SASKATOON — Twenty-five years ago, on Nov. 21, 1992, Rev. Sylvester Vredegoor, OSB, was killed in a highway accident in his parish of Marechal Deodoro, Alagoas, Brazil. He was one of the pioneer missionaries from St. Peter’s Abbacy in Muenster, Sask., who responded to the call of Pope John XXIII’s invitation to bishops to send missionaries to Latin America, principally to Brazil.
Following him were a number of religious men and women from the abbacy who formed small Christian communities in the vast parish of Sao Jose in the city of Maceio, and years later in the parish of Marechal Deodoro.
The mission statement of the abbacy team stated: “We, the Canadian missionary team sent by the church of Muenster, are called to insert ourselves fully into the life of the Brazilian people, hearing their anxieties, feeling their pains, participating in the people’s struggle to transform their reality, celebrating, already now, their eventual victory, which is directly linked to the resurrection of Christ. Filled with Gospel hope, we are impelled by a universal vision, a true communion of churches united in mutual love, to the enrichment of both. Let us continue working together for a more abundant life for all.”
Twenty-five years later, members of these parishes were asked, “What legacy did Father Sylvester leave for you?” Following are testimonies from some who knew him:
“I still cherish in my heart the celebration of my first communion, the outings we had as young people. I will never forget Father Sylvester and the Canadian team for the incentive they gave me to be the woman I am today.” (This woman today is a leader in pastoral works in her parish.)
“His voice was silenced, but not his spirit, which continues to motivate us to continue to struggle for a better life. He brought me life and enkindled again the light of Christ that I received in baptism, through his sermons, dialogue and action. He helped us become authentic people of God on the march to a fuller life.”
“I remember his zeal. He was always preoccupied with how to make life better. He had a spirit of universality and ecumenism.”
“In speaking to a number of parishioners and friends, all spoke of the hope that Father Syl gave — hope that helps us to see, judge, act and celebrate. So we call him the Father of Hope. In his great love for the ‘little ones,’ he welcomed, taught and transformed us. At this moment, Brazil is passing a great moral, political and social low, so it is important to have hope and be in solidarity with especially the ‘little ones.’ Experiencing this in Father Sylvester and in the Canadian team fills us with strength and grace to continue to maintain that hope before all the difficulties we are confronting. It was so good to have learned to be a People of God who continue the journey with faith, action and hope.”
On his tombstone is written: “You left a burning flame in each of us.”