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 31 he wrote the following:
On Friday, during my last week in Rio de Janeiro, I was taken on a visit to the favela (slum) served by the SCJs at the other parish, Bom Jesus de Penha. Unfortunately, there was not room for me to stay at the rectory there, so my visit was limited to a day trip.
Even if I had more time and space to describe a favela, it would be difficult. You can Google it to get a rough idea. Try to imagine a small city, broken into many pieces, and jammed back together chaotically. Many of the pieces of a city are there, but not as you expect. Almost everything looks temporary, or under construction, which it probably is.
The favelas, while they started quite randomly, are also like a laboratory in which many types of social experiments have been tried, both by governments as well as NGOs and others. What would be safe to say is that whenever the powerful act, whether it is the government, or business, or drug lords who normally control the favelas, the poor pay the consequences.
Fr. Renivaldo, who had worked in this parish as a seminarian and had visited many houses here, drove me up the steep alley leading into the favela, waving at people he recognized. We saw one of the six chapels in the favela itself; they serve the same purpose as parish chapels anywhere else in Latin America — a place where Mass is celebrated on certain days, and a community center for many types of meetings and classes during the week. The chapels were the one part of the favela that seemed most “normal” — and I think that sums up the presence of the SCJs there: to give people an opportunity to live at least a part of their lives in a way that gives them respect and hope.
The parish church at Bom Jesus is huge, since it serves a wide area, including the favela. It offers seven weekend Masses, confession and Mass every day, and serves as the meeting place for larger gatherings, such as the novena of Masses, talks, and celebrations to prepare for the parish feast on August 5. I noticed that the local committees from each of the chapels were represented in the parish activities, so that it is not just ministry TO the favela residents, but BY them as well.
As I found in all of our Dehonian parishes in Brazil, there is a very great commitment to education and formation of adults for ministry and community.
Although the Brazilian Catholic Bishops consistently stress their concern for the poor and oppressed, resources are always limited. Not all favelas receive attention from the local parish. It is small wonder that evangelical churches are multiplying across Brazil, to fill a gap the Catholic Church cannot. Despite the fact that the faith came to Brazil nearly 500 years ago, many parts of it still remain mission territory.
-Fr. Tim Gray, SCJ