Rio de Janeiro, Brazil–Ipanema Beach along the beautiful coast of Rio de Janeiro Brazil is famous for one of the most recorded songs in the world. It tells the story of a beautiful woman who walks by and all the men stop and say “ahhh”.
But the area is now becoming famous for another person who has impressed people in Ipanema. It is not just the beach where his inspiration leads people to speak of his work, but in Nossa Senhora de Paz [Our Lady of Peace] Church several blocks up from the sand.
There inside in the back on the right is a small shrine with the human remains of Guido Schäffer, (Gui-DOH SHAFF-her) a thirty-four year old surfer whose influence on those in the area extends now worldwide. Though surfing was his pleasure, his passion was to be a Catholic man of Jesus Christ. This medical doctor turned seminarian lived the gospel in such a way that the mention of his name here leads people to stop, smile and tell of their experience of him.
“He would walk in the streets and talk to the homeless people,” explains Fr. Evandro Lima in his native Portuguese. “He was a doctor, so he could also see how the people were doing physically. At times, he would remove his shirt or his shoes to give to a homeless person who needed them.”
Schäffer began a weekly prayer meeting at the Church and there preached from the Bible and spoke powerfully. “He would just preach citing chapter and verse: Hebrews then Philippians, then Galatians, Mark, John. Fr. Evandro illustrated moving his hands as if preaching himself. “He preached about the love of God, about turning from sin, about conversion and turning to Christ.” the priest explained. “He even talked about his own struggles for holiness and sanctity,” he said.
Marcia Lara met Guido in late 2002 when invited to a retreat day by a mutual friend. “He impressed me a lot with his knowledge of the word of God and his ability he had in announcing Christ: always serene, smiling, overflowing with the joy of Christ. Everyone remained amazed at seeing him speak.”
Fr. Evandro explained that Guido Schäffer used a method of Bible study taught by the founder of a Brazil based Catholic community Canção Nova, Monsignor Jonas Abib. The method taught in his first published book, explains for one to read a chapter of the Bible, and use a pen to underline key verses. Monsignor Jonas explains to use one color for promises one finds in the Bible passage, another for commands and still another for principles. Then one takes these verses and uses them to understand what God is saying in that Bible chapter and those underlined verses. Then the person writes about putting this lesson into practice. It is this method Guido used for his own Bible study and out of which he spoke to those at his prayer meeting at the Church. The now Servant of God was close to the Canção Nova community.
His renown preaching, prayerfulness and service to the poor spread and in time he began to preach on the radio including Radio Catedral(sic) (Cathedral Radio) the voice of the Archdiocese of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro, more popularly known as the Archdiocese of Rio. People asked him to intercede for them for healing.
“A woman whom Guido visited wanted to be healed. Guido told her to pray the rosary everyday and she who still could not walk, one morning looked to an image of Our Lady and walked towards it. Many people that were away from Communion and Confession returned and others were baptized or received their First Communion.” explained Marcia.
“Wagner, a man was in the hospital with pneumonia and AIDS, received prayer and improved greatly and visibly.” Marcia writes. He returned to God and although he was not healed of AIDS, he was healed in spirit and changed his life. “Many people came to the Santa Casa in this time to ask for prayers as Guido spoke on Radio Catedral announcing the ministry.” She explained.
A medical doctor who chose to deepen his work by caring for the soul as well as the body, he began the process to study for the priesthood. Leaving his professional medical work, he choose to continue serving as a doctor, but no longer charged for his medical service.
Beginning his seminary studies, which due to his medical degree were shorter than most in seminary process, he still practiced his ministry work and continued until his final year of theology, when he died of a surfing accident in Rio. It was not long before he was to be ordained a transitional deacon. His surfboard struck him on his head after spilling while surfing a wave. He died immediately of drowning, he was thirty four.
His director of formation at the seminary Fr.Bruno had to identify his body. All were shocked this special man had died so young and suddenly, but recognize him as so much a saintly man that the Archbishop of Rio declared him a Servant of God and has promoted his cause for beatification in Rome. Fr. Bruno prays for Guido’s intercession for his own priesthood where he now serves in the Office of the Roman Curia in the Vatican.
When one speaks to the people who knew Guido, immediately a joyful smile comes to mind as they remember how he inspired and touched the lives of so many.
“Guido always spoke of the importance of prayer,” Mara explained. “Having intimacy with God. He encouraged us to make the consecration to the Virgin Mary, to seek the saints. He gave his witness, told of his experiences. His life was one of being in service.”
Fr. Evandro Lima explains that Guido is responsible for his own vocation. He was questioning his own future plans and wondering about his own vocation. “Guido looked at my hand and took it into his as he looked at my palm and said, ‘I see the hands of a shepherd.’ “ This means of course he was encouraging him to consider priesthood. Fr. Lima recently celebrated his fifteenth year as a member of the the Canção Nova Catholic community. He was ordained in 2014 by the bishop of the diocese of Lorena in the State of Sao Paulo, Brazil where the community is based.
Guido Schäffer died on May first 2009 and the following day the Archbishop of Rio celebrated his funeral mass. two other bishops and seventy priests concelebrated and more than one thousand mourners attended.
His remains are now in the back of the Nossa Senhora de Paz Church in a shrine where people are invited to write prayer intentions and to pray for his intercession. There is a monthly mass praying for the cause of his beatification.
The Girl from Ipanema led men to stop and say “ahh” many years ago, but today mention the name of Guido Schäffer to the Catholics in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, especially around Ipanema, and they stop and joyously talk about how he touched each of their lives for Christ.
Currently, a Portuguese language biography of Servant of God Guido Schäffer by Nossa Senhora de Paz pastor is being translated into English for publication in the US and other English speaking countries.
The author of the this article is a member of the segundo elo of Canção Nova and is a priest in the Archdiocese of Boston. He is also the editor of this blog, for Canção Nova