Amazon Diary-On the River Heath, 1923

My first attempt to come into contact with the native population was on December 22nd, 1923 when several literate men brought us all the way to the banks of the River Heath in order to administer the sacrament of Baptism to their children.

A few days later, the subprefect of the province approached me saying (in their colloquial manner) “Listen Father: while we were on the boat near the mouth of the Heath, a few native Huarayos approached us and they asked us when the “Papachi” was planning to visit them.  So now you know, they are waiting for you and they spread the word around to all the other natives surrounding the rivers you have travelled through. ”  So a few months later,  I started my first major expeditions to reach them which, to my pride, continue to this day.

I made these expeditions with several natives from the Tambopata and La Torre Rivers and several times with natives from the Heath River.  I was always grateful to see them arrive at the mission.  They who know about the need of Holy Baptism for salvation, always arrived begging for me to go to them to cure them or “pour water” on their children’s heads (that is how they call Holy Baptism) since they knew that after receiving it, they would go to heaven when they died.  They also begged me for information on other baptized natives who were gravely ill.  They would say to me: “You cured him Papachi, because you baptized them!”

These trips back and forth from the mission to the local tribes have always been joyful and animated, and until now, without any regretful experiences.  The tribal members who were with us at the mission loved traveling with us as well, since it was for them a real journey to explore and expand our reach, and to go in the company of the “Papachi” to visit the other tribes.  For the tribes, our arrival was always festive and they felt honored to receive the missionaries.  They knew we would arrive with excellent gifts for everyone, speak to them in confidence and trust, and never ask them for anything.  5 AM Mass celebrated on the river banks, our catequetical talks, and friendly and intimate conversations with people who had never heard the name of God, were so full of tenderness and emotional reward for me, especially when they brought forth interesting questions which excited us both with their number, hilarity, and compassion; these gave us an insight into the state of their souls.

Our usual day was like this: As soon as we arrived, the first hours were spent spreading word of our arrival, and while word was being spread, we were surrounded by them hearing about their experiences since our last visit.  Later on, especially if my visit was an emergency, I would be surrounded by the sick, to whom I preached the truths of the faith, necessary to receive Holy Baptism, and then at their request, administered the sacramet to them.  Another beautiful scene later on was the exchanging of gifts: clothing, fishing hooks, religious medals, sugar cane honey, yucca flour, etc, etc.  Then dinner,  always surrounded by a group that I can only describe as a true agape, where I would always find two or three eating from my plate.  At the end of the evening, a portable cinema, where we would show the Life of Christ.  This was their favorite event.  That is why whenever we arrived, they always asked first about the “cinema dojokue” (portable cinema) which I always made sure to bring for its powerful help as an evangelizing tool.

I was always endeared with their constant pleas to stay longer, spend a few more days living among them, and the gifts they would bestow on us such as decorations, necklaces, weapons, husk clothing and other products of their work.  I was touched by their desire to keep holy water from their baptisms.  These exchanges formed a strong bond between the tribes and the mission, which were tended with love and charity, but with apostolic zeal have yielded abundant spiritual fruit in the conversion of these souls (Escritos 1, p.181 y ss.)

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