Date: September 29, 1973
Location: Kansas City, MO
By: Helen Huyck
Newspaper: The Kansas City Star
The Most Rev. Ignatius J. Strecker, who returned Sunday from an 18-day visit to Brazil and Peru, found great anxiety over the recent military coup in Chile that resulted in the death of President Salvador Allende.
The archbishop of the Catholic archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas said: “While most people held the Allende government in suspicion because it was Marxist, yet they expressed concern that even such a government could be overthrown by the military.
“This showed their fear. They were saying it is a sad thing when such forces start toppling a government, even if it is Marxist.”
Archbishop Strecker said several bishops of South America are forbidden by the government to issue public statements. The press in several cities never quotes bishops on social issues.
“Favorably, however, in both Brazil and Peru I found a definite effort to improve education and health facilities. There is a real effort on the part of both governments to develop natural resources, thereby improving living standards.
“This is partly through better housing. But in spite of the government’s best efforts, the rich still become richer and the desperately poor become more poor. The weakness is that there is no real middle class.”
Archbishop Strecker made the trip to meet people from the 21-county archdiocese now serving the church in Brazil and Peru.
The trip added 17,500 miles to the already impressive traveling record he has accumulated since beginning his duties in October, 1969.
Because of poor mailing facilities he learned his visits were totally unexpected in several cities.
Flying to New York by way of Rio de Janeiro, his first stop was in Mineiros, a city of 30,000 persons southwest of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. There he visited five priests, six nuns and a brother, all members of the Benedictine order.
“They are doing a great work with the pastoral center the diocese is completing. The Sisters are in charge of a religious education program. Four dormitories are available for retreats and gatherings and the whole tone of education in the interior of Brazil is being raised through these efforts.”
The archbishop said when the Benedictines first arrived there was little knowledge of farming.
“The priests brought in high-grade seed, rice, beans, fine milk stock and beef cattle. Now these improvements are spreading and you can see it developing into a real farm area.
“The priests, brother, and local natives have developed a modern co-operative as up to date as any we have in the states. This is primary for marketing of rice, the native crop. There also is a consumer’s store which last year did the second largest amount of business of any co-operative in Brazil. It is being watched by the whole country.”
The nuns do parish work, teach, visit the aged and do mission service. One in Puno, Peru, does pastoral work as do the five priests, while the brother works at the monastery farm.
Father Marc Tillia, a Trappist monk for 10 years in Ava, Mo., now a member of the archdiocese, is pastor of a parish of 1,500 square miles in a remote area of Brazil. He and Archbishop Strecker became acquainted when the archbishop was at Springfield, Mo., prior to his present appointment, and Father Marc was at a monastery in Ava.
“His territory consists of approximately 32 little villages,” said the archbishop. “He tries to cover it by airplane. The largest city is Sento Se, with 3,000 residents and the smallest has a few huts. All are Indians mixed with other bloods. They are poor … very poor. Their houses are shacks with a few made of adobe brick. No paved roads are in the parish … only a few car tracks. When Father Marc can’t fly, he travels by Volkswagen. He does a lot of flying with sick to hospitals and doctors in the city of Juazeiro.”
Last year two nuns, a nurse and a parish worker were sent to assist him.
“The biggest problem is getting women to consider prenatal care for they seem to have a hesitancy about discussing this. Classes in major areas of health and child care are now conducted on an ongoing basis,” the archbishop commented.
“Father Tillia may have as many as 480 baptisms in a 6-month period and perhaps 10 weddings in one day.”
Father Tillia returned to the Midwest in November 1972, seeking help to buy a new Cessna 182 airplane to replace his 1941 model Interstate Cadet. He succeeded with much of the needed $22,000 pledged through “Wings of Hope” a non-denominational humanitarian group of St. Louis businessmen working the cause of brotherhood through aviation.
“it would take three days for a jeep to cross 150-mile parish even with roads at their best,” Father Tillia said then.
The Sisters of Charity have 12 nuns operating four missions in South America, three in Peru and one in La Paz, Bolivia. There are four nuns in Talara, two in Salitral and two in Choloco, all in Peru, and four in La Paz.
“The people in this section 500 miles north of Lima are extremely poor,” Archbishop Strecker stated. “They live in houses made from banana tree leaves, box crates or pieces of tin. There are thousands of them. In some areas child mortality is 60 per cent. There is terrible undernourishment. When they catch cold, they have no resistance and get pneumonia and die. All are Indian descendants from the Incas.”
In Salitral in the mountains, Sister Rosalie Mahoney, former head of nursing services at Providence Hospital in Kansas City, Kansas, has cared for medical needs of the people for 10 years. She has set up little clinics in a number of the smaller villages. There is no other doctor for 300 miles. A parish worker also aids.
At Talara on the Pacific coast, a former Kansas City, Kansas, resident, Sister Regina Deitschmann, does anything she can to care for the poor people, Archbishop Strecker said.
A former member of St. Anthony parish who moved with her family to Kansas City, Sister Regina has three companions who help in home visits and teach catechism. Father Eric Deitschmann, her brother, serves with the Benedictines in Mineiros.
Sister Joseta, a member of the Sisters of St. Francis who operate St. Margaret hospital, has been in Jatai, Brazil for three years. She is a former nurse at the hospital but now operates an orphanage for 80 children.
When Archbishop Strecker was ready to leave Jatai, Bishop Benedict Koscia, whose headquarters are there, was to fly him to Brasilia.
Several of the small children from the orphanage were brought out to bid him farewell and one 3-year old girl was asked to sing a song.
“The only one she knew was to the tune of “Happy Birthday” which she sang in Portuguese, then gave me a pink rose.”
Bishop Koscia came to Kansas last September to ordain Bishop Mathias Schmidt as auxiliary bishop of Jatai in a ceremony at St. Benedict Abbey chapel in Atchison.
Archbishop Strecker began his flight home from Lima, after visiting the Carmelite Fathers there who are engaged in parish work.
“I was able to view the ruins from the May 31, 1970, earthquake where 70,000 people were buried and 800,000 made homeless. The two densely populated cities of Huarazand Yungay, northeast of Lima, were covered with 30 feet of mountain which collapsed.”