The diocese of Conceição do Araguaia, located in Amazonia, is divided into 10 parishes. Due to the low presence of priests and religious in the region (only 20 priests, including 5 diocesan priests, and only 5 congregations of Sisters), the large youth population (there are nearly 150,000 young people between the ages of 15 and 24) lacks spiritual accompaniment. This is why many initiatives for the evangelisation of young people have been carried out in the diocese in recent years. One of these initiatives is the diocesan mission.
The Diocesan Mission offers a year of missionary experience to young people who feel the vocational call to the priesthood and to the female consecrated vocation, rooted in the Diocese. Through a long-term academic and practical formation, the mission prepares future diocesan leaders who are passionate about the evangelization of the people in general and specifically of young people. The mission aims to cultivate the 3 cares marked by Pope Francis: with the « Common House » in view of a more ecological lifestyle (Laudato Si), with one’s neighbour through “benevolence” (Amoris Laetitia), and in favour of the most fragile neighbour through “mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus). Thus missionaries go to schools, catechetical groups and youth groups to teach Christian value s to other young people. In two youth centres, the missionaries offer various activities (extra classes, guitar, music, art classes, sports and recreation, human spiritual education). They live in the middle of a favela and maintain an intense spiritual li fe with daily adoration, prayer of the hours and the rosary.
For this year 2020, there are 5 boys and 8 girls. At present, there are only 5 female religious congregations in the region and the tendency is to close these houses for lack of vocations. This is why for Rev. Dom Dominique You, bishop of Conceição do Araguaia, this missionary year is so important. It is key for discernment.
Facing the Covid 19
Early April, Rev. Dom Dominique You, bishop of Conceição do Araguaia, sent us interesting information on the adaptation of missionary activities to the measures against the further spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. « On March 19th the decree of the city of Conceição do Araguaia announced the closing of all the schools. We were not forced to close the churches completely, only at the time of the celebrations. For this reason, most of them remained open, with distribution of Holy Communion and personal attendance throughout the day during the first period (March 19 – April 19). The parishes were almost ready to transmit the celebrations live, but they needed help. Because of this, we decided to provisionally close the diocesan mission in the planned form, and to close the two houses (male and female) of mission. We had to think how we could organize the mission respecting the social isolation.
We had to change the way of working. It happened in several stages:
a) In a first instance all the missionaries had a quick and intensive Pastoral Communication formation.
b) The boys were sent to the parish house of the different parishes to start the transmissions of the different Catholic/Humanitarian programs through social networks (Masses, Marian and Mercy Rosaries, prayer groups, etc.) They designed training that could be transmitted over the internet: testimonies, children’s catechetical videos, courses for altar boys, etc. As long as it is permitted, they are visiting families from rural communities, according to strict rules that I defined for all the priests (i.e. Visits happen at the door of the houses, with masks for us and for the people, respecting the legal distances and for no longer than 20 min). At the end of the visit there is a prayer, Holy Communion can be distributed to members of the families who can receive it.
c) The girls were sent to their homes but with the commitment to help in the different parish and diocesan initiatives to combat COVID-19 as for example “Unidos contra o Vírus », which collect and manufacture sanitary kits for the most needy families. The contact with the families of the children from the youth centres continues. Through WhatsApp the girl missionaries communicate with the children or their families to help them take proper care in the midst of the pandemic, to encourage the completion of the online tasks sent by the schools and mainly to offer weekly catechesis training online.
d) The formation of these young missionaries has not stopped. Through different channels it was possible to help them to maintain a life of prayer and study in search of their vocational discernment. As of April 20, contamination began to increase. There is still no medical-hospital infrastructure capable of welcoming a patient in a dignified and effective manner. Only quarantine. Therefore, on April 25, we decided to warn that missionaries would need to stop working and take “early holidays” (like all seminarians from Regional CNBB N3) and wait for the reopening of public schools, our own Mercy Projects, and the Diocesan Mission in general. » Rev. Dom Dominique You, bishop of Conceição do Araguaia