Getting to Know St Martin

Helen AllumHelena Allum was part of a group which went on pilgrimage to Peru in May. She shares on their experiences.
Devotion to St Martin de Porres and curiosity about the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu were the main reasons for my joining the pilgrimage to Peru last month. Gonzales Parish, East Port of Spain, celebrated last year the 50th anniversary of the canonisation of St Martin, their patron saint and the first black saint of the Americas. This pilgrimage was meant to be part of that celebration.
And so there was special significance to the Masses we celebrated at St Martin’s Chapel in Lima, which was built on the site of the infirmary where St Martin cared for the sick. His tomb is also in this chapel, along with urns containing some of his relics.
He is aptly described by Lancelot Pinard in his calypso: Dear St Martin, Blessed Martin/Help of all the sick and needy/Son of Peru, heaven chose you/An example of the new world/Race and station, pigmentation/They mean nothing to you Martin. We sang these words many times, they were our anthem, complete with guitar music and a little calypso chip. This chapel was one of many we visited in Lima, Arequipa and Cusco, some of them part of large impressive monasteries and convents.
There was another place we stood on that would have been a sacred place of retreat and worship for the Incas who lived in the Andes from as early as 1200 AD, long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. Machu Picchu.
This site was voted in 2007 as one of the Seven World Wonders of the “New World”. For us it proved more than a wonder: it was a mountaintop experience. At Mass on the previous day, co-pilgrim and spiritual guide Fr Clyde Harvey suggested that a mountaintop experience can be a transfiguration experience, “an experience of a God who draws us beyond ourselves” and “we come to understand that we are coming to share the very life of God”.
It was the Sixth Sunday of Easter and in the Gospel Reading Jesus had told his disciples: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him.” Fr Clyde pointed out that God wants to make his home in us and that our pilgrimage is one moment on that journey home. He encouraged us to allow ourselves to be open to the experience of Machu Picchu, the place and time, to live the moment, to listen, to be.
And really, all our eleven days in Peru were spent visiting churches and the mini art galleries that so many of them house, getting guided tours of museums and cloisters, and learning of the lifestyle of religious orders of the time; we spent time in places where St Martin and St Rose of Lima lived and worked and prayed. While our guided tours were in English, at mealtime and when shopping we had to recall the Spanish of our school days or get those more fluent in the language to help us. But what was treasured was our daily Masses where we broke bread together, listened to the Word and received some gems of understanding in terms of how it was at work in our lives.
Procession without prayers
A statue of Our Lady of Chapi, the patron of Arequipa, is carried in procession through a street in Lima.
A statue of Our Lady of Chapi, the patron of Arequipa, is carried in procession through a street in Lima.
Our first day in Lima, the capital of Peru, was a public holiday, the feast of St Joseph the Worker in the local church. It was our first Mass at Santo Domingo Church in St Martin’s chapel, a cosy space with movable chairs and altar. We were challenged to ask ourselves why we were on the pilgrimage and reminded that God had posed the same question to Elijah at Mt Horeb. Just as in Elijah’s case, Fr Clyde told us that if ever the journey becomes too much for us, to remember that God is with us, a lesson for the pilgrimage but also for our own life.
In the first reading, St Paul asked that we put on love in what we do. Fr Clyde asked us to look at our understanding of our work, and at the people for whom we work or who work for us and with us. He said there is a difference in a workplace where workers feel they are part of a family. He recommended that whatever work we do we ask the Lord to put on peace in the doing of it. He pointed out that one of the titles for St Martin that we use in the Litany of St Martin is “peacemaker in all discords”. It was a reflection that touched us deeply, perhaps because we were away from our workplaces and able to be dispassionate about our work situations.
Virgen de Chapi (Our Lady of Chapi) is the patron of Arequipa, the next town we were scheduled to visit and her feast day is in February. However on May 1, the start of the month dedicated to Mary, a procession with her statue takes place through a street in Lima. We were in time to admire the attention paid to the smallest detail on the statue of the Virgen, which is carried on a large sturdy platform on the shoulders of the bearers.
The procession began in front of Iglesia San Augustin, moved down the street, stopping at intervals. During the procession there were no organised prayers or song, but one could tell that those walking alongside the statue were opening their hearts to Our Lady of Chapi. Unfortunately, only our tour guide was able to be one of the bearers of the statue since his short stature matched the height of the other local bearers. None of the men in our group were short enough, certainly not our tour organiser Felix Edinborough or our spiritual guide. Since we had arrived late the previous night at our hotel Gran Hotel Bolivar, this was really a free day. So, many of us had an early night.
St Martin: God’s physician to us
We chose to celebrate the feast day of St Martin on May 2, beginning the Mass with the Morning Prayer of the Church. Once again we were at St Martin’s chapel and after Morning Prayer we listened to the story of the life of this much loved saint as read by Jasmin Mathura, our resident guitarist and part-time parishioner of Gonzales. Later, Fr Clyde shared the story of a man who identified with St Martin’s life story of being abandoned by his father. This man wondered how St Martin, who also used to be angry with his father, could accept his father back into his life and become a saint. Through prayer and St Martin’s example, he was able to do the same. And so we prayed for healing of wounds of the family, singing Lay Your Hands.
The first reading from Philippians asked us to fill our minds with everything that is true and noble and pure. What do we fill our minds with, we were asked in the homily. It was heartening to hear that while thoughts may come into our minds we do not have to hold on to them. Sometimes we are called to go deep into ourselves to learn what it is to love through particular circumstances. Our prayer was to ask God to open up areas of our lives that are in need of healing and to ask St Martin to be God’s physician to us.
Church of Santo Domingo
The Gonzales pilgrims on the grounds of the Church of Santo Domingo.
The Gonzales pilgrims on the grounds of the Church of Santo Domingo.
After Mass we began our tour of Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Lima was first called the City of Kings by Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who “founded” it in 1535. This church is one of the many historical sites around Plaza Mayor, the square in the middle of the city. The Dominican Order settled on the land “given” to them by Pizarro and built a convent and what is described as “a majestic Baroque church”, which was completed in 1583 and has been rebuilt many times.
There are three naves in the church: St Dominic’s Priory of Lima, the Chapel of St Rose and The Choir – all carved in cedar brought from Nicaragua. In St Dominic’s Priory, there is a Reception Hall and two cloisters. In the middle of the cloisters is a courtyard with a garden and a fountain where, it is said, St Martin performed his first miracle.
St Martin’s chapel is in the second cloister. In a crypt under the Priory is the tomb of St Rose of Lima, a Dominican Tertiary and now Patroness of Peru. Here we prayed the Litany of St Rose of Lima and remembered and prayed for the Carib community at Santa Rosa, Arima. Like in all the other churches we visited, there are many paintings lining the walls. Here the paintings tell the story of the life of St Dominic, founder of the Dominican Order.
The Cathedral of Lima
This cathedral was built using the plans of the Cathedral in Seville, Spain. It has been rebuilt many times due to damage by earthquakes – which are a common occurrence in Peru as the country is located in a seismic zone. Although it was designed using the plans of European cathedrals, which tend to be tall and thin, this cathedral is flat and wide in order to withstand the earthquakes. There are as many as 13 chapels in this cathedral and the choir chairs in the altar are said to be a masterpiece of Catholicism. The image of the pelican is seen in this cathedral. It is a legend that in times of famine, a mother pelican would draw blood from her own chest to feed her chicks. The symbol is that of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and also of the Eucharist.
Convento de San Francisco
The main altar of this monastery is fully carved out of wood. The corridors of the main cloister are lined with glazed tiles from Seville. There is a painting of the Last Supper here which shows typical Peruvian food items such as guinea pig, potatoes and chillies. Also shown is the devil hovering beside Judas. There are also several paintings depicting the life of St Francis of Assisi. One of these shows St Francis with his feet being kissed by the pope of the time. One of our pilgrims commented that the gesture was not in keeping with what we know of St Francis.
Becoming Vessels of God
Our Mass of Friday, May 3 celebrated the Feast of St Phillip and St James, again in St Martin’s Chapel. We prayed for the Chaguanas parish dedicated to these saints. We prayed also for the repose of the soul of Edwin Bowen, whose three daughters were part of the pilgrimage. They had come in his memory as he had had a special devotion to St Martin.
In the Gospel, Jesus says “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Fr Clyde said Jesus is making claims here which have to deal with his relationship with his Father. It is important, he added, for us to ask ourselves the question: “Are we really seeking to know God or are we taking him for granted?” The journey of faith, he said, requires that we grow and deepen our relationship with the Father. We need still to build the kingdom of God in our families, our communities, our professional lives. Like St Martin, like Jesus, we will be driven to our knees at times. But God makes us strong for the work he wants to do with us. We must allow ourselves to become vessels for him. And every time the Eucharist is celebrated, everything comes together in God.23#sthash.m5sar0q3.dpuf


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