(Manaus, Brazil) Fathers Tom (Miguel) McIntosh and Don Kirchner met Provincial Superior Stephen Rehrauer at the airport in Manaus on October 30, beginning a whirlwind three week of non-stop travel to visit the far-flung communities throughout the vast area of the Vice Province of Manaus, arguably the largest of the entire Congregation. Trips here can still be measured in terms of days of travel! The very next day, Fr. Ronaldo Mendonça de Oliveira, Vice Provincial Superior of Manaus, took Fr. Steve to Manacapuru, a nearby city now connected by a five-mile bridge across the Rio Negro.
Communicating with the confreres in a Pentecostal fashion (a mixture of languages, but each confrere understanding in his own language) Fr. Steve was taken by the father of one of our theologians to visit river side villages and converse with the people. This “Boat Boy” (pilot) of the parish boat is waiting in anticipation of his son’s ordination on December 9. Having barely returned to Manaus, Fr. Steve got up early to catch the 6:00 am Jet Boat to Coari. In the good old days, this trip could take more than 40 hours. Fr. Steve boarded the Jet Boat, which offers seating similar to a Greyhound bus that is surrounded by large windows that offer a great view of the river and keep passengers cooled by an air conditioner for the eight-hour trip each way, traveling at high speed.
Fr. Steve was unable to visit our Polish Redemptorist Bishop, Dom Marco of the Diocese of Coari, but he did meet with the Redemptorist community and visited seven parishes in the city of Coari, as well as some of the more than 100 river communities in the parish. Fr. Steve was informed about the multiple problems that our Coari radio station is experiencing, which led to a discussion of whether or not, to continue this ministry. Radio Coari has the lowest market share, so it may be better to just buy programming time on one of the city’s other four stations. Br. Leo Patin’s St. Gerard trade school lost its contracts with the national petroleum industry and now provides only music and dancing classes. After so many years of teaching kids a real profession, are those classes worthwhile? In both cases, a lack of trained confreres and the necessary funding will dictate future ministry decisions.
After Fr. Steve returned to Manaus, he was off to the State of Acre in the extreme western part of Brazil. It took nine hours of flight time to get from Manaus to Rio Branco, Acre. The Redemptorists hosted a gathering on November 9 with the local clergy and the bishop, who would like the Redemptorists to build and staff a shrine. Only time and resources will tell if that will come to pass.
Fr. Steve returned to Manaus and spent a morning of spirituality with our nine theologians and eleven philosophers. The Vice Province of Manaus will be ordaining three confreres in the coming months; two are going to Columbia for novitiate. Two confreres will be making a pastoral year in either Africa or Surinam. Thirteen new candidates are expected to arrive in February to begin the new school year. Youth seeking us out is not a problem; the concern is the quality of their familial, educational and emotional backgrounds. Years ago, Fr. Marcos Wenninger said that we had to learn to handle the vocations that the Lord is giving us. It will be a challenge to house, educate and feed them all. But as the Vice Province prepares to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2018, things are looking good that it will also reach 100 years in 2043.
The annual Assembly on November 15-18 was held at our small retreat center outside of Manaus. A severe rain storm knocked out the internet connection for two days. The television reception survived, but everyone felt isolated. After many reports about the confreres and ministries, communications about future events and some personnel changes, Fr. Steve shared his impressions and observations: the challenges and issues he had witnessed, the joy and enthusiasm of the confreres, and his pride and joy in seeing the effort the confreres put into preaching the Gospel to the most abandoned. He said he had never been hugged so much in his life!
Fr. Ronaldo and Fr. Manuel Soares treated Fr. Steve to a special breakfast of Brazilian coffee and a bountiful assortment of fruits and pastries on his last morning with them. When they arrived at the airport for Fr. Steve’s return flight to the USA, they each said that the visitation had renewed their commitment to their Redemptorist vocation.
Donnell Kirchner, C.Ss.R.
Photos: Fr. Tom (Miguel) McIntosh