The prophetic militancy of Father Agostinho

Members of the Teotônio Vilela Human Rights Commission.


All of us who tried to accompany his tireless actions of resistance to injustice and arbitrariness owe an immeasurable debt to the much-loved birthday boy, on his 90th birthday.

Graduated in law, Marcelo Duarte de Oliveira, became Padre Agostinho when he was ordained in 1967, as an olivetan Benedictine monk, in the religious order of Nossa Senhora do Monte Oliveto, founded by São Bernardo Tolomei, in the fourteenth century, in Siena.

In January 1969, he began to provide religious assistance to inmates in the Tiradentes prison, in S. Paulo, discovering the tortures that were carried out there. He can thus confirm that the Esquadrão da Morte, the extermination group commanded by Chief Fleury, removed prisoners from their cells at night to execute them. During his visits, he obtained, from the police, a list of inmates who left the prison and never returned.

Pursued by the Esquadrão da Morte, he was hidden for three months in the Episcopal Palace of the Archdiocese of São Paulo: “If they caught me, I would certainly be killed”, he declared in a session of the Truth Commission. After 1970, he became one of the main witnesses of the inquiry into the Esquadrão da Morte carried out by then-prosecutor Hélio Bicudo, which faced resistance from the state and federal governments, and also without the support of the São Paulo Public Ministry.

I met Agostinho when he invited me to a lecture at the Osasco Human Rights Center, which he directed. Founded in 1977 during the military dictatorship, it was the first to be created in São Paulo and the second in Brazil. From 1976 to 1982, Agostinho was the national coordinator of the Prison Pastoral, thanks to the support of Cardinal Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, the new archbishop of the Diocese of São Paulo.

On January 9, 1983, six patients tried to escape from the Franco da Rocha Judicial Asylum, in São Paulo, and took two of the institution's employees hostage. The two were murdered, along with one of these employees, by military police from ROTA (Rondas Ostensivas Tobias de Aguiar). On the morning of January 13th, I remember going, together with former minister and future senator Severo Gomes, to meet Father Agostinho at Nossa Senhora da Mãe da Igreja Church, in Jardim Paulista, where he worked, so that we could go together to the asylum.

Neither he nor we knew that that visit, and the next one, to the Custody and Treatment House in Taubaté, would be the founding acts of the future Teotônio Vilela Commission (CTV) on Human Rights, also composed of Antonio Candido, Fernando Gabeira, Eduardo Suplicy, Fernando Millan, Hélio Bicudo, João Baptista Breda, José Gregori, Margarida Genevois. Agostinho was the magnet that connected all these members, and the ones that followed, so diverse, in the thirty years of CTV's activities.

As Agostinho himself wrote in 2003, in a statement on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of CTV: “None of us must have left unscathed, after having visited and immersed ourselves in the underworld of prisons – be they jails, penitentiaries, FEBEMs, asylums, etc. No one is naive after having passed through the midst of torturers and torturers, where yesterday's alleged criminals are today's victims. There is no illusion when talking about a just society with arbitrary, truculent and corrupt police. Violations against physical, psychological, moral and spiritual integrity also affect us, as members of the great human family”.

Agostinho continues to work with survivors affected by repression and the abandonment of the democratic State, such as prisoners, their families, homeless people, the miserable poor, hospitalized children and adolescents. He is relentless, consistently tireless, in defending the disenfranchised with authorities in all instances. It appeals to whoever needs it to report violations and get justice.

For his long life of total dedication to the powerless, Agostinho has been recognized by awards from numerous institutions. In 1996, the Brazilian State, during the Fernando Henrique government, awarded him the National Human Rights Award. We were all moved on the 2017th anniversary of his ordination, in XNUMX, when he celebrated a mass with Pope Francis at the Casa de Santa Marta, in the Vatican.

Human rights activists, researchers, professors, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police chiefs, so many of us, newbies like me when I met him, had the privilege of living with Agostinho, inspired by his prophetic militancy in the defense of human rights. All of us who tried to accompany his tireless actions of resistance to injustice and arbitrariness owe, with the much-loved birthday boy, in his 90th birthday, an immeasurable debt.

*Paulo Sergio Pinheiro is a retired professor of political science at USP and former Minister of Human Rights. He was a member and coordinator of the National Truth Commission. Author, among other books, of Strategies of illusion: the world revolution and Brazil, 1922-1935 (Companhia das Letras).



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