I am back from vacation and time with my family in Brazil. As usual, January is when I take some time to rest, recharge my energies, and reconnect with my family. This year, besides time for and with family, I included work for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee for the Church in Latin America, of which I am a member. As you may be aware, every year, the Diocese takes a collection to support pastoral projects of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean. This USCCB committee manages the evaluation of all the requests and the distribution of the funds.
Another part of the committee’s work is visiting dioceses and maintaining a connection with the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean as a sign of solidarity and mutual support. Our work is not only sending funds for the pastoral projects but also showing support through our presence for the neediest parts of the church in our continent. As we planned this visit, we focused our attention on three areas of Brazil which I felt were the poorest, most disadvantaged, and who have received the least amount of financial help.
I was joined by Fr. Leo Perez, the executive director of the USCCB office for the Church in Latin America, which is located at conference headquarters in Washington, DC. In the three regions of Brazil we chose to visit, we met with three groups of Bishops. In Salvador, Bahia, we met with 14 Bishops from Region NE 3, which includes the states of Bahia and Sergipe. In the city of Fortaleza, we met with 17 Bishops from the states of Ceará and Piaui, and in Manaus, another city, we met with 11 Bishops from the states of Amazonas and Roraima.
Highlights from Our Meetings
I was impressed with the spirit of solidarity and brotherhood among all the Bishops. It was such a joy to pray with them, spend some time with them, hear the challenges they confront and the hopes they shared. Most of the dioceses represented by these Bishops are extremely poor, as far as financial resources are concerned, but very rich in faith, spirituality, pastoral service, and vocations.
Some Bishops told me they have many vocations but do not have the resources to pay for their seminary formation. One of the Bishops told me, “I have 52 seminarians, but I am very concerned about not being able to maintain them at the seminary because of the high cost of their education and formation. In the last 9 years I have ordained 27 priests and 52 permanent deacons.”
Another Bishop whose diocese is in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest along the banks of the Rio Madeira described his diocese this way:
“Our diocese has 8 parishes; we have 17 priests, 16 religious and 6 seminarians. We have more than 400 riverside communities to evangelize. This work of visitation and evangelization is done all by boats and canoes.
The rivers are our roads. We have many indigenous villages. Religiously speaking, we treat them the same way as other communities, respecting the language and culture of each people.
We are living in a time of great hope. A new time marked by lights and shadows. The Synod for the Amazon helped us to dream of new paths for the Church.
Another element that the Church in the Amazon makes possible is the purification of our gaze, i.e., the Church guides us to look at the mission with a careful look, with love for the people and with hope for the future.”
Yours in Christ,
Bishop da Cunha