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March/April 2011
Vol. 36, No. 2


Brazil: Church's reflection on economy, ecology

The National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) has a 47-year history of using the Lenten season as a time to help Catholics reflect on important social issues of the day in light of Scripture and Church tradition. Described by the bishops as "an evangelical itinerary strongly aimed at personal and community conversion," the Fraternity Campaign is an impressive display of how the Church can play a positive and proactive role in society.

Throughout the 40 days of Lent, churches all over the country hold reflections, conferences, vigils, study groups, community activities and mobilizations around the theme which changes each year. New songs are created with lyrics based on the theme; homilies and bishops' statements on the theme are read at Masses; radio and television ads are produced. Through a variety of means, tens of millions of Brazilian Catholics are immersed in what Scripture and Church teachings have to say about important social and environmental issues of the day.

Historically, many of these campaigns have had important influence on society and government, helping create the political will for necessary reforms. Interestingly, the first national-level Fraternity Campaign took place in 1964, a few weeks before the civilian-military coup that established a dictatorship that would last for 20 years.

Three distinct phases can be seen in the development of these themes. In the first phase, 1964-72, the Church used the campaign to focus on internal issues related to the renovation of the Church and its members. Themes like "Church in renovation: Remember, you are the Church," "Parish in renovation: make your parish a community of faith, worship and love," "Donation," and "Participation" were some of the focal points.

In the second phase, 1973-84, the focus was on describing social reality through the denouncing of social sin and the promotion of justice. The Church played an important role in promoting democracy and keeping the dictatorship in check. Themes like "Fraternity and prison," "Fraternity in the world of work: Work and justice for all," "Migrations," "Health" and "Education" helped to focus on areas where the dictatorship was especially weak.

From the end of the dictatorship in 1984 until today, the bishops have proposed themes related to various situations of Brazilians that they feel require more solidarity. "Hunger: Bread for whomever is hungry," "Land: Land of God, land of brothers," "Negroes: Hear the cry of this people," "Unemployed … Why?" "Indigenous peoples: For a land without ills" "Public security: Peace is fruit of justice" were themes that have helped Brazilians better understand the realities that others face and what God calls them to do in order to promote human dignity.

Looking at the situation of the world today and reading the signs of the times, the bishops have used the campaigns of 2010 and 2011 to help Brazilian Catholics reflect on the effects of the economy on human dignity and God's creation. The 2010 campaign, "Economy and life: You can't serve money and God" looked especially at people excluded from the benefits of the economy, and sought to "collaborate in the promotion of an economy at the service of life, based on the ideal of a culture of peace … so that all contribute in the construction of the common good in search of a society without exclusion."

One important result of the 2010 campaign was to help millions of people better understand the growing solidarity economy in Brazil and how they can participate in it. The solidarity economy is based on worker-owned and managed cooperatives, associations and other alternative business models that are more democratic and equitable. The 2010 campaign was also significant in that it was organized not only by the Catholic bishops, but also with other Christian churches, many part of CONIC, the National Council of Christian Churches of Brazil. The Lenten campaigns of 2000 ("Human dignity and peace: A new millennium without exclusions") and 2005 ("Solidarity and peace: Happy are the peace makers") were also carried out ecumenically.

In their presentation of this year's campaign, "Life on the planet: Creation groans in the pain of childbirth," the Brazilian bishops wrote, "In every catastrophe … we can feel the planet groan, and humanity doing the same. This groan has an immensely sad connotation. We still have time to reverse this situation. We can transform these groans of pain into groans of love and hope. We can begin a gestation period and after that period, organize ourselves with actions that help to preserve the environment. We will receive in exchange a healthy planet. We can rescue the planet that was given to us by God." The hope is that after the Lenten campaign, Brazilian Catholics will respond to God's call to convert to a lifestyle less defined by consumerism and more marked by solidarity and sustainability.

The Lenten campaigns of the Brazilian bishops' conference are an excellent example of how the Church can better prepare its members to react to their lived reality in ways that are aligned with Church teaching and Scripture. Perhaps other country's bishops' conferences could take note and implement similar campaigns to help spread Catholic social teaching about crucial issues of the day.

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