Jubilee blessing for Peru missionary priest

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Fr John Anderson in blue shirt with Archbishops of Melbourne and Sydney Peter A Comensoli and Anthony Fisher OP with World Youth Day pilgrims from Iquitos. PHOTO: Supplied

A Sydney priest based in a small remote city in northern Peru says it has been cruelly struck by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fr John Andersen says many people have died of the virus in Peru, with the Amazon city of Iquitos the hardest hit. 

Fr Andersen is the parish priest of Santa Rosa de Lima Parish in Iquitos and this month will celebrate his golden jubilee of priestly life with the community he has served for
more than half of his ministry. 

“These are times of very great grace and blessing, and also very difficult times
,” he told The Catholic Weekly. “We have not had public Masses since mid-March, and we have gone through chaotic times over these last months. 

“Many more people have died in Peru of this virus than in Australia and there are all kinds of needs here.” 

“Many more people have died in Peru of this virus than in Australia and there are all kinds of needs here.”

The impoverished city surrounded by jungle was already struggling to recover from a dengue fever outbreak when the pandemic hit in what local health authorities called a catastrophe. 

Deaths due to COVID-19 in the region are believed to vastly outweigh official figures of more than 800 as tests and laboratories 
for analysing them are limited. 

By May Iquitos’ main public hospital was faced with nearly five times its capacity with 90 per cent of the deaths there attributed to a lack of med
ical supplies including oxygen. 

Fr John Andersen met with The Catholic Weekly during a visit to Sydney in 2019. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

As Iquitos cannot be reached by road its half a million residents depended on inadequate deliveries by air or the Marañón River for supplies of medicine, personal protective equipment and oxygen. 

Catholic diocesan administrator Father Miguel Fuertes Prieto OSA launched a fundraising drive in early May for an oxygen plant for the hospital, which raised $500,000 in
 two days. 
It was enough for two oxygen plants for Iquitos and one for the nearby city of Nauta, as well as oxygen tanks, medicine, and portable oxygen concentrators to be delivered to health centres in towns along the river. 

“This is something the government should have done in time, but that didn’t happen,” Fr Fuertes said.

Fr John Andersen in Iquitos with religious sisters who also serve the parish, Srs Fátima, Celia, María Guadalupe and Mirian. PHOTO: Supplied

Now the worse of the health crisis seems to have ebbed, Fr Andersen is grateful for the vitality of his parish community which despite the hardships has been preparing a joint celebration for his 50 years of priestly life on 22 August and the Golden Jubilee of the parish on 30 August. 

“I have had the privilege of living and ministering as a Sydney priest over these 50 years, in a great variety of situation
s in Sydney and Peru,” he said. 

“It has been a tremendous blessing, even now, ministering 
here in these difficult times.”

Fr Andersen said he wished first of all to thank God “His grace and mercy, so we can be His instruments in the lives of so many people” his parents Ignatius (Bon) and Eileen Andersen, his first teachers at Holy Cross Primary School in Woollahra and priests at his parish and school during his formative years. 

Cardinal Norman Gilroy ordained Father Andersen in 1971 along with Fathers Arthur Cook, Chris Dixon, Keith
Carlon, David Vaughan and Vince Lewin. Other classmates celebrating their anniversaries at different times include Bishop Max Davis and Fr Peter Carunana. 

After his ordination in 1970, Fr Andersen ministered in the parishes in Dulwich Hill, Avalon, Penshurst and Earlwood, before Cardinal Freeman gave him permission to serve with the Columban Missionaries in Latin America.

Since 1991 he has ministered in the Apostolic Vicariate of Iquitos which is in the care of the Augustinian order, as a parish priest and military chaplain.

“My sincere thanks to the Sydney archbishops, priests and people for their generosity to our Mission and people over the years,” said Father Andersen, adding that he was grateful for prayers for the people of Iquitos. 

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