On March 8 of this year, we had the joy of receiving the international coordinator of the CLM, Alberto de la Portilla, on a visit to the Group of Comboni Spirituality of Balsas-MA.
Opportunity that has allowed us to deepen our knowledge of the work carried out by the CLM worldwide.
It was a beautiful sharing that contributed a lot to the strengthening of our group.
Our gratitude and may God bless everyone.
Peace and good
Group of Combonian Spirituality of Balsas
I am already in Açailândia, Maranhão. I am here with Xoancar, Liliana and Flávio. We gave our entire day to the work of “justice on the railway.” Starting from where it connects with the communities impacted by the mining companies, especially the Vale.
Just to give an idea of the dimensions, in this area we find the largest open air mine in the world, 500 meters deep. They take the mineral by train from here to the sea. These are trains of more than 300 cars.
Now they have doubled the railway and expect to have trains with more than 600 cars with trains moving day and night. A mine that could last about two centuries they expect to exhaust it in 60 years. And to achieve this, they disregard everything else.
The trains and the trucks cut through the communities or divide them. Contamination is so great that every single thing and the houses are always covered with a layer of iron dust, no matter how much you try to wipe it away. So you can imagine what it does to the lungs, the eyes and the skin of people. Many had to leave home because of sickness. Not to mention the acoustic contamination. Your porch is right on the iron manufacturing. The incandescent refuse piles up behind the houses and many children climb these mounds, but at times the outer cover that already cooled off will break and they burn themselves because beneath the iron is still as hot as lava.
They told us of the struggle of the community to look for a place to stay, where each step towards the right to decent housing turns into a street fight. It is a well-organized and well aware community thanks, among other things, to the work and support of lay and religious Comboni missionaries who have offered formation, legal aid, structures… accompanying them in this struggle.
Here the CLM act as people educators and visit the communities (Many are rural reform settlements, namely people who occupy the land in order to be able to cultivate it and claim the right to the land which is guaranteed by the Constitution), give formation to leaders, support their demand, form pressure groups at the international level (the Vale is a large multinational corporation).
To get to know this activity a little better, in the afternoon we visited two communities along the rail line (now lines).
Trains of 300 cars go through here day and night every 30-40 minutes. They spread iron dust and blow the horn each time, day and night. This situation does not allow people to walk freely to the land they cultivate, or the children to go to school, or get out of town if there is an emergency because they do not want to build overpasses in each village and the communities have to fight for each one. Things have gotten worse now that the railway has been doubled and so has the number of trains. Several people have already died crossing or have had serious accidents.
Continuing my visit in Maranhão the other day I visited places that are very relevant to us, such as the Center for the Defense of Life and Human Rights and the Rural Family House.
The Center carries on several activities on behalf of the community and the youth (theater, dance, capoeira…), and it is open to the community and to its social struggles, but above all it follows as its special activity the fight against slave labor, a practice that is still very much alive in the 21st century.
From there we moved to the rural Family Center with Xoancar and Dina. Young people come to study for a week, (morning, afternoon and evening) then the following week they go back to their community to practice what they learned. We were attended to by the current director, a former student of the RFC who, after attending the university, is now in charge of the program.
Xoancar now works in the “Justice on Rails,” together with Flávio and Liliana. He is beginning a new project of experimental ecological agriculture, sustainable construction and more. On the parcels of land around the Rural Family Center he will create a center of experimentation and reliable methods, both in agriculture and in construction, that will help the farming communities in the area, offering a place where people will be able to learn more sustainable models.
These projects have come to be after a lot of work and reflection with the community, taken up by local people, for the majority formed at a university after we got involved with them and supported their projects. They always tried to empower the people involved and leave in their hand a top quality project. This work, with some financial problems but with much hope, has been going on for 18 years.
Here ends my visit to the different places where we are present in Brazil as CLM. It has been a marvelous experience.
I leave here to go to the World Social Forum and the Comboni Forum due to take place in Salvador de Bahia.
Arriving at the little airport of Jí-Paraná and being hotly welcomed by 30 plus degrees.
José was waiting for me by the exit to take me to his home. There Rose and their three children welcomed me into the family with much affection.
Rose works at the Padre Ezequiel Ramin Institute where they pursue several projects that attempt to keep alive the legacy of Fr. Ezequiel of justice for all.
We had a short time to visit the institute and learn about their activities. They are undergoing some changes, but they will soon be at 100%.
During these days I had the opportunity to visit an indigenous village of the Arara. Rose worked for over 12 years in the pastoral of the indigenous people. She knows all the families and wanted to show me some of the real situations. We spent a morning there visiting the families of the village, talking and laughing with them.
Very often in Brazil their land is invaded, access to education and health care is complicated and the lumber companies attempt to appropriate as much as they can. They say that also the arrival of television has brought about many changes in a short time.
Rose, a CLM living in the area for the past 14 years comments that the Amazons is an area where everyone come to take something away, be it from the land or from the people.
Her husband, José, works in the pastoral of the land. He as well tells me of the many problems of occupation, such as of those who are looking for the rights to their land and some who turn it into a business, the violence with the landowners and other types of violence.
He is carrying on an activity along the lines of Fr. Ezequiel Ramin, a Comboni Missionary murdered 30 years ago. He tells me about the farmers’ movements that are pushing for an agrarian reform, to obtain land for the small farmers. He speaks of the invasion and destruction of the Amazon Basin by economic interests, of the gunmen who keep on killing and on making leaders who make them uncomfortable disappear.
He tells me about some of the cases followed, documented and helped by the pastoral of the land, not all of them, because not everyone acts in a proper way. This is an activity that is not looked upon in a positive way by many and that becomes difficult.
We came close to an encampment, but, just as he suspected, it had already been abandoned because of the pressure they were under. We avoided going to other places that were in a situation of conflict. I am sending you some pictures of the abandoned camp.
I am very grateful to the entire family that has allowed me to be part of their life for a few days. I cannot forget to give thanks to God for the life of commitment and service to the most needy by our CLM in Brazil.
Today will be a long day of travel. Starting at 8:00 in the morning by road to Porto Velho and then continuing the journey at 2:00AM by plane to Imperatriz by way of Brazilia, then more night travel up to Açailândia.
At four in the morning I am already on my way to the airport with Cristian, as his brother and nephew are taking us. I keep meeting hospitality and availability wherever I go.
Cristina has decided to accompany us for a few days to Ipê Amarelo, Belo Horizonte, Besides the years in the Amazons area among the indigenous people, she was also in mission with this community as formator and coordinator of the group. So I have the good fortune of her company and teaching and with Lourdes, we will be able to talk during these days.
Fr. Joaquín, a Comboni Missionary of the community of Contagem, where Ipê Amarelo is located, and Lourdes came to meet us and we ate at the Comboni community.
In Ipê Amarelo we have a house for formation and mission. They are connected with the Comboni house, a point of reference for various social programs involved in the community such as psychological care, health care and alternative medicine, women’s groups, children programs, cultural activities, handicrafts and recycling…
Besides this more formal part of the activity, a lot more is given by the community in accompanying and visiting families in the community, going house to house greeting one by one. I had the good fortune to spend these days visiting together with Cristina and Lourdes, sometime together and sometime separately. It was a precious time. To see how people appreciate them, know their lives, their history, their worries and how in conversation the normal every day worries surface and they, always attentive, take mental notes, advise, help and/or take notes in order to return home to think how they could help.
We had Mass with the community, where I was introduced and welcome together with Cristina. Then Lourdes organized a meal with lots of people who are close to the CLM. Among others there were Tere and Alejo and their daughters, who cooperate a lot in the formation of the CLM and lead a beautifully committed life, Vanesa who was in Mozambique with the CLM, with her husband and her little daughter, Adelia who is a CLM very involved in social issues such as APAC and others, all told about 30 people.
We were also able to visit the mother and the sister of Marcelo, a CLM whom I will meet later in Balsas. I am enchanted by this family spirit that embraces the CLM.
The next day we found the time to go with Adelia, another CLM from Petrolândia which is about a half hour away, to visit Ouro Preto. It is a colonial town from where the Portuguese were excavating the gold mines with the work of Black slaves from Africa.
Later in Mariana we ate with Paulinha, the CLM’s lawyer. She tells us about the struggle facing them, starting with the break of the dam and the responsibilities of the mining companies that keep on exploiting the area. It is an ecological disaster to which one must add the destruction of humble villages with loss of human lives for not having foreseen the events and let people know. Naturally, they try to wash their hands of it, taking no responsibility and persecute those who fight for the people by accusing them of providing bad coverage that chases away tourists from the area.
The next day we went to Itauna to visit an APAC. Can you imagine a prison where the prisoners have the keys to everything? Our visit to the prison was guided by two “recovering” [the prisoners are so called in general because they are all undergoing recovery. They are all called by name and wear a tag with the name on it.] They showed us both the semi-open system and the enclosed system. The only thing, in order to pass from one side to the other there was an agent present while the “recoverings” were opening the door.
It is a prison system that costs 1/3 of the normal one, has lots of volunteers and a community that is involved. Recidivism is 28%, compared with 85% in the rest of the country and 75% globally.
We ate with the prisoners of the locked up part: salad, mashed pumpkin, rice, beans and chicken lasagna. In the afternoon we spent time talking with Valdeci [the CLM who is the coordinator of the various APAC, more than 60 in Brazil and with others being opened in other countries]
I do not want to linger any further but I am giving you a link to our blog where recently we published an issue on the prize he recently received as an executive (there you will also find more about APAC)
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