The Loss of a Loved One by Fifi

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(Tiago’s note–This is the sixth in a series of refections by women prisoners in Brazil and the second by Fifi.  The women have given their permission for this blog post although their names have been changed.  In this reflection, Fifi shares the feeling of loss after losing her one-week old son shortly before coming to prison.  Please think about and pray for the author “Fifi” and her angel.  Pray for the thousands of women in prisons who also desperately miss their loved ones.)

When you lose a loved one, it is very painful.  It is like they take a piece away from your life.  For some, its easier to get over than another; everyone is different.  The pain will never go away, but you will learn to live with and handle it.

The moment the person you lose is going to heaven, it is better but still very painful for the loved ones left behind.  Everybody handles the grieving process differently.

In your mind, you know its better that your loved one has gone to heaven, but in your heart you want something else.  Your loved one has no more pain and can be happy in heaven; away from your life they are actually nearer.  I know that I will always have the new angel with me and he will watch over me.

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Christmas Masses in São Paulo Prisons

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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.

Message in a Bottle

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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)

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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.)

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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.