Every year, about 30 St. Thomas Catholic Studies majors or minors are selected to participate in the Leadership Interns program. Lead by Professor Father Michael Keating, the program is designed to help form the next generation of Catholic leaders by giving them theoretical and practical insight into how to serve as a Catholic leader in today’s society. Every year the program has a theme, and at the end of the school year, the students take a trip as part of the Leadership Interns Spring Institute.
Last spring, 25 students and staff traveled to Lima, Peru, to participate in the third Spring Institute. The theme for the year was “Hispanic Catholicism,” and Peru was an excellent destination to explore and discover the rich Catholic culture that is found in Latin America. The United States was founded largely on Protestant principles, so it was a quite different experience to witness Catholicism in Peru.
While in Peru, we were hosted by the Christian Life Movement (CLM), an ecclesial community founded in Lima in 1985. The CLM is composed of priests, nuns, consecrated lay brothers and sisters, and families. It describes its main purpose as the “evangelization of culture” through a deep love of Jesus Christ. Peru is a very culturally Catholic place, but it also has been heavily influenced by globalization and a loss of faith. The CLM is attempting to do what Pope John Paul II called “the new evangelization” by spreading the Gospel to people who have probably already heard it before.
While we were there, we toured Incan ruins, ate at least 15 of the alleged 10,000 types of potatoes in Peru, met CLM founder Luis Fernando, listened to many informative and inspiring talks, sang dozens of spirited songs (the CLMers love to sing often, and loudly), and experienced Bembo’s, the Peruvian equivalent to McDonald’s – except it has corn dogs!
The Christian Life Movement seems to have its hands in everything, and we were all impressed by how influential they have been and continue to be in Peru, and now across the world as they begin to spread out. We visited schools, hospitals, businesses, a television and radio studio, and much more, all founded and run by the CLM. We even had an opportunity to spend three days in Arequipa, a beautiful city in the foothills of the mountains of southern Peru, where a Catholic university was founded by the CLM. It was impressive to see the university, which in many ways has a similar mission to that of Catholic Studies here at the University of St. Thomas.
Oftentimes, the Christian Life Movement works with the poorest of the poor in the many shantytowns that dot the hillsides of Lima, and there are many inspiring stories about what we witnessed. One story that especially struck the Leadership Interns was told to us by a teacher at a school for children with disabilities. Many of the children at the school have severe handicaps, either physical or mental, but the school seems filled with hope, not with sadness or despair. We met two young boys, about 11 years old, both of whom had muscular dystrophy. When they had first came to the school, the teacher said the illness was not noticable, but now the disease was slowly eating away at their muscles, and it is only a matter of time before they both succumb to the disease. They had become best friends at the school and now are inseparable comrades. One of them is sicker than the other. Their teacher told us that the healthier boy told his friend to wait for him, so they could die together. His friend replied, “No, I am going to heaven first to prepare a place for you.”
This boy, much younger than any of us, provided us with a beautiful example of Catholic leadership being lived out in everyday life. What affected us the most about his story, and about the work that the Christian Life Movement is doing in Peru, is the centrality placed on Jesus Christ. We all can have great schemes, plans, ideas and desires to change the world and make it a better place, but if we do not have Jesus Christ firmly planted at the root of our lives, our endeavors are, as Ecclesiastes says, “a chasing after wind.” We were encouraged by what we saw and witnessed in Lima, and it gave us hope for how we, too, can answer the call to lead and help evangelize our own culture here in the United States.