Celebrating Holy Week in a São Paulo base community - Maryknoll Lay Missioners
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We begin this Holy Week reflecting on the Paschal Mystery and our global experience of  vulnerability and suffering during this pandemic of Covid-19. Our faith calls us to enter fully into the mystery and experience a movement from pain to hope. In the words of Pope Francis, “The Easter Triduum is the memorial of a drama of love that gives us the certainty that we will never be abandoned in life’s trials.”

The paradox of suffering and life is seen on a daily basis, particularly now with this pandemic. Here in São Paulo, we see first-hand the suffering of the 33,000 people who are homeless and are at high-risk for the virus. Without enough shelters, they continue to live on the street, depending on the generosity and solidarity of others.

They are being served by social and church programs. Fears of the virus have diminished these services, yet many Brazilians, including some lay missioners, are finding creative ways to provide food, water and hygienic supplies as well as to pressure the city to provide decent housing and employment opportunities.

I  participate in a weekly faith community with people who live on the street or lived on the street as well as people who are committed to helping and empowering those who are homeless. We meet each Saturday for biblical reflections on the Sunday readings, a liturgical celebration, prayer, solidarity and a snack or meal.

Holy Week has always been a special time to meet and celebrate Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday/ Easter Sunday. We have met for the last 12 years and, due to the virus, right now, we are meeting by zoom. Some of those who are still in vulnerable situations have received cell phones to call in and participate. We hope to continue our rituals for Holy Week in some way, alone or in small groups.

Here are some of our Holy Week rituals and traditions:

Our altar includes a blanket, one that is very commonly seen in São Paulo during the cold months for those who live on the streets. The peace flag reminds us all of our commitment to Gospel values.


Our Holy Thursday liturgy is a celebration that includes the washing of feet, reminding us of our commitment to service, especially to those most vulnerable in our society.


As part of our Good Friday liturgy, we remember in a special way all those who are suffering as well as those who have died. Each one writes the names of those whom they would like to be remembered on the cross. This year, the coronavirus has already taken the lives of some of those who live on the streets.


In our Easter celebration, we communally place flowers on the same cross as a sign of our hope in the Resurrection – new life, strengthened in love and solidarity.

The Resurrection is about rising and being renewed in hope. A joy that surpasses understanding, where we know that death is not the last word! The theme of the community of people who live on the street is “Stand Up” in reference to the Resurrection but also the parables of Jesus (e.g. Luke 5, 17-25), “Stand up and Walk.” For many homeless people the movement from sitting or sleeping on the street to standing up is the movement to a new life for them,… an opportunity to work, restore relationships and move forward in life, a Kairos moment!

May the hope of the Resurrection bring hope to our world during this time. So much suffering reminds us that our lives are inextricably connected. May we renew our commitment to work for creative ways to be in solidarity with others during this liturgical season and work for policies that help those who are the most excluded in our societies.

Photos courtesy of Joanne Blaney


Joanne Blaney
A Maryknoll lay missioner since 1991, Joanne works in restorative justice, violence prevention and popular education at the Popular Education and Human Rights Center in São Paulo, Brazil. She also works in outreach with people experiencing homelessness.