Amid a society focused on productivity, consumerism and hedonism, a Brazilian family-run company has been promoting the Catholic Faith by building chapels next to their gas stations for the past 30 years.
The initiative has come via a Catholic couple who direct the Rede Marajó company, which operates 19 gas stations and truck stops up and down Brazil. Company owners Janeth Vaz and her husband have built chapels at seven of them and plan to develop more.
Almost all the chapels have the Blessed Sacrament reserved in them, a permission granted by the local bishop’s authority.
Speaking to Spanish Catholic news outlet ACI Digital, Janeth Vaz outlined the history of their evangelistic project, dating back to 1992. Mrs. Vaz had not been practicing her Catholic Faith, noting that she attended Mass only “sporadically” However, upon spending more time with a special prayer group, Mrs. Vaz stated her outlook completely changed as she “fell in love with our Church.”
Her husband was at first much more reticent about this renewed devotion to the Catholic Faith. Still, Mrs. Vaz noted that eventually, he was also won around to regular Mass attendance. She told ACI Digital that his about-face happened due to her own regular Mass attendance.
The family’s new practice of the Catholic Faith thus led to a desire to share it with others through their business. Hence, in 1992, they constructed the first chapel at one of the company’s roadside gas stations in Nova Olinda. The mission of spreading the Catholic Faith is one that the couple sees as intrinsically linked to the company and not simply something in addition to their business venture. Mrs. Vaz said that the chapels are “the heart” of the company precisely because “the Most Holy One” resides there.
Spiritual Life in Roadside Chapels
However, the couple was not satisfied with just having a chapel. They also wanted the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The diocesan see was vacant when the first chapel was built, but the apostolic administrator granted permission for a tabernacle and the Holy Eucharist to reside there.
Mrs. Vaz recounted that after this first success, it became a consistent goal to receive permission to have the Blessed Sacrament residing in the chapels built at their stations. She stated that seeking this permission from the bishop via the parish priest was the first step in the building process.
In her interview, Mrs. Vaz revealed that Mass is celebrated weekly at all the chapels and monthly at gas stations without chapels. Some chapels also host visiting priests who offer the sacrament of Confession or spiritual advice and direction to those who visit the station.
The chapels are dedicated to the Virgin Mary under various titles, including Our Lady, Untier of Knots, Our Lady of Nazareth, Our Lady of Graces or Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The chapels are more than just the fruit of the family’s Marian devotion. What sustains them is the devotion the truck drivers have toward Our Lady.
“They love Our Lady; they have a devotion,” said Mrs. Vaz, because the drivers “feel that Our Lady cares for them.” She added that the clergy who visit the chapels to offer Mass come armed with spare rosaries, which they then distribute to the truck drivers who, she said, receive the sacramentals with much joy.
However, even in the company’s gas stations without chapels, Mass is still celebrated every month. She described this situation as a “grace,” particularly given the difficulties she envisaged at the outset of the venture.
Mrs. Vaz told ACI that she entertained serious doubts about the success of the roadside chapels when she first started but pushed ahead with the plans trusting in God. “Without this grace, nothing happens,” she said, adding how the longevity of the project was a testament to its divine backing.
‘Oasis’ in the ‘Desert’
The chapels are indeed having an effect, noted Mrs. Vaz, on the truckers coming in off the road. Highlighting the perceived need for the chapels, she described them as “an oasis in the middle of the desert.”
The presence of the chapels and passing priests has even prevented two truck drivers from committing suicide.
Recounting the details, Mrs. Vaz told of a priest at the roadside chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth. He paused outside the chapel upon noticing the tabernacle lamp was out. When entering to replace it, he found the light was still on but blocked by a man in great distress.
Upon striking up a conversation, the priest learned that the man intended to kill himself. However, the suicidal man had decided that he would abandon his plan if he encountered a priest to hear his Confession. “It was exactly then that the priest came in and talked to him, prayed with him, and he changed his mind,” said Mrs. Vaz.
Another truck driver arrived at the station wielding a gun and intended to commit suicide. A staff member pointed him instead towards the chapel, where he went and stayed for some time.
Another employee engaged him in conversation. He eventually left the chapel in a “completely different” spirit, saying he would get rid of the weapon.
Company Driven by Catholic Spirit
The family’s promotion of the Catholic Faith extends beyond passing truck drivers but embraces all who work for the company. Mrs. Vaz told ACI Digital that the firm starts each day at eight o’clock with prayer in common for a half hour when “everything stops.” Even non-Catholic staff observe the time, as most employees participate in the daily prayer schedule.
This Catholic spirit is set to continue into the future, with Mrs. Vaz revealing that the company is now chiefly in the hands of her children, who share her intention to spread the Catholic Faith. She recounted that after receiving a love of the Catholic Faith from their parents, the children were firmly committed to spreading it themselves, particularly through the roadside chapels.
She credited the continued success of the roadside chapels solely to God, saying that were the endeavor left simply in human hands, then neither she nor the company would be there 30 years later. “It is a long time to stand firm with this perseverance.”
“Faith is the first value in our company,” she closed.
The success of the venture is surprising in a society that downplays the role and importance of religion. However, as Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira notes, only Catholic culture gives rise to a civilization that promotes the spiritual good of its members.
“The Holy Church of God contains the highest ideal of culture,” he noted in his 1954 lecture at the Jesuit Seminary of São Leopoldo, Brazil. While modern society divorces religion from the public square, it does so at its peril since the Catholic Church is key to a well-oriented society.
“Although non-Catholic peoples can reach admirable levels of culture, they are always seriously flawed in some key points,” Prof. Corrêa de Oliveira noted. In contrast, a “Catholic culture is the highest expression of culture,” he stated. “Culturally, those who do not know the Church lose much more than sunlight. Indeed, the sun is nothing but a pale figure of the Church.”
Such an influence of Catholic culture can happen in the most unlikely places—even in Brazilian truck stops.
Photo Credit: © Aaron Kohr – stock.adobe.com