Spiritan News

Letter from Brazil – 24th May 2020
Brendan Foley C.S.Sp.

In national lockdown progressively since March, we are awaiting official news from the authorities of São Paulo State, where most Irish Spiritan confrères are based, as Brazil faces the expected peak of the virus from now ’til early June. The daily death toll now exceeds 1,000 even as official numbers don’t tell the reality on the ground and an almost collapsed health system directly excludes the poor.   

In the new Spiritan Mission in Perus where I have been parish priest since 2018, we have registered COVID-19 infections and deaths. Sadly, there is very little news of recovery. The virus has found its way into the favela (urban slum settlements) of the parish, a great worry given its high population density.  In a recent online meeting of our deanery, all six parish priests confirmed that the virus was prevalent in their parishes, with many deaths and infections. One particularly poignant case of three brothers who succumbed to the virus within a month was flagged. Even closer to home, a woman on the street where I live has just died and three more infections have been confirmed. Access to public hospitals and clinics is now at breaking-point. The country is losing the battle against the virus.

The finger of blame points towards President Bolsonáro for his complete lack of direction, refusal to accept official global health advice, limited welfare support for the poorest and his lack of support for inter-state collaboration to fight the spread of the virus. More concerned for the economy, he is threatening a return to military rule and is constantly chipping away at democratic processes, putting pressure on all aspects of Brazilian life in the middle of the pandemic. The recent loss of three ministers, including two Health Ministers, is a clear sign of the political instability and uncertainty experienced in a country with no apparent vision or plan and which is mired in political stagnation.

Through the Bishops’ Conference of Brazil, the Catholic Church has raised its concerns in a very prophetic way against the threat of military rule, erosion of democracy, abandonment of the poor, lack of investment for the public healthcare system as well as the failure to protect the Amazon’s biodiversity and its indigenous peoples. Supported by Pope Francis and many global organisations, and against the background of a far-right socio-political reality, ecological abuse for illegal gain and extreme inter-generational poverty, confidence is now slowly returning to an eco-liberation theology.

As missionaries, we Spiritans are doing all that we can. Following State-wide regulations and the guidelines of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, we respond creatively to pastoral demands. Confrères in ministry are doing Masses and catechetical classes online and holding virtual meetings. We now have a longer list of intentions for those who have died, were infected or are recovering from the virus.

Elson Lopez C.S.Sp. helps the homeless in São Paulo city centre through voluntary missionary groups while Assis Tavares C.S.Sp. is working in the favelas of Vila Prudente and has recorded deaths and infections there. I am working within parish structures in Perus Mission where construction of the new Community Residential Centre continues. The parish has collected food for those most in need, including those newly unemployed. We are most grateful for the support and solidarity for feeding programmes, food banks etc. from Misean Cara, Blackrock College PPU and Willow Wheelers.

Reading and a time for prayer are an important part of daily routine. We keep up with media briefings on COVID-19.  Older active confrères are indoors as per the guidelines and all are taking the necessary precautions especially when making visits to food stores or the bank. We continue to pray in simplicity for all affected by the virus, rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us and hope in Jesus Christ.

Fr. Brendan is Superior of the Brazil South-West Province of the Spiritans and is Parish Priest in Perus, São Paulo.