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Pain, suffering, healing and hope....

I wonder how you would describe the mystery we celebrate when we participate in the Eucharist?
Having made contact with Revd Mark Simpson, another fine anglican priest sponsored by CMS, I was invited to join him at the Saturday night Street Church based in Rio's (notorious) city centre...

For me, it was a moving expression of what I understand to be a priestly role and a humble living out of what I understand 'Liberation Theology' to be about...

This theological thinking, expounded by Gustavo Guiterrez ( amongst others) sees the Gospel as an expression of God's love for all, but with a particular emphasis on God's siding with the poor, the downtrodden and oppressed - all those (like the street dwellers of Rio) who may feel they are outside society's (and God's) love...
Such a theology is not only to be expressed in the Gospel but also in the way we, as Christian's, share God's love, care and concern in practical ways....

All this was to be witnessed in Rio's Street Church....
Beggars weren't given money but helped in other ways.
Bill (a retired expatriate Chemist still working with the Brazilian government) would dispense pharmaceuticals that could be bought over the counter but which the poorest of the poor simply couldn't afford.
One woman spoke to Revd Mark of how receiving communion, Mark's intercessions and Bill's medications last week had cured her chesty cough...

Other members of the congregation spoke (in Portugese) of their recent circumstances (back pain from sleeping rough, lack of fresh clothes or nappies for their children or simply sharing something of the day to day burden of living on the streets....)
During the week local business folk - and city eateries- might give them their 'scraps' but the city is largely deserted over the weekend and this brings extra pressures on those trying to survive...

Meeting those desperately trying to simply live challenged me to reflect upon all those luxuries of life I take for granted ( food, clothes, shelter, health, safety etc. etc.) and of all those moans and groans I am capable of expressing - all overwhelmingly trite in comparison to the plight of these poor people!

By 7pm other members of the church had arrived: a billboard transformed into a cross, a rickety street counter changed into an altar (complete with Chalice & Paten) and a retired Bishop Santos had donned his alb and stole over his purple shirt.

Songs were sung (to the accompaniment of CDs), a Gospel reading shared (utilising one of the street dwellers willing and confident enough to do so in public) as well as the congregation receiving a testimony from an ex-street resident who spoke of how we are all made in God's image and how, with God's help, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the assistance of the Street Church, he had turned his life around, moved into accommodation and got himself a job!
Such Gospel / Good News was greeted with cheers, applause and "Halleluiahs!"

God was real - very real - for these people reliant upon God's bounteous grace as offered in the sacraments and in many practical ways...
(Some received the sacraments - others chose not to and I was privileged to accompany Mark with the chalice. Although he wanted me to administer the host, I didn't know the Portugese!?!  To be involved in the administration is such a privilege - as it always is!)
By the time we'd finished administering communion and singing our final song, some 80+ people had quietly formed a line to receive the distribution of food, clothes and nappies - all expertly distributed by a calm churchwoman who wouldn't stand any nonsense from anyone...!

I was touched by the expression of God's love in word, sacrament and practical action.
This was church (and no building in site!) for all those who attended!

Bishop Santos's interaction with people and the liturgy was inspiring; his personality truly charismatic - bright eyes welcoming, reassuring, loving and caring...
(I later learnt that he had a background in Psychology.)

Revd Mark also spent a great deal of time chatting and praying with people as well as ensuring that I understood what was being said and was made to feel at ease...

In all that went on  - the chats, the worship, the setting up, the serving of those in need and the physically, demonstrative 'Latin' handshakes / hugging and kissing of these people living on the street - I sensed God's love and it was a moving privilege to be a (very small) part of what takes place in Rio every Saturday night...

Here, indeed, was God's beauty and brokeness, healing, sustenance and hope celebrated and offered to all...


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