Fr. Diego Cano Garcia, Serves Huancavelica, Peru

Consequences of the Pandemic in This Humble Community

Diego Cano Garcia
Praying in a courtyard with the faithful (C) Father Diego Cano

Exaudi talked with Father Diego Cano Garcia, a young Spanish priest, ordained and incardinated in the Diocese of Huancavelica, Peru. The Department of Huancavelica is subdivided into seven Provinces and its capital is located among the high Andes mountains, at 3,678 meters above sea level.

According to data contributed by the Huancavelica-South Social Promotion Program, before the current crisis caused by the coronavirus, 83% of the population lived in poverty. 52% of them lived in total poverty and 41% in extreme poverty.

Father Diego Cano Garcia and Huancavelica

 Father Diego Cano Garcia, a native of Cadiz, Spain, talked about how, studying at Madrid’s Polytechnic University, his priestly vocation matured and he returned to his native city to enter the Saint Bartholomew Conciliar Seminary. On finishing his ecclesiastical studies, the Bishop thought it necessary that he, as a seminarian, should have a missionary experience in Peru.

Given this opportunity, Father Diego recalled that organized for years in his school was a work camp in Huancavelica, in which he never took part but would have been delighted to do so. So he went to the Spanish priests that are there and the Rector of the local Seminary offered him the chance to go to that geographic place, to help in the pastoral work of the Diocese and to give classes in Philosophy.

Diego Cano Garcia arrived in Huancavelica in November of 2018 and was ordained on January 16, 2020, by the hands of Bishop Isidro Barrio Barrio. Father Diego then gave classes in the Major Seminary of Our Lady of Evangelization and is now in the parish of the Ascension.

Arrival of the Coronavirus

 At the beginning of the pandemic, when other countries were greatly affected by COVID-19, it seems that the virus suffered from “altitude sickness” and didn’t reach with much intensity the area of Huancavelica. Nevertheless, Father Diego recalled that “although in the beginning, it seemed that the virus would not dare to go up to high Huancavelica, in the end, it arrived late but very violent. We have lived for almost a year with the Department’s two hospitals and medical posts collapsed and a great number of dead. There has been no respite and, a few months ago, infections and deaths began in the most remote rural areas.”

“There are very few people” in this place, who have not had COVID-19 and some families have even been infected two and three times over.” We, priests and women religious, have also fallen ill but, thank God, lightly, with the exception of two little Fathers, now fully recovered, who needed to be hospitalized.”

At the diocesan level, Father Diego points out that Huancavelica has been among “the few dioceses in Peru where the faithful have been able to frequent the Sacraments, with due prudence, of course. We must thank the Authorities and Regional Security Forces for their common sense in this connection, feeling in themselves and their families the need for spiritual nourishment.”

Predictably, the economic and social circumstances in this Department, considered “the poorest of the poor of Peru, with a subsistence economy in the majority of families, living from one day to the next,” has worsened due to the pandemic. “The situation has been very anguishing — and continues to be so — more because of the restrictions than the sickness itself. For example, many people earned their living by peddling their country products or crafts day by day,” said Father Diego.

Moreover, a “great number of Huancavelica’s residents who had come together in Lima, had no alternative but to return to their villages after some time, as, given the immobility, they were going to die of hunger in the capital. Some families walked hundreds of kilometers from Lima, hidden by the mountains and spending the night outdoors at thousands of meters of altitude. They knew that their relatives and neighbors of the country would take them in after years away, despite their poverty and risk of contagion, and would share a piece of their chacra [small farm] to cultivate, would give them an animal and help them build their mud huts. “

Spiritual and Charitable Fruits

 Despite so much sickness and suffering, the Spanish priest said that as ”in many places of the world, we cannot complain when it comes to the spiritual fruits obtained. Many souls have approached God or at least have given second thoughts to some things. We, priests, have also had more time for the missions, as we had less pastoral activity in the city and were able to offer better spiritual care to the farmers in remote areas.”

Another fruit highlighted by the priest was the number of “known and unknown people who have collaborated in charitable matters. This health and economic crisis has brought out the best in many people,” he said. In this connection, “the work of the diocesan Caritas has been impressive, taking what was necessary to all corners of the seven Provinces that make up the Department and Diocese of Huancavelica. Caritas’ staff, of course, was very concerned about evangelization, always taking one or several priests in every campaign undertaken.”

The Missionaries’ Work and Witness

 Recently, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Monsignor Isidro Barrio Barrio, Bishop of Huancavelica for 20 years, for reasons of age, as the Bishop is 77years old, and 75 is the canonical age at which one can ask the Pontiff to accept one’s resignation. Father Diego talked about how at the end of the ’70s a new Irish Bishop, Monsignor Demetrius Molloy arrived in Huancavelica. .”This poor missionary was faced with dozens of elderly priests so he went to Spain to find young priests. Begging from Bishop to Bishop, he found a few young priests, among them Father Mariano — current Rector of the Major Seminary –, and Father Isidro, Bishop for the past 20 years and now Apostolic Administrator.”

The first apostolate of all these Pastors “was the building of the Minor Seminary and, after a few years, that of the Major Seminary. At present, the Diocese has 50 young priests and hundreds of religious vocations that have come out of the parishes, and are distributed in many countries.”

“There have also been dozens of new churches built throughout the Diocese, true artistic jewels, not forgetting the enhancement of those inherited from past centuries. This has facilitated the formation of catechists, so necessary in remote areas,” he added.

Father Diego also mentioned “the work of social promotion, such as the Asylum of the Little Sisters of the Homeless Elderly, Providence’s Soup Kitchen, the Carmen Escriva Center for the Promotion of Women, religious schools, etc. “

Monsignor Isidro Barrio and Father Candido

 Given all this, one can feel the “profound affection of the Huancavelicans  — priests, women religious, laymen, Authorities — for the missionaries who have given their life here, concretely for Monsignor Isidro Barrio.”

Father Diego also remembered Father Candido, the first to arrive in this recondite place, who died recently at 87. “He had spent almost half a century in this land of mercury, but one could continue to note clearly his Galician origin, because of his accent and inseparable black beret. He was very pious — he directed spiritually almost all the priests –, while at the same time being very pragmatic. Out of necessity, he made himself an expert in construction and learned the art of carving and gilding wood. His contribution was fundamental for the building of the Convent of the Discalced Carmelites in this land, from which several foundations and vocations have issued in the whole of Peru and Spain.”

“I knew him when he was already 84, being my Spiritual Director until his death. He was easily found in the Oratory before the Tabernacle, walking around praying the Rosary or directing a priest, in his workshop of altarpieces, carving with his gouge or gilding and, before dinner, in front of a very old and small television set, watching the news or tennis, wrapped in a blanket.”

Needs in the Diocese

 In regard to the needs of this Peruvian ecclesiastical circumscription, Father Diego pointed out that it is a “young” Diocese, as it was severed from Ayacucho in the time of His Holiness Pius XII. It has always been poor and dependent on the outside, especially on Spain and other European countries. It’s true that the last Bishops have done a great job in putting in order and getting performance from the scarce diocesan patrimony, while at the same time the faithful themselves are more conscious of the need to support the Church, but we are still not economically self-sufficient.”

“The Major and Minor Seminaries, for example, are maintained in great part by Spanish godparents and help from Ireland. Arriving from Germany is an aid to build churches and acquire cars. However, these aids are increasingly scarce due to Europe’s secularization and the economic crises.”

Father Diego stressed that the principal needs “are scholarships for seminarians and the maintenance of the nuns, the charitable centers (asylum, soup kitchens. etc.,) and the construction of new parishes and restoration of valuable old churches.”

Aid to Huancavelica: Prayer and Alms

 Finally, Father Diego addressed Exaudi’s readers from different parts of the world, asking them to offer their help, first with prayer, which “is within everyone’s reach.” “We, the baptized, make up the Mystical Body of Christ and we live the Dogma of the Communion of Saints. This implies the duty to pray for all the living and the dead and to share spiritual goods. This mystery also moves us to share watching over the material needs of others, knowing that in the end, it reverberates to one’s own good. We have seen this since the beginning of the history of the Church, throughout the centuries as well as recent times.”

Huancavelica “continues being poor but, thanks to outside aid, numerous vocations, good professionals and Christian families have been forged. This has also been beneficial to other places, for example, there are Huancavelican priests and nuns serving in Spain and other countries.”

In the second place, “anyone who can” can collaborate with this Peruvian Diocese through financial aid. “All humble little alms become curious money because the level of life here is very low. You can write to me at my e-mail: [email protected] to find out the simplest means of collaboration. May God bless you and we remain united in prayer,” he concluded.

Translation by Virginia M. Forrester