Friday, 21 June 2013

Remembering Monseñor Alcides

Monseñor, with his serious face on.
Archbishop Emeritus Alcides Mendoza Castro died one year ago yesterday. I was privileged to know him when I lived in Peru and attended mass at his home outside Lima at least weekly. Fluent in Spanish, German, and Quechua, nearly fluent in French, Italian, Portugueuse, he also spoke a fair amount of English. He was ordained priest the same year as Benedict XVI, whom he met at the Second Vatican Council (where he sat next to one Albino Luciani), but unlike the Pope Emeritus he attended as a bishop. In fact, at just 34 when the first session opened he was the youngest of the Council Fathers, having been ordained bishop when he was a mere 30 years old. He discerned his own vocation to the priesthood when he was 7 and was therefore inclined to look on those who entered community or seminary at 18 as late vocations! 

The young seminarian with his mother.
The seminary would not accept him when his mother took him there at the age of 12, because the newly appointed Bishop of Ayacucho had not yet arrived from Spain (it was 1939, after all). However, the young Alcides was advised that the Bishop would have to stop for petrol in his home town when he passed through to take possession of his diocese. Nothing daunted, the small boy waited there every day until March 1941 when the Bishop drove past without stopping! However he was forced to turn back by an incident on the motorway. Alcides abandoned his toy cars in order to seek him out, spent the afternoon talking to him and eventually took him home, informing his horrified mother that Monseñor would be staying the night with them, responding to her remonstrances with a calm, "He's my friend."

As first Bishop of Abancay, Monseñor Alcides discovered that there were 200,000 faithful in his diocese, but only 8 priests and 5 nuns. He had no house and embarked on his epsicopal ministry with only a table and 6 borrowed chairs. As there were no good roads in this mountainous region he travelled on horseback, covering 20,000 km in 9 years. At one point, seeking to raise some much-needed money to build an orphanage and a seminary, he considered competing in (it must be said, an undoubtedly rather dangerous) road race from Abancay to Cuzco. He felt there was a good chance that he could win the cash prize and persuaded Volkswagen to donate a car for the cause, but was denied permission by Rome who said simply, 'we do not have maniacs for bishops'. 

I could go on an on about Monseñor. There was always a twinkle in his eye, he loved to tell stories and jokes and his house was full of the photos to illustrate them. He was devoted to Mary and had a miniture reconstruction of the Grotto of Lourdes in his little garden (complete with a working fountain). He was a loving father and shepherd to all his spiritual children but, above all, a wise and holy priest. His rule of life was, "Eucharist, Mary, humility" which he often repeated to us. I loved Monseñor a great deal and I miss him a lot.
If you can read Spanish, and can get hold of a copy, I recommend the excellent Al Servicio de Dios: Memorias de Monseñor Alcides Mendoza, interviewed by Carmen Elena Villa, published by Círculo de Encuentro, Lima. The photos I have included here (apart from the first) can be found in that book.

The oldest and youngest bishops at the Second Vatican Council: Archbishop Alfonso Carinci on his 101st birthday and Bishop Alcides Mendoza, aged 34.

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