Brazil was born under the constellation of the Southern Cross, under the sign of the Cross. In hoc signo vinces, was stamped on the coins of the Empire.
Brazil’s first name was the Land of the Holy Cross. Its first monument was a cross, its first public act, a Holy Mass.
Pero Vaz de Caminha, a scribe of the Fleet of the Order of Christ, sent the King of Portugal, Manuel “The Fortunate,” a letter describing the discovered lands. It ends thus: “The best fruit we can draw from this land, it seems to me, is to save these people, and this must be the main seed that Your Highness shall sow in it … to accomplish what Your Highness desires so much, namely, the expansion of our Holy Faith.”
A Long History of Successful Missionary Efforts
In the year 1532, Brazil’s first village and town hall, São Vicente, was established around the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption.
In 1548, King John III wrote Tomé de Souza, first Governor-General, “The main reason that moved me to populate the said lands of Brazil was to have its people convert to our holy Catholic Faith.”
Earlier, in 1537, expressing his zeal for the indigenous peoples, Pope Paul III, in the Bull Sublimis Deus, supported missionaries and defended the Indians stating, “They are not only able to understand the Catholic faith, but according to our information, are desirous to receive it.”
Later, Pope Urban VIII issued a Bull, Commissum Nobis, prohibiting anyone, under penalty of excommunication, to “capture Indians … sell, buy, exchange or give them away, separate them from their wives and children, deprive them of their goods or lands, seize and send them elsewhere, deprive them of their freedom in any way, keep them in slavery, or advise or help those who do so under any guise or pretext; preach or teach such to be lawful, or cooperate with it.”
In 1554, Saint Joseph of Anchieta, founder of the city of São Paulo, established, for the Christian communities entrusted to his care, a schedule to be observed throughout the day. At dawn, the bell rang the Angelus, and all began their day by saluting Mary Most holy and begging her aid. Then, the children gathered in front of the church and recited the Rosary. Afterward, the whole population of the village assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, men on one side, and women on the other. After Mass, there was an explanation of the Catechism. At a set time, the adults would leave to take care of their obligations, and the children went to school to learn how to read, write, and help at church ceremonies. They also received singing and music lessons, enhancing the brilliance of liturgical ceremonies. At five in the afternoon, everyone returned to the church for a sermon about the last ends of man or another truth of the Catholic Faith. The day closed with a procession of the children, who begged God’s mercy for the souls of Purgatory.
Missionary Work and Development Worked Hand in Hand
One can say that already in the sixteenth century, missionaries, and notably, Jesuits preceded the full expansion of Brazil.
The entire conquest of the Amazon is likewise due to the missionaries. The Church began to penetrate the Amazon region in the seventeenth century. The early missions were also manned by Jesuits, starting in the prosperous Captaincy of São Vicente with Brazilian-born Father Diogo Nunes. Then came the Franciscans.
In 1693, by Royal Charter, King Peter II, negotiating with religious orders, divided the Amazonian region between Franciscans and Jesuits. Carmelites and Mercedarians arrived from 1694 onwards.
All the main cities of the Amazon emerged around the missionary chapels and settlements.
Brazil’s expansion is due not only to the “Entradas e Bandeiras” (Gateways and Flags) movement of pioneers, usually accompanied by chaplains. In the Amazon region, it is also due to missionaries. “The Jesuit presence in the region known as Dog’s Head was fundamental for its incorporation into Brazil. The connection between the basins of the Negro and Orinoco rivers (Cassiquiare Channel) was confirmed for the first time in 1744 by the Jesuit priest Manuel Roviare” (Cf. Evaristo de Miranda, The Amazon Had Both a History and a Church).
In the nineteenth century, Salesian missionaries came to Brazil’s midwest region, today the granary of the nation, as part of an agreement between Princess Isabel and Don Bosco. They catechized the Xavante Indians.
Gilberto Freire, a renowned Brazilian sociologist, says that “Brazil was formed without its colonizers showing any concern about racial unity or purity. The colony was wide open to foreigners throughout the seventeenth century, colonial authorities only wishing them to uphold the Catholic faith or religion. Catholicism was really the cement of our unity.”
The colonization and expansion of the faith in Brazil were mainly the result of fulfilling the mandate of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the Apostles: “Go ye and teach all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
From the exchange of good offices between the Church and the monarchy arose what once was the world’s largest Catholic nation. “In hoc signo vinces” was stamped on the coins of the empire.
The Final Result: A Catholic Nation
Thus was formed Brazil with its 3,218,130 square miles, the world’s seventh-largest country, and the planet’s largest cultivable area. Today, Brazil feeds 1.5 billion people.
Until the mid-twentieth century, 97% of Brazilians called themselves Catholic. Elites were educated mainly in Catholic schools, while the more modest classes attended Salesian schools. Churches were open daily and were filled during Masses.
More than 75% of public health care was free of charge and dispensed by hospitals sustained by Christian charity, called Holy Houses of Mercy.
The Progressivist Revolution Changes Everything for the Worst
All this changed with the so-called progressivist crisis, the post-conciliar liberation theology, and the Pact of the Catacombs (signed by progressive bishops) propelled by Archbishop Helder Câmara. The number of Brazilians calling themselves Catholic dropped from 95% to the current 50%. (An Apostolic Nuncio in Brasilia told me not long ago that we are losing 1% of the faithful every year.)
“Aggiornata” (updated) missiology replaced traditional missions and radically reversed the traditional concept of what a mission is.
In 1977, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, an eminent thinker and man of action, denounced and refuted this change of missionary ideal for the worse with his book, Indigenous Tribalism, the Communist-Missionary Ideal for Brazil in the Twenty-First Century (ten editions, 85,000 copies).
After the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Brazil’s evangelizing and civilizing work suffered an accelerated setback, with a vertiginous drop in the number of Catholics, and a disconcerting expansion of “Pentecostal” sects.
According to Most Rev. José Luiz Azcona, bishop emeritus of the prelature of Marajó, where he was the pastor for more than thirty years, today “the Amazon region, at least the Brazilian one, is no longer Catholic,” and “this is a crucial starting point for the celebration of the Synod. … In some regions of the Amazon, the Pentecostal majority reaches 80%.”
An Imagined Vision of the Indian “Paradise”
The conclusions of the First National Assembly of Indigenist Pastoral Workers read, “The Indians are not yet corrupted by this system in which we live. … The Indians already live the Beatitudes. They do not know private property, profit, competition. They possess an essentially communal life in perfect balance with nature. They are not predatory and do not violate ecology. They live in harmony. Indigenous communities are a future prophecy for the new way of living in which the most important is man.”
A document issued by the team of “Christian Activists for the Rural Environment” in the Archdiocese of Recife states, “All were equal (among Indians), the land where the tribe was located belonged to all members of the same tribe.
“Everyone equally participated in the work and had same rights sharing its product. Among the Indians, there were no poor, wealthy, or social classes. Therefore, absent among them were the practice of robbery, crime, or prostitution.”
The activist claims that the Indians maintain a community of goods and its corollary, a community of sex. Therefore – neo-missionaries argue – if the Gospel is anti-selfishness, catechizing is secondary and even superfluous among the Indians that already follow the Gospel.
What are the goals of these “updated” missionaries? They seek to defend indigenous communities still uncontaminated by our civilization – the civilization of “selfishness.” Indians need to be “made aware” of the excellent situation in which they live and refuse the entreaties of those seeking the Indians’ treasure and labor in the woods, bringing along their money, firewater, addictions, machines, laws, structures, etc. And particularly to refuse macro-capitalists seeking to cultivate and negotiate for the use of their lands.
The Foresight of Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
How different this neo-missiology is from the traditional one resulting from twenty centuries of Christian wisdom. This model made Christendom great in general and Brazil in particular.
Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira clearly recalls traditional missiology in his book mentioned above:
“In the missiological doctrine of the Catholic Church, nearly twenty centuries old, the concept of the Catholic mission, its aims, and its methods are perfectly defined.
“Mission comes from the Latin word ‘missio,’ from ‘mitto,’ that is, ‘I send.’ The missionary is thus someone who is sent (bishop, priest and by extension, a religious or layman).
“The missionary is one sent by the Church in the name of Jesus Christ, whom he represents to non-Catholic peoples in order to bring them true Faith.
“The Church teaches that the normal way for a man to be saved consists in being baptized, in believing and professing the doctrine and law of Jesus Christ.
“To draw men to the Church is therefore to open the gates of heaven for them. It is to save them. This is the purpose of the mission.
“This salvation has the extrinsic glory of God as its supreme end.
“The glory of God and the perpetual happiness of men … do not prevent the mission from having temporal effects that are also most elevated.
“Indeed, God created the universe in a sublime and immutable order, and since man is the king of this universe, this order is admirable above all in what relates to Him.
“The precepts of the natural order are expressed in the Ten Commandments (Cf. Saint Thomas, Summa Theologica, Ia. Ilac. Q. 100, aa 3 and 11), confirmed and perfected by Our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Now the observance of order, in any sphere of the universe, is the condition necessary not only for its conservation but also for its progress. This is true above all for living beings and particularly for men.
“Thus, Christianize and civilize are correlated terms. It is impossible to Christianize seriously without civilizing. Likewise and reciprocally, it is impossible to de-Christianize without disordering, brutalizing, and forcing a return to barbarity.
“To be a missionary in Brazil is mainly to take the Gospel to the Indians; to bring them supernatural means so they may reach their celestial goal by practicing the Ten Commandments; to persuade them to free themselves from the superstitions and barbaric customs that enslaved them in millenary and unhappy stagnation; and consequently, to civilize them.
“Presenting himself to the Indian, the true missionary of Jesus Christ has the right to say, ‘Cognoscetis veritatem, et veritas liberabit vos’ (‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free’) (John 8:32).”
Do What You Did When You Were Happy
According to the most recent census made by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, there are 896,900 Indians. One twenty percent—some 179,330 Indians—live in the Amazon region. Is it justified to hold an entire Synod given such a small number? Would the solution, even for this small number, not be a return to what the Church has always done in the past with such magnificent results?
This reminds me of a saying by Socrates. When the Greeks were facing a crisis, they asked him what they should do to be happy again. He responded: “Do what you did when you were happy!”
As we said earlier, Brazil was born under the sign of the Cross, the constellation of the Southern Cross. Its coins were minted with this motto: “In hoc signo vinces.” Therefore, it is under the sign of the Cross and the protection of Our Lady of Aparecida, the national’s patroness, that Brazil will overcome the current crisis.
The above text is a talk given by Prince Bertrand of Orleans-Braganza at the TFP-sponsored October 5 Synod Conference held in Rome. It has been slightly edited for this publication.