Rio Custody – Canonical Visitation of Minister Provincial

A Few Snippets

Solemn Profession of Friars Jesus and Ricardo

Friars Jesus do Amaral and Ricardo Elvis da Cruz made the special request of their Custos that the Minister Provincial be invited to receive their Solemn Vows on the 2nd of  August, because I had accompanied each step of their formation journey from their postulancy in Rio de Janeiro, through their novitiate in Caçapava, through the present moment of their post-novitiate in Brasília.  After these two classmates finished their novitiate, the Rio Custody of the Immaculate Conception decided they should participate in the collaborative initial formation program at the Brasília Province’s post-novitiate formation house.  It was heartening to see the large number of young friars from the formation program in Brasília who traveled in vans overnight – a  distance of over one thousand kilometers – to  offer fraternal support to Frei Jesus and Frei Ricardo. The aspirants and postulants from Rio’s formation house in Petrópolis also came.  The presence of a whole cohort of enthusiastic young friars, who also provided the music for the liturgy, was a great sign of hope for the future of the Custody and the whole Order in Brazil.

Paraíba do Sul
This is a small city, where the friars have one large parish that includes 11 communities of parishioners, each with its own church, at which the friars offer Masses.  There are many farms in the area.  During my canonical visitation here, the 3rd to 5th of August, I was taken to visit a typical small farm, where a parishioner, the 19-year old farmer Elias, positively delighted to welcome us to his barnyard, which resembled Noah’s Ark.  In one and the same farm plot, cows mingled with donkeys and horses, while goats climbed haystacks, piglets muddied themselves, and the hens, roosters and geese managed to stay out of trouble with each other.  Elias felt that the Minister Provincial’s blessing of the whole “Noah’s Ark” would help it resemble Isaiah’s “peaceable kingdom.”  Later that evening, Elias, in gratitude, brought a gift of appreciation to the friary: a round of cheese that he had just made from the milk of his cows.

The friars have no friaries or ministry sites in the city of Valença, but the diocesan see holds a unique and dear place in Franciscan hearts.  Here, +Frei Elias James Manning, OFM Conv. served as the 6th Bishop of the Diocese, for 24 graced years.  When he assumed his episcopal office, “Dom Elias” chose, as a poor friar, to live in a small apartment behind in the seminary building behind the official Bishop’s Palace.  His humble style left such an impression on the people that a steady stream now come to pray at his tomb in the crypt of Valença’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Glory. His successor Bishop Nelson Ferreira invited the Minister Provincial to participate in special ceremonies on the 5th of August for the city’s re-naming of the street behind the Cathedral, now called “Rua Dom Elias James Manning.”  The prefecture of the city of Valença also took the unique step of naming its Secretariat of Education’s Administration Building after Dom Elias.  At a special dinner hosted by Dom Nelson, the friars were treated to hear the moving hymn which the rector of the seminary, Padre Getero, composed in honor of Dom Elias.

Juiz de Fora
In this city, which is the size of Boston (about 600,000 people), the friars care for two parishes, which comprise 9 communities of parishioners.  Each of these communities has its own local liturgical and social activities, and each has a church in which the friars offer Mass.  This typical Brazilian ecclesial structure, which organizes parish life into local communities, also has moments when all of the communities of the parish come together for larger common liturgies, events, programs and ceremonies.  While in the friary of Juiz de Fora, I participated in a “Zoom” Assembly of the whole Custody on the 6th of August.  The Custody’s new Civil Statutes needed to be approved by the solemnly professed membership.  The occasion of my “Canonical Visitation” accorded me an opportunity to offer to this “Zoom” Assembly of the whole Custody an exhortation about the topic of “Fraternal Life” – faithfully translated by my bilingual companion on the itinerary, Frei Jose Cardozo Junior, OFM Conv..  Overlooking the city of Juiz de Fora, on the “Morro do Christo” (Hill of Christ), an imposing 82-foot monument to Christ the Redeemer has graced the city as its protector for 115 years – a longer time period than its more famous counterpart on the Corcovado in Rio.

Five years ago, with the encouragement of the new Custos and the approval of his Custodial Definitory, Frei Robson Malafaia Barcellos, OFM Conv. and Frei Marcelo dos Santos da Silva, OFM Conv. undertook the creation of the first Franciscan “hermitage” among the jurisdictions of the Conventual branch of the Order in Brazil.  Frei Robson was later invited by the former Minister General of the Order, the Most Reverend Fr. Marco Tasca, OFM Conv. to participate in a special international gathering of friars involved in new experiments for the deepening of the charism, life and ministry in the Order.  Our Custody’s “hermitage” is named the “House of Perfect Joy,” and is located on the grounds of our former minor seminary in Andrelândia.  Silence, common prayer, labor and fraternity characterize the friars’ daily horarium, which begins at 5:00 AM.  Maintaining a balance of eremitical contemplation and spiritual action, they are converting the former seminary into a spirituality center, hosting daytime retreats, offering Mass, hearing confessions, doing lay Franciscan formation, and fostering the prayerful memory of our confere Frei Martinho Maria de Porres Ward, OFM Conv.  Friars from other jurisdictions of the Order in Brazil have visited and shown an interest in joining the hermitage community.  It is important to note that, in five years, the friars have never had to go shopping for any food except bread.  The local people come regularly to provide the friars with all that they need for their daily sustenance.  The local bishop has given permission for public Masses in the chapel of the former seminary.  The Sunday congregation gave a special welcome to the Minister Provincial, as I offered Mass for them on the 9th of August, and preached about Frei Martinho’s holy and humble struggle against racism.

Frei Martinho de Porres Maria Ward, OFM Conv.
When the Immaculate Conception Province (part of what is now Our Lady of the Angels Province) accepted the Boston-born Matthias Ward into the Order, a milestone in Conventual Franciscan history took place.  Matthias, who later was given the religious name “Martin Maria de Porres” became the first African-American member of the Franciscan Friars Conventual.  Having experienced the trauma of de-facto segregation in Boston and Washington during his childhood and teenage years, he was prepared for his application to the Order to be rejected.  That did not happen. No sooner was he accepted in 1945 than he further rejoiced to learn the news that the Province of the Immaculate Conception was intending open the Order’s first mission in Latin America – in Brazil.  He volunteered for the mission while still a seminarian.  The rest is history.  Before his death in Andrelândia in 1999 at the age of 81, Frei Martinho had already become “legendary” among the Brazilian people he served and the friars as well – humble, humorous, brilliant, and tireless.  Since the time of his death, people have been coming steadily to pray at his grave – on the grounds of the former seminary and hermitage.  On the 24th of June 2020, the local diocesan Bishop of the Diocese de São João del-Rei, after consultation with his presbyteral council, officially gave the Nihil Obstat for the friars to publicize the “fame of sanctity” of Frei Martinho Maria de Porres Ward.  During the Minister Provincial’s canonical visitation, on the 9th of August, the friars gathered for prayers at the grave of Frei Martinho Maria, and I blessed portraits of our holy confrere to be hung in each of the 8 houses of the Custody.  A prayer for Frei Martinho Maria’s glorification, and favors sought, is now being recited at all of public Masses at the friars’ spirituality center in Andrelândia.

Belo Horizonte
The newest venture of the Custody entailed their accepting a parish in the capital city of the state of Minas Gerais.  Belo Horizonte is Brazil’s third largest city – with 3 million people – about the size of Chicago.  After their 2017 Custodial Chapter, the friars launched their presence in Belo Horizonte at a parish with six communities, each having its own church.  They are very grateful to Our Lady of the Angels Province for providing the funds for them to purchase a friary, where it is eventually hoped that older vocations of the initial formation program will be able to reside while doing their theological studies in the Catholic Theological institutes of the city.  One of the staples which stamps a unique Franciscan identity upon all of the parishes staffed by our friars, not only in Belo Horizonte but throughout the Custody, is the tradition of Tuesday devotions to St. Anthony.  Immediately after arriving in Belo Horizonte, the friars inaugurated this weekly event, which includes the blessing of bread which parishioners faithfully bring week after week.  At the end of Mass and the novena prayers, the friars bless the bread and distribute it to the faithful in the congregation, some of whom take extra bits to share with others.  The friars of Belo Horizonte also assist with liturgy at the building site of the new Cathedral of Christ the King – the last work of Brazil’s most famous modern architect Oscar Niemeyer (who died in 2012 at the age of 104).  The friars arranged for the Minister Provincial to receive a “hard-hat” tour of the construction project – already underway for 8 years, with another 10 years projected before the completion of the mammoth structure – another sign of the growth of the Church in Brazil.  Let me also add here, that it is important to highlight our friars’ vocational animation program in Belo Horizonte, which over the past four years has already attracted four new vocations to the Custody.

Franciscan formation houses are well-reputed for the charism of hospitality.  Our St. Bonaventure Friary, with its 10 aspirants and postulants, along with its 2 formators and elder friar wisdom figure, did not disappoint.  The meninos (“lads”) welcomed the Minister Provincial on his canonical visitation with a gauntlet of “balloons” and a “Welcome” banner scripted in English.  Even the friary dog “Frei Jacopa” – happily residing in outdoor comfort! – could not resist running over to give me a welcome kiss – on the lips!  The formation program in Brazil differs greatly from that in the USA.  The one year of residential aspirancy is non-academic – a time for in-house immersion in fraternity, prayer, catechetics, liturgy, Franciscan sources, and human formation in areas of affection and sexuality.  The postulancy (which can extend up to 3 years) is academic, with all of the lads attending philosophy courses at the local Catholic University.  Both of the formators and the young men in initial formation are full of enthusiasm, and this has an appealing attractiveness to prospective vocations.  The “formandi” accompany the formators for “con-vocation” visits to all of the parishes in the Custody, and other sites as well.  I was impressed at the work ethic of the house.  Every Saturday the lads devote the whole day to baking bread – which benefactors come to buy, and which the lads also will sell at the various local parishes and convents.  They take justifiable pride that their bread apostolate covers the cost of supporting their formation program – no sense of “entitlement” in Petrópolis!  At least twice a week, the formators and the “formandi” go out to celebrate liturgy (and provide the music) at the local Carmelite Nuns monastery, as well as one of the Capuchin churches. The fact that they only have two small cars makes it impossible to squeeze all 13 of the community into two vehicles at a time.  So, they are accustomed to making more than one trip to the cloister or Caps each time they go.  Seraphic camaraderie! – although a new van might help!

Liturgies with Consecrated Women
Our friars of the Custody have been very solicitous in assisting with the liturgical and spiritual needs of the local women’s religious communities.  An inspiring brother-sister relationship obtains!  For the Feast of St. Clare, on the 11th of August in Belo Horizonte, we concelebrated Mass and I preached for the 3rd Order regular “Franciscan Sisters of the Lord.”  For the Feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, on the 14th of August in Petrópolis, we friars concelebrated and I preached for the cloistered Carmelite nuns.  For the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, on the 15th of August, we friars concelebrated and I preached for the cloistered Poor Clare nuns of Rio de Janeiro, where the legendary Mother Pacifica has been abbess for nearly 50 years.

Since the Feast of the Assumption this year was my 50th Jubilee of Profession of Vows, the nuns sang a robust “Happy Anniversary” (in Portuguese, of course!).  [The friars in Rio Comprido followed a bit later with a special dinner for me and a cake.]  What an inspiration it is to see the interaction between our friars and our sisters in the consecrated life!

Four more stops to complete my Canonical Visitation “Pilgrimage”:
Rio Comprido, Costa Barros, Araruama, Brasília – and a meeting with the Custodial Definitory!

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