SÃO PAULO, Brazil, SEPT. 11, 2009 (<a href=”http://www.zenit.org”>Zenit.org).- Father Peter Shekelton, who was inspired to follow his vocation by another priest, has now fostered that same call in some 20 other young men.
Peter Shekelton heard the call to the priestly vocation in 1991, while he was listening to a talk by Father Werenfried van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, in London’s Westminster Cathedral.
In a recent feature, the aid agency told the story of how its founder addressed the crowded cathedral during the sermon.
At the offertory, while the collection was being taken up, Father Van Straaten stated to the congregation, “I would be willing to renounce this entire collection if just one young man among you were willing to offer his life in the service of Our Lord and proclaim the Kingdom of God as his priest!”
At that moment, Shekelton realized, “I am that young man!”
Years later, after he pursued the vocation and became a priest, he wrote a letter to the agency, stating, “At that time I didn’t dare to ask Father Werenfried for the collection, but today I am asking you for a little of the money from the collection from back then.”
Father Shekelton requested the money for himself and his missionary coworkers, who have been dedicating more and more time to visit the people in the Amazon jungle villages.
The priest, on “normal” days, works in the favelas, the slums of São Paulo, where there is an abundance of crime, prostitution and drug addiction.
He works with the young people, bringing them the Good News that they are loved by God and teaching them that their lives have meaning.
During the summer, Father Shekelton travels to some 30 villages, going 10 hours by boat from the town of Itacoatiara down the Arari River to reach the people in the rainforest.
When he arrived there the first time, he met people who had not seen a priest in six years. Now, he goes back yearly.
The priest described the situation of the villages, cut off from the world and hard to reach even by boat. Despite this, he said, a growing number of sects are arriving in the jungles, attempting to win Catholic believers to their organizations.
Thus, Father Shekelton usually brings helpers to teach the villagers more about their faith.
Some of the São Paulo youth who have embraced the Christian message travel some 1,864 miles along with the priest to the people who eagerly await the chance of receiving the sacraments, at least once in the year.
The young people occupy themselves by giving catechesis to both children and adults, preparing the Mass, and registering baptisms and marriages.
Father Shekelton told the aid agency: “When I visit the villages again a year later, I often discover that many of the faithful to whom I gave the sacraments the previous year have since died. Many of them died literally a day after I came.
“It is almost as though they had been hanging on, unwilling to die, until they had received the sacraments.”
He also noted that many children who he baptized the previous year have since died due to the extreme poverty and a lack of medical supplies.
The work seems endless, and thus the priest continues to spend time recruiting fellow missionaries to help him. Aside from the young people who accompany him to Amazonia, in his eight years in Brazil, Father Shekelton has inspired at least 20 young men to discover a priestly vocation of their own.