Page 4, 23rd August 1974

23rd August 1974
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Page 4, 23rd August 1974 — Brazil the largest Catholic country in the world
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Brazil the largest Catholic country in the world

by ANN DUMMETT

What do you think of when you hear the name of Brazil? Coffee — and dance music? The Amazonian jungle? Well, it is a long way away, and no great interest for us.

So we might tsuppose. But what is happening in Brazil now is of crucial importance in the world history of the Catholic Church. It is also a working model of a stage in the world's political history that we should be foolish to ignore. Why should we bother with the Church and politics in Brazil? Let us go back over 60 years, to another part of Latin America, to draw a comparison.

From 1884 to 1911, Mexico was effectively ruled by Porfirio Diaz, who hit on a splendid formula for power. Mexico had resources which foreign capital could develop; it also had a popular revolutionary movement to be held down.

Diaz encouraged foreign investors, whose coming greatly benefited and enriched those in Mexico who were already rich, while the Mexican poor stayed poor and the police were ruthless with any signs of dissatisfaction. The rich on the whole were well satisfied.

One of the leading representatives of foreign investment 'was a British Liberal MP called Pearson, who remarked that Diaz understood human nature superbly while the highly

cultured officials round him were most obliging.

Diaz set a pattern for dictatorship which was to be followed over and over again in Latin America and later in Europe, In 1932, one observer, C. E. Chapman, wrote that while there was a vast SpanishAmerican literature on dictatorship, there had been an almost complete lack of intelligent discussion of it in Britain and North America.

Had we tried to understand the phenomenon of dictatorship earlier, we would have been better prepared to deal with its realities close at hand. Instead, British people were often more impressed with Hitler's motorways and Mussolini's punctual trains and squat neoRoman buildings than with the horrors of life under fascist police.

Latin America had had something to teach us, but we had failed to grasp what was going on — to our own cost, as well as Co the cost of the poor in Latin American countries, whose unfree labour went on contributing steadily to wealth

in Britain and North America. Latin America is the one big bloc of the "underdeveloped" world that is Catholic. "lf Christians fail here," wrote the Archbishop of Panama in 1970, "what can Christians hope to 'tell the rest of the world about development? It is here that Christians must apply their sense of justice."

Historically, the Archbishop went on, the Church had been part of the whole feudal structure set up during the first years of European conquest, four centuries ago. But recently, enormous changes like the medical revolution that hes extended life-expectancy, and the industrial revolution that has turned many peasants into city factory workers, have upset the old stable structures.

There has always been poverty in Latin America, but in the last few decades there have been far more poor people than there used to be.

In an utterly changed society, the Church cannot just go on as before; it has to choose how it defines Christian behaviour in a new situation, In Latin

America. under the impetus of the Church's social teaching that began with Leo X111, propelled faster since the Second Vatican Council, but most important of all, because of the Flaring obviousness of the injustices around them, many Latin American bishops, clergy and lay people have chosen the side of the poor.

The present regime has taken the opportunity to present Brazil to the world as a safe and stable country, excellent for foreign investors, achieving far greater economic growth than any country in Europe, keeping down inflation and untroubled by labour disputes. (Like Diaz's Mexico — only more so.) Brazil. as well as being the largest nation in South America, with an area almost the size of the United States and a population of 100 million, is the world's largest Catholic country. It has had, under the army, an "economic miracle." i The average increase in income since 1967 has indeed been a staggering 50 per cent, but this average is for most people valueless. During the 1960s, the richest 10 per cent of the population acquired threequarters of the increase, while wageearners have very little more in real terms than in the fifties, despite their greatly increased productivity. There is also great regional inequality, the Sao Paulo region being relatively richest, while other areas, particularly the north-east, are desperately poor. The ruthlessness with which this economic growth is pursued is shown in the story of Fr Francis Jentel, a French priest who tried to prevent a development company seizing the land of his parishioners in the village of Santa Terezinha, Although the peasants' legal claim to the land was established by Fr Jentel's petitions to the Government, the development company sent a tractor (which actually belonged to a government agency) to the village, and bulldozed down the foun dations of a dispensary Fr Jentel had been building, together with a well, some fruit trees, building materials and a camera.

Fr Jentet was away for a few days on a retreat; the villagers stood by helplessly. On his return, they began rebuilding; but, a few weeks later, develop

ment company men returned with machine-guns. Some of the villagers had shot-guns, and fighting broke out.

Fr Jentel was 1,500 metres away when some company men were wounded; none the less,

he was arrested and eventually sentenced to ten years' im

prisonment. In protests against his sentence. priests, nuns and lay workers were arrested by police and some were tortured. The case is one of many documented in detail by Amnesty International, the organisation which "adopts" prisoners of conscience throughout the world, in the USSR, Greece, Rhodesia, Indonesia and many other countries. (Amnesty will not adopt those who have used or advocated violence: it , gives financial help to prisoners' families and tries to work by public pressure to have prisoners released, and to prevent torture and arbitrary arrest.)

Information about imprisonment and torture in Brazil is not

easy to get, as there is strict Government censorship — so strict that even the sermon and

songs at a Requiem Mass for a

student from a well-known Catholic family in Sao Paulo in 1973 were under a reporting

ban. One television station which broke the ban was prosecuted.

Many associates of Archbishop Helder Camara of Recife have been arrested, some tortured: and the Archbishop himself is not allowed to speak publicly. The Press is not allowed to report his activities, except when he leads a procession in local festivities. His offices have been raided, and papers seized.

Dom Helder's crime against the "internal security" which, to the Brazilian Government, is the highest good in the State, has been to work for greater justice for the poor.

He has denounced "the atmosphere of insecurity and oppression in which we live" and, while stressing that some socialist systems too distort social justice, has affirmed, "the Church does not only concern herself with souls but with human beings."

Many other Brazilian bishops have affirmed the same concern, and protested against the violence of the Government. (Since 1968 the death penalty has been introduced and many prisoners have died mysteriously, or disappeared, while in police custody. Hard though it is to gather evidence, Amnesty International listed in a 1972 report 1,081 _people reported to have been tortured, including a number of priests and nuns.) Not all clergy and laity have chosen the side of the poor, In the early 1960s, some Catholics attacked the Church's Government-financed movement for basic education among the poor as "subversion," and it was opposition by some Catholic organisations to Goulart, the last ruler before the 1964 coup, which enabled the army to claim it was taking over power "in defence of Christianity."

What is all this to us? We can do little, but we are by no means helpless. We can support Amnesty International, and urge our Members of Parliament to press the Brazilian Government to abandon its suppression of human rights and its use of torture.

We can respond, as a recent Comment by the Catholic Institute for International Relations has asked us to do, to a request from the Brazilian Council of Bishops. This is that 1974 should he the year of a massive education programme ]concerning human rights and iiustice in Brazil.

Catholic schools here, looking for illustrations of he precepts in the Gospels, coin.: find no more dramatic contee, porary stories of martyrdon than the fate of Catholics in Brazil who 'have dared to love the poor.




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