During the February mid-term break a group of 32 Willow Wheelers including 12 students traveled to São Paulo, Brazil on the annual Mission Trip. There, the group visited a number of projects associated with the Spiritans and met those who work with marginalised communities. Projects visited by the group will benefit from funds raised by the 100-Mile Cycle 2019. The trip gives the Wheelers an insight into the real needs of communities, which in turn ensures that funds are allocated to those who need it most.
As with other trips, Christy spends months in advance planning and organising the trip. Apart from organising travel and accommodation arrangements, he also had ongoing communication with Fr Brendan Foley CSSp, who prepared a comprehensive itinerary of project visits.
São Paulo’s Homeless
On first impression São Paulo appears to be a very busy city, one with endless high rise buildings and countless flyovers to ease traffic congestion. Beneath the flyovers homeless people set up ‘homes’ with old sofas and beds, many settling down for the night as if was normal to live your life on the streets surrounded by busy traffic. In fact, it appeared that the homeless were almost invisible and devoid of human dignity. This is common place in São Paulo, and we later learnt from Fr. Mc Namara CSSp that homelessness is a big problem in the city.
He, with the help of others, setup Belém Mission House to provide food and emergency shelter for the homeless. Many of those who come to the shelter suffer from drug and alcohol additions, and so the shelter offers them the first steps on the road to recovery. “We act as a family for those who do not have a family, and restore their human dignity” Fr. Mc Namara CSSp told us on the day we visited Belém. Other organisations such as Arsenal da Esperance try to help the homeless, but the problem is getting worse all the time. Everyday hundreds of homeless people gather outside Arsenal da Esperance at 6pm for a shower, a meal and a bed for the night. The next morning the homeless are back on the streets. While we were speaking to managers of the shelter, streams of homeless people passed us, towel in hand heading for the shower and then to the dining room for their only meal of the day.
One of the unique aspects of the mission trip is that is provides an opportunity to visit places that are inaccessible to many. São Paulo favelas are no-go areas, drug dealing and gangs are commonplace, and very few outsiders visit them as they are considered dangerous. Fr. Pat Clarke CSSp who has worked in the favelas for decades, arranged a visit to Vila Prudente, one of the largest favelas. Within the favela he has gained the respect of the gang leaders, therefore, with his protection, it was safe for us to visit projects. The most noticeable features of the favelas are the cramped conditions, temporary structures, and poor sanitation. The children have nowhere to play and schools are often closed due to lack of teachers and violence. Consequently, many children receive little or no education with slight hope of escaping the life of poverty they were born into.
The cycle of poverty continues from generation to generation. In response to these problems, Fr. Clarke CSSp established a cultural centre for children, a place where they come to do creative activities such as art, music and dance. We spoke to some of the children who said they like coming here because they can have fun and meet friends. On the day we visited the children performed a dance based on nature. It was a moving experience to see children rise above their impoverished conditions and create something beautiful.
Throughout the week, the Willow Wheelers visited health centres, schools, favelas and pastoral centres, far too many to describe in detail. Some of the projects deserve special mention such as the recycling centre started by Fr Assis CSSp in Vila Prudente. The workers, mainly female ex-prisoners and addicts, have limited prospects of finding work elsewhere. The work is hard and dirty, yet for the women working there, it is their only source of income. To ease their burden Fr. Assis CSSp works with the women every Tuesday and uses the opportunity to advise his co-workers on their human rights. Fr. Assis CSSp is a busy priest, he has set up a pastoral centre which provides education and sanctuary for the poor, and has recently started a law degree. Another project that stood out was a retreat centre ‘City of the Angels’ built outside the city.
Here, children from the favelas go on nature walks, interact with animals, play sports and are given quiet time. The favelas are noisy and crowded and violent, so it is essential for children to have a space where they can play and do things which allows them to enjoy their childhood. It is the hope of Fr Clarke CSSp, that children of the favelas, through their experience in City of the Angels, will discover their inner potential and consider new possibilities rather than a life of poverty. For as he said “Grace is brought and found here”.
This trip was truly remarkable, for many reasons; going into the favelas, talking to workers on the ground, the solidarity of the Spiritans with marginalized communities, experiencing tropical rain showers, and the sincere demeanour of the Blackrock students. Throughout the trip the Blackrock students took it in turns to speak at each of the projects visited. The Brazilian Spiritans commended their sincerity and were particularly impressed with the level of interest demonstrated by students during a meeting to decide the allocation of €10,000 emergency funds,- brought to Brazil by the Willow Wheelers.
To end our trip, Christy had organised a visit The Basilica of Our Lady of Aparecida followed by a two night stay in Rio. The sun shone the day we visited the statue of Christ the Redeemer, and to us it looked more beautiful than we had imagined. Later Fr. Brendan celebrated Mass in a little chapel under the statue. For all of us present, this was a very special occasion and a fitting ending to a wonderful trip.
“Don’t plant a tree to see it grow, plant it because you know it will grow” Fr. Pat Clarke CSSp, Vila Prudente