Living In Brazil
Reflections On The Biggest Catholic Country In the World
Brazil, large in land mass, large in population, rich in all the earth's natural gifts, wood of every kind, the best natural fruit in the world, fish, oil, gold, gems, an abundance of fresh water, animals of every kind, some of the best weather in the world, no hurricanes, no earthquakes, warm gentle rains, and only in the high mountains does it get cold in the winter. For most of the Brazilians 70 degrees is cold. For a Catholic like me it also has the largest Catholic population in the world, 270,000,000.
Being retired in Fatima, and working an apostolate that I can do anywhere in the world, I determined to get out of this cold winter here and try Brazil for three months to see if I would like living there. The dollar in Portugal is only worth 75 cents now against the Euro and a cup of coffee in Fatima costs 1.05 cents in a coffee shop, but in Brazil it is .15 cents. My rent in Fatima was only 300 Euros but that is 400 dollars now. In Brazil the same place is 120 dollars. Strong incentives for checking things out. In Fatima we have two priests spending 6 months here from Brazil, one from San Paulo and one from Salvador, Bahia. San Paulo is the biggest city and full of crime so I opted to look at Salvador, Bahia, because it is smaller and surrounded by salt water and beaches, and a hundred islands. The internet supplied me with a lot of information on Salvador, 340 active churches in one city, hundreds of miles of beaches, great fishing, and most of all, the world famous Brazilian beef.
Now no one is stupid enough to travel to the bottom of the world for three months without contacts, so I made some on the internet and found that going before Ash Wednesday was impossible because Salvador is world famous for the Pre Lent Carnival and no rooms would be available, so this postponed my trip to the day after Easter, but not a day later since I had to be back in Fatima, by April 10th at the latest. The plan was to see in three months if I would or could live in Brazil, where the costs are in my reach. Father Roberto in Fatima called Brazil for me and set up to have me picked up at the airport and to have a place ready on the beach for me to rent and a car to get there. Poor man, I had him call at least 10 times to make sure I was picked up and had a place to live because my Portuguese is still poor. But sure enough all my careful planning went to nothing, because in Brazil, people told Father Roberto to not worry, they would take care of me. And they did, but?????
Father's nephew, a 25 year old kid in college with a wife and child, and no money to his name borrowed a car and took a good friend of his to the airport where they waited for me. However, back in Lisbon airport where I boarded the plane and it went out to the runway, it suddenly stopped came back and shut down its jets and we sat there for over an hour. Suddenly after an hour three police men boarded the plane and went down from seat to seat looking for someone. I was almost sleeping when they asked who I was and I told them. They asked me to get my bags and leave the airplane. Outside on the ground I handed them my passport and Portuguese Permanent Residency and the police looked at it and said that they were very sorry and for me to please get back on the airplane. Going back on the plane, he asked if I had any idea why they were there and I said that I did not. I do now, after returning to Fatima, but more on that in another Newsletter.
In the mean time, my two Brazilian friends were waiting at the airport for me and I was one and a half hours late. Apologizes and Bom Notes and off we went to get me settled for sleep. No hotel, but off to Father Angelo's home where they had arranged for me to spend a few nights as they looked for an apartment for me to rent. But my friend, who had never been to Father Angelo's house before, could not find it and Father Angelo's phone was not working. He finally called his aunt and dropped me off at her home to sleep in one of her spare rooms. There I was, not knowing where, with a woman who did not want me there and who could not speak a word of English, waiting for morning so I could be picked up to be taken to my own place. But no - in the morning I was finally taken to Father Angelo's place, where he placed me in a room with 4 beds. This house already had 5 people living there, and I could see that by my being there one had to sleep in the living room. No one spoke a word of English, but do not worry, the next day three more people were coming to stay there, three priests from Germany and they would share the one bedroom with me and the four beds. To make matters better, Father Angelo takes care of his mother who has lost it and if they do not lock her in the house she runs off and cannot find her way home. This means that I was locked in also until my guide could come back for me.
Now consider that I was not sure I would stay in Brazil or not, but could not keep up two places - one in Fatima and one in Brazil, so I gave away 2000 Catholic books, all my furniture, stove and refrigerator, kitchen stuff, blankets and towels, and my car. Now I am committed to Brazil for at least 3 months. I waited until someone woke in the morning and went downstairs to breakfast with Father Angelo, who speaks no English, and coffee and bread. Fabio finally came to take me, where? He had no idea where to go and find me a place to live so he went to Father Roberto's sister's place and took her son, who spoke English up the street to an apartment complex of 6 stories. It had a one bedroom brand new apartment almost ready overlooking Father Roberto's church and the beach and within walking distance of stores and a gym and the beach. Great place but no furniture, no stove, no refrigerator etc. and not cheap, in dollars about 425 a month. But at this stage I was ready to take it anyway, so I agreed. But we had to go to another place to make a deal and it was not open that day.
Now it was time to open a bank account and to change Euros into Reals. We went to Brazil's biggest bank and even to some Travel agencies to change money but the tax on the exchange was so great that I was loosing 20% up front on the exchange. I did it anyway with 700 Euros. Then to take the Reals and an American check and open a bank account. No! Cannot do it. You must be a Permanente Residencia in Brazil to open a bank account. But I protested, I had a bank account in Portugal on the first day I was there and was not a permenent residence, and I have a bank account in America and I do not live there. I want to put money in, not borrow money. No! Cannot do it. But then how am I to cash American Checks in Brazil? No! You cannot. I walked away from the bank with only two options, I could send checks to my daughter or friend, and have them wire me Western Union money each month, but their phones and addresses are only in my computer. Where can I set up my computer, and get access to these phone numbers. Father Angelo's phone lines are not working. So much for my first day and that night the three priests arrived from Germany, except they were not three priests as Father Angelo thought, but one priest and two young college students tagging along. The two college students, spoke German and English and the priest spoke German and Portuguese. He was born in Brazil near San Paulo but getting his doctorate in Germany.
At dinner, Father Angelo talked with the priest and I talked with the two college students. But the priest wanted to know why the American's were so stupid as to put Bush back in office over (of all things) a moral issue. I told him that for the first time in American history the Catholic and Protestant Churches stood up and voiced political truths, that we cannot vote for a pro-abortion candidate, and that even the Holy Father said this. His reaction was "How stupid!" Father Angelo did not know what we were talking about but I then realized that I was going to be spending time with a "modernist" priest. Not my favorite thing.
The next day Fabio was to pick me up in the afternoon to look again for a bank and an apartment. Father Angelo, however, was insisting that I go on a tour with the modernist priest and his two companions. I told him that Fabio was coming but he said not to worry, be calm, be calm. He had a friend looking for an apartment also. As yet he did not know about the bank problem though. The two English speaking boys and I have no idea where we are going. We walked down to a bus stop (something I never ride), took a bus to a boat taxi dock and boarded a boat, where I handed the priest 50 Reals for a 10 Real ride and never got change from him. An hour later we are on a very large island and small run down town, running off to get into a Volkswagen van. Another hour and a half trip over bumpy roads and stopping everywhere to ask others is they wanted a ride for such and such amount of money until we were packed in like sardines. After changing to another van and another long ride across the Island we came to another city and ran to catch another boat to another Island, but we had not even seen this one yet. Again the priest put out his hand for another 50 Reals for another 10 Real ride and never gave back the change.
We docked at what seemed a small little town on another Island with an old church on the top of the hill. Luis was always rushing us but to where I did not know. We ran off down a dirt path to an old castle in ruins that protected the slave trade boats moving into the harbor. The old cannons were still there. Then he wanted us to go swimming in pools of water in the rocks left by the high tide. No one told me where we were going so I was the only one without a bathing suit. I left them and went back to the town looking for a bathroom and a beer. After a needed beer in over 100 degree temperature I walked up the mountain to the Church assuming that the priest would find me there. Across from the church was a restaurant featuring American hamburgers and now hungers hit me as I never eat breakfast. I would wait and be polite to my guide so I had another beer instead and looked down the hill for them to return. They finally came back and I waved at them from the top of the hill. Luis and his three followers came up the hill, where I told them I was hungry but he insisted that there were better places to eat. From there we went on tour of the town which was much larger on the other side of the mountain. Up and down streets of many restaurants and what-not-shops, mostly clothes and almost bathing suits. For the first time in both Portugal and Brazil I was seeing wood buildings, something I have not seen since America. Now he said he was taking us down the hill to a world famous beach, but still I insisted on food. He took me to a very small and dirty restaurant, where there was food that I did not understand in picture or word. He ordered for himself, but I decided that I was not that hungry. He ate and I had another beer.
Since we were now going to a beach, my three companions with bathing suits wanted some sun tan lotion, and I decided to get some also. Then I got into an argument with a young girl who spoke good English about buying sun-block 32 instead of my normal sun-block 2. I finally left her store and went to another where I found pure Coco butter with sun-block 2. I lived 4 years on an Island dead on the Equator, and although I saw people get third degree burns in only one hour, I could stay in the sun 12 hours a day without problems. What most people do not know is that you cannot even get a tan with 32 sun-block.
Now we walked down the hill and there in front of me was the best beach I had ever seen and packed with at least 3000 sun bathers. Jetting out on both sides was land bridges that made the water calm and crystal clear. From on high you could see to the bottom of the water and it was mostly white sand. Large restaurants were everywhere with service right on the beach and I even saw them bring beer out into the water. Every kind of food in the world was there in small booths, German, Italian, French, Brazilian beef, hamburgers, and things I had never seen before but I tried many of these things. You could lie on the beach and people would bring you almost anything that you wanted. Why had we not come straight to here?
The Far Top beach is where at least 3000 tourists were
This was the height of the tourist season, winter in Europe, but I could see that this would be a great place to enjoy the sun and view and finish writing a book or two. It would be calm and peaceful during Europe's warmer times. It turned out that our guide, Luis was born on this Island and he said that I could rent a place here for 150 dollars a month on a year lease and maybe build a house later. This was Saturday though and Luis wanted us to come back again on Monday to check this out. But first I had to solve the bank problem.
My three friends went swimming but I had no suit, only levis and tennis shoes but I did take off my shirt and put on coco butter and found someplace to eat great food. Within an hour I was getting a tan and the next day comments were made that they were burnt and I was tanned in only one hour. Although 66 years old I am in very good shape, working out in a gym 365 days a year, so I somewhat embarrassed my three friends, but at this time I did not care as I was not happy with them, at least the priest. Normally I do all I can to hide the fact that I am in good shape even for a 20 year old.
It may seem strange that I was quite comfortable with 3000 people in bikini bathing suits, as a daily communicant, but I do not see woman as sex objects anymore, just as people. I could not help notice, however, that my three friends, even the priest, were not so comfortable. I wanted to check out apartments but this was not my day, I was just a tag along. Looking at the houses on the side of the hill, many empty, I could see that this was heaven on earth. Problem was one Mass a week in the Church but I could become the Eucharistic Minister and have communion services the other 6 days, and I am sure there are many on the Island that would like that. Great and friendly people, and many who spoke many languages because it is a tourist town. Would love to have spent more time there but we spent so much time getting there, we had little time being there. I later found out that we could have taken a speed boat directly to the Island for 50 Reals, or 12 Euros, but in order to save 4 Euros we spent an extra 3 hours getting there. The tourists - well they are tourists, but the townspeople I loved. Not so in Salvador.
We went back to "home" four people in one bedroom, and a great dinner cooked by my love - more later. Fabio had come by wondering where I was, and would come again tomorrow. But again Father Angelo insisted that I go sightseeing around Salvador with these three Germans. Again it was a disaster. This time we had a car, but walking up and down hills was the order of the day in 100 degree temperature. I was sweating so much I bought a tee shirt and changed right in the street. It was now Sunday and we made it to 40 of Salvator's 365 Churches but in every case Mass was going on and we could not really visit. We had made it already to Father Angelo's mass, which I will hold for good points. Every Church was beautifully decorated and the Masses were almost Tridentine in that they all had communion rails and everyone knelt for communion. Reverence was great, and considering that the moral code here leaves something to be desired I was surprised at the reverence. Nothing Charismatic or far out, just good old fashioned Catholic devotion.
The poverty, or apparent poverty, will oppress you, as everywhere someone has a hand out, for guarding your car, for washing your window, for just a donation because they need or want it. Prostitution, famous in Brazil, was not so apparent, but then we were never out at night. I was approached by a poorly almost dressed girl of about 14 years old once but she would not have appealed to me had I been looking for this. Brazil is about 6% black, 28% European, 66% Mulatto (half black and half European) who are beautiful people. Although we visited the slave jails at the port (now a restaurant) and saw many squares were there were two Churches, used in the past for an all black church and an all white church, there was no present day racial problems, and no one seemed to see any color, only people, and loving people at that. Our guide, Luis, worked so hard to please us and show us everything, but I have to admit that I was not a good person most of the time, since I was spending my only cash without knowing if I could open a bank account. Although I took 1000 Euros, considering that I had to pay three months in advance to rent an apartment, and no assurance that I could cash checks after that I was not ready to just relax.
After all this I saw that Luis was walking home a very unhappy man, and I wondered about this. Then I realized that the three Germans had not given him anything for two days of tour guiding and a lot of work. I later saw that he was a very poor man that often worked free for the church, but expected something when it was not church work. He got nothing from anyone for two long days work. The next day Fabio would pick me up and we were going to try an American bank, the Bank of Boston.
But that night, my love, Father Angelo's cook was trying to tell me something in Portuguese. Truth is that I understood her but thought that she was making a mistake because a famous American nun was shot to death on Saturday, and she was saying that "Sister Lucia died" but I thought that she meant that the Sister in Brazil was killed, which I knew about. She kept repeating it, knowing that I did not understand it to be Sister Lucia of Fatima. Then Father Angelo came in and confirmed it and showed me the front page of the Salvador paper, "Lucia of Fatima had died the day before". Although I do not understand people talking very well, I can read Portuguese. I was stunned. I had told Our Lady at the Shrine that I would little by little make a home in Brazil because of the corruption in Fatima, but if Lucia died I would come right back.
The next morning Fabio came over to take me to Boston Bank but I had him take me to Portugal Air instead and we changed my ticket from April 10 to that day, although late that night. I filled Fabio's car with 100 Reals of gas and took him to a first class restaurant for Brazilian beef, another 100 Reals. When we got to the airport I gave him 300 Reals for the help and boarded the plane for Fatima. All across the world for 4 days in Brazil.
Fabio was a wonderful kid, and worked very hard to help me. I owe him more that what I gave him, but Luis got nothing and when I can return or figure out how to pay him I will. Father Angelo gave me a place to live for 4 nights and food everyday for nothing and he also I owe. Father Angelo was one of the most angelic priests I have ever met, and going to his Masses was a great pleasure. He is very much loved by his flock, and full of charity. His house cook though, caught my heart. I do not know her name but she was full of love and charity, love of God and people, and charity for both. When talking of her love of God and His Mother, she would well up in joyful tears. A heavy set black woman, she had eyes of love that would go through a brick wall like me.
Well I am back in Fatima with no home and no car, but will not do this trip again until I get Permanent Residency before I go.