ROME – Brazilian bishops said they will not support candidates in this year’s elections who advocate “more violence.”
The message by Cardinal Sergio da Rocha, Archbishop of Brasilia came at the launch of the Brazilian bishops’ Lenten campaign against violence on Ash Wednesday.
Pope Francis sent them a message saying that forgiveness is the main instrument to promote a culture of peace.
Every year, the National Conference of Bishops in Brazil (CNBB) have a “Fraternity Campaign”: an initiative that started after the Second Vatican Council to unite Catholics and the rest of civil society around a common issue.
This year, the theme of the campaign is “Fraternity and overcoming violence.” The motto is taken from a verse of the Gospel of Matthew “In Christ we are all brothers.”
According to da Rocha, who is president of the episcopal conference, the objective of this year’s campaign is “to build a culture of reconciliation and justice in order to overcome violence.”
In his message, Francis said that the forgiveness of offenses is an imperative for every Christian.
“How difficult it is to forgive! And yet, forgiveness is the instrument placed on our fragile hands to achieve the serenity of the heart, to achieve peace. Putting aside resentment, anger, violence and revenge are necessary conditions to live as brothers and sisters and to overcome violence,” the pope wrote.
During the press conference launching the event, da Rocha said that the reality of violence has become more “cruel and scary” in Brazil, especially for vulnerable social groups.
“Their dignity has been violated in different ways,” he said. “This is an urgent matter and it needs the participation of all.”
The cardinal added that it is not the role of the Church to offer technical solutions, but to present basic principles, such as social justice.
However, he was clear in saying that no extreme and “purely emotional” proposal would solve the problem.
“The seriousness of this issue cannot lead to mistaken solutions of an emotional nature, resorting to more violence. The pursuit of justice that leads to peace is not done through more violence. Simplistic or purely emotional analyses do not solve. This campaign wants to help us think together,” he said.
Preparing for presidential elections later this year, Brazil is in the middle of a corruption crisis and the country is very politically polarized. Brazilians recently saw the impeachment of former president Dilma Roussef and the condemnation in court of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva for corruption allegations. The current president, Michel Temer, who was Roussef’s deputy, is now the most unpopular president in the country’s history, with 74 percent of the electorate wanting him out of office.
In this context, a political statement calling for “order” and defenses of the violent dictatorial regime that ruled between 1964 and 1985 are being presented by some as the only solution for the country’s democratic crisis, especially on social media.
For example, a 2016 Datafolha survey shows that 57 percent of Brazilians agree with the sentence that “a good bandit is a dead bandit.” Another 2015 study by Ipea shows that Brazil recorded 29 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants, totaling 59,000 homicides per year.
Da Rocha told journalists that the Church cannot support any candidate that promotes even more violence. “The Church does not replace electors’ minds, but can help with their formation,” he added.
Not making any explicit reference to the current political turmoil, Francis says in his message that Catholics must be heralds of peace and protagonists of overcoming violence in daily life.
“A peace that is the fruit of the integral development of all, … Peace is woven in the day-to-day with patience and mercy, in the dynamics of the community, in the work relations, in the relationship with nature,” Francis said. “They are small gestures of respect, of listening, of dialogue, of silence, of affection, of welcoming, of integration, which create spaces where the fraternity breathes.”
The president of the Brazilian Supreme Court was also present at the launching of this campaign. Justice Carmen Lúcia praised the initiative of the Catholic Church, saying it is necessary to change the general idea that the other is not an ally, but a threat.
“When I was a child, my mother would tell me to call an adult if I encountered any problem in the street. Today, I see mothers telling their children to fear and distrust adults approaching the school door,” she said. “What society can we create when the other is not seen as a human being, but as someone against whom we need to fight? Mistrust can mark the mindset, and this becomes a feeling that marks a whole society.”
On a separate occasion, on Feb. 6, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Integral Human Development commended the “Fraternity Campaign” in Brazil.
Speaking at the Vatican, Cardinal Peter Turkson affirmed that seeking to overcome violence cannot simply be part of a rhetoric against war, but it must be part of a broader project in defense of human dignity as a whole.
“When people cannot feed themselves, there is violence. When there is no equality, there is violence. Speaking against violence is not just a discourse against war, but it is to defend all forms of dignity,” Turkson said.