He used to go fishing with his grandfather, now he’ll be a fisher of men

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With so few Catholic priests in the Amazon, Aid to the Church in Need provides essential support to seminarian Rolisson Afonso.

More than 600 km separate Santa Isabel do Rio Negro, a river town in the heart of the Amazon, from the Saint Joseph Seminary in Manaus. But the two could be in different worlds.

It was in this riverside town that Rolisson Afonso’s journey to the seminary began. His memories of his days in the Amazon are still vivid. “I was born in Manaus, but my mother was too young to take care of me, and she had financial difficulties, so I was sent to live with my grandparents in Santa Isabel do Rio Negro. My grandparents were devout Catholics. They could barely read or write, but we prayed every day, reflected on the Gospel, said the Rosary and went to Mass every Sunday, he recalls.

One of his most vivid memories is of going fishing with his grandfather. The river was everything for the community, a point of access, of recreation, but above all of life and sustenance. Unable to afford an outboard motor, they paddled to nearby islands and fished for hours to feed the house.

Rolisson was only 12 when, lying on a hammock with his grandmother, he told her that he would like to be a priest. “I wanted to be a priest because of the clothes, the ritual, I was delighted with it,” he admits.

However, when word got out, he started being teased by his friends and shelved the idea. Her teenage years were filled with mistakes, excessive partying, alcohol and drug abuse, and romantic escapades. He stopped practicing or thinking much about his faith. His grandparents were always there for him, however. “At the time, I couldn’t understand their disappointment with me. But those experiences were also important, and I feel like I’m in a better position now to join other young people in similar situations,” he says.

Eventually he moved to Manaus to continue his education and live with his mother and siblings. Ironically, it was this estrangement from his Catholic grandparents that put him back on the path to the Church. “My mother and my siblings are evangelicals. They asked me questions about my Catholic faith, but I couldn’t answer them. So, I went looking and discovered a community near my home. I got involved and joined a youth group.

He also studied and eventually got a job, but the conversation with his grandmother had stuck in his mind and was now coming back. Having experienced life in the remote Amazon, he knew better than anyone how much these communities needed priests. “Some of these riverside communities are only visited by a priest once a year or once a month. He arrives, celebrates mass and then returns to town. This is one of the reasons why I want to be a priest, to bring the sacraments, the Gospel, to these people, to meet their needs,” he says.

Taking that last step was difficult; the hardest part was leaving a stable and promising job for the uncertainty of seminary life. In a region of Brazil where jobs are scarce and poverty endemic, the Church is also poor and the seminarians must be supported by donations. Through its benefactors, Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) is a major contributor to this training.

The seminary now has many students, including representatives of several indigenous communities, who will help adapt the language of the Gospel to their own social and cultural realities.

Meanwhile, Rolisson continues to be moved whenever he reads fishing-related passages from the Gospels. “Just as Jesus walked along the shores of the Sea of ​​Galilee, calling his disciples, who were simple people, to be fishers of men, so he calls us, and so he calls the riverside communities to be his disciples and to proclaim the Gospel.”

And just as any fisherman needs equipment to practice his profession, these new fishers of men called to evangelize the Amazon regions, from their training to more material goods, such as modern boats to better reach their herds, need it. . This is precisely what ACN helps to provide.

“I would like to thank all the benefactors of ACN for helping us and ask them to continue to do so, so that we can have more priests for our Amazon, for the whole world, and continue to carry the Eucharist and our work. farthest reached,” says Rolisson Afonso.

The archive photo does not represent the subject of the article.

This article was first published by Aid to the Church in Need and is republished here with kind permission. To learn more about ACN’s mission to help the suffering Church, visit www.churchinneed.org(from the United States) and www.acninternational.org (outside the United States).

Turibius Alfonso de Mongovejo
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