The Wise Owl

Mira signed her work, “Thank you for being so good friend.  Happy Birthday.  From Russia with Love.”   While it did not come from Russia, I knew what she meant.  It came from her…a Russian…and it came from her heart.  It was a birthday present for me and she was delighted to share her talents; a hand-drawn owl using only a simple black pen.  As we say in Mission, we often get more out of our work than the people we minister too. This drawing and her words are just another example.  спасибо (Thank you) Mira!

 

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Prison Mass with Cardinal Odilo

Maryknoll Lay Missioners recently joined the men of Pinheiros Prison in a Mass celebrated by the Cardinal of São Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer.   The original story, in Portuguese, is at the following link:

http://www.osaopaulo.org.br/noticias/nos-nao-nos-esquecemos-de-voces

Below is a translation of the story:

The Archbishop of São Paulo, Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, presided over a Mass at the Provisional Detention Center (CDP) of Pinheiros, in the western zone of the capital, on Friday, 16 June 2017.

The Mass was co-celebrated by Father Valdir João Silveira, National Coordinator of the Prison Pastoral, and by Fathers Jorge Pierozan, Episcopal Vicar for the Lapa Region, Antonio Francisco Ribeiro, Antonio Ferreira Naves and Pedro Augusto Ciola de Almeida.  Penitentiary agents and members of the Prison Ministry participated in the celebration, as well as the CDP board of directors.

Divided into four units, the Pinheiros CDP has approximately 6,500 prisoners, most of whom are awaiting trial or transfer to other prisons to serve their sentence. The prisoners are distributed in different units according to the profile of the crime committed. The unit visited by the Archbishop, CDP 3, houses approximately 1,600 prisoners who have no connection with any criminal faction.

God wants to restore us.

“Today we are here to say that you have not been forgotten by God or by us, the Church. We do not forget you, “Bishop Odilo told the prisoners in his homily.

The Cardinal also made a reflection from the first reading of the Mass, extracted from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, in which the Apostle states that “we bring this treasure as in earthen vessels.”

“This treasure is our call to full life, to be with God, it is the grace of salvation that Christ deserved for us all with his cross,” said the Archbishop.

Bishop Odilo also recalled that, like earthen vessels, human beings are fragile and can break. “God wants to restore us from our frailties. Therefore, we must turn to him with humility, ask him for help, forgive us and feed us what is good, take care of that fragile vessel that we are, “he added.

The Archbishop also drew attention to the liturgical prayer of the day – “O God, source of all good, attend to our call and make us, by your inspiration, think what is right and carry it out with your help” , Inviting everyone to always seek the source of this good.

Meeting with Christ

“To accompany, to guide spiritually is to give an important meaning to life and to lead them to an encounter with Christ.” Thus Father Valdir summed up, in O SÃO PAULO, the mission of the Prison Ministry. He also explained that the Pastoral seeks to reduce the impact of violence and tensions within prisons. “The work with the prison is to evangelize and take care of the dignity of the prisoner,” he added.

He also pointed out that the demand for the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation is very great on the part of the prisoners, but the number of priests is insufficient to meet the demand. “Celebrations of the Word are celebrated every week by lay volunteers, but it is not always possible to celebrate masses and attend to the confessions of all.”

Father Valdir also said that the prisoner’s recovery process requires patience. “This process needs listening and openness to gather the person, so that it will gradually recover,” he said.

According to the priest, in these conversations and spiritual services, it is discovered that people are generally brought into the world of crime by the violence suffered in childhood and adolescence. “As a priest, I say that all the people I’ve heard to date have a history marked by violence from childhood,” added the National Coordinator, noting that the main objective is to recover the person so that it reconciles with itself, with the community And with God.

Father Valdir also stressed that visiting a prison is an opportunity for conversion also for volunteers. “We are with Christ behind the bars, even if the person is disfigured by sin, for it is the Gospel itself that says: I was arrested and you came to visit me,” he said.

Missionary Presence

Members of the Prison Pastoral visit the Pinheiros CDP twice a week. Among the volunteers are the couple James and Marilyn Kott, lay missionaries of Maryknoll, a group from the United States that operates in more than 20 countries. For a year and a half in Brazil, Americans attend individual prisoners, pray with them, and teach English classes. The couple reported that the missionary presence makes a difference in the prison unit. “We realize that they are calmer after our visit and prayer. The environment is different, people are less tense, “said Marilyn.

James emphasized that the reality of the jail leaves prisoners lacking quality human contact. “Sometimes we just call them by their name, shake their hands, put our hands on their shoulders so they feel valued,” he said. According to Ademir Muniz, director general of CDP 3, the work of the Prison Ministry is of paramount importance, because “it brings spiritual comfort to this people who are so lacking in support because they are all distant from their relatives and dear ones. ”

In addition to the visits to the prisons, it is possible to collaborate with the Prison Pastoral Care at a distance. There are many volunteers who help in the care of prisoners through correspondence. “They like to write a lot, especially when outsiders are willing to respond,” said Father Valdir. Another way to help is to welcome in the communities of prisoners, as well as to accompany their families, especially their children. The Prison Ministry also carries out a campaign of donation of books for prisoners, with the aim of encouraging reading that allows the remission of days of punishment for each work read by the prisoner by presenting a review on the subject of the book.

Message in a Bottle

Diella (not her real name) wrote to me and said, “Tiago, this was really out of my comfort zone and I am not very good at putting my thoughts into words.  Yet I felt compelled to do it!”

Diella is a special friend from a long time ago;  another life really, and she took me up on my offer to send a short message or refection to the women prisoners we visit in São Paulo prisons.  I knew the girls would be so pleased with the words from someone on the outside, someone they had never met before, someone who showed they cared about them; but Diella was unsure.

Today, we brought 24 copies of her message with us to give to the women inside PFC, the Brazilian foreign-women’s prison where Maryknoll Lay Missioners visit on Saturday afternoons.  As I passed out the small notes with the short message to the English-speaking women, they were a bit stunned and really did not understand.  I explained that a “high-school” friend had written the note and was thinking about them and praying for them.  One of the girls from Cape Verde gave me a puzzled look and said, “You mean, Chicago?”  I said,”Yes” and they began to smile and read more intensely.  Most read the note with wonder before folding it up and saving it for later…when there would be more time.

Her words are a simple but very powerful message for the women we meet.  They live an extremely isolated life; isolated from their children, their families, and their friends.  Communication with the outside world is so important and the note provided them with a signal that there is Life, and more importantly Hope, beyond the walls that keep them isolated.

If you will allow, I would like to share Diella’s message with you:

I want you to know that you are not alone.  You’re in my daily thoughts and prayers,  I pray that you go safely through your day. Everyday there is a day closer to your family. Their love and prayers surround you and guide you through.

As you start your day in the morning know I have you in my thoughts. Praying that you find comfort knowing that you are not forgotten. 

Praying the Lord watches over you keeping you safe and warm.

In Jesus name I pray… ♡

Please continue to pray for the women in PFC and other prisons we visit. Also, I’d ask you say a short prayer of thanks for Diella and her courage by putting some simple thoughts into powerful words for these isolated women.  It brightened their day!

 Tiago

Treacherous Nights (Noites Traiçoeiras)

The prisons in Brazil have their own culture as well.  For instance, it is very easy to get the men and women of the Brazilian prisons to sing their favorite songs in a large group.  They love to sing their most well-known songs.  One of their favorites is Noites Traiçoeiras.  It has become one of my favorites too.  You can watch and listen to the song on YouTube here: Noites Traiçoeiras

Listening to the melody and words you can understand why they this song means so much to them when we sing it.  It’s amazing when the whole cell of 25-30 men and or women erupts  with the third verse.

Below are the lyrics; first in Portuguese and the second in English.

Enjoy…Tiago

Noites Traiçoeiras

Deus está aqui neste momento
Sua presença é real em meu viver
Entregue sua vida e seus problemas
Fale com Deus, Ele vai ajudar você…

Uôôô… Deus te trouxe aqui
Para aliviar
Os teus sofrimentos…
Uôôô,… É Ele o autor da fé
Do princípio ao fim
De todos os seus momentos

Uô, uô,… e ainda se vier
Noites traiçoeiras
Se a cruz pesada for
Cristo estará contigo
E o mundo pode até fazer você chorar.
Mas Deus te quer sorrindo

Seja qual for o seu problema
Fale com Deus, Ele vai ajudar você…
Após a dor vem a alegria
Deus é amor Ele não te deixará sofrer…

Uôôô… Deus te trouxe aqui
Para aliviar
Os teus sofrimentos…
Uôôô… É Ele o autor da fé
Do princípio ao fim
De todos os seus momentos

Uô, uô,… e ainda se vier
Noites traiçoeiras
Se a cruz pesada for
Cristo estará contigo
E o mundo pode até fazer você chorar.
Mas Deus te quer sorrindo

Treacherous Nights

God is here at this moment
His presence is real in my life
Turn your life and worries over to Him
Talk to God, He’s going to help you

God brought you here
To relieve your suffering
He’s the author of faith
From the beginning to the end
For all of your torment

And even though the treacherous nights come
If the cross is heavy, Christ will be with you
The things in the world can even make you cry
But God wants you to smile

Whatever your problem
Talk to God , he’s going to help you
After the pain happiness comes
Because God is love and won’t let you suffer

God brought you here
To relieve your suffering
He’s the author of Faith
From the beginning to the end
For all of your torment

And even though the treacherous nights come
If the cross is heavy, Christ will be with you
The things in the world can even make you cry
But God wants you to smile

Carnaval 2017

As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner you get to experience the wonderful culture of the country you are assigned to.  We are especially lucky to experience Carnival in Brazil.  The Carnaval Samba competition in São Paulo is an amazing two nights of Colors, Music, Costumes, Floats, and Dancing. More importantly, the festival highlights the incredible energy and creativity of the Brazilian people and culture. Here are some photos that attempts to capture a portion of that energy and creativity. Parabéns São Paulo! Enjoy. Tiago

Shared Grief by Angela

(Tiago’s note–This is the fourth (and the second for Angela) in a series of refections by women prisoners in Brazil.  The women have given their permission for this blog post although their names have been changed.  

In this reflection, Angela shares the story of a recent death in the prison and how the women shared the grief in order to help them make sense of it all.  Please think about and pray for the deceased woman, the author “Angela,” and the other women in prisons throughout the world.  Let’s ask Him to provide them with the sense of togetherness that will help get through their own trials.)

A week ago we said, “Goodbye” to one of our country mates from South Africa.  It came as a very big shock to all of us.  Two days before, her cellmate had to carry her to Saúde (Health Clinic) because she suffered from asthma and could not breathe.  From there, she was transferred to the prison hospital where she passed away.

It was a very sad weekend for all of us.  I know that not only for me but for all of us, our thoughts were with our loved ones, thinking that if anything should happen (to us) there are no last goodbyes.  We are all so far away from our families.

On the next Tuesday, we all got together with our consulate to pay our last respects to her.  It was heartbreaking but the unity of everybody present was overwhelming and the togetherness of all the different cultures were all that some needed.

My thoughts and prayers go out to her parents and family who lost a special person in such horrible circumstances.

God bless you!

Angela

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

The Brazilian Seminarian pulled me aside and said, “Tiago, please let me explain something to you.”

It was my first trip to a Brazilian men’s prison and I had joined a weeklong visit to different São Paulo prisons by Brazilian seminarians.  As I entered with the group my senses were overwhelmed.  The sights, sounds and smells elicited surprising reactions on my first visit.

Old cinderblock  walls with laundry hanging from makeshift clothes lines, sometimes strung for 20 to 30 yards, overcrowded cells, the smell of cheap tobacco, burning from cigarettes rolled in notebook paper, and the sounds of hundreds of men talking, yelling, playing games, and walking by.  The term eye-opening does not do it justice.  However, once you got past these senses you noticed the most important part; the hospitality and warmth we received from the prisoners as we walked through the cellblocks.

We were going to six different cellblocks over the course of the day; spending about an hour in each one.  The seminarians would lead a simple liturgical celebration with a short reflection and end the visit with singing.  It was an amazing first experience for me and I felt how much the men enjoyed our presence, and us theirs!

I was definitely a rookie in many ways, not the least being my poor command of the Portuguese language.  Also, I was beginning to learn some of the lingo of prison ministry.  As we left each cellblock and the prisoners were extending their handshakes to say goodbye, they would all say, “Vá com Deus, Vá com Deus!”  By the third or fourth cellblock and not really fulling understanding the phrase, I started to echo “Vá com Deus” back to the men who we prayed and sang with.  I had been baptized in prison ministry and my comfort level was growing.

Of course, like all rookies, you can quickly get ahead of your abilities without even knowing it.  That was when the seminarian stepped in and explained to me “Vá com Deus” signifies “Go with God” and was normally said to the person leaving.  Unfortunately, these prisoners were not leaving!  He further explained It was appropriate for the prisoners to say “Vá com Deus” to us but we could not say it to them because they could not go anywhere.  It was more appropriate for us to reply “Fique com Deus” or “Stay with God.”

As I stood there feeling low and wondering how many men I had already offended, the seminarian patted me on the back and said with a smile, “Welcome to prison ministry.”

I learned so much in that first visit but it was those two phrases and the lesson from the seminarian that have stood out for me ever since.

Vá com Deus or Fique com Deus, whatever your situation is.

Tiago

P.S.  The picture is from another prison and another day but is representative of the conditions we experience when we visit.