The diocese of Xingu-Altamira covers a vast area of the Amazon rainforest – in fact, at over 96,000 square miles (247,000 km²) it is larger than the whole of Britain. However, it is only thinly populated, with something over 360,000 inhabitants altogether. Vast areas of the diocese are covered by tropical rainforest.
Many of those living in the area are migrants from other regions of Brazil, drawn here by employment opportunities with the big landowners, mining companies and construction work on the massive Belo Monte hydroelectric dam. Social problems such as broken families and drug and alcohol addiction are widespread. However, there are also many people belonging to the indigenous tribes and still living in the rainforest.
Nominally, close on 70% of the population are Catholics. The diocese is divided into just 10 huge parishes. One of these is the parish of Saint Francis Xavier, which includes numerous outlying villages. 40 of these villages lie on the river banks in the rainforest and can only be reached by boat. Pastoral work here brings its own particular challenges, and the Catholic faithful regularly have to wait for the sacraments, for instruction in the faith and help with their practical day-to-day problems.
In many of these smaller communities the priests can only visit every three months or so, while others can only be reached every couple of years. Travel by boat along the rivers is slow and difficult – and frequently dangerous as well. As they travel, the priests and lay missionaries have to spend several days at a time on the boat. And while the faithful do their best to sustain their faith life, with prayers and liturgies of the Word, they nonetheless long for the sacraments and for regular visits by their shepherds.
Such pastoral work is impossible without a boat – needless to say. And while the parish does have one boat, it is old and in need of repairs and cannot be used at present. They have appealed to ACN for help, and we are more than happy to put up the 7080 Euros they require to make it river-worthy again.