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If Not IHM, Then Who?

by Sister Elizabeth DeMerchant

Sisters Elizabeth DeMerchant and Kathy Kurdziel spent three weeks in the small city of Sicuani, in the beautiful Andes Mountains of Peru with Sister Eileen Egan, Sister Ancilla Maloney, and our candidate, Giovana Fuentes Bendivez. The people of Peru are beautiful, authen­tic, loving, faithful and happy. Each year the IHM sisters organize and sponsor a summer program that serves more than 100 local children. This year Sister Eileen taught the morning group songs in different languages. Sisters Ancilla and Kathy taught the five and six year old children. Giovana helped with the three and four year olds as well as taught outdoor activities such as skipping rope. Sister Elizabeth taught building skills to all four age groups using Legos. She used themes such as images of God, automobiles, airplanes and roller coasters. The chil­dren loved playing with the Legos. Nothing seemed to push Elizabeth to learn Spanish, or another language, until she was not able to talk with the children about Legos and to respond to their questions or attempt to dialogue with them. One young boy smacked his forehead with his hand in disbelief, when Elizabeth responded with her “no comprendo” when he kept asking her questions.

For fun, the sisters all went out for pizza in Sicuani on Friday evening. In addition, the sisters prepared meals without the typical labor saving appliances used in kitchens in the United States. All fruits and vegetables are pre­pared by hand; even bread crumbs are made from dried bread that Elizabeth crushed with a special rounded, river rock. As a home economist, she also had the opportunity to learn about high altitude baking (Sicuani is over two miles above sea level) from Sister Eileen as she prepared a birthday cake for a child and Sister Ancilla prepared her sugar cookies for the house, as well as for the Bishop’s birthday gift. Additional new food knowledge for Elizabeth included: the surprise that canned peaches are a very special treat ranking up there with a bottle of wine as a house gift, and that brown sugar and molasses are not available in Peru, making baking favorite cookies a challenge.

The area around Sicuani is filled with ancient ruins and cultural treasures. Together the sisters explored Raqchi, a local Inca ruin. Raqchi is the site where the tribal runners delivered fish from the ocean to the tribal leaders. On another day Ancilla and Elizabeth experienced a full day from 3:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. of buses, trains, and hiking to tour the ancient ruin of Machu Picchu near the city of Cusco.

Elizabeth is from Maine, one of the poorest states in the nation. However, she admits that she has never seen the level of poverty she witnessed in Sicuani. She observed open sewers that ran though the homes, dirt floors, lack of electricity, refrigeration, indoor plumbing, windows, laundry being done in the river, dirt roads, and children with large holes in their shoes and clothes that are too small because the children have long outgrown them. Sisters Ancilla and Eileen live the corporal works of mercy every day as they answer the never ending ring of the doorbell and respond to requests for food, clothes, education, money, counsel, and even frequent requests for Sister Eileen to conduct funer­als for loved ones. As a new member, the most profound learning of the trip was to witness these works of mercy practiced daily with deep love and compassion. Elizabeth was able to witness first-hand the huge difference that two IHM sisters make in the lives of the people of Sicuani. As a canonical novice, Sister Elizabeth has been left pondering—who would so lovingly care for the people of Sicuani if the IHM sisters were not present?

Elizabeth-Kathy in Peru-Jan 2017

Elizabeth's Lego projects are a hit. Here is the class's roller coaster that the built together. Then each one followed his/her marble down the slope squealing all the way to the bottom.