Serving in poor communities, afflicted with drug trafficking and violence, the Friars offer hope and refuge
by Fr. Ronaldo Gomes da Silva, OFM Conv.
Life in a community on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro is always challenging.
One morning in 2019, Friar Dinomar Alves Pereira, parish vicar, was surprised by a group of young people trapped in the drug trade, who were trying to hide from the police on the premises of the Parish House. Such young people, overcome by panic and fear, tried at all costs to coerce Fr. Dinomar into letting them into the house. Surely inspired by God, Fr. Dinomar convinced them to go to the church and pray. This action protected the community of Friars and, at the same time, provided security and spiritual support to these young people, who, in a confrontation with the police, may have lost their own lives or even taken the life of an innocent person.
Another time, the pastor, Friar Paulo Fernando Vicente, had a baptism in one of the communities. In preparation for baptism, a team member came to inform him the baptism was for one of the sons of the head of the drug trade. As soon as he entered the chapel, Fr. Paulo was faced with the parents of the children to be baptized, calling his attention to a man and a woman, very well dressed, with thick gold jewelry. And outside the chapel, while the celebration was taking place, armed men protected that family.
Costa Barros is a neighborhood in the North Zone of the municipality of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With a total population of 28,442 inhabitants. Considered a kind of “bedroom community,” a large portion of Costa Barros’ residents migrate every day to the city center and other regions, in order to find work, returning only to sleep at night. It is also a neighborhood that suffers from the violence of drug trafficking. Many young people from poor families grow up in this situation. Unable to access schools and government resources, yet desiring consumer items to show social status, many turn to sexual prostitution and the use of legal and illegal drugs.
Since 2007, the Friars Minor Conventual have served in this parish. The primary commitment of the Friars has been to offer the youth of this area a feeling of belonging to a strong community, to a parish that supports and accompanies them. This extremely urgent and necessary task includes supporting the families of these young people, providing them with dignity and welcoming them into the community, as well as the necessary education and financial help, so that they do not disintegrate and expose themselves to risky situations.
Since their arrival, the remarkable spirituality of the Friars has been gradually internalized by the people. This is exemplified by the greeting “Peace and Good” which is shared in the community. São Luiz Parish, King of France has even won awards for its food pantry and meal program to the poor of the area. In addition to the Franciscan sensitivity to the poor and people at risk, the Friars have shared their love of nature and care for the Earth, our “Common Home.”
Currently, in this markedly Franciscan spirit, the Friars assist six communities, scattered throughout the parish territory. With affection and attention, the Friars gave new hope to the people not only through their pastoral care, but also to the improvement of the physical infrastructure of each community. Many different fundraisers have been carried out over the years, with the aim of continuing the work and meeting these needs. Using what little resources each community had, the Friars helped renovate church buildings, build additions to allow better access to Mass and social gatherings, upgrade electrical service, and provide services like day care for the children of the region.
Therefore, the Friars of our communities, and especially those of Costa Barros, have increasingly sought to fulfill the mission of serving as “bridges” to community, assistaning with charity, service and mutual collaboration, in which the weakest and most oppressed are supported and integrated. The objective of all this work is to give the population of this region the opportunity to view and experience the Church of Christ, Alive, in Solidary and Franciscan!
If you wish to support the work of the Friars in Brazil, and around the world, please consider a donation to the Franciscan Mission Association (FMA). The FMA donates critical funds and resources to our missions in more than 60 countries. These funds make a direct impact on our work and on the lives of the poor and underserved people the friars serve across the globe.