IHU-Online (Em português -- English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 15, 2014
The largest diocese in Brazil is in the Xingu and includes approximately 800 communities, but only has 27 priests. In addition to this disparity, the region presents many challenges to the defense of indigenous rights and also to the work of the Church in Amazonia. Both issues were discussed at the meeting between Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu, and Pope Francis on April 4th.
"I gave thanks for the privilege of being received in audience as bishop of the Xingu, which is the largest ecclesiastical area in Brazil in terms of territory. (...) In the Xingu as in all of Amazonia, the communities, for the most part, only have access to Sunday Eucharist two or three times a year," Dom Erwin Kräutler told IHU On-Line via e-mail.
"I denounced that today there are political and economic groups tied to agribusiness, mining companies and contractors that, with the support and participation of the Brazilian government, are seeking to dismantle the land rights of the indigenous peoples and are using political, administrative, judicial and legislative tools systematically to achieve that objective," Dom Erwin argued.
"And in this context, I talked about the development projects that are causing real social and environmental chaos. I cited the example of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Xingu. All the technical concerns that have been expressed by experts have failed to convince the Brazilian government to give up this megaproject. Around 40 thousand people are directly affected by Belo Monte and will have to leave their homes," he added.
Our complete interview with Dom Erwin Kräutler, bishop of the Xingu and national president of the Conselho Indigenista Missionário -- CIMI ("Indigenous Missionary Council"), follows.
IHU On-Line: How was your meeting with Pope Francis? What did you talk about? Did you address the issues of Belo Monte and the situation of the people of the Xingu?
Dom Erwin Kräutler: The meeting with Pope Francis had to do with my role as Secretary of the Bishops' Commission for Amazonia. Our Cardinal Dom Claudio Hummes, who's president of that commission, encouraged me to ask for a special audience with the pope to talk to him about my life and experience in Amazonia and, as an eyewitness who has known Amazonia for half a century, to keep him abreast of our concerns as Church in that region. But I'm also now in my fourth term as president of CIMI, the Indigenous Missionary Council. And with that responsibility, I really felt obligated to share with our Pope Francis the reality that the indigenous peoples in Brazil are experiencing, their suffering and anguish.
The audience was scheduled for 10 a.m. on April 4th, 2014. I had invited Father Paulo Suess, a theological advisor to CIMI who is deeply knowledgeable about the indigenous cause in Brazil and Latin America, to come with me to this audience so I could introduce him to the pope. After we greeted the pope and the usual photos, Father Paulo Suess gave him his Dicionário de Aparecida - 40 palavras-chave para uma leitura pastoral do Documento de Aparecida ("An Aparecida Dictionary: 40 Key Words for a Pastoral Interpretation of the Aparecida Document" -- Sao Paulo: Paulus, 2007) and also a document he had written about the communities without the Eucharist. Then the pope said he was hoping for specific suggestions, courageous proposals from the bishops as he had already asked for on July 27th, 2013, during his visit to Brazil on World Youth Day: "I'm asking you, please, to be courageous, to have parrhesia! In the 'porteño' way of speaking (of Buenos Aires)," he told them to "be 'gutsy'."
Communities without the Eucharist
Then the pope invited me to sit down. I thanked him for the privilege of being received in audience as the bishop of the Xingu, which is the biggest ecclesiastical area of Brazil in terms of territory. In the Xingu, there are around 800 communities and just 27 priests. In the Xingu, as in all of Amazonia, the communities, for the most part, only have access to Sunday Mass two or three times a year. It's very painful for me as bishop to live with this reality. Suddenly the pope asked me, "What do you think, or what your proposal to this effect?". I never expected that the pope would want to hear my opinion, and I said, "I don't have a ready 'recipe', but we urgently need to find a solution so that our people stop being excluded from the Eucharist." The pope then told me that there were some "interesting theories", for example, that of a German bishop who was bishop in South Africa. This was Dom Fritz Lobinger (b. 1929), who from 1987 to 2004 was bishop of the Aliwal Diocese. His book, Like His Brothers and Sisters: Ordaining Community Leaders (New York: Crossroads, 1999), has been translated into several languages. Dom Fritz Lobinger dreams of ordained ministers who belong to the community and continue their family and professional lives. The pope also recalled a diocese in Mexico where, among many indigenous ethnic groups, there are hundreds of married deacons who exercise their ministry among their people and lead their communities. They only need priestly ordination to be able to also preside over the Eucharistic celebration. It's the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas in the state of Chiapas. Pope Francis stressed more than once that bishops in a given region should present very specific and bold proposals. He told me he expected and was looking for such proposals from the bishops.
He recalled the great José de Anchieta, now "Saint José de Anchieta". Who knows, this saint, who arrived in Brazil from the Canary Islands when he wasn't even 20 years old and never returned to his homeland, could foster in a sufficient number of priests in Brazilian dioceses the missionary spirit towards Amazonia.
I saw the pope's eyes shine when he talked about the missionaries in Amazonia. He reminded me that Dom Claudio Hummes had talked to him about the many bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay men and women who are engaged in evangelization of that vast continental region and he expressed his caring and admiration for all of them.
The Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
Then I moved to the issue of the indigenous peoples. I talked about CIMI, about its presence with the indigenous peoples and also its goal to sensitize and raise the awareness of the majority society with respect to the dignity and rights of those peoples. I said that CIMI had contributed decisively to the indigenous peoples' "social organization, customs, languages, beliefs and traditions, and original right to the lands they have traditionally occupied" being recognized in Brazil's Charter (Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution). I denounced that today there are political and economic groups linked to agribusiness, mining companies and contractors, that, with the support and participation of the Brazilian government, are seeking to dismantle the land rights of the indigenous peoples and are using political, administrative, judicial and legislative tools systematically to achieve that objective.
I also denounced that, contrary to what the Brazilian Constitution sets forth, the current government has suspended the administrative procedures for the recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands in the country. The stoppage of demarcation is a major cause of conflicts of which indigenous peoples are the victims. I cited some examples showing the violence against indigenous peoples. I talked about the confinement of the Guarani-Kaiowá in a tiny area that has resulted in deaths, suicides, and permanent atrocious suffering. I also recalled Brazil's precarious health care, especially in the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in the state of Amazonas. Eighty-five percent of the native people have had contact with or been contaminated by one or more kinds of hepatitis virus. I couldn't help but also mention the approximately 90 groups of indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon that are isolated, many of them in danger of decimation.
Finally I recalled the pope's meeting with indigenous people during World Youth Day when an indigenous man put a beautiful headdress on his head and another, a Pataxó who was just 14, exclaimed, "It's fantastic that someone from our community has the opportunity to meet the pope. We here are representing all the indigenous people of Brazil." Several indigenous people from Amazonia said that day that they were hoping for the pope's help in defending their ancestral lands.
Amazonia and Ecology
With another reminder from me to the pope, we moved on to the issue of ecology. I reminded him what he said to the bishops of Brazil in his July 27, 2013 speech: "I would like to invite everyone to reflect on what Aparecida said about the Amazon Basin,including its forceful appeal for respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden." And in this context, I talked about the development projects that are causing real social and environmental chaos. I cited the example of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Xingu. All the technical concerns that have been expressed by experts have failed to convince the Brazilian government to give up this megaproject. Around 40 thousand people are directly affected by Belo Monte and will have to leave their homes.
The pope then told me that he is thinking about an encyclical on ecology and emphasized, "human ecology too." He's right. We can't separate the human family from the environment in which they live or abstract the environment from the men and women responsible for God's creation, the home of all humankind and of future generations too. I emphasized that Amazonia and the indigenous people cannot be missing from this forthcoming encyclical. The pope told me that he had already instructed the African Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to draw up an outline. I responded to the pope, "Well, yesterday I was with Cardinal Turkson for several hours and one of the issues was exactly that. I insisted that Amazonia and the indigenous people not be left out of any future encyclical on ecology. And the cardinal asked me to help him on these points. I accepted the invitation with great joy." The pope nodded happily and thanked me for my willingness to collaborate.
The embrace of the Xingu people
Finally I told the pope that my people of the Xingu love him very much and affectionately embrace him. "I want to convey to you the embrace of thousands and thousands of men and women." Here he said that he was returning the embrace and, smiling, charged me, in his name, to embrace everybody, each one of the brothers and sisters in the Prelature of Xingu.
In parting, he asked the people of the Xingu to pray a lot for him. I remembered the moment he appeared for the first time as pope, on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, and before giving his first blessing, he asked the people of Rome and the whole world for their prayers. So he asked first for prayers before sending his blessing to the people of the Xingu. I thanked him once again for the privilege of having been received in audience and kissed his simple "Ring of the Fisherman". Then the pope kindly accompanied me to the door.
IHU On-Line: What are your impressions of your conversation with Pope Francis?
Dom Erwin Kräutler: Pope Francis is very cordial, fraternal. There's nothing false in his smile. It's the window to his heart and soul. Anyone who meets him feels welcomed. Even though the Apostolic Palace holds the air of many centuries ago and many rooms with thrones and works of art that seem more like a museum, when I entered the library and the Pope came to me with a friendly smile and shook my hand, I realized I was "at home". What creates such a friendly and welcoming environment isn't the works of art but Pope Francis himself.
I don't know why, but during our conversation I suddenly saw in my mind the figure of Moses who brought the people out of the house of slavery to take them to the Promised Land. He had to endure excruciating disappointments, misunderstandings, open and veiled slander, even the revolt of the people to the point of wanting to return to the land that God took them from "with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (Deut. 4:34, 26:8). But Moses, amid all the frustrations, let himself be led by the Lord, went ahead, step by step. And why? A profound mystique nourished him and held him firm, even in the hour of deepest darkness. He never forgot what God told him at the dawn of the Exodus: "I am with you" (Ex 3:12). "The Lord knew him face to face" (Deut. 34:10) is the ultimate comment on Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. I think the Pope is experiencing a similar mystique. He knows that God is with him and this certainty of God's presence in his life is the secret of his captivating smile.
IHU On-Line: How would you describe the reaction of people in general and the Church in particular in Europe, and especially in Austria, to Francis' pontificate?
Dom Erwin Kräutler: I've lived in the Xingu almost 50 years so I wouldn't dare to make an analysis with respect to the churches in Europe, not even in Austria where I was born. I'll leave it to the pastoralists there. But through my contacts with priests and bishops and more engaged persons, I've noticed that there's a deep feeling of gratitude towards God and unrestrained joy that we have this pope. No one's expecting that he will be able to make the long needed reforms overnight, but there's great hope that Pope Francis will turn our Church around.
Some are impatient and want the pope to make decisions now about the so-called "Heisse Eisen" (hot button issues) in Europe, like the rules for admission to the priesthood, or celibacy, or the role of women in the Church, or the process for electing bishops, communion for people in second marriages.
There are also people who, it seems, are insisting on remaining in the era of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). They don't accept the pope's simple, humble, and welcoming style and, worse, they also question his theology, his appeals to mercy, and they doubt his orthodoxy, flying to the defense of the Catholic faith. Thanks be to God, they're a numerically insignificant minority, but they're fanatical, intransigent, obstinate people who grieve us.
IHU On-Line: What are the expectations about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Europe? And in Brazil?
Dom Erwin Kräutler: The expectations are huge, especially after the Holy See's worldwide survey. The Extraordinary Synod will have an epic task to accomplish and the synod discussions will undoubtedly be heated, which isn't a negative when you're looking for answers to the concerns of millions and millions of families who are waiting for directives, guidelines from this Synod.
Cardinal Walter Kasper's speech at the Consistory of Cardinals on February 20th, 2014, could be an excellent starting point for the discussions in the synod wing, especially on a very hot issue like the access to communion of divorced people in second marriages. In his speech, Walter Kasper recalled what Pope Francis said on January 24th, 2014 to the officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the higher appeal body in the Apostolic See). The pope states that "pastoral issues and mercy are not in opposition to justice but, so to speak, they are the highest justice because behind each cause they see not just a case to be examined from the perspective of a general rule, but a human person who, as such, cannot be turned into a mere case and always has unique dignity."
I hope there will really be dialogue. In the Synod for America in which I participated in 1997 as a delegate of the Brazilian Catholic Bishops' Conference, there wasn't enough room to exchange ideas, to discuss points of view. I hope that eventually an organization chart and flowchart favorable to dialogue are created.
I also hope that at this synod not just synod fathers, cardinals and bishops will have a voice but that couples and families are invited and listened to, including people whose marriage failed and who are asking for compassion and mercy towards their painful and often irreversible situation.
Photo: Pope Francis with Dom Erwin Krautler and Fr. Paulo Suess