“May God give me the strength and the courage to listen to his call. I do believe He is calling me to always go beyond.”
– Fr. Amaro Vieira, SCJ
Alumni of the ECS program (formerly English as a Second Language) at Sacred Heart Seminary and School of Theology are found throughout the world. They include members of the General Curia, bishops, provincial leadership, formators, teachers, pastors, social service ministers, students, and many Dehonian missionaries.
Fr. Amaro Vieira, SCJ, is one of them. Originally from Portugal, Fr. Amaro, 53, was a student in the ESL program from 2000 to 2001. The intensive language studies were in preparation for his first mission assignment, working in the District of India from 2001-2007. “The program at Sacred Heart was indeed a very good program,” said Fr. Amaro. “It prepared me well.”
Following his ordination in 1995 (he celebrates his 25th anniversary of priesthood in November), Fr. Amaro worked in formation at the minor seminary in Portugal. It is a ministry in which he continued to serve first in India, and since 2010, in Angola. Except for a three-year assignment working with a program for at-risk youth in Portugal, most of Fr. Amaro’s years as an SCJ have focused on preparing others for religious life and ministry.
“To be honest, when I was asked to go to Angola, I was expecting to do something different, perhaps in social concerns,” said Fr. Amaro. “But there was a need to prepare for our future Dehonian presence in the country and I had experience in this area, in formation.”
The congregation’s presence in Angola began with discussions at the Portuguese Province’s 1982 chapter; the province hoped to begin a new Dehonian mission in the former Portuguese colony.
“Unfortunately, the civil war that was tearing Angola apart made such an undertaking impossible,” said Fr. Amaro. “But the dream never died.”
A peace agreement was reached in 2002, and in 2004, three SCJs (two from Portugal and an Italian SCJ from Mozambique) went to Angola. Responsibility for the mission is shared not only by Portugal and Mozambique, but also Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Italy and Brazil. There are now three SCJ communities in the country, one in Luanda and two in the eastern region of Moxico.
“Our primary responsibility is to participate in the reconstruction of the local church that was ravaged by the civil war,” said Fr. Amaro. “Dehonians are found in some of the most challenging areas of the country.”
The missionaries’ second task is strongly related to the first: to build the Dehonian presence in Angola. “Formation is and will always be a very important responsibility,” said Fr. Amaro. The district has two vocation houses, both in the eastern province of Moxico; each has approximately 20 pre-college candidates. “Furthermore, there are 21 candidates in our Philosophy House in Luanda, three SCJs in temporary vows doing theology studies in South Africa along with several other young religious from different African countries, three are in final vows doing pastoral ministry in Angola, and, finally, there is Fr. Bartolomeu, our first Dehonian priest from Angola. He is now studying Psychology at the Catholic University in Luanda.”
Novices from Angola are in a joint program with the Mozambique Province.
“I’ve been working in formation almost all my life and I realize the responsibility that comes with it,” said Fr. Amaro. “Formation is key to building our Dehonian presence wherever we are, about laying the foundation for the presence of our charism. Our Dehonian charism calls us to be among the least, to be present in the most difficult places, places that may feel forgotten. This is what formation is about; it is about instilling that call of our founder in the hearts of the next generation.”
Besides formation, Dehonians in Angola also run a primary school linked to the SCJs’ parish in a remote area of the city of Luena (Moxico). The school is named for St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and was begun by the community. Dehonians, including lay volunteers and seminarians from Europe, also help to run literacy programs in Angola. Smaller projects include library development, safe water supplies, and computer courses. The Dehonians’ efforts are aimed at addressing some of the most significant challenges of the country, “especially sustainability.”
Fr. Amarao fears that Angola is too dependent on exports, including petroleum. Investment is needed in agriculture. Corruption has long been a challenge, but Fr. Amaro is heartened to hear that the president is now committing himself to fighting such corruption.
The Church itself has many challenges in the country too. It is a Church filled with young people, which offers a strong future, but also the need for significant formation. Throughout the country, training is needed for lay leadership. And after years of a brutal civil war “that has destroyed families and left many hearts filled with hatred, the Church must witness the gospel values of forgiveness and reconciliation,” said Fr. Amaro.
“We are currently working on the elaboration of our apostolic project,” he continued. “Basically, what impact should we have as Dehonians in this country? Beyond parish ministry and formation, what are we going to do? What social challenge are we called to take on according to our spirituality and Dehonian inheritance?”
The district hopes to have an apostolic plan in place by the end of 2021.
“I look with hope to the future,” concluded Fr. Amaro. “I do believe that God is asking me to go further in my availability to fulfill his will. My struggle is to fight my worldly desire of stability. So, my prayer: May God give me the strength and the courage to listen to his call. I do believe He is calling me to always go beyond.”