RIO DE JANEIRO – The increasing attacks on temples and followers of religions of African origin have sounded new alarms in Brazil, a country that has seen rising religious intolerance but also the resistance of cults like Candomble.
The “mae do santo” (priestess) Conceicao D’Lissa has seen Brazil’s growing intolerance up close over the past few years.
Her Candomble courtyard, the place where people worship the African “orisha” divinities that guide and protect their community, has been attacked eight times, the most that any single church has ever been attacked in Brazil.
The last assault occurred in 2014 when her Candomble courtyard was set on fire in Baixada Fluminense, one of the most depressed districts in Rio de Janeiro.
The priestess believes a process exists to “annihilate” the entire legacy of black culture and does not think that this religious intolerance is really all about faith. She rather sees these attacks as “manifestations of power.”
The temple, once entirely open to everyone, now has barrier walls at the entrance to protect the faithful from possible attacks, and keeps well in the background the images of gods like Ogum, the orisha of iron, war and fire, and Lemanja, the female deity of lakes, seas and maternity.
According to the Woman, Family and Human Rights Ministry, 1,506 complaints about religious intolerance were registered in Brazil between January 2016 and June 2018
Among the complaints filed during that period, without counting those in which no particular religion was identified, more than half the victims practiced religions with African roots, such as Candomble and Umbanda.
In this year alone, more than 20 attacks on temples of African-Brazilian religions have been reported in the “marvelous city,” EFE was told by the “babalawo” (priest) Ivanir dos Santos, a member of the Commission to Combat Religious Intolerance in Rio de Janeiro.
According to the complaints, most of the attacks are perpetrated by drug-trafficking groups whose members call themselves evangelicals and say these acts of violence are carried out “in the name of God.”
Added to that, according to Dos Santos, is the rise to power of leaders accused of defending intolerance, as is the case with President Jair Bolsonaro and Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella, an evangelical minister who considers African religions “full of sordid spirits,” as he wrote in his book “Evangelizing Africa.”
“Every time these groups grow within the legislative, judicial, but particularly the executive spheres of power, their bases start feeling the strength to do whatever they want and have greater impunity (for crimes of religious intolerance),” the babalawo said.
Nonetheless, the priest noted that beyond the interest in power of these “fake religions,” the attacks are carried out because of the latent racism that remains from centuries past.
The majority of evangelical leaders consulted by EFE on the subject refused to say anything. However, a pastor of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, criticized the attacks in the name of religion.
He does not believe such crimes are compatible with the Gospels.
“Those drug traffickers, who claim to be evangelicals and attack the houses of worship of other cults, act in their own name and cannot accuse an entire community for individual acts,” the minister said.
He said that real evangelicals are not intolerant of other beliefs, like those of African origin.
“Those (African-Brazilian) religions may not follow the Gospels, their beliefs have nothing to do the commandments of the Bible, so we don’t share their beliefs, but we respect them,” he said.