Miguel Ángel Peralta: “Evangelization strengthens the commitment of the laity as indispensable members of the Church.”

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the parish of Tapauá , we interviewed Miguel Ángel Perata, an Augustinian Recollect who has been in the Prelature of Lábrea for 27 years, the last five years of which as the parish priest of Tapauá. With all kindness he answers the questions we of the website of the Augustinian Recollects ask him.

How did the Christian community in Tapauá start and when was the parish established?

 The town of Tapauá is situated at the estuary of the River Ipixuna in the River Purús. It is a captivating place. Until the middle of the 19th century the River Purús was considered by the colonizers and explorers as “worthless” in the face of the immensity of the Amazonian river and the native people lived in peace. When the need for rubber for the tires of the cars came, the government of Brazil brought many families of the Northeast who suffered from tragic draught and were settled at the banks of the River Purús. With them came the Christian faith and they were accompanied by a priest, Francisco Leite Barbosa,  for an extension of more than 300,000 square kilometers accessible only by canoe. In 1878 the parish of Lábrea was created and years later that of Canutama. Only one priest or two attended to the faithful scattered through the rivers that extended from the boundaries with Peru up to the river of the Amazons. In 1926 we, the Augustinian Recollects, arrived at Lábrea and later at Canutama; Pauiní and Tapauá did not exist yet.

 In 1955, the government of the Amazonas established the municipality of Tapauá. Until then the families who lived in the area were religiously attended to from Canutama, by means of what was called “desobrigas”. The missionary spent months navigating in canoe or in a small rowing boat. During one of these trips, Fray Ignacio Martínez died in Nova Fe, ten hours from where the town of Tapauá is situated.

When the place was designated as the seat of the municipality, even with just very families and without any structure, Msgr. José Alvarez sent, in1963, two friars, Vitorio Cestaro and Augusto Nowacki, , to stay and gradually lay the foundation for a future parish. On the 1st of May of the year 1965, coinciding with the forty years of the creation of the Prelature of Lábrea, the parish of Santa Rita de Casia of Tapauá, Amazonas, with an extension of almost 90,000 square kilometers and with an actual population of 19,000 was founded.

What pastoral works does the parish have and how many communities of the river do they take care of?

 The Church of Brazil, of the Prelature and the parishes have been with the “odor of the sheep” for decades, they are with the people, they are not a “church of the sacristy”. The pastoral ministries, which is being with the people where they people are, accompany the human being from the womb of the mother and its growth of the children until they reach the age of five: is “la pastoral de criança” (the pastoral of infant) and of Baptism. They accompany its development from childhood to adolescence, with the Missionary Infancy, catechesis, altar boys, Center of Hope; with the Pastoral on Vocation, Pastoral of the Young, Pastoral on the Family. It accompanies the different social groups, the Indians, farmers, the sick, the prisoners, the elders, natural medicine, communication, Liturgy Teams, Ministers of the Word and Communion, Legion of Mary, Novena Team, economic collaborators in order to maintain the pastoral works and help the needy. Everything is coordinated and participated in by committed laity; the priest is only a religious adviser. The most decisive organization is the Parish Pastoral Council on a parish level, composed of coordinators of the communities, pastoral activities, movements and services, that meets every two months; and the Pastoral Council of the Community, open to all the members of the community, that conducts a meeting every two months.

 The Parish of Santa Rita de Casia of Tapauá is a “community of communities”. There are six communities in the town and thirty four in the rivers. The communities of the rivers are becoming depopulated because the people want to be attended to during sickness and they wish to see their children making progress in their learning by studying. The town of Tapauá has grown, as well as Manaos and other towns around it, but the communities of the rivers are decreasing.  

During these fifty years, what have the Augustinian Recollects contributed to the Parish?

 Besides the untiring proclamation of the Gospel, the missionaries who lived here have tried very hard to make reality the most important commandment and by which we are known is the love for one another and particularly for the most needy (preferential option for the poor). I am greatly touched when I hear people speak about the love the Fathers have for the families, about how they concerned about them, for their education, for their health, for their coexistence, for a life that is dignified, happy and with God. It has been a distinctive trait in all the parishes of the Prelature. Some persons tell us: “Because the freis are different, they worry about everything and everyone”. There is an anecdote that confirms this: The first two Augustinian Recollects were Frei Vitorio Cestaro y Frei Augusto Nowacki. It was March of 1964. They received money for the construction of the house where they could live. Instead of constructing the house, they put up a school to attend to the children. The mayor allowed them to stay a room of the town hall for months. They directors of the school, professors, doctors, and engineers…

 What do the Augustinian Recollects have to do in order to revitalize the missionary spirit?

 The Order, the Augustinian Recollect Family, have a great love for what is traditionally called “missions”, those that are called “mission territories”, they “pamper us”. We see this every year and in a very impressive manner. This “missionary spirit” has to run through and be present, as the Church asks of us, in all the places where we are: in the new social phenomena, in the colleges, in the means of communication, in the parishes, in cultural and social activities, in the “new Areopagus”… As first step to strengthen the “missionary dimension” from the formation, availability to go to any ministry, where the Lord may command us; to feel being authentic missionaries, envoys and heralds where we are working and evangelizing. To be missionary is not only for some: “We are all missionaries”.  

 Don’t you feel tired of being in the Prelature of Lábrea for 27 years?

 Tired of being there 27 years? Are they many? Boredom or fatigue does not come from the length of time that one is in a place, but for the love, intensity, illusion, and commitment that you live your consecration. If these attitudes are absent in six months and in any place you already want a change…

 If we look at life, a doctor is always a doctor and sometimes he always works at the same hospital; the professor teaches the same topics and he can be a lot of years at the same school and so forth. What is fundamental is to live with renewed passion what we are doing, in whatever place we may be. The time can be important, but just secondary. Neither was it 27 years at the same place, but divided among Canutama, Lábrea and Tapauá and with the different persons. No, no, I am not tired.

 Who are the religious in the community and of what nationality? How do they evangelize in Tapauá today?

 At present the community is composed of Frei Efraín Cervantes y Frei Miguel Angel Espinosa who are Mexicans and Frei Miguel Angel Peralta from Spain. Last year, 2014, the community started with Frei Artenildo Alves, Brazilian and Frei Vicente Cadeliña, Filipino. Four years ago we were three religious from three different nationalities, Filipino, Mexican and Spaniard and three oblate religious sisters from three different nationalities, Brazilian, Chilean and Congolese, who help in the parish: a great cultural richness.

 The evangelization follows the pastoral orientations of the Church in Brazil, of the Prelature and those of the Order, by strengthening Basic Ecclesial Communities, the commitment of the laity as indispensable members of the Church: “Humble persons, performing simple works, in places of little importance, achieve extraordinary changes”, as was said in a national meeting of Basic Ecclesial Communities.

What will be done to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the parish of Santa Rita of Tapuá?

Last year, 2014, was declared “the Year of the Mission” as preparation for the 50 years of the parish. A survey was also made in order to know the number of Catholic and evangelical families that exist in the parish. The Parish Pastoral Council decided that the 50 years would be celebrated during the entire year, with two important dates: May 1 which was the day of the establishment of the parish and May 22 which is the day of the Patroness of the parish. The parish invites the male and female religious who worked in the evangelization in Tapauá to come and make their presence a “missionary festivity and celebration”. From here we extend our invitation to accompany us at any moment of the year. Tapauá will be grateful and dance with joy, because those who come here are only the religious superior for obligation and the politicians to ask for votes.


 Biographical data of Miguel Ángel Peral Soret

 Born in Villafranca of Navarra (Spain), March 30, 1953.

 He professed in the Order of the Augustinian Recollects: Simple Profession in Monteagudo (Spain): August 13, 1972, Solemn Profession: Marcilla (Spain): October 19, 1975.

 Sacerdotal Ordination: In Marcilla (Spain), July 11, 1976.

 Studies: Lodosa, Navarra (Spain), 1963-1966; Valladolid, Castille-Leon (Spain): 1966-1969: Philosophy: Fuenterrabía, Guipúzcoa (Spain): 1969-1971; Noviciate: Monteagudo, Navarra (Spain): 1971-1972; Theology: Marcilla, Navarra (Spain): 1972-1976. Valladolid: Escuela de Profesores (School of Teachers) – Magisterio (Teaching) – (Filología Inglesa (English Study) 1980-1983: Licentiate in Contemporary History (University of Valladolid – 1984-1987.

 Assignments: Lodos, Navarra (Spain) – 1976-1977; Valadolid, Castille-Leon (Spain) 1977-1988; Canutama – Amazonas (Brazil), 1988-1997; Lábrea, Amazonas (Brazil) – 1997-2010; Tapauá, Amazonas (Brazil) – 2010-2015.