(Bishop Vicente Ferreira, CSsR speaks to Scala News about his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Belo Horizonte, Brazil and about his mission.)
Q: What were the first thoughts after you being appointed as the Bishop?
My appointment as a bishop of the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, was announced on March 8, 2017. For me, it was the time, when many things began to change in my life. I was in a Redemptorist religious community and I had to do all this process of changing place, address, and even reality. Leaving religious life to diocesan life has been a big change. Therefore, I can tell you that the first great emotions were that of change and transformation. Even today, I am at the beginning of this new life as a bishop because for me it is another world.
I am learning many things about the daily life of Christian and religious life, which I did not know before. At the same time, I have great joy to have been invited by Pope Francis and appointed by him to be a bishop, and also the certainty that it will be a great challenge, a great task and a great responsibility. I walk happily, trying to learn, to enter this new place in this new ministry that is the episcopate.
Q: Can you share something about your family?
I come from a simple family, from the interior of the state of the ‘Holy Spirit’, to a small community called Araraí, a joyous community in the state of Holy Spirit, in Brazil. I am from a Catholic family, and we are 9 brothers. My father and mother are alive. They work and still live in this village. They are Catholic people of very deep faith. I have the legacy of a very religious and fraternal family. I spent fifteen years of all my childhood with my family and also studying.
Q: When did you join the Redemptorists? Can you tell us something about the years of Formation?
After graduating from elementary school, I came into contact with Redemptorist missionaries and between the age of 14 and 15 I started my journey with the Congregation in the town of Juiz de Fora, Minas Gerais. It was the first, big change in my life because from a small family I moved to live in a big community in a small town. I had a very interesting family life living with my brothers, uncles, grandparents. I lived in a beautiful place making my first steps in religious life, in a larger city, attending college with another profile. It was a big step and a big change in my life.
I began with Redemptorist missionaries who have offered me all the training needed to develop a human person, in my adolescence, spiritual deepening has helped my vocation. I was 12 years in Redemptorist formation through novitiate, philosophy and theology, and I became a Redemptorist priest in 1996. A Redemptorist bishop, Dom Lelis Lara, now deceased, ordained me.
Q: What was your main apostolate after becoming a priest?
I worked as a teacher in the congregation for about 20 years. I was Provincial Superior for nine years, in the Redemptorist Province of Rio de Janeiro, and after working as Provincial, I was sent to Belo Horizonte to work with theology students. In recent years I have lived in the Dom Muniz community working with a group of about 20 young Redemptorists who are doing the Theology course when the big change took place.
Q: What is your experience in the Congregation over these years?
I can say that the Redemptorist Congregation is my family. However, I have my family of friends, but I have the great Redemptorist family. I was able to meet many confreres, from so many places. I travelled all over the world; I attended the General Chapter as provincial. I know the Congregation very well. I have many friends in this Redemptorist Congregation. From this year onward, I am called to make a big change, with my appointment as bishop.
Q: How do you see your transition from being a Redemptorist Missionary to a Bishop?
I left the congregation and was ordained bishop on May 27, 2017, at the San Jose Church in Belo Horizonte. From there, I started my trip to the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte as auxiliary bishop. I bring in my heart gratitude for all that I have inherited from the human and spiritual formation from the Congregation, of St. Alphonsus, and his spirituality. Now a new step, a new job, the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte with its archbishop, Monsignor Walmor, who has 5 auxiliary bishops.
We have divided the diocese into pastoral regions and I will be the auxiliary bishop of the missionary sector. This is a great joy because I am from a missionary Congregation.
Q: What does this work consist of?
We are starting to work on the most peripheral realities of the Archdiocese. It was a decision as part of the diocesan pastoral plan to pay more attention to the cities, slums and the more remote communities of the archdiocese. I am starting to animate the faithful, with the help of religious, laity and deacons. It is a work of reaching out to the peripheral realities of the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte. We now have 500,000 people living in agglomeration, villages and slums. Adding about 170 communities that need our strongest, more organized ecclesial presence
Q: What would be your approach in your new mission?
My main attitude at the beginning was to listen to and deepen the bond of communities in search of existing leadership and communities that are already organized by lay people who are very interested in this work. We will begin to organize this work along the periphery of the great Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte.
The Archdiocese now has 5 million inhabitants. Inside the archdiocese, we are doing this work with most of the peripheral communities.
Q: How do you see your role as a Bishop during the Pontificate of Pope Francis?
I believe that Pope Francis has called us to this missionary attitude. I am returning from a training course for new bishops. We were 114 bishops gathered and on the last day, we had the joy of meeting Pope Francis, and we could feel a great harmony and a great desire to embrace the inspirations that our Holy Father has caused us, especially in being a welcoming Church, present with the most wounded reality of our society. He insists so much for being a Church close to the people to welcome the people of God. Embracing the poor.
The desire of our Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte is to answer this invitation of Pope Francis, to be an open Church. To be close to these most depressing realities. Listening to these last days input sessions, from the recommendations for the new bishops of the Church. I identify this call to go the peripheries very much.
We are shepherds who must keep their hearts full of affection, tenderness and mercy toward our people, especially towards the poorest. It is also a legacy of St. Alphonsus, I bring this in my mission as a way of being a Redemptorist. To be with people, to build an ecclesial path, to take into account the presence of lay people in our Church. In Brazil, we have a very interesting reality, the presence of women, throughout Latin America, the presence of women in evangelization as catechists, community animators. In many of our realities, they make and build the Church. We are in tune with the spirit of Pope Francis, of the Church, and of the spirit of St. Alphonsus.
Q: What would be your message to the Redemptorist Family?
I would like to say that being a bishop today in the context in which I am called, is an extension of my Redemptorist mission. All I learned is as the result of my desire to go to people. All I have experienced as a Redemptorist is living in a new dimension, perhaps even more radical. It is a change for the good and service of the Church. I chose this motto for me as a bishop – charity will never end. Putting into practice the teachings of St. Alphonsus, in the practice of the love of Jesus Christ.
When we speak of God’s love for us, we also have to answer with love. This inspired my episcopal motto and inspired my life and my new ministry. Even when we are living with our weaknesses, we are called to give witness to the love of God, especially to those people and communities who feel weaker in this experience. I ask you to pray for me, for my work. We need to do the work of evangelization in the big cities and slums and please help us through the Redemptorist Congregation and join us with this project of evangelization, bearing in mind that redemption is abundant. Let Our Mother of Perpetual Help, always help us in our lives to offer our lives to the Gospel in the service of the kingdom of God.
Biju Madathikunnel, CSsR