The last time we heard from Fr. Tim Gray he was writing about his visit to the Holy Land. From one end of the world to the other, he is now writing from Brazil where he is spending the last part of his sabbatical learning about SCJ ministries and communities in South America.
June 7, 2012: Here I am, in São Paulo, Brasil. The flight was uneventful. I left Chicago at 3 p.m., changed planes in Miami, and arrived at 7 a.m. Fr. Mariano was waiting for me, and took me back to the house where he lives with four other SCJ priests. It’s a cloudy, rainy, 60-degree early winter day; the weather here is very similar to Houston, so that was one thing I did expect.
What did I NOT expect? I was surprised to see it was pitch dark at 6 a.m. I’ve gotten used to summer in the United States, where now the birds start singing at 4 a.m. Guess I’ll have to go to Rio for some sunshine. I was also shocked that we were scooting along on nearly deserted highways! I had forgotten that today was Corpus Christi, and the country still takes most religious holidays off. That was nice!
We arrived back at the house at 8:30, just in time for breakfast. So it was a great chance to meet the other priests in the community. Time to shower and shave, and then meet for cocktails at 11 a.m. Really! Then to a Brazilian barbecue.
This is just a note to let you know I arrived — more news to follow.
And here’s the “more news to follow:” I am finishing the third day of my two-month pilgrimage through Brazil. Almost everything has gone very well: the travel, my welcome here by Fr. Mariano (the provincial superior), and the community. Actually, there is very little that has surprised me! Sao Paulo looks and feels like a Latin American version of Houston; a very good place for business, an OK place to live and work, but a place no tourist would want to stay. Sometimes it seems they outsourced the design of their skyscrapers to East Germany.
The weather is also like Houston in winter: lots of rain and temps in the 50s and 60s. But I was prepared for that. As I move further north, the weather will get warmer. A pleasant surprise for me has been the communication; it has been very good considering that I speak Spanish, not Portuguese. About half the time I will sit in the middle of a conversation, like I am floating in a pond, hearing words and phrases go by, sometimes catching the drift of the conversation. Then suddenly, there will be a jerk, like a tow rope pulling me, and I am up on top, water skiing! I am speaking Spanish, but I let words and accents from the Portuguese language tapes I have been studying creep in. The others speak slowly and clearly enough, using lots of Spanish words and phrases themselves.
Tonight I had a long discussion with Fr. Celson, a priest I met ten years ago in Recife. It was a typical late night discussion of religion and politics, and although a lot of what we shared was kind of sad and discouraging, it was exactly what I hoped for on this trip — to cross barriers of language and culture and to share what we have in common.
Tomorrow we go to the sanctuary of St. Jude. The only word to describe it is “humongous.” They receive a million visitors a year and have many social outreach programs, including an orphanage. The guidebook that describes their activities is 88 pages long. Ten priests work there. I’m especially interested in the small communities which are the basis of the parish.
Monday, I will visit the seminary in Taubate. Every year they ordain between five and ten priests, enough to maintain their work and send missionaries out. That was the way it was with us in the United States 50 years ago. We changed. What is happening in Brazil, a country nearly as secularized as the United States? Fascinating.
Tuesday I will go to Sta. Ana in Lavras, a much smaller city of 100,000 people. That will be another culture shock for me. I will send this note out while I still have good internet access.
-Fr. Tim Gray