Sisters and brothers on the pilgrimage,
"Mary set up the way ... entered the house and greeted Elizabeth ... blessed are you who believed ... children jumped for joy in the womb ... " ( cf. Lk 1.39 to 45 )
In pilgrimage, the people of the Base Ecclesial Communities from all corners of Brazil decided to respond the great beacon lit by the Diocese of Crato - Ceará, calling for the 13th Interecclesial Gathering. The fire burned so brightly that it was able to attract representatives of evangelical churches and sisters and brothers of other religions. Its light was seen throughout Latin America and Caribbean, Europe, Africa and Asia.
The Cariri region, "cheerful and strong heart of north-eastern Brazil" became the "house" where they met as a pilgrim people of profound faith. The testimonies of Fr. Ibiapina, Fr. Cicero, Blessed Maria Madalena do Espírtio Santo Araújo, and Blessed José Lourenço, spoke of the gathering as the embodied faith Base Ecclesial Communities, born of the prophetic cry for justice and the utopia of the Kingdom of God.
There was an interaction between popular Religiosity and the liberating spirituality of BECs. Both dimensions reaffirmed the commitment to follow Jesus of Nazareth, lived out in faith and commitment to justice in the service of life in abundance.
Blessed are those who believe!
Accompanied by guitar and accordion, people proclaimed their beliefs. The words said by Bishop Fernando Panico of Crato in celebration of the opening, confirmed this depth of belief, proclaiming: BECs are the way of being Church. BECs are the "normal" way of being Church. The normal way for God's people to respond to the proposal of Jesus today: to be community in the service of life.
On hearing the proclamation of this Good News, the womb of the people that came in pilgrimage to Juazeiro was pregnant again with this dream, this utopia. Hope was strengthened. Perseverance and endurance in the struggle were confirmed. The commitment to justice in the service of life in abundance was assumed.
And the joy burst like fireworks and in this joy the beloved voice of Dom Helder Camara was remembered when he said: Do not let the prophecy fall! Do not let the prophecy fall!
The prophecy did not fail. It echoed through the words of Indian Anastacio "They stole our fruits, they tore our leaves, they cut our branches, they burned our trunks, but we did not allow them to take off our roots". Maroon communities (African refugees who escaped slavery) and memories rooted deeply in indigenous ancestors held the dream of living in their own lands, free to dance and celebrate the Earth, our mother.
We remember Fr. Ibiapina, who encouraged the construction of cisterns of stone and lime and the planting of fruit trees, to cope with the reality of the semiarid region. Through him was revived the hope and dignity of the people of the “sertão” region. The role of Beata Maria Araújo inspired the deepest desires of life and life in abundance, which bothered the great and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Fr. Cicero and Beato Zé Lourenço continued welcoming the excluded people in the same spirit of Ibiapina. They organized the community of Caldeirão moved by faith, work, abundance and freedom. Such a way of coexistence with the semiarid region has continuity in BECs, in pastoral organizations and agencies committed to the poor;
The prophecy inspired the analysis of the social reality, which led people to realise that Brazil still needs to recognize that, either in the countryside or in the city, it is not enough to implement great projects. Big Capitalism priorizes agro- and hydro-business together with mining projects. It continues to flush the fields to concentrate people in cities, making them the object of manipulation and exploitation by dominant ideologies. Profound injustices abound.
The people are still being stripped of their dignity, their children languishing in the markets of drugs and human trafficking. They are deprived of their rights to health, education, housing and leisure. Youth is wiped out; lack of opportunity obscures the possibility of planning for the future. There are still prejudices and other expressions of violence surrounding ethnicity, color, age , gender, religion. We realize that transforming citizens into consumers is a threat to "living well" (“Buen vivir”).
The “Ranchos” (special places for groups gatherings) and the “Chapéus” (groups) have become spaces for sharing experiences and for understanding the society that is the ground where the BECs toil and live.
And following in Fr. Cicero´s steps, BECs became explorers of the paths of Cariri discovering their cultural realities and communities. They experienced the firmness of the martyrs and prophets, while also experiencing and sharing the celebrations, according to the way the people in the north east used to do.
The wisdom of the patriarchs and matriarchs accompanied us, allowing us to rescue memory and praying: "Only God is great", “Love one another".
The greatness of God is revealed to us pilgrims, to suffering people. In the organisation of pilgrimages, the practice of solidarity, prayer and the singing of the “Benditos” (blessed songs) become inspirations to reframe the space of everyday life.
Love is expressed in the prophecy of the woman stroking, kneading the bread, in leadership and revolution. She carries in her womb our liberation. This prophecy for the sake of justice becomes ecumenical. in Jesus of Nazareth who first lived justice and prophecy in the service of life, there is challenge to us to be pilgrim BECs towards the Kingdom of God, either in rural or urban areas.
The experience of community in this semi-arid region renews our belief. We rejoice as children jump for joy in the wombs of their mothers when anticipating life. The Kingdom of God has been present among us. His signs are present in the brother and sisterhood: we prayed and reflected, having before us the memory of our martyrs and prophets who have trodden this road. We reflected and talked about them. We sat down together to eat the delicious food of the Cariri region. At the same sink we washed our dishes. Through the moving Services of singing, of rendering testimony, we reaffirmed our commitment to be Base Ecclesial Communities. We will be pilgrims towards the Kingdom of God; prophets of justice fighting for life in service of life in abundance; seeds of the Kingdom of God and His Justice; prophetic communities of the hope and joy of the Gospel.
We go to our homes as pilgrim men and women, full of faith and hope. We return as pilgrims pregnant with the utopia of the Kingdom of God present in the BECs. We go back home, with a message from Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, and Primate of the Unity. From him we received recognition, encouragement and an invitation to continue to step firmly forward in being Ecclesial Pilgrims of justice and prophecy in the service of life.
We join to the voice of Mary who blessed the God of life, who presents his wonders to the humiliated. Let us unite our voices to hers, so that with her, we can pull down the mighty from their thrones and raise the lowly; send the rich away empty and fill with abundance the table of the impoverished.
Sisters and brothers, we embrace you with loveliness. Amen, Axé, Auerê, Hallelujah!
Transl.: Alder J.F.Calado /Valerie J Stroud