Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
By Ricardo Moraes
It was Palm Sunday in Rio’s cathedral when I found them in a small group wearing their simple, traditional robes, with short hair and beards, praying, concentrating, amidst hundreds of other Catholics. I’m talking about the Franciscans, young followers of Saint Francis of Assisi who on some occasions I had seen roaming the city, almost invisible, helping Rio’s poor.
I knew nothing about them, but with the election of a Latin American Pope and his chosen name of Francis, I began to do some research. Apart from what I learned from the Internet and through phone calls to a monastery, there wasn’t a lot more information available. The Franciscan orders have existed for centuries around the world, but I wanted to know more about those youths who one monk had told me are the “Church’s rebels.”
I stood observing them during an important moment in the mass, with their eyes tightly shut and very serious faces. I really wanted to photograph them, but with so many people around me I didn’t want to disturb the mass. I waited, and when the mass finished I was finally able to talk to them and introduce myself. Their serious looks disappeared and with smiles they told me that I would be very welcome to visit them in their home.
It was a short conversation in which I barely explained that I wanted to do a photo essay about their lives motivated by the election of Pope Francis, and asked them how they felt about the papal choice. One of the brothers told me, “It’s a confirmation of all that we believe.”
The following week I was finally able to meet the fraternity named “O Caminho,” or “The Way,” divided into two houses, one for the sisters and one for the brothers, in Campo Grande about 50 kms (31 miles) from the center of Rio. I arrived in the early morning as they performing the first daily prayer. I was well received and allowed to photograph as they prayed. They weren’t at all bothered by me working, and never lost concentration.