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  HOME | Brazil (Click here for more)

Retired ‘Bishop of the People’ Speaks to Brazil’s Poor with Liberation Poetry

BATATAIS, Brazil – A 92-year-old Spanish-born retired Catholic bishop who is known as an exponent of liberation theology and a tireless defender of Brazil’s indigenous people and the neediest has also cultivated the art of poetry, using it as a means to convey his message of faith, love and social justice.

A member of the Claretian congregation who is a native of Spain’s Catalonia region but has lived in Brazil for more than a half century, Pere Casaldaliga has been in the news in recent days after being placed in intensive care at a hospital in Batatais, a small municipality in the interior of the southeastern state of Sao Paulo.

Amid a steady flow of visitors and medical personnel, a Claretian missionary who arranged for Casaldaliga’s stay in Batatais, Ronaldo Mazula, spoke to EFE about the poetry of a religious leader known affectionately as the “bishop of the people” and proudly displayed one of his books, “Murais da Libertaçao” (Murals of Liberation).

“This beautiful work with the illustrations of (88-year-old Spanish Claretian missionary Maximino) Cerezo (Barredo) and Casaldaliga’s poetry is a great testament to service to the people and service to humanity,” Mazula told EFE.

It is a blend of art and poetry that was produced in tandem with Cerezo Barredo, whose social justice-themed works also are associated with liberation theology, a strain of Catholic thought that emerged in the late 1960s in Latin America and is focused on freeing people from injustice and oppression.

The book contains images of the murals painted by Cerezo Barredo in the cathedral and several churches of the Prelature of Sao Felix do Araguaia, where Casaldaliga long served as bishop.

Those works explain the ideals defended by Casaldaliga, a believer that the church should use its material and human resources to support the neediest and thereby serve as a “pastoral option for the poor.”

Under the main dome that covers the Claretians’ library in Batatais, Mazula spoke of the close friendship between Casaldaliga and Cerezo Barredo dating back to the 1970s, the countries they visited together and how their art and poetry have complemented their pastoral work.

“They met up in Brazil, in Panama, in Nicaragua, in Colombia, in Peru, but it will be here in Brazil where the poet, the mystic, the missionary and the missionary painter, the artist will produce this great work, ‘Murals of Liberation,’” he said.

Cerezo Barredo’s 11 murals were painted between 1977 and 2001 and feature a mixture of religious themes and social critique.

Some of the unmistakable features of the muralist’s work include barefooted people, raised arms, vivid colors and a prominent place given to black and indigenous Brazilians.

Casaldaliga, for his part, has lived in Brazil since 1968 and currently is bishop emeritus of the Prelature of Sao Felix do Araguaia in the remote central-western state of Mato Grosso, a region beset by poverty, illiteracy, social injustice and land struggles pitting ranchers against indigenous communities.

He is known in Brazil for his decades of tireless social work and for helping to found two Catholic Church-linked organizations: the Pastoral Commission of the Earth and the Indigenous Missionary Council.

The son of cattle ranchers who was ordained in Spain during Gen. Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, Casaldaliga has received death threats for, among other reasons, supporting the Xavante indigenous community in their bid to reclaim territory from Amazon land invaders.


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