We were sad to leave our funky old train station in southern Brazil at the end of 2013, but the inauguration of Casa Franciscana in April of 2014 has filled us with a new joy, one this rural soul is surprised to acknowledge.
Rio de Janeiro is a troubled city that defies logical solution; it requires prayer and hospitality. To this end, Casa Franciscana, the first step of Casa de Mariana (see below), is an ecumenical place of welcome, fellowship and prayer to provide rest and refreshment for the overburdened. We are housed in a tiny granny apartment behind the main house, which stands on a hill at the end of a cul-de-sac overlooking the northern part of the city. The neighborhood, developed in the 1900s for the upper middle class but abandoned when the national capital moved to Brasilia, is located between two of Rio's roughest favelas (slums), and yet it is remarkably quiet and peaceful, almost a rural pocket in the midst of poverty and violence. Our sanctuary is easily accessible with a metro and a train station nearby as well as a good number of buses that pass through making it not so difficult for those in need of fellowship, good food and respite to spend a day with us at Casa Franciscana.
Perseverance (Rua Perseveranca) is the name of the street where Casa Franciscana stands. After 10 years of frustration and disregard, but persisting at the development of the Third Order, Society of St. Francis (TSSF) in Brazil anyway, I find it aptly named. In addition to our local ministry, Casa Franciscana was established to oversee the stability and growth of the Third Order throughout the country. Bit by bit TSSF Brasil is coming into its own, beginning with the election of officers and an ongoing annual national retreat held in our spring, September.
Casa de Mariana is the main house, so named by its owner, Ze Carlos, who was born and raised in it. Mariana was his daughter whose vibrant life was claimed by a brain tumor at 22 years of age. When Ze's father died a few years later, Ze fell into a deep depression and left his childhood home abandoned. It fell into decline until one day he met with his friend Luiz Bazilio, who, in seeking to establish a Franciscan house, enkindled Ze's own dream to use Casa de Mariana to serve the disabled. A group of 5 members, David and I being two of them, began to meet weekly on Wednesday afternoons to discern the specific ministry of Casa de Mariana. After considering the ambience of the house, the current ministry of Casa Franciscana and the exhaustion each of us had individually experienced as caregivers for disabled, sick or aged family members, we struck upon offering the house as a place of retreat and support to the caretakers of disabled children; folks who commonly are their families, people thrown into intensive caregiving not by choice and for whom, for many, there is no training. We intend to host weekly support groups, ecumenical prayer groups, monthly cultural activities and parties, as well as more intimate opportunities for rest, fellowship and learning about living with persons differently-abled. We are excited and are now in the fund-raising stage to make our vision into a reality.
After living in the south with no Episcopal church within reach, we are fortunate to now be members of Santissima Trindade (Holy Trinity), just a few miles (walking distance!) from Casa Franciscana. After hiding out in the pews for the past 10 years in Brazil, I have renewed much of my parish involvement. In particular, I am serving on the altar guild as well as artist-in-residence. David is serving as Treasurer, a huge challenge in an environment where monetary giving is not part of the culture. Together, we have helped guide the congregation to develop a ministry to the homeless. We started with a Sunday feeding program after church but when we began a complete remodel of our parish house, we lost our kitchen. A group of us began to bring food enough from home each Sunday to serve the people from our front (red) doors. This has had the wonderful outcome of some members of the homeless community joining us during our Sunday liturgy. A few participate in our worship but most engage in personal prayer or sleep. We don't mind, we welcome their presence. Some members of the congregation are now opening the doors a few days during the week to allow for anyone who cares to spend respite time in the church. Included in our remodel just completed is an area for the homeless to shower and be tended to in a simple infirmary. In June, we plan to open our new kitchen to host indoor, hot meals. I am very excited about this program.
In the midst of visioning and preparing to open a ministry for the caregivers of children with disabilities, I am being called upon to be a caregiver myself. My parents are now in their 80s and experiencing the trials that come with aging. This reality has changed my routine so that instead of an annual visit, I am now reversing the time spent in the US with that in Brazil. Beginning in May, I will be with Mom and Dad for 2-3 months at a time, alternating with 1-2 months in Brazil depending on how everyone is doing. At times all of this travel and leaving Rio is a struggle, but overall I feel blessed to be able to spend this time with them--and to have the flexibility to walk a less certain path for a while. Of course, this also means more time with the grandchildren, the three in Kalispell, so you might see me around a bit more, as well as the newest treasure in Portland, Oregon.
We remain thankful for the ongoing prayers and support of the Christ Church community. Any donations made to the Christ Church Brazil Mission Fund will go toward the development of Casa de Mariana, regardless of where I am physically. Most of all, we appreciate your prayers, in particular for Casa Franciscana, Casa de Mariana, as well as for my parents and my time with them.
Life in all of its offerings is a wonder and I am blessed. Our path in mission is undergoing even more change. At each moment I try to receive what comes with thanksgiving, caring for it the best I can, and returning all to our magnificent Creator. Always, another adventure awaits. Such grace!
The greatest adventure of all is walking with Jesus whose presence is ever evident in the marvelous community of faith that surrounds us on both sides of the equator. Thank you for being the generous community who in many ways makes our mission possible. You remain in our daily prayers.
barbara baumgarten, tssf