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Brazilian Dialogue

Chance encounter yields delightful results

The whole experience of Brazil's Northeast is coloured by an encounter we had in the city of Salvador with a French man called Eric. But to share this I need to tell you the story of this encounter which began some months ago when I read an article in the Prairie Messenger. It was about a book translated from the Portuguese by Al Gerwing called Joining the Street People: Henrique's Encounter with the Trinity. I had the bright idea to ask Lawrence for it as a Christmas gift -- and would he please send it with one of our sisters in Toronto coming to Brazil!

So it was in Rio that I began to get acquainted with "Henrique," whose little book is really a diary of experiences with the street people in various places of Brazil and some in Bolivia between 1989 and 1997. Lawrence had suggested reading it in bits and pieces and not all in one go. That's what I did during all of our visits and also during our meeting. It formed a backdrop to all we did and saw during my whole visit. I often wondered what had become of "Henrique": Was he still living with the street people? Had he returned to France?

On Jan. 15, the last day of the plenary, we had a flight at 6 p.m. for Salvador. Marge (who had brought the book from Canada) and I had been joined by Maureen, from the UK province and Helen, from the Australia-Philippines province. In Marge's guide book, Salvador was described as a city that had preserved its African soul.

It's an amazing city which we began to explore the next morning. We walked down the hill where our sisters live, into the city centre, visited a church built by the slaves, who, according to Judite, our sister and guide, made this possible by selling the gold that was washed out of their hair while they worked in the gold mines! This was "their" church and they were proud of it.

In the square just up from this church during the early days slaves were bought and sold, after careful examination of their physical state. Slaves who acted up were also beaten publicly in this square as an example to the others. It was one of our black sisters who pointed out some of these details. We visited a museum which, among other things, had a large exhibit of the sacred personages of the Condomble, which combines African religious beliefs with Catholicism.

The following day was a special feast in the city for the Condomble, who represent quite a large sector of the people, it seems. In the afternoon, Judite drove us in her ancient little Volkswagon bug around the city, including some of the beautiful beaches, and we ended up at the Catholic University of Salvador where she has taught for some years and had just taken over the direction of the Institute of Theology.

We observed as we drove around the city, as well as from what we had seen in the morning, that Salvador seemed fairly poor. I asked her whether there were a lot of street people. She answered by saying that if we liked she could take us the next day to visit a lay community that works with the street people. We all agreed. Later at the supper table she told us that she had called Henrique who would be happy to meet us the next day. When I heard the name "Henrique," my ears perked up and I asked her if I had heard right. She said, yes, his name is Henrique and yes, he is French. I could hardly contain my surprise and wonder!

So I told Judite about the book I was reading, and how I had heard about it. I showed everyone the book and we were all somewhat awed by how this whole thing had happened and what was in store for us the next day.

Sister Darlene DeMong, NDS