By Catherine Heinhold
In August we had a really special experience here in São Paulo — a Friends Across Borders (FAB) trip. FAB is Maryknoll Lay Missioners’ immersion program, which takes people from the U.S. to visit MKLM mission sites around the world. There were six participants on our trip — father and son Barry and Conor, husband and wife Matt and Brenda, and Gail and Cathy, who came from the same parish. They had spoken to each other on the phone before coming, but didn’t all meet until they got off the plane in São Paulo! They were a great group — animated, flexible, and up for anything. Perfect for Brazil.
My co-leader for the trip was the fabulous Dave Kane, a former MKLM missioner who lives in João Pessoa with his wife and son and works for Maryknoll’s Global Concerns Office. It was a treat to have him here and work with him.
While the group was here, we visited the work sites of our Maryknoll missioners, went to parks and churches, cultural sites and a samba show. The group had a chance to interact with “everyday” Brazilians and get a sense of their lives. While no one in the group spoke Portuguese, several had some Spanish and with Dave and me translating it was possible to have meaningful interactions.
The most special moment of the trip for me was when we went to celebrate mass and eat lunch with the Community of São Jose, one of the five communities of my parish (St. Terezinha). The chapel is located in a hillside favela and the community does not have many resources. But the people of this community are very warm, open, and animated and they welcomed our group with open arms! Our pastor, Padre Vidal, presided at the mass and invited Matt, a Eucharistic minister back home, to distribute communion. It was a joyful celebration.
After mass, as we waited for lunch to be ready, we talked in groups of three and four — sharing stories of families, involvement in the church, and learning words in English and Portuguese. Lunch itself was wonderful — a very traditional Brazilian meal of baked chicken, farofa (a toasted manioc flour mixture), maionese (a potato salad with mayo and vegetables), pasta, rice, sausages, and much more. And three desserts. Amazing. Dona Antônia told the story of the beginnings of the community, in which she and her husband were instrumental.
As lunch wound down, we began to say our goodbyes. It was hard to leave, knowing that we had just experienced a very special and sacred moment of hospitality and community. The members of São José and the FAB group both expressed that the others would always be in their hearts and memories. For me, this FAB trip was truly an experience “across borders” — people of different cultures and languages coming together and discovering — through food, faith, and conversation — that they indeed have much in common.
To see more photos of the Friends Across Borders trip to Brazil, click here. To learn more about MKLM’s Friends Across Borders program, or join in on the next trip to Brazil, check out the website here.