Greetings to all, hope you are all well.
In Barcelos and the entire region there are certain devotions which really have a great impact in the lives of the people and orientate both culture and religion. One of these devotions is to St Albert of Trapani. Devotion to him was introduced by the Carmelites who evangelised these parts in the 18th century. They eventually pulled out, leaving the region without priests, missionaries or religious during a 100 years more or less. What was left was devotion to the saints and especially to St Albert, who has the fame of working great miracles!!
In 1924, the Salesians arrived in Barcelos and during many years did much work in the area of education and formation, but as time has gone on their presence has become less and less and is now minimal. After that there was a period when there were no priests during four years. In general Catholicity here is present in many forms but at the same time mixed often with a lot of superstition, and now there is a great presence of religious sects and influence from the evangelical churches. Quite a mix!! But as time has gone on, the devotion to St Albert has become of such importance that you could almost say that it’s become pagan. People pray to him, make promises to him, ask him for favours, carry him in processions and worship him like a God. We have no doubt that the poor man must shake his head in dismay as he looks down on it all!
His feast day is on 7 August but celebrations begin nine days before and consist in prayers, rituals, drinking, dancing amongst other things. The days of celebration culminate in a procession on the river, carrying his statue by boat, then a procession on land, carrying his statue aloft and finishing with Mass.
During recent years the church here has had to try and educate or re-educate people to understand these devotions. To realise that the only reason any man or woman is considered a saint is because in their lives they followed Jesus Christ and tried to live according to the gospel. But it’s hard going and not easy, especially when a devotion to a saint becomes more important than Christmas and Easter!
Then of course are those who take advantage of any situation or feast, religious or otherwise, to make a bit of money. Whether it’s selling bric-a-brac, clothes, food or drinks and especially drugs and alcohol, there is always a profit to be made. Nothing is controlled or registered, no permissions, no police or law enforcement, so we are just in the hands of the good Lord.
All this occurs in the little riverside community of Carvoreiro that is home to the shrine of St Albert. Still in the middle of nowhere, it’s about twenty hours from Manaus, and ten hours down the river from Barcelos. During the year there are never more than about forty people who live in the community. During the days of festivities the number grows to about 4000 or more. Won’t go into details regarding hygiene or health and safety!! But everyone seems to survive. Unlike previous years, no stabbings or shootings this year thank God!
Next week I am off to visit communities on another river called the Unini. It takes 3 days to get there, so a lot of travelling.
Keep us in the prayers, God bless and take care.