The North East of Brazil: Seminarians and Priests from Gozo

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By Fr John Caruana

In December 1955, Joseph Galea of Sannat was the first seminarian from Gozo to go to the diocese of Joao Pessoa at the age of 22! He was ordained priest in 1959.
Fr José – as he became known – served as professor and master of discipline in the Seminary of Cajazeiras, and was parish priest in Sso Jose de Piranhas, in the parish of Itabaina, and for some time also served in Cachoeira dos Indios.

He later went to study sociology at La Sorbonne in Paris from where he moved to Louvain in Belgium and later to Rome where he completed his studies.
In 1973 he moved to Brasilia where he was appointed vicar of Sao Pedro de Alcantara where, apart from building a beautiful church, he opened a Trade School which could receive 300 students. It was funded by his friends in Gozo.
Fr Joseph was nominated professor at the Seminary in Brasilia. He published several books of profound spirituality including Livro de Catehismo e Liturgia das Horas in two volumes. He died in Brasilia on July 31st 2005 and was buried in the yard of the parish church which he built.

Salvatore Dimech travelled next to Brazil, followed by John Mary Cauchi and John Muscat. In 1963 Fr Paul Raggio joined the Gozitan priests and seminarians in Recife and was ordained at the hands of Helder Camara. At a later stage, Fr Saviour Borg joined them through the Focolare Movement. There he volunteered to be at the service of the Movement wherever he was needed.

The Gozitan and Maltese priests and seminarians who worked in Recife all worked in the outskirts with the poor.

In the State of Alagoas, we meet Fr Alex Cauchi and Fr Salvatore Vella both of Gozo. Fr Alex went to Brazil still a seminarian as an experience. When he finally went to Brazil he chose to serve in the North East, but because of his uncle, Fr John Mary, who was black listed with the authorities because of his struggle in favour of the land reform, it was suggested to him to enter from Curitiba – some three thousand kilometres to the South. The military were in power.

In Alagoas he was soon appointed vicar of another Gozitan priest, Fr Jimmy Xerri of Nadur, who was parish priest in Muricy the capital of Alagoas. Fr Alex never refused to work in a parish but still early in his experience, he met a farmer who asked for his help because the owner of the land had asked him to give it up. It happened that at the same time the Church in Alagoas had decided to set up the CPT –Comissao Pastoral da Terra – and he was soon chosen to be part of the first group. Lately Fr Alex moved to Paraiba to give a helping hand to his uncle Fr John Mary.

Fr Savior Vella spent some 14 years in Westminster (UK) from where he moved to Brazil inspired by the appeals of Vatican II. He soon found himself in Alagoas where his principal mission was in the periphery, precisely in Cha Da Jaqueira which had just received its first inhabitants. His dream was to make of his parish “a place where the Word of God was proclaimed and listened to, where the children looked up to the Church as a sort of second family in their formation by dedicated catechists, a place where all felt young in spirit to receive the ever coming youths, where the sick found comfort. For him the Parish is a mother that gives life, eternal life.”

Fr Saviour has various projects which are all, in one way or another, of a social nature. Fr Saviour considers himself fortunate to have the Irmas Pastorinhas (Pastoral Sisters) in his parish, a Brazilian version of the Paulinas who are well known in Italy. They inspire and animate the entire parish. In the words of John A, Bertolino, a layman in the parish, “We are grateful for having Fr Salvatore with us all these years. He is a courageous worker in the vineyard of the Lord, imitating Paul of Tarsus who brought the faith to his native land – the island of Malta.”

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