martes, 29 de mayo de 2007


Sunday, May 20, 2007
By Harold Segura

It is my habit, when I’m traveling, that one of the first things I do when I arrive in a hotel is to ask for a telephone book and look for two references—the closes theological bookstores and Baptist churches (in that order). By the way, I increasingly find that there are more bookstores than Baptist churches. I rejoice at the former, but I’m concerned at the latter. But let’s go on. I did my usual exercise in Aparecida the very day I arrived. I found two bookstores, the Livraria Paulus and the Livraria e Locadora Católica. I visited both of them the same day because I still had time and because they were very close to Hotel Panorámico. As to the Baptist churches, I only found one, the Igreja Batista Renovada Monte Gerizim, so I noted down the address and telephone number and then I realized it was not in Aparecida at all, but in Cruzeiro, several kilometers from here. So when I was in São Paulo and met with Dr. Geoval Jacinto da Silva, Bishop of the Methodist Church, I asked him to find the address of one of his churches. He was very kind, and not only found the address, but also asked a family he knew to pick me up with their car on Sunday and take me to Guaratinguetá, a city with approximately one hundred thousand inhabitants, close to Aparecida. So today, on Sunday, I celebrated my faith together with new friends at the First Methodist Church in that city.

As we left the church, the family that welcomed me were very affectionate and, before taking me to a restaurant (a noble custom of evangelical families with visiting pastors), they wanted me to visit the house of the man who was formerly called Frei (Friar) Galvão and now, after last week’s canonization, is better known as Santo António de Santana Galvão. To my surprise, I was right at the city where this first Brazilian saint had been born. So there we went. It’s a simple white house with blue windows, where he was born in 1739. It has two stories, the lower one with relics of the Franciscan brother, among them a tiny piece of one of his habits, and then pictures that summarize his life, the original nails with which the first doors had been built, and even the key locks used by the friar in his time.

Before coming in, I decided to take a picture from the outside of the house. I was in that operation, when a man came close to me with much kindness—it was Fr. José Pietrobom Rotta, the parish priest of the Cathedral in the city and one of the twenty-four diocesan priests who are participating at the V Conference. “Pastor,” he said, “how glad I am to see you here.” He was surprised to see a Protestant minister among the pilgrims. He accompanied me to the inside of the house and there he introduced to me a sixth-degree woman cousin and a seventh-degree man cousin of the saint (he was that accurate). They all seemed to be very happy with my visit. They said to each other, “He’s a Baptist pastor who is attending the Conference in Aparecida.” The man cousin didn’t want me to leave without signing the guestbook. There was some laughter (I asked the parish priest whether Frei Galvão hadn’t been a Methodist, by chance), as well as friendly photographs and farewell hugs.

Well, so why am I telling such a personal story? I want to record it, first of all, because that’s what happened on Sunday. There’s no more to tell because the Conference held no sessions today. And second, because I think this is a small sample of the significance of daily encounters between people who are different in their faith. Ecumenism is not a mere issue for specialized theologians who shut themselves in behind a cloister wall to decipher the mysteries that separate them, and to come to sometimes cleverly phrased agreements. Ecumenism has this other dimension—that of daily life, of respect among those who don’t believe the same things, of easy friendship between those who are different, of courtesy, which is a sign of charity and an encouragement for a new world. Didn’t we have enough time in former years to abuse each other and to be intolerant on account of our faith? Without giving up our faith, we can leave our hatred behind and give witness to reconciliation. That too should be addressed at the V Conference.


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