Famed Oblate missionary to the Dene, Rev. Rene Fumoleau, wrote after reading Henrique's Joining the Street People: "I'd have too much to say and to write about Henrique's life! There are still some channels open between heaven and earth. I'm thinking of excerpting some pages of the Jesus House (stories) and sending them to my friends. Those pages are worth all the preaching I ever heard about Christmas."
Fumoleau understands because for 50 years he has been at work among Canada's own excluded ones. And the excluded ones of one continent and those who stand in solidarity with them resonate compassionately with the excluded of other continents, as Jesus taught us to do.
I became very much aware of this in 1992 when the Earth Summit conference on the environment was held in Rio de Janeiro. The plane I was on had many Canadian delegates, including a number of Canadian First Nations people. They were aware of what the white race's coming had done to the Caribbean Islands, to South and Central America, as well as to North America, devastating one paradise after another.
The University of Calgary Press is currently reissuing Fumoleau's 1975 classic on the crown's treaties with the First Nations, As Long As This Land Shall Last.
Fumoleau has a new book in print, Here I Sit (Novalis), a book of poems in which he writes, "Let us celebrate in Jesus' house." His reference is to the cardboard house the street children of Salvador, in the state of Bahia, built "for Jesus to be born in." They made it big, "so that we can go inside to visit him." They first made do with a doll found in a trash heap, but then discarded that for a baby born in the street, with his 12-year-old mother as Mary.
The university, too, was moved to build a crèche, but an elaborate one, secured behind an iron grill.
The point Henrique was making can be illustrated by the Portuguese word encontro. It's a rich word that signifies more than our English equivalent of "encounter." Encontro carries a lot of spiritual and emotional freight, a deep meeting of minds and hearts, a profound sharing that can stimulate some even to the "community of goods" that so marked the Christian communities Luke describes in the Acts of the Apostles.
People could look at the university's crèche, and probably thought it was beautiful, but they entered into the Jesus House and found there a much deeper awareness of the Incarnation.
Among the children they discovered for instance that a box of sweets given to them could pass around a circle of 30 with the last person receiving as many pieces as the first. That's the "community of goods" in action.
Henrique comments, "Suddenly in this opening of hearts it seemed to me that I had never celebrated Christmas before and that the children were evangelizing me."