The Diocese of Rio Branco covers a vast area of over 40,000 square miles in the west of Brazil, with large areas lying in the rainforest. It is an impenetrable region of great distances, with many places accessible only by river boat. Of the approximately 602,000 inhabitants of the region, close to 450,000 are Catholics. There is a grave shortage of priests here, with just 26 diocesan priests and 28 priests from the religious orders to minister to so many people. Fundamentalist sects are spreading rapidly, even into the jungle regions, led by preachers with the flimsiest of training and plentiful financial resources, who promise the people miracles.
Perhaps the best-known figure in the Catholic Church in this region was until recently the Italian missionary Father Paolino Baldassarri, who worked for almost 70 years in Brazil, mostly in the Amazon region. He died on April 8, 2016, at the age of 90, already acclaimed as a saint by the people. Even at the age of almost 90 he continued to travel long journeys deep into the rainforest in his simple boat, in order to minister to the people. He always wore a life jacket and motorcycle helmet on these journeys, for he could not even swim. Even at this advanced age he also continued to practice as a doctor, treating and helping innumerable people.
When he first arrived in the region, almost half a century ago, he almost succumbed to malaria in his very first week. But miraculously he survived and soon began visiting the riverside settlements in the rainforest in a simple wooden canoe. Owing to the shortage of priests, many families had more or less abandoned their Catholic faith, and Father Paolino brought them back to it. By the time he died, the people in his parish were 100% Catholic. In one of his letters he wrote that in these isolated jungle communities “the seed of the Kingdom of God is real, which in the towns is concealed by our notions of enlightenment and progress and our dominant and all-powerful television.”
His example shows just how vital is the presence of priests among the people and what good fruits their ministry can produce. Yet, it is becoming harder and harder to find missionaries from abroad. For one thing, most of the religious communities in the Western nations are experiencing fewer and fewer vocations, while Dom Joaquín Pertíñez Fernández, the Bishop of Rio Branco, is also very conscious that what is needed is native Brazilian priests who are accustomed to the challenging conditions of the rainforest regions.
At the present time there are 16 young men from his diocese who are training for the priesthood. The diocese is poor, of course, and so Bishop Joaquín has turned to ACN for help. We have promised him $7,600.
Will you give to support the training of these seminarians who are preparing to minister in Brazil’s challenging Amazon region?
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