Peneirei Fubá – Sifting Cornmeal, Part II: Building Bridges
Don Pribor, Church Worker Justice Organizer, is writing a series of blogs about his trips to Brazil this year and his efforts to develop relationships with progressive Brazilian Catholic organizations.
In an earlier blog post, I mentioned that David Saavedra, the acting Executive Director of CTA, had put me in touch with Rene Reid, the coordinator of Catholic Church Reform International ( CCRI ). Rene and the CCRI Strategy Team have been working for almost four years to develop a network of reform-minded Catholics around the world who can work on a global level for change in the church. Because of my linguistic skills, my multi-cultural experience and my contacts in Latin America and Asia, Rene invited me to be a member of the CCRI Strategy Team. David Saavedra asked me to represent CTA on this team.
When I joined the team in February, I began to participate in weekly video-conference calls that involved the participation of people in North America, Europe, Africa, India, and New Zealand. What an exciting and hope-filled experience to meet dedicated, idealistic Catholics from all corners of the world who share a common vision of an inclusive, merciful, engaged Catholic church ! I shared with the team my knowledge and experience of the Base Christian Community movement in Latin America and my experience of progressive Catholics in Asia. I told the team that I could put CCRI in touch with leaders of the Base Christian Communities movement in Mexico and Brazil as well as a prominent lay Catholic leader in Asia.
I believe that it is important for Call To Action members to know that US Catholics only make up 7% – 9% of the total membership of the Catholic church. As much as our efforts to be a voice for a progressive vision of Catholicism in the United States are important on a national level, we also need to see ourselves as part of a global movement for change. Call To Action will not bring about the changes we long for on its own. On the other hand, if we unite with progressive Catholics from other cultures and dialogue with them, all of us together can be a force from every corner of the globe that nudges the church forward.
The church in Latin America responded to the Second Vatican Council with tremendous creativity. Many people in the church– lay people, religious, priests and bishops– interpreted the Council’s call for reading the signs of the times with great vision. Looking at the reality of Latin American societies marked by great economic inequality, discrimination against indigenous peoples and people of African descent, and continued destruction of the environment, these visionary Catholics articulated a new way of being church that is expressed through small communities made up of people from the base of society. This was articulated in what became known as liberation theology, and connected through gatherings of representatives of these small communities in national, regional and continental meetings.
These small Christian communities are called “Comunidades Eclesiales de Base” in Spanish, and “Comunidades Eclesiais de Base” in Portuguese and are known as CEBs. I had begun to learn about the CEBs when I first lived in Mexico in 1997, but my first experience of them was when I participated in a national conference of CEBs in Brazil in July, 2005. I was invited to a pre-conference gathering of international participants who spent a week in the town of Cariacica, a city of the metropolitan area of Vitória in the Brazilian state of Espirito Santo. We international guests were hosted by a parish called “Jesus the Liberator” which was made up of 21 base communities (CEBs ).The purpose of our stay in this parish was to see the reality of these communities and learn how the CEBs in Brazil were living out new models of the church.
I was astonished by the creativity of the Brazilian church, the enthusiasm of the CEBs members and the protagonism of lay people in both administrative and liturgical roles in the parish. At the time, I kept thinking that progressive American Catholics, like the members of CTA, needed to come to Brazil just to see how our vision and hope for a church where clergy and lay people work in equal partnership was being lived out. My hope is that CTA can build a bridge with Brazilian Catholics so that progressive-minded Catholics in both countries can be in frequent contact and can support each other’s efforts to be a lay-centered, inclusive church.
Jesus the Liberator parish had no joint worship space. Instead, in one neighborhood in Cariacica, the parish had administrative offices and a catechetical center. The parish was made up of 21 individual communities of up to 100 members in each community that gathered in their own worship space in each neighborhood. One priest ministered in the parish, but because there were so many communities, each community only had Mass once every four to six weeks. On the Sundays when no priest came to a community, the lay people gathered in their worship space for a “Celebration” (Celebração in Portuguese) where a lay woman or lay man presided over the liturgy, preached the homily and led a blessing of bread (not called Eucharist ) which was distributed during the sign of peace. Because of the lack of priests, lay men and women were trained and commissioned by the local archdiocese to serve in their communities as Ministers of Baptism, Wedding Ministers ( with the title “Officially Recognized Wedding Witnesses” ) and Ministers to the Dying who accompanied families with a member who was dying, before, during and after the death. All of these lay leaders had been through prolonged training which included biblical exegesis based on the historical-critical method and theological reflection. What also amazed me was that the members of these CEBs lived in one of the poorest cities in metropolitan Vito?ria and almost none of them had more than a high school education. The people were from the “base” of Brazilian society.
It was at this week long gathering in Cariacia that I first learned to sing and dance “Peneirei Fubá?” (Sifting Cornmeal).