The contrast of beauty and poverty

Fr. Tim next to the famous Christ the Redeemer statue which overlooks the city of Rio de Janeiro

As noted previously, Fr. Tim Gray, SCJ, is spending the last part of his sabbatical in South America, living and ministering with our SCJ communities there. On July 23 he wrote the following:

I look down from the Corcovado, the mountain on which is erected the well-known statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooking the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Only in Brazil.

If this were the United States, this would be a large cross, challenging believers to repentance and unbelievers to mount furious lawsuits.

But this is Brazil, land of tolerance, and the monument is noted with pride by all Cariocas (residents of Rio) as a symbol of God’s acceptance and love for all people.

This certainly is one of the most beautiful panoramas in the world, and has gained Rio the distinction of hosting World Youth Day in 2013, the World Cup in 2014, and the Olympics in 2016. However, the daily reality of residents of this overgrown metropolis of 12 million people presents enormous social challenges, and as usual, the SCJs (who call themselves here the Dehonians) are in the middle of it.

The first sight that greeted me as I arrived at Sagrado Coracao church was a long line of pathetic-looking people lining up for the weekly distribution of food. Fr. Jose Luis Gouvea, the pastor, pointed out to me with pride that the youth ministry had collected four tons of food in a one-week drive to stock the food pantry. Indeed, the 6:30 p.m. youth Mass on Sunday night was overflowing with enthusiastic youth and lively music. In fact, each Mass here has its own character; the 6:45 and 8:00 a.m. for senior citizens, the 9:30 a.m. for children, the 11 a.m. for couples, 6:30 p.m. for youth and the 8:00 p.m. for a group called Maranatha, which volunteers to work with the chemically dependent. The number of volunteers in many different areas of the parish is staggering.

I was quite fortunate to be able to attend this week the semi-annual retreat for the lay Dehonian group, which counts 50 members in this parish and 35 in Bom Jesus da Penha, the other Dehonian parish in Rio de Janeiro. It was heartwarming to see lay people so excited about our charism and so dedicated to putting it into practice. Next week I will visit the parish in Penha, which serves some of the infamous favelas (slums) of the city.

-Fr. Tim Gray, SCJ



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