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Brazil, Timbiras 2020

Dear friends,

At the beginning of this year, after more than 28 years of my work in the parish of São Raimundo in Codó, I was transferred to the neighboring town of Timbiras, where on February 16th of this year the Mass was held, during which I was officially introduced to the new parish by the diocesan Bishop Dom Sebastião. I live here alone in a parish house and make my first steps in the new parish. The parish gave me a very warm welcome.

Timbiras is the Pallottine cradle of Maranhão. Here, exactly forty years ago, the Pallottine Sisters Mathilde, Rita and Christina began their missionary Pallottine work in the spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti, proclaiming and living the apostolate of all the baptized, building up countless groups and lay movements. To this day the parish is inspired by this spirit and the Pallottine Sisters continue to work tirelessly to awaken, promote and deepen the apostolic spirit of co-responsibility of all the baptized in the Church and in the world.

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The parish in Timbiras is structured similarly to São Raimundo in Codó, that is, a good part of the population lives in the urban area, but there is also a large rural population. In addition to the parish church, there are 15 chapels with their saints and festivities in the city, in the different districts, and a good forty communities in the countryside. The total population is almost 30 thousand inhabitants. As in Codó, there are also conflicts about land, between companies and large landowners on the one hand, and the poor farmers on the other, who often do not have documents of their land because they are illiterate and have never taken care of them.

After about a month, the Covid 19 crisis began here too, which quickly led to drastic restrictions and made it very difficult to settle in the parish and live with the people. The cases of corona infected people increased dramatically from one day to the next, the wave is now coming here. Not long ago, Maranhão was the only state without infected people, but now there are well over 21 thousand, with over 800 dead. The lockdown in São Luis did not bring the desired success.

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Codo had its first case four weeks ago, and now we are at almost 700, with numbers of infected and dead increasing daily. In Timbiras we also have over a hundred cases of coronavirus. But there will soon be many more. What one hears from many people who have been infected in the meantime, the number of unreported cases is certainly much higher. In the big cities it is said that the number of people actually infected is about seven times higher than the official statistics report. Brazil already has more than 21 thousand dead and has now over 300 thousand officially registered cases of coronavirus, making it the world’s second largest country after the USA.

The Brazilian government has released a financial injection for the poor of one hundred euros each for three months. At least that, but on the other hand we have kilometer long queues of people in front of the banks to get the money, and the call to stay at home is blowing in the wind. It is precisely in the large crowds that there is the greatest danger of transmitting the virus. With our catastrophic health system, which is not at all prepared for such a crisis, with no beds, no respirators, the weaker persons are automatically exposed to death. Doctors in hospitals in São Luis watch powerlessly as people die away due to a lack of technical facilities. A large number of doctors and medical staff are now infected. What will happen next?

Our President, with his jokes about the disease, does the rest. He does not respect the World Health Organisation’s regulations, walks among people, hugs children and trivializes the disease as a mild flu. He dismisses ministers on the spot, especially in the health sector, because they are not following his line and want to take the coronavirus seriously. Thankfully, an impeachment procedure is already under way which could lead to his downfall. But there is no telling what will follow. The military has gained a lot of power, the vice president is a military general. The Minister for Internal Security, also a military general, is threatening civil war if the Supreme Court does not give in. On top of the health care crisis, there is now the political crisis.

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We have been living in quarantine since 20 March, that is, for more than two months, without schooling, without public services or meetings, closed shops, public life is at a standstill. How much longer? How long will the people, who live mostly from hand to mouth, with no salary and no fixed income, be able to stand it.

A well-known politician said that even now, in the pandemic, the glaring social inequality is once again evident: the rich are suffering boredom and the poor are starving. An end is not in sight, on the contrary, it is just beginning…

Every day I try to give hope to my parishioners, I send out audios, reflections on the Gospel of the day, and I transmit Sunday Masses and some others to homes and families via Facebook. In addition, some people come to the parish house for confession and for consultations… They are welcomed and listened to, with a certain distance and with a face mask In addition, we support families in precarious situations in the form of food. Women of the parish sew face masks.

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Anxiety and depression also increase among the people. More and more people pour out their hearts in this regard through contact in the social communication media…

Personally, I am doing well so far, sure, if you can say so. within this difficult situation. One worries about the people for whom one has a responsibility. Let’s hope that the disease doesn’t explode any further, because we can’t expect much from the medical side. Washing hands, wearing a mask, and avoiding direct contact if possible. Staying at home, and having a lot of patience…. All the best to you. You’re already somewhat over the worst.


Padre Sepp Wasensteiner SAC