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Faith in Action : Fr. Ed O'Connell in Lima Puru

Father Ed O’Connell is a Columban Father, born in Somerset and educated by the Salesians in Battersea. He has been working as a missionary priest in Lima, Peru for 38 years.
Father Ed is the parish priest of “Our Lady of the Missions”, a parish of over 50,000 people, in the district of San Martin de Porres in north Lima.

Father Ed founded a small NGO called “Warmi Huasi” (meaning “Women´s House” in the Indian language of quechua) that works in the township of San Benito, on the northern outskirts of Lima.

Over 10,000 people live here in extreme poverty.

Over recent years the economic prosperity of Peru has improved but the associated increase in wealth has not reached 60% of the population. The people in Father Ed´s parish live in poverty, just able to make ends meet. The people in San Benito are amongst the 30% of Peru living in extreme poverty, suffering many economic, social and health problems. Despite their problems the people have strong faith and a desire to succeed, but are in great need of help.

Within his parish of Our Lady of the Missions Father Ed has initiated pastoral programs to improve the lives of the parishioners. Each of these programs depends on charitable funds to function. Among these programs are:

  • A Women and Family program promoting the self esteem of women and training volunteers for educational work in becoming health promoters and in preventing domestic violence.
  • A Youth program, promoting the self esteem of the youth and training them to be catechists of the sacramental programs and a specialised team of young professionals (teachers, psychologists and engineers) who volunteer to give talks in local secondary schools trying to reduce the number of youngsters involved in gangs, or being exposed to drugs and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • A parish scheme to accompany youth, who are involved in the parish and are from very poor families, encouraging them to go to university, using charitable funds to help them with some of their fees, books and travel costs.

Father Ed has also organised his parishioners of “Our Lady of the Missions”, especially the youth, to participate in the work of “Warmi Huasi” in the township of San Benito, where the houses lack running water and mains sewerage. San Benito has been built alongside one of the main rubbish dumps of Lima, which takes domestic, industrial and hospital waste, so the area is heavily polluted. There are many local health issues including parasites, skin complaints and malnutrition. The health issues are made worse by the lack of running water and mains sewerage.

Father Ed has a small team of women professionals, a social worker, an obstetrician, a nutritionist, a psychologist and an adult educationalist working in San Benito. Charitable funds go towards the salaries of these professionals. With the help of the health promoters of the parish of “Our Lady of the Missions”, this team educated the women of San Benito to be health promoters, getting them to visit the women in their township and talk about healthy lifestyles, such as safe use of water and hygiene in the home. Later, the nutrition and family non violence projects were started, training up local volunteers to monitor the nutrition of the under 5s and visiting women´s groups to prevent family violence.These two projects, shining examples of what determination and charitable donations can achieve, have been very successful and have become mature enough to hand over to the local community to run.

In 2012 “Warmi Huasi” starts a project that has been needed for a long time. A study shows that many children under 12 in San Benito are left alone for most of the day while their mothers work. These children often look after younger siblings resulting in many lost school hours. The new project will work with the mothers and the children to maximise the quality time that the mothers can spend with the children, minimise the lost school hours and ensure the safety, in terms of health and physical security, of both groups. This project will involve schools, medical posts and police posts and will again be achieved along the lines of self help and sustainability.

The great work done by Father Ed’s “Warmi Huasi” relies completely on voluntary assistance from local people and charitable funds from people like our parishioners here at Saint Joseph’s in Epsom. Without these charitable funds the lives of the people of San Benito and the very poor in the parish of Our Lady of the Missions would be much harder.