Brazil: Family in Mission

Hailing from Guatemala, a father and mother with their four children are dedicating a few years of their life to witness the Gospel among the people in Brazil. They share their vocational journey.

Our call to mission was born during short mission experiences with the Comboni Lay Missionaries (CLM) in Guatemala. From the beginning we had the desire of supporting the needy, being with them and witnessing the good news of the Gospel.

 In 2012, we started a First Communion catechesis for orphan children, together with the CLM. There, we began our own CLM discernment path. Later, during the year-end mission that took place in the Comboni Parish of San Luis, in the district of El Peten in the north of Guatemala, we discovered our missionary call as a family.

Living in the villages with the quekchís people, we experienced their love and kindness. Among them, we discovered a way of being family, as God’s call into our hearts. Each one had an important role to play, in relating with men, women, children and marriages. We used to conclude our 10-day stay in the communities with the Mass to Christ the King, a very relevant celebration in our lives since then and till now here in Brazil.

Neither the path to making the choice to leave for the mission nor the move itself was easy. However, when one tries to answer God’s call and to do His will, all difficulties and complex situations are overcome. Initially, we thought of going to Peru, with our three children, but as we were about to leave, our fourth child came. That made us change our destination to Brazil. There, we were welcomed for a two-year mission project.

We will never forget the day when we left Guatemala, 22 November, reaching Brazil on the following day. Lourdes, a CLM from Brazil, met us at the airport. For us, barely knowing a few words of the Portuguese language, to find a familiar face was really a relief and the best welcome to this beautiful country. Finally, we settled in the Ypê Amarelo neighbourhood of Contagem town in Minas Gerais State.

On the first Sunday, a cheerful community welcomed us for the celebration of the feast of Christ the King of the Universe. It was not by chance to be there on that day; the Lord wanted to tell us that He was the One setting the beginning of our mission, His mission. The church was full. The children performed a dance, often represented on those occasions, portraying the various cultures of Brazil. That was the way we started our journey in a foreign land, with God’s blessing.

We had a three-month integration period, to learn the language and to come to know the community, the neighbourhood, the parishioners and many other people. We began to interact more with each other and to work at the Comboni House, in the Parish of San Domingo de Guzmán, run by the Comboni Missionaries. There we got involved in various human development activities of the area.

We started learning more about the local culture, their different ways of eating, of relating to one another, of greeting and dressing. Above all, we began to gain the people’s trust.  Our first year was full of challenges. Our first activities were with women. My wife, Ana Cris, taught them how to draw, paint kitchen serviettes, make handcrafts with newspapers, knit and embroider. She also collaborated and helped in a group called Testemunhas da Esperança (Witness of Hope), for the recovery of drugs and alcohol dependents.

I began visiting a prisoners rehabilitation centre, run by the Association for Protection and Assistance to Convicts (APAC) together with Alejo Ramirez, a Brazilian CLM. At the same time, I started to attend a formation course to become a Minister of the Word and to lead the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word. In the Parish, there are 13 communities and only three priests; Mass on Sunday is only every two weeks and the celebration of the Word of God, in between.

We have also been working, as a couple, in the Family Pastoral Programme (FPP), helping with prenuptial catechesis, marriage education and accompanying the most vulnerable families through visits, friendship and prayers.

In the middle of our thrust to start new projects, our next challenge came: the Covid pandemic. It changed everything and everyone! All the activities, meetings, training sessions, celebrations and visits to the prison had to stop. Everybody was confined at home and the children could not go to school. We had to start all over again.

However, the Lord, who knows better, sent us again to the needy. After a while, we got involved in helping the sick and the elderly people. We accompanied them to the doctor and to the hospital since they were at risk of being infected. We started taking care of some of them because general health, apart from Covid, became a lesser priority. Our house turned into a four-grade school and a welcoming place.

Today, after more than one year of living with the pandemic, psychological problems, family violence, sickness and hunger are ever more frequent. The Lord, in His infinite mercy, has granted us the opportunity to help Him in this regard. By God’s providence a ‘Help to the Families’ project was started to provide families in need with a basic food basket – vegetables, eggs and a cleaning kit – enabling them to cope with the scarcity of essentials.

We continue to help the sick and the elderly by taking them to their doctor appointments, taking care of them in their houses or at the hospital. Women groups could not resume their activities, but we managed to obtain some material for them so that they could work from home while hoping to meet again soon.

Today as a family, inserted in an environment where the value of family is not always understood. Our challenge has been to move forward, in every sense, being a big family. However, God has granted us the means and resources to do it, through many generous hearts that believe in His actions.

We firmly believe that God trusted us from the beginning. Today, witnessing as a family who believes in God, means a lot to us; a family that hopes, in the middle of daily issues, living the same sufferings, needs and abandonment of those in the outskirts of the city.

(Open photo: The Guatemalan Camey Figueroa family – Alejandro, 35, Ana Cris, 34 and their children Esteban, 13, Isabel, 9, Agustín, 5 and Lucia, 3)