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from issue no. 06/07 - 2009

THE PIUS BRAZILIAN PONTIFICAL COLLEGE

The forge-house of the Brazilian bishops


In seventy-five years of history almost two thousand students have passed through the Pius Brazilian Pontifical College. Among these, more than one hundred were appointed bishops. Here Dom Luciano Mendes de Almeida lived in the years he spent in Rome. And Augustine Bea chose to live there from 1959, the year of his appointment as cardinal. Meeting with the current guests of the Pius Brazilian


by Pina Baglioni


Educators and students of the Pius Brazilian College on the inauguration day, 3 April 1934 [© Pius Brazilian Pontifical College]

Educators and students of the Pius Brazilian College on the inauguration day, 3 April 1934 [© Pius Brazilian Pontifical College]

The first to arrive was the plaster Madonna, when the College was still empty, with the rubble still to be removed and the large boxes scattered everywhere. Father Angelo Contessoto, rector designate of the future College, Father José Pianella, Brother Nicolau Conrath and brother Riccardo Marchi were the people who brought along the statue that can now be seen set somewhat apart in a corner of the corridor leading to the first floor. After two weeks at sea, from Santos to Genoa, they arrived in Rome on 22 September 1933. “I remember Brother Marchi in particular, an Italian Jesuit, son of immigrants, aged 22. He spent sixty years here as nurse, cook, carpenter, gardener: the true historical memory of this place”. When Brother Marchi died in 1992, the task of not losing the great and small stories of the Pius Brazilian Pontifical College was entrusted to the Spaniard Father Félix Pastor, born in La Coruña, in Galicia, professor emeritus of Dogmatic Theology at the Gregorian University and prefect of studies in the College. He is a son of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, as are all other members of the administration. “I’ve been here since 1966, from the time of my graduation dissertation, after many years in Brazil and Germany. Father Pedro Arrupe [Superior General of the Society of Jesus from 1965 to 1983, ed.] asked me to stay for only four or five years as spiritual director. But in the College there was need of someone who would provide the link between the training system of the pontifical universities and that practiced in the seminaries in Brazil. I didn’t move again”.
The number of the former alumni of the Brazilian that the old Jesuit father helped, directed, advised, and who then reached the highest peaks of the ecclesiastical hierarchy is large: Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo, Archbishop of Sâo Salvador da Bahia and Primate of Brazil, just to name one. Or Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, Metropolitan Archbishop of the Archdiocese of São Paulo, who on 17 March last came to Rome to celebrate mass, in one of many Eucharistic celebrations on the occasion of the festivities for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the College. Not to mention also that the President, Vice-President and Secretary of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) are former alumni. “I also laid a small brick or two”, Father Pastor acknowledges, listing other illustrious people who have passed through here: Agnelo Rossi, for example, created cardinal by Pope Paul VI, who later became Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. And again, Cardinal Serafim Fernandes de Araújo, Archbishop Emeritus of Belo Horizonte, and Cardinal Lucas Moreira Neves, who was Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Even if his most affectionate memory is of the Jesuit Luciano Pedro Mendes de Almeida, who died two years ago, Metropolitan Archbishop of Mariana and president of the CNBB. “He worked with us for some years: he was truly a great man. Senator Andreotti often came to mass here to meet him. I remember that they had long chats”. In one of the dozens and dozens of rooms scattered throughout this enormous building, an oil painting depicting The Last Supper painted by some prisoners in the Roman prison of Regina Coeli is hung: a small tribute to Dom Luciano who had cared so much about them in his Roman years. But the long gallery of prominent personalities also includes the German Jesuit Augustine Bea. From the day of his nomination as cardinal, which occurred in 1959, he decided to live here because of the great affection that he felt for Brazil, from the time of the German mission in the south of the country. “But this College has given the Church more than a hundred bishops, a great many pastors and teachers destined for the seminaries and theological faculties in Brazil”.
From 3 April of 1934, the day of its foundation, up to today, 1900 students have crossed the threshold of the Pius Brazilian.
Beginning with 34, they were reduced to 12 during the Second World War, but swelled again and reached the record of attendance in the academic year 1954-1955, with all of 130 inmates, 102 seminarians and 28 priests. In its first twenty-five years the College housed seminarians almost exclusively. But between 1959 and 1968, or the period of the Council and post-Council years, “it went from enthusiasm to confusion, in 1978, with 6 seminarians and 47 priests in all”, the old professor again points out. “In addition to the crisis of vocations, another reason for the collapse was that the Brazilian bishops decided not to send more seminarians to Rome because a separate network of diocesan seminaries had been set up in Brazil, what was then called the ‘Brazilian system’, based on criteria considered more democratic. Since then we have housed young men, already ordained priests, who come to Rome to finish their studies”.
During the Council, theologians of the caliber of Hans Küng, Karl Rahner, Joseph Ratzinger, Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Edward Schillebeeckx passed through the Brazilian to give lectures to packed halls. During the Council there were over three hundred Brazilian bishops in Rome, and many of them stayed in the College. In short, a moment of extraordinary vivacity. “Then there was the long pontificate of John Paul II, considered the time of the great restoration”, Father Pastor again recalls, “where the great mists seemed to be thinning. Even if many vocations, at the time, proved to have little consistency. And in fact, many left”.

The facade of the College

The facade of the College

The “changing of the guard”
The large “H” shaped building is surrounded by the century-old pines of the Roman countryside, which, at a certain point, had to cede a little space to the araucarias, the so-called Brazilian pines, slightly less tall than the Roman ones, and the avocado trees. The garden behind the College grows chou-chous, pointed subtropical courgettes that are apparently used in salads. “We also succeed in growing kiwis and we have extraordinary mimosa which on 8 March we present as gifts to the nuns of the Congregation of the Daughters of Divine Love, who have collaborated with us for years”. Father Geraldo Antônio Coelho de Almeida shows off the park of the College with a certain pride, opened to admiring guests every 7 September, Independence day, and 12 October, the feast of Nossa Senhora Aparecida, patroness of Brazil.
Its facade facing the Via Aurelia, there is the little church built in the Napoleonic period. It has been closed for some time now due to lack of funds for continuing restoration. Failure to reopen it is much regretted by Father Geraldo, who after nine years at the helm of the Pius Brazilian, last 25 March handed the baton to the new rector, Father João Roque Rohr. The exchange took place during a solemn concelebration presided by Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education, in the presence of the ambassador of the Federal Republic of Brazil to the Holy See, Luiz Felipe de Seixas Corrêa, who had arrived in Rome a few months previously, and the ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia to the Holy See, Ivan Rebernik.
Anther of Father Geraldo’s regrets is that he was unable to embellish with mosaics the inner walls of the Nossa Senhora Aparecida chapel, built between 1964 and 1966: a type of small boat berthed in the rear wing of the building. “I also had the artist in mind: Father Ivan Rupnik”. But apart from regrets of an artistic nature, the rector “emeritus”, awaiting return to his homeland, leaves behind a College in good health; at the beginning of the next academic year the inmates will number 115 in all, 12 more than in the previous year. “They come to Rome, with many years of experience behind them: some of them were parish priests, others heads of seminaries, others judges of ecclesiastical courts, pastoral coordinators, diocesan administrators”.
They come from 80 of the 170 dioceses in Brazil. But also from Angola, Madagascar, Panama, Chile, Ecuador and Colombia. They are spread throughout all the pontifical universities, especially the Gregorian and the Lateran, where they throng the Theology and Philosophy courses. Fifty-seven of them are studying to obtain a licentiate, thirty-nine for a doctorate. A few of them still have to get a bachelor’s degree. The states of Brazil most represented in the College are those of the Southeast, with São Paulo at the head, and those of the Northeast.
Standing in front of a huge map of Brazil, Father Geraldo explains: “The most vital seminaries, in recent times, are those of the States of Norte and Nordeste”. Faced with a modest recovery in the numbers of diocesan priests, currently 11,778, Father Geraldo mentions a crisis of vocations among the religious of Brazil, today numbering 7,313 priests. A difference that exists also with regard to the number of seminarians: 3,555 in religious seminaries and 5,731 in the diocesan ones.

The large mosaic depicting Nossa Senhora Aparecida, patroness of Brazil, in the entrance hall of the College

The large mosaic depicting Nossa Senhora Aparecida, patroness of Brazil, in the entrance hall of the College

Student Life
“It’s a real privilege to study here, next to the Pope, to meet the best professors of theology in the world. For us Rome is the place of Christian memory and the university city par excellence. We can compare the theological approach that we bring from Brazil to that of the center of Christianity”. Father Leandro de Carvalho Raimundo, 31 years old, a priest for almost five, comes from Pouso Alegre, in the state of Minas Gerais in Southeast Brazil. His aspiration is to teach in a theological faculty. He is attending the second doctoral year at the Pontifical University of San Anselmo and specializing in the theology of the sacraments, in the Sacrament of Orders in particular. “Study is not the only employment: every morning I go to say Mass outside the College, at the Crucified Sisters Adorers of the Eucharist. During the year, requests for help come from many Italian priests, and during the summer I go to a small village of four hundred souls near Bergamo to lend a hand. There, I still find great attachment to the Church and the sacraments. And for me it is very useful to get to know your situation and compare it with ours. Of course, our priests are insufficient for a population of 180 million. But our churches are full of young people, are full of joy. Something that, unfortunately, happens less in Italy, where the parishes are frequented for the most part by older people”.
In addition to study and pastoral activity, the Brazilian students are directly involved in the management of the College. Along with the Administration – the rector, vice-rector, prefect of studies, spiritual director, bursar and maintenance manager – the student council has a president, vice-president and five department heads: liturgical, pastoral, social, cultural and recreation-sports. The Student Committee was established for the celebrations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the College, which ended on 19 June, feastday of the patron of the Brazilian, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, with a solemn concelebration presided by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Father Adolfo Nicolás.
“Our statutes require that this college not be used as a dormitory. We are encouraged to make decisions about the life of the College in collaboration with the administration”, explains Father Jânison de Sá Santos, born forty years ago, in Propriá, a small town in Sergipe. He is in the second doctoral year and is specializing in Pastoral Catechetics at the Salesian University. “The years we spend here are not wasted, especially in terms of our spiritual growth. And Rome is decisive in that: the churches, the catacombs, the tombs of the martyrs help to sustain our faith. And despite the myriad commitments we do everything we can, for example, to attend Mass every day, all together here in the College. Or to meet the rector frequently to find out how our training is going. Also because here, forgive the play on words, the educators are educated. Most of us will teach in seminaries and theological faculties”. Some of them, Father Jânison explains to us again will return to become parish priests. They do not know where, because the bishops of their dioceses will decide their destinations.
When we attempt to address the issue of the aggressivity of the evangelical sects towards the great body of Brazilian Catholicism, Father Geraldo, who at the end of June will return to the homeland, intervenes. “The evangelical sects are also attacking Europe, Africa and the United States. Brazil is immense and that is forgotten by almost all those who hazard statistics and analysis. A large number of the millions and millions of Catholics, since colonial times, were left without sufficient help. This problem has gone on from generation to generation. In the absence of churches and priests, people rely on those who approach them, namely the evangelical sects that are multiplying exponentially especially in large urban centers (São Paulo has now reached twenty million inhabitants) where thousands of immigrants arrive. In Nordeste, for example, ninety percent of the population has remained Catholic, not least because there is no phenomenon of immigration. The evangelical pastors promise everything: career, health, money, thanks to immense economic resources from the United States and the continuous propaganda through powerful mass media which compete for actors, singers and football stars to feature in their programs. They say what people want to hear. And it is the people without social support and points of reference, with no education, who get entangled in the mesh. Let’s be clear: people are not fed up with the Church. It’s that the Brazilian priests can’t occupy all the space. And people who trust the sects would be distant in any case”.


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