“Faces of Mission” is a bi-weekly blog series produced by the United States Catholic Mission Association highlighting our membership and all their work in and for mission. This week we feature Luisa Ortega, SFO. A laywoman and member of the Secular Franciscan Order, Luisa works with the missionary group Misión Manos Hermanas to help the people of Villa El Salvador in Peru.
Mission as a Way of Life
Awakened to the Need for Mission
In 1989, Luisa Ortega, SFO was awakened to the need for mission. She was 26 at the time and on a trip to Guatemala. The trip had nothing to do with mission, Luisa says, but rather it was just a vacation. It was also her first time experiencing the world outside of the United States and she remembers it was “totally different from the world that I knew.” What Luisa encountered in Guatemala would have an impact on the rest of her life.
One day during her trip when Luisa was stopping to buy bread and cheese, she saw a little boy sitting on a corner covered in flies. It reminded her of images she had seen World Vision use of poor children, but she says “I never thought in my life that I would see it with my own eyes”. On her way back in her car after her shopping trip, Luisa saw many other poor children along the road and she was moved to stop and try to give them some of the bread and cheese she had just bought. It was encountering those children on that vacation in Guatemala, Luisa says, that “awoke in me the need to do mission; that opened my eyes to the reality of other people.”
Misión Manos Hermanas
Now, years after her initial awakening to mission, Luisa Ortega is a Secular Franciscan and works with the missionary group Misión Manos Hermanas to help the people of Villa El Salvador, Peru. The group was formed several years ago by Fr. Pedro Corces, a diocesan priest. One day, Fr. Pedro had received a phone call from an old teacher of his from seminary who was on mission in Peru. The missionary had not had any time off in several years and asked Fr. Pedro to come to Peru and take over for him for a couple weeks to which Fr. Pedro enthusiastically agreed.
Those two weeks in Peru profoundly affected Fr. Pedro and left a question in his heart: What am I going to do in response to what I have seen? Fr. Pedro, Luisa explains, believes that “God doesn’t bring you to a place or to someone to be there and then walk away. He brings you into people’s lives for a purpose.” And out of that initial visit, Misión Manos Hermanas was born.
The group works with three parishes in Villa El Salvador, a poor community on the outskirts of Lima, promoting different environmental and medical campaigns to help educate the people “how to take care of themselves and actually to be owners of their own destiny.” Misión Manos Hermanas sends a short-term mission trip to the community for two weeks every year and spends its time in the United States fundraising and working to help the people of Villa El Salvador.
Through fundraising in the United States, Misión Manos Hermanas sponsors a clinic for the community, which previously did not have a place to get needed medical services. “There are so many people without medical service,” Luisa says, “that you see people die because they don’t have medical attention, because they can’t afford it, because there is no place to go.” Within a year, they built up and expanded the small, insufficient clinic that the area did have into a place “where it would dignify the people that would go.”
Luisa believes that “mission is a response to the gift that God has given me, to be born in the Catholic faith and to be baptized”. Mission is still so important in today’s world, she says, “because I think there are so many people that long to have someone journey with them,” adding “I feel the most rewarding thing for me in mission has been journeying with the people.”
In her mission work with Misión Manos Hermanas, she strives to go on that journey with the people of Villa El Salvador, focusing on creating connections and bonds over time. A missioner cannot just go to a place once and then leave, Luisa argues. For her, it is important to keep going back to the same place, to keep in touch with the people, and to let them know how privileged you are to be invited into their lives. In this way, she is truly able to journey with the people through mission and to be with some who do not have anyone to journey with them.
Mission is Mission Every Day
While planning to continue her efforts with Misión Manos Hermanas, Luisa does not see her work in Peru as the entirety of her mission work: “I think mission is mission every day. Not just going to Peru once a year, but mission to me is encountering that person every single day whoever that may be. It could be in my work, it could be in my home, it could be out in the street, anywhere where I can bring Christ to others. Mission to me is a way of life. It’s not just that I’m going to prepare a few months before and go abroad – that’s a big part of it – but it’s also having that right before me every single day.”