Curitiba Pilgrimage 1 (Day before departure)

Posted on November 16, 2009

Late Monday morning, most of our small diocesan delegation will depart for a visit to our companion diocese of Curitiba in Brazil.  Assuming reasonable cooperation from the gods of air travel, we will arrive in Curitiba on Tuesday afternoon.  Southern Brazil is a long way from here, not just south, but also east.  Because they are now on daylight savings time, we will end up six time zones ahead of here (i.e. later).  Our reasonably direct itinerary takes us from SFO to Dallas-Ft. Worth, with a two and a half hour layover there, and then on to Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, via American Airlines.  We have a three hour layover in Sao Paulo and then another 55 minute flight on a local carrier to Curitiba, which is about 250 miles southwest of Sao Paulo.


Four members of our six-person delegation will be on this itinerary.  We are led by Rev. Amber Sturgess, the Vicar of St. George’s in Antioch and member of the diocesan Companion Diocese Committee.  The other three of us are Rev. Kate Salinaro, the Deacon for the School of Deacons and a recent deputy to general convention, Rev. Nancy Pennekamp, a Deacon with San Francisco State Campus Ministry and Open Cathedral, and, on behalf of the lay order, the author and Nancy’s husband John Cumming, who is with St. Peter’s San Francisco and serves on the School for Deacons board.  At the Sao Paolo airport we will meet up with Deborah Nagle-Burks of St. Edmunds Pacifica, an academic and media professional who is flying in on Delta and will stay over at the end a couple of extra days.  The other member of our delegation is Melissa Ridlon, a member of the Diocesan Executive Council and co-chair of the Deanery Task Force, who flew to Brazil earlier this month and arrived in Curitiba on Friday night.  We will also be met in Curitiba by our diocesan missioner Michael Tedrick, who is just over the half way point of a planned two year stay.


There are others who are very much a part of this group but not on this travelling team.  Mary Louise Gotthold, who is also with the Companion Diocese Committee and a host of other ministries too numerous to mention, has been like a den mother, attending all of our gatherings and keeping us focused.  Then there’s the person I consider to be the spiritual leader of our group, Rev. Sam Dessórdi, a priest from southern Brazil who currently is studying at CDSP and working on updating and expanding the Brazilian Book of Common Prayer.  Sam’s academic demands dictated that he go sooner, and he will be returning to California about the time we leave.  Finally, I’m surprised that we won’t be joined by one or two of the dogs that have regularly graced our meetings.


In a sense, it will have taken us a lot longer to get to Curitiba than the 20 hours we spend on airplanes and layovers on Monday and Tuesday.  We originally were scheduled to go in early August with four additional travelers.  We had met with Bishop Marc and Sheila in late July to talk about the companion diocese relationship and look at our exchange through the lens of the millennium development goals.  We knew Curitiba’s reputation as the greenest city in the world, meaning environmentally green, where, over 40 years ago, they were taken over by urban planners who rejected the car culture and instead focused on mass transit, parks, and livability, and did it without the resources we regard as essential for any public initiative. 


We made all the travel arrangements and obtained Visas at the local Brazilian consulate, the essential purpose of which is to reciprocate for what the U.S. requires of Brazilian citizens who travel here; they even call the $130 fee a “reciprocity” fee.  However, five days before our scheduled August departure, their Bishop Naudal Alves Gomes called our Bishop Marc to ask us not to come.  Curitiba was then in the grips of a swine flu epidemic – August is in the middle of their winter and was unusually cold this year.  Schools and government buildings were closing, and they were discouraging any kind of large group gatherings, like church services, for the next several days.  The Deacons in our midst wanted to go and find some way to help; but we decided that maybe our hosts didn’t need to deal with us right then, and we rescheduled for November, which is their late spring.


The change in plans meant that we lost four people but also that we gained one other for our trip.  It also gave us time to do some more preparation, like actually trying to learn some Brazilian Portuguese.   With our delegation including a foreign language instructor (Nancy), a former professional opera singer who sings in other languages (Kate), and someone who has lived abroad extensively (Debra), maybe that shouldn’t have been a problem, except that none of their languages happen to be Portuguese, and despite the similarities to Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese is not at all the same language phonetically.  People usually don’t study Brazilian Portuguese unless they actually plan to visit Brazil.  I’ve compared it to someone wanting to learn to speak English like it is spoken in the American deep south, and no one has disagreed with that analogy.


We’ve heard conflicting reports about what to expect in Curitiba.  In my experience, there are English speakers pretty much everywhere; but someone said not to expect that in Curitiba and the state of Parana.  Someone even suggested that we’d better know Portuguese to navigate the airport in Sao Paolo. (What!? Isn’t English the language of international air travel, and isn’t Sao Paolo like the 4th largest city in the world?)


Nancy and I decided to take an extension course in Brazilian Portuguese at CCSF this fall, and we’ve been listening to language CDs.  I haven’t kidded myself into believing that I’m actually learning a language.  This is just about making sounds recognizable and being able to say hello or order a beer (which seems to be an essential early lesson in every language curriculum) and be understood.  If you have ever watched a movie that’s set in, say, northern England, the dialogue may be completely unintelligible, and yet you certainly would know all the words if they provided subtitles.


We studied enough to learn a few things about pronunciation, a couple of which I’ll point out here.  The letter combinations “de” and “di” are often pronounced “gee,” except when they’re not (which can make Brazilian Portuguese maddening in the same way that English is maddening, except that nothing is as maddening as English – just try explaining the pronunciation of “ough” or the meaning of the suffix “wise,” particularly as used by sportscasters).  The letter combination “ti” is pronounced “chee,” which means that the correct pronunciation of our destination is “Cu-ri-chee-ba.”  An “r” at the beginning of a word, or a double r (“rr”) encountered anywhere is pronounced, according to the language books, like a “’breathy’ h,” which means that Brazil’s most famous city is known to locals phonetically as “hio” or more completely as “hio gee janeiro.”  What will probably be hardest for me to remember, however, is that the word for “no” is “não” (pronounced “now”) while the Portuguese words “no” and “na” are common contractions that mean “in the.”


Aside from more time for language study, rescheduling our flight meant rebooking flights (with rebooking fees and higher prices), getting new Visas (since we were unable to use the originals within the requisite 90 days), and getting to know each other a little better, as we did through periodic gatherings at CDSP or in the past week at a Brazilian restaurant in San Francisco.  We have thought about what we can share, which will include a model labyrinth and some kind of Thanksgiving meal (probably sans turkey).  And we have thought about what we will learn there and what they can teach us about ministry and managing without the resources they we take for granted here.


As our time of departure approaches once more, Michael, Sam, and now Melissa have been e-mailing suggestions and tips on how to pack and what to anticipate, including what the weather will be like, when we get to Brazil.  In our meeting with Bishop Marc, I remember asking aloud how we might refer to ourselves.  On the Visa application, I had skipped over “missionary” and checked the box for “tourist.”  I wasn’t sure I liked the term “pilgrim” either – maybe it’s the image of the hats and large belt buckles that are prevalent at this time of year or being a traveler in a John Wayne movie – but Marc suggested an older and more positive and colorful imagery, that of the pilgrimage in the Canterbury Tales.  Sam now suggests that instead of pilgrims, we call ourselves “companions,” noting the etiology of “com,” which means “with” in Portuguese, and “pan” (in Portuguese “pão”) meaning bread, so that “companion” or “companheiro” can convey a Eucharistic sharing.  So we will hold onto that thought as we pass through security and board our flights.