Thursday, September 12, 2013


I’m not sure of the date; it was probably early to mid seventies.

“The atmosphere in the church was tense. Crowded inside were several hundred young Brazilians, there to attend an afternoon Mass for a fellow student killed by the military police. Outside the church, stationed in the plaza and all along the thoroughfares that crisscross this part of downtown Rio De Janeiro, were soldiers from the 1st Division of the Brazilian Army.

Earlier in the week, after the first funeral mass for the student, mounted police had attacked all those leaving the church. On the morning of this, the second Mass, the city had been readied as though for war, with machine-gun nests at the crossroads, armored cars, barbed wire entanglements, and aerial patrols. When the Mass ended, the unarmed people inside the church would have to confront the military. Set in the middle of a large plaza/parking lot that straddles Avenida Presidente Vargas, the Candelaria church is an unprotected island, with no narrow side streets or alleys for refuge. Surely more people would die this afternoon.

One of the priests forbade any in the congregation to leave the church ahead of the clergy. Dressed in alb and stole, the fifteen priests than followed Bishop Jose Castro Pinto out into the plaza, where, holding one another by the hand, they formed a line to confront the drawn sabers of a row of mounted military police. Slowly, slowly, this strange procession forced the horses to fall back. The priests then moved down Avenida Presidente Vargas to Avenida Rio Branco, the crossroads of downtown Rio. Forming a protective arc around Candelaria until the last person had left. It was only then, in the crossroads, that the cavalry and soldiers lashed into the crowd with their batons, hurling tear gas grenades, but at least there was somewhere to flee, someplace to hide”  Cry of the People by Penny Lernoux pp 313-314. The US media lapped up the picture of the student confronting the tank at Tiananmin Square in China. Nowhere have I ever seen a picture of this. Fourteen men against an army. Standing between death and their people. 

Of course we have to protect our liberties. And we protect our freedom by working to protect the freedom of others. Too often since WWII we turned away, looked away, sat in the corner with our fingers in our ears, eyes closed, humming. Loudly. Until the nineties the excuse was “the commies are coming, the commies are coming.” Since 2001 it’s “the terrorists are coming, the terrorists are coming.”

We not only closed our eyes and ears to what was happening in Latin America from the sixties to the nineties. We aided, abetted, trained, paid; gave aid, comfort and cold hard cash to murderers and torturers. The few in this country who tried to ring the firebell were denounced as traitors, communist sympathizers if not actual communists. Sound familiar? Only now the cry traitors, cowards, etc. etc, so on and so forth. Rush, Glenn, Sarah, Michelle, Alan, all the rest and especially Mitt. Are you out there? 

Trouble is, and I can’t remember who said it or find the quote in Lernoux’s book again, “you can’t spread democracy by killing people” whether they’re farmers accused of aiding subversives tribesmen living too close to the drone strike.

Pastor Niemoller’s lament updated for the late twentieth and twenty first century.

They came for the Indians in the rain forest, but it those trees and those Indians didn't live in my country and I’m not an Indian so I didn't object.

They came for the farmers trying to scratch out a living for their families. And I’m not a mestizo farmer so I didn't speak out.

They came for those who tried to protect the rain forests and all who live in them. The forest is so big how can it all be destroyed? I still didn't speak.

They came for the teachers. And still I didn't raise my voice.

They came for the workers trying to organize some kind of unions. My silence was deafening.

They came for the lay church workers, the nuns, the brothers, the missionaries. My voice was lost in a black hole.

They came for the priests, a bishop or three and one archbishop. Hello! Is there anyone out there?

Now they've come to my country. For the immigrants, the Muslims, for those who fight for enough to feed their families, for those who try to protect the land and those who live from the land, for those with skin a different color, for those who call God or the Goddess by a different name. And finally they came for me and there was only silence. 

No comments: