|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.
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
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.
|Kelly Suter, from Petoskey, MI, cares for a child.|
Solidarity with Priests
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.
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.
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
|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.
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
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.
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.
had two days left in their mission, which was planned
to conclude with a clinic at the parish of Nossa
|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 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.
more information about Helping HANDS medical missions, visit the web
site at www.hhmm.org.
To view videos of past
missions to Brazil, Guatemala, Ghana, and the Philippines, visit the
Helping Hands You Tube channel at www.youtube.com/user/hhmmnpo.