to share it but please do so with respect for the culture you are in. One thing to realize is that 500 years after the Spanish conquest of the Inca empire, much of the Roman Catholic religion here in Peru remains influenced by the ancient Inca culture. In churches in Peru you will find lots of gold, images of the sun (for the ancient Inca sun god Inti), etc. The traditional images of the Roman Catholic church, such as the Virgin Mary or Jesus on the cross, are typically adorned in strong colors and gold, much like the traditional Andean culture and festivals. Many current religious festivals have their roots in ancient Inca traditions.

All this to say that changing someone’s religion isn’t easy, the number of people you sign up may not really reflect the adoption of your message, especially if that message is delivered with little understanding or respect of the current culture and religion.

altar gold Peru

Inside the Catholic churches in Peru you will find a lot of gold as well as images of the sun, a reflection of the historic Inca culture.

Typical Andean baby Jesus figure

Typical Andean baby Jesus figure.

The church of La Merced in Cuzco

The church of La Merced in Cuzco has elements of traditional Inca culture as well as the Roman Catholic religion. To take pictures inside you have to get married there šŸ™‚

SeƱor de Huanca

The shrine of SeƱor de Huanca. It is believed that here God made His home among men.

SeƱor de los Temblores

SeƱor de los Temblores – in Quechua “Taytacha Temblores”. One of the best known images of Cuzco.

Power of the sun

It is believed that if you stand in this spot in Machu Picchu with your arms raised to the sun, that you will receive healing and strength from the sun.

Visit to SeƱor de Huanca

Perhaps the most important religious shrine in the Cusco area today is the church of SeƱor de Huanca, in the Sacred Valley of the Inca, about an hour outside the city of Cusco. Many Cusquenians go here to worship and ask for the blessings of SeƱor de Huanca.

Patricia with the baby outside SeƱor de Huanca

Patricia with the baby outside SeƱor de Huanca

Inside the shrine, believers light candles and pray for blessings of SeƱor de Huanca. It is believed that if one enters the shrine with a pure heart, SeƱor de Huanca will grant you any blessings you wish, but if you go inside with less than a pure heart, you will not receive any blessings and may even find harm.

In front of SeƱor de Huanca's church

In front of SeƱor de Huanca's church

Family visit to SeƱor de Huanca

Family visit to SeƱor de Huanca

It is believed that here is where God made his home among men. There are actually 2 different stories as to the origin of SeƱor de Huanca, of miracles that are believed to have happened there.

Today, many Cusquenians bring their new cars here to be blessed, because it is believed SeƱor de Huanca will protect them from harm. In fact, when we were there an entire fleet of at least 15-20 delivery trucks for Coca-Cola / Inka Cola were there.

Overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Inka

Overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Inka

Mommy with baby Brianna by SeƱor de Huanca

Mommy with baby Brianna by SeƱor de Huanca

During the month of September, the month of SeƱor de Huanca, thousands of believers make a pilgrimage to SeƱor de Huanca. From outside Cusco, I believe the pilgrimage is about a 4-6 hour walk. I haven’t done it, but I’d like to some day.

To visit SeƱor de Huanca, you can take a taxi from Cusco (by the hospital EsSalud) for 6 Soles (~$2) per person, or you can take a bus to the nearby town of Pisaq and get a taxi from there.

If you’re visiting Cusco, a day-trip to SeƱor de Huanca is definitely worth it. The shrine of SeƱor de Huanca is in a beautiful area overlooking the Sacred Valley of the Inca. It is a very quiet place where you will find few tourists but typically several dozen locals who have come to worship. After visiting the church of SeƱor de Huanca you can enjoy typical Andean food in the nearby town of Pisac or in any of the towns in the “Valley of the South” on the way back to Cusco.

SeƱor de los Milagros

The procession of SeƱor de los Milagros in Cusco passed by our house last night. Peruvians worship SeƱor de los Milagros (Lord of Miracles) as it is believed he protects them from harm. An excellent explanation of the tradition from Kleph blog:

The Lord of Miracles, or El SeƱor de los Milagros as it is known in Spanish, is actually a centuries-old painting on the wall of a relatively obscure church in central Lima.

According to tradition, in 1651 a slave who had converted to Catholicism painted the depiction of Christ on the cross on the wall of a building in the outskirts of Lima where new devotees to the faith gathered to pray.

When a devastating earthquake struck the city four years later the entire building collapsed except for the wall adorned with the painting. Over the next several decades, the image became associated with miraculous incidents. More and more people, particularly the descendents of slaves, began to worship at the site.

This concerned both the church and Spanish authorities and, in 1671 the image was ordered destroyed. According to legend, workers were not able to do so. But, for whatever reason, officials eventually relented and built a proper church on the site ā€“ the church of Las Nazarenas.

When another huge earthquake struck Lima in 1687, the chapel was destroyed but, once again, the wall adorned with the painting remained standing. This cemented the importance of the image to the faithful and church leaders ordered a painting of the image to be taken out in procession that October ā€“ the tradition that continues to this day.

SeƱor de los Milagros

SeƱor de los Milagros

SeƱor de los Milagros, Cusco 2009

SeƱor de los Milagros, Cusco 2009

Procession of SeƱor de los Milagros in Cusco

Procession of SeƱor de los Milagros in Cusco

Here in Cusco the celebration of SeƱor de los Milagros is less elaborate than the mes morado (purple month) celebration in Lima. I imagine the simpler celebration in Cusco reflects the fact that SeƱor de los Milagros is native to Lima and Cusco has other typical celebrations of SeƱor de los Temblores during Holy Week (Semana Santa) and SeƱor de Huanca during the month of September.

Procession of SeƱor de los Milagros

The annual procession of SeƱor de los Milagros was held on Oct. 12 in our neighborhood. Here in Peru, much of the month of October is devoted to SeƱor de los Milagros. It is believed that SeƱor de los Milagros protects the Peruvian people from dangers and fears. I found some great info on the legend of SeƱor de los Milagros at kleph.com and also at americaninlima.com and Peru food.

Here’s a picture of SeƱor de los Milagros passing through our neighborhood in Wanchaq and also in front of the Policia Nacional (PNP) at the plaza Tupac Amaru in Cusco.

SeƱor de los Milagros

SeƱor de los Milagros

SeƱor de los Milagros

Procession of SeƱor de los Milagros

Separation of church and state is less stringent here in Peru than in the US. At the police station, there was a brief ceremony asking SeƱor de los Milagros to protect the police officers while on duty, as it is believed he accompanies the faithful and protects them from harm.

Ward