The oldest Capuchin friar in Brazil is still actively inspiring people around the world.
When we think of internet stars, we may think of people (especially young to middle-aged people) who actively use their social media accounts to interact with legions of followers who like their videos, selfies, or blog posts. Nonetheless, a 98-year-old Capuchin friar from Brazil, who doesn’t even have his own Facebook account, has gone “viral” three times, thanks to other people capturing video and photos of his simple acts of priestly ministry.
Most recently, Fr. Roberto Maria de Maracanaú — usually just called Fr. Roberto — received attention because of a video that shows him slowly and reverently genuflecting upon entering the Sacred Heart Shrine in Fortaleza, Brazil—the same church where he was ordained to the priesthood nearly 75 years ago on October 1, 1944, according to an article on Brazilian website Ancoradouro. It’s an everyday gesture, but seeing it done by a diminutive nearly-99-year-old Franciscan (his birthday is September 10), supporting himself with a cane and hunched over with age, sends a message.
We might think he’d have every excuse to omit the genuflection as a concession to his age and fragility, or to replace it with a bow, but he apparently doesn’t believe in concessions when it comes to his relationship with God.
He isn’t aware he’s being watched; he’s just doing what he’s surely done many times a day throughout his 85 years as a Franciscan and 75 years as a priest. Perhaps over the decades it has become a reflex, a semi-conscious habit, but now it clearly requires too much effort to be anything but an act of will. The video showing this gesture of devotion, shot by seminarian Ruan Alif, has now been shared around the world.
As mentioned before, this isn’t the first time footage of one of the friar’s activities has been widely shared and commented on social networks. Fr. Roberto, who is the oldest Capuchin in Brazil, still celebrates Mass every day and visits hospitals regularly. During one of his hospital calls in 2017, he was photographed praying for a policeman who was on duty, laying his hand upon his head. The photo was reshared by various media outlets in articles and on social media
He also still hears confessions. In 2016, the Archdiocese of Fortaleza organized a “Penitential Procession” with an itinerary of close to four miles. Fr. Roberto walked the entire trajectory, hearing confessions as he went. Unsurprisingly, people were amazed by his endurance and dedication. The photos were widely shared and reported upon. One comment, quoted in an article published by Aciprensa, says, “That example of faith, love, and fidelity to the things of God, that Fr. Roberto showed us today, was one more proof of the true, living presence of God in his heart. We have to follow his example!”
Throughout the years, Fr. Roberto’s ministry has included the roles of philosophy professor in the seminary, parish priest, school principal, rector of a shrine of Saint Francis, and missionary in Angola, Africa.
Fr. Eduardo Janderson, communications officer of Capuchins of Ceará and Piauí, told ACI Digital, “Fr. Robertinho is a true example of a Capuchin, of our charism which is distinguished by humility, fraternity, prayer, and mission… He’s a simple and humble person, and a model of a brother who, despite his age and physical limitations, welcomes everyone with great affection.” Fr. Janderson also describes him as an example of fidelity and fervor in prayer.
Fr. Roberto has been blessed with the gift of long life and good enough health to be able to continue in active priestly ministry, and he’s using those gifts to continue serving God and His people. Seeing his dedication and devotion in the context of his priestly vocation should be an invitation to each and every one of us to live our own calling in life, whatever it may involve, with similar generosity and perseverance, using God’s gifts responsibly.