We thank Xavier for sharing with us his enriching experiences on a visit to Brazil.
It was planned that the Second Global Forum of the People of God would be held in the Brazilian city of Aparecida, home to the shrine of Brazil’s patron saint, Our Lady of Aparecida . The Portuguese title for Our Lady is Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida (Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Who Appeared). In October, 1717, three poor fishermen found a statue of Mary in their net when they were fishing in the Paraíba River. The statue was black and appeared at a time when the Portuguese system of enslaving Africans and bringing them to Brazil to labor on the plantations was fully developed.
“Many of the kinds of changes that the Catholic reform movement would like to see have already happened in the Brazilian church. Brazil has been enacting and doing these reforms for 40 years.” —Xavier
At a conference I attended in 2015, our opening song for the closing eucharistic liturgy was a song that is sung by the Base Christian Community movement in Brazil. I had learned this song when I first attended a national conference of these communities in Brazil in 2005. Brazil is the largest Catholic country in the world and the progressive Brazilian church has been at the forefront for change in the global church. The song gave us a taste of the exciting energy of the Brazilian church.
|Peneirei fubá, fubá caiu
Eu tornei peneirar, fubá subiu
Uai,uai,uai, a nossa vez chegou.
Uai,uai,uai, venha ver tamanho amor.
|I sifted cornmeal, the cornmeal fell down
I sifted cornmeal again, the cornmeal went up.
Uai,uai,uai, our time has come.
Uai,uai,uai,come see such great love.
For the Base Christian Communities, known as CEBs in Portuguese (Comunidades Eclesiais de Base), sifting cornmeal is a metaphor for sifting through present-day events in the light of the Gospel and looking for the movement of the Spirit. It is spiritual discernment on both a personal and communal level.
My experiences in Brazil and my connections in Mexico and Asia truly offer inspiration, and show the church in the North America, Australasia and Europe where support is vital to keep reform momentum strong.
The church in Latin America responded to the Second Vatican Council with tremendous creativity. Many people in the church– lay people, religious, priests and bishops– interpreted the Council’s call for reading the signs of the times with great vision. Looking at the reality of Latin American societies marked by great economic inequality, discrimination against indigenous peoples and people of African descent, and continued destruction of the environment, these visionary Catholics articulated a new way of being church that is expressed through small communities made up of people from the base of society. This was articulated in what became known as liberation theology, and connected through gatherings of representatives of these small communities in national, regional and continental meetings.
These small Christian communities are called “Comunidades Eclesiales de Base” in Spanish, and “Comunidades Eclesiais de Base” in Portuguese and are known as CEBs. I had begun to learn about the CEBs when I first lived in Mexico, but my first experience of them was when I participated in a national conference of CEBs in Brazil in July 2005. I was invited to a pre-conference gathering of international participants who spent a week in the town of Cariacica, a city of the metropolitan area of Vitória in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo. We international guests were hosted by a parish called “Jesus the Liberator” which was made up of 21 base communities (CEBs ). The purpose of our stay in this parish was to see the reality of these communities and learn how the CEBs in Brazil were living out new models of the church.
I was astonished by the creativity of the Brazilian church, the enthusiasm of the CEBs members and the protagonism of lay people in both administrative and liturgical roles in the parish. At the time, I kept thinking that progressive Catholics from Europe, North America and Australasia needed to come to Brazil just to see how our vision and hope for a church where clergy and lay people work in equal partnership was being lived out. My hope is that bridges can be built with Brazilian Catholics so that progressive-minded Catholics in both countries can be in frequent contact and can support each other’s efforts to be a lay-centred, inclusive church.
Jesus the Liberator parish had no joint worship space. Instead, in one neighbourhood in Cariacica, the parish had administrative offices and a catechetical centre. The parish was made up of 21 individual communities of up to 100 members in each community that gathered in their own worship space in each neighbourhood. The parish only had one ministerial priest, but because there were so many communities, each community only celebrated the Mass once every four to six weeks. On the Sundays when no ministerial priest came to a community, the lay people gathered in their worship space for a “Celebration” (Celebração in Portuguese) where a lay woman or lay man presided over the liturgy, preached the homily and led a blessing of bread (not called Eucharist) which was distributed during the Sign of Peace. Because of the lack of ministerial priests, lay men and women were trained and commissioned by the local archdiocese to serve in their communities as Ministers of Baptism, Marriage (with the title “Officially Recognized Wedding Witnesses”) and Ministers to the Dying, who accompanied families with a member who was dying, before, during and after the death. These lay leaders had been through prolonged training which included biblical exegesis based on the historical-critical method and theological reflection. What also amazed me was that the members of these CEBs lived in one of the poorest cities in metropolitan Vitória and almost none of them had more than a high school education. The people were from the “base” of Brazilian society.
It was at this week long gathering in Cariacia that I first learned to sing and dance “Peneirei Fubá?” (Sifting Cornmeal).
The Brazilian church has given great attention to Pope Francis’ encyclical about the ecological crisis (a). The name of this encyclical “Laudato Si’” come from the first line of St. Francis of Assisi’s hymn to creation and means “Praised Be“ in English. Some elements of the Brazilian church have been very active in the environmental movement and there is a growing awareness of the beauty and fragility of Brazil’s many ecosystems. The basilica dedicated to Brazil’s patron saint, Our Lady of Aparecida, is full of beautiful artwork that depicts these ecosystems.
At the Mass at the Vitória Cathedral, we were given a worship aid that surprised me because of the moving words to the official prayer and the hymn for this year’s Fraternity Campaign sponsored by the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference. The whole Brazilian church is being asked this year to reflect upon Laudato Si’.
Here are the words to the prayer and the hymn in my translation from Portuguese to English:
Prayer for the 2017 Fraternity Campaign
Theme: “Cultivate and Take Care of Creation” (Gn. 2:15)
Motto: “Fraternity: Brazilian Biomasses and the Defence of Life”
God, our Father and Lord, we praise you and bless you for your infinite goodness.
You created the universe with wisdom
and you handed it over to our fragile hands so that we would care for it with tenderness and love.
Help us to be responsible and zealous for our Common Home.
Increase, in our immense Brazil, the desire and the willingness to care more and more for people’s lives
and for the beauty and richness of creation,
nourishing the dream of the new heaven and the new earth that you promised.
Hymn of the Fraternity Campaign 2017
Refrain: From the Amazon to the Pampas, from the Cerrado to the Manguezais, may our song of life and peace come to You
- May you be praised, o Lord, for mother earth, who welcomes us, make us joyful and gives us bread ( cf. Laudato Si’, n.1).
We want to be your partners in the task of “ cultivating and taking good care of creation”.
- Seeing the richness of the biomass that you created, with happiness you said: everything is beautiful; everything is good!
In order to take care of your work you called us to preserve and cultivate such a great gift (cf.Gn. 1-2 ).
- Along the entire coast of our country you spread life; there are many faces– from the Caatinga to the Pantanal: Black people and Indians, rural people: beautiful people, fighting together for a more equal world.
- Lord, now you lead us to the desert and then you speak tenderly to our hearts
(cf. Hosea 2:16) to show us that we are such diverse peoples but the same God makes our hearts beat.
- If we contemplate this “mother” with reverence, not with visions of profit or ambition, consumerism, wastefulness and indifference become struggle, commitment and protection ( cf. Laudato Si’, n. 207 ).
- May a new ecology grow among us (cf. Laudato Si’, chapter IV) where people, nature
and all of life at last can sing in the most perfect symphony to the Creator that made the earth his garden.
a. Laudato Si’ – Pope Francis’ encyclical about the ecological crisis and the responsibility of all people to respond to it. Written in 2015.
Pampas– flat plains in the southernmost part of Brazil which borders Argentina and Paraguay
Cerrado– vast tropical savanna in central Brazil
Manguezais – ecosystem along the entire Brazilian coast situated between solid ground and the ocean
Caatinga – unique ecosystem found only in Brazil, arid semi-desert, in Brazil’s Northeast
Pantana – the world’s largest tropical wetland found mainly in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul
Black people- In Brazilian Portuguese, there are two words for the one English word “black” : preto ( the color black ) and negro ( used by Afro-Brazilians to describe themselves politically). In this song, the word “ negro” is used, and it does not have the offensive connotations in Portuguese that it has in English. Translating “ negro “ as “ Afro-Brazilian” is awkward, through “Afro-Brazilian” sounds better in English to many Americans.
Indians– unlike in Mexican Spanish, the Portuguese and Spanish word “índio” is not offensive in Brazilian Portuguese. The word “indígena” (indigenous) is also used in Brazil, but in this song the word “índio” is used. There is no direct Brazilian translation of the term “Native Americans”