Focus 2006

Yanomami in Venezuela - VEN15-11-2006

Project: Salesian Mission amongst the Yanomami
Date of foundation: 1957
Place: Alto Orinoco, Amazzonia
Province: Venezuela (VEN)

During the 20th Century, inhabitants of Alto Orinoco, and especially the Yanomami, had little contact with “nape” (strangers) other than sporadic encounters with scientists or loggers or those seeking other goods. In order to find machetes, cooking utensils, the Yanomami have come down from the mountains towards the river (Orinoco). These contacts have opened them up to disease and an increased risk to survival for lack of medicine and doctors.

On 24-07-57 Fr Cocco and Fr Bonvechio met up first with the Iyëweitheri (Ocamo) then went by river for an hour towards Daya.  From this very first contact the two Salesian missionaries took into account the importance of medicines to improve the lot of the Yanomami.  On 15th October of that same year they decided to stay there. Fr Cocco in Ocamo and Fr Bonvechio in Platanal.  This required much courage, living amongst very different human beings little known in terms of their culture and language.The two missionaries had sufficient faith to see that this was God's work. Fr Cocco used say: “God has a calendar for each of us”. They remained there to work, but did not remain alone for long. Other Salesians soon came to join this wonderful adventure.

Fr Cocco saw the need for a female missionary presence.  At the suggestion of Fr Serié, member of the Salesian Superior Council, Mother General Sr Angela Vespa FMA approved Fr Cocco's request and in 1960 three Sisters arrived: Sr Magdalena Mosso, Sr Felicita Supertijo and Sr Raquel Días. Once they came the Yanomami children began to learn many different things. The wooden palettes, besides being something to adorn themselves, became something to paint with. The woman found it funny when they saw that with a pair of scissors you could cut cloth and make clothers then with a needle. It was all new for them.

What drew the mothers' attention most, though, was to see that when their children were sick, a little liquid could lower the fever and a little cream could heal the sores.

On 8th November 1986, at a meeting in Macava amongst Yanomami from different communities, SUYAO, an agricultural society, was born: trade in craft items, honey, river transport.

The proclamation of the Good News of Jesus was always the aim of missionary activity. In 1987 some written requests from the Yanomami indicated that they were ready to know about the Good News of Jesus. The catechumenate began.  In 1997, after ten years of preparation, the first baptisms were celebrated. Today a Church is growing there with a Yanomami face. It seems those in charge of the harvest, the Holy Spirit and Mary Help of Christians, have their calendar and are seeing to its fulfilment.

Programmes and activities

The Salesian Mission in Alto Orinoco has four presences: Mavaca, Ocamo, Mavaquita and Platanal there is an intercultural bilingual school, a school refectory (breakfast and lunch) an school on air for those young people who are beyond normal school age and for those who want to complete the last three years of basic education, counselling from the SUYAO for promoting self-management, and the catechumenate with the help of the Yanomami themselves (celebrations of the Word).

Today, the calendar also marks the hour of the lay missionary. Some carry out their missionary work for a year, others for two, and yet others for twenty or more years, like Monika Muhlthaler.  She has been part of an apostolic community for twenty years and gives of her best in education, self-management projects, and recentlyas part of a team translating the Bible for catehcetics, as well as giving advice on the “watota”, a small business in garment manufacture run by the women.

God has shown us something of the results of our presence in the witness of a young Yanomami who, speaking about his father, said: “My father is a good man, he loves us a lot, works for us, never fights or seeks arguments, doesn't sleep around.  My father is LIKE A MISSIONARY”.

Address: Misiones Salesianas Maac
Puerto Ayacucho 7101
Estado Amazonas
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