People in the north-west of Brazil measure the distances in ship’s days. And so, two ship’s days journey from Manaus in Amazonian Brazil, lies the parish of the Immaculate Conception.
The parish lies in the diocese of St Gabriel of the Waterfalls, a diocese about the size of Italy. It was here that Fr Peter Shekleton journeyed on mission, accompanied by young Catholics. At the time he was working in the slums of São Paulo.
But when he heard that many of the villages in this 'diocese of the waterfalls' had not seen a priest for more than 10 years and that many old people were waiting, longing to be able to 'die in peace,' he asked to be transferred to the parish of the Immaculate Conception.
Now he is sowing the Gospel seed here with little prospect that the secular world will ever come to hear of it. But the seed of love always germinates – as, indeed, it did in his own case. He had decided to become a priest after hearing Fr Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), speak in London.
Now he travels across land and water, visiting the innumerable small communities on the river banks. Like all the other priests in this extremely poor diocese, he receives no salary and depends entirely on Mass offerings. ACN helped him to purchase his boat, Perseverance, and also paid for 30 young people from his parish to fly to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day this year.
'It’s now been two years since I arrived in the parish of Barcelos, situated on the banks of the River Negro, in the state of Amazonas, Brazil, 656km via fluvial (river boat) from Manaus.
'Before I arrived in January 2012, the local bishop Dom Edson Damian had already mentioned, in 2011, that the parish is probably one of the biggest, if not the biggest, in the world at 123 sq km. Obviously most of this immense space is completely uninhabited by man.'