Missions to Brazil Thrive with 'United Hearts' at Fishers Parish

By Kevin Cullen
Catholic Moment
November 14, 2010

(FISHERS — In 1992, Jon and Rosie Zatkulak decided to quit their jobs, sell their house, and move to Brazil to work as missionaries.

Father Don Eder, who was then their pastor at St. Louis de Montfort Church, encouraged them to go for it. He had been involved in ministry to Hispanics since he was a high-school seminary student.

The Zatkulaks returned home 16 months later, and in 2002 launched the parish's "United Hearts" project. Ten parishioners traveled to Sao Jose (St. Joseph) Parish in Imbau that year, beginning a twinning relationship that continues to this day.

On Nov. 5, Father Eder — now retired and living in Logansport — returned to St. Louis de Montfort to conduct a blessing ceremony and celebrate Mass. He then joined 17 other people, including the Zatkulaks and nine teenagers, who flew to Brazil for a nine-day mission trip.

From its modest beginnings, "the whole Brazil mission has become an integral part of the landscape of St. Louis de Montfort Parish," Father Eder said with a smile.

United Hearts has organized 15 such trips, involving 83 different parishioners, some of whom have made the trip multiple times.

"Now there's great momentum with the young adults," Jon Zatkulak said. "They're establishing long-term visits."

Years of volunteer work in Brazil, he said, "has changed our perspective on life."

"This is the second generation. Our daughter is there now," Rosie Zatkulak said. "Having eight teens on this trip adds excitement. Our largest group before now was 10."

"People remember us," she said. "We were away for eight years, but people still had our picture on their wall. It's absolutely life-changing. You become so much more grateful."

The missionaries work with Sister Rose Martin, originally from Tipton, a member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross from South Bend. Sao Jose is one of the many parish communities that she has supported during her nearly 50 years in Brazil.

"Sister said, 'God doesn't want you to feel guilty for what you have — just be grateful and in that gratitude, you share,'" Rosie Zatkulak said.

Each year since 2002, between $10,000 and $15,000 has been collected to help the people of Sao Jose and its outlying chapel communities.

United Hearts has provided funding for water, shelter and construction projects in Imbau and in 14 impoverished communities served by the parish of Sao Jose. With the help of others, they have built chapels, improved nutrition and provided programs for mothers. The parish community center is named for St. Louis de Montfort.

But, just as importantly, the missionaries have befriended people, and supplied toys and school supplies to the children. They also visit and assist the sick and elderly.

"Brazil is a very Catholic country, but with a lot of poverty," said Father Eder, who has made many mission trips to Mexico to build houses. "The families that go down there get hooked.

"One thing that turns people on is appreciation," he said. "If you know you are appreciated for what you did, you have the sense that you did something worthwhile. It's part of human experience."

Three young women from the parish went to Brazil in June with a program called Project Discovery. They have exposed some of the poorest youth in Imbau to dance, culture, English instruction and discussions of moral issues.

Kathy Sheek, a parishioner at St. Louis de Montfort, was a member of the first mission trip in 2002. She then returned for a six-month stay, accompanied by her husband, their three children — then aged 12, 9 and 6 — and their dog.

"We prayed, and asked, 'Is God talking to us?'" she said. "Sister Rose arranged to have a small home for us to rent, all set up. We did a lot of social work and worked with a mothers-and-children group in rural areas.

"Their lives are so simple," Sheek said. "They live without a lot of material things. Their lives are made up of relationships with other people. We lived simply, with no car and no TV, but we really bonded as a family. We were together almost every minute."

Back home — with jobs, school and other commitments — she missed that sense of togetherness.

Audrey Zigmond, an 18-year-old senior at Guerin Catholic High School, said her mother was part of the second United Hearts trip.

"She was always talking about people she met and how life changed. Nine years later, I get to meet all the people she met," she said.

She went with her sister, Anna, 16, who also attends Guerin Catholic. Anna had never been outside the United States before.

"When my parents decided I could go, I jumped on it," she said. "It's an opportunity to see how other people live, and to help."

John and Tina Zimmerman made the trip with two of their six children: Sarah, 15, and Joseph, 12. All of their other four children have been to Imbau. Daughter Katie has been there six times, and is part of the group that has been there since June.

"She has found her passion," Tina Zimmerman said.

"She has really provided the spirit to bring Christ to others," John Zimmerman said. "She can handle a lot more situations now. She can handle anything."


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