by Rodrigo Arantes, ACN Brazil
Luiz Gonzaga, a Brazilian musical icon, was born in a rough, rural area in the state of Pernambuco in north-eastern Brazil. He became famous in Rio de Janeiro. After 16 years, during which he never visited his parents, he returned one night to the north-east. He himself describes how he stood in front of their house and cried out:
– Hallo! Is there anybody home?
Because nobody answered he shouted even louder. Then he remembered the “farmers’ password” and cried:
– Praised be Jesus Christ!
Immediately a light went on in the house. He heard his father’s voice answering:
– For ever and ever. Amen!
And that’s how father and son met again after more than a decade.
This incident illustrates the faith of the farmers of north-eastern Brazil. No-one, not even a thief, would have the courage to abuse the name of God. Of course his father couldn’t know that it was his son calling out, but he could be sure that the one using this “farmers’ password” was a good person.
The rough land in the Brazil’s north-eastern region is one of the country’s weakest regions. Although the soil itself is fertile, it suffers from an extremely dry climate and sparse rainfall. According to current data more than 10 million people suffer from the drought. In the areas most affected hunger, thirst and all kinds of deprivations are the order of the day. But in this region the people’s faith is constant. It is against this backdrop that “Aid to the Church in Need” operates.
Since the 1960s the rough areas in the north-east of Brazil have received support for large-scale projects, such as radio stations in rural areas preaching the Gospel to the people, live as they do hundreds of miles from the next chapel. But “Aid to the Church in Need” also implements a number of smaller projects in particular which directly benefit the modest smallholders from this area in Brazil’s interior.
Don Neco has great respect for the Mother of God and in particular for Saint Francis. He lives in Serra Talhada, in the interior of the north-eastern state of Pernambuco. The community is called “Nuestra Señora de la Salud” (“Our Lady of Health”), but the only sign of this Christian community was the image of the Holy Virgin which Don Neco possessed.
Members of this community would walk kilometres to get to Don Neco’s land. They gathered there to pray under the blazing sun to pray in the shadow of a tree. They celebrated a liturgy of the Word before the image of the Holy Virgin. When the priest joined them he celebrated Holy Mass. The community decided it was time to build a chapel. Don Neco donated a piece of land to enable the church to be constructed. For this man of faith it was more important to sow the Word of God than to sow food. The members took a number of initiatives to raise funds to build the chapel, for instance by holding bingo sessions – everyone donated something as a bingo prize: cooking pots, chickens and even goats could be won. The desire to build the chapel was so great that a single goat served as a prize seven times: each person who won it put forward as a prize for the next game.
Even so the money collected wasn’t enough to build the chapel. The priest Orlando Bezerra, who had accompanied the initiative, asked “Aid to the Church in Need” for support, but only to buy building materials. The labour was being provided by the members of the community themselves.
And today the chapel is finished. Don Neco can see that the faith sown on his land has borne fruit. “I thank God for all this. In the whole region there is not a single child that hasn’t been baptised and received First Communion.”
The community “Rosa de los Vientos” (“Rose of the Winds”) is one of the 46 places looked after by only two priests from the area of Serra do Ramalho, in the interior of the State of Bahia. This area also suffers from a prevailing drought. Whenever anybody came and asked the inhabitants for something to eat or drink, he would be given a piece of “palm”, a type of cactus typical of the north-east of Brazil and which is also used to feed cattle. “Here people only get something to eat every two days,” says farmer Pedro de Andrade. Even the water used in the houses comes from the water the cattle bathe in and where they leave their excrement. The community has neither running water nor electricity.
In view of such deprivations the only thing there was a surplus of was faith. A benefactor of “Aid to the Church in Need” wanted to provide the funds to build a chapel. Even now the community only wanted money to buy building materials. They intended to carry out the construction work themselves. Now the chapel to “Saint Eulalia” has been built the community is more united. They now also have electricity and running water. The word from the scriptures came true: “But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
These are only two of the hundreds of projects which “Aid to the Church in Need” supports in this rough region of Brazil. “Aid to the Church in Need” has also supported nuns in helping to preserve and enrich the people’s faith, because the region is also one of the areas targeted by the sects. But farmers like Don Neco are excellent examples of how a firmly rooted faith cannot be overturned by the wind. “I receive everyone in my home. But one day I heard that people with an alien religion wanted to visit me. Since I knew what they were I answered: Look here, thank them on my behalf. But ask them to stay away from me. I don’t wish to receive anyone who claims that my Mother (the Mother of God) is not important for the history of our salvation,” Don Neco declared.