Flexibility key to mission work - Catholic Courier
Matthew H. Clark Matthew H. Clark

Flexibility key to mission work

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second installment in Bishop Clark’s report on his visit to the Sisters of St. Joseph missions in Brazil.

Thursday, Jan. 19: Nega (Sister Ireny Rosa da Silva) works in a school at the edge of an extremely poor community. This settlement is an urban version of the rural communities we visited yesterday. People have occupied unused land, built on it and now await the time when the land will be turned over to them by the government.

The wait is not an easy one. The conditions in which they live are a fertile breeding ground for a variety of social ills such as drugs, prostitution and theft. Young people easily get caught up in gang life and lean toward violence as a way of settling even minor disputes.

On our tour of the area, Nega pointed out where two young people, both students in the school where she works, were shot for reasons that are not yet clear. I could not help but think of our recent tragic experiences at home of the murder of so many of our young. Violence thrives where hope is frail.

We were delighted to have a moment with some of Nega’s coworkers at the school. This is vacation time for the students, but staff members were on duty, completing the work of the year just ended and preparing for the students’ return in early February. These men and women very kindly included us in their afternoon snack.

We were blessed to have a wonderful evening with Jose Alberto Moura, bishop of Uberlandia. A native of Brazil, Don Jose became a Stigmatine father; and prior to his appointment as bishop, served as superior general of that congregation. He was based in Rome during his term as superior general, but garnered considerable experience of the church in visits to his confreres serving in many parts of the world.

I am afraid that we made the bishop work hard at what was to be a relaxing dinner, but I for one was deeply interested in his experiences in Uberlandia — especially in the area of land reform. I won’t go into details of the conversation except to say that Don Jose strongly made the point that land reform, necessary and right though it may be, never has been and never will be easy.

It wasn’t all work. The bishop is a witty man who delights in puns and word play. Some of that took place in English. Marlena did her best to translate when Jose spoke in Portuguese, but the challenge was great. How do you translate a pun from one language into another?

Marilyn and Mary Lou were the chefs tonight. They grilled sausage and chicken over a charcoal fire, producing a meal that made our outdoor evening a special treat. We sat together for more than three hours, but it seemed a much shorter time. Good conversation, savory food and perfect weather made it so.

Friday, Jan. 20: A bit of travel today. After an early lunch Nega and Marlena took Grace and me to the bus station, from which we left for Caldas Novas.

The ride was an interesting one on such a perfect summer day. The fields were lush with many shades of green, and the sharp blue of the sky was deepened by spectacular cloud formations. The three-and-a-half-hour trip seemed much shorter than that.

We were met in Caldas Novas by Sisters Jean Bellini, Anne Marvin and Maureen Finn, who came from Goiania by car to meet us.

It was a pleasure to be with them for a relaxing afternoon and evening. We caught up with one another through a peaceful schedule, which included a visit to the thermal pools for which this town is well noted, a pasta supper in an Italian restaurant, some shopping and a stop for some ice cream to eat on the way back to our pensione.

Maureen and Jean recently left Mato Grosso after 14 and 22 years there, respectively. I am sure that the move is a demanding adjustment to make, although you would never know it from anything either of them said. I find flexibility to be a characteristic of the sisters here. They stay alert to changing circumstances and are willing to adjust to them as needed.

Anne Marvin was quite new to Brazil the last time I was here. Now with Maureen and Sister Ellen Kuhl, she forms the leadership team of our sisters in Brazil. I hope that I’ll have a chance to talk with them about their experience of leadership since they began. Such conversations always teach me something new.

It was a very good day. Part of the pleasure of the bus ride was that it provided time to think about what I have experienced in Brazil — not just on this trip but on all of them.

Peace to all.

Look for the third installment of Bishop Clark’s mission journal next weekend.

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