A missionary in our midst: Thiago Mesquita de Sousa

By Simon Hart

'We do not live better when we flee, hide, refuse to share, stop giving and lock ourselves up in our own comforts.' These are the words of Pope Francis in 'Evangeli Gaudium' and they are words that Thiago Mesquita de Sousa summons as he sets about explaining the motivating forces in his life as a missionary.

It was two years ago that the 28-year-old left behind a comfortable life as a lawyer in the city of Fortaleza in the northeast of Brazil. Today he is some 4,500 miles away in Wigan – a place where, as he puts it, 'it is summer but I feel cold'. He has come here as guest of the 'very welcoming' Father John Gorman, staying at Our Lady Immaculate parish in Ashton-in-Makerfield since early May as he works on improving the English language skills which will help in his missionary work.

The variable climate of England's northwest is just one of the challenges he has faced since taking the decision to leave Brazil and relocate to Chile to live with the Shalom Catholic Community there. He had first encountered Shalom at a residential summer camp in his late teens. 'I'd say that this camp was a watershed in my life,' he recalls. 'I came out with something different. There were about 1,500 people. At the time I didn't have much faith, I was just thinking about having success in my life. But when I went to the camp I had a strong experience and started attending the youth groups of the Shalom Community. Soon, I began to co-ordinate groups.'

The Shalom Catholic Community is officially titled an 'international private association of the faithful'. It has communities across the world, including one in London. Explaining his life within the Chilean community, Thiago says: 'We have men, women, priests, celibate and couples – all different ages. Wherever our community is, we work with evangelising, organising events and retreats, especially for young people. We are in more than 35 countries.

'I was very happy as a lawyer. I had money, a car, it was all good but I felt a thirst in my heart. I've seen people's hearts are the same everywhere. I work with young people and I believe they have this same thirst I had. That's the reason why I felt very happy in missionary work. It's a challenging life, but the challenge is not too much compared with the grace [received]. I discovered that the secret of life is to give oneself to others.'

His daily life with Shalom in Chile combines evangelisation with contemplation, with two hours' silence each morning. 'In my life everything changed. I wake up early, I go to Mass first thing every day. I have breakfast then pray for two hours in silence. For me, silence allows you to hear the one person that is all the time with you.'

As for impressions gained since his arrival here in the northwest, he speaks positively of the depth of faith he has witnessed in Liverpool Archdiocese. 'I know people who do not abandon the faith, even when they're the only ones in the family who actively participate in going to Mass or other Catholic activities,' he says.

He would like the Shalom Community to develop stronger ties with the Diocese, and describes young people here as 'a renewing force'. He was grateful for the opportunity to attend the Lourdes Departure Mass at Lowe House and later this summer will attend the Walsingham Festival. With conviction, he adds: 'I really believe young people can make a difference to the Church here.'