Remembering the martyrs of the Amazon region

Manaus Hosts National Missionary Congress

Joaquim Magalhães de Castro

Between the 10th and 15th of November last, the 5th National Missionary Congress took place in Manaus, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, an event that brought together 1,200 religious people from all over the country motivated by the mottos “Go! From the local Church to the ends of the world!” and “burning hearts, feet on the path!”. This congress served, after all, as an introduction to the VI American Missionary Congress (CAM 6), which will take place in Puerto Rico, from the 19th to the 24th of November next year.

Organized by the Pontifical Mission Societies of Brazil in conjunction with the National Missionary Council and with the support of the Archdiocese of Manaus, the event opened with a solemn mass and featured lectures, debates, workshops, thematic group work and moments of prayer that alternated between with several missionary visits to local communities.

‘Receive’, ‘listen’, ‘clarify’, ‘share’ and ‘proclaim’ were the keywords that, in chronological order, characterized the days of the congress, highlighting the daily lectures that deepened missionary spirituality through reflection and dialogue and intended to demonstrate, within the congress, how to live the gospel intensely. “From the Amazon to the ends of the world”, “The responsibility of the local Church for the Universal Mission” and “The Pontifical Mission Societies (PMS) at the service of the Universal Mission of the Church” were some of the lectures given, the last of which was given by Sister Regina da Costa Pedro, National Director of the Pontifical Mission Societies in Brazil.

Faith, the spirit of universal mission and material aid form the basis of the “foundational charisma of the PMS” and guide the Missionary Congresses in America, a charisma that contributes to awakening universal missionary awareness on the continent. The Congresses are not intended to be a mere event, but rather “a process that aims to encourage a new missionary fervor in local Churches”. And this is achieved through missiological reflection using “guiding base texts”, symposiums, forums and regional congresses. These, in their preparatory journey, address the missionary identity of the Church oriented towards the universal mission. In other words, missionary congresses have Missio Ad Gentes in their DNA, “paradigm of all the work of the Church”, in the words of D. Mauricio da Silva Jardim, President of the Commission for Mission and Interecclesial Cooperation of the Brazilian Episcopal Conference.

Ad Gentes (To the Nations) is a decree of the Second Vatican Council on missionary activity that reaffirms the need for missions and ‘salvation in Christ’. The document establishes evangelization as one of the fundamental objectives of the Catholic Church and reaffirms the link between evangelization and charity towards the poor. Ad Gentes also calls for the “formation of strong Christian communities” and establishes guidelines for the training and activities of missionaries.

Although the missionary awareness of believers has matured in recent decades, with regard to Ad Gentes, greater zeal and commitment is still needed. Whether due to lack of knowledge, negligence, excessive pastoral activities or any other reason, it is clear that a large part of the local Churches in America have not yet adopted an Ad Gentes approach.

Among the specific objectives, it is worth highlighting, among others: knowledge of new paths of missionary action based on the evangelizing experience of the Church in the Amazon; promoting reflection on the awareness and missionary action of local Churches and the implementation of the National Missionary Program.

“I am convinced that missionary congresses have been a kairos (right moment) for local Churches in America and Brazil. However, there is a long way to go, often facing difficulties and resistance when taking on the Ad/Inter Gentes mission,” Dom Mauricio da Silva Jardim told the Fides news agency.

As part of the Congress, countless faithful participated in a pilgrimage “in honor of the Martyrs of the Amazon Region”, remembering all those, known and lesser known, who “sacrificed their lives for the people of the forest, for the care of our common home, until the end”, throughout South America.

During the inaugural homily, celebrated in the same place where Saint John Paul II celebrated Holy Mass on the occasion of his visit to Manaus, Dom Maurício Jardim, recalled the words of Pope Francis in the message for World Mission Day 2018, and emphasized: “In this Congress we dream of revitalizing the Ad Gentes mission of our Churches to the ends of the earth. The Holy Spirit encourages us to advance in the process of genuine missionary conversion.” And, as a sign of this deep desire, “seeking inspiration in the steps of the martyrs of the Amazon region”, at the end of the celebration, the transfer of the Brazilian missionary Father Josemar Silva, from the Archdiocese of Florianópolis to the Archdiocese of Nampula, in Mozambique, was officially announced.