Training of  seminarians urgently needed in the Amazon region


The diocese of Rio Branco covers a vast area of over 104,000 km² in the west of Brazil. Large areas of the diocese lie in the rainforest; it is an impenetrable region, with vast distances and many places accessible only by riverboat. Of the approximately 602,000 inhabitants of the region around 450,000 are Catholics.

There is a grave shortage of priests here, with just 26 diocesan priests and 28 priests from the religious orders to minister to so many people. Fundamentalists groups are spreading rapidly, even into the jungle regions, led by preachers with the little to no training and plentiful of financial resources, promising the people miracles.

Perhaps the best-known  Catholic figure in this region was until recently the Italian missionary Father Paolino Baldassarri, who worked for almost 70 years in Brazil, most of this time in the Amazon region. He died on 8 April 2016 at the age of 90, already acclaimed as a saint by the people he served. Even at the age of almost 90 he continued to travel long journeys deep into the rainforest in his simple boat, in order to minister to the people. He always wore a life jacket and motorcycle helmet on these journeys, because he could not even swim. Even at this advanced age, he continued to practise as a doctor, treating and helping innumerable people.

When he first arrived almost half a century ago, malaria almost took him in his very first week. Miraculously he survived and soon began visiting the riverside settlements in the rainforest in a simple wooden canoe. Owing to the shortage of priests, many families had more or less abandoned their Catholic faith, and Father Paolino brought them back to it. By the time he died, the people in his parish were 100% Catholics. In one of his letters he wrote that in these isolated jungle communities “the seed of the Kingdom of God is real, which in the towns is concealed by our notions of enlightenment and progress and our dominant and all-powerful television.”

His example shows just how vital is the presence of priests among the people and what good fruits their ministry can produce. Yet, it is becoming more and more difficult to find missionaries from abroad. For one thing, most religious communities in Western nations are gaining fewer vocations, but on the other hand, Dom Joaquín Pertíñez Fernández, the Bishop of Rio Branco is also very aware that what is needed is native Brazilian priests, who are accustomed to the challenging conditions of the rainforest regions.

Now, 16 young men from his diocese are training for the priesthood. The diocese is poor. Bishop Joaquín has turned to ACN for help. We have promised him $9,940.




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