Brazilian Seminarian Brings Church of Americas to Diocese

2001 News

 Jonas D. Christal is the son of Alcides Pereira Christal and Maria Ivone da Silva Christal. He attended Seminario da Imaculada, and received a degree in philosophy from The Pontificia Universidade Catholica de Campinas. He attended Professor Jose Felicio Miziara High School. His home parish is San Joao Batista. He earned the master of arts degree with honor from Saint Vincent Seminary in 2000 and the master of divinity degree in 2001 from Saint Vincent Seminary.

This article is from The Catholic Accent, May 17, 2001.

By Maryann Gogniat Eidemiller

UNITY TOWNSHIP – Jonas Christal knows poverty. He grew up in a family of poor farmers in Brazil, and when they moved to the city to seek better opportunities, he met children who lived on the streets.

He has also experienced a more affluent life in the United States where he is amazed by the libraries, shopping malls and how much ordinary people have.

But Christal, who received his master of divinity degree from Saint Vincent Seminary May 11, knows where his heart belongs. In June he will return to the Archdiocese of Campinas where the people are in great need of many things. He will be ordained a deacon in July and later in the year, he will become a priest. Then he will devote his life to sharing the message of the Gospels and working among the poor.

“You find more meaning and joy in your life when you serve others,” he says.

Christal, 27, arrived at Saint Vincent in January 1997. He came with a scholarship from the Benedictines at Saint Vincent, who have a parish in his archdiocese. He also had high recommendations from Archbishop Gilberto Lopes.

Strong Catholic traditions in Christal’s family inspired his vocation.

“I was also influenced by my involvement in the community and by participating in youth groups,” he says.

Young people in Brazil study hard and also work to help support their families. Their dedication and spirituality, Christal says, “made me really reflect on what I wanted to do and to seek something to become more involved in a life of service.”

The Archdiocese of Campinas, located a three-hour drive from São Paulo, has approximately 100 diocesan priests for more than 1 million Catholics. In many churches, the faithful rely on lay ministers for worship services when a priest cannot come. Christal, a lay leader in a parish that included 23 communities, even led Easter vigil services.

For his fourth year practicum at Saint Vincent, he worked on staff with Terri Telepak, director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Greensburg. They co-directed the Youth Institute on Catholic Social Teachings where he did a presentation on Pope John Paul II’s “The Church in the Americas.”

Christal believes the people of both continents have a lot to offer each other. Catholics in the United States, he points out, can “adopt” parishes in South America.

“Latin America has a lot to offer in the sense of spirituality, the sense of community and the sense of giving yourself to others,” he says.

Christal tells youth groups about human rights issues, particularly about the plight of children who live on the streets of Brazil. Some of them are as young as five and many are involved with drugs.

“They come first to work the streets, to sell candies and things that their mothers cook at home,” he explains. “Then they don’t go home anymore because home is worse than living on the streets. Sometimes the parents don’t come looking for them, or they are abandoned. Who takes care of them? In some ways, it’s God.”

He also shares his love of the Blessed Mother with his young audiences. The many faces of Mary, he says, influenced his life. The maternal and comforting face helped him through an impoverished childhood. Mary in the Magnificat showed him how to accept responsibility.

Christal wears a black ring to symbolize his solidarity with the poor, and it is to them that he will return.

“He goes right to the heart of the Gospel message, and the justice and joy of the good news,” Telepak says. “He is happy, and he is smiling all the time. We wish he would stay here and be a diocesan priest for us, but his people need him back in the Archdiocese of Campinas.”