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Faith defies adversity
In Brazil's crowded cities and remote villages, Marians encourage the faithful.

by Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, and Mrs. Suzanne Zavatter


Brazil is a land of stark contrasts. Lush foliage and breathtaking views of the mountains and the ocean alternate with shantytowns that crowd the hillsides in urban areas. In these favelas or slums, unemployment, abysmal living conditions, gang violence, and drug use are the common plight of the people.

Yet we were filled with hope after our trip last fall to Rio de Janeiro and other parts of Brazil. It was hard not to be inspired by the Marians who, along with many of the people they serve, remain so faithful and dedicated to the Lord -- in spite of these overwhelming problems.

In Rio de Janeiro, we visited one of the most notorious favelas and were moved by the faith of a teenage girl. Father Andrew Lach, MIC, the local pastor, had obtained permission for us to visit a daycare center and a chapel inside the favela. A labyrinth of dilapidated shanty homes greeted us. Makeshift houses crowded row upon row on narrow, winding lanes.

Clearance to enter the favela came from gunmen -- not from local police. They guard the favela from any strangers who dare to enter their world. One armed guard was smoking marijuana, while the other one glared at us menacingly.

We visited a well-fortified, parish-run daycare center where children can play safely. At the chapel, we met parishioners who guard it from vandalism. One of the women invited us to her home.

Walking down a steep stairway, we came to an open ditch with raw sewage running in it. A cockroach the size of a small mouse skittered across the road. En route, Fr. Andrew explained to us how the Marians bring the faith and the Sacraments to the people in the favela. They also run programs that help those addicted to alcohol and drugs.


Walking down a steep stairway, we came to an open ditch with raw sewage running in it. A cockroach the size of a small mouse skittered across the road. En route, Fr. Andrew explained to us how the Marians bring the faith and the Sacraments to the people in the favela. They also run programs that help those addicted to alcohol and drugs.

In contrast to the crowded urban areas we visited, we went to Manoel Ribas, a more remote and rural part of the country. There Marian missionaries serve the local parish, where they have built a catechetical center and a rectory. In addition, they minister at 31 outlying chapels, including one on an Indian reservation.

One of the missionaries, Fr. Stephen Szwajkowski, MIC, took us to that Indian village. A different sort of scene greeted us there. There were houses, but no fences or streets. A mother sat nursing her baby under a shade tree. As we approached, a group of children ran up to hug Fr. Stephen.

It didn't take long for people to gather at the chapel to sing a favorite song that they had been practicing. In the chapel, Fr. Stephen showed us the Lord's Prayer which he had written out in the native language of the Indians in order to teach it to them. The children in the tribe were being taught their catechism. Many adults and older children had already been confirmed.

Whether we were in Manoel Ribas, Curitiba, or Rio de Janeiro, we were blessed to see firsthand the difference the Marians are making in the lives of the Brazilian people. We will never forget Fr. Andrew, Fr. Stephen, and a teenage girl who taught us how to conquer adversity with faith.



Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, is Econome for our Province of the Marians. Mrs. Suzanne Zavatter is Fr. Joseph's Assistant for Special Gifts. On their trip to Brazil, they were accompanied by Br. Albin Milewski, MIC, of the Secretariat for Marian Missions in Stockbridge, MA.



Future priest eager to serve fellow Brazilians


by Seminarian Silvio R. Roberto, MIC

Right now, over 30 Brazilian Marians are preparing for the priesthood, myself included.

Every year in recent memory, we have had the overwhelming joy of seeing bishops lay hands on our seminarians, consecrating them as priests. In just a few more years, we expect to have many new priests to serve our people in areas of the country where the needs are so great.
Of course, the main task for us seminarians is to be well prepared for future pastoral work through our studies in philosophy and theology. But we also assist the priests in their ministries.

Some of us catechize children and even adults. Others bring food and clothes to the poor. Frequently, we participate in a "mission," in which we join with lay people in a particular area in visiting hundreds of homes. We pray with the people and invite those who have fallen away from the faith to come back.

During these visits, we are strengthened in our own vocation. I, myself, have met all kinds of people during these missions: some people who do not love God, others who seem to have more faith than I do.

Last fall and winter, I also had the great privilege to spend time with the Marians on Eden Hill. I came to learn English and to become acquainted with the ministries of the St. Stanislaus Kostka Province in Stockbridge.

During my stay, I had the opportunity to work at the Marian Helpers Center, which I found very inspiring. I was impressed by the way so many of you, as Marian Helpers, assist my Congregation around the world -- particularly those of you who have made gifts to support seminarians like me. Thank you!

Please pray for my fellow seminarians and me that we will serve the Lord faithfully and persevere in our vocation.



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