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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Journey to the Amazon
Helping HANDS medical missionaries witness God’s providence in their 9th mission in Itacoatiara, Brazil.

HHMM volunteer
Christina Wilson, from Kileen, TX, cares for a small child on the mission to Brazil.

August 5, 2009. Itacoatiara, Brazil. As the Amazon River winds its way through Brazil, it passes by thousands of towns and villages where local people make a humble living by its shore. Some live in extreme poverty, struggling just to earn their daily bread. In many cases, medical care is rudimentary, with basic needs that go unmet and untended.

This year, five towns in the state of Amazon were visited by a team of 21 Helping HANDS medical missionaries who traveled from the United States to Brazil to serve the local people’s medical needs and to share their faith. The missionaries were accompanied by Legionary chaplain Fr Richard Nakvasil as well as a deacon and 7 parishioners from St Paul Chong Hasang Church in Kelling, Texas.

From the start, the mission was marked by moments of God’s providence. In spite of many obstacles, from a widespread loss of the Catholic
Kelly with kids
Kelly Suter, from Petoskey, MI, cares for a child.
faith to the local bureaucracy, Helping HANDS medical missionaries have persevered for 9 years in the same general location, working closely with Dom Carillo Gritti, a priest based in the prelature. This year, they witnessed signs of God’s action in the towns that need him most.

Solidarity with Priests

As the team traveled by boat down the Amazon, they stopped at various towns to open clinics and begin serving the local people. The first town they visited by boat was Vila do Enghenio—a town marked by special challenges.

Upon arrival, the team started their mission with door-to-door evangelization. Much to their surprise, they discovered that almost the entire town had been taken over by Baptist faith. Door after door was opened by local people who had left the Catholic faith.

Because of a lack of vocations for the past 30 years in the prelature of Itacoatiara, the little town of Vila do Enghenio had been without a priest for many years. When Baptist missionaries had come to visit some time ago, the local people, hungry for spiritual nourishment, had converted.

But as the team discovered, God’s providence was also at work. For the first time in years, the town had recently welcomed it first parish priest: Fr Lazaro Barrozo, a young Regnum Christi diocesan priest who studied at the Mater Ecclesiae interdiocesan seminary in Sao Paolo. Mater Ecclesiae is a Legionary-run seminary which trains and forms diocesan seminarians at the service of the Brazilian bishops, preparing them for their mission
missionaries with RC diocesan priest
Helping HANDS medical missionaries with Fr Lazaro Barrozo, a Regnum Christi diocesan priest who was just ordained last year.
in parishes and other ministries throughout Brazil.

Fr Lazaro Barrozo, originally from the Vila do Enghenho area, was ordained just last year on June 30, 2008 in Itacoatiara. By a coincidence, Helping HANDS medical missionaries happened to be carrying out a mission in the area at the time, and were able to attend his ordination. Now, this fervent young priest has a challenging mission on his hands: the task of bringing a whole town back to the Catholic faith.

After visiting the town and its parish, Sacred Heart Church, Deacon Mike Adam, from the parish of St Paul Chong Hasang, “fell in love” with the little parish. The next day, as they boarded the boat for lunch, he mentioned the possibility of his parish back in Texas adopting Sacred Heart Church as a sister parish. The idea is still only a possibility, but if it takes place, it could be yet another sign of God’s providence for the “lost cause” of Vila do Enghenho.

In their second stop at the town of Novo Remanso, the missionaries ran into another little gift: the local parish in that town was also under the care of another Regnum Christi diocesan priest: Fr Glausivaldo Martins,
A view of the shore from the missionaries' boat on the Amazon River.
who had likewise attended Mater Ecclesiae seminary in Sao Paolo. The presence of these hardworking diocesan priests helped the medical missionaries to feel even more connected to the local towns, and to see the scope of the mission of Regnum Christi and its diocesan priest members.

Difficulties and Perseverance

As the missionaries opened their clinics in five towns along the river, offering primary care and consultations, they also encountered an unexpected obstacle. As they were leaving the town of Sao Jose do Rio Arari, they got the news that the state government had ordered them to stop providing medical care.

What had happened?  As always, the missionaries had gotten permits to offer medical care from the local health department. But this time, the local health department had given its approval without consulting the state level authority. When the state found out that the medical missions were going on, it called the Bishop to tell him to suspend the medical mission until the doctors’ medical documentation could be cleared, and threatened police action if any further medical care were offered.

The missionaries had two days left in their mission, which was planned to conclude with a clinic at the parish of Nossa
Dr Sam Parra
Dr. Sam Parra, from Springfield, IL, works with a young patient.
Senhora do Aparecida in Itacoatiara. Since the weekend had already arrived, the state department would not be able to review their papers for another 2 days—and if the approval came, it would arrive just in time for the missionaries’ departure. Left with no alternative, the team decided to use that time to paint the church of Nossa Senhora do Aparecida—another opportunity to give witness to the Catholic faith.

Because of the unexpected cap on the mission, the missionaries were only able to treat 469 patients during their time in Brazil. But 469 is better than none, and the difference their treatment made in the lives of those patients was an important one.

One more lesson remained for the missionaries as they returned home on their flight from Brazil: the plane was full of Baptist businessmen returning from their missions in the Amazon, where they have multiplied churches at an amazing rate. The success of the Baptist missionaries proves that there is a real spiritual thirst among the Brazilian people, and that they are eager to hear about God. It also shows that Catholic missionaries are deeply needed, and that any support that can be given is likely to make an impact.

For more information about Helping HANDS medical missions, visit the web site at
To view videos of past missions to Brazil, Guatemala, Ghana, and the Philippines, visit the Helping Hands You Tube channel at



Related links

Altius Foundation
Catholic World Mission
Helping Hands Medical Missions
St Rafael Guizar y Valencia Missionary Center

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Sponsored by the congregation of the Legionaries of Christ and the Regnum Christi Movement, Copyright 2011, Legion of Christ. All rights reserved.

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