During 1990, several Sisters researched the possibility of further Josephite involvement in Third World countries.
As a consequence, and following an exploratory visit to the diocese of Garanhuns, Pernambuco, in north eastern Brazil, Dom Tiago Postma, a Dutch Missionary Bishop, invited the Congregation to make a foundation in his diocese. It missioned one Sister there in December 1992. Five years later another Sister joined her. Today, these Sisters belong to the Nova Esperanza Local Community which comprises all Josephites living in Peru and Brazil and is part of the Transpacifico Region of the Congregation.
These two Sisters minister to poor and disadvantaged people in the city of Salvador, Bahia. On its outskirts one of them works with the internal migrants who have arrived from drought stricken country areas and offers them various forms of parish community building and pastoral work. Her companion travels to different community groups in the area and teaches self-knowledge and personal liberation using the Enneagram system.
Brazil is a land of stark contrasts, especially between the very rich and very poor. Its population of over 200 million people has roots in 4 continents, namely South America itself; Europe, the place of origin of the Portugese colonisers; Africa, the former home of the six million or so Africans who arrived as slaves and, more recently, Asia from where have come a significant number of Asian migrants, mostly Japanese. In spite of its having adopted a western European way of life, its wide cultural mix has given Brazil its distinctively rich, diverse and colourful culture. The people are very warm, vibrant and welcoming and in spite of hardships, know how to celebrate.
For many years Catholicism was Brazil’s official religion and the clergy were paid as public servants. In one of the oldest parishes of Salvador, its patron, Saint Anthony, still receives a monthly salary. Crucifixes hang in prominent public places including police stations, law courts and municipal offices. In every year since the mid-twentieth century the Catholic Church has lost approximately half a million of its adherents to other religious denominations or to none at all. However, Brazil still has the largest Catholic population in the world. The people are deeply religious and it is their faith that helps them keep hope alive in the face of injustice and endemic corruption.
Many of the challenges that Mary MacKillop confronted in her day are present in Brazil. There are vast distances between settlements, some of which are very isolated. There are not enough priests to provide adequate pastoral care, public education and public health systems leave much to be desired. By the time public money has passed down the line from the federal to the local level, there is very little left for municipal schools or health care systems.
For the Sisters, the charism of their founders, as expressed in their Josephite Constitutions: ”to bring to the poor the message of their human dignity and of Christ’s saving love”, is as relevant in Brazil today as it was in the Australia of Mary MacKillop’s time.
Page last updated June 2016