As Catholics living in America, we are incredibly blessed to have many spiritual works available to us in our own language, and from multiple publishing houses. This plethora of available literature enables us to better evangelize those we encounter, and to strengthen both ourselves and newcomers in the Faith. In other parts of the world, our brothers and sisters in the Faith are not as fortunate as we are, with many books unavailable in their own language. Alessandra Lass, however, is working to bring spiritual masterpieces to her fellow Brazilians, in particular, those young men in formation for the priesthood. Ian O’Hagan, in a recent correspondence with her, asked about her work in Brazil, as well as here in the US, and in England.
Let’s begin with your early years. To what extent was the Faith a part of your family, and of growing up?
My mother consecrated my life to Our Lady of Aparecida (patroness of Brazil) when I was in the womb, but my parents would not go Church every Sunday. My grandparents, however, were practicing Catholics, and from time to time I would say the rosary with my grandmother. During my early teenager years I was very curious to know more about the Catholic faith. I became more and more enchanted by the tradition and beauty of the Catholic Church, and made the free decision to be a Catholic until the last day of my life, with God’s grace.
Where and when did you learn English?
I started learning English relatively late — I was 13 years old. I went to a language school and later on did a major in English.
When did you begin translating? What drew you to this apostolate of yours?
Almost six years ago, I met a Catholic translator who was translating G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics into Portuguese. I offered to proofread her translation for free. She liked my work and recommended it to a Brazilian Catholic publisher. Since then, I have translated or proofread around 35 books. I love reading books about the faith, and in Brazil there’s a shortage of good books available. So I thought that translating them would be a good and pleasant way (although not easy!) to make good spiritual books available to my Brazilian fellows.
What are some recent works that you have translated from English to Portuguese?
More recent works would be “Sermons”, “Meditation and Devotions”, “The Dream of Gerontius”, by John Henry Newman, “Three to Get Married”, “Life is Worth Living”, “The World’s First Love”, by Fulton Sheen, and currently I’m translating the “Study Guide for the Letters to the Corinthians” by Scott Hahn.
In your work, you’ve interacted with many seminarians, recommending books for them to read. Can you tell us what the state of formation is like for seminarians in Brazil?
When I was in Brazil I lived very close to a diocesan seminary and had a good relationship with the rector. I was in a unique position to contribute to the formation of the seminarians. The great majority of them come from poor families and have not had the opportunity to receive a good education. Many of them have not even read a substantial book before. As a first step, I began recommending good books for them to read, and offering opportunities to discuss them together. There are many things to be improved, but the general state
of formation for seminarians in Brazil is much better nowadays than in the 70’s or 80’s (when Liberation Theology was very strong in my country).
Let’s talk about your work outside of Brazil; what brought you to America?
After completing my undergraduate studies, I decided to dedicate some time to pursuing my personal studies and intellectual interests. I applied for the Residential Fellows Program at The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal, in Michigan. I was accepted by the President of the Center, Annette Kirk, and stayed there for six months in 2011. My time at the Kirk Center was a true learning and growing experience. The seminars provided opportunities for my intellectual and academic growth. The intellectual environment of the Center, its vast libraries and resources, and the presence and advice of the Senior Scholars contributed to the development of my research (on the formation and nurturing of one’s imagination).
Can you tell us about your current work in England?
Currently, I am doing my Master’s degree in History at University of Cambridge. My topic is integration of Catholics into nineteenth-century British Society.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities facing the Church in Brazil and England?
The problems are completely different in England and in Brazil. In England, I think the biggest problem is secularization in general. People think they have no need for religion and that is what they teach their children. In Brazil, the problem would be sentimentalism, i. e., people think they need to “feel” something, to clap their hands, to pray emotionally in very loud voice to have a connection with God. That is why so many Catholics left the Church to become Pentecostals, especially in the nineties. They need more instruction about the beauty and sacredness of Liturgy, and the value of silent prayer.
Do you see a connection between translation and evangelization?
Absolutely. To be the Portuguese voice of great writers such as John Henry Newman and Fulton Sheen is a great joy for me. I know how much my country needs books like these to learn more about the faith and grow in love for the Church.