Tonight after we checked into Mom's hotel room, we walked down to the Plaza de Armas (a couple of blocks) to see the sights. On the steps of the cathedral were some men and women holding candles and making speeches into a microphone. They had banners referring to a hunger strike. I talked to some of the women for a while to get the story. Apparently a group of 170 young people from all over the country (20 from Arequipa) were imprisoned 3 years ago because of the demands they were making for human rights in Peru. They have never been sentenced or had a trial. These were the mothers, wives, neighbors, and friends, who for a week have been on a hunger strike demanding justice.
The truth is that I don't understand politics in Latin America very well, so I am hesitant to form convictions or take sides. Instead, as I talked to these women and heard their stories, I realized how much I wanted to offer them respect and dignity. They told me that they had been on the steps for several nights and no government authorities or (Catholic) church representatives had come to talk to them. I wonder if anyone really has come to talk to them or if people just continue passing by ignoring their cries.
Tonight I found such joy in being with them, sitting on the steps with them, looking right into their eyes and seeing their appreciation that someone cared, asking them questions, hearing the names of their loved ones. At the end I told them that I did want to give them some money (they had a box out) but that I would also love to pray with them if they were willing. They smiled, agreed with me that God's help would mean more than mine, and bowed their heads as I offered in my limited "prayer Spanish" what I could. Their appreciation afterward was liberal, but I wonder if those moments of solidarity perhaps touched me even more than them.
We are here to do something, but we are also here to be. My mom calls this "the ministry of presence." I hope it continues to touch and transform the lives of those around me as it is touching and transforming mine.