The Archbishop of the Anglican Church in Canada was visiting Brazil, and while visiting a mission in an impoverished neighborhood, was robbed at gunpoint.
He says, that while shaken, the incident underscore the need for the Church to be present among the poor and marginalized, and that this is the reality that many of the local clergy and lay ministers face every day. “…we’re going to get on a plane and fly away, and these people— this is what they live with.”
In the early afternoon of November 23, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, and Archdeacon Paul Feheley, his principal secretary, had just gotten into their car after visiting the small Anglican church of St. John the Baptist in Belém, Brazil, when a group of young men holding guns surrounded them and began rifling through their pockets for wallets and phones, and removing watches and rings from their hands.
“At one point I was in the back seat with Paul, and they had my left arm out one window and my right arm out the other window trying to pull my rings off. They got my bishop’s ring, but they didn’t get my wedding ring,” Hiltz recalled. And, after getting as much as they could, “they were gone as quick as they came.”
Hiltz and Feheley had come to the church earlier in the morning with the primate of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, Archbishop Francisco de Assiz da Silva, Bishop Saulo Maurício de Barros and his wife, Ruth, and the church’s rector, Fr. Marcos, as part of their trip to the diocese of Amazonia.
The Archbishop went to Belém to witness the presence of the church among the poorest in Brazil.
Located at the mouth of the Amazon River in northern Brazil, Belém is one of the nation’s largest cities, and the neighbourhood in which St. John the Baptist church is located, Terra Firme, is one of its poorest and most disadvantaged. The church is an established presence, though, and is in the process of finishing a building project to replace its original wooden structure, which had been compromised by rot, with a new brick-and-concrete building. Da Silva and de Barros wanted to show Hiltz some of the ways in which the Brazilian church is present among the poor and marginalized.
“They were excited to show us the church, because that church will represent for that neighbourhood a sense of hope—a place [where] they can worship and gather and do some social-action work, a little place for the children to play safely,” said Hiltz. “It helps us to have a deeper appreciation for the context in which the church tries to minister faithfully there.”