From MISNAOct. 22, 2010
“The Gospel travels on four wheels, motorbike, on horse and
donkey hooves and also on our two legs… faith is our fuel”. Father Andrea Gamba
doesn’t hide a smile under his short grey speckled beard when I meet with him in
BelÚm, capital of the northern State of ParÓ, in the Brazilian Amazon. He takes
the occasion of the start of the missionary month to tell MISNA of his
experience in Brazil, travelling with his mind to May 2006, when in the far
south of ParÓ visiting the more remote communities far from the TucumŃ parish
was a real adventure.
“Not that the situation is much easier today, but I remember that it was a harsh season: here the heavy winter rains sweep away any semblance of a road and often even bridges, which in the summer appear sturdy and well-built and in the winter turn into canes bent by the pounding force of the river waters”, explains the Xaverian missionary.
“Can you imagine travelling 300km in these conditions, each metre becomes a conquest. JosÚ would come with me, since he knew the forest because he had worked as a ‘madereiro’, wood gatherer”. It was Fr. Andrea’s first experience of remaining blocked with a four-wheel drive in the mud, without even being able to get out with a winch “that, also old like the car of 1993, broke under the weight after a first attempt… Only thanks to a tractor, two long days and nightmarish nights we reached the first community”.
Our next destination was even more difficult: “We had no alternative but to build a bridge to pass. We borrowed a chainsaw and after gathering tree trunks, built a sort of ‘ramp’ to allow us to pass. Later we were however forced to abandon the car and borrow a motorbike. There were no longer any roads, just mud! The tiny Our Lady Aparecida community at the foot of a hill in the Cedar Valley counts four families, and we reached them by horse, after also abandoning the motorbike, but on our way back the river had swelled so much that even by horse it was impossible to pass. We let the horse swim and crossed on a trunk, set across the river like a makeshift bridge”.
Other adventures attended Fr. Andrea and JosÚ on their journeys: “Also another time we were forced to abandon modern means and ride donkeys, then walking the last mile after a six hour ride… The cure to our tiredness was meeting one of the smallest communities of three families, who were filled with questions and interest, a will to grow in their faith. There we had the joy of celebrating the first mass of the community… This is missionary work, reaching where no one has passed before at all costs. The sacrifice of arriving already produces thanks in the people receiving the sacraments”.
The adventure in the far south of ParÓ “was a good experience to understand the lives and suffering of people who live in these areas, where the state barely exists and the presence of the Church is fragile. The danger is announcing the Word that navigates 3,000 yards above the reality that people live every day. Such experiences help diminish height and incarnate it”, explains the missionary. The joy of reaching all the communities “cannot be compared to anything in the world… No one was excluded from our presence, the love of Our Father reaches all, without distinction or barriers, as also the love of the Church reaches all without being intimidated by any difficulties”.
Without JosÚ, who everyone called Zŕ, “everything would have been a lot more difficult”, remembered Fr. Andrea. Zŕ, a 35-year-old black man, “has a past of sufferance and struggle for survival… He taught me the reality of the land in which we travelled, amid saints and sinners in places far from civilization, ideal for escaping any social controls, a good hideout for fugitives. There are white angels and black ones, and this friend was one of the black”, said Fr. Andrea.
“I urge your readers to leave their cars at home and take the bus, leave their bicycles and go by foot… if we want to be people and not a solitary crowd”, concluded the missionary.