Adventures on Tide Island

Transition to Retirement

By Fr. Colin McLean

The Ocean's (Atlantic) Influence Island life is shaped by the ocean. The weather determines whether you can cross to the island from the mainland, a jetty at São Tomé de Paripe, and the tides determine when people can cross from the community of Praia Grande to the community of Santana, and from Santana to the community of Nossa Senhora das Neves. The church of Nossa Senhora das Neves (Our Lady of the Snows!) is reputedly the third oldest church in Brazil. There are six other communities on the island, all reachable by motorized canoes that take between five and eight people, and a few larger boats that can take up to 50 people. My usual mode of travel to the island communities, a trip of 40-45 minutes, is by motorized canoe. When the weather is bad, especially when there is a strong wind, it becomes dangerous to cross from the mainland to the island, especially in the small motorized canoes. The ocean also induces the three largest communities to have fluvial processions to celebrate major feasts.

Fr. Colin McLean

Most of my Sunday Masses at the six chapels on the island have been standard Catholic Masses, apart from the vernacular language here of Portuguese (the Portuguese colonizers made sure that local indigenous and African languages would not survive as national languages), and the exuberant singing! During my time here I hope to be able to introduce a few changes to the usual routine. So far I have had a couple of successes and a couple of failures.

Way of the Cross, 2016:

I had planned to dramatize a modern Way of the Cross (based on the Brazilian Bishops annual Lenten Social Action theme) in the community of Praia Grande on Good Friday morning which we had marked for 7a.m. (later than that and the mothers are already cooking the fish for the traditional family get-together at Good Friday lunch, a big deal here in Salvador). After one night's rehearsal, all the actors arrived eagerly for the presentation at 7 a.m. on Good Friday. Unfortunately, no one arrived to accompany them in the procession, so we decided to call it off and reschedule it for the following Friday night, since various people told us they had a prayed version of the Way of the Cross during Lent on Friday nights and this would be better.

So, Friday night, a good group of about 25-30 people arrived to accompany the Way of the Cross, but only two of the actors arrived! We called it quits and decided to plan it better for next year.

Corpus Christi, May 2016

I had three very different days over the Corpus Christi (Body and Blood of Christ) feast! On the morning of Corpus Christi (May 26, 2016), I had a few qualms regarding crossing the bay in the usual motorized canoe when I saw the sea a bit choppy. But I decided not to call it off, as I had suggested to the two communities between which we would have the procession that they decorate the floors of their churches with designs made from sand, sawdust, etc., and I didn't want to disappoint them. Oh boy, what a trip out! While I can swim, and wasn't afraid of drowning, I was a bit nervous that the canoe would overturn. The three people with me, though, who were from the island, sat calmly without even holding on to anything, while I was clinging to a post in the canoe so as not to fall out! Once on the island, where I learned the communities had been almost sure I wouldn't arrive because of the rough sea, they praised my courage, so I got brownie points for that! It also allows me to say "no" next time and not appear a "scaredy cat" if the sea even seems a bit rough. Anyhow, the Mass in the community of Praia Grande, the procession along the beach, and the concluding benediction in the community of Santana went off really well, especially considering it was the first time for them and for me. As we walked along the somewhat rocky beach (I was carrying the monstrance with the eucharist), there was a bit of light rain, not really bothersome, but I couldn't repress a smile when someone opened an umbrella to protect me and the monstrance – more the monstrance than me I suspect! During the procession, I kept looking out to the sea, thinking of the marvelous Salvador Dali painting of The Last Supper, in which the bread and wine and the physical body of Jesus all merge with the scene of natural elements outside the glass-walled room in the painting. By the afternoon, the sea was rougher, so no canoes were going back to the mainland. I was told there would be a larger boat at 6 a.m. the next morning, which I was determined to be on, otherwise I might be stranded for several days.

The next morning, I got to the small jetty about half an hour before the "larger" boat was due to arrive, so it was still dark. When it did arrive, I couldn't help thinking it wasn't that big! Due to a cold wind blowing, I decided to sit downstairs on the boat. Normally, I would have stayed upstairs, so that if the boat tipped, I could throw myself off and try to swim away. But the cold wind forced me into the protection of the lower deck. My goodness, what a trip that was! The boat lurched from side to side, and at times I was looking straight at the waves just inches below the small open windows. If the water came in, we wouldn't be able to get out fast. Meanwhile, the island people aboard were totally unconcerned, and one elderly woman actually dozed! That gave me a bit of confidence – they were probably used to this. When we got within sight of the mainland, the engine stopped, and we drifted 180 degrees before they got it going again. You can imagine my relief to finally get onto the jetty at São Tomé (mainland). I do not get seasick, but I was a bit concerned, maybe even "scared," you could say. But being up on top would have been worse, because the lurching would been felt even greater. So I called those two trips (going out in the motorized canoe and returning in the "bigger" boat) my "baptism of fire" by the ocean.

The day after that traumatic boat trip, I had another Mass in another island community called Botelho. The sea was still a bit choppy, and had I been alone, I probably would have chickened out. However, I was with two guys from Paripe parish, who often accompany me, so we decided to go ahead. Coming back after the Mass, the sea was still a bit choppy, but not too bad. We got back okay, but as I was about to disembark, I put my left hand on the side of the boat to secure myself as I stood up. Right at that moment, due to the sea being a bit agitated, the boat slammed against another one with my hand between the two. Result? A finger on my left hand was split open. It looked worse than it was, since I was literally looking at the inside of my split finger! It was hypnotically fascinating but yucky at the same time.

The two guys with me drove me to a nearby hospital, where I got five stitches in the finger, so I called that my "baptism of blood." In three short days I was baptized by fire and by blood! Not bad going, eh?

Feast of St. Anthony of Padua, June 2016

At least I had a plus for the feast of Santo Antônio. For months I had been suggesting the community of Botelho have a procession after the Mass, and the two women leaders of the community kept saying, "Não dá certo, não" ("It won't work" meaning people won't be interested to participate, since we haven't done it before). They keep complaining about the strong influence of evangelical Protestants on the island, so I insisted we need to show that we Catholics have a strong presence there also. I virtually shamed them into a procession, saying I would carry the statue of St. Anthony if we couldn't borrow a wooden processional platform from one of the other communities, even if only five people followed behind me. While I am not big on processions, when it comes to competition with the evangelicals, I can rise to the task! It was a relatively short course, and it was a great success. The only common complaint was that it was too short. My response was "Today we made history, and we walked, we marked our presence. Next year we will run." which got a great ovation. So it was nice to have a couple of successes from my suggestions, despite the trials I had to go through to have them! For July 3 (Feast of St. Peter) this year, I'm trying to organize a special Mass in honor of the fishermen and sailors who pilot the motorized canoes. It will be in the main square of the community of Santana. I intend to use a canoe for the altar, which will be in front of a small hall the fishermen use for meetings and functions, so I am hoping the weather will be kind to us. If the weather is bad, and I cannot get out to the island, we will just reschedule the Mass.

Feast of St. Peter, July 2016

With the two companions who were with me when my finger was crushed, I set out to celebrate the Mass of St. Peter for the fishermen in Santana on Sunday. During the week I had called a contact on the island, who assured me that all was well, that the fishermen's cooperative was okay with us celebrating Mass in front of their meeting hall, with a small canoe as the altar. If it was raining we could celebrate inside the hall. We preferred outside if possible so as to attract more attention from those who normally don't frequent the church.

When we arrived on the island, the hall was closed, and no one was around, so we headed for the church. An older woman was there doing some cleaning, and she told us nothing had been finalized with the fishermen's hall, and that even some of the younger women who organized the usual Sunday Masses in the church had left the island for the day.

We were prepared to leave for the mainland when a group of people from the nearby Praia Grande community arrived to participate in what was to have been the historic St. Peter fishermen's Mass. After some discussion, guided by our departure plans at 11 a.m., we decided on a Celebration of the Word with Communion. As we were finishing, some of the younger people, who usually prepare the Mass in that community, arrived and were upset at the miscommunication all round. No one was more mystified than the three of us from the mainland. I had bought an image of St. Peter for the Mass, thinking we could have a procession afterwards! No go.

We decided I would bless the image of St. Peter at the feast Mass of Santana (St. Anne) on their feast day, July 26, and that the image will stay in that community until next year, and that we will have a raffle to decide which community will host the feast of St. Peter next year. There are so many fishermen and motorized canoe pilots on the island that I am determined to reach out to them via the fishermen's feast of St. Peter.

The Future

Nearly all the Masses in poor communities of Salvador at the moment are frequented mostly by women. I hope that in time we can make Jesus and His message appealing to men also, at least on the island. I am sure Jesus walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee, learned the talk of the fishermen, and entered their world before He chose some of them as disciples. We need to find a way to engage those, especially men and our youth, who do not come to church, and ask "Why?" Pope Francis is leading the way, but how many of us are ready to go with him out of our comfort zones? Next month I am hoping to start up some Biblical study groups in island communities to give a bit of sorely-needed formation.

I have never really been in a situation before where one is totally dependent on the weather to get to the island, and also on the tides (to be able to walk from one community to another) on the island! So my new lifestyle, "transition to retirement," began last year when I turned 70. On reflection, it is interesting that when I turned 40 I came to Brazil, and when I turned 70 I began the Tide Island apostolate!

Columban Fr. Colin McLean lives and works in Brazil.

Fr. Colin McLean
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