Our Ministry with Indigenous Peoples in Brazil
By: Michael Brady, OMI
“500 years of suffering, of massacre, of exclusion, prejudice, exploration, extermination of our peoples and cultures, raping of our women, devastation of our lands, of our forests, which were taken from us through the invasion…We are in mourning. Until when? Are you not ashamed of this memory which is in our soul and in our heart? We tell this story for the cause of Justice, Land and Liberty” (Words of Matalaue, a young member of the Pataxo People on 26th of April 2000 during a celebration of the Eucharist at Coroa Vermelha , to mark the arrival at that spot 500 years ago of those who “discovered” Brazil).
I take these words from the basic text of the “Campanha da Fraternidade” 2002.This “Campanha” is prepared each year by the National Conference of Bishops. That year the Bishops called all to solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples. We, being Oblates, heard this call and responded in whatever way we could according to the circumstances in which we found ourselves.
Joao Altino, who ministers in a Parish in Mato Grosso, entered more deeply into dialogue with the Ofaie People who live in an Aldeia not too far away. Some land which these people had a Constitutional right to had been illegally occupied and so Joao, with some members of the Missionary Council for Indigenous Peoples, helped them to know their rights and seek to have them honored in practice. Joao continues to accompany these people. They are entitled to some Government grants which he helps them to know about and obtain. When the money comes, he sits with them to think out how best to use it. He told me that if he did not do that, they would use it to buy an old car or cow. He helps them to have transparency in the use of the grants; otherwise the well would dry up! He also helped them to buy Bee Hives and they are now selling honey.
Here in Goiania, there is a “Cäsa do Indio” where Indigenous people come in the case of serious illness. When they come they are normally accompanied by members of their families. In 2002, on “Dia do Indio,” we invited these families to a celebration with the members of the “Comunidades de Base.” The day went very well. The Indigenous People spoke about themselves, and as they did so, their beautiful human qualities shone through and expelled the darkness of prejudice and stereotype images from many minds. Since then we have kept up contact.
During Holy Week this year, we received a phone call from some “Xavante” People who were in Goiania because of the illness of a member of their family. They asked us if they could join us for the celebration of the Eucharist on Easter Sunday. One of them read the first reading which was Peter’s words in the house of Cornelius – a lovely coincidence! Some of these people have decided to be baptized, through the missionary activity of the Salesians in Mato Grosso. Sometimes they ask us to visit their sick relatives in the hospital. Recently, a young Xavante who had come from an Aldeia with his sick grandfather asked me to go to the hospital and pray with him. When I got to the bed, I thought that communication would be impossible; he was a Xavante – 102 years old. Then the grandson told him that I was a Padre. His face lit up and he stretched out his arms like a two year old and embraced me. Some theological questions had been hanging around as I drove to the hospital, but when he embraced me as a friend, I realized that the event was bigger than any report. So I suppose it can be said that part of our presence with the Indigenous people is a response to an invitation rather than an execution of a pre-made plan.