NEWS FROM BRAZIL supplied by SEJUP (Servico Brasileiro de Justica e Paz).
Number 282, July 31, 1997.
The 9th. Interecclesial Meeting of the Basic Ecclesial Communities which took place in Sao Luis, State of Maranhao (see NEWS FROM BRAZIL, July 17, number 280) came to a close on July 19. 240 of the 255 Brazilian diocese were represented at the meeting. Apart from the 2359 representatives, 57 bishops, 66 delegates from the Evangelical Churches, 53 indians representing 33 indigenous groups, 89 international observers and 53 theological and pastoral advisers took part in the meeting.
On the last day of the meeting the participants prepared a letter to the Basic Ecclesial Communities (CEBs) in Brazil which outlined the topics reflected during the meeting. The letter starts out by emphasizing the warm welcome the delegates received in Sao Luis - all were accommodated by local families. The atmosphere present during the meeting also received special meeting - celebration was the key element throughout. The struggles being carried out by the CEBs for more justice was central to the discussions which took place in six thematic groups. The letter underlines that all of the thematic groups reaffirmed the importance of the preferential option for the poor made in the Conferences of Medellin, Puebla and Santo Domingos.
One thematic group deal with grass-roots Catholicism. This group underlined the value of the CEBs as spaces where older forms of the practice of the faith can be renewed. The contribution of the CEBs to this style of Catholicism was seen to be the manner of confronting life situations, on many occasions of injustice and suffering, with the bible; this methodology was evaluated as being capable of transforming such situations. On the other hand the CEBs receive from this form of Catholicism the example of a resistant faith and an immense richness of symbolism and religious practices.
In the thematic group dealing with Afro-Brazilian religions the personal testimony of various participants regarding the meaning of afro rites impressed the members of the group. The need to know and understand better Afro-Brazilian religions was a consensus. Another thematic group dealt with pentecostalism. Here the need to overcome preconceived ideas regarding members of Pentecostal Churches was emphasized. The starting point for dialogue was seen to be the daily actions and struggles for justice which have a biblical basis.
This group came to the conclusion that the worst exclusion today is from work where access to land and employment are denied. This was seen to be an all too common cause of violence and family break-up. Neo-liberalism described as 'a project of death' by participants in this group was seen to be the root cause of exclusion; it only favors the market and those who can compete and it turns its' back on the suffering of the people. The group pointed to the policies of the present Brazilian government as an example - social policies such as agrarian reform are forgotten. The CEB's representatives in this group called on Church leadership to show a clearer opposition to the neo-liberal system.
Grass-roots culture was the study theme of the fifth group. Here the role of the means of communication in manipulating the population and thus favoring neo-liberal projects were noted. While a more global policy of a liberating and grass-roots communication is called for the members of this group also recalled that there have emerged many positive experiences in this area in the CEBs, for example popular radio stations, alternative videos and community journalism.
The members of the group discussing themes of the indigenous peoples made a number of strong appeals. The importance of caring for the earth was stressed. A special alert was made concerning the widespread mis-use of water. The indigenous people were seen as experts on the question of ecology which is central to their spirituality. Members of this group called attention to the fact that the Church in Brazil has given very limited space in the liturgy to the great richness and diversity of indigenous cultures and rites.
The 57 bishops present at the Interecclesial Meeting also published a letter at the end of the meeting. Describing the Meeting as a huge celebration of life the bishops expressed ''gratitude, respect and appreciation for the example of faith and courage of numerous members of the CEBs. For more than 30 years they (the CEBs) have been seeds of hope for the Catholic Church''. The bishops' document recalled that since the CEBs live ''their love for God's Word, for a spirit of community and service and for solidarity with the weak, they are a stimulus for the entire Church to follow the path of Jesus and of the first communities. They are then a great gift of God to us and on our part arises the responsibility as pastors to encourage them''. Recalling the widespread current suffering caused by unemployment as well as the measures of economic adjustment which have worsened the situation of the poor, the bishops recalled their obligation to give their total support to the CEBs because here is found those who suffer most because of social and economic injustices.
On the final day of the Interecclesial Meeting a Pilgrimage of Communities brought thousands of people from communities throughout the State of Maranhao who took part in the final ceremony with the delegates. It was decided that the next Interecclesial Meeting will take place in the city of Ilheus in the year 2000 and will have as its' theme ''CEBs: a journey of 2000 years''. 1999 was designated as the 'Year of the Cry of the Excluded' for all of Latin America and the Caribbean when the recovery of civil rights will receive special attention. A motion passed by the participants in the Interecclesial Meeting demanded justice for Jose Rainha Junior of the Movement of Rural Landless Workers (MST). As we have reported in recent numbers of NEWS FROM BRAZIL Mr. Rainha awaits a re-trial having been condemned to 26 years imprisonment for the alleged assassination of two people in Pedro Canario, State of Espirito Santo in a land dispute on June 05, 1989. Witnesses at the trial showed clearly that he was not even in the State of Espirito Santo on the day of the assassination and Brazilian and international NGOs cast serious doubts on the impartiality of the recent trial.
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