Alamiro Malca Cabanillas pedals his bicycle down a sandy road in Chimbote, Peru. Here along the Pacific Coast, the weather this day is cool with a slight breeze. Alamiro wears a tan cardigan, striped shirt, black pants and his best shoes. He is going visiting.It is not easy to pedal a bicycle in sandy soil, but nothing deters Alamiro. In his backpack, he carries a Bible. If strength is needed to push through the sand, he finds it there. In fact, Alamiro finds all his strength in the Word of God, and he is thankful to the Sisters of the Holy Cross and others for illuminating it for him through the Biblical Pastoral Reading program.
Pastoral reading is different
As a teacher of religion classes, Alamiro had felt an ongoing sense of disappointment. He was teaching content but what he wanted was to engage his students in dialogue about the subject matter. The curriculum didn’t allow for that method and Alamiro didn’t know how to shift into that way of teaching.
One day, a colleague offered him her place at an intensive formation course in sacred scriptures being held in Lima, about eight hours south. It was the Biblical Pastoral Reading program founded by Father José Mizzotti, a Montfort priest; in 2004, Sister Patricia Dieringer, CSC, joined the program as the principal teacher.
Pastoral reading of the Bible differs from scholarly reading and was exactly what Alamiro had been seeking. A pastoral approach grounds Scripture in the reality of people’s lives. It is an approach that Holy Cross Sisters Patricia, Mary Josephine Delany and Conceição Nogueira dos Santos have been teaching to people like Alamiro, who then take it out into their respective communities and teach others. In this way, people learn how to apply Scripture to their everyday lives and concerns.“Our whole process is to wake people up to see that their commitment to Jesus takes them to their reality,” says Sister Mary Jo. “We ask our participants, ‘If you believe that this is the kingdom right here, how are we trying to help it grow?’”
Scripture comes alive
Held twice a year for four to five days, the Biblical Pastoral Reading program is designed for animators (leaders) of groups who travel individually throughout their communities to share the Word of God one on one. People come from all over Peru to participate in the program—from the mountains, the forests, big cities and small villages. Anywhere from 25 to 50 people attend each program, which is structured like a workshop. Participants reflect on questions regarding Bible passages “so that the text comes alive,” says Sister Mary Jo. “They put flesh to the words.”
Alamiro is a member of the Biblical Delegation of the Diocese of Chimbote, a group of about 10 people who introduce their neighbors to this grounded approach. For him, the Biblical Pastoral Reading program broke his preconceptions about people. He says he now looks “with Jesus’ gaze at human faces in all their dimensions.”
A difficult life
Sister Mary Jo has known Alamiro since he started in the reading program almost 15 years ago. In the last five years or so, however, she has seen him emerge from his shell of insecurity. “He just bloomed,” she recalls. “He is more confident and outgoing, and even more passionate about sharing the Word of God.”
To understand just how deep an impact the program has had on Alamiro, consider his early years.
Having been denied by his father, young Alamiro lived in poverty with his mother in a rural area. They relied on food from others, usually just one meal a day on a shared plate or bowl. His mother was illiterate, but when he turned 6, she enrolled him in school. However, she didn’t have the money for textbooks and notebooks. His backpack was a saddle bag. His teacher beat him because without books he could not do his homework.
At the start of his secondary grades, his mother sent him to live with an aunt in the city. He was very scared in this new, strange place. Though his aunt had money, she did not share it, and so again he went without books and school supplies. In this class, any student who did not do the homework was given six lashes in front of the others. At his aunt’s home, there was no relief. Alamiro was kept locked in a room and had no one to talk to. When he had a chance for some freedom, he bathed in a nearby river.
Our spiritual father
Then one day, a young catechist spoke to his class. “I learned that God is our spiritual father, that he loves us very much and is with us,” Alamiro recalls.
Alamiro then moved to Chimbote to live with his grandmother, and his uncle helped with the costs of school. But again, he was in a new city and did not know anyone else. He was bullied at school and called names because he came from a poor area.
Several unfortunate incidents occurred during and after his school years. When a teacher tried to sexually abuse him, he punched the teacher in the face and ran out of the room. He scored high on a diagnostic test, which should have allowed him to get a scholarship, but the teacher (a different one) cheated him out of it. After high school, he had no one to help him with a higher education, so he worked 12-hour days in restaurants and was paid a pittance. Then a man in another city offered to pay Alamiro enough money for college if Alamiro worked for him for two years. At the end of two years, the man reneged on his promise. Desperate and desolate, Alamiro returned to Chimbote, where he pulled sweet potatoes, carrots and beets that were left over from the harvest. He sold them on the street for paltry amounts, and began falling into a deep depression. At some point, he was given medication but fainted from it and ended up in a medical clinic. There, a doctor learned of the many tragedies in his life and gave him some advice. “He told me to express myself and get out what I no longer needed to carry in my ‘backpack,’” Alamiro says.
Soon, his life shifted in a better direction when he met an “angel.” She was a kind woman who let him sell cheese for her on credit. They became friends and he told her his dream was to continue his studies and become a professional. She took him to an affordable school where he could become a teacher of religion.
“I was nervous, but so happy, and I finished the course,” Alamiro says.
Fruits of Holy Cross
Every month, Fruits of Holy Cross shares the good news of the ministries of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. Our “fruits” are nourished not just by the sisters’ labors or the seed of faith planted by our founder Blessed Basil Anthony Moreau, they are watered by our many prayer partners, donors and benefactors—by you.
Finding an ally in the Bible
Still, Alamiro was quiet, shy and reserved—until he blossomed through the Biblical Pastoral Reading program. Now, he gladly seeks out strangers, who often become friends, as he shares the Good News.
Alamiro’s passion has also led him to start a prison ministry, helping inmates understand how they can apply Scripture to their lives.
Reflecting on the changes in his life, Alamiro says, “I now see my insecurities as a challenge and I take responsibility for them. I am more dynamic in my teaching methods. The focus is on reflections by the students, not submission. I am more at ease in expressing myself freely and without fear of what others think. I am more tolerant, thoughtful and calm, and I take leadership in my workplace, inviting my colleagues to work in harmony and seek the common good.“Today, the Bible has become my best ally, to feed my life of faith and seek salvation. I experience a prophetic attitude when I address my students in the prison of Cambio Puente. I feel good and useful. I am also growing closer to my children and my mother. They are a valuable part of my life.”