Where Sisters of Mercy Minister: Brazil (9)
In a 1979 Chapter, some Sisters of Mercy in Ireland reflected on a line in their Constitutions which states, “Mercy urges us to be with and for the poor and distressed, working for social justice and well being, seeking to bring rich and poor together in mutual love and service.” Based on their communal theological reflection, the Chapter body decided to send sisters to a developing country. Thus, in December 1982, four sisters left Ireland to live and minister in Brazil.
In the first year in Brazil, the sisters engaged in a variety of language studies and ministry preparation programmes for new missionaries. They listened to people in the area and explored the needs and how they could respond best to those needs. They made the decision to locate their ministry in an urban area of the Northeastern state of Paraiba, and officially opened the first community house of Sisters of Mercy in the barrio of “Liberdale” in May 1984.
Over the next seven years, six other sisters from Ireland moved to Brazil. During those years, the sisters ministered through the local parish in the formation of seventeen Basic Christian communities. They were involved in catechesis, liturgical planning, biblical reflection, literacy promotion, political formation, and the pastoral care of children and youth. The diocesan policy of the Brazilian church recommended that a community should remain about six or seven years in an area and then move to another area. In response, the community chose to move from the urban setting to a rural area of the same large state of Paraiba.
In the semi-arid rural area, the sisters experienced alongside the people of the area the difficulties of living in a drought-stricken area. They continued to minister within parish structures, but also became involved in education and health programmes.
In 1996, there was a move away from Basic Christian communities in the Brazilian church to the centralization of the parish, and the church’s option for the poor became less evident. This shift impacted the community’s ministry decisions and they became less affiliated with parish structures and moved to more direct ministry with women.
Today, there are three Sisters of Mercy who minister in Paraiba, which is a state that continues to be poverty stricken. This state is the second poorest in the country with over 47% of its population living in misery. Over 25% of its 3.3 million residents have no income at all. The three Sisters of Mercy live among the poorest of the poor and engage in spiritual direction and reflection with individuals and groups of women, skill development, health promotion and adult literacy programmes.
For more information on the Sisters of Mercy in Brazil, visit: www.sistersofmercy.ie/brazil.