A pilgrim has walked 1,800 miles from his home in the north-east of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day in an attempt to evangelise his country.
Four months ago Fabio Mateus, a 32-year-old Catholic, decided to walk from his small home town of Trairí in Ceará to Rio in time for the start of World Youth Day on July 23.
The journey, which began on March 15, has taken the former office worker along some of Brazil’s busiest motorways, through the states of Ceará, Pernambuco, Bahia and Minas Gerais and past more than 70 cities and towns.
Covering an average of 24 miles a day, Mr Mateus has now arrived in Petropolis in the state of Rio de Janeiro. On Sunday he told The Catholic Herald that he had less than 80 miles to go before he reaches his destination.
“I am planning to arrive in Rio on Thursday July 18 and when I get there it will be a moment of joy and praise. I will join hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims and we will form an amazing prayer chain in preparation for meeting our Pope Francisco,” Mr Mateus said
He said he made the decision to make the journey on foot a year ago.
“I had been feeling spiritually unsettled in my heart for two years. I saw my friends leaving the Church in my community, especially the young people, and it made me feel so disheartened,” he says.
“So I prayed and asked the Lord what I could do to help. The answer came in a revelation. The Lord told me to walk to Rio de Janeiro to meet the Pope and through my faithful journey to show people that God is alive. That I should use the journey to preach, to spread the word and to pray on the way,” he said.
Mr Mateus, the father of eight-year-old twins, packed his rucksack with a spare pair of trainers and a sun hat to shield his head during some of the hottest days of the year and set off with his wife’s blessing. He admitted that loneliness had been the hardest part of the trip, as he misses his family. He has kept in touch through Facebook.
He compared his trek to the New Testament sacrifices made by the Apostles who covered thousands of miles proclaiming the word of the Lord.
At the start of his mission, Mr Mateus was given a letter of recommendation signed by his parish priest Fr Cleonor Magellan in Trairí, asking Catholic churches along the route to help the parishioner with food and shelter.
“I have not always been welcome. Some have helped, quite a few have turned me away,” Mateus said. “I have had to string my hammock up between trees and sleep by the roadside during the night, or if I was lucky a kind person gave me a place to stay.”
He said media coverage of his walk had meant people’s reactions to him had changed.
In the beginning drivers trying to offer him lifts called him crazy, he said.
“When I first started out I used to get lots of hand signals from drivers saying I was crazy, especially as I refused to accept lifts.
“But now people are stopping to listen to what I have to say. I’ve met thousands of people and I have preached the word of the Lord through my concrete journey to every single one of them,” he said.