News 19 May 2021

"Where hunger weeps - COVID in the Brazilian Amazon region"

Manaus in Brazil is the capital of the Amazonas state and one of the principal financial, industrial and economic centers of the northern region of Brazil.

This metropolis of over 2 million inhabitants continues to grow unceasingly and in a chaotic manner. Since January this year it has witnessed the collapse of its healthcare service as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and is now overwhelmed by this healthcare crisis. The situation has become unsustainable.

Among those working in the area are the Franciscan Capuchin Friars Minor of Amazonas and Roraima. Frei Paolo Maria Braghini, an Italian Capuchin friar, explains the situation to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN): “In the historic centre of Manaus and its suburbs we are developing a range of activities with the parishes, including caring for homeless people, working to provide spiritual care, hearing confessions and also working together with lay helpers in other parts of the city,” he says. 

Last year ACN sent help to the Capuchin missionaries working throughout the region in the form of Mass stipends. This is an extremely important form of help because ever since the beginning of the pandemic, with the churches closed for extended periods and combined with the economic crisis throughout the country, the Sunday collections they rely on have diminished drastically.

However, despite this, in the last few months the pandemic has sown desperation among the people. “At this historic moment, especially with the second wave of the pandemic, hunger is really weeping and crying out to heaven. We have families in the suburbs who have nothing to live on. Many of them have come from the interior of the country and arrived here in the hope of finding food in the city. But here they are only finding hunger and unemployment. To cap it all, now they don’t even have a vegetable patch to grow food on, or a river to fish in.”

And so now the Capuchin Friars Minor of the Amazonas and Roraima region have set up a project to provide these families with baskets of basic foodstuffs for a period of seven months, in order to keep them going through the crisis. “In the midst of so much poverty, we have chosen certain localities on the outskirts and, with the help of local community leaders, are identifying the most needy families – large families and very poor families, many widows, people suffering from tuberculosis and the unemployed who have little hope that this life will give them a new opportunity,” Frei Paolo explains.

ACN has approved an exceptional emergency aid so that these Capuchin Friars can help provide food to the poorest. Frei Paolo is extremely grateful to all our benefactors. “Beloved benefactors of ACN,” he writes, “on behalf of all the Capuchin Friars of Amazonas and Roraima, and especially on behalf of the hundreds of families who will benefit, I want to thank you from my heart. In this extremely difficult moment of the pandemic, which is gravely affecting the families in the poorest suburbs of Manaus and turning their lives into a life and death drama, these baskets of basic foodstuffs are much more than a simple help to stave off hunger – which already really hurts. They are a signal that God has not abandoned these poor people. You, the benefactors, have thereby converted yourselves into instruments of divine providence and a vital source of hope.” 

Among those benefiting from the food parcels are people like María Madalena, in the barrio of Cidade de Deus. “It has been a blessing to receive this basket of basic foodstuffs, because my son and I have no work,” she said. And Fátima da Conceição, in the Colônia Terra Nova quarter, agrees: “This donation has arrived just when we were going through the most difficult time. You are helping us so that we can eat each day. I am so grateful to you all! May God bless each and every one of the people who have contributed to this!” 

The work of the friars is not limited to providing these basic food baskets, but also aims to bring a sense of dignity and seek longer term solutions. And so, in addition to the food baskets, they are providing seeds to encourage the families to grow their own vegetables, if only in simple flower tubs. “Whenever possible, we encourage them to rear livestock such as chickens. We want to help them overcome this ingrained mentality of passive receiving. They need to do something themselves in order to get out of their situation, whenever possible,” Frei Paolo explains.

The project will last for seven months, so that the friars can follow the progress of these families. They want to help every family they visit to find solutions for their own lives and some way of supporting themselves.

For over 30 years ACN has been supporting dozens of projects in this region, as Frei Paolo recalls. “You have already helped us for many projects, and both we and our people are infinitely grateful to you for this.” And he lists some of the specific ways in which we have helped: “You helped us to buy a boat, so we could minister to the riverside communities, and also a car, so we could tackle the highways to Roraima and Humaitá, and to this day we are still reaping the benefits of these gifts. Our presence here is bringing hope and the Word of Christ to the people.”

Featured Image: Capuchin Friars of Amazonas distribuing basic basket in Manaus, Brazil. Photographer: Capuchinhos do Amazonas. Copyright: Aid to the Church in Need.

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