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From the left, Frs. Leonardo William Mariano, Aroldo Schinemann Filho, Silvio Rodrigues Roberto, and Claudio Gomes Dos Santos.

Meet Our Brothers from the South — the Deep, Deep South

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Visitors from the other America alit upon the grounds of the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy this past week.

Four Marian priests from Brazil attending a religious vocations meeting in the United States sat down with us to share what it means to be a Marian in what was once commonly known as the "Land of the Holy Cross."

Brazil: A South American nation with the world's largest number of Catholics, though the faith is in decline.

Brazil: A nation with 25 percent of the population below the poverty line.

Brazil: A nation where well-funded, pro-choice advocates stand poised to upend tight abortion restrictions.

Brazil: A nation, like our own, of rancorous political upheaval and social and moral decay.

Brazil: A nation where the Marian Fathers spread a message tailored to the times.

"We have become known as the Divine Mercy priests," says Fr. Silvio Rodrigues Roberto, MIC, whose stay at the National Shrine brought back memories. He studied English here in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, 18 years ago. He learned how to run a publishing apostolate here at the Marian Helpers Center.

In many ways, the Marians in Brazil mirror their confreres in the United States. They built and oversea the Shrine of Divine Mercy in the city of Curitiba. The shrine, like the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, serves as national headquarters and a popular pilgrimage destination.

The Marians in Brazil serve in parishes throughout a sprawling land. They publish the Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska in Portuguese and other titles familiar to English speakers in the north. (This month, they will begin publication in Portuguese of the Marian Press book by Fr. Michael Gaitley, MIC, 33 Days to Morning Glory.) They have a strong pro-life ministry and a burgeoning vocations program. They form the laity. They teach the teachers. They do it all under the mantle of Mary Immaculate.

Comparatively speaking, the Marians in Brazil — joined with Portugal to form the Divine Mercy Province — represent a young ministry. Founded in Poland in 1670, the Marians first set root in the United States 105 years ago. They built their beachhead in Brazil in the 1960s, a result of conversations in Rome during the Second Vatican Council. The Marians' superior general sat close to a bishop in Brazil. The two got to talking. The bishop asked the Marian to consider opening a Brazilian mission to help address a priest shortage. Polish Marians promptly set sail to serve in Brazilian parishes. The first Brazilian-born Marian priest was ordained in 1985. The country now has 39 Marian priests and seminarians, most of them native-born.

The mission came of age when many Catholic clergy in Brazil embraced and preached Liberation Theology. The Marians provided a corrective to all that. As Fr. Joe Roesch, MIC, the Marians' vicar general in Rome, says, "The people were looking for Jesus Christ, but instead, Catholic priests and religious were giving them politics. Thank God that we Marians proclaimed Jesus, the Divine Mercy, and kept the spark of faith alive."

Indeed, the Brazilian Marians preach and model Divine Mercy as a way of life and a vibrant source of renewal. They bring hope to the poor in urban slums, known as the faveles, and to native tribes and poor farmers in the rural outback. Five years ago, they founded the Immaculate Conception Pro-Life Home, which serves pregnant mothers.

"We have tended to more than 500 women who wanted to abort their child, and most of them decided against abortion," says Fr. Silvio, who serves as director of the pro-life ministry. "We support them spiritually, materially, and psychologically. We see miracles happening."

None of the work is easy. Though 130 million Brazilians — or 64.6 percent of the population — declare themselves Catholic, the numbers continue to decline, says Fr. Silvio. Divorce rates are soaring, as do the numbers of the unemployed and drug addicted.

"We are losing faithful people there," he says, "but at the same time we see more people are being more attentive to their faith. We see a movement of drawing deeper into the faith, especially the young people."

"We live in this culture of death, and this message of Divine Mercy is a light that we can follow," says Fr. Claudio Gomes Dos Santos, MIC, who serves as novice master in Brazil. "Jesus tells St. Faustina that Divine Mercy is 'the last hope of salvation' (see Diary, 965). People are responding to this."

"In the Shrine in Curitiba, we see people who are broken," says Fr. Aroldo Schinemann Filho, MIC, who serves as vocations director. "They have lost meaning in their lives. But once they have this experience of Divine Mercy, they find relief and strength to continue their lives."

"I answer letters from devotees," says Fr. Leonardo William Mariano, MIC, who serves as postulant master. "I've learned how much confidence people have in the Divine Mercy and the graces they've received through praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy — that Jesus is close to their lives. We see the miracles happening through their prayers. We see the transformation of one's life and one's family life and transformations of whole communities. The mission the Marians do there, like here in the United States, is very good for people."

The Marians press upon people the need for faith not just in rough times, but in good times as well.

"We strive to open people's eyes in a way so that they see what they can do for society, because the Church has this mission to help society," Fr. Silvio says. "As Jesus tells St. Faustina, 'I demand from you deeds of mercy which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it. ... It is to be a reminder of the demands of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works' (Diary, 742). We have to do this."

The Marian priests say a certain fellow South American, Pope Francis, has served as a great inspiration.

"He demonstrates the Christian life, and he demands it from priests to change our way of pastoring such that each Christian can have the opportunity for a personal encounter with Christ," says Fr. Leonardo. "He lives with the simplicity and humility taught in the Gospel, and he puts emphasis on the poor and marginalized and on prayer."

"And his emphasis on Mary," adds Fr. Silvio.

One more thing the four visiting priests would like you to know:

"We are deeply grateful to the Marians and the Marian Helpers in the United States who helped support us," says Fr. Silvio. "They helped us build our seminarian facility and our shrine back in the 1990s, and this has been such a blessing."

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