“If you don’t give up your repossession efforts, blood will flow.”
That was the threat farmer Maria Angela Simões Semeghini received last February as she went to court to recover her farmlands invaded in the city of Ariquemes, State of Rondônia, in the Amazon region of Brazil.
Mrs. Semeghini was shocked when she learned that this serious threat was coming from none other than Father Vital Corbellini, the pastor of the nearby town of Jaru.
Unfortunately, Brazilian bishops, priests, women and men religious infected with Liberation Theology have long been involved in rural unrest. For decades now, the otherwise peaceful countryside has been disturbed by land invasions carried out by socialist movements that often include members of Basic Christian Communities. Much blood has been shed and many a thriving rural enterprise has been destroyed.
|A splinter group from the MST (above), the League of Poor Peasants stands out for its violence and communist character.|
“League of Poor Peasants” — or Guerrilla Thugs?
Among these revolutionary movements, one stands out for its violence and its communist character, the self-proclaimed League of Poor Peasants (“LCP”) — a splinter group from the larger Landless Workers Movement (aka “MST”). It has links to the Trotskyist movement and the Brazilian Communist Party. In fact, police in the Brazilian Northwest, especially in the State of Rondônia where the LCP is most active, call its militants “guerrillas.”
According to Isto É, a leading Brazilian magazine, “Under the guise of ‘agrarian revolution’ the LCP hoists the flag of struggle against the bourgeoisie, imperialism and large landowners while their hooded militants assault, torture, kill and terrorize the population in the towns and countryside of Brazil’s remote areas... armed with machine guns, pistols, grenades, AR-15, AK-47 and FAL rifles reserved to the Armed Forces. In 2007 alone, 22 people were killed, including four farmers and fourteen farmhands.”
|To prevent authorities, including police, from carrying out court-ordered evictions, the invaders occupy highways leading to the farms.|
Invading, Threatening, Attacking...
The group’s M.O. ( modus operandi) is to invade farms and set up camp, appropriating everything and establishing “community gardens.” Landowners who initiate repossession proceedings in the courts are threatened and even killed. To prevent authorities from carrying out court-ordered evictions, the invaders occupy highways leading into the area and demand the presence of authorities in discussions with them.
Unfortunately, some of the region’s clergy — for example, the Italian Bishop Bruno Pedron, S.D.B., and Father Vital Corbellini, pastor of Jaru where the agitators have occupied several farms — systematically take the side of the “peasant families” as the media calls them.
In March, the League of Peasants blocked highway BR 364 to prevent Mrs. Maria Angela Simões Semeghini from regaining possession of her land. Father Corbellini and a Jaru councilman served as intermediaries between invaders and authorities. The meeting took place in the Parish Hall of the St. John the Baptist Community in Jaru. The leaders of the invaders were housed in the Parish Catechetical Center while waiting for a public hearing.
On that occasion, Father Corbellini stated: “We of the Catholic Church are all for the families that remain in the area where they produce food and raise their children. We want peace in the countryside and an end to conflict.”
Yet this priest failed to remind them of the sin of invading private property, an action that is forbidden by the Seventh (“Thou Shalt Not Steal”) and Tenth (“Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors Goods”) Commandments.
Landowners who initiate repossession proceedings in the courts are threatened and even killed.
(Photo: State Supreme Court building, Sao Paulo)
Promoted Bishop of Maraba...
But the saddest and most perplexing part of this whole story is that in October Father Vital Corbellini was appointed Bishop of Maraba, one of the regions of the State of Pará most troubled by land invasions. He will be installed December 21.
The faithful are baffled by this promotion. It is one more among countless episodes that help explain the mass flight of the faithful from the Catholic Church in Brazil. According to the latest census: “In a decade, Catholics lose more space to evangelicals. Between 2000 and 2010, the Catholic percentage of the population dropped 12%; that of evangelicals grew 43%; and that of people with no religion rose 10%.”
A Poignant Testimony
We transcribe below the testimony of Mrs. Maria Angela Simões Semeghini, the lady whose lands were stolen, which she published as a comment to an article in the Catholic web site, Fratres in Unum on November 30, 2012.
“Read and analyze what Father Vital Corbellini, fully supported by Most Rev. Bruno Pedron (Bishop of the Diocese of Ji Parana), is subjecting me to.
“I live in Ji Parana and I own a farm in the town of Ariquemes which has been invaded by members of the LCP — the League of Poor Peasants — highly violent and crafty invaders, a problem already settled in the courts, so I prepared myself for the eighth repossession of my property.
“However, on Feb. 27, 2012, I received a phone call from Father Vital Corbellini who told me straight out: ‘If you do not give up your repossession efforts, blood will flow.’ As a precaution, I filed an official report of this call with the police. On March 17, 18 days after Father Vital’s call, his threat partly materialized as six masked and armed men went at night to another property of mine and took my employee and his family hostage at gunpoint for about two hours and gave them the mission of passing me this message: ‘March 23 is the deadline for you to give up your repossession efforts, otherwise you will die like Stivanin has.’ (He was murdered the previous day, March 16, and also had a court order to regain possession of his farm.)
“I looked for Bishop Bruno right away and told him the facts. I was treated with disdain. Yesterday, a judicial hearing about the threat I received was supposed to have been held but it wasn’t because Father Corbellini did not show up (docs. 1002076-59.2012.8.22.0005).
“As a reward for the disturbances this priest has wreaked and is wreaking in my life, today (November 30, 2012) he is being consecrated bishop... to govern the diocese of Maraba-PA, while I, since March 18, have had to pay a security firm to keep me alive.
“Is this the Christian brotherhood they preach? Does today’s Christianity preach materialism? Or is the clergy of Rondônia full of communists? Or do they share the same spirit reigning in this State’s INCRA [National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform]? This is the slogan I am spreading: ‘IN RONDÔNIA, LAND REFORM IS DONE BY KILLING THE OWNERS.’
“Has this pontifical decree been revoked, ‘Christians who openly profess the materialistic and anti-Christian doctrine of the communists or who defend and propagate it fall ipso facto into excommunication’ (Pius XII, Decretum Contra Communismum issued by the Holy Office, 1949)?
“For any clarifications, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.”