Vatican City (Fides Service) – “These meetings with the Pope over the past few days were truly precious moments, I was deeply touched by the love he showed to each of us” Archbishop Jao Braz de Aviz of Maringa in Brazil told Fides Service, after he received the Pallium from Pope John Paul II on Sunday 29 June in St Peter’s. The Archbishop told Fides a little about the main pastoral challenges facing his archdiocese and the whole Church in Brazil.
Archbishop Jao Braz de Aviz, what were your feelings when you met the Holy Father?
Over the past three days I had the good fortune to meet the Pope three times: during the solemn Vespers of the feast of Saints Peter and Paul on Saturday June 28, on Sunday June 29 during the Mass when we received our Pallium and on Monday 30 in Paul VI Hall when the Pope granted a special audience to the archbishops who had received the Pallium. These were truly precious moments. The Pallium is a sign of our special communion with the Pope and it also represents a challenge: the challenge to preserve the specific identity of each local Church while building communion with the universal Church. The necessity of profound communion with the universal Church was one of the aspects underlined by the Holy Father and it has as its foundation the intra-Trinitarian communion of God. This communion is a reality which we must build taking as our foundation the model of the Trinity of God: a mystery which we must not only adore and praise with correct language theologically formulated but, more important, which we must experience as the mystery of God shared in the life of mankind.
Another aspect which struck me was the love that the Holy Father showed to each and all. His state of health could have prevented him from devoting so much attention to us, but it did not: the Pope gave us time to talk to him, he listened, he smiled, he spoke to each of us and to all those who had come to greet him.
What are the main difficulties facing your local Church?
Maringa archdiocese is young, only about fifty years old. Half of its population of 600,000 live in Maringa city, about 150,000 live in the cities of Paissandu and Sarandi and the rest live in small towns around these centres. The area of my archdiocese (in the north Parana state) was colonised recently. We have a good number of priests, about 60 mostly diocesan and religious men and women and also church movements. Pastoral work is well organised. The main challenges regard urban pastoral care, which needs to be developed and pastoral care employing the means of social communications. We have a diocesan newspaper and radio station and a recently acquired television station which can facilitate more intense evangelisation through the media. Our television is not only a relay station it also produces programmes.
Is there any one particular commitment that you have at heart?
Personally, as archbishop, I have committed myself to being close to my people and so I give priority to pastoral visits. I have already been to nine towns in the archdiocese and I plan to visit each of the 52 parish communities in the next five years.
Your area, like many in Brazil, is afflicted with poverty and social imbalance which President Lulu’s Hunger Zero plan should address. How is the Church working in this emergency?
In this North Parana area rich in resources, it is shocking to see so many people without work who find it extremely difficult to feed their families. We are working on this front in collaboration with the government and with President Lulu’s programme Hunger Zero. We have an archdiocesan team which works independently on assistance and development projects. Brazil has a serious problem of social unbalance: there is an abyss between the extremely poor and the very rich. Hunger Zero plan has lit a spark of hope putting the spotlight on the problem of hunger – now given full attention by all the media – and also because it encourages the development of programmes in collaboration with the government. Nevertheless it should be remembered that it is in its early days and it will have to avoid certain dangers, such as being exploited by groups in search only of political gains. This programme must be developed to involve the whole of society so that it commits itself not only to eliminating hunger but also to working for human promotion at all levels. MR (Fides Service 2/7/2003 EM lines 57 Words: 799)