This morning, Tom and I went to the American Catholic Church located about two miles from where we live. Officially, it is Our Lady Help of Christians Parish, but it’s better known as the Chapel Church, after the Chapel School, the K-12 school at the parish. We had no idea what to expect, but found the Mass set up in what looks like a multi-purpose room, albeit a very, very nice room with wood-panelled walls and a stained-glass window of Our Lady above the altar.
We were greeted upon arrival by an elderly gentleman named José Arana (Basque name!), who is apparently a congregation member-of-all-trades. He used to be head of the welcoming committee, and now is also on the Parish Council and a Eucharistic Minister. Venezuelan by birth, he has lived in Brazil since 1968; he thinks he’s here to stay. He was an excellent ambassador for two new visitors.
José introduced us to the former pastor of the parish, Father Tom Brown, who is in a wheelchair and appears to be ailing. But what wonderful eyes he has! Father Pipolo is the new pastor, and seems like he might be a real character.
There were only about sixty people at the Mass, including a family we had met at the Field Day yesterday, and a couple who work at the Consulate. At the end of Mass, Father Pipolo had new members stand and introduce themselves and their families. Tom stood for us, and there was another new family, as well.
It has been several weeks since we’ve attended Mass, and I’ve missed it. I hope to attend Mass at some of the local churches later, to get a feeling for how people worship here, but today, I needed to hear Mass in English. It was perfect. (Apparently, Chapel Church is the only English-speaking parish in all of the Sao Paulo area.) Best part, as always, was Holy Communion. I felt such a connection with the kids and with Mom and Dad. We no longer share the same stars, but we do share this.
As we left Mass, the lady who had been seated to my left welcomed me. I had noticed her immediately: older, dignified, and with a gentle smile. She introduced herself as “Jet,” and said that she typically goes to the 6 pm Mass on Saturday nights. I believe she was there for a reason today. I suspect that she and I might become very good friends. She is a fifth-generation Brazilian…Anglo-Brazilian, with a British accent. She is married to a Swiss man, and has three children in their fifties, I believe. All three attended Chapel School, which her grandparents and parents had helped to build, from what I gathered.
Jet gave me her phone number and insisted I call her if I have any questions about Sao Paulo or Brazil, in general (when I ask for her on the phone, I am to ask for Dona Elizabeth). When she heard that I enjoy traveling and other cultures, she said that she’d be happy to take me out and about, especially to the museums. I told her that I would be delighted to get to know her better, and to hear her stories of life here, in her day and in her parents’ and grandparents’ day. I am eager to spend more time with her. (You know how it is when you meet someone and you immediately have a connection? That’s how it is for me with Jet.)
As it happens, we went to Mass on Pancake Sunday, so we joined the congregation for pancakes, eggs, bacon, and a wonderful fruit salad. During the breakfast, we met many more people, including three young fellows who go to the school (juniors and an eighth-grader). It was fun chatting with them and finding out about their studies and their plans after high school. Students at Chapel and at the Graded school nearby get excellent educations, from all we hear. And International Baccalaureate degrees. The people we met were friendly and made a point of coming up and introducing themselves: Americans, Brazilians, Australians, Mexicans, and I think, Italians. Each offered any help we might need, and two couples invited us to a American Society of Sao Paulo event on Thursday night at the Consul General residence. I believe we will go.
Given the apparent size of the congregation, I’m sure that Tom and I can find a way to fit in at this parish and participate in ministries, whether as lectors or in the choir (small but spot-on).
We had never did feel at home in any of the parishes we tried during our four months in Arlington or Washington; don’t know why. But today, we both felt immediately that we could call the Chapel Church our home.