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in Brazil, March-June 1990
By Sr. Fidelis Abad Santos, SCMM
Filipino Missionary in Brazil
My Father Died
My father died when I was still very young. But the image he left with me is that of a very honest and just man. He was a Justice of the Court of Appeals then. I remember seeing gifts being delivered to our house from people whom I gather were asking him for favors and he would have them returned. He refused to be bought.
Bags of Money
I remember him calling us every now and then to gather by the window of our house and give us bags of coins to give to the slum dwellers' children playing outside the house. I don’t remember him preaching in words but his attitudes and example planted in me the seed of a desire for justice and true charity -- love, compassion.
Struggle to Survive
My mother had to struggle to bring us up all by herself. Many a time I would ask her how she did it seeing all five of us, her children, are so well brought up and formed. In all simplicity she would always answer that she did not “bring us up” because she was so busy earning a living for us. She would not claim credit for this very important thing but rather hand over the credit to us “you did it all yourselves” she would say.
Off to Brazil
But her ever loving presence and selfless love for us gave us the solid formation which no words or advice can give. And so I joined the Medical Mission Sisters and became a missionary in Brazil.
Thus I entered the most important school of education in my whole life: the Escola do Povo, Escola da Vida (in Portuguese) meaning; the school of the People, the School of Life.
Living with and like the poor, I have learned facts of life, realities that no books could teach me. Because I was taught and I learned from living their life, the poor became part of me, part of my being and not just in my head, intellect.
As I sit here this evening, real faces come to my mind -- faces of the poor and oppressed of Goias, the negros of Bahia, the marginalized women of Campina Grande, the farmers of Piaui, the basic Christian communities and the groups with which I formed cooperatives in Brazil. I live with them for seventeen years.
During my last months in Brazil, I had been feeling increasingly tired. However, I was still going on with my normal activities: cleaning the house, washing my clothes, going to the field with my cooperative group since we have a community farm, cleaning our one-hectare farm, going on foot to the different villages, meetings, liturgies. Many had cautioned me that working in the fields was too hard for me. But I thought and believed that I was no different from my people, therefore I wanted to go through what they had to go through. The daily one-hour relaxation exercises and contemplation gave me renewed strength to go through another day. But I noted that I was really getting more and more tired so, upon consultation with my team and community leaders, I decided to go on vacation. It was at this time that my sister sent me a free ticket to Los Angeles as her silver jubilee gift. She invited me to join them for a week’s vacation there. To make a long story short, I accepted this invitation.
The day I was going to travel to Rio de Janeiro, I fainted while taking a bath and regained consciousness an hour later on the floor in the bath room. Another fainting spell occurred upon my arrival in the bus terminal in Rio. When I got to my sister’s, I was taken to a Filipino doctor. I had not the slightest idea what was going wrong with me. And this is where my story starts.
I was lying in bed, tired and worn out, doing my relaxation exercises trying to silence my body and mind to experience the presence of God within me. Gently and lovingly, my sister, Diva, approached me. She sat by my side and said, “The doctor called and said you are in a serious condition. Your hemoglobin count is down to 5. You could have died in one of those fainting spells. It is possible that you have leukemia. We will hospitalize you for blood transfusions. Then we will plan for all the other necessary tests.” I was stunned -- not surprised nor afraid. I received the news ever so calmly and just answered, “OK”. She just quietly left me, and I laid there in silence. I thought how fitting it was that Diva my twin sister, would be the one to give me the news of probable death. She, with whom God had called me to life -- the two of us together -- she, with whom I shared life from the moment of conception.
They are dying a Slow Death
As I was lying there, I could see the poor with whom I worked and shared life in Brazil, laboring hard in the fields under the hot sun -- hard work -- the whole day, and hardly anything to eat when they reach home. I recalled how much I complained to my team about the ineffectiveness of Agrarian Reform Program of the government because the ones formulating it were not farmers and did not have experience of the plight of the poor. It is all so unfair! I felt its consequences as I myself was a victim with the people. I saw myself as the personification of this sad fate of the poor. They are dying a slow death. And, I thought, I was dying. It just happened that I reached the end of the rope sooner than they. They are still struggling. As though looking at myself from outside my body I said, Poor Fidelis. Look at her tired body. It can no longer sustain her undaunted spirit.” And, I felt myself intimately one, united with Him, “This is My Body; This is my Blood.” In my own little way, in union with Christ, I have nourished the courage and strength and lifted the hope and dignity of those people in Cubati! And I prayed, “Lord, I offer myself for their continued struggle for liberation, and for Your Kingdom.”
One Lonely Moment of Separation
My family was very sad and determined to do everything to save me, and so were our Sisters. I could feel their love enfold me. My mother prayed aloud, “Lord, don’t take my daughter. Take me instead.” With gratitude and love in my heart, I said to her, “No, if the Lord wants me, Let Him take me. I will go." This is my offering. I was ready to meet the Lord. I only felt the slight fear of that one lonely moment of separation, of passage from death to life. I prayed that I would be able to answer our Lord, “Yes, Lord, I have tried to live my whole life for You”
But I recovered. I am well again! This experience brought me to the realization of the eternal NOW. Every moment is an unfolding of eternity. My eternity starts now. Yesterday is no more, tomorrow is not yet. What matters is the NOW. I must be what I am called to be, now. And when I go to my innermost core now, I experience God who is my self, my family, my people, my friends. We are all ONE in the infinite.