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Fr. Jack Davis, a missionary in Chimbote, Peru, has been visiting parishes in North Dakota as he celebrates his 40th Jubilee year in the priesthood. Sayward Honer/The Forum

Father Jack brings goodwill ambassadors to the United States; Youth choir from Peru helps missionary celebrate 40th jubilee

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Father Jack brings goodwill ambassadors to the United States; Youth choir from Peru helps missionary celebrate 40th jubilee
Fargo North Dakota 101 5th Street North 58102

Once renowned as one of Peru's busiest and most influential fishing ports, Chimbote has become one of Peru's poorest cities. Plagued with devastating earthquakes and natural disasters, political unrest, extremely high unemployment rates, anemia and malnutrition, the impoverished desert town located on the Pacific Coast north of Lima, is home for over 400,000 people, many of whose makeshift living quarters lack basic necessities such as sewer, water, and electricity.

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As bleak as life in the surrounding neighborhood barrios may seem, there remains a ray of hope for families in Parroquia de Nuestra Soccorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish), thanks to Father Jack Davis, Sister Peggy Byrne, and a network of volunteers who help provide services for the needy.

As a young Catholic priest from Devils Lake, N.D., Father Davis remembers visiting Peru shortly after the devastating earthquake that struck on May 31, 1970, killing nearly 70,000 people. Seeing the terrible poverty and destruction from the earthquake, Davis asked Bishop Justin Driscoll and the Diocese of Fargo if he could be assigned to Peru. He was given permission to serve in Chimbote for five years. Five years came and went, but Davis remained in Chimbote.

Fondly referred to as Father Jack, Davis has continued to serve in Peru, passionately devoting the past 34 years of his life to helping poor families learn skills to earn a living.

Sister Peggy Byrne met Father Jack in 1969 when they were both assigned to teach at Nativity Elementary School in Fargo. She later served as principal at St. Alphonsus Catholic School in Langdon, N.D. for a few years, but while visiting Father Jack's mission in Chimbote, she felt drawn to the people. In 1982, she joined Father Jack at his mission, and has spent the past 27 years diligently trying to improve Chimbote's educational programs.

Father Jack started with a small parish soup kitchen and bakery. Over the years, Father Jack and Sister Peggy, along with their staff, and the help of a vast network of volunteers and financial supporters, expanded services to include seven neighborhood soup kitchens, seven libraries, educational support programs, a medical and dental clinic, a shelter for battered women, hospice, four youth shelters, and an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center.

This summer, in celebration of his 40th year in the priesthood, Father Jack, accompanied by Sister Peggy, has been touring the United States with a youth choir from Chimbote called the Los Amigos. Starting in Pensacola, Fla. in April, the group has visited parishes in eight states, sharing over 70 performances and slide presentations.

The North Dakota leg of their tour began on May 21, performing in Wahpeton, Lidgerwood, LaMoure, Edgeley, Nortonville, Jamestown, Napoleon, New Rockford, Grand Forks, Grafton, Langdon, Bottineau, Devils Lake, Casselton, Fargo, and West Fargo. Their last performance was held at St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Wild Rice on June 18.

On June 17, the Los Amigos choir was scheduled to hold an outdoor concert at Holy Cross Catholic Church in West Fargo. However, due to thunderstorms, the concert was moved into the church's sanctuary. Performing for well over an hour, the brightly dressed choir members sang spiritual songs of hope and adoration in Spanish, with Father Jack inviting the audience to sing along in English to a few universally recognized hymns. "Madre," one of Father Jack's favorites, tells about a young man taking care of his mother in her old age. Lyrics to another ballad describe the anguish facing a young farmer trying to provide for his family as he is forced to give up his land.

The last portion of the concert was filled with several dance numbers displaying intricate footwork and choreography, as choir members ranging in age from 10 years old to 18, demonstrated authentic Peruvian dances. Their colorful costumes were made specially for the tour in Lima, Peru.

At the close of the concert, Michael Allmaras, from East Grand Forks, made a presentation to the choir, giving each choir member a paperback copy of the popular bestseller "The Cross and the Switchblade" by David Wilkerson, commissioning them to continue to spread the gospel through their music. Allmaras and his family have been to Father Jack's mission in Chimbote, and have seen the great need for education against the widespread use of drugs in the area, and felt compelled to share Wilkerson's message with the youth.

"Someday we would like to bring Nicky Cruz, and his new movie, "Run, Baby Run" to Chimbote, God willing," Allmaras said.

Los Amigos del Padre Juan is a North Dakota not-for-profit, faith-based organization dedicated to supporting Father Davis' mission programs in Chimbote. For more information, contact Susan Trnka at 701-364-0162, or visit www.losamigos-chimbote.org.

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