Compass Rose Society Offered Intimate View of Anglican Life in Brazil
By Norris Battin
May. 6, 2011
"There's a life to this Church that's quite impressive," said Compass Rose Society President Bishop Philip Poole summing up our visit to the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil. "There were no highlights for us on this trip," quipped Bishop Poole, "Because it was all a highlight." Here are a few glimpses of our adventures from April 3 to April 11, 2011 with additional reporting by seminarian Luiz Coelho and by Bishop Poole.
(For a longer version of this article with pictures, please click here for a downloadable .pdf file)
At the invitation of the Primate of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, Archbishop Mauricio Andrade, and accompanied by the Rev'd Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, 17 members of the Compass Rose Society from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, The United Kingdom and the United States spent four days in the Diocese of Rio De Janerio headed by the Rt. Rev'd Filadelfo Oliveira and four days in the Diocese of the Amazon headed by The Rt. Rev'd Saulo Barros.
On the first morning in IEAB, (the acronym in Portuguese for the full name of the Province) Luiz Coelho, a young Brazilian seminarian who served as our translator, offered some background about the Province while we waited for our bus.
He told us that the Anglican Church in Brazil was established in the south and moved to the north. Seventeen percent of Brazilians claim to be Pentecostal, 60% are Roman Catholic. About 200,000 are Anglican. Each week more Pentecostals attend church than do Roman Catholics. The IEAB has nine dioceses, each headed by a bishop, and a missionary district.
The Anglican School of Araras
Once on the bus, we drove an hour and a half to Araras, in the Municipality of Petropolis, where Anglican Social Action (a non-profit organization attached to the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro) maintains a school and several social projects.
At the school, the head administrator of ASA, Carlos Jose Machado, accompanied by the Rev'd Abimael Rodrigues, the school chaplain, and the school staff and children, greeted us warmly. The school started in one room 49 years ago, and now has over 1000 students. It is successfully dispelling the myth that rural children cannot achieve as well as those in the city.
This school is a faith-based partnership with the local municipality. When the school threatened to close in the 1980s, the municipality guaranteed its financial stability. Students from low-income families now receive free, high-quality education in the elementary and middle school grades. The school also offers a low-tuition high school program, partially subsidized by donors.
We visited several classrooms, a library, the computer room, and had lunch. After the visit, Bishop Poole presented Mr. Machado with a plaque depicting a Compass Rose -- the symbol of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Visits to ASA's two day care projects and a mission church under construction in the neighborhood followed.
Devastation in the Cuiaba Valley
In the late afternoon we visited Cuiaba Valley, an area devastated by February's heavy rainstorms and mudslides which killed nearly one thousand people and displaced twenty thousand.
Entire slopes collapsed and natural lakes flooded, turning narrow streams into dangerous torrents which destroyed buildings in a matter of minutes. About 80 people died. IEBA has been working with ecumenical relief organizations and local government to rebuild housing.
Christ the King in Cidade de Deus
The next morning, we visited the parish church of Christ the King in Cidade de Deus (the City of God), in Rio de Janeiro. "You have read the book and seen the movie," said Father Nicolas Wheeler, the rector, a young Portuguese speaking priest from England, as he introduced his church. "Now, you'll experience it first-hand."
We arrived while one of their community projects was underway, a program on eco-sustainability and recycling, especially important in this neighborhood that suffers with dirty streets and open air dumpsters. The parish has pioneered in implementing healthy environmentally practices.
After lunch Fr. Nicholas detailed the history of the parish and how it now tries to open its doors to anyone looking for solace and rest in God. In the spirit of a catholic ministry of presence, the parish partners with several local institutions: Abrindo Portas (Opening Doors) an NGO which teaches residents new work skills, Agencia do Bem (Goodwill Agency) which teaches music and human rights education to over 200 children and The Anglican Program of Healthcare, coordinated by the Diocese of Rio de Janeiro, and sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development.
The buildings at Christ the King have seen better days. They have served varied functions over the years, including housing a school, and have grown in an undisciplined patch-work fashion.
Nevertheless, the church's nave -- covered with a roof that cannot keep parishioners dry during rain storms and with a ceiling riddled with bullet holes and bearing the scars of drug lords hiding from the police in it -- serves as a perfect backdrop for this vibrant community venture.
Five panels depicting of the life of Christ hang over the altar painted on what first appear to be mosaic tile. But when examined closely, they are actually on material more like bubbled-glass shower doors. This seemed a fitting and indeed special place for people to say they have a responsibility for God's creation.
The Vestry of Christ the King has launched an appeal for funds for a new building which will host both church activities and their local community partners.
Presenting the Compass Rose tile to the senior warden, Bishop Poole explained that the tiles are made in Jerusalem, near the station of the cross on the Via Crucis where Saint Veronica wiped the face of Jesus, and he challenged the parish to continue to wipe the face of Jesus in their community.
Touring the City of God
In the 1960's in an attempt to solve Rio's housing crisis, the government moved people from their shacks and slums and offered them new housing in the City of God, so called because many of the streets have Biblical names with the hope that a Biblical paradise would emerge.
A flood, however, forced many from their homes and instead of a new planned community of 3,000 families, three times as many moved in. Paradise quickly became a slum and its leaders were the drug lords.
Eventually, the government became embarrassed by the disorder, and two years ago the police raided the community and rounded up or drove off the drug dealers. Today while not totally "clean", people feel safer and a certain pride has emerged.
We headed out for a look around.
It is still not a pretty place. Rubbish covers the streets; the river running through it smells of sewage. The lighting is poor, so are the roads, so is the education, but a new hope is palpable: people are looking after their homes and shops and cleaning up.
Until last year there was only one health clinic for the 70,000 residents. People would queue up at 4am and if they were lucky were seen that day. The first bank opened just a few months ago. It is getting better.
Christ the King is a church punching above its weight. Its Sunday attendance is small but shows some signs of life. This parish is building bridges into the community: beautifying its own property and modeling that for it neighbors, opening its doors to community opportunities, holding pizza parties, hosting a BBQ during Carnival, all in an effort to live into the gospel. People are ashamed of a City of God address. Christ the King is trying to change that.
We walked through the streets to the local Roman Catholic church named "Eternal Father and San Jose," a larger and better maintained church than Christ the King, where we met the priest who was just two months into his ministry. We prayed together and enjoyed ecumenical hospitality. Where else could Roman Catholic Portuguese and Anglican English find common music in the Latin words of Ubi Caritas and all be blessed by an Anglican Primate?
We headed next to the police station and heard from the chief, who oversees 300 officers working in the community after attending a two week course in community policing. He said they hope to get increased cooperation from the community and help citizens understand their basic rights.
Our final stop was a daycare center for seniors, named for St. Anne, Jesus' grandmother. Here despite the lack of easy access, they offer recreational, health, exercise and other eldercare programs. They average 25 people a day in the building we saw and another 60 in another. The government contributes no financial support. Nursing homes in Brazil, especially public ones, are of poor quality. They employ untrained people who command tiny salaries, and elder abuse is evident.
This place felt good. There was warmth in the staff and in the attitude that exuded the love God has for these dear precious people.
As we made our way back to Christ the King through the humbling streets of the City of God, people waved as we passed by. They don't see many white people on their streets, we were told, and they must have wondered why we were there.
We were on top of the world this morning, visiting Rio de Janeiro's most famous landmark. The trip to the Sanctuary of Christ the Redeemer - one of the seven modern wonders of the world - took us 710 meters above sea level to the top of Corcovado Mountain.
Once at the top, we marveled at the magnificent views of the city below while silently contemplating the 30-meter high statue of Jesus Christ with outstretched arms embracing the city. Shortly we entered the chapel under the statue for midday prayer led by Fr. Nicholas. We heard Psalm 27's insistence that "unless the Lord watches over the city, in vain the guard keeps vigil."
That evening, Bishop Poole and Canon Kearon addressed a large audience in the parish hall of Rio's Anglican Cathedral of the Redeemer. Bishop Poole described the work of the Compass Rose Society, while Canon Kearon discussed the Anglican Communion. Their remarks were streamed live over the Internet throughout IEAB.
The Diocese of the Amazon
After a three hour flight from Rio the next morning, we landed in Belem do Para, see of the Diocese of the Amazon. We were welcomed by local hosts including USPG Missioner Ruth Barros, the wife of the diocesan Bishop, and were driven to St. Mary's Cathedral where the bishop, the Rt. Rev. Saulo Barros, clergy, employees and parishioners were waiting for us with--what else?-- a great Para-style lunch.
Following lunch, we visited the NGO "Weaving the Amazon" in the Pratinha neighborhood. We saw their work with recycled material and heard about their soccer program for teenagers and young adults.
Life in Gurupa
Twelve of us, along with Bishop Saulo and Ruth, left Belem at 8:30am the next morning for Gurupa in the low Amazon River area, packed tightly into two small single engine planes.
For five years, The Anglican Church has been developing a ministry here. It was started by the Rev'd Fernando Poncadilha with local leadership from the Quilombo Maria Ribeiro, a community of former Maroons --runaway slaves who banded together and subsisted independently -- in partnership with the Ecumenical Service Coordination.
After the flight, three small motorboats took us up the Amazon to Maria Ribeiro. There we visited the elementary and middle school, the computer center and the community radio station.
At the community center, Ruth explained to the local women how to start a community bakery, which will be supported by the Anglican Service of Diakonia and Development. Back at Gurupa, we saw the site where the first Anglican church will be built in the low Amazon.
Ascension in Santa Izabel
Five of us had stayed in Belem to visit the Popular University and the Mission of the Ascension of the Lord, in Santa Izabel do Para, a 40-minute drive outside of town. There we met a family who showed us their small farm in the forest where local parishes hold spirituality and community meetings and some baptisms, giving us our own small taste of Amazon vegetation.
At the Mission of the Ascension, a group of local women welcomed us and explained how the mission started and the activities that it offers to their community. At the Popular University, a leadership center for many religious denominations, social minorities and popular movements, we heard about a new tutoring program that promotes social and educational rehabilitation of teenagers caught in petty crime.
Church visits in Belem
On Saturday we saw the Diocese of the Amazon "up close and personal." There was nothing pretentious here just the day to day ministry of this diocese, surviving on a shoestring, practicing a theology of abundance in the midst of scarcity, joyfully proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ and giving voice to the voiceless.
The Diocese of the Amazon, which covers over a third of Brazil's geography, was formed in 2006 and Bishop Saulo was elected as its first bishop. Its staff includes one full-time priest, one part-time priest, two non-stipendiary priests, two full time deacons and several committed lay leaders who teach, preach and give vitality to the church. There are nine communities: four parishes, two missions and three preaching points.
Our first visit was to one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city and its Parish Church of St. John the Baptist. The area has a reputation for gangs, murders, drugs and violence. The presence of white and Chinese visitors attracted a crowd. Police with weapons accompanied us, a matter of some concern, but during the day, these officers began to integrate comfortably with local residents and show concern for their needs.
A representative of the Security Department traveling with us said that the government intended to implement a Pro-Peace unit in the neighborhood, which would also provide social projects such as sports and computer labs. He said that the police recognize that most people are good and he wants to ensure that people understand their human rights. He wants to keep these children away from a life on drugs. This is a pilot project which he wants to see replicated in other communities.
The children sang us a song called "it depends on us" which helps motivates them to build a better world and they handed out locally made chocolates as a parting gift to us.
Our second visit was to St. Luke's parish in Marambaia where the priest, the Rev'd Marcos Barros, showed us the recent renovations of the church building: a new parish hall, a bell, new flooring and lighting. This parish also produces recycled paper.
Gathered in a group after lunch, parishioners talked about our visit and the work of the Church in the Amazon. Canon Kearon said he was impressed that the Church is involved in people's lives and that it manages to do so much with so little. St. Luke's is, aside from the Cathedral of St. Mary, the only self-supporting parish in the diocese. They have 40 communicants.
At our next stop, Holy Trinity Parish Church, their recently arrived priest, the Rev'd Sergio Silva, explained how he had held a prayer vigil the week before, asking the Holy Spirit to be present in his work. This is a church with a sense of purpose and self confidence. It is a small congregation of 15 who are talented and committed. The parish has also started a mission in Icoaraci, Annunciation Church, where a group of children and teenagers welcomed us.
It was an exhausting day as we went from place to place in hot, energy sucking humidity. But it was exhilarating to see our Church pouring itself out for others, getting alongside the community, working with them in education, music, drama, arts, attending to spiritual life of their congregation, studying the Bible and engaging in life giving ministry. This is a vital Church and we are all proud and humbled to call them family.
Back at St. Mary's, we joined members of the Amazonian Council of Christian Churches in an ecumenical prayer service. There were Roman Catholics, Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and members of the Ecumenical Center for Biblical Studies, the Amazonian Association of Religion, the Inter-Religious Committee and the Focolare movement.
Farewell to Belem
Our visit ended the next day with Eucharist and lunch at St. Mary's Cathedral.
Wherever the Compass Rose Society has worshiped throughout the Anglican Communion, we have discovered that the rhythm of the liturgy is very familiar even when the language is different. About 80 people attended the service and said goodbye to their new friends. Ruth Barros and her inspirational praise band spread incomparable joy among us all.
Bishop Barros, an accomplished artist, created a collage naming the children who died in the tragic shootings in Rio the day before. Two parish children brought it forward as an offering, a moving and appropriate tribute. Bishop Poole preached about the need we all have to share our lives, and Bishop Saulo baptized little Andre Silva, son of the Rev'd Deacon Sergio Silva.
The Society received a gift from the Bishop of a chalice and paten in Native Brazilian Marajoara style. We, in turn, gave gifts to the diocese and to those who worked so hard to make our visit a success. At the end, we gathered around the altar and the parish prayed and sang for us. We felt their love.
Summing up our visit our seminarian friend Luiz said, "We believe that the Society's visit was very important to us and helped us realize we belong to an international family, with members of many faces and many tongues. We also believe that our new friends' love and care will make us more visible on the map of the Anglican Communion. Under the canopy of jungle trees and amid the concrete of big cities there's a people that belongs to such a big family."
We are deeply grateful for the invitation to visit Brazil and to experience the ministry of this vital part of our worldwide Anglican Communion.