December 6: Los Bomberos (Advent 2C)

“The winding road shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Luke 3:1-6.


Advent is a time of waiting, anticipation, salvation, and yes, rescue. This is a stressful week for preaching, especially with the tragic events in San Bernardino and the loss of innocent life. You wonder if God is listening to our prayers. Yet, the grace of so many first-alert professionals, police, physicians, ambulance drivers, hospital staff, and nurses demonstrate bravery given such dreadful violence.

Once in a while, when someone breaks into our lives, like a John the Baptist, coming as he did, from out of nowhere — the desert, a most unexpected place. He speaks to the truth and gives hope and light for the road ahead. We see people in our own time like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, or Mahatma Gandhi. We require another voice today to speak to this upheaval in the Middle East and around the world to bring resolution and peace to people’s lives — in the name of God.

Recently, I saw the preview of a short documentary film, only 70 minutes in length, and the work of a young director, Quincey Parker. He had traveled to Peru looking for a story, and found in a Lima newspaper, the accurate tale of a remarkable group of young boys, “Los Bomberos,” which is the title of the film, “The Little Firemen.” These are brothers coming to the rescue of people in need.


The film is the life story of a dozen or so young boys from eight-years-old to teenagers, most of whom are orphans. They work for months at a time — as first alert, life-savers, and amateur mechanics. Their territory is a long, winding and perilous road deep in the Andes Mountains some 11,000 feet above sea level — between the towns of Huanuco and Tingo Maria. It is a forgotten, rugged two-lane highway, so poorly maintained; the kind of terrain much like our own Highway One from here to Big Sur.

In the film, we witness the day-to-day lives of these kids working on old automobiles with flat tires, broken axles, and the many over-heated trucks.  More important, these “Little Firemen” rescue stranded women, men, and children, and protect them from the bands of narco-terrorists, known as the “Shining Path” who haunt the region with guns and death.

The boys glide up and down the mountain road on hand-made, primitive go-carts or scooters. They are fast, free, and almost reckless, and for their efforts, they pick up change, coins for their heroic works of mercy. Indeed, as the film points out, they risk their own lives for the sake of people in great distress.

Drugs have hit children the hardest in this dangerous area of Peru. Many of them are drawn into the drug trade at the hands of the powerful drug lords.

So if you cannot count on the police, and if you cannot rely on the army, who can you trust? “Los Bomberos” trust one another.

Two very touching scenes in the film, almost like water going over pebbles in steam, here you see the bond between these boys who have become a family.

One of the boys is crippled and walks with the aid of two improvised crutches, like Tiny Tim in the Dickens “Christmas Carol.” The other boys take turns carrying him on their backs — up and down a steep path, until finally, they ascend a mountain top, to a Cross that overlooks the deep valley below.

Following the screening, producers told me that they were able to get medical attention for this lad — and since the filming, he had several medical operations to give him greater physical mobility.

In another scene, a young man and his girlfriend, who are their care-givers, save up just enough money to buy the appropriate suit and dress — then, they go to the local church on their wedding day. This is a very touching moment where the boys witness this passage in their friends’ lives — a sacrament of love, and a time of joy, music, and festival.

“The Little Firemen” is a film of rich textures about people living their lives, and saving one another along the way.

“The winding road shall be made straight, and the rough way made smooth,” here Saint Luke, who quotes from the prophet Isaiah — is saying that salvation is a historical event.

John the Baptist preaches a “baptism of repentance” that has a universal dimension, a means by which all people can witness God’s glory.

While the whole people of God await a return to the Promised Land, as we wait — we act to make God known to the world around us.

We do this by doing what God does best, setting things aright for justice-sake, and saving others in such a conflicted world with his medicine of mercy that brings healing.

Pope Francis tells us that Jesus is the “face of the Father’s mercy.”

He tells us mercy is the “beating heart of the Gospel.”

Lastly, the pope says mercy “demands justice.”

On Tuesday of this week, Pope Francis opens the “Doors of Mercy” at Saint Peter’s in Rome to inaugurate the Extraordinary Jubilee Holy Year of Mercy.”

He welcomes all of us to deeply feel the embrace of forgiveness, and such great mercy that has the power to bring the salvation of God to the world.

Here’s a short preview of “The Little Firemen,”



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