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The Amazon Mission fields


Greetings from a very wet and hot Amazon, like most of Brazil and even further afield the rains are the talking point of all conversation. Locals here do not remember such rains. The states of Rio de Janeiro, Goias and Rio Grande do Sul, have suffered the most it seems, with over 800 dead and many more bodies still to be found in the clean up of the rubble.

We have not escaped here in our Jungle Retreat either. During the floods of February last year, 2010, a major wooden bridge in the parish had its foundations moved and remained dangerously twisted and shaky for most of the year. We have four churches on the other side of Rio Vermelho (Red River). I call the bridge “Ponte Pai Nosso” (The Our Father Bridge) as a prayer is necessary before crossing it. Eventually after ten months, the local government here decided to repair it, closing access to those four communities for the month of December. Now with the January rains and floods, the bridge is back to square one.

The rains have also damaged the roof of the Matriz (Mother Church) and the parish house (upstairs over the church), and so we need a new roof. We hope to start on it by next week, which means I will be “NFA” (of No Fixed Abode) for about 6 to 8 weeks. So I am hoping to turn some of our class halls into a parish house and turn the parish hall into a church for the period of the building.

2010 was a very busy year and it did not help that I lost my Nigerian Curate to Further Studies in Dublin. So instead of paying a visit once a month to our 28 churches, I cut the visits down to once ever 7 weeks. Also I didn’t do any visits in January because of the rains and the conditions of the dirt roads. As I write I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of a new Kiltegan priest, and two new Parish Sisters. In January, I was at my first Religious Profession ever, when our Novice sister took her vows about two weeks ago. Herself and a recently trained nursing sister will be coming to work in the parish next month, thank God. Fruitful grounds for vocations here!

The sisters are a great help in many ways, particularly when I cannot go to the communities, they set out with Holy Communion and hold A Communion Service and a Service of God’s Word. And they would put any Missionary Preacher to shame with their sermons! They do weddings, baptisms, and it is the neighbours who bury the dead. I suppose it won’t be long when that will be a reality in Ireland. Of course being Brazilians sisters, they hear the news and problems long before I do and as such are a great help and asset to any parish.

This was a year also of “Adult Formation Visits” where the priest and sisters would go to the outlying missions or communities and give a day of lectures and formation talks on subjects such as The Sacrament of Baptism and The Importance of Faith, Family Ministry and Family Prayer. The community would organise a communal lunch and supper and we would end with the monthly celebration of The Eucharist. It was very tiring on us, but the people themselves loved it, and want more of it this year.

2010 was also a year of building. Of course the first settlement here, other than an Indian settlement, was less than 30 years ago and so everything has to be built from scratch. Even the road to here has yet to be tarred, but it is getting very near, only a few kilometres outside the town. But there are no plans yet to extend the tarred road north of us. I used to say that we are in the “back of the beyond” now we are in “the front of the back of beyond”.

The community of St. Joseph (São José)demolished their old wooden church and built a lovely new brick church. They ran Festas and Dances to raise the funds. Even the local council built a new dirt road to their community so that the buses from the town could bring the revellers to the dances. The Kiltegan Fathers also helped with some funds.

I received funds from home which I donated to one of the sisters so that one of our two communities called after St. Rita, could build a small clinic for our outreach programme to children and new mothers. I had the honour of blessing and opening this clinic after mass on the Sunday night before Christmas. Thanks to you all who helped. A family in New Ross left money in a will for the Ferns Mission to Brazil and it was used to help in the building of this new clinic.

All in all it cost about €4000 with most of the labour donated locally. The “Pastoral da Criança” (Children’s Pastoral) is a huge programme and organisation here in Brazil. It is in almost every parish and church community of Brazil. Sadly its founder “Dr. Hilda Arnes”, sister of the great Cardinal Arnes, was killed in the earthquake in Haiti while she was helping to organise a similar programme in that poorest country of The Americas. Most likely we will name the clinic after her. Thanks also to my cousins boss for his help in funding.

The community of Cristo Rei (Christ The King) have the walls built on their new church, and are waiting for the end of the rains to put on its roof. I brought some of my visitors of last year with me on a visit to this community and they promised funding for this church. With that we should be able to finish the church building by June of this year. The Kiltegan Fathers also helped financially.

The Matriz (Mother Church) is building new Class Halls for the catechism programme. As I write the painting starts today. Since the schools are state owned and run, the Catechism Programme and Sacrament Preparation has to be organised by parish volunteers who run our Sunday School Programme, hence the need for new Class Halls. We don’t know how lucky we are in Ireland to have committed teachers and dedicated parish schools. We have training weekends organised for our catechists this month of February. We have about 80 unpaid volunteer catechists in the parish. The catechism programme will begin around the first week of March, with the opening of the state schools after the Summer Holidays.

At one stage our building projects included two churches, the completion of the parish centre, a children’s clinic and new class halls and now we add a new roof for the main church.

Of all our 28 churches only 5 have the Reservation of The Blessed Sacrament. So the training of new Eucharistic Ministers will be my personal focus this year. If a community does not have a trained Eucharistic Minister they cannot have a tabernacle in their church, as there is no one to care for it and distribute Holy Communion.

The community \ mission structure is very simple. The people themselves elect a Coordinator. He or She is
the leader of the Service of God’s Word every Sunday. They will bury the dead, organise the catechism groups, preach God’s Word, organise the reception of the sacraments. He or she is like a curate, who recommends to me whether the person should is prepared and receive the sacraments or not. Because of distance and the poor frequency of the visits, it is often the case that the community knows the people better than I. The community of Cristo Rei (Christ The King) for example, cancelled the Confirmation, two years ago due to the lack of participation of the youth and adults in the catechism programme AND the Sunday Liturgy. Imagine what would happen at home if this was to happen. Another community, Our Lady of Guadalupe, cancelled their First Communion last December for the exact same reason. Each community also elects a Church Committee, who looks after fund raising, building and maintenance. Their chairperson or president is seen as the community leader.

Every December two or three representatives of each of the 28 communities \ missions meets together for the weekend of our Annual Parish Assembly, and here we decide together and vote on the priorities for our mission in the coming year. In effect the people decide where we priests and sisters are to put our energy and efforts for the coming year. This year our priorities will be Youth Ministry, Dizímo (Envelope Contribution) and Family Ministry.

Visit Denis' blog at http://carnew.blogspot.com

Denis, a native of Carnew, Co. Wicklow was ordained for the Diocese of Ferns in 1991. After working as Hospital Chaplain and as Curate in Gorey he volunteered to serve on the Diocesan Mission to Brazil. He has been based there since 1996 and is currently ministering in Castanheira / Mato Grosso, Brazil.

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Last Update Feb 08 2016

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