LATIN AMERICALiving with uncertainty
While the secular media keeps us informed, more or less, about the various “hot spots” of the world, as Oblates, we need to pay attention especially whenever some of our brothers are living near violent and dangerous situations. In the last half of February, the news from Venezuela has been worrisome.
Mission of Venezuela (attached to the Mediterranean Province) is led by Fr.
Javier ÁLVAREZ. This mission superior recently wrote to Fr. Miguel FRITZ, the
General Councillor for Latin America, to inform him of the situation. Fr.
Javier also included remarks from the Facebook page of Fr. José Manuel
CINCUENDEZ who lives in Palo Gordo, not far from one of the centers of unrest.
They both speak of the strife and demonstrations that began on a university campus, but which have triggered elsewhere more protests and subsequent repression by the government who call the demonstrators “golpistas y fascistas” (coup leaders and fascists). Several persons have lost their lives in the melees.
José Manuel sums up the background to the trouble that goes well beyond the original complaints of the university students: What’s happening in Venezuela? It’s difficult to explain. For a long time, there has been lack of basic products in the country. To get such elementary items such as oil, margarine, milk, pork, sugar, toilet paper, one has to stand in line and pay more than a fair price for these things: it looks like a conspiracy…. Such collective discontent, along with the desire to impose a “socialist” system, is the breeding ground for a backlash against the government.
Our brother Oblates are unaware of much of what is happening because of the tight control the government has on the media. In some areas, internet connections are also blocked.
As Javier concludes his e-mail to Miguel Fritz: When we have more information, we will keep you informed; but as you see, the thing is still very uncertain and it does not augur much good. I repeat that all the members of the mission are well and those who are in most danger are in the State of Táchira. Here in Santa Barbara, everything is totally tranquil, for the moment.
Oblates from the former Central Province in the United States went to northeastern Brazil 50 years ago to work with the very poor in the city of Recife. To help celebrate the anniversary of the Oblate arrival there, two members of the former province, Fr. David KALERT and Fr. Louis STUDER, joined the celebration. Fr. Studer recounts his experience.
More than 1000 people gathered in Recife on
February 2, 2014, to celebrate 50 years of Oblate presence and ministry in the Archdiocese
of Recife-Olinda, Brazil. Archbishop
Fernando Soburido, OSB, presided and preached at the Mass and thanked
the Oblates for their work, especially with the poor. Over 40 Oblates and
diocesan priests were present for the celebration. Fr. David Kalert and I represented the U.S. Province.
Several parishioners gave testimony at Mass
of how the Oblates encouraged and helped them on their journey to Christ. The
Oblate Provincial of Brazil, Fr.
Francisco RUBEAUX, expressed gratitude for the dedication and hard work
of the Oblates over these 50 years. He assured the people of the continued
presence of the Oblates and made a strong request for vocations.
Responding to the call of Blessed Pope John XXIII for each religious community to send missionaries to Latin America, Fr. William COOVERT, provincial the former Central Province sent Frs. James KOHMETSCHER, Boniface WITTENBRINK and Darrell RUPIPER to found the first Oblate community in an extremely poor favela known as Brasilia Teimosa. The three were soon joined by Fr. Ed FIGUEROA who had earlier worked with the Oblates from the former Eastern U.S. Province, in São Paulo, Brazil.
When the Oblates arrived in Recife, they faced a military dictatorship in Brazil that did little to serve the needs of the poor. Many Oblates spoke publicly about this cruel injustice. A couple of them were sent to prison, one was tortured and two were forced to leave the country. Those who remained worked on the streets with the very poor.
Together with two Brazilian religious sisters who had worked with him on the streets, Fr. Figueroa founded the Community of God and Our Lady for homeless children, many of whom were disregarded by society because of mental and physical challenges. Archbishop Dom Helder Camara donated a large house for the community.
In September 2001, the City Council of Recife proclaimed Fr. Kohmetscher a Citizen of Recife for his many years of solidarity with the poor in their struggle for fit living conditions.
The Oblates throughout Brazil have also met with success in fostering vocations. Presently 60 Oblates are in vows ministering in Brazil, with another 34 in various stages of seminary formation in the province which was established in 2003, uniting the Oblate Units of São Paulo, Belém and Recife.
I thanked the Oblates, the Oblate Associates, and all those with whom the Oblates have ministered over these 50 years. Their prayers, encouragement, and faith, help make Recife celebration our ministry with them one of joy and blessing!
Brother Agustin COTÉ published in his monthly “News Notes” this letter he had received from Father Roberto DURETTE in late February.
Here we are at the beginning of Carnival. Life takes on a different aspect until the Sunday of Temptation, that is, the first Sunday of Lent. There are many aspects of the Bolivian carnival depending on the different regions of the country. On the altiplano---the highlands where we are located---carnival is linked to the cult to Mother Earth. The ch'alla, as it is called in the Quechua language, is the main ritual during which one thanks the Pachamama (Mother Earth in Quechua)) for all that she has given us during the year and at the same time asks her for protection and her continuous blessing for the coming year. The ritual consists of showering the earth with alcohol, confetti etc. This has a profound meaning now that we are just beginning to learn how to respect nature and protect the environment.
According to Quechua and Aymara thinking (the two main Indigenous people of the altiplano) we are intimately linked to the Pachamama, we are part of her. If we destroy or damage nature, we are destroying ourselves in the long run. This is a far cry from what we learned before, that man is king of creation and thus has the power and right to use, abuse and dispose at will of God´s creation: a wrong interpretation of the Bible. The end results are contaminated rivers, destroyed forests, polluted air and people having serious health problems. One has to listen and learn from millenarian cultures.
Then there is the traditional carnival celebrated in the city of Oruro situated 50 miles from the mining town of Siglo XX where I am. The famous entrada (entry or beginning) is held on Saturday before Ash Wednesday. The main theme is the struggle between good and evil personified by the Archangel Michael on the one hand and Lucifer on the other. All of this is choreographed by dancers accompanied with appropriate band music. That is followed by a parade of more than 50 dancing groups wearing colorful costumes. Everything finishes in the wee hours of the night. The feast attracts tourists from many countries.
This year the rains have been very heavy and many parts of Bolivia are flooded at this moment. Over 60 people have died. Most of the flooding is in the lowlands of the country. Happily for us is that we are high in the mountains (13,000 ft. / 3,962 m.) With the help of our radio stations we are awakening the solidarity of our people so they can help those who are suffering the consequences of the flooding. Positive results! Last November the Bolivian Senate in one of its sessions in La Paz voted to give an award to our radio station for the work done in promoting democracy, human rights and development. It was a great day for all our communicators and also motivation to continue on.