By John Fitzpatrick
November 3, 2015

(Header Image: Celebrating 25 years of missionary activity in Angola)

An exhibition has just been held in São Paulo to mark 25 years of missionary work in Angola by members of the Brazilian Order of Franciscans.

The event was held in the historic So Francisco church and attracted hundreds of visitors, including worshippers and tourists.

The Brazilian Franciscans began their mission to Angola following a call made in 1982 by the global leader of the Franciscan Order, John Vaughn, an American, for them to go to Africa as missionaries.

The Brazilian order chose Portuguese-speaking Angola and the first missionaries – brothers Pedro Caron, Jos Zanchet and Plinio Gande da Silva – arrived in September 1990 right in the middle of the civil war that followed the end of Portuguese colonial rule in 1975.

(Image: A home is being built in Luanda for trainee nuns.) Despite the hardships, the Brazilian missionaries established a presence in four different provinces – Luanda, Malange, Quibala and Viana – where they preached the Gospel and looked after the spiritual and physical health and education of the local people. Some of their buildings were damaged during the fighting.

They were joined a few months later by Frei Odorico Decker who is a familiar figure to anyone who knows the So Francisco church.

Frei Odorico spent 10 years in Angola during which he travelled the country from north to south on foot or bicycle accompanied by his faithful harmonica which won him many friends.

“I went everywhere dressed in my cassock and playing my harmonica and visited families and old people who could not leave their homes. I brought comfort and the Eucharist and prayed with them. The war was going on and life was very hard for these people who welcomed me. Often I was the only outsider who had visited some of these places,” he recalled.

(Image: Frei Odorico spent 10 years in Angola during the civil war.) Frei Odorico was a keen photographer and many of his pictures were on show at the exhibition. He also wrote a book about his African experience.

The Brazilian venture into Angola was not a one-way process. The Franciscan lifestyle attracted many Angolans who decided to study to become brothers and nuns.

There are currently around 100 Angolan students in various stages ranging from beginners to ordained brothers.
An exchange program was set up for Angolans to come to Brazil to finish their seminary education in Santa Catarina and Rio de Janeiro.

One of these is 28-year-old Ermelindo Francisco who has been in Brazil for eight years and was won over by the work of the Franciscans.

“The Angolan people identified with the Franciscans because they were made up of simple people. The Franciscan ethic was very important. There is no difference between being a Franciscan and an Angolan because they are both a simple, happy and humble people,” he said.

The Franciscans are currently building a new home for aspirant nuns in Luanda. The project is being funded by donations from individuals and parishes. If you would like to make a donation, contact pvf@franciscanos.org.br.

John Fitzpatrick 2015

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