By Rodrigo Arantes
Missionaries abducted and murdered; their church burned down.
Far from the headlines, this is happening in the Indigenous Territory of Raposa Serra do Sol, in the state of Roraima, in northern Brazil. The area was colonized, and the indigenous people, the Macuxis, were enslaved, and forced to work prospecting for minerals and producing rice. Their pay? Cheap alcohol that got them hooked.
The Catholic Church, from the beginning of the 20th century, has been fighting back on behalf of the native people. The efforts of missionaries led to the decision by the indigenous peoples to give up alcohol. Those who wished to continue using it had to leave the tribe.
This decision infuriated the local colonial landowners who thus lost their source of cheap labor—they started going after the Church. In 2004, they murdered some of the indigenous people and abducted three Consolata missionaries, and the following year a band of some 150 masked and armed men set fire to the whole of the mission complex, including the Church of St. Joseph and the school run by the mission. The landowners were aiming to push Macuxis into rebelling against authorities, provoking a bloody crackdown.
However, a local leader, wielding a reading from the Bible, reminded his people that they were Catholic indigenous peoples and that God asks His faithful to forgive, not to take revenge. All the people calmed down and did not take revenge. This prudent response was a key factor in Raposa Serra do Sol being formally declared an indigenous people’s homeland in 2005. All non-indigenous peoples were forced to leave the region.
A simple reading of the Word of God prevented a massacre. The Macuxi people are still very Catholic; they build their own churches with their own materials and their own labor, they translate the Catholic hymns into their native Macuxi language. And Tuxaua Jacir, the leader who prevailed over his people, is known to two Popes on account of his peaceful rule.
Nonetheless, there is still one thing they are unhappy about; the fact that they don’t have a Bible translated in their own language, and they are concerned about their future leadership. There are fundamentalist Christian sects coming into the region, trying to woo them away from Catholicism. And some newcomers are even offering the native people alcohol once again, so many locals are very concerned, above all for their children and young people.
International Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) recently committed to produce the translation of its Child’s Bible into the Macuxi language. A theologian who has a profound knowledge of the language is currently working on the translation, and very soon thousands of copies will be made available for the children. It’s the beginning of ensuring a bright future for this faithful native people.
With picture of Macuxi children (© ACN)
Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide.
For more information contact Michael Varenne at email@example.com or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org