Pedro Casaldaliga and the Ring of Tucum

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By Alexandre Aragão de Albuquerque*

A prophet, when he dies, is like a seed buried in the ground. In the right time it will sprout and grow and bear new fruit.

From a Cursilhist priest to an exponent bishop of Latin American Liberation Theology, the Spaniard Pedro Casaldáliga (1928-2020) makes up, together with José Maria Pires, Paulo Evaristo Arns and Hélder Câmara, a constellation of religious men – bishops of the Catholic Church – of profound engagement in popular causes and prophetic dimension. Once Paulo Freire personally commented to me that the prophet, for being someone with his feet immersed in the present, manages to announce the future in advance. Pedro had a side, he was never, nor did he remain, on top of walls: “evangelization, which is good news for the poor, comes from the ground up, in the concrete reality of everyday life”, he said.

For him, “agrarian latifundia continues to be a structural sin in Brazil and throughout Our America. Remembering the word of Jesus of Nazareth: you cannot serve God and Money; thus, you cannot serve the Latifundium and the Agrarian Reform”. Pedro was deeply convinced of the need for a new type of socialism capable of making viable a true agrarian and agricultural reform in line with the shape of a new Latin America, as he recorded in his message for the 25th anniversary of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra – MST. As a result of this political position, he had to face, in the 1980s, replacing the military dictatorship, the armed fundamentalist anger of the UDR, under the command of Ronaldo Caiado. In the program Roda Viva, on TV Cultura, on 31/10/1988, he stated: “I have even excommunicated farms, because they cut off the ears of rural workers, as in the most dramatic times that motivated the emergence of cangaço. And I continue to refuse to celebrate mass on certain farms, if I do not have the freedom to celebrate and remain bound by the controlling presence of the manager”.

Pedro was at the forefront of the defense of the rights of a rural people, threatened by slave labor, coming into hard clashes with large landowners, agribusiness companies, mining companies, loggers and with those politicians who sold themselves to the operators of the degradation of the environment, as he does so well now in the present moment, announcing loud and clear at the ministerial meeting on profanity, of the Bolsonaro government, on April 22, Minister Ricardo Sales: “we are going to pass the cattle in the face of the distraction of the population and institutions with the Covid-19 pandemic”.

In a Pastoral Letter, still in 1971, Pedro clearly took the side of the message of Jesus of Nazareth: “We – bishop, priests, sisters, engaged lay people – are here, between the Araguaia and the Xingu, in this real and concrete world, marginalized and accusatory, which I have just summarized. Either we make possible the saving incarnation of Christ in this environment, to which we were sent, or we deny our Faith, we are ashamed of the Gospel and we betray the rights and the dying hope of a people – sertanejos, peons, squatters, this Brazilian piece of the Amazon – which is also People of God. Because we are here, we must compromise. Clearly. Until the end".

On July 31, 2020, Casaldáliga was one of the 152 bishops who signed a manifesto letter against the Bolsonaro government: “How can we not be indignant at the use of the name of God and His Holy Word, mixed with prejudiced speeches and postures, who incite hatred, instead of preaching love, to legitimize practices that are not consistent with the Kingdom of God and his justice?”. For us personally, this perplexity logically extends to Catholic bishops, priests, religious and laity, voters and supporters of Bolsonaro and his surrender misgovernment. Which are not few, by the way.

Unlike Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), who determined that the episcopal rings were all made of gold with an inlaid precious stone, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga wore the Ring of Tucum. He himself explains the meaning of this symbol: “Tucum is a palm tree from the Amazon, by the way, with some wild thorns. The Tucum ring is a sign of the alliance with the indigenous cause and popular causes. Those who carry this ring usually mean that they have taken on these causes and their consequences. Many, many, for this cause, with this commitment, went to death. We ourselves, here at the Church of São Félix do Araguaia, have the Sanctuary of the Martyrs of the Walk” (in O Anel de Tucum, film by Conrado Berning, 1994).

A prophet, when he dies, is like a seed buried in the ground. In due time, it will sprout, grow and bear new fruit. May many prophets and prophetesses come with their rings of Tucum to populate the Earth. Thank you, Pedro Casaldaliga!

*Alexandre Aragão de Albuquerque Master in Public Policy and Society from the State University of Ceará (UECE)

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