Brazilian “Good Samaritan” Takes Care of Abortion Survivors | Catholic National Register
VATICAN CITY – One night a little over 30 years ago, Antonio Carlos Tavares de Mello cried out to God, asking why disabled children who had too often survived abortions had no one to care for them. He immediately received a response: give them your own life and stay with them.
After much prayer and after consulting with his bishop, De Mello set out to create an organization to do just that, and he adopted three children. His organization, called the Catholic Community of Jesus Menino (Child Jesus), now has three homes – two in Brazil and one in Portugal – and cares for over 100 children and adults with disabilities.
One of four children born in 1960 to devout Catholic parents in Petropolis, Brazil, De Mello had a simple childhood and volunteered for diocesan youth work in his late teens. But he felt called to do more. He wanted to become a priest, but felt he had another vocation. He returned to work in a local youth movement and eventually founded the community instead.
Abortion remains a crime in Brazil: a pregnant mother who kills her child is liable to a prison sentence of up to three years, unless the life of the woman is in danger, the pregnancy is the result of rape or that the unborn child is anencephalic (a disability in which the brain is partially missing).
Some Brazilian pregnant women still attempt to abort their children, often for economic reasons, through various means such as deadly drugs, and many survive with disabilities, this is where the Jesus Menino community comes in.
Brazilian Ambassador to Washington Nestor Forster Jr. praised the community, noting in 2019 that most of the people she cares for are “victims of abortions, abortions gone awry, botched abortions â. He called it is an “Embassy of Heaven on Earth”.
De Mello spoke with the Registry’s correspondent in Rome, Edward Pentin, on November 11 to share his community’s work and his own life story. The day before, he and two of his adopted children, Alexander and Felipe, met Pope Francis after his weekly general audience. De Mello’s story was recently featured in a documentary film titled Human life by Gustavo Brinholi.
Mr. De Mello, can you tell us more about the Jesus Menino community?
We take care of the children who have survived abortion and those who have been abandoned. It is a Catholic humanitarian mission for children, to protect human life. Most of the people we care for have survived an abortion. In Brazil, abortion is not allowed and women sometimes take drugs for the duration of their pregnancy.
The community, for example, has cared for a boy named Joao since he was a baby. He is now 9 years old, but during his mother’s pregnancy, she took drugs in an attempt to have an abortion. Joao was born unexpectedly at the entrance of a hospital and almost brainless – known as anencephaly – but he was still alive. Doctors said he only had a few months to live, but now he’s 9 years old and has been taken care of by the community his entire life. It’s beautiful because he’s very sweet, he has feelings.
Alex, here to my left his father tried to kill him with domestic violence while he was still in the womb. He suffers from cerebral palsy, he lost contact between his brain and his eyes, but he just took pictures of us, even with such a handicap.
How did you start this organization, what gave you the idea?
We started in 1990. I was working as a volunteer in a small community for children with disabilities. I was called to help at a party in a clinic, there were 125 children at the time, all very poor.
On the first day of my arrival, I met a 15 year old boy, Alexandre, and he asked me: âDo you want to be my father? I said I couldn’t because I was 25 and he was 15, but I told him, âI can be your father in my heart. Then I helped at this party. It was a weekend to remember something, and I started to come back to this community often.
I was very moved by this situation, to see how they were left to fend for themselves in society, then I started to understand their needs – there were cases of sexual abuse, physical and psychological violence, and so I wanted to try to somehow bring them into society. For example, there were trees in front of the building, and I cut them down so that they could see the street and have visible contact with the outside world. Then, during this process, they started to grow up, I became their adoptive father, and then I left everything to devote myself to them.
Did you not have a family at that time?
No, I lived with my parents. After that moment, everything changed. I was 23 and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Then one evening, the first night I slept there, I realized that the suffering was very intense. So I asked God that night – I walked out screaming, “How can you leave them here like this?” How can they live? That night I heard God’s response, âSo give them your life, stay with them. ”
Did you question that or did you hesitate after hearing this?
Yeah, I thought maybe it was on my mind, I was just too emotional.
What gave you the impetus to continue, to see it through to the end?
I went to seek the bishop to ask his opinion, to clarify it. I was a friend of the bishop having been involved in the diocesan youth group. The bishop said, âIt is from God, but God is waiting for you somewhere else, not in this clinic. You have to be their family, but what’s to come will be something different.
The bishop recommended that I stay with them in this clinic for now and pray about it for two years. At that time, I was quite well known in the youth movement and quite a few of them tried to join me in praying, in meditating. I started working in this institution and I changed a lot of things there, the way they were treated, etc., and in 1990 I rented the first house. I got permission to work with three young people.
From the start, I was very concerned about being obedient to the Church, so I went to adopt three children. Alexandre was the first to ask his father for me.
How old were you at that time?
Were you concerned about how you would be able to support these three children you adopted?
Not really, I believed if God called me to that, He would provide. On the first day I told them that we would go through a lot together but whatever the situation, I will be your father.
The first three years were very hard, especially financially, and we lived on Divine Providence. I promised God that I would have nothing in my name, that I would live like Joseph and Mary. It’s an eternal joy from the start.
It’s already 31 years and the community has adopted 106 children. We have a house in Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro, another house in Brasilia and a new one in Portugal.
Who are you helping now and what kind of disability do they have?
We help boys and girls and they have psychological and physical disabilities. In Brasilia, there are 78 and all are bedridden. We do not receive any government assistance; everything goes through donations. We have presented projects, for example, to the Italian Bishops’ Conference, the Papal Foundation, and we receive international donations.
What is the current situation in the community of Petropolis?
I live there with 45 children; 15 have died in recent years. It’s a kind of farm, a camp, so there are lots of little houses with different sizes. It is called “La Petite CitÃ© de Marie”. There is a school, a part for animals, a chapel. There are consecrated lay people, an association of lay people, who help, and we always have a chaplain as a spiritual guide.
During the day there is a lot of normal work and times of prayer. There is silence in the house, the silence of Nazareth. We are not an NGO or a clinic but a consecrated family.
How do you cope with the many challenges you face every day?
We have a priest and a psychologist to support us, and the staff are trained to face this reality, to be âfathersâ and âmothersâ as we call them. We are all trained to face a difficult life but also death because it is near, just like the people we help support. All this is important for the work to continue and to do it with joy.
A challenge is also to maintain healthy finances; that’s why I also have this diplomatic job, I travel a lot to keep in touch with contacts. Getting the word out has helped a lot in recent years.
In the United States and Europe, there are also many child survivors of abortions and others like them who need care. What advice would you give to anyone who wants to do similar work in these places?
I would give Mother Teresa’s advice: âThere is no better gift than being there for someone. Love heals, it is the first need and it is greater than anything.
Joao, for example, is a strong witness to how love can change a person. The first day I saw him they said no he wouldn’t survive, and I saw he was very happy but alone in bed and so the first thing I did was be there with him. I don’t have a uterus, but I have a heart and I promised to help rehabilitate it.
I think at that time the Holy Spirit did something. He is now in very good health. Sure, he’s still in care, but his blood pressure is good and everything in between. There are of course nurses with him, but he laughs a lot when we enter the room. He sees Jesus when we don’t see him. It is a miracle of life.
Because of Joao, I went to the UN where he gave a talk on anencephaly. He is a very powerful pro-life response to the world and the community. The film Human life helped raise awareness of the community and a Brazilian investor in the US delivered a beautiful speech saying, âThere is nothing more pro-life than this community. ”
What are your plans for the future and how can people help the community?
I’m happy if we can get the word out about us so that we can attract more vocations and help more families, bring more life. Now we realize that, of course, a lot of the issues around abortion come from not understanding pregnancy well at the very beginning, so we start working with pregnant women who feel abandoned, trying to reach out to those pregnant mothers. who are thinking of trying to destroy their babies.
We try to build a house to accommodate pregnant women who are thinking about having an abortion, often for economic reasons. This house must therefore welcome them during their pregnancy and take care of them for a year after the birth of their child so that they can meet their needs, and thus they will be dissuaded from having an abortion. Often times, we also chat with these women and tell them that if they are considering an abortion, leave your child with us.
These projects cost money of course – the Petropolis house needs $ 20,000 per month to operate – so we are always grateful for the donations. It’s a connect with details on how to donate.