During the years 1962 to 1992, Monsignor José Dammert Bellido was bishop of the Diocese of Cajamarca. He and his work - rooted in the foundations of the Latin American Episcopal Conferences of Medellín and Puebla, Liberation Theology and the Option for the Poor - marked the course of the Catholic Church in Cajamarca in these times.
In this religious, political and social context, the English priest Juan Medcalf founded in 1971 the Network of Rural Libraries. A few years later Alfredo Mires also arrived in Cajamarca to be part of the Christian community of Baños del Inca, along with Father Juan and other brothers.
In 1982, Juan Medcalf returned to England and Alfredo stayed, in charge of the Network. Since then he has walked alongside the humble, sharing his life and his stories, and working as a link and "translator" between cultures.
This year, Monsignor Dammert would have celebrated 100 years of life, a cardinal reason to celebrate a homage. Alfredo Mires was invited to give a conference with the theme Education and peasantry for this occasion. Those of us who were present at this keynote address were frankly impressed by the extent of Dammert's work and his support and appreciation for our Network of Rural Libraries.
Grateful, we share some passages from this conference with you:
"In the mid-1980s, when I told him that I was going to make a book about the Cajamarcan oral traditions related to the apparitions of God, the saints and their miracles, Dammert was enthusiastic and began to rescue stories as well from his students in the religion courses he had during the holidays in the Departmental Office of Catholic Education.
On one occasion, while we were reviewing the texts, he made a kind of confession. He told me that once, riding on horseback to a distant community, on reaching the top of a hill, he saw an orderly pile of stones by the side of the road. He asked the peasant and well-trained catechist who guided him what it was. The peasant told him that these were the old beliefs of the people, that only unprepared Christians were accustomed to leaving a stone offering in that apachite in gratitude to the mountain ... They walked on in silence, him ahead on the horse, when suddenly he turned to see the same peasant, devoutly and quietly leaving his pebble of offering.
It was like understanding that one does not educate the heart.
Monsignor never concealed his deep concern for the dignity of the poorest. And it was not just in speech: he visited them, he attended them, he took care of them ... Dammert has not been here for twenty-five years, but that does not mean that there are no poor people and no impoverishment: poor people remain, but it's like now it is forbidden to see them. There is a persistent optical misery that is distorting us ... or is it that the conscience is also subject to extractive privatizations."