Christmas Masses in São Paulo Prisons


We had a wonderful 2017 Christmas season serving in the prisons of São Paulo.  Maryknoll Lay Missioners participated in at least 14 Christmas-style masses during Advent.  For most of the men and women we meet in the Brazilian prisons, these celebration are the only mass and eucharist they will have all year.  There are not enough priests to have regular mass in the over 25 different cellblocks we are allowed to visit.

Normally, the masses are held in the small prison cells.  It is crowded, noisy, and very hot.  However, the masses were very well attended and extremely joyful as it gives the prisoners some time to reflect on the meaning of Advent and Christmas; prepare not only for another year in their very dark place, but more importantly, prepare for life on the outside.

At the end of each mass, we would sing O Come All Ye Faithful in English for them.  One of the priests we regularly visit is Italian and he loves to sing this song with us.  The prisoners’ eyes would light up at the sound of our off-key voices; they love hearing the English language.  It was especially meaningful when they joined us in singing the final Latin versus of “Venite Adoremus, Venite Adoremu, Venite Adoremu, Dominum”

We then asked them to sing a Brazilian Christmas song for us.  Normally it was Noite Feliz (Silent Night).  Here are the lyrics:

Noite feliz, noite feliz
Ó senhor, Deus de amor
Pobrezinho nasceu em Belém
Eis na lapa Jesus, nosso bem
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus
Dorme em paz, ó Jesus

Noite feliz, noite feliz
Ó Jesus, deus da luz
Quão afável é teu coração
Que quiseste nascer nosso irmão
E a nós todos salvar
E a nós todos salvar

Noite feliz, noite feliz
Eis que no ar vem cantar
Aos pastores, seus anjos no céu
Anunciando a chegada de Deus
De Jesus salvador
De Jesus salvador

Please continue to reflect and pray for the incarcerated who struggle mightily during these important religious seasons.


PFC Christmas Playlist

img_2782“You don’t want to hear me sing!” Dawn (Not her real name)  exclaimed after I asked her to join us in Christmas Caroling.  But since she was from Canada and she knew the songs we planned to sing, we needed her to help with the other foreign women who did  not know the songs as well.  She eventually agreed…reluctantly.

It was Christmas Eve, and four missionaries from the São Paulo Prison Pastoral and Maryknoll Lay Missioners were visiting the incarcerated women at PFC and we sang Christmas songs with them.  My prison visiting partner (an Irish Sister named Ann) and I  brought about eight song books with us and as we passed them out to the 15 or so women from around the world that gathered with us, I was struck by the uniqueness of the moment.  The girls were from Singapore, Philippines, Germany, France, South Africa, Netherlands, Russia, and other African countries.  There were a couple of giggles as we began the singing.  Most did not know all the songs but when when we began to sing Silent Night they all jumped in and sang beautifully.

Here was our PFC Christmas Playlist:

  1. O Come, All Ye Faithful
  2. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
  3. O Holy Night!
  4. O Little Town of Bethlehem
  5. Silent Night
  6. Joy to the World

Our small choir probably would not win any prizes but of course Dawn sang the loudest and beautifully and at the same time she helped us to teach the other girls these favorite English-language songs.  When we were finished, I noticed Dawn sitting by herself on the cold concrete bench continuing to thumb through the small Christmas Carol book.  She had a tear in her eye and I couldn’t tell for sure but I thought I heard her humming as she read the other songs.

As you sing these songs this Christmas season, please think about and pray for the women in PFC.  Thank you especially to Dawn.


Christmas Mass in PFC

Today, Maryknoll Lay Missioners participated in a beautiful Christmas Mass with 50 women prisoners in PFC (São Paulo’s Prison for Foreign and Brazilian women.) The mass was given by a Peruvian priest and the liturgy was said in three different languages; Spanish, English, and Portuguese. (I even spoke some German to a woman from Germany and you should watch while I try to converse with a Hungarian in Portuguese!) In addition to the priest’s Portuguese homily, we read Harry Florentine‘s Fourth Sunday of Advent reflection in English. Thanks Harry! Of course we had our paper Advent Candles too and “lit” the fourth candle.

Approaching Christmas, I notice the women becoming more distraught as they ponder another holiday without their families. Its hard to describe the muffled crying you hear during these services but the women were so happy to have this mass today and it lifted their spirits and strengthened their faith and hope. Not all of the women are Catholic but they are all faithful to the spirit of Christ.

As you get closer to Christmas, please keep in mind and pray for the women of PFC. Just some of their names are Wendy, Anelda, Madeleine, Petra, Blaze, Rita, Miraslava, Nenita, Glaiza, Agnes, Daniella, Jean. Thanks to the Pastoral Carceráia for organizing this Mass today.

(The pictures attached are from a previous visit and not today.)