In 1976 a missionary initiated a new ministry that involved reaching out to truck drivers and other individuals who travelled the highways in Brazil. This approach has been called, roadway ministry. Father Eliezer Okonoski, CM recalls here the events surrounding the initiation of that ministry and the present state of this ministry of proclaiming the good news to people on the peripheries.
The roadway ministry, as known in Brazil, is an organism of the Catholic Church that has been promoted by the Curitiba Province of the Congregation of the Mission. This approach, begun in 1976, has involved travelling the multiple highways in Brazil. This pastoral ministry as it has unfolded in Brazil, in unique in the world. It is recognized by the Brazilian Conference of Bishops as a ministry that provides pastoral care for people who are constantly on the move. Three missionaries travel throughout Brazil and celebrate the Eucharist for the truck drivers at the various gas/rest stations.
The missionaries involved in this ministry are: Father Miguel Staron de Contenda (ordained in 1980 and a member of this team since 1993), Father Germano Nalepa de Campo Margo (ordained in 1979 and a member of the team since 1996) and Father Arno Longo de Campinas del Sul (ordained in 1982 and a member of team since 2012).
These three missionaries travel along the highways that link 24 of the 26 Brazilian states. Their objective to give a presence to the church as they visit the gas stations and the rest stops that are frequented by the truck drivers and other travelers. Each year they celebrate about 900 Eucharists in the various fuel stops. The team has three vans which serve as chapels … when the back doors are opened, the altar appears. Each of the vans is equipped with a sound system, microphone, hymnals, etc. and all the services are offered at no cost to the participants.
The administrators of the fuel stops promote the celebration of the Eucharist and each gas station is visited once a year (the visit means that the missionary will remain there for the duration of the day and will celebrate the Eucharist). The following day another gas station is visited (this can involve a trip of 10 to 400 kilometers).
The initiator of this project, Father Marian Litewka, CM was born on August 7th, 1937 in Krakow, Poland and ordained on October 18th, 1961. He was sent to Brazil in 1962. He noticed that there weree a large number of trucks that moved along the multiple highways and felt that the Church had to do something for the people who drove these trucks. In 1976 he initiated the roadway ministry and little by little the ministry expanded and was strengthened … more highways became included in the ministry which meant more fuel and rest stops were visited. Others joined this ministry, Father José Carlos Chacorowski, CM (presently bishop of Caraguatatuba) who was a member of the team for some eight years. Father Marian retired from this ministry in 2003 but Father Miguel, Germano and Arno have continued this ministry.
During the celebration of the Eucharist, the Missionaries spread devotion to Our Lady of the Highway… Father Marian was given the image of the Virgin at the beginning of his ministry and it was Pope John Paul II who gave him said image (Father Marian had served as an altar boy to the Pope during the time that they were in Krakow). The original image is found in the Church Del Gesu in Rome and was painted some 800 years ago by an unknown artist. This painting was placed on the side of the road that moved out from Rome to the other parts of the country. Travelers became accustomed to pass by this chapel on the side of the road and prayed for Mary’s protection during the time of their journey. As time passed, the people referred to her as Our Lady of the Highway.
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There are also many videos and reports available on the internet, among them:
By: Eliezer Okonoski, CM
Charles T. Plock, CM
Eastern Province, USA