The marked increase in cases of Covid-19 in recent weeks in Roscommon has caused some concern throughout the county.
However, the Chaplain to the Brazilian community in Roscommon has hit out at comments directed towards the Brazilian community, many of whom work in meat plants. Fr. James Heneghan feels the community has been singled out unfairly for comment on the increase in Covid-19 cases in the county.
“I was motivated to speak out on this because claims were being made that Brazilian people were not acting responsibly,” says Fr. Jimmy, who is a native of Ballinlough and is based in Roscommon Town, having served in Brazil for over forty years as a priest.
“Like all of us, this is a hard time for the Brazilian community. Effectively, they are an outdoor people and are more outdoor people than ourselves. Many of the community are not skilled, which is why they are mostly an outdoor people.
“I particularly feel sorry for the younger people of their community. Many of them are at home and off school while their parents are at work. When the kids are at home, they have no games and it may be that some of them were meeting other children.”
Fr. Heneghan feels the contribution of the Brazilian community to life in Roscommon shouldn’t be underestimated in terms of rents, taxes and monies spent in local shops, believing the community enrich the cultural life of the county.
“Brazilian people are an honest, hard-working people. Many of them have lived on the margins of society.
“In a foreign country, Brazilians are seeking their identity in their own community. Many of them don’t have English. Many work as cleaners while many of the men work as boners in meat factories – in Brazil, being a boner is quite a skilled and prestige job.”
Fr. Jimmy concedes that so far from home, it hasn’t always been easy for the Brazilian community living in the county. But in recent years, he’s witnessed some shift in attitudes as it’s the younger people who have reached out best of all to people from the South American country.
“I began my work here as Chaplain in 2006 when I was about to go back to Brazil. I was asked by a member of their community could I stay here and look out for them after which then Parish Priest Fr. Loughlin and the late Bishop Christy Jones agreed that I would stay here. Since then, I’ve been a chaplain in Roscommon as well as performing in a similar job in Ballymahon and Loughrea.
On claims that Brazilian people’s social habits may have contributed to the recent spike in Covid-19 cases in the county, Fr. Jimmy is sceptical. “Brazilian people are very family orientated – they share everything.
“By and large Brazilian people don’t go to the pub or hotels to celebrate. It’s their culture but it’s also a financial thing. Every social event is held in their homes, be it weddings or communions. They like to celebrate these events but they are no different from people of other communities.
“But I think much of the disquiet towards the Brazilian community is a storm in a teacup. I felt it important to ‘clear the air’. Remember sometimes local peoples don’t also communicate with new communities – though not in every case.
“I have sought the views of some of the leaders of the Brazilian community before speaking out. Members of the community are at the frontline of work, be it as cleaners or producing food. As a community, they do work hard. They are a lovely people.”