Brazil winces at austerity
by Peter Stanford THERE was widespread support and enthusiasm throughout Brazil last week for a national day of fasting and prayer aimed at highlighting the present economic crisis in the country.
Organised by the National Council of Catholic Bishops, the day had been attacked by rightwing groups as a focus roiaeitatioa against the Government.
However, Fr Arnaldo Beltran°, a spokesman for the council, denied this charge, and emphasised that the bishops felt they "had to take a concrete step to show that they did not agree with what was happening in the country."
The day of fasting and prayer. which took place on October II, coincided with the feastday of Our Lady of Aparecida, the following day, a national holiday.
In many areas the fasting and prayer vigils were continued over both days as a gesture of support and solidarity towards those who were suffering poverty and starvation. Particularly in the comparatively prosperous south of the country, the occasion drew widespread support, and local bishops reported that public reaction had exceded all estimates, In Rio de Janeiro, the day of fasting fell on the same day as a diocesan congress on the and delegates to that meeting took part in a prayer vigil in support of those worst affected by the economic crisis.
Brazil has the highest foreign debt in the world. It was put at US S90 million in January, but is now estimated at between 5110 and $120 million. Elie International Monetary Fund has ordered the 13ra/ilia!' Government to instieate programme or austerity which has affected the poorest sections of the community most. Recent
reports have revealed that as many as One third of the working population receive less than the official minimum ',yam In a statement last month, the Brazilian bishops in the north east of the country criticised the Government for running public works schemes where labourers were forced to dig irrigation
ditches on the estates of wealthy landowners For just 1:6 a month. Particularls., in the droughtstricken north east, many have
been forced to live in shanty towns on the outskirts of the main cities. There lawlessness is rife, and a series of raids have been carried out on local supermarkets by impoverished housewifes. The bishops have decried government inactivity and neglect in the area as being tantamount to "genocide."
Details of the Brazilian bishops pastoral action campaign for 1985 emerged soom after the fast ended. Entitled "'Bread for the Hungry," the bishops condemned the Government for its failure to provide essential relief, and described the north east as "an enormous hospital where there are neither doctors nor medicine."
In the diocese of Campos. the local bishop, Mgr Carlos Ftchandy Gimeno Navarro, is locked in a dispute with 25 local priests who have refused to accept the teaching of Vatican 11. The bishop has taken the priests to court in an attempt to evict them front their churches, and have the locks altered.