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BRAZIL AND OCEANIA
Marists in World Missions: Our Stories

Marists in Brazil Minister Amid Bullets, Poverty

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Brazil attracted our attention to the Church in that great country to our south and on the small but significant Marist presence in this mission field.

Map of BrazilBrazil is the largest Catholic country in the world. Yet, the Church faces three major challenges: a shortage of priests, the departure of Catholics and a country of incredible poverty.

The Marists number only about 18 priests, brothers and professed seminarians in Brazil.  Nevertheless, they are growing stronger as they continue to contribute to the strengthening of the Church and to serve those in need.

There are two houses of formation in Brazil. One is located in Belo Horizonte and the other in Curitiba. There are approximately 15 students preparing to join the eight seminarians who are in the formal seminary program. In recent years, the mission district has celebrated the ordination of two Brazilian Marists.

Besides the seminaries, the Marists are involved in Catholic education and do pastoral work. The pastoral work takes place in a parish in São Paolo and in a rural area at Palmas de Monte Alto.

Fr. Al Puccinelli, originally from San Francisco, is currently assigned to the seminary in Curitiba. He recently wrote how his Holy Week "started with a bang." He was celebrating Palm Sunday services in a nearby favela (a slum impoverished area of the city). Just about to bless the palms broke a gun fight broke out about 50 yards away.  Everyone calmly waited until the fight ended. Then the palms were blessed and everyone processed to the nearby chapel.

 The seminarians who are also involved in a weekly prayer group in the favela have also experienced first-hand the violence. On their way back from one of meetings, they found themselves the midst of a shoot out during which the bullets were flying over their heads. Fortunately, they escaped without injury.

Reprinted from the Marist Missions newsletter, Volume 34, Number 2.

From France to Oceania… From the Beginning

Two months from the day the first Marists were professed in Lyon, France, seven adventurous Marists set sail for Oceania. The date was December 24, 1836 and they represented one-fourth of the Society’s members.

Map of Oceania This fact illustrates Father Jean Claude Colin's commitment to the region. "Our congregation's founder always took a great interest in Oceania … when a need was seen by the Church in Oceania, the founder jumped at this possibility to proclaim the Gospel to the world." 

Between 1837 and 1849 alone, Father Colin sent 117 Marist missionaries to the region. Isolation, disease, death and the martyrdom of St. Peter Chanel did not change the Marists' commitment to be with the peoples of Oceania, a collection of island nations in a vast area of the southwest Pacific Ocean north of New Zealand and east of Australia.

Today, Marists from Oceania continue the tradition of going out to spread the Good News, in the same spirit as the early Marists, not only to Oceania, but also to Asia, Africa and South America. Father Leromio Vodivodi from the Fiji island of Vanua Levu, suggests,"It's time that we look globally, that we go out to the world, not just people coming to us." Father Setefano Mataele of Tonga echoes Father Colin's words: "Our mission is to respond to whatever needs arise in the Church…that is where our call is."

Of the 90 men in Marist formation currently, half are from the islands of Oceania, and many have their first international experience of mission work during their formation on other islands, assisting in parish work on Bougainville or New Caledonia, high school teaching in Samoa or young adult life skill training on Tutu. Father Mataele, in the U.S. with Father Vodivodi to complete their graduate work in pastoral counseling, imagines others were, like him, "inspired by the dedication of the Marists… how they go out and meet the needs of people." For Fr. Mataele, he feels the first Marists would be pleased to see "a fire spreading thought the Pacific – people mature in their faith and many vocations are growing."

While the Marists are not an exclusively missionary order, fully one quarter of the congregation is still working in mission areas. 

"The early Marists planted seeds in the Pacific that are still growing – what they have planted has taken root," observes Father Mataele, who will be returning to Fiji to form other young priests, "I and other young Marists are the fruit of the first missionaries."

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"It's time that we look globally, that we go out to the world,
not just people coming to us."

Fr. Leromio Vodivodi
Fiji island of Vanua Levu

Read about
Marist Refugee Center
in London

 

 

Marist missionaries share friendship from the beginning to the end

Fr. Frank Springer's first memory of his seminary classmate and Marist missionary Fr. Nicholas Kutulas was meeting him on board a train in September 1946. As fellow WW II veterans, San Francisco natives, and young seminarians en route to Marist Seminary in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, the two young men had much in common.

 The Marist journey they began together on that train continued through a friendship and a common call to missionary work in Oceania that spanned 60 years. It is a story of friendship, families, and commitments.

Fr. Springer recalled in his recent eulogy for Fr. Nick many remarkable things about the life of this unassuming man and missionary of 42 years. One was the fact that Fr. Nick was aboard a Navy troop carrier in the Pacific and witnessed the raising of the flag over Iwo Jima. Another was that Fr. Nick's grandfather was a Greek Orthodox priest, and that it was Nick's exposure to the Catholic faith while attending St. Joan of Arc School that led the 18-year-old to ask Marist Fr. Chauve – his former teacher and Marist role model – to receive him into the Catholic Church, even though his mother did not approve.

Following their formation at the Novitiate in Staten Island, Marist College in Washington, DC and Marist Seminary in Framingham, Massachusetts, the two were ordained in 1956 and left for the missions. For the next 42 years, they rarely saw each other for the next 42 years that Fr. Nick spent alone as a missionary in the North Solomon Islands and Bougainville, visiting the people by boat or hiking up to the mountain villages from his mission station.

Yet Fr. Springer remained connected to his seminary classmate as a mission promoter for Fr. Nick's work following his own 20 years in the missions in Oceania. "Humble and down to earth, Fr. Nick was good with the people." Fr. Springer recalls.

The two were reunited once again in 1998, when Fr. Nick returned from the missions and came to live in the same house as Fr. Springer. Fr. Nick's journey on earth came to a close.

Fr. Springer closed his eulogy with the following words: "Fr. Nick, we are sorry to lose a friend and confrere. But above all we are happy you are with your Lord and Savior, whom you served so well here on earth. Pray for us. Until we meet again."

 

"Our mission is to respond
to whatever needs arise in
the Church…that is where
our call is."

Father Setefano Mataele
Tonga