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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 12:02 GMT
Priests prepare Portugal for euro
Elderly Portuguese women hold euro cutting in the church
The elderly fear the euro makes them vulnerable
By Charles Rhodes in Artes

The vast empty plains of Altentejo in Portugal are one of Europe's poorest areas.

But just like urban and sophisticated Lisbon 200km down the A1 motorway the region will have to be ready for the launch of the euro on New Year's Day.

Padre Gomes gives local communities basic lessons on euro
Padre Gomes has become a 'euro' preacher
Bringing in a new currency here is a challenge that requires a very special approach. And the government has found one.

At the end of a very traditional Catholic Mass in the small town of Artes, not far from the Spanish border, Padre Manuel Horacio Gomes puts down his bible and picks up several cardboard cut out Euro notes and coins.

The Padre effect

After celebrating their faith, the congregation of mainly elderly women is being given a quick lesson in the currency that is about to replace the escudo.

It is a unique and effective part of a government campaign designed to prepare rural Portugal for the launch of the new currency.

Going out shopping is a worry. That is our main concern

Local resident
A day later and Padre Gomes, this time without his cassock, has once again taken on the role of teacher.

A village hall packed with 60 members of the isolated community of Montalvao are rapt as he explains what the new euro notes and coins will look like.


Many people here cannot read or write so will only be able to recognise the new currency by its colour and size.

Euro coins with explanation in Portuguese
Portugal hopes the launch will have no major hiccups
Elderly people feel particularly vulnerable and welcome the help they are getting from the church.

"Going out shopping is a worry. That is our main concern. We know what is going to happen to our pensions," says one woman.

Portuguese newspapers have given prominence to stories about con men pretending to be government officials calling on isolated villages and cheating elderly people of their life savings.


Padre Gomes is also worried about those people he does not see in church or at village meetings like this one.

Portugal is a Catholic country. People believe whatever the Priest says

Maria da Graca Nunnes da Silva
"We ask those who can read to help those who cannot. For instance, there is one woman who is the head of the household. She helps those at home, helping them with any difficulties they might have and teaching them in general about the new currency," he said.

In an office in central Lisbon, with splendid views over the Tejo River, Maria da Graca Nunnes da Silva, tells me about the final countdown to launch of the euro.

As an adviser to the president of the Portuguese euro commission she has guided Portugal through first phases of the campaign to prepare the country for the changeover to the euro.

The final, "red" phase, which she hopes will be short, begins on E-Day when the new notes and coins go into circulation for the first time.

For her the Catholic Church was an obvious messenger for her campaign: "Portugal is a Catholic country. Going to mass on Sunday is a social act and more importantly people believe whatever the Priest says."

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