The diocese’s important contribution in Brazil

Not because of the five bishops nor the number of priests, but simply for the good, generous people of the Diocese of Camden.

It is part of the history of the diocese that seems to have been forgotten, that leaves us poorer for the loss. In these difficult days for the church, the contribution of Camden and its unselfishness, openness and courage should be a source of confidence and strength.

If I am not mistaken, this past December was the 50th anniversary of the first priests of Camden to arrive in Brazil. The missionary work which completely funded travel, language study, maintenance, salary, helped many priest volunteers in the four parishes. They came to staff, to preach, to teach and to witness to Christ and his church. They built new churches in each of the parishes, at least one convent for the Franciscan Sisters of Joliet, Ill., who worked in the parishes, and one of the priests designed and was responsible for the construction of the Sisters’ Novitiate. The sisters are now a separate community from Joliet.

Work among the poor was not neglected. In Brasilia, the country’s new capital, the Camden parish there built a school in a squatter area of 40,000 inhabitants and provided religious instruction for the children and used the school to celebrate Sunday Mass. All the parishes and their priests helped with the needy.

This brief reminder of the diocesan work in that priest-needy land is but a sketch of what was possible because of the people of the diocese. It should be noted that two of the priests died while working in Brazil. One of them had been ordained a bishop.

The number of priests available for Brazil has diminished over the years as have the priests working in our parishes. Perhaps it is now coming to an end. No apologies are needed. The diocese has been remarkable for what it has contributed to the mission of the church.

Not because of the five bishops, nor of the men who have served in Brazil, but because of the good and generous people of the Diocese of Camden, the history should be told. The diocese deserves it.

Father William Eckert is a retired priest of the Diocese of Camden who served in the diocese’s Brazilian Mission.

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