WILKES-BARRE – When Father Fidel Ticona walked into a downstairs room at Saint Nicholas Church in mid-August, the parishioners burst into sudden applause.
For many, it was the first time they had seen Father Fidel in five months.
In March, when travel restrictions started being put in place, the 50-year-old cleric was on vacation visiting family in his native Peru. He ended up spending five months in the South American country because he could not return home to Luzerne County.
“I usually take my vacation around that time. It’s summer time in the south, back home. It was about a two and a-half week vacation that was planned and expected,” Father Fidel recounted. “I was ready to come back and look what happened.”
Father Fidel said he was on his way to the airport when his niece called him and told him everything was going to be shut down due to COVID-19 concerns.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Father Fidel explained. “When I got there, it was chaos in the airport. There was nobody to talk with. People didn’t know what to do.”
After a few hours, Father Fidel was told that he could still take a domestic flight to Lima, the capital city of Peru, for the first part of his journey home to Wilkes-Barre. Realizing that if he took that flight to Lima he still wouldn’t be able to return to the United States, he decided to stay put in his native Puno, Peru.
“I didn’t know what to do,” Father Fidel admitted.
Initially, Father Fidel thought he would need to remain in Peru for only a month, but he quickly realized it would take much longer to return home.
“I tried to get a plane ticket through different countries,” he said. “I got one after a month and a-half. I was ready to come back. Three days before, the flight was cancelled.”
Father Fidel often thought about all of the items on his work calendar, including baptisms, but it wasn’t until he had a phone call with Father Joseph Verespy, pastor of Saint Nicholas Parish, when he learned that many local events also were being changed because of the coronavirus.
“After that, I enjoyed my time,” Father Fidel admitted.
The quarantine in Peru was very strict. Father Fidel said only one person per family was allowed to go out for necessities like groceries and medicine. He said there was a curfew between 5:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m.
“We were allowed to go out on designated days by gender. I was allowed to go out Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Women were allowed to go out Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday,” he said.
Travelling was also no easy task. In most cases, it took Father Fidel two hours to walk to the store in only one direction.
“We had to walk. There was no way to move from one place to another place,” he said. “You had to wait in line for hours and hours.”
Father Fidel was able to leave Peru on July 23. He arrived back in Wilkes-Barre on July 25 and then spent two weeks in quarantine locally before returning to public ministry duties.
“It’s nice to be home,” he said. “It has been really rewarding to work with the Hispanic population who are most in need.”
While he was able to talk to some parishioners by phone while he was in Peru, Father Fidel said now that he is back in Wilkes-Barre there is a lot of work to do.
“What I have to do goes beyond their spiritual needs,” admitting that he helps his parishioners with finding jobs, translating documents and other necessary services.