A Visit to South America
By Fr. Joseph Roesch, MIC (Nov 15, 2006)
One of the wonderful things about my job as a General Councilor for my religious community, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception, is that I have the opportunity to go places and see things that not many other people can. I recently visited my Marian brothers in Argentina and Brazil. It was a wonderful experience for me to see how God is working in different parts of the world.
My visit to my Marian brothers in Argentina was called a Canonical Visitation. Every three years, according to our rule of life, our Superior General has the duty to visit all of our confreres — who work in 17 different countries around the world — to encourage them, to evaluate how well they are living our way of life and to suggest or decree ways they can improve their practice of the religious life. This year he delegated me to take his place in Argentina. Our community has been in existence for 333 years, and it is not by accident. Our Lord uses these types of visits to help us to grow and not to stagnate. When people become very busy with ministerial obligations, their prayer life and community life can be neglected and these need to be looked at and corrected.
We have worked in Argentina since 1939, but the focus of our mission there has changed over the years. Our original missionaries there were from Lithuania or the United States, and they went there to work with refugees from Lithuania. Now, except for one Mass a month in Lithuanian, our ministry there is entirely in the Spanish language. There is one elderly Lithuanian priest left and the rest of the community is from Argentina, (five priests in their 30s and 40s, a brother, three seminarians (one of whom is studying here in Rome), a novice and some candidates. They run two parishes and schools, in Avellaneda, a city just next to the huge metropolitan area of Buenos Aires, and another in Rosario, about four hours away by car.
In the Rosario Parish, St. Casimir, their Comedor, or dining room for the poor, feeds almost 200 poor children from the neighborhood each day. For some of these children, it is the only meal they receive each day. Because of the poverty, crime is a problem and our men must live behind walls and barbed wire for protection. Some of our priests in Brazil were held up at gunpoint in their rectory not too long ago. Someone from Brazil, who had visited America recently remarked on how pretty our houses in America are, and how nice it is that we don't have to live behind walls. What we take for granted!
The people of Argentina were wonderfully friendly and affectionate. Almost everyone I met in the parish kissed each other on the cheek. The altar boys who came into the sacristy were waiting for their kiss from me! It takes some getting used to! Their National Shrine to Our Lady of Lujan can attract 1.5 million people on the annual Feast Day. Yet, on a week-to-week basis, a smaller percentage of people attend daily Mass than in the States. In one of our parishes, there is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament several days a week, and our Marians hope to eventually have perpetual adoration in the parish.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, recently expressed the hope that this would become more prevalent in more Catholic Parishes. "What need humanity of today has to rediscover in the Eucharistic sacrament the source of its hope! ... I thank the Lord because many parishes, along with devoted celebration of the holy Mass, are educating the faithful in Eucharistic adoration and I hope that, in preparation of the International Eucharistic Congress (in Quebec City in June of 2008), this practice will be ever more widespread."
I then visited Brazil for a week. Our men work in various places in the southern part of this vast country. We have been working there since the 1960s and there are now more than 60 Marians in various parishes, shrines, and levels of formation. We built a Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Curitiba, Parana, at the request of the Bishop. When many Catholic clergy in Brazil were preaching Liberation Theology several years ago, we were losing many Catholics to Protestant groups, since 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.
At the Shrine, I gave two talks on The Divine Mercy at a Divine Mercy Congress. Some people came from the northeastern part of Brazil — four hours by bus — to participate. They were poor but incredibly enthusiastic and completely in love with Jesus Christ. It was a great experience to see their faith and how they worship with vibrancy with lively music. Our priests were hearing confessions all day long, and people were giving beautiful testimonies of inner healing, forgiveness, and many graces from the Lord. One woman, who had only gone to Mass out of obligation, was now seeing the beauty of her faith and appreciating the love and mercy of Our Lord for the first time.
The Lord has many gifts and graces prepared for each of us, if we will open our hearts to Him. Let's learn a lesson from the simple folk I met in Brazil and fall in love with Jesus Christ all over again.