Indigenous farmers in Brazil are being killed for opposing projects that threaten their lands, says Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva. Photo: Art Babych
Advocating for the rights of Indigenous people is one area where the Anglican Church of Canada might have much to offer its Brazilian cousin, the primate of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil said Monday, July 11.
“Brothers and sisters, what is happening right now in Brazil is a serious genocide against Indigenous people,” Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva told a small roomful of people at a “lunch and learn” event at General Synod, held July 7-12 in Richmond Hill, Ont. In one year recently, he said, more than 138 Indigenous people in Brazil were assassinated as part of a struggle over land with large-scale farming companies. [The Catholic Indigenist Missionary Council documented these alleged killings in a report.]
“It is one field [where] I hope the Brazilian and Canadian church can stay more connected, because you...have had a long battle to build all this you are doing now, and we are starting. We need your knowledge and your experience, because...advocacy we are ready to do, but we need to have more instruments to make the Indigenous communities be represented, and their voice be heard, in Brazilian society.”
Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, travelled to Brazil last November to meet with Assis and others from the Brazilian church. In an interview with the Anglican Journal soon after his return, Hiltz said the Brazilians had been very interested in learning about Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the 94 Calls to Action that issued from it and the Anglican Church of Canada’s response to those calls.
Indigenous rights, Assis told General Synod in a presentation later that day, is just one area of concern for the Brazilian church—a church, he said, that has an especially high interest in social justice. The church stresses inclusivity in many areas, including gender politics, he said; it has, for example, been ordaining women priests for 31 years. Assis said he also hoped it would soon have a female bishop.
“We are a small church. But as a small church, we make many, many noise,” said a smiling Assis, whose presentation included more than one apology for his occasionally imperfect English.
A central concern of the Brazilian church right now, he said, is the state of the country’s democracy amid an ongoing process to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.
“Brazil is living critical times in terms of its political institutions,” he said. “Democracy and rights are under serious threat.”
Many of his country’s troubles, he said, stem from its colonization process—a process that resulted in a mentality sometimes termed “casa grande e senzala”—a big house for the wealthy, slave dwellings for everyone else.
For most of the time since the election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as president in 2003, Assis said, considerable progress has been made in his country in human rights and in improving living conditions of the poor and other marginalized groups, women and children.
“It’s evident to the whole world that Brazil became a place where government was committed to transformation,” during this time, he said.
Then, last October, Roussef was re-elected, but by a very slim margin, and her government was left without a majority in the congress. Since then, conservatives have been trying to reverse some of these changes and attempting what Assis referred to as a kind of “coup d’état” in attempting to impeach Roussef in the absence of evidence of any crime on her part.
Assis said he worries about the civil chaos that might result if the impeachment process—expected to conclude next month—succeeds.
“Depending on the result, honestly I don’t know what will help in our society,” he said.
The Brazilian and Canadian churches have developed a close relationship over the years. There are now companion relationships between the diocese of Huron and Amazonia and the diocese of Ontario and Southwestern Brazil; the national churches are also working toward a formal partnership.
After Assis’s presentation to General Synod, Hiltz said that, while many churches in predominantly Roman Catholic Brazil are known for their devotion to St. Mary, “there are some others that are devoted not only to Mary, but to singing her song and making her song the very essence of their witness in the society in which they live, and that’s very true of the [Anglican] church in Brazil.
“We look forward to continuing conversations...as we forge again a province-to-province relationship,” he added.
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Tali Folkins has worked as a staff reporter for the Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail and The United Church Observer.
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