Fr James Shekelton spent time in the Diocese of Hallam over the last three years working in different parishes and schools. He has now returned to missionary work in Brazil, where he will be working in a parish with his brother, Peter. He is keeping our Diocese up to date with his mission with a series of emails. This is Fr James’ first message and series of photographs.
Hello to all! Greetings from Barcelos on the River Negro.
The river has begun to fill as the wet season begins and transport becomes less of a problem. Many of you probably saw that some regions of the Amazon have suffered the worst drought this year, for many years. The parish here, the Immaculate Conception, is a vast size; in actual fact, possibly the biggest in the world! It is situated in the Diocese of São Gabriele da Cachoeria which is in the North West of Brazil in the Amazon region. The Diocese itself covers an area of 294,598 square kilometres, (that’s over 2 times the size of England), and the parish covers 123,000 of that, (that’s just a little smaller than England).
With this mail I just thought I would give a run-down of the different aspects or areas of work within the parish. In the parish, as in every parish, there are many tasks that need constant attention. First of all, in the town there are 11 small chapels plus the parish church. Each chapel is in a small district and normally functions as a small community. In reality, most of the small chapels could be parishes on their own because of what each one involves! Every weekend there are celebrations in nearly all the chapels including the main parish church.
The town itself has grown a lot during the last few years as many people from the indigenous communities have started to arrive, seeking a better life and education for their children. So newcomers are always arriving.
There is also a prison and hospital which we try to attend to regularly but neither is in good condition. The other day I was in the prison – 30 men crammed into 2 small cells. I won’t go into details but you can imagine the inhumane conditions. It’s supposed to be a place of transit but often prisoners can remain there for 2 years or more waiting for a judge to attend their case. Sadly most of them are under 25. There is also a lot of work to do with teenagers and young people who often fall victim to crime, drugs and prostitution to tourists who come for sport fishing, and passing military. We offer evenings of formation and recreation and occasionally the odd retreat to help the youngsters but it’s a mammoth ongoing task that requires a lot of time.
Another important mission is to visit the sick in their homes. The list of people is constantly changing and normally growing, as the town expands. Funerals are a constant event, and many times we have to be involved very practically, whether it be taking the coffin to the cemetery or helping to dig the grave. There are also many traders, transporting goods and materials up and down the river. For this reason there is always movement in the town and on the river, people coming and going, and therefore occasions to meet and help people in their diverse situations and difficulties.
Outside of the town there are many indigenous communities within the parish which need to be visited at least once a year with Baptisms, First Holy Communions and Confirmations, but especially spending time with each community is very important. One of the main things I will be doing is visiting these communities. Some are near, others far, some well populated and others with less people, but the only way to get to them is by boat.
In all these things, here just as in other places, people look to the Church for guidance and support, to be there for them, to console, to accompany, to embrace and to help them in their daily situations. There are so many needs but we try to cover everything as best we can between the two of us. In many situations even just the fact of being present is what makes the difference.
“The Church is not in the world to condemn, but to bring about an encounter with the visceral love of God’s mercy. For this to happen it’s necessary to go out. To go out from Churches and parishes, to go out and reach people where they are at, where they are suffering, where they are waiting.” Pope Francis
Please continue to keep us in the prayers and hope to be in touch soon with more news. God bless.