In an interview with AICA News Agency after the 28th World Youth Day (WYD), Monsignor Luiz Antonio Lopes Pereira, coordinator of the pastoral of the favelas, or slums, of the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro, evaluated the main challenges entailed in carrying out the pastoral work in the poorest areas of this ecclesiastical jurisdiction, as well as the main social problems the country faces today.
The 58-year-old priest has been chaplain of His Holiness since 2008, and is responsible for the Leopoldina vicariate. He looked after almost 3,700 pilgrims in the parish of Saint Rose of Lima and the nine chapels of his jurisdiction in Jardim America.
As the AICA article explains, “the pastoral of the favelas was born in the decade of the 60s as an answer to the problems that affected the poor and that had not been given a solution by the country’s leadership. On one hand, the municipal governments promoted policies of eviction in the poor slums, justifying the measures given the precariousness and risk of the dwellings. It was in this framework that the pastoral work of Bishop Helder Camara, auxiliary bishop of Rio de Janeiro and first president of the Latin American Episcopal Council (CELAM) began. “
In the interview, Monsignor Pereira recalled that “he thought that the poor people did not need to go to the fringes of the city, as in the center itself there could be coexistence between the higher and lower classes. Bishop Camara created the Saint Sebastian Crusade, in the district of Leblon, more specifically in the Pinto favela.” At that time, the Brazilian prelate was able to gather, through the Banco da Providencia (a philanthropic institution founded by him in 1959), the necessary resources to build 850 apartments in the wealthiest area of Rio de Janeiro: the Baixo Leblon. Today they continue to be homes of the lower class, with light, water and gas services provided as well.
Since then, the lines were established for the pastoral task with the poorest: “the priestsa Mass in the matrix church to take the celebration of the Eucharist to the chapels of the parish jurisdiction.”
In the 80s, Father Luiz Antonio lived in the archdiocesan seminary in Sumare, although he returned every so often to Marechal Hermes, a district of the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, some 50 kilometers from the city center. His family had moved there, despite the fact that his father, an Air Force mechanic, had been given his retirement and the promise of staying in his home. That experience marked his task as priest.
Monsignor Pereira revealed in the interview that “in the urbanized favelas , the taxes are so high that the residents have to sell their home to survive. There are simple dwellings that cannot be found for less than US$50,000, and it is too much for a favela. If they want to buy a kilo of beans or rice it’s too expensive.”
Likewise, he affirms that “the Church always worked with the poor, but that work at times was not more than mere social work. I have here persons who are children and grandchildren of poverty. The parents were poor, the children are poor and, today, the grandchildren are poor. Can it be that a poor person can’t come out of poverty? My experience tells me that that path is very narrow. Instead, if there is incentive of institutions such as the Church, there is a possible way” out, he said.
He also thinks that, despite the modifications, the problems continue. “Here we have a neighborhood, and around it the rest of the favela. There isn’t a single neighborhood of Rio without favelas, because serious housing policies haven’t been thought out. That’s why we think that Rio is becoming a transnational city, and the Brazilian people, especially the poorest, no longer have the right to reside in this city. They are moved where they don’t have transportion, they don’t have a school, they don’t have their work. They take them to places that don’t even have asphalt!”