After the World Cup in Brazil, the bare bones of faith remain

A parish that is the size of Arizona

The 2014 World Cup has come and gone; both the uproar over its excessive costs and the spectacle of the games are fast becoming distant memories. The spotlight that gave international audiences the merest glimpses of the largest Catholic nation in the world has ruthlessly moved on. Brazilians, especially the most needy, are once again left to their own devices, coping with ordinary life and its challenges.Perseverance

Yet, they are never truly alone—the Church makes sure of that. It does so through the tireless and courageous work of priests like British-born Father Peter Shekleton, a missionary in the country’s Amazon region.  He got his start in Brazil ministering in the slums of Sao Paulo, but when he took a group of Catholic youth on an expedition to the Amazon forest a good decade ago he discovered the Diocese of Saint Gabriel of the Waterfalls: a vast territory the size of Arizona with barely any priests.

Father Peter was shocked to discover that some communities in the diocese had not seen a priest for as long as ten years; that the people were longing for a pastor, that countless old people were simply waiting “to die in peace.” The priest asked to be transferred to the parish of the Immaculate Conception, in the heart of the Amazon forest, where for years now he has been doing his work in obscurity but with great conviction and gratitude. Two years ago he took the reins of the parish of Barcelos, a mostly uninhabited area.

Father Peter takes his cue from St. Therese of Lisieux who famously said: “We must sow the good seed without concerning ourselves whether it will grow.” This missionary does the work and trusts God for the outcome.

For a long time he had to rely on a ramshackle boat to navigate, he says, “rapids, dangerous currents, hidden rocks and constantly shifting sand banks, and dangerous eddies—to say nothing of the fact that the water is full of crocodiles, piranha and snakes.” His life became a bit easier recently when benefactors raised the money to buy him new boat, named “Perseverance.” The ship is a lifeline for this flock.

He is saddened  by the “godlessness” of many people he meets on his travels, blaming their lives of dissipation on the “hedonism, individualism, consumerism and relativism” promoted by contemporary media that, thanks to satellite dishes, have penetrated even the remotest jungles. Nonetheless, he adds, “I often come back happy from these journeys into the wilderness, because I have done what I believe to have been my duty.”

Father Peter is undeterred, citing the words of St. Therese: “Jesus does not look so much at how big or difficult our deeds are, but rather at the love with they are done.”

Father Shekleton discovered his vocation in 1991 when he heard the founder of Aid to the Church in Need Father Werenfried van Straaten preach in London’s Westminster Cathedral.


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