The Cathedral in Jardim Colonia

“One can live in the shadow of an idea without grasping it.” Elizabeth Bowen


In an instant there was a transformation. I was sitting in a cathedral, not the shabby hall in a Sao Paulo slum with sorry shacks just a stone’s throw away. The only light came from the doorway and a single bulb handing from the ceiling but for me I was surrounded by liquid gold from a dozen stained glass windows. I felt I was in the presence of a great robed choir as the children and adults sang with all the volume they could muster. But the transformation was complete when a half-dozen children trooped in and played their guitars. Yes, one boy had real trouble getting his fingers on the right chord, but no matter. What I heard surpassed any pipe organ.

If you had been able to sit with me, watch and listen you would have been as amazed as I was. You see, this was happening in a small rented hall in a slum where none of these children were able to put down the money to buy their own instrument. Nor would they have been able to pay for the teacher to help them learn to play. But they were strumming—more or less together—a church song in their little corner of that favela.

It all happened this way. A small congregation called the Igreja da Aeroporto sponsored this project—not just the guitars and the teacher, but they covered the rent for the hall and a frequent distributions of food, milk and clothing. I rejoice as I think back on that simple cathedral and our experience with them. You see, the sponsoring church worked with us so we had the opportunity to load up a truck with foodstuffs and clothing to give a hand in Jardim Colonia. That would have been enough satisfaction in itself but a bit of heaven dropped down on us as we listened to their worship program. But it was the guitarists, all shy and fumbling with their guitars to get it right in front of Canadian visitors that for me truly transformed that simple block structure into a cathedral.

My experience there may have been unique but what is happening in those poor areas all across that city and others is helping boys and girls not just learn the guitar but get an education. None of the sponsoring churches are big and fancy but the beauty I saw in Jardim Colonia is repeated hundreds of times; no it is repeated so often they cannot be counted. One day I had the opportunity to visit one such school smack dab in the middle of a slum. It was providing education for pre-school children and the lower grades. As well the school gave those children a lunch every day. I found out that such schools take in problem children that other schools will not accept. But with care and love the teachers see them made over into kind and gentle boys and girls. I must write up the whole story some day of the transformative work such schools are doing.

There are a number of ways anyone can experience something of my cathedral experience. You might join a work group, perhaps from your local church and go yourself. Or you can give money for just such a project through some religious group. If that does not work for you, then contact me for a needy spot where you donation will be well spent. It may be hard to imagine what your handclasp is doing without going there yourself. In that case you may pause, say a prayer and in your imagination sit in the pew of your own special cathedral.


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