Phyl. -- In Brazil!

Note from Sister Phyllis -


Dear Classmates,

"Greetings from Brazil!"

I am here for five weeks,
visiting the SSJs who minister here in different parts of the states of Goias and Minas Gerais.
Currently I am in Goiania. I arrived on Tuesday, Oct. 11th,
and have been keeping busy!

I have accompanied our Sisters to several events,
and I am trying to listen to the Portugese and learn a few words!

I will send a report later!



Brazil Map



Oct 12 was the feast of Nossa Senhora da Conceiçao Aparecida, a national holiday.
She is a black Virgin Mary, a statue found by fishermen in 1717 who has become the patroness of the country.
We took part in a procession and went to one of the churches for liturgy.
It was also Children's Day, and many groups had special celebrations for children.

The week has been busy.

I have learned a bit about the Neighborhood Health Councils who advise the Ministry of Health.
These are citizens who meet and provide input about the quality of care in the public health system.
These councils were written into the Brazilian Constitution
and are made up of lay people elected by their neighborhoods.

On Friday, we attended a workshop of Religious Women from around the state,
who are concerned about human trafficking and preparations for the World Cup in 2014,
which attracts sex traffickers from around the world to provide ´services´for sportsmen and those attending!

Yesterday we visited a prison complex.
One of our Sisters is a lawyer, and works for the diocese in Goiania in charge of volunteers who visit prisons.

I couldn't believe what I saw! There were three different prisons:

The sentenced prisoners seem to have a lot of freedom within their confinement.
The prison is about ready to fall down, and the living conditions inside are pretty bad with leaky roofs, etc
so most of the time prisoners stay in the yard.

They wear their own clothes, keep illegal cell phones, and engage in business.
Each cell has a boss who owns the space and the others rent!
We didn't see any guards to speak of. They stay in the towers outside!
It seems the state is unwilling to spend money on improvements
so the prisoners have used their own money
to build sidewalks, chapels, and set up their own little establishements!!

It was a bit of ´culture shock`

Love to all,



Update after above note from Sister Phyllis:

Fanout from Sr. Phyllis Tierney: Brazil Diary - Week 2

It took me a long time to write up week 2! I'm now in Uberlandia.

Love to all!



Brazil Diary Week 2 (October 19‐October 25)

Tuesday, Oct. 19

Today I visited Sister Marie Jose´s prison ministry with Marie Jose, Jean, and

another volunteer. It was an eye‐opening experience! First we visited the unsentenced

women prisoners. Their living conditions are difficult…forty women in a room with three tiers

of bunks! Clothes were hung all over as they have to wash them by hand and have a place to

hang them. They have limited public gathering space, a hallway and a narrow open area at the

end of the hallway. Jean brings yarn to the women who can pay for it and they exchange their

goods with her so she can try to sell them for them.


In the same prison there is a men’s section that is larger and a model program area for

prisoners who are allowed to work. They are allowed to do piecework for a company by

labeling and packing clothing. I think they were tee‐shirts. We visited the sentenced

prisoners. The men were housed in an old prison that was in extremely poor condition.

Violent criminals and others are housed in the same area. The men spend most of their time

in the prison yard because the buildings leak when it rains. After the men petitioned, a roof

was finally fixed! I was totally surprised to see men wearing their own clothes and carrying cell

phones! Cell phones are supposed to be illegal but a great number seem to have them! The

private enterprise system is going well. The cell belongs to one prisoner who charges ``rent´´

and the others pay! Guards seem to be in short supply. They guard from the towers and don´t

enter the building! There were some improvements outside, including sidewalks. I was told

the prisoners paid to have the cement brought in and fixed things up themselves.

The women´s prison was a sharp contrast! We entered a park‐like green space with a picnic

table. An infant was toddling about. I learned that women can keep their children until age

two while they are incarcerated. Cells were about the same size as the men´s with two bunks

and a bathroom area at the end. The third person sleeps on the floor. Cells were decorated

according to the taste of the occupants. Brazil has no death penalty. When prisoners have

served one‐sixth of their sentence they are allowed to go on work release during the day and

have only to sleep in their cells at night.


Wednesday, October 20

Ellen and I accompanied Katherine to her health council meeting.

Representatives from the neighborhood councils came as well as health workers. The

presentation was on drug and alcohol abuse. The speaker had a power point presentation so I

could read part of it. The speaker spoke about alternatives in treating abuse…as a criminal

offense or as an illness. The meeting was held at the maternity hospital where Ellen works.

She showed me the various areas of the hospital. It is clean and simple with birthing rooms

and a room for babies who have special needs. There is quite a bit of green space included in

the hospital design because this is good for the health of the mothers!

Thursday, October 21

Today I visited Jean´s ministry at CPT. She is currently working at the

national office of the Pastoral Land Commission. Jean shared a bit of the history of CPT. Land

in the interior of Brazil was opened by the government in the 70´s to encourage settlement

since 80% of the population lived near the coast. Huge grants of land were given to

corporations. CPT was created in 1975 during an Encounter of the Bishops and Prelates of the

Amazon Region. It was established under the umbrella of the National Conference of Bishops


(CNBB) in Goiania. The CPT responded to the needs of displaced rural workers and exercised

an important role in the defense of human rights and in the struggle for democracy in the

country. The geographic regions of Brazil are different in character. Northern and central

areas supported raising cattle. Rural farmers were accustomed to moving cattle from one area

to another. Temporary homes were built that could be torn down and moved to another area..

In the southern area agriculture was the main occupation. Agrarian land reform had to be

suited to the area and the needs of the people. CPT defended the rights of the peasants,

squatters and landless peasants to the land. Land disputes led to violence. Today CPT

continues to promote agrarian reform. It continues to promote actions in the search for

alternatives to secure peasant families on the land. Professionals from many disciplines work

to maintain statistics regarding areas where land has been obtained and resettlement has

occurred. Anthropologists work to ensure that the culture of the people is maintained in the

areas where land has been obtained. The office in which Jean works maintains all these


In the afternoon I visited Catholic University with Joanna and met the head of her social work

department. Joanna is a third year student and will graduate next year. She takes classes in

the morning and evening. In the afternoons she does her field placement (20 hours per week!)

The buildings for Catholic University and the federal university (which is free!) are co‐mingled.

Joanna showed me several sites where classes are held.

Friday, Oct. 22

Joanna drove Katherine and me to Paranaiguara in the driving rain! We finally

drove out of it when we were far enough south. Katherine and I will spend the weekend with

Chris Burgmaier and Joanna will have some time to visit her family. The 25th anniversary of

Vilmar´s death will be celebrated in Caçu on Sunday. Vilmar was the young pastoral land

agent and catechist was supporting the farmworkers~unions and the creation of a

workers~party. He had a close working relationship with Sisters Maureen Finn, Elaine Hollis,

and Pat Frisk who were working there at the time.

I was especially struck by the land. The rolling hills reminded me of the land around the Finger

Lakes. We saw cattle grazing and fields that grow sugar cane which is used to make ethanol.

This region is part of the Cirrado, an area that environmentalists are seeking to protect. We

arrived in Paranaiguara after 9 pm. Chris came in a few minutes later. She had worked all day

from 6 am. The doctor had twelve surgeries. She said it was the most she has had to do in one

day! They were scheduled because an anesthetist was available.


Saturday, Oct. 23

It rained all day!

Sunday, Oct. 24

Joanna drove Katherine and me to Caçu where we met Vilmar´s mother,

Dona Olivinda, and his sister and other family members. We had dinner and then went to the

Chapel where the memorial service was being held. Jean and Maureen had come on Saturday

and helped to decorate the chapel with banners and photos. A man and woman from CPT

came to participate. Although everyone believes that Vilmar´s death was an assassination, it

was never acknowledged. The police quickly removed the body from the scene so the

investigation was never completed. Vilmar´s death divided the community. Landowners saw

him as a trouble maker. Farmworkers supported him.


Monday, October 25

I am still with Chris in Paranaiguara. She took the day off (her first!) and

we drove to Itaguaçu. This is where Barbara Orczyk was ministering before she returned to

Rochester. We met Dona Teresa and her husband, Jack Peter (English translation!) They are

good friends of Barbara´s. We visited the beautiful waterfalls at Itaguçu and then drove to Sao

Simao . We met Tom O´Shea, one of the Irish Oblates who came to Brazil about the same time

as our Sisters. We visited and he showed us some of the sights in the area.

Tuesday was a quiet day and on Wednesday, I left for Uberlandia to visit Sisters Marlena and




Fanout from Sr. Phyllis Tierney: Brazil Diary Week 3

Brazil Diary Week 3- Oct. 25 – November 2

Wednesday, Oct. 26

I said good-bye to Sister Chris Burgmaier and was put on the bus
to Uberlandia by Silvania. She is a friend of Chris who speaks some English. She wants
to study in the U.S. Chris had to be at the hospital before the bus left. The trip was
about four and half hours. Sisters Ireny (Nega) and Marlena were waiting for me when
the bus arrived. The house in Uberlandia is in the heart of the city. Marlena tells me
when the Sisters arrived over forty years ago it was on the edge of town! Marlena and
Nega have created a little paradise in their back yard! They grow everything
…vegetables, flowers and fruit trees!! Sister Joanna´s niece, Junelli, is also staying here
while she looks for an apartment. She works in a bio-tech lab.

Friday, October 28 –

Thursday was a quiet day to ``regroup.´´ On Friday Marlena and
I drove with Chico (Francisco) to visit one of the areas where families are waiting to
receive land. Chico is a retired business man who volunteers with the pastoral land
commission and spends his time doing social ministry with the poor and driving
Marlena and Padre Baltazar to the rural areas where they work.

First we visited an area where people had recently received land. We could still see the
makeshift shacks they lived in before they were able to build their homes. The roads
are still dirt but the city was putting in water and sewage lines and building roads.
Typically families will settle in an area and build temporary dwellings in the hope of a
land settlement. These lands are in dispute because the owner has not paid back taxes
or had engaged in some other illegal activity. When the state has procured a legal title
to the land, lawyers for the land commission try to procure legal titles and divide the
land into parcels. Not everyone is able to get land as there are usually more people in
the settlement than land availability.

The poor live in incredible poverty. The second area we visited was where a ´land
invasion´ had taken place but people were still waiting to receive a settlement so they
could begin to build permanent dwellings. We visited a woman who lived in one of the
shacks about the size of a tiny room. It had no windows and only a door. She had two
children and her husband was at work. It was a very warm day and I could only
imagine how hot it would be inside. Chico was able to promise her that he had enough
bricks to build half a house once they had secured a title to the land. Building part of a
house is common. Rooms are added when a family can afford to build them. The
ground around the area was covered with rubble of all sorts and children were running
around barefoot. Another woman who lived in the area had a house that was partly
built in the hopes that her family would be able to stay. If not, they would have to
dismantle it and move

Our final visit was to a woman who was living in a rental house with her family. She
had attempted to get land and was not successful. Rental properties are expensive and
the landlord often does not take care of the house properly.

Saturday, October 29 –

Today I accompanied Marlena to one of the rural areas where
she does pastoral ministry. Farmers in this area have received land grants and have
built homes. September is Bible month throughout the country. Marlena was in Rome
translating for the Chambery Congregation of SSJs during much of the month so she
was finishing the Bible courses for her communities. Each year the Bishops choose a
section of the Bible to use for instruction and a four hour class is given in each of the
communities by a member of the pastoral team for that area. This time the Scripture
passages were from Exodus, Chapters 15-19. Marlena noted that these passages were
especially relevant to the people because they had also been on a journey to secure their

Many of the rural communities meet in the home of one of the members. The farms are
at a distance from the main road and I was impressed with Chico´s ability to drive on
these dirt roads and lanes which weren´t marked until we found the right house! The
countryside reminds me of home. When we arrived at the home of our hosts, we were
immediately invited to have dinner. Other families and children arrived about the same
time and we were fed well. In Brazil it is customary to eat the main meal at noon.

Adults and children are grouped together for the instruction. We were divided into
groups and each group received a different chapter to read. Before we began we had
prayer and singing. Marlena plays the guitar and she brought rhythm instruments for
the children to use to accompany the music. Each child was also given a poncho made
of light material to wear so they felt very special. Marlena had made an altar with
special symbols: a staff, a pair of sandals, a piece of bread and a jug of water. There
were also words that gave meaning to what they were doing. Later in the lesson these
were used to illustrate what they had been discussing and talk about the meaning in their
own lives. (an example: When could you see God in your own life? When have you
experienced ´bitter water´ (problems)? After the group finished one person from each
group had to tell what they had learned. Later on they were asked questions about the
application in their own lives. Each group had to act out what they had learned from the
passage. I was impressed by the creativity and the way they absorbed and understood
what they had read. Many of the children in the group were in the Confirmation class.

The rain came as we were finishing. It cooled the air and we were comfortable. It was
the first rain I had experienced in Uberlandia. When we arrived home, we saw on the
news that parts of the city were flooded. Because much of the city is built on hills,
water runs downhill and can flood those at the bottom!

Sunday, October 30 –

We attended mass in Nega´s parish. Her pastor is a lovely man
who asks Nega to come with him whenever he is moved to a new parish! At the end of
Mass he asked who was here for the first time, and I had to go to the front of the church.
Marlenea came with me to translate. I received a warm welcome from the
congregation. A young man was celebrating his thirteenth birthday and everyone sang!

We enjoyed the rest of the day. We had lunch in the praça (park). Food booths and
craft people were selling their wares. Afterward Nega took us for a drive around the
city and we passed the school where she works. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
were all holidays. Monday was a holiday for government workers, Tuesday is All
Saints Day but in Brazil the mass is celebrated on Sunday, and Wednesday was All
Souls Day. It is a time when everyone visits the graves of their family members.

Wednesday, November 2 –

We enjoyed two days of leisure on Monday and Tuesday.
Ann Marvin came from Goiania to Uberlandia on Tuesday. She will accompany me to
Felizburgo on Thursday.

Today I went with Padre Baltazar and Marlena to have Mass in the rural communities.
Chico drove us and I was again impressed with how he knew where to go when nothing
is marked and roads are dirt lanes!
The first Mass of the day was in a rural community that had a chapel. The second was
at a family home on a farm. The family raises turkeys (5000 of them!) and we had a
delicious turkey dinner. Members of their extended family were there and some of the
community members we had met on Saturday. The hospitality of these people is
incredible! After dinner one of the sons took us to see the turkeys and a new-born calf
with its mother. After Mass was celebrated we had refreshments and then moved on to
the third community.

The third Mass was celebrated in a cow pasture! An open air shelter between pastures
served as as the chapel. The community was small, members of an extended family.
Again, we were invited for refreshments after the Mass. The farmhouse was simple and
there was no stove. A wood fire was used for cooking. You can imagine the warmth on
a hot day! The farmer´s wife had a garden and she proudly showed us her cabbages
which were large and beautiful. Her husband has started coffee plants. There were
many fruit trees. All that is grown helps the family to be as self –sufficient as possible.
The distances in the rural areas and the lack of transportation make it important for
families to live off the land as much as they can.

As I prepared to leave Uberlandia, I reflected on the importance of the land and, of the
rural communities who practice their faith with the help of lay leaders. The Sisters
dedicate their time to help to form community leaders to carry on. I am grateful to
Marlena and Nega for their wonderful hospitality.

Thursday, November 3 –

Anne and I will board the 12:20pm bus to go to Bella, Horizante.
We will have to change buses there. Felizburgo is about thirty hours away!

Thanks, Phyl ---- Sounds like you are doing a great job, having a remarkable experience,
and WE are learning a lot about Brazil and the people who live there also.

Sister Phyllis Tierney's write-up of her last week of being in Brazil --

Brazil Diary Week 4 (November 3-10)

Sister Anne Marvin and I arrived in Felizburgo Friday afternoon around 4:30 pm. Felizburger is a village nestled in the mountains. Stone streets and houses of various colors dot the streets. Although the name of the village means `happy,` there has been much sadness here. Last week a young deaf-mute man was murdered. The young man charged with the crime has a history of violence and murdered his own father. He went to prison and the mother paid to have him released. The Sisters tell me that a few years ago a group of land settlers were murdered. The land which they occupied had been returned to the state. The absentee landowner hired gunmen who entered the area and shot them. This is another example of the violence that still accompanies land reform.There will be a commemoration for the seventh anniversary on November 20.

Sisters Suzanne Wills and Anne Marvin live with two Sisters from other Congregations in an intercongregational house. Barbara and Reginalda don’t speak English but we seem to be able to communicate well. Í was warmly welcomed!

Suzie’s primary ministries are Baptismal classes and the Pastoral de Criança. Anne works with the Pastoral de Sobridadace. Alcoholism is a huge problem in the area. The Church response has been to create a special program. Anne attended a training with two other community leaders in 2010 and is working to implement the program in the community. It is similar to AA but the group meets weekly. In time the group hopes to offer prevention programs as well.

Saturday, November 4

I accompanied Suzie to a Baptismal class for sponsors. Her Baptismal team came with her and led the instruction. We met in a house and the living room was a bit crowded. Suzie placed symbols on the rug and used them during the instruction: a bowl of water, candles and small candles wrapped in salt which she gave to the godparents at the end of the class. The participants were attentive and listened while she explained the Sacrament and the responsibilities of the godparents. Afterward she asked if they were familiar with the Sacraments and how many they had received. The only sacrament many had received was Baptism!

Saturday evening I accompanied Anne to a ``celebration.`` The parish is made up of various communities with lay leaders. When no priest is available the community has a service of the Word…Scripture readings and prayers as we say them at Mass. This particular community is very small but they are building a church! We met in a partly completed building.

Sunday, November 5

Suzie and Anne were going to one of the rural communities that was about an hour away for the Pastoral de Criança. This is a program which is sponsored by the Church to ensure the health of children. Children between zero and six years are weighed monthly to check on their physical development. Mothers are given advice for healthy diets. The program also works with pregnant mothers. The Sisters train leaders in each community to take responsibility for carrying on the program.

I was impressed with the dirt roads in Uberlandia. They were nothing compared to the roads here!! Dirt roads wind around the mountains and the curves are steep. Roads may be rutted and you will definitely meet herds of cows sitting in the road! Anne is an incredible driver! The scenery was breathtaking as we passed mountain ridge to mountain ridge!

We had a passenger, a farmer who was going back to his farm. His wife, Lou, was preparing dinner for us when we arrived. The farmhouse was nestled in a crevice in the mountains next to a huge black boulder. To get to the house we drive over a stream. A waterfall is below us! Huge black rocks dot the mountains in various places. Palms grow on the mountainside and on top of the mountains. The house was made of adobe. Lou had prepared a delicious meal, the usual rice and beans and gallina (fresh chicken) as well as vegetables and salad.

After we ate, we wanted to look at the waterfall and take some pictures. A horse was grazing near the water. He turned and looked at us as if to say, ``I’m ready. Take my picture! ´´ We walked to the top of the hill near the waterfall and a woman and girl from another house came up to greet us. Lou´s son had lived here and had recently sold his property. We had to cross the stream to get to the other side. I was a bit nervous but the woman put another stone in the stream and Anne helped me across! Suzie and Anne discovered that they knew the woman’s mother in Felizburgo. We had a lovely visit and then it was time to go to the school where a celebration would take place and then Suzie would weigh the children.

The school is a rural school that only has classes to fifth grade. It is located by itself on the top of a hill. I was surprise to see that many of the women and children were already there. There weren’t any houses in sight. Most of them had walked. One or two came by horse. The scale for weighing the children was hung from a tree. A swing was attached for the babies to sit in. Each month the children’s weight is recorded and compared with a healthy weight. When we were finished, we had refreshments, a necessary part of every gathering!

Lou was riding back to Felizburgo with us and we picked up another man along the way. Transportation is very difficult since few people have cars or trucks. Some have motorcycles. Even here in Felizburgo most people walk. Buses are available to go to the next towns. When I wake up in the morning I often hear the clip-clop of horses´hooves. Every form of transportation is used! When the rains come the dirt roads turn to red mud and are almost impassable. Dump trucks from the city will come out to pick up people for special events. It´s the only way to get through!

We return to Felizburger in time for a bite of supper and a quick shower before the 7pm Sunday liturgy. It is the celebration of All Saints Day and also the 7th Day Mass for Mateus, the young man who was murdered. Imagine my surprise to see his picture projected on the wall! The projector is used for liturgy. Hymns are projected for the community to sing. At the end of the service there was a special reflection on Mateus´s life.

Monday, November 6

It was a quiet day to re-group. I went to visit some of the homes with Suzie. She is visiting her leaders from the Pastoral de Crianza to get ideas for Christmas. Her helpers are making gifts for the children in the program, clown dolls made from plastic bottles and caps. She needs other favors for whoever comes and she is looking for ideas! Suzie is the ``recycle queen.`` She knows how to use every scrap of material, every piece of plastic or paper available to create something new! I have been very impressed as I visit how nothing is wasted. Paper is at a premium and there won´t be any paper towels! I am reminded of how mindless we are with using the resources we have. It isn’t that way here!

Tuesday, November 7

It rained all day and into the night. I washed clothes and wonder if they will dry by Saturday when I leave! In the afternoon Suzie and I went to visit some of her leaders. I met Dona Neuza, a lovely woman who had been in charge of the Pastoral de Criança before Suzie arrived. She provides Suzie with some material for one of her current projects. She is making medallions for the Confirmation class to wear. The homes we visited today were modern and very `first world.´

Afterward Suzie and I stop to visit a very young mother, a girl of only thirteen who has recently had a child. She and the child’s father live with her mother. The girl´s father and uncle were among those who were massacred seven years ago. The Bishop is coming for the sacrament of Confirmation this weekend. It will be held in another community. This young teenager is supposed to be confirmed!

In the evening I accompany Anne and Barbara to a Bible Study in one of the neighborhoods. The group has a lovely chapel. Booklets are used for the `encontros´ that follow a particular sequence. All of the small communities in the diocese will use the same booklet. It is a prayerful celebration with song, scripture reading and reflection, and sharing of the Word by the community. On this rainy evening the group is small but very welcoming! One of the women asks if I am going to stay in Brazil!

Wednesday, November 8 –

It’s still rainy! (This is the rainy season, but we haven’t seen much until now. It’s cool, unusual for this time of year, I am told! Suzie and I visit two of the community leaders in Bella Vista. One of them, Erni, also is a leader in the Baptism preparation. Erni has enough land around her home to plant a huge garden and sell some of the food it produces. The second person we visit has a 93 year old mother whom she takes care of. Her mother has been bed-ridden for eight years. Both of these women have been leaders in the church community in this section of the town. They share the job of treasurer for the community. It has active members but they do not have a chapel and now they would like to build one.

Thursday, November 9

Reginalda has to go to Jequitinhonha to pick up tee shirts for Confirmation . Suzie and Anne and I go with her and then drive on to Guaranilandia.

We visit a woman who weaves. She teaches this art to children in the school so it won’t be lost. She sells her work and those of other weavers in the community. It was difficult to choose what to buy! She showed us her looms and gave a demonstration on how she weaves and how she spins thread from yarn. She charges very little for the handwork that she does and gave us each a piece to take home besides what I had purchased! We had lunch in Jequitinhonha and then we visited a man who makes figures from clay. He was able to portray every aspect of life in these clay figures and we were impressed! On our way home we stopped for ice cream. It was a special treat. Everyone self-serves and the dish is weighed anad we pay accordingly. The proprietor visited with us afterward and Suzie asked if he would open a place in Felizburgo. He said, ``Nao, esta frio!`` We all laughed. It was just what we had been experiencing!

Friday, November 10-~

Suzie is getting lunch ready (dinner for us!) Everyone else is cleaning house except me! I´m writing on the computer! My journey is growing to a close and tomorrow we will be leaving for Bella Horizante. On Sunday I will fly back to Goiania. This will cut the journey in half (only 15 hours instead of 30!)

There are many social problems in the area. Huge areas of land have a single owner. Farmers used to raise rice and beans and some grew coffee. Now the area is almost completely given to raising beef cattle. Herds graze on mountainsides and over large areas of land. In the past share-croppers were hired to work the land. Herding cattle does not require many workers. This leaves the poor without means of support.

There is a distinct class difference between the rich and the poor. It is referred to as ``coronelismo.`` There is a tenderness between the classes but those who have wealth treat others as though they were below them. This creates an issue in the community when those who live in poorer areas are overlooked for leadership in the communities. The Sisters are challenged in trying to serve the whole community.

As I reflect on my visit to each of our Brazilian communities and the challenges that each one faces, I call to mind again that where one of us is present, all of us share in the mission. We need to pray and support each other in whatever challenges our ministries present!

I am happy to report that Phyllis arrived back home safely, on Wednesday, AM - Nov. 16th -

She promises us some pictures, when she can get them orgainzed -

Welcome home, Phyllis!