This year, 2018, marks the 50th anniversary of Conventual Franciscan presence in northeastern Brazil. A program of celebrations began in 2017, when each friary celebrated a triduum in anticipation of the big celebration, scheduled for July 8, 2018.
The jubilee commemoration took place at the parish of Santo Antônio de Pádua in São Luís-Maranhão. Friar Francisco ARAÚJO SALES is the current pastor there. Mass was presided over by the Provincial Custos, Friar Clevis MAFRA DOS SANTOS. Concelebrating with him were Friars Alessandro PRETINI, Vicar Provincial of The Italian Province of St. Francis of Assisi (Central Italy); Angelo DI GIORGIO; Umberto FANFARILLO; and Olivier DE ALCANTARA COSTA. In addition, representatives from the other Brazilian Jurisdictions participated: Friar Nestor MARIN from the Province of St. Francis of Assisi (São Paulo), Friar Jovecí José Oliveira FILHO from the Province of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe in Brazil (Brasilia) and Friar Ronaldo Gomes DA SILVA from the Provincial Custody of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. in Brazil (Rio de Janeiro). All of the friars of the St. Bonaventure Custody participated, along with all their men in formation, members from other men’s and women’s religious congregations, and the faithful from our parishes in Maranhão and Ceará. In addition to celebrating the jubilee, the friars commemorated the witness of faith given by the first Italian missionaries who came to northeastern Brazil.
The mission of the Friars Minor Conventual, mainly in Maranhão State, began with the special invitation of the Most Revered Amleto DE ANGELIS, Bishop of the Diocese of Viana, Maranhão State. He asked the missionaries for help because his diocese was short of priests to carry out pastoral ministry and care for the poor.
The then Province of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul and the Seraphic Doctor St. Bonaventure, in Rome, responded to the Bishop’s request. In 1967 with the approval of the Chapter, the Province sent its first two missionaries to Brazil. Then on October 25, 1968, a group of missionaries arrived in Brazil, composed of Friars Antonio SINIBALDI, Mario PALONI and Luigi D’ANDREA, all friars of holy memory.
In 1969 two more friars were sent: Alessandro PENNACCHI and Luis FELIPE. Another two friars arrived in 1971: Mario GUIDI and Giuseppe STACCONE. Friar Carmine DI MICHELE arrived in 1984 and, finally, Friar Carmine CASTIGLIONE of the Province of Abruzzo arrived in 1986.
All these friars were sent exclusively for pastoral and missionary service in the less developed regions of the diocese of Viana, the poorest diocese in Brazil.
At first, In May of 1970, the friars were concentrated in São Luís, the state capitol. In time, only Friar Antonio SINIBALDI remained there. Friar Luigi D’ANDREA (of holy memory) was sent to the city of Zé Doca (today the Diocese of Zé Doca), then he was made Bishop of the Diocese of Caixas, Maranhão State, on October 29, 1987. Friar Mario PALONI was sent to the city of Governador Newton Bello. Friar Edoardo RORI was sent to the city of Bom Jardim, where even today there is a friary. For many years it served as a house for aspirants. It was a place to host young people coming from the small neighboring villages, and even from distant places, who were discerning their vocation for the first time.
The missionaries did not have an easy life. There were big challenges: the very hot weather, the lack of resources and the care of numerous communities outside the city. Nevertheless, they worked hard, zealous and committed, as they brought the Gospel and the Franciscan life to all the people and places they visited.
Thanks to the missionary work of these tireless friars and the example of their evangelical life, Friar Abdias MENDES RODRIGUES, one of the first native vocations, joined the Order and entered Conventual life in Maranhão. Today, Friar Abdias is a permanent deacon and collaborates in the pastoral activities of the Bom Jardim parish.
Through God’s grace, and the witness of the friars in that area, more vocations joined: Friars Francisco SALES, Antonio CRUZ, Almir AQUINO, Francisco VALADARES, Clevis MAFRA (Custos) and many others. Today they form a group of twenty-seven, solemnly and temporarily professed friars.
Back in January of 1988, the Menino Jesus de Praga formation house opened in Cohama, in São Luís, Maranhão State. Its main purpose was to house the postulants and newly-professed friars of the Delegation. Friar Luigi D’ANDREA was then the Formation Director.
In 1994, the friars came to Fortaleza in Ceará. There, they inaugurated the Beato Duns Scoto formation house. It was built to house newly professed friars who were studying theology. Friar Mario PALONI directed the Conventual presence in this area and oversaw the construction of the friary. Later, leadership of the friary was entrusted to the newly-ordained Friar Francesco SALES. He served as both formator and guardian.
Forty-six years after the Conventual Franciscan missionary presence was established in Maranhão and Ceará (1968-2014), the Delegation became the Provincial Custody of St. Bonaventure in Brazil. After four years of being a Custody, we are now giving thanks to God for our fifty years of presence in Brazil.
Friar Roberto Honorato REMÉDIOS, Vocation Animator and Formation Director