Sydney priest Fr John Andersen has been on loan to a small Peruvian city for more than half of his life and believes the Church in Australia can learn from his experience in missionary territory there.
Fr John leads St Rose of Lima Parish in the country’s northeastern Apostolic Vicariate of Iquitos—where he is known as Fr Juan—and fulfils other responsibilities in the vicariate.
He has made a submission to the Plenary Council while home on leave, detailing some of the ways the Church’s pastoral plan in Iquitos has energised the faithful and boosted its outreach.
Initiated in 1991 by the “wise and holy” former bishop, Bishop Julian Garcia Centeno OSA, and agreed upon by laity, clergy and religious, the plan has united parishes in common goals and created a system where every family receives support and contact with their faith community, he told The Catholic Weekly.
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Priorities such as catechesis, liturgy, and social outreach are supported at the vicariate and parish levels with a structure that allows for individual talents to shine.
A once-weekly, five-month marriage preparation course continues to be a success while special annual events bring the whole vicariate together, such as a festival with an all-night, city-wide procession on the popular feast of the Lord of the Miracles in October.
“The plan aims to form a Church of communion and participation in a constant process of evangelisation at the service of the family and the world,” says Fr John.
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“It’s not the only way of organising what we do [as the Church], but it’s excellent.”
Fr John, who wanted to be a priest since sixth grade, said that he benefited from the harmony between his family, their parish at Holy Cross Woollahra and his Marist school.
“To have family, parish and school working together is a tremendous basis for Christian life and also, a person is more ready to hear the call of God,” he said.
Inspired by the examples of the Marist missionaries and an aunt, a missionary sister, Fr John received permission from his then-superior Cardinal Freeman for permission to work in Latin America, after serving in the parishes of Dulwich Hill, Avalon, Penshurst and Earlwood. He later worked in the parish of Mt Prichard.
The Columbans accepted him as an associate priest and more than 30 years on he continues his ministry not through their order but through the generous extension of their arrangement by successive Archbishops of Sydney.
A recent highlight was taking a group of young people from the parish to World Youth Day in Panama through the help of Sydney Catholic Schools, he said, while others such as Catholic Mission have also been good supporters.
Fr John will next year celebrate 50 years of priestly life, which coincides with the Golden Jubilee of his parish.
“I was blessed with a calling from the Lord to live as a priest of the Archdiocese of Sydney and I’m very deeply grateful for that vocation,” he said.
“The Lord calls us to be his instruments of grace to so many different people”.