By Rodrigo Arantes of Aid to the Church in Need
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 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.
Aid to the Church in Need is an international Catholic charity under the guidance of the Holy See, providing assistance to the suffering and persecuted Church in more than 140 countries. www.churchinneed.org (USA); www.acnuk.org (UK); www.aidtochurch.org (AUS); www.acnireland.org (IRL); www.acn-aed-ca.org (CAN) www.acnmalta.org (Malta)