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Our Lady of the Highway – Interstate Highway Ministry in Brazil – Unique in the world

Can you imagine a chapel in an 18 wheeler crisscrossing the United States Interstate Highway system serving truckers? That is what is happening in Brazil… for the past 40 years!

In 1976 a missionary initiated a new ministry that involved reaching out to truck drivers and other individuals who traveled 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 it is known in Brazil, is a ministry 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 traveling 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).

Source with a gallery of photos.

This is similar in some ways to a ministry started June 21, 1935. In the United States. Fr. Lester Fallon, a Vincentian priest and theology professor, traveled to Southern Missouri to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. It was called the “Motor Mission” because he witnessed the faith from a portable pulpit secured to the back of a truck. Soon other Vincentian priests joined the ministry in Texas and beyond.

There were few Catholics and no priests in these towns, and residents knew little about the Catholic Church. Fathers Fallon and McIntyre would put up posters to announce their coming. They would arrive in a truck equipped with a pulpit and public address system, and would preach for several evenings in front of the post office, courthouse, or general store. They explained Catholic doctrine and answered questions.