The first evangelizers of Puerto Maldonado, the Dominican fathers, arrived in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon region in 1902 after a long and adventurous journey by foot. It will take much less time for Pope Francis to arrive by plane in this area, which was never erected diocese (it is in fact a vast apostolic vicariate), on Friday, January 19. But it will still be a historic day, for it will mark Francis’ first visit to the Amazon region, dedicated to many of the themes that are dear to the Pope: the peripheries, the poor, the indigenous people, the care of creation. A brief albeit intense anticipation of the Pan-Amazon Synod to be held in the Vatican in 2019.
“Indeed, these days we are truly at the centre of the world,” commented jokingly the Apostolic Vicar of Puerto Maldonado, Msgr. David Martínez de Aguirre Guinea, he too a Dominican. “Here we are all happy and excited, but we are not nervous. We hope that the Pope will fill us with enthusiasm, people expect a direct encounter, a blessing, but also consolation and a gaze of mercy, that the Pope may show us the heart of Christ.”
The indigenous populations feel welcomed and esteemed by the Pope. The indigenous people are the special guests. They will be coming from various locations in the Amazon region to meet the Pope, scheduled to arrive in Puerto Maldonado, at 10 am Friday, January 19: after the planned welcoming remarks, the Holy Father will also receive expressions of affection from the missionary childhood and indigenous leaders. Around 11 am will take place the most anticipated event: the meeting with the native communities. “There is great enthusiasm amidst the indigenous people – said Msgr. Martínez -. They feel welcomed, esteemed by the Pope.” And they want to return those feelings, in their own way.
“A few days ago – the Apostolic Vicar went on – I was talking to an eighty-year-old native, in his native language because he does not speak Spanish. He said that the Pope is an important guide, a wise guide. He pointed out that the expressions of welcome had to live up to this fact. They are preparing for the event with their dances, their products, and, above all, with their enthusiasm and their joy. It will be a great event!”
The whole community of the vicariate of Puerto Maldonado is involved. The meeting with thousands of faithful will take place on the esplanade of the Jorge Basadre Technology Institute. Msgr. Martínez said the event was prepared with great care: “We met with the communities, and there was a diocesan assembly. The Pope’s arrival is like a thermometer for our Church. It involved us and animated us all, it united us. But what matters is what will happen next.” In fact, new avenues of evangelization are required: “We are experiencing a new societal transformation marked by disappearing rural communities and campesinos, many have decided to go and live in the city. This requires
restructuring pastoral care, promoting the formation of catechists prepared to address the new urban environments, a renewed focus on the relations inside communities and parishes.”
Here the cry of the poor is heard. With no doubt one of the strong themes that will emerge from the historic day in Puerto Maldonado will be that of the encyclical Laudato Si ‘: “The poor and the earth will be at the centre of the papal message – said the Apostolic Vicar -. Here the cry of the poor is heard in full. The Pope will speak to the excluded and marginalized who call for more humane living conditions. But here can be heard also the cry of the earth, the need to protect creation, put at risk by exploitation, by water pollution. The Pope has already addressed these themes, but I believe that he will continue to surprise us.” Before taking leave, Msgr. Martínez de Aguirre Guinea expressed a personal wish: “I hope this visit will lead us to live out the encylical Evangelii Gaudium. The program of Pope Francis is the program of Jesus, we hope it will touch the hearts of many, that these may be days of conversion to God and focus on the poor. I am pleased that so many communities that are distant and peripheral will hear Francis’ message.”