Fr James Shekelton, working in South America, sends his latest news …
I hope this note finds you all well. It is particularly hot at the moment and the summer here is just beginning. A cool 40 degrees is the norm.
I am preparing to go on the longest trip away to visit the furthest communities from the town. It’s 3 days by boat to get to the one furthest away which is called Vila Nunes. To get there we have to go down the River Negro and then up another river called the Unini. There are 8 communities on this river and it is an area protected by a government organisation to help conserve the fish and wildlife. The people make a living doing what most people do here – processing Manjoca to make Farinha and tapioca, working with the Açai berries, fishing, cultivating of bananas, pineapples and other fruits that grow in the region.
As I have mentioned before, each community has its patron, usually a Saint whose statue will always be found somewhere in the community decked in ribbons and colourful decorations. A lot of these statues are in bad condition and very old, but have always been kept as sacred objects by the communities. One of the communities had its annual feast on 8 September. As always there were many people who travelled to the community to participate in the feast. There was a procession and I celebrated Mass and offered baptisms, along with the usual football tournament and games. These people just love to party. Any excuse is good to have a party!
Observing the communities and the way of things here, the feasts often become moments to just forget about the hardships and struggles of life. Hard work, days spent under the sun with little rest, poor nutrition, conflicts and problems in family, relationships that don’t work, and many other reasons make people look forward to a feast as a way of breaking with the miseries and difficulties. A kind of way for people to drown their sorrows. So the feasts that were once very religious have now become quite pagan in many of the communities of the interior. It’s very hard to understand the mind-set, and even harder to try and explain it, but as always our presence here has to be one of giving hope. Sometimes you can ask whether our presence here makes any difference at all, but only God knows all that goes on and sowing seeds of kindness and hope is never wasted ….
Back in Barcelos now and the trip went well. The river is quickly drying as it does in the summer months. God bless and keep us in the prayers.