Area Catholic community forms strong bond with ‘Father Lucho’ and South American church

The Rev. Lucho Palomino, a Catholic priest in Peru. His congregation in strife-torn Peru is the focus of a benefit March 27, as a combined effort by the Area Catholic Community of three parishes: St. Leonard, Pelican Rapids; St. Elizabeth, Elizabeth; and Our Lady of Victory, Fergus Falls.

A priest from the troubled nation of Peru, who has become a dear friend to many in Pelican Rapids, Fergus Falls, and the lakes area, will be the subject of a special benefit. 

Members of three connected Catholic parishes; Pelican Rapids, Elizabeth, and Fergus Falls; are joining together in support of the Rev. Lucho Palomino.

The benefit will support Lucho’s fight against violence, hunger, and suffering in Chimbote, Peru. 

The aim is to “fill every seat” at the Fergus Falls “A Center for the Arts” theatre—except that the seats will be empty. Supporters are asked to “purchase” a seat at the venue, but Lucho will be live-streaming a program beginning at 8 p.m., March 27.

Billed as a “Stay-At-Home Sell-Out Samba Charity Event,” participants are invited to contribute and join the live-stream.

“Peru is experiencing bad political unrest now,” said Nancy Hilber, a member of St. Leonard’s church in Pelican Rapids. “In the meantime, his parish needs financial support to feed its poor, help the homeless, provide basic school materials, and—very importantly—provide needed medicine at a low price or free for those who cannot afford it.”

The area parishes have become a “home away from home” for Lucho, who travels regularly to Minnesota’s Mayo Clinic in his battle with leukemia. He’s been “adopted” by Pelican, Elizabeth, and Fergus Falls congregations, and developed close relationships with area priests Jeff Ethen and Alan Wielinski.

Area priests Alan Wielinski, right, as well as former Pelican Rapids priest Jeff Ethen, have been instrumental in forming a bond with Rev. Lucho Palomino, right, and his struggling parish in Peru.

Fr. Lucho came to this area with the help of Fr. Alan. “He was literally deathly ill with leukemia, and the one drug he could get in Peru was not helping. At Mayo Clinic, he received medication that worked well enough to put him in remission. He continues on that medication and now comes every February to check his blood work and ensure that he remains in remission,” noted Hilber. 

“I met Fr. Lucho when he first came to Minnesota for medical treatment,” recalled Rev. Ethen, former priest at St. Leonard and St. Elizabeth. “He was hosted by Fr Alan Wielinski, currently pastor at Our Lady of Victory, Fergus Falls…I knew ten words of Spanish, but Fr. Lucho was encouraging. It would be years before I said my first mass in Spanish. It was a thrill to eventually celebrate the mass with Fr. Lucho in his parish in Peru.”

The warm bond between Otter Tail County and the Peruvian priest developed over the years. As Peru’s internal strife grabs headlines internationally, the local effort to raise funds for his church gained momentum. 

“I was impressed by how open he was to meeting people. Children especially were eager to be with him,” noted Ethen. “I appreciated his willingness to celebrate the sacraments in Spanish at St. Leonard Catholic Church in Pelican Rapids. Not only was his Spanish better than mine, but he also knew intimately Hispanic spirituality.”

Ethen’s vastly improved command of the Spanish language is due, in part, to his relationship with Lucho. “Our bishops now joke that the two of us could just change places,” smiled Ethen.

Fr. Lucho is “proud of his Incan heritage and very knowledgeable about his wonderful country. It is particularly painful for him to see the unrest and chaos affecting his parishioners and all the people of Peru,” added Hilber. 

From the comfort of their living rooms, donors can “purchase admission” and watch Fr. Lucho Palomino’s program, which will be live-streamed from the Fergus Falls Arts Center. 

To “reserve” seats and donate, donors can go to the Fergus Falls Catholic site: 

A QR code can also be scanned to arrange donations. 

For more information locally, contact the Our Lady of Victory parish offices at (218) 736-2429.