Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The stars, the Araguaia and we ourselves are witnesses: Dom Pedro Casaldáliga's 40th anniversary as bishop

By Antonio Canuto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital
11/10/2011

Practically during the same period that Dom Leonardo left the pastorship of this church, and Dom Eugenio Rixen assumed it as apostolic administrator, it's the fortieth anniversary of Pedro Casaldaliga's ordination as bishop.

It was October 23, 1971. A moment of greatest importance for the prelature that was welcoming its first bishop. A time not to be forgotten. It was an event that profoundly marked the church and especially those who were privileged to participate in it.

Three years after the arrival of Pedro in the second half of 1968 to start a new mission field, accompanied by brother Manuel Luzon, the church of the prelature was consolidated with the ordination of its first bishop. Pedro was ordained by Dom Fernando Gomes dos Santos, archbishop of Goiânia, Dom Tomás Balduino, Bishop of the Diocese of Goiás, and Dom Juvenal Roriz, Bishop of Rubiataba.

Three rather significant elements stamped that ceremony with a completely new and prophetic character which had a strong impact not only on the church in Brazil, but also on many churches around the world and on society.

First, the ordination took place in the richest and largest cathedral in the world. The dome of this cathedral was decorated by the incalculable multitude of the stars of heaven. The walls were formed on one side by the free waters of the Araguaia, on the other, by the sands of the hill of Sao Felix. In the background, the poor little church of the community. At the foot of the hill, as if to recall how temporary and fragile life is, the cemetery where so many people, dead or "killed", were resting, next to the Karajá secular cemetery.



Second, Pedro refused any outward sign that would differentiate him within the church. I could be wrong, but I think he's the only bishop in Brazil -- and perhaps the world -- who considered never using any episcopal insignia. The episcopal insignia delivered to bishops at their ordination today are the ring, the crosier, the miter, and the pectoral cross. Outward signs of the place of the bishop in a hierarchically structured church. Signs of his authority and power. The bishop still has a shield that represents his motto for life and service. His clothes also differ from those of ordinary priests (Years ago, bishops still wore gloves, special shoes, and different vestments in the celebrations. All this to show their importance in the Church). Well, on that night of October 23, 1971, the sky, the waters of the Araguaia and all of us who were there saw something new happening. A bishop refused the signs of power in order to fully insert himself into the life of the people. These prophetic-poetic words echoed forth: "Your miter shall be a rustic straw hat, the sun and the moon, the rain and calm weather, the eyes of the poor with whom you walk and the glorious gaze of Christ the Lord. Your staff shall be the truth of the Gospel and your people's trust in you. Your ring shall be faithfulness to the New Covenant of the Liberating God and loyalty to the people of this land. You shall have no shield but the freedom of the children of God, or use any gloves other than loving service."

The third element that marked this ordination left a trail of light and hope. On one hand, he aroused immediate support of Christians throughout the church and in the most diverse sectors of society; on the other, he provoked an angry and violent reaction in the agents of the military dictatorship and those who enriched themselves through public incentives at the cost of the sacrifice, pain and slavery of many.

His pastoral letter, released on that occasion, was titled, "Uma Igreja da Amazonia em conflito com o latifundio e a marginalização social" ("The Church in Amazonia in conflict with the latifundio and social exclusion"). It was a document that marked an era and became a divider of currents within the Church in Brazil. The pastoral letter doesn't look inside the Church. It's the Church's look on the raw, naked reality of the people whom this Church came to serve.

It recounts the situations faced by the "squatters" who were expelled from the lands they had occupied and been working for decades, the situation of the indigenous people whose territory had been invaded for the benefit of capital, and the exploitation of laborers, workers brought in from various regions of the country and subjected to the most degrading conditions, in a situation similar to that of slaves.

Clear and prophetic words denouncing the injustices that were being committed against the people and that resounded in Brazil and around the world. Pedro said in the introduction: "If the first role of the bishop is to be a prophet, and 'the prophet is the voice of the voiceless'(Cardinal Marty), I honestly could not keep silent once I had received the fullness of priestly service."

The ordination was not just a celebration. It became reality in every corner of the prelature, in a simple and poor life, in a life shared with sertanejos and indigenous people, in collective and fraternal decision-making where lay people, religious and clergy had a voice, always considering the people and their history.

Forty years have passed. We can not forget those events that were the foundation of our diocese.

Message of Pedro Casaldaliga to the 21st meeting of the Base Ecclesial Communities:

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