Chimbote mission teams return

Diocesan mission teams are charged by Bishop David Zubik to travel to Chimbote, Peru, and come back to tell the story of the loving and compassionate work being done there.

This year’s teams have many stories to tell.

“I would count it as one of the greatest blessings I have received in my life,” said Joan Kilgore, a member of Team 6A. “It has enriched me so.”

Members of Teams 6A and 6B gathered to share their stories during an Aug. 5 dinner at St. Paul Seminary in Crafton. They also came together to brainstorm for the 54th Annual Peru Mission Dinner to be held Oct. 24 at Duquesne University.

“When people here get the story and understand what is going on there, they are touched,” said Suzan O’Keefe, a veteran of two teams who assists the Mission Office.

Team 6A left Pittsburgh June 14 and returned June 23, while Team 6B left June 28 and returned July 8.

“There’s something that draws me back every year,” said Deacon Frank Szemanski, a veteran of several mission teams. “There are many places where you can encounter Christ on an everyday basis.”

Team 6A encountered Oscar, a middle-aged man who was suffering from pulmonary fibrosis. He pleaded for a new bed frame because his current makeshift one wouldn’t allow him to sleep comfortably. The group was able to purchase one for him.

But in a sad twist, members of Team 6B were present for Oscar’s funeral days later.

Kilgore spoke of a trip to a barrio that included a taxi ride, bus ride, a pedal car and journey by foot. They visited a shack, with a donkey tied to a pole in the front. She encountered a woman who had suffered a stroke, and Kilgore spoke of the initial feeling of helplessness that she felt. What could she possibly offer the woman? The answer came in a simple gift to her.

“In that moment God gave me what I needed to help her,” Kilgore said.

The woman’s husband was suffering from colon cancer and couldn’t harvest the crops the family was growing. Several members of the team went outside to dig up potatoes.

“I could see the love they have for each other and how grateful they were for us to be there,” Connie Gower said. “In the midst of poverty you see so much love.”

The teams included nine student recipients of the inaugural Mike Clark-WTAE-TV Travel Award. Clark is a longtime supporter of the mission who visited Chimbote in 2000. He emcees the annual dinner.

Clark was on hand for the brainstorming session and read a reflection from Paul Kasunich, a member of Team 6A who was unable to attend the dinner. In it, Kasunich pointed out that his Chimbote experience solidified his decision to be an osteopathic physician. He spoke of meeting Jahair, a 17-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who was still happy in the midst of poor life conditions. Jahair loves to draw and paint, so his mother placed a red pencil between his toes.

“Jahair began to draw his artwork as I began to draw a tear,” he wrote.

Kasunich also wrote of his encounter with Oscar. “The experience of meeting Oscar instilled in me an even greater attitude I have towards what I have been given by others,” he said. 

In addition, Kasunich mentioned witnessing the miracle of birth for the first time at La Maternidad, the maternity hospital. He shared the experience with his sister, Julie, who was a member of the team.

Sarah Lenkner, a member of Team 6B, is a nursing student. She gained experience watching a physician administer wound care.

Ted Kondrich noted that he was struck by the fact that the people had so little and yet they were so happy. “If we don’t change something, if we don’t change our lives, it was just a cool vacation,” he said.

The annual dinner, O’Keefe said, is one of the principal means of support for the Center for Social Works, which consists of the maternity hospital, outpatient clinic, clinical laboratory, pharmacy and home for abandoned children. It also sponsors a home-visit program aiding “the poorest of the poor.” 

Dolores Nypaver, director of the Office for Stewardship, said the dinner experienced its second highest attendance ever last year — some 620 people. It was a tribute, she noted, to the generosity of the faithful who recognized the compassionate work of the mission, and the efforts of ambassadors such as the team members.

“We’re hoping that you can tell that story in a real way to those who haven’t been there,” Nypaver said.

Both O’Keefe and Deacon Richard Tucek, director of the Mission Office, said that there are no administrative costs associated with the dinner. All money raised, as well as funds from the golf outing and through school groups, goes directly to the mission.

“God really used you guys,” Deacon Tucek said of the bonds the team members formed with the people of Chimbote.

The maternity hospital is anticipating the birth of its 100,000th baby later this month.

Kilgore said that she was moved by the witness of people who have great joy in their lives, despite the poverty all around them. “The encounter will be with me forever, and I will cherish the memories,” she said.

More information on the Chimbote Foundation can be found at www.chimbotefoundation.org, by phone at 412-456-3085 or by e-mailing chimbote@diopitt.org.