A Boat for Pastoral Ministry in Brazil
There is rejoicing among many in the Diocese of Corumbá in Brazil, close to the Bolivian border, and great gratitude for the fact that ACN has funded the purchase of a new boat for the diocese, with which its priests can reach the otherwise inaccessible villages on the shores of the Rio Paraguay. The bishop of Corumbá, Dom Segismundo Martinez Alvarez, had sent us an urgent request for help, since the old boat was by then 15 years old and had more or less become unusable.
Happily, his appeal did not fall on deaf ears, and thanks to our generous benefactors we were able to give a donation of $8,900. Now the priests and lay missionaries of the diocese can visit the Catholic faithful more frequently, given that many of the villages which line the banks of the Rio Paraguay and its tributaries are accessible only via the river.
The whole region, known as the Pantanal, is a vast and inaccessible tropical wetland area where the people are largely cut off from modern civilization, with little access to social programs or health care services. Most children receive only four years of schooling, if they attend school at all. After this they either have to continue their education in the towns or else break off school altogether. Then the only employment left to them is working on one of the vast cattle ranches (fazendas) or giant agricultural concerns, for many of the forest regions are being grabbed and turned into massive soya or sugar cane plantations by large industrial landowners.
The Catholic Church is doing all in her power to help the people. The Diocese of Corumbá, a town known as the gateway to the Pantanal, has just five priests and six parishes serving over 90,000 Catholic faithful. The Church is, however, continuing to extend her pastoral and social outreach to the people. Yet the fact is that most of the small communities and settlements along the banks of the Rio Paraguay and its tributaries are so inaccessible that a priest can rarely visit. It would already be something if a priest could visit each community just once a year, yet sadly even that is something that most of the faithful can only dream of at the present time.
Fortunately there are also lay helpers who assist the priests in their pastoral work and provide the catechetical and social programs for the people who would otherwise get no help at all. They give support for those who want to learn to read and write, and help to obtain such essential documents as birth certificates and identity cards. This is a vital service, since anyone who cannot produce the necessary papers to all intents does not exist for the state and consequently has no rights. A great deal is also being done in the field of health care, and prevention is an important aspect of this, so that people, and above all children, do not fall sick in the first place.
These lay helpers are also teaching the people to use the natural herbal remedies that are supplied freely by this wetland region, for by and large the medicines produced by the pharmaceutical industry are simply unaffordable. But the greatest priority of all is the pastoral care of the people’s souls, and every effort is made to enable as many people as possible to receive the sacraments as often as possible and especially to share in the celebration of Holy Mass, or at least, if there is no priest available, a Liturgy of the Word. The people are helped to learn more about their faith, to pray together and prepare for the sacraments, particularly First Holy Communion, Confirmation and marriage.
Many Protestant sects are already very active in the Pantanal and are seeking to win over the faithful, and while many Catholic families still cling firmly to their faith and their Catholic traditions, more needs to be done to nurture them and strengthen them in their faith.
The new boat has brought new hope, and Bishop Segismundo Martinez Alvarez has expressed his heartfelt thanks to all our benefactors for their generous support.
This now completed project is an example of our work. If you would like to support a similar project, then please indicate the reference code below when making your donation. Thank you.