It had been a long, hot and tiring morning but now it was time for that Brazilian blessing – the siesta! I was soon awakened by urgent children’s voices: “Padre! Padre!” In a semi-haze I opened the parish door, tried to smile and was told in frantic and frightened voices: “The Police,” “our hut,” “big lorry,” “rope pulling it down!” I ran to the parish jeep and the children piled in and the jigsaw of words started to come together. A large lorry with big strong men had arrived at our community hut and now it was being pulled down. The large hut, financed by Trócaire, was a community space where literacy courses, cooking classes, workshops, community assemblies, prayer groups and masses took place. It was constructed in a favela where no one had any documentation for their shack dwellings; likewise for the hut itself.
While the lorry stretched ropes around the building, a nearby van with uniformed and armed policemen oversaw the operation. Now I was the only hope of these children to save the hut as their parents were away working. What was I to do?
I had from my own childhood the Angel Guardian prayer:
O angel of God, my guardian dear,
to whom God’s love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide.
Over the years, I had adapted this prayer to align with the Farewell Discourse in St John’s Gospel (John 14:25-27, and John 16:12-15).
Spirit of God, my friend so near, Love of God, calm all my fear.
Ever this day, in me abide, as light and guard, my true guide.
Somehow, I mumbled this prayer under my breath, as I approached the “rope men”. From somewhere, I found a strong voice to demand, “Who authorised this?” (I was dressed in my white missionary cassock and recognisable as a padre).
The destruction stopped at this unexpected intervention. Again, I demanded, “Who is authorising this?” To my surprise they pointed at a man leaning against the lorry (Round 1). I marched over to him and repeated the question. He hesitantly pointed to the police (Round 2). Again, I went on (Brazil at this time was under a dictatorship and one did not challenge the military or the police). I changed my question to the policemen, “Can I see your papers authorising this?” They looked at each other and pointed to the one with a cap and a visible badge (Round 3). “Can I see the papers authorising this?” He looked at me and then turned and gave a nod with his head to the other policemen, who in turn then waved off the “rope and lorry men” and all withdrew.
All I could do was mumble again, “Spirit of God, my friend so near, you calmed all my fear. Thank you.”
PS: “He” and “Himself” referring to the Holy Spirit are equally correctly read as “She” and “Herself”.