This is my second visit this year to Recife, Brazil – to "Guadalajara," a large poor neighborhood on the outskirts of this major metropolis in Northeast Brazil for which Holy Cross took pastoral responsibility a couple of years ago.
Curiously, in this country where a standard joke is that everyone's second "religion" is soccer, this area began to be populated right at the time when Brazil won the World Cup, about 30 years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico – hence its name!
It is always interesting to me to see how we attempt to live our Holy Cross charism as we begin to develop a mission area. Though Guadalajara is 30 years old, the huge parish to which it belongs has not been able to provide much pastoral care, so the local bishop asked for our help.
When I arrived in February, one of the things that first impressed me was the witness of the four Religious in the local Holy Cross community. Brothers César, Leonardo, and Ronnie and Father José Carlos are giving a beautiful testimony of living among the poor. The simple house next to the local chapel is small, but its heart is big.
César, Ronnie and José Carlos are young. Leonardo, now 81, arrived in Brazil from the United States 49 years ago and most of his Religious life has been a firm commitment to the poor in different parts of the country where Holy Cross serves.
They are laying a foundation for the mission, discerning how to respond to the needs of the local community. People have welcomed them with open arms. I experienced this my first day here as I joined a powerful living Stations of the Cross, which meandered for several hours through the narrow streets of the neighborhood at the beginning Lent. Now it is Easter, and joy is a great fit with Brazilian character!
I am here to see what our Holy Cross Family Ministries can offer to the growth of this mission. So, soon after arriving during my first visit in February, I asked my confreres: what is the greatest pastoral challenge they face as they look to develop the mission? Without hesitation they all replied: ¨the disintegration of the family structure.¨
Having worked in poor neighborhoods of South America myself for the last 20 years or so, I understood exactly what they meant. Rapid urbanization and the particular sort of poverty it has caused in Latin America have wreaked havoc on the family structure that used to be so strong. From my experience of the effects of chaotic family life, I find it really disconcerting that governments (including in the United States) are running headlong, in effect, to weaken seriously and perhaps even to destroy family structures!
It is precisely the strengthening of the family that Holy Cross Family Ministries aims to support, following the simple yet fundamental insight of the Servant of God, Father Patrick Peyton, of the importance of Family Prayer and particularly the Rosary. Since that first conversation our dialogue about responding to the great needs families in Guadalajara has been rich and hopeful as we look to start with the fundamental: faith and Christian life in the home.
Please pray for our efforts! Among the numerous groups I have talked with so far people have resonated right away with Father Peyton's famous lesson: “The Family that prays together, stays together!”
Fr. Jim Phalan, C.S.C., is the Director of Family Rosary International, which is a part of Holy Cross Family Ministries. HCFM was founded by Servant of God Patrick Peyton, a Holy Cross priest who had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother and preached that the “family that prays together, stays together.” Fr. Phalan will be writing for the Spes Unica Blog each month to share with us the great work of Family Rosary International, yet Family Ministries is one of the creative ways that Holy Cross continues to reach across borders of every sort to spread hope. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross.