She met us as we arrived in Terra Firme, a very poor neighbourhood in the city of Belém in Brazil, where the diocese of Amazonia has had a steadfast witness to the gospel for many years. She was so delighted we had come-her parish priest Marcos, her Bishop Saulo and his wife, Ruth, her Archbishop Francisco, Archdeacon Paul, and me. She was excited to show us the new Church of St. John the Baptist. Replacing the old wooden structure that had been falling down through dry rot, it is made of brick. The walls are up, and the roof is on. The temporary door is made of seven slats of rough wood, nailed to a couple of pieces of two-by-four.
Odette had a bundle of keys in her hand, but none matched the padlock on the door. Exasperated but undaunted, she shifted the conversation from a view of the interior of the church to the ministries it would house. Speaking with a passion of heart and hand, Marcos interpreted for us. Here the community will gather to hear the Word of God and celebrate Holy Communion, to sing and pray. Here they will know God’s love and care for them in the midst of the poverty that besets them, the lack of sanitation services evident everywhere and the alarming increase in acts of gang-related violence. From this church, people will be fed and clothed and counselled according to their need. In the little patch of green in front of the building, children will be able to play safely under the watchful eyes of those committed to their protection and well-being.
Here is a church that truly is bread for the people, salt for their piece of the Earth and light for their crowded world of overwhelming despair.
As we got back into our car, Odette made her way home. When word reached her that we had been robbed shortly after our visit [see related story, p. 11], she quickly reappeared, her once sparkling eyes now filled with tears. Devastated by what had happened, she was, nonetheless, thankful that no one had been harmed. After a brief exchange, she and Fr. Marcos embraced, and we were on our way.
The church is so very blessed by the compassion, courage and unwavering commitment of people like Odette. Holding her in my prayers, I hope that, in the mystery of God’s way of knitting us together in one communion and fellowship in Christ, she knows of my admiration of her witness to the gospel and how it summons me to a discipleship that is more joyous and generous, more centred and sacrificial-a good challenge as I make my way into Lent.
God bless you, Odette.