Sunday, December 1, 2002

The life of a Norbertine missionary priest in Peru:

Baeten has a mission based in Santa Clotilde, population a little more than 1,000, in northeastern Peru, in a lowland jungle straddling the Napo River from the Ecuadorian border to where the Napo joins the mighty Amazon River near Iquitos, a city of about 200,000.

The 69-year-old De Pere native and St. Norbert College graduate has been staying at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality for treatment of an illness he contracted in Peru.

"I get to the villages two, possibly three times a year," Baeten said. "We take care of some 20 communities on the river, about 500 miles long. The land is tremendously underpopulated. When we go, the majority of the villagers participate (in services)."

Baeten was ordained into the Norbertine order in 1959 and went to Peru in 1966, after Pope John XXIII asked for the establishment of missions throughout Latin America. Except for the occasional visit back home, he's been in Peru ever since. Baeten said he worked in the San Norberto Parish in the capital city of Lima for four years; volunteered for a year helping survivors of a devastating 1970 earthquake in the Andes Mountains that killed more than 60,000; and established the Parish of San Marcos in San Juan Lurigancho, just outside Lima, a year later with mostly mountain immigrants as members.

Then in 1987, he went to help fellow De Pere native and Norbertine the Rev. Jack MacCarthy, a doctor who had set up a hospital and mission in the Napo jungle. "(MacCarthy) runs the hospital, I run the parish," Baeten said. "The hospital has 20 beds and receives thousands of people a year. We have three Mexican sisters helping us. One runs the grade school and high school, there's about 1,000 students now." He said one of the mission's greatest assets is its two-story, 47-ton boat. Baeten said it is used to travel the Napo's 500-mile length, bringing supplies and visiting medical help to the villages and transporting sick villagers to a hospital in Iquitos. The boat is the only means of travel, other than walking, in the mission area.

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