Pastoral visit in Lábrea (2/2): "Our Prelature is alive, lives the restlessness of the moment and tries to be creative, but some challenges have increased its difficulty."

The Augustinian Recollect bishop of Lábrea, Santiago Sánchez, accompanied by the delegate of the Province of San Nicolás de Tolentino in Brazil, Juan Cruz Vicario, and by the member of the Recollect community of Lábrea, Miguel Ángel Peralta, has been able to make the pastoral visit to the parishes located river Purús below Lábrea. Part Two.
News | 2021 Jun 09

In the afternoon of May 5, we arrived in Tapauá, where the Augustinian Recollects Luis Antonio Fernández Aguadoand Juan José Guzmán were waiting for us. Also, in this  Parish of Santa Rita there is a community of Oblates of the Assumption, with the sisters Feliciane,  Cirlene, and Beatriz, who hosted during the days of the visit the Augustinian Recollect missionaries Ana María and Ivone, who came in the missionary team left Lábrea.

The pastoral visit in Tapauá began at the Esperanza Center, which continues to operate despite the pandemic but with very strict compliance with the rules.  They have adapted very well, and never more than 30% of the students of each shift are present, so their presence in the Center is divided according to hours and days. For this reason, the missionary team was present at various times, to share a moment with as many students as possible.

We also made the compulsory visits to people and families who welcomed the missionary team so well, a meeting with the Pastoral of the Earth, celebrations in the six communities of base of the urban area of the Parish.

Here we leave a space for a more special encounter with the last base community that has been created in the urban area of Tapauá, which has the characteristic of being a floating base community. Its patron saint is San Pedro, the fisherman par excellence. Special because this neighborhood also has very special characteristics not only within Tapauá, but in the Prelature.

None of the other cities has developed such a significant number of houseboats around it. In the case of Tapauá, they have grown exponentially in a dozen years, located at the mouth of the Ipixuna River in the Purús River. They are families arriving from the rural area with house and everything.

They are the most vulnerable in the city, the most attacked by the challenge of poverty, and those with the worst living conditions: they are always on very polluted waters, there is frequent lack of energy, travel is difficult for everything (shopping, school, health care)... Children are in almost constant danger of falling into the river.

We also had the  encounters and meetings typical of any pastoral visit: the two religious’ communities, male, and female; the management  team of the Esperanza Center; blessings of patients and families, meeting with the Parish Pastoral Council, management of documents and processes, particular meetings requested by people with various needs ...

The delegate of the Province in Brazil, Juan Cruz Vicario, day 8 traveled back to his community of Manaus.  In this pastoral visit he remembered and relived the many years he was an active missionary in these lands and waters. Thank you for your company and testimony.

The rest of the missionary team had to return to Labrea.  After the official farewells and the closing of the visit, on the 12th we started the return, this time already upstream. Many kilometers were waiting for us again sailing upstream, therefore much slower than on the descent.

Along the river road we greeted with gestures the inhabitants of the riverside communities, the fishermen who stopped their task to respond with joy; we contemplate and listen to Nature with its thriving vegetation, with its birds of all kinds and colors and sizes that abound, in the different animals —even a crocodile—, in the strong sun and in the rain, also strong, praising with them the Creator.

We stopped and celebrated in the community of Baturité, where in a short time they all gathered while we prepared the chapel. The consequences of this year's flood, which has been particularly intense, were very visible. It was exciting the arrival of the faithful, small, and large, in their canoes, and we had mass and the familiar missionary dialogue.

At dusk we came to sleep in the community of Boca de Jacaré, where we celebrated the next day. The old catechist proudly showed us the advances of his catechizing.  We spent the second night in the community of Cachimbo, accompanying mainly Doña  María, who was ill.

On the 14th we arrived at Foz de Tapauá. This time the reception was only with music, but with the same joy of Father Éder, sisters Merinalva and Doriña and the whole community.  In the  Eucharist of that day three extraordinary new ministers of Holy Communion were instituted.

On the 15th we celebrated the Eucharist in the morning and then we had a new meeting with the Parish Pastoral Council.  After the fraternal meal, accompanied by the parish priest Father Éder, we left the "Venetian" community of La Foz.

At dusk we arrived at the community of Catolé, where we prayed the rosary as a family and went to rest after a time of conversation. The next day, Sunday, we celebrated the Eucharist with that community and continued our journey to  Belo Monte, where we had Sunday Mass with the whole community.

In all the places we celebrated the joy was great; very rarely they had had Mass with the bishop, several priests and two nuns, all together. The emotion was palpable and the astonished eyes of the children evident.

On the 17th we accompanied again the evolution of the Gabriela project  that had begun two weeks ago. It gave time for the updating of documents, other home visits with the parish priest and we recorded some videos with strategies for the Assembly of the Prelature of January 2023. This event of utmost importance to us is already being prepared in all parishes.

The Augustinian Recollect Missionaries  had an encounter with the  Josephines, as they had also had with the Oblates of the Assumption in Tapauá.  I thought it was important that not only the bishop meet the members of consecrated life in the Prelature, but also that they meet each other.

The Eucharist of the night was the official closing of this pastoral visit.  An especially exciting moment for me was with the children of Belo Monte  blessing the bishop at the end of the Eucharist.

In the afternoon of the 18th, we arrived in Canutama.  We had a meeting with the parish priest, Fr. José Nilson, to prepare the pastoral visit (in the "descent" we had only stopped here for 24 hours, as we indicated) and we joined the novena of Santa Rita presided over each day by one of us (Father  José Nilson, Fray  Miguel Ángel Peralta and the bishop).

There was a meeting with the workers of the Parish, and we had time for visits and give sacraments to the sick, with the Pastoral of the Earth, with the mayor, the delegate of the Military Police, the blessing of people and houses ...

We participated for three days in the program directed by the Parish on the local Community Radio, every day someone different: Fray Miguel Ángel Peralta, the bishop, and another day the Augustinian Recollect missionaries Ana María and Ivone.

We were able to visit the hospital, the detention center, and its prisoners, we met with the Extraordinary Ministers of the Communion...

On May 21, from Lábrea, professor Cavalcante arrived in Canutama to establish in the Parish of San Juan Bautista the Pastoral of sobriety.  We accompany and encourage the process...

In every pastoral visit the dialogue is continuous: conversations with the parish priest about pastoral projects, visit to parish properties and social projects, knowledge of the personal situation of the main agents and the Parish as a whole, immediate, and medium or long-term challenges ...

We solemnly celebrate the Feast of St. Rita.  There was Mass and procession with the image of the saint climbing in an open car, preceded by another car with loudspeakers. The parish priest encouraged the procession, as well as the music. Behind the image followed a good group of faithful on motorbikes and bicycles.

We passed through all the communities in the urban area and, only when the procession ended, did it start to rain! At night there were baptisms in the same solemn Mass in which we officially closed the pastoral visit. The entire missionary team and the parish priest, Fr. Nilson, gave their testimony.

On Pentecost Sunday, after celebrating Mass in the chapel of San Pedro de  Canutama, we start again journey upriver to Lábrea.

The last part of the trip was longer than anticipated. In fact, we did not arrive in time to the community where we were going to celebrate Mass, because when there were still two hours to arrive, already without daylight, there was a rainstorm.

The prudent thing was to stop, so we tied the boat to a tree and spent the night. At dawn, still very dark, at 4.30 in the morning, the commander started the engine for the last stage. We arrived in Lábrea at noon.

In this time everything is atypical, also the pastoral. Atypical has been this visit, but I consider it very rich in spiritual fruits.  Rich for the priests, religious and women religious who have been accompanied and strengthened; rich for our people, seeing the concern of their shepherds for them.

Rich for me and those who have accompanied me: Friar Miguel Ángel Peralta, who has relived encounters, experiences, growth of what he sowed in times past by the places visited, the welcome and affection shown; rich for the Augustinian Recollect Missionaries,  Ana María and Ivone,  who have known another part of the Prelature, who have shared their missionary spirit and have exercised their mission with their presence, their example and their testimonies enriching their vocation.

My personal evaluation is positive:  our Prelature is alive, lives the restlessness of the moment and tries to be creative to serve the people.  Live the pandemic from faith and face the challenges. And the challenges I have observed are the need to attend to young people and children,  disoriented by the lack of school, catechesis, accompaniment ...

The isolation of the pandemic can be translated in many cases into choosing the wrong paths that already exist, but that now increase their activity due to a greater lack of expectations of life, work, learning ... Thus, the situation results in a growth in illegal and criminal activities, which look for minors to add to their networks for being unimpeachable and for wanting a lot of easy money for doing seemingly simple things. Consumption, traffic, and chemical dependencies; robberies and violence on the streets in general; the networks of exploitation and abuse, all of this, with the pandemic, has become more evident and more present.

Another challenge is to work more with and for the family because this anomalous situation multiplies conflicts in the home, domestic violence, and people need support, encouragement, things to do, decent work, occupation, and healthy leisure, to avoid aggression and arguments, abuse, and breakups.

A third challenge is to increase the Christian life, because at this juncture non-Catholic religions take advantage of having sided with denialism or selling "miracle cures" for the virus. They continue to open their temples and even call for a larger congregation of people, while the Catholic Church has made and continues to strive to defend life and health, to comply as much as possible with the laws of restriction and sanitary protocols.

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Augustinian Recollects Province of St. Nicholas of Tolentine.

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