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1braSr. Maria with the kindergarten childrenFaces of Hope: this is what we see in the eyes of every child and mother who has benefitted from the Children’s Pastoral (Pastoral da Criança) -- a work typical of Brazil and based on the Gospel preferential option for children and poor families. When we perform our service with love, joy and dedication, we help humanity come to full bloom. This ministry is a wonderful blessing, allowing participants to closely follow a child’s life from being in the womb until the child is six years of age.

Developing this work on the outskirts of the city can be a grueling task, but not for those who do it with love and dedication like Sr. Maria Goretti Pereira. She has been faithfully doing this work for many years. Let us hear her speak wholeheartedly of her experience.

In May of 1982, the seed for the Children’s Pastoral was planted in Geneva, Switzerland. Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, then Archbishop of São Paulo, Brazil and James Grant, former executive director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), met during a UN meeting on the problems of poverty and world peace. One year later in 1983, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops of Brazil entrusted the task of creating the Children’s Pastoral to the health officer and pediatrician, Dr. Zilda Arns Neumann and Archbishop Geraldo Majella Agnelo of Londrina, Paraná, Brazil. As a center of action within needy communities, the Children’s Pastoral teaches families how to take care of their children and identifies the ones who need special care. They also work to reduce violence against women and children.

In 1989, Dr. Zilda and others she had trained initiated the Children’s Pastoral in the Diocese of Jataí. On January 12, 2010, Dr. Zilda Arns Neumann, the Archbishop’s sister, fell victim to the earthquake in Haiti. A tireless campaignerwho expanded her work across many borders, she was in Haiti to introduce the Children’s Pastoral to this country. Her death was an irreparable loss to all.

In 2000, Bishop Benedito Domingos Coscia, then Bishop of Jatai, invited me to be the coordinator of the Children’s Pastoral at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish. I fell more in love with this ministry during each of the thirteen years I have worked here. Thus, I have an ever greater commitment and enthusiasm for the work we do.

I had just transferred to Pires do Rio when I was invited to take over the coordination of the Children’s Pastoral from Sr. Therese Tarsila Backes, FDC. From 2010 on, I have added more: coordination at Sacred Heart Parish, which extends a missionary effort to the Dr. Nadin Saud neighborhood on the outskirts of town. Along with a passionate group of volunteers I am very happy to provide assistance there as well. How rewarding it is to apply the basics of health, nutrition and education in human rights among the people of God!
Here, as in all communities served by this ministry, we put into practice a set of actions on behalf of children in need, ranging from early survival through childhood to improve the quality of life in needy families while seeking to fulfill the Gospel mandate: “So that all children have life in abundance”
(John 10:10).
bra2The Children’s Pastoral Basic Activities include:

1. Supporting pregnant women.

2. Promoting breast feeding.

3. Engaging in nutritional surveillance.

4. Suggesting alternative foods.

5. Helping to control respiratory diseases.

6. Engaging in other disease control efforts.

7. Discussing home-made remedies.

8. Encouraging participation in vaccination campaigns and routine vaccination of children and pregnant women.

9. Providing essential education.

10. Offering catechesis from prenatal to six years of age.

All of our volunteers are empowered to develop these basic activities.

The situation of pregnant women in rural Brazil is quite precarious because they generally do not seek the services of public prenatal care. Therefore, one of the most important functions of those leading this ministry is to motivate these pregnant women to seek such care. We do this by giving lectures and helping them understand the risks they are running by avoiding prenatal care, and the benefits to be gained from seeking this type of care. I am inspired by the word: “Go into the entire world and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).

Every year, the volunteers save the lives of thousands of children. Where they work, thirteen of 1,000 children die before they are one year old and seven of 1,000 are undernourished. In the rest of Brazil, 35 of 1,000 children die and 16 of 100 are undernourished.
Thanks to the work of the volunteers, families become part of a helping community, and as a result can improve their own situation. With the commitment of all those involved in the Children’s Pastoral and the support from the community, receiving prayers from everyone and acting in faith, we are sure that some day we will see people of all faiths pledging to seek a more just and fraternal world for those whom God loves most tenderly: the children.
I always have in mind these encouraging words taken from the Children’s Pastoral National Coordinator Sister Vera Lucia Altoé, CICC: “It is always very rewarding to get the women who are scattered over this immense Brazil collaborating with this, God’s plan, to bring life in abundance to all pregnant women and children, who are most loved by God!”

 

Sr. Maria Lucia De Oliveira, SFP and Sr. Maria Goretti Pereira, SFP

Published: June 9, 2014