In the steps of the first Patagonian missionaries
What better way to begin our evangelization in Bariloche than going back to her roots of faith? The evangelization on the shores of Nahuel Huapi Lake, was begun by the Jesuits of Chile and took place from 1670 to 1717. Irene and Catherine were invited on a pilgrimage to see the churches of Chiloe and Achao and to discover the places where the missionary church had its roots.
The churches of Chiloe are a living reminder of where the first missionaries of our area had their spiritual base and from where they set off to evangelize the Poya, the indigenous people who were present before the invasion of the Mapuches. In Achao we were able to see the original image of our Lady of the Poya which accompanied the missionaries and was preserved after the destruction of the mission and taken back to Chile. It was renamed Our Lady of Nahuel Huapi and its copy is in our Cathedral of Bariloche. We walked in the steps of these first heroic missionaries who gave their lives to evangelize the indigenous people of the area.
They risked everything to bring the good news of the gospel to an unknown people and they died as martyrs. The place of mission was burnt and destroyed in 1717, but the statue of Our Lady survived. It is a symbol that the seed of faith that was sown then, has reaped its harvest in the Church of Bariloche today, centuries later. It is a sign that we are called to give ourselves freely and generously knowing that our lives will bear fruit that will last whether we see it or not.
We formed part of a varied parish group led by Fr Jorge. It was an experience that brought us together as we shared our impressions and our experiences. This experience of being brothers and sisters in the faith was also extended to the two countries that form Patagonia. On the border of Chile and Argentina there is a statue of Our Lady of Peace that watches over both countries, just as Our Lady of Nahuel Huapi presides over Achao and Bariloche creating fraternity between the two churches.
It was a personal inspiration as well to contemplate the self-giving of our fathers in the mission. We are called to be the missionaries of today and we follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before us. Our self-giving begins in our daily lives and decisions. It´s a time to get to know this area of the Patagonia which God has entrusted to us and values so much and to learn to love it as He does. It has its roots of faith which we are called to water and nourish, it has its living Church which we are called to serve and its young people who are waiting to hear the Good News of the gospel for their lives today.