Mission Diary: “I consider myself a “gardener of the Word”

“I try to motivate children, youth and the elderly to become passionate about the Word of God. My dream and what keeps me happy: to take the Word of God to the heart of all Christian communities” Fr. Justin Martinez tells us his experience.

When I was asked to work in the city of Manaus, capital of the Brazilian state of Amazonas, I remember saying “I view Manaus favourably!” Later, I had the opportunity to get to know the city, and on my return, they asked me what I thought. I answered a bit metaphorically: “Here the challenges are few and small. Few like its rivers and small like the Amazon. We will need five or six generations to solve them.”

Since 2019 I have lived in Manaus and despite the pandemic that we are experiencing, my conviction has not changed: I view Manaus favourably! Before arriving here, I spent ten years in Salvador de Bahia working with Afro-descendants and in dialogue with the Afro-Brazilian religion of Candomble. I also spent nine years in Fortaleza located in North-eastern Brazil and between these two Brazilian presences, eleven years in Spain. The challenges I have encountered were not on my agenda, but I am not changing Manaus for anything.

I consider myself a “gardener of the Word” because my presence in the heart of Brazil has as its main purpose biblical and theological formation at the Institute of Theology, Pastoral and Higher Education of the Amazon (ITEPES), where seminarians, permanent deacons and lay people receive some of their formation. I also teach biblical subjects in a Pauline Centre and in various parishes, in addition to participating in radio programs and other pastoral activities. It is a joy to share the Word of God with multicultural communities.

Following Pope Francis in his encyclical Querida Amazonia, I try to motivate children, youth and the elderly to become passionate about the Word of God and discover that it is a mine that must be explored with love, passion and competence. This is my dream and what keeps me happy: to take the Word of God to the heart of all Christian communities of the world.  Animation and missionary biblical formation are the way, taking into account that it is not about “knowing” but about “savouring”.

It is necessary to provoke a thirst for the Word, to quench it and that is something that requires passion, time and dedication, as with Jesus towards Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the blind man from birth or his disciples. It is hard work, but it’s worth it. 

Among those who speak about the Bible in Manaus, there are charlatans who conquer multitudes of people with sweet words that do not give life, joy or hope, and who do not help to face the innumerable mourning of this pandemic that is leaving so many people injured, without comfort and hope.

We see and feel all this and it hurts to see so much indifference and arrogance by government officials who have not fulfilled their obligations. The consequences translate into suffering and death. Therefore, maintaining or regenerating hope thanks to the Word of God in the midst of this situation is a missionary duty.