Manaus (Brazil). Sr. Carmelita Conceição, Provincial of “Laura Vicuña” Province of Manaus (BMA), tells in an interview how the FMA are living the situation of the Covid-19 pandemic that rapidly touched the entire Amazon.

On May 18, 2020, the Pan-Amazon Ecclesial Network (REPAM), through a press release, presented the difficult situation of the Amazon, “caught in the grip between the Covid-19 pandemic, which affects human beings who are already very vulnerable, and the uncontrolled increase of violence in the territories.”

In the various countries of Panamazon, the Church echoes appeals and requests for help in a context that threatens the survival of this biome and its peoples: “Even as the pandemic puts the brakes on the economy, the sieving of gold (garimpo ) and the illegal deforestation of the indigenous lands of the continent continue at full speed.”

For this reason, REPAM calls for a united action to the indigenous peoples of the Amazon, to civil society of Panamazon, and to the world, to the Catholic Church, and to all religious denominations that are concerned with Creation, governments and international institutions for human rights, to the scientific community, to artists, and to all people of good will, to combine efforts in defense of Querida Amazonia’, with all its splendor, its drama, and its mystery” (QA 1).

How has life in the FMA communities of the Province changed?

“As in Cana, in this time of pandemic we were challenged to listen to the voice of Jesus through Mary who recommends doing what Jesus asks us”: ‘Living and sharing faith as a treasure that gives us the strength to face with hope everything that is happening in the world ‘ (Cir. 997).

Since March 2020 the FMA of the BMA Province are following the government directives on social distancing. The Amazon is severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, which initially spread to the capitals and adjacent municipalities, and is advancing inland, into indigenous areas and at borders.

Each Community of the BMA Province has re-organized its days, choosing to dedicate more time to community prayer and to daily Eucharistic adoration with the intention of praying for the end of the pandemic, for the victims of Covid-19, for the health workers on the front lines, for the government, and to thank God for the many gestures of closeness.  A huge global village of hope and solidarity has been built, beginning with reciprocal care within the Communities.

How have you met the needs of the people?

The FMA of the Province collaborate with the various Institutions who struggle for the rights and the defense of the most vulnerable peoples, raising awareness and organizing collections of primary goods for the families who have no food, nor hygienic conditions,  and for those who are homeless and unemployed.

Through the Rede Amazônica de Solidariedade e Resistência  (Amazon Network of Solidarity and Resistance) of Belém, a network of various Institutions and Religious Congregations for the collection of funds and help to reduce the impact of the pandemic on families in difficulty organized initiatives of solidarity in which participated many young people of the Salesian Youth Movement.

The Community of B. Laura Vicuña of Porto Velho, creatively responded to the needs of their dependents by encouraging them and giving them food packages.  Two times a week, the FMA collaborate with the Archdiocesan Seminary in the project ‘It is time to love and to serve’, which daily helps the homeless offering them a meal and the possibility of taking a shower and washing their clothes.

Solidarity arrived through the Economer General of the FMA Institute who sent the BMA Province a donation from the Japanese Alma Mater Province (GIA), containing food packages that were distributed to the Venezuelan migrants of the ‘Migrants House – Abrigo D. João Batista Scalabrini’ and to the indigenous communities in the countryside of the Manaus Archdiocese.  The FMA tie a letter to every package with the ‘Prayer in time of fragility’ in order to instill hope.  In collaboration with Mesa Brazil, the National Network of Food Banks and the Bank of Brazil Foundation, 250 packages of food and hygienic materials to the families who frequent St. Benedict Social Center and to other families in the area in collaboration with the Children’s Ministry.

The FMA of Mother Angela Vespa Community of Manicoré animated the oratory on the periphery every weekend before the pandemic.  The worry is that without activities the children have become more vulnerable, but from a distance, the sisters are in contact with the coordinator of the Santo Expedito Community to monitor the situation.  The Director of Our Lady of Grace School made a food donation to distribute to the families of the oratory children.

On 24 May, the Feast of Mary Help of Christians, in solidarity with the poorest people who live in the area of Pedrinhas, at Salinas, the FMA prepared kits with hygienic materials accompanied by a medal of the Help of Christians and a small book with the story of the help Don Bosco brought to the city of Turin hit by the cholera epidemic of 1854.

Which initiatives have been planned for the Schools and the Social Works?

The Schools followed the guidelines provided by the State Education Departments and the Labor Unions, organizing themselves on the basis of available resources. Pedagogical activities faced the biggest challenge of financial sustainability, and in April in an assembly, the Brazilian School Network – RSB offered concrete help to meet the schools most in difficulty due to the non-payment of monthly fees because of unemployment. In addition, the Network of Schools in Brazil made Digital Material available to students free of charge.

With the aim of accompanying students in the teaching-learning process, distance learning activities began on 30 March, promoting pedagogical activities and, according to Salesian tradition, ensuring a good morning online every day.

The educational community (administration, teachers, pedagogical-pastoral team) did not measure their efforts to adapt to this new way of teaching: it was necessary to reinvent it and discover new work tools, after a week of training and programming.

The Group Home Mamma Margherita of Manaus elaborated an ‘Emergency and Prevention Plan from Covid-19 Contagion’, for children and adolescents participating in the Institutional Welcoming Service, in the effort to inform, prevent, and reduce the risk of contagion among the guests and the institutional collaborators.

In Mother Mazzarello Social Center (CESMAZZA) of Porto Velho, a team made up of employees and volunteers assists families online, with clarifications and emergency help, depending on the family situation (illness, violence, etc.) and promoting access to virtual platforms for those who do not have the means. In addition, it has activated solidarity campaigns through which around 200 families are helped. 300 parcels were prepared with the basic foods to be distributed to families; 20 parcels were distributed to Vila Princesa, to residents near the landfill, and 20 to Cristal da Calama. Thanks to collaboration with the local organizations, in addition to the parcels, 400 masks and other food items were distributed.

During this time, many people turned to the FMA to receive help and they respond, trusting in God’s mercy, aware that this is not only a drama for humanity, but also a time of salvation, of Kairos.

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