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Our Superior General visited the Amazon Region from August 31 to September 10, 2016. With a program well lined up and scheduled by the Regional Leadership Team, Father General was able to maximize his visits to far-flung areas, meeting with our confreres in their places of work and connecting with active lay leaders and parishioners.

The following are Father General’s impressions and reflections from some of the places he visited.

SVD Team in the Amazon Region

The SVDs, numbering thirty five, are working in different parishes, ministries and formation guided by the norms and objectives regularly discussed and evaluated by the region. They work among peoples living in places deprived of God’s Word and among people with very limited resources. They carry out their ministries respecting the local cultures and always striving to adapt in the process of inculturation. Their pastoral plan is based on the concrete situation and reality of the people. In most parishes and ministries, they work in teams.

Santarem: Lay leaders’ important role and place

Father General met with the Bishop of Santarem, Dom Flavio Giovenale, a Salesian. According to the bishop, the number of diocesan priests is growing steadily and yet there is a need for religious priests and Brothers who can help educate and form the laity.

Father General visited two parishes in Santarém, namely Paróquia São Raimundo Nonato and Paróquia Nossa Senhora do Rosário, with various outstations including a bigger housing project for some 3,000 families initiated by the government. The confreres shared that much of what is happening and developing in these parishes is due to the commitment of the lay people. At the same time lay people need to be formed and this, in turn, is the contribution of our confreres. Father General passed by the SVD formation house. Presently there are no candidates, however three young men are expected next month.
In the parish of São Raimundo, Father General had a two and half hour dialogue with some forty lay leaders. The lay leaders informed Father General about the very particular challenges families in the area are fac¬ing and which need to be addressed with renewed pas¬toral programs. Among the great joys the lay leaders share is their experience of what they call the credibility of their pastoral involvement. The people they serve are increasingly grateful for being organized, and more people are joining the communities.
Particular challenges are the numerous sects, the political situation, drugs, human and organ trafficking, violence and the destruction of the environment by mining and logging companies. A more welcoming attitude is needed for the youth and to involve them in the planning of the pastoral programs of the parish. Father General also celebrated the SVD Foundation Day in the same parish. A Mass was held followed by an agape participat¬ed in not only by SVDs but also some diocesan priests, religious and lay people.
Altamira (Diocese of Xingu): Our mission with the indigenous groups

Since 2014 we have assumed a mission in Altamira with the indigenous peoples of the area. Fr. Patrick Brennan SVD, an Irishman is assigned for this work. The region has taken indigenous ministry as one of its priorities. He would like to do more for the indigenous peoples.

Very few confreres are volunteering for this ministry and preparing to face the numerous challenges. During the visit of General Councilor Gregory Pinto (August-September 2015), he described the mission in this manner: “Our confreres work among nine different indigenous groups who live in forty-two villages. Each group has its language and culture. Besides the pastoral services, our mission among them consists in animating them to fight for their human rights, education, and health. More confreres will be joining soon. One of the confreres will be working in the city of Altamira in various pastoral situations such as resettlement areas.”
Oriximina: the biggest parish in the Diocese of Santarem

Father Superior visited the parish of Santo Antônio. Four confreres are working in the parish, two Brazilians, one Indonesian and one Pole. This is the biggest parish in the Diocese of Santarem. The SVDs work as a team visiting a good number of outstations. According to the General Visitator in 2015, the Quilomboias, who are Afro Brazileiros form a significant part of the parishioners.

Father General met with around 150 lay leaders. The lay leaders are very happy with the SVD missionary presence and are especially grateful for the formation and education they receive from the missionaries pre-sent and past. They would like to have more missionaries and are more than willing to help prepare missionaries for their task. According to the lay leaders, a special challenge for missionaries from abroad is to learn the language well and to have a good understanding of the Brazilian culture. One lay leader cannot understand why SVD missionaries hailing from their country are not working in BRA but are assigned to countries like Taiwan and Mexico. Some requests of the lay leaders addressed to the missionaries are: Do visit our families and us more often in our homes, and help us to unite.
Father General met with the four confreres who shared about their work in a vast area along the Amazon River. The work they do is impressive. Mining and logging with the consequent destruction of the envi¬ronment are among the biggest challenges.
Afterthoughts and reflections

Our confreres in the Region of BRA are making a difference in places where they are assigned. To a great extent the confreres are happy with their assignments and are loved by the people. It is necessary to prepare well for such a mission especially with language learning and understanding the culture of a very warm and loving people. In the future, it will be important to allow younger confreres within the Region to do some specific studies to make our SVD characteristic dimensions more present in their respective places of work. As in many other countries, so also in Brazil, poor and corrupt political leadership causes sufferings for many people. More ways should be found to address the poverty people are facing, but also to address reasons for this poverty and suffering.

Working in such a vast region as BRA, what becomes more than obvious is the importance of sharing responsibility for an increasing number of lay people. The formation of lay people was, is, and will remain an important part of the mission in the Amazon Region. In all encounters lay groups ask for an accompaniment of their families. They know that with all the challenges families are facing today, pastoral care of the family will play an ever greater role.
The missionaries are harvesting what previous generations of missionaries have planted and, for their part, they are now sowing what future generations of missionaries will harvest. It is just amazing what the group of confreres has achieved over the years, and yet a lot of work remains to be done. Future missionaries will have to learn how to educate and to work with lay people. The question, as in other PRMs, remains whether our present formation programs adequately prepare our young confreres for this task.
I thank the Regional Fr. Jose Cortes, his council, and all the confreres for the great hospitality. I would like to thank our lay mission partners for their openness in our dialogue, in which I learned a lot.

Published in the newsletter “Arnoldus Nota”- Oct 2016