Hello friends and family, I hope you are all well and that this Lenten season brings you closer to God. Last week was an incredibly busy yet spiritually fulfilling time here in Ji-Paraná for our Salesian community and parish. We had such an amazing and blessed week and my soul is on fire with the Salesian Spirit!!
You might remember from my last update that we were preparing for the arrival of St. John Bosco’s holy relics here on the 15th of February. Brazil is the 6th stop of the pilgrimage celebrating the bicentennial of the birth of St. John Bosco, the founder of the Salesian order and champion of underprivileged children. The holy relics of St. John Bosco’s right arm and hand are inside a likeness of the Saint and contained in a beautiful and ornate crystal and aluminum urn. The urn weighs over a thousand pounds and is being transported in a specially converted van that will travel throughout South and Central America and then proceed into the United States and Canada. The urn’s journey began in Turin, in northern Italy, on April 25, 2009 in a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Salesian order. The urn will travel to 5 continents over the next 5 years stopping at Salesian sites in more than 120 countries.
Apart from the thousands of people in Ji-Paraná gathering for this two day event there were also Salesian priests accompanying the urn from some of the Salesian sites I visited during my trip up the Amazon. It was good to see them again and find out how things were at their sites. We had fabulous meals together and many of the parishioners were dropping off food and desserts and catching up with some of the priests that had been stationed here in the past.
The urn arrived at our parish, São José, around 3:30 p.m. on the 15th. Shortly thereafter we started the “Carreata” or caravan throughout the city. I rode atop the sound vehicle with some of the choir and parish ministers, next was a pickup truck with the altar servers, followed by the vehicle with the urn and Padre Alberto. After that, parishioners on motorcycles, bicycles and cars followed in procession through the main streets of Ji-Paraná. When we arrived back at the parish the urn was off-loaded and brought into the church where everyone could finally get near and touch it. The priests celebrated mass to a packed church later on in the evening and then a vigil was held until midnight by the different parish groups.
On the 16th the outlying communities had their turn to pray and hold vigil before the urn. After lunch we had “Gincana” or youth games over at the center followed by theatrical presentations, songs and dances headed up by the young. The solemn mass that evening was presided by the Bishop of Ji-Paraná, Dom Bruno, an Italian Salesian. I had never seen the church that full, there was standing room only and everyone there was in great spirits. Immediately following the mass we had a “Procissão Luminosa” or lighted procession through the streets. We walked along with the urn carrying our candles, singing songs and praying. After the procession the Bishop gave his final blessing which included a plenary indulgence from Pope Benedict XVI to those who make a pilgrimage to see and pray before the urn in various locations around the world.
At 8:00 a.m. the next morning the urn was loaded into the specially converted van and parted for its next stop in Porto Velho. The urn will travel to Manaus for its final destination in Brazil and then move onto Bolivia.
I had the privilege of going to Turin, Italy in 2005 and seeing the urn there in the Basilica of Mary Help of Christians but it was 100 times more powerful to experience it here surrounded by thousands of faithful Catholics devoted to St. John Bosco and the message of his life to the youth of the world. I am very proud to call myself a Salesian and to be a part of this wonderful family. I know my Salesian brothers and sisters throughout the world are anxiously awaiting the pilgrimage of the urn to come to their sites and I hope and pray that their experience is just as rewarding.
I hope you all have a profound and spiritual Lenten season, please keep us in your prayers as you all are in ours. God bless!!
Steve Widelski is a current Salesian Lay Missioner in Ji-Paraná, Brazil.