By PRISCILLA GREEAR, Staff Writer | Published September 1, 2005
Members of an emerging Brazilian Catholic community savored their cultural traditions at a festival July 15 and 16 outside their home at St. Jude the Apostle Church, chatting in Portuguese, biting grilled barbecue meats called churrasquinho off skewers, and joining arm-in-arm for traditional folkloric dances.
Donning ruffled dresses, ladies attired as farm girls prepared and dished out traditional favorites like bean and chicken soups, a creamy dessert with corn and sugar called curau, and canjicas, balls made of corn, condensed milk, pine nuts, sugar and roasted peanuts.
The muggy air after a late day summer shower didn’t stifle the spirit. The festival was celebrated in conjunction with popular Brazilian feast day celebrations in June of St. Anthony, St. John the Baptist and St. Peter.
With membership fluctuating from 300 to 700 people, this is the only Brazilian Catholic ministry in the archdiocese, and it is meeting a critical need. An estimated 40,000 Brazilians live in the metro area, largely in Marietta, which has an assortment of Brazilian grocery stores, restaurants, beauty salons and evangelical churches. But while the South American nation is 73.6 percent Catholic, many newcomers are leaving their Catholic roots for other Christian churches that offer worship and social services in Portuguese. In September 2004 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported there were 45 Brazilian churches in metro Atlanta, serving a community concentrated mainly in Cobb, north Fulton and Gwinnett counties.
Since 2002 Brazilian priest Father Sebastian Andrade, whose home diocese is Guaxupe in the state of Minas Gerais, has been leading the Brazilian Catholic community, while also serving the Hispanic and Anglo communities at St. Jude Church, located at 7171 Glenridge Drive in Sandy Springs.
“Brazilians are happy, and happy to do better living and working here in the U.S. This is the dream of these people … This is a celebration to welcome all the neighborhood and make peace with one another,” said Father Andrade, donning a straw cowboy hat for the festival.
Father Pedro Poloche Rodriguez, Msgr. David Talley, then chancellor of the archdiocese, and Father Jack Vessels, SJ, who served in Brazil for many years before the Jesuit order assigned him to Ignatius House retreat center in Atlanta, worked to bring Father Andrade to the archdiocese. Father Vessels began celebrating a monthly Mass in Portuguese about six years ago at Ignatius House; then Father Poloche began celebrating it about twice monthly.
Father Andrade served in Brazil for 20 years, studied for his doctorate in Rome and later was assigned to Toronto, where he spent 15 years in ministry to Brazilians and other immigrants. Every Sunday at St. Jude Father Andrade celebrates Mass in Portuguese at 7:30 p.m. and celebrates Mass in Spanish at 1:30 p.m.
“There are more than 40,000 Brazilians in Atlanta and they continue to come. We have only one Catholic church attending (to) the Brazilian Catholics, and many are going to the various Protestants churches flourishing in the Portuguese language,” said Father Andrade.
He said it can be especially challenging to reach young Brazilians, most of whom come to the United States for work.
“There are many Brazilians who come here, but they don’t come to the Catholic Church,” he said. “They don’t come for the sacraments. They live together. They are thinking more about working and getting money.”
The community runs a bilingual Web site (comunidadebrasileirade-atlanta.com) for both the parish and the larger community that provides information on Brazilian culture, language, and life here and in Brazil, including popular recipes, Brazilian news articles and immigration information. Father Andrade said they are planning to compile a Brazilian Society of Atlanta directory to inform the public on “good cultural traditions and folklore—education for the members and admirers of the community.”
Brazil is a regional leader and by far the largest country in South America, nearly the size of the United States, with over 186 million people. The country has well developed agricultural, mining, manufacturing and service sectors and geographically has mostly flat to rolling lowlands in the north, some plains, hills and mountains, and a narrow coastal belt.
Gov. Sonny Perdue announced last fall the opening of a Brazilian consulate in Georgia, strengthening existing trade ties between the state, the Southeast, and Brazil.
American festival-goer Henry Fredette has come to develop a special interest in all things Brazilian after meeting his Brazilian wife, Rosilene, at St. Jude’s daily Mass. Rosilene said before her romance developed with the American Catholic, she had planned to learn English and return home.
“I prayed to God to guide me on my vocation, according to His will. If it was God’s will for me to be a wife, He would have to prepare a holy man for me,” she said. “God changed all my plans!”
Rosilene has lived here for four years and appreciates the presence of a Brazilian Catholic community. She hopes to some day teach high school biology and elementary school science as she did in her native country.
Brazilian community volunteer Nadia Seidler has lived in the United States for eight years and is married to a German who works as a consultant to an American company; the couple sends their two children to Atlanta International School in Buckhead. Costumed with freckles dotted on her cheeks and pigtails and a bandana tied around her neck, she recalled how the first Portuguese Masses were celebrated at Ignatius House and then at Holy Family Church before a permanent home was established at St. Jude Church with the blessing of Msgr. James Fennessy, the pastor.
“St. Jude’s was the one who really greeted us and accepted us as part of their community,” she said. The community is “much bigger” than when she first arrived and they are now trying to attract a second priest from Brazil. The Catholic community is a true home for people who are homesick for their native country and often don’t speak English, Seidler said.
“You miss a lot from your country when you’re away,” she said. “The nice thing is with your religion you get it back. Many of (the community members) don’t speak good English or any English, and the first place they go is the church, even though they don’t know what’s going on.”
Seidler brings Brazilians in need to the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
“We do things together, help each other … We try to help them make this transition to American society. They have the American dream, but they are shocked when they get here.”
She also spoke of the need to intentionally reach out to offer Brazilians more social support, as those who are not strong Catholics go to evangelical churches that provide social services in Portuguese.
Walkiria Silva met her fiancé in the community, in a youth group for Brazilians. The 19-year-old, although fluent in English, appreciates the opportunity to feel at ease and experience fellowship with other Brazilians, while also trying to fit into the larger community. “Here I feel more comfortable with my friends. I have more faith here. The only thing we have to put our faith in is God.”
Her finance, Leonardo Carvalho, 27, said he came to Georgia with his father, who had “lost everything” back home in Brazil; his father worked for five years here and earned enough to return home. As Carvalho works in construction and builds his own life in Atlanta, he draws support from his faith community.
“It means a lot. It’s where we met each other, where we’ll be married. And we plan to raise our children here in this community,” he said.
Bernadeth Foss, who came with her Anglo husband, Paul, said she’s not an active Catholic but enjoys the fellowship and comes to the Brazilian Catholic community sometimes, “mainly … to meet a few Brazilian people.”
“We miss our culture,” she acknowledged. “We think we know American culture, but to live here is very different.”
Marcos Fernandes, a founding member of the Brazilian Catholic community, drives 35 miles from Sugar Hill to take part in Mass and other events at St. Jude’s. He previously lived in Florida where the Brazilian community grew substantially and four years ago acquired its own building.
“When we first came there was no Mass in Portuguese. It was kind of hard for me,” said Fernandes, who is now an American citizen. “We’re pleased with the support from (Msgr. Fennessy). It’s a blessing because he lets us be here.”