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Home Far East May/June 2017 Adventures on Tide Island

Adventures on Tide Island

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tide island_1Columban Fr Colin McLean shares how he celebrated some of the major religious feasts of May and June on Tide Island, which lies off the coast of Salvador, in north-east Brazil.

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. My usual mode of travel to the island communities, a trip of 40-50 minutes, is by motorised canoe. When the weather is bad, especially when there is a strong wind, it becomes dangerous to cross.

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 motorised canoes that take between five and eight people, and a few larger boats that can take up to 50 people. The ocean also encourages the three largest communities to hold processions using boats on the sea to celebrate major feasts.

Corpus Christi (May 2016)
On the morning of Corpus Christi I had a few qualms about crossing the bay in the usual motorised canoe when I saw that the sea was a bit choppy. But I decided not to call it off as I had suggested to the two communities in which we were to 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.

tide island_2Oh 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, I learned the communities had been sure I wouldn’t arrive because of the rough sea. They praised my courage which allows me to say “no” the next time the sea is a bit rough and not appear a ‘scaredy cat’.

The Mass with the community of Praia Grande, the procession along the beach which followed, and the concluding Benediction with 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 Sacred Host), there was a bit of light rain. During the procession, I kept looking out to the sea thinking of the marvellous 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 6am the next morning, which I was determined to be on or I could be stranded for several days.

tide island_3Next morning, I got to the small jetty about half and 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 the cold wind blowing I decided to sit downstairs on the boat. Normally, I would have sat 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 God, what a trip that was!

tide island_4Feast of St Anthony of Padua (13 June)

For months I had been suggesting to the community of Botelho that they should have a procession after Mass, but the two women leaders of the community kept saying, “Não dá certo, não” (“It won’t work”) meaning people won’t be interested in participating since we haven’t done it before. They keep complaining about the strong influence of evangelical Protestants on the island, so I insisted we needed to show that we Catholics have a strong presence here 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 distance and proved a great success. The only 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!”

The Future
Nearly all the Masses in the 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? I am hoping to start up some Bible study groups in the 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. My new lifestyle, “transition to retirement” began last year when I turned 70. The tides change – when I turned 40; I came to Brazil, and when I turned 70; I began the Tide Island Apostolate. •

Columban Fr Colin McLean has worked in Brazil since 1980. Today he is the priest in charge of Tide Island and other island communities off Salvador in north-east Brazil.
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