La Salette Beginnings in Brazil

Editor: This article with its initial impressions of Brazilian culture and faith was written in 1934.

As in every other frontier land, but especially in a land of chaos and murder such as this, deeds of terrible violence dogged the trail of colonization, there being no such thing in the early days as civil authority or judicial force… Marcelino has a scarlet history… and if only a part of what is said can be believed, surely the curse of Cain is marked indelibly upon it.

The Poorest of Settlers

Untitled 1Old picture of Marcelino-Ramos, rising on the bend of the swift-flowing Uraguay River
Today the greater part of the Rio Grande do Sul has been parceled out to the German, Italian and Polish settlers. As is most natural, they have grouped themselves according to nationality, conserved their fold European customs, and to a great extent kept their own language intact. Their homes are generally crude, ramshackle affairs miserably furnished, the surrounding forest providing the material. Only the richer colonist can afford the luxury of a tile-roof and stone foundations…

But… the human element enters in, and while allowing for the poverty of the people, their home-life is pretty much what they make it themselves. With some of our people, the situation is bright and encouraging, in spite of the poverty and rude simplicity of living conditions. With others again, the case is hopeless: and one is often prone to ask where on earth has the legitimate and praiseworthy self-respect of man vanished. The filth and indifference to all physical decency is astounding. The poor shack of rough hune boards is the scene of all life's sordid drama…

…one may find families who are more solicitous about the laws of decency and hygiene; and in spite of their primitive arrangements, everything is conducive to happiness of real home life. The floors are clean; the plain small rooms are neat; beds of corn husks or hay well-made and cared for, and above all the house reserved for humankind only. The furnishings of the house will be substantially the same as in the others, but a little human diligence and taste all make the difference of day and night.

Vocations to Religious Life are Hard to Find

Untitled 2Fr. Francis Allard, M.S. a pioneer in the mission of Brazil, rides a Brazilian version of a “Rolls-Royce”
In spite of difficulties and hardships the Church is faring splendidly in Brazil in every respect except in the work of recruiting native vocations. This is surprising in a country so Catholic, and the more so when daily experience brings one into contact with a real army of ex-seminarians, many of whom have studied to within a few years of final ordination…

The Brazilian character is very emotional and tends toward objective religion that permits of a great amount of display, such as processions, banners, endless litanies blessings that exhaust the most comprehensive ritual, images and statues of every saint known to be in heaven.

This does not mean that these people are not sincere in their religion or that faith here is only one of external display. Brazil has its goodly share of sincerely convinced Catholics, but their Latin temperament causes their religious nature to bubble over for expression in a concrete, tangible way…

By nature the people are intensely religious. Every large city of Brazil has its churches and resident clergy, and in the outlying sections where there are no priests (and certainly should be), the little chapel is found wherever there is a settlement. Throughout the colonial districts here in the south such chapels are very numerous, and all come under jurisdiction of some Mother Church in one of the nearby larger centers.

Marcelino-Ramos, a Center of Faith and Ministry

Untitled 3Three early La Salette Missionaries in Brazil: (from left) Francis Connors, Andre Duguet, and Theodore Brandley
Our place here at Marcelino Ramos is such a center, and as the Reverend Superior of our College is also the pastor, we have the care of the outlying posts connected with the parish. We have in all thirteen such mission chapels cared for at stated intervals by the Fathers of La Salette attached to Marcelino. In some places we say Mass on the alternate Sundays, while other posts have Mass only on the First Friday of the month, patronal feasts or on special occasions such as marriages and funerals. Naturally some very remote hamlets where there are only five or six families can be visited only four or five times a year.

Schooling here is pretty much a difficult problem. Our chapels often serve also as schools, though sometimes there is a modest little building devoted to this purpose, where the children are taught the fundamentals… In the remote and rural sections education is considered a luxury, and there is no one to champion its cause except the priest…

However, there seems to be dawning now for Brazil happier days, as more and more of the people are awakening to the great natural wealth and advantages of their country. Gradually the horde of adventurers and profiteers are being eliminated from public administration, and greedy politicians… are being supplanted by public-spirited national leaders.

There is a movement afoot to educate the people more and more, and with education will develop a national consciousness that will save Brazil. The simple folk have grown tired of waving banners displaying the catchwords "Order and Progress, ' and are demanding at last a fulfillment of those flattering promises of better times that have been dinned in their ears for the past decade. From this unrest there is bound to develop a strong movement for the betterment of social conditions.

God grant that when better times dawn for Brazil and this great country takes her rightful place in the Council-halls of all great nations she may not ungratefully forget the religion and the Church that worked and suffered with her during all the trying years of colonization of the past two centuries.

Untitled 4Marcelino Ramos Shrine visitors – past and present
(Article summarized and taken from Our Lady’s Missionary, March, 1934, pgs. 5-7, April, 1934, pgs. 51-52)

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