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Fr. Pinheiro, Provincial of O.C.L. in Brazil: "Wherever young people are, we have to be there"

We chatted to Father Pinheiro about the challenges that face this young Province today

Avid footballer, affable and fluent in Spanish. Fr. Pinheiro views these challenges - especially those related to vocations - more as an opportunity to keep refreshing the message of St. Augustine, especially to young people "hungry for meaning".

Fr. Luiz Antonio, what would you say are the biggest and most immediate priorities that you need to focus on, as Prior Provincial?

For me, the most important thing is contact with, and between, the brothers. Being close to the communities, the priors and the coordinators of the different apostolic activities: from our work in education to our missionary activity; passing through the parishes and the formative processes. We want our friars to live their religious consecration with good spirit and enthusiasm. That is why we are driving ahead, to get the Province back on track after the disruption forced on us by the pandemic. Our priority right now and for the next four years is to create the right conditions for vocations to flourish, particularly those grounded in the Augustinian way of life. This objective, despite the pandemic, never left us, but we want to take it even further.

Paraphrasing Fr. Alejandro in his letter to the priors after the GC of San Diego, how do you think we can work towards unity while still recognising and celebrating the unique history, experience and autonomy of each circumscription?

By meeting, seeing and listening to each other. I don't think there is any other way. In order to do this it is critical to strengthen existing ties and build new ones in chapters and assemblies, which are always great opportunities to exchange ideas, plans and projects as well as let us see how we truly live together as Augustinians. We must dig deep into what Pope Francis tells us about "the spirituality of encounter", which is really not that different from living communion in communion. This way, I believe that we will be able to reach unity from our individual starting points, whatever our initial differences, particular needs or singularities.

Brazil, like many other countries in Latin America, is experiencing a growth in evangelical communities. At a time when the Church is asking us to strengthen our faith and at the same time promote ecumenical dialogue, how is the Order working on this issue in this territory?

There is a phrase incorrectly attributed to St. Augustine, and which actually belongs to the Roman historian Terence that says: "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto" (I am a man, nothing human is alien to me). I believe that the common causes of humanity and the crisis of civilisation impact and affect us all: Catholics, Evangelicals, atheists and agnostics. Here, in the Province of Brazil, we have a very strong social inequality, with high poverty rates. Within the different Christian realities that converge in the Province, we, as Catholics, as Augustinians, have to double down on our efforts in the mission of the new evangelisation through dialogue and personal engagement. Cardinal Cantalamessa, Preacher of the Pontifical Household, has pointed out that Christian culture has been assumed and taken for granted, but not evangelisation and its implications. Without Christ, without personal contact with Him, Christianity could at best be a moral code or a valuable ethic to govern one's own life, but that it takes the actual experience of Jesus in order to take root. We have a great opportunity to show the beauty of the Saviour. The bishops of Latin America, who know too well the social reality and the reality of the Church on the continent, came to the same conclusion.

Does our work in education have anything to add to this process?

Of course it does. We have four schools in the Province, a mixture of fee-paying and others, for example, as part of the missionary and social work that the Order of St. Augustine supports. We are going to stay focussed on dialogue and respect, and will continue to offer a helping hand in order to support our students’ ongoing development. We want our 3,000 students, regardless of where they come from, to share our values and to make them their own. For all this work, the Gospel and Jesus Christ must remain the central pillar.

How do you deal with the "crisis of response" to the vocational call?

Young people are hungry to discover their purpose, to experience meaning, to live together in a friendly way, to encounter authentic interiority, and to take responsibility for the meaning of history and how God calls each one of us individually. This connects with the Augustinian charism at its most fundamental: the desire to give one's life to an important cause through communion and service.

Believe it or not, St. Augustine has much to tell us on this matter. He connects with those young people who dare to delve into his teachings. And this is why we must not stop striving in our efforts to engage with them, to take advantage of the great opportunity that the digital world represents. Wherever young people are, we have to be there.


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