A Carmelite in Peru
In January 2016, after a three-month intensive training for cross-cultural missions, I was sent out by my home Community of Mary, Beloved of the Trinity, New Iberia, Louisiana, to a frontier Catholic parish east of the Andes in Peru, where I served for four years with Family Missions Company.
How did I, as a layperson, come to discern this missionary vocation—given that Catholic foreign missions have historically been undertaken almost exclusively by priests and religious—and what role did my formation as a Secular Carmelite play in this discernment? How was I able to live out my life in Carmel as a foreign missionary? And, finally, how has my interior life as a Carmelite been transformed —as it was, most profoundly—by my time in foreign missions?
It is now clear to me that God had been calling me toward missions for decades, even before I became a Catholic. Raised an Episcopalian, I graduated from a liberal arts college originally founded as a missionary training school and attended a newly-established Episcopal seminary whose founding dean was a retired missionary bishop with over thirty years of service
in East Africa. In this environment, I gained a clear and compelling vision of foreign missions, especially frontier missions (in Catholic terminology, the mission ad gentes).
When I became a Catholic, I was first introduced to Teresian Carmel through the writings of St. Thérèse and Brother Lawrence and then through the witness and encouragement of Seculars in my home parish who invited me to join their local Secular community, which I did. My Secular formation grounded me not only in Carmelite spirituality but also, through our
reading of Apostolicam Actuositatem and Christifideles Laici, in the essential role of the laity in the mission and ministry of the Church, experienced by us most concretely in Teresian Carmel’s recognition of us Seculars as integral members of the Order along with the Friars and Nuns.
With this formation, the call to serve as a lay missionary became a joyful and natural next step. During my initial “come and see” visit, I had an interview with Joseph, then FMC’s Executive Director. “If you decide to accept me,” I told him, “I pray I will never disappoint you as a missionary. But you need to know that my first vocation is as a Secular Carmelite.” With that, he asked me to write out for him my Carmelite Rule of Life. As I was doing this, I decided to reciprocate and write out for the Council of my Carmelite Community what would be required of me as a missionary with FMC.
This exercise clearly revealed to me the confluence of charisms between the two organizations: on the one hand, Teresian Carmel’s fundamental commitment to missions, highlighted in St. Thérèse’s status as one of the Church’s two patron saints of foreign missions, and on the other hand, FMC’s emphasis on prayer and the interior life, not as preparation for the missionary task, but as the very ground and roots from which missions come forth as fruit.
Maxine Latiolais, then President of our Community’s Council, attended the Commissioning Mass at the end of my Intake Formation together with the rest of the Council. “Maxine,” I said to her afterward, “I have no idea how I’m going to live my life as a Carmelite on a mission.” With a twinkle in her eye, she replied, “And you won’t know until you get there!”
As it happened, less than ten days after our team arrived at our village in Peru, a two-hour drive from the parish church, the bishop ordered a tabernacle installed in our local chapel, less than a five-minute walk from my house, giving me daily access to the Blessed Sacrament, something I had not known even at home. In similar ways throughout my time in Peru, I found my Carmelite vocation confirmed and affirmed through monthly letters sent to my home community. I made my yearly Carmelite retreat during my annual visit home. Each year I renewed my promises, in Spanish, before the local priest and the gathered congregation.
“Spiritual formation accelerates when cultures are crossed.”
After four years in Peru serving as FMC’s oldest missionary in the field, I returned to the States in October 2019, aged 71, and profoundly transformed. An evangelical missionary colleague and friend whose own ministries had brought him to the end of his strength and confronted him with the need for a deeper interior life, leading him ultimately to the writings of Teresa and John of the Cross, said recently, “My premise is that spiritual formation accelerates when cultures are crossed.”
Such was my own experience. Living in a foreign culture, confronted with the differences in worldview between that culture and my own, and seeking to build relational bridges of understanding and trust over which the word of Christ could cross confronted me with my radical need for and utter dependence on Him, opening me to interior examination and prayer at a
depth I had never reached at home.
I continue to work today at FMC’s home base at Big Woods Mission in support of my fellow missionaries in the field and to do what I can to reawaken fellow Catholics and Carmelites to the priority and urgency of the Church’s “permanent mission of bringing the Gospel to the multitudes—the millions and millions of men and women who as yet do not know Christ the
Redeemer of humanity” (Redemptoris Missio, 31).
Originally published in Flos Carmeli, Spring 2023.
Andy RingleAndy serves as a field support facilitator for FMC. Visit his bio page: andyringle.familymissionscompany.com.
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