Brazil´s First Missionary Bishop for Africa

Interview with Father Carlos Pedro Zilli

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LONDRINA, Brazil (ZENIT.orgFides).- A Brazilian´s appointment as bishop of the new African Diocese of Bafata, Guinea Bissau, signals the maturation of the Church in this immense country.

The Pope has appointed Father Carlos Pedro Zilli, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), to be the bishop. Father Zilli spent 14 years on mission in Guinea Bissau from 1985 to 1999, where he was, among other things, parish vicar at Bafata and Regional Superior of his Institute.

Born in 1954 in the state of Sao Paulo in Brazil, Father Zilli spoke with the Fides news agency about Brazil and about his new assignment.

Q: How was the news of the creation of the new diocese and your appointment received?

Father Zilli: The people were overjoyed to hear that the Holy Father had decided to make Bafata a diocese, a sign of Pope John Paul II´s love for this Church. And when they were told that I am to be their first bishop they said, «A son of our land returns home!»

This gives me great pleasure because it means that they have happy memories of my service. They are ready to welcome me and this is a good basis for giving impulse to pastoral work.

Q: You are familiar with the area in which you are called to work, which is mainly Muslim. What will be the main themes of your pastoral activity?

Monsignor Zilli: Guinea Bissau is a very poor country, even more so after the war in 1998. Today there is much talk of the need to rebuild the person, the heart of the person: The people suffer from psychological and spiritual hunger, as well as from poverty. Peace and reconciliation must be promoted.

In Bafata there are many Muslims and dialogue is necessary if we are to work together. While I was there we had good relations with Muslims. Our cook was a Muslim who worked very well. Through him I came to know and love Muslims.

And I must say that also the Muslims came to appreciate the missionaries — especially during the war, when they saw that the Church loves everyone, without distinction.

In general, relations are good: There is not the fundamentalism seen in other places. We work together on a number of social projects and schools. Some missionaries work very closely with Muslims, in the field of health care for example.

This means we have good point of departure which must be developed. Christians are few and they must be taught not to be afraid to bear witness to Christ with joy. At the top of my agenda I will put evangelization, then vocations, the family, social commitment, dialogue, inculturation and many other things.

Q: Your appointment is a sign that missionary awareness in the Church in Brazil is growing.

Father Zilli: My archdiocese of Londrina, in Parana state, has received numerous missionaries in the past and it continues to do so. Many say we ourselves still have our own needs.

But we too are beginning to offer a contribution, we can give something to the Church: We have priests and nuns on mission, and now a bishop, the first Brazilian bishop to be appointed to a diocese outside Brazil. This is an important sign that our Church is maturing.

Q: Are young Brazilians open to the idea of a religious or missionary vocation?

Father Zilli: Yes, they show interest in vocations but many are perhaps afraid of leaving Brazil. In the past few people went abroad; only recently have Brazilians begun to travel for various reasons, looking for work, etc. This means they are more open to mission, although many are deterred by the high cost of travel.

Through missionary animation the aim is to promote a desire to «go out» to love in the name of Christ in another land, among another people, which then become your own land, your own people, a second homeland, as in my case.

However, vocations, including missionary vocations, are on the increase and this is due to a number factors: intense missionary animation through missionary reviews, meetings, various initiatives; efforts of Church movements and the influence of certain charismatic priests, who have a great impact on young people, almost with the risk of making priesthood a «fashion.» This must be purified and deepened, but the impulse is good.<br>
Many young people want to know more about the missions, they correspond with animators and missionaries. These all things which did not exist before: they offer hope for the future.

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