Brazil's Indians say church's apology not enough
PORTO SEGURO, Brazil (AP) -- The Catholic Church commemorated the
500th anniversary of the first Mass said in Brazil with an apology Wednesday to
Indians and blacks, for "sins and errors" committed by the clergy in the past five
centuries, but Indians were reluctant to forgive.
The apology preceded a special mass held on the beach where Franciscan
Friar Henrique de Coimbra celebrated Brazil's first Mass on April 26, 1500,
four days after the first Portuguese expedition made landfall.
Organizers said some 15,000 people, including 300 bishops, attended the
under a steady drizzle in Coroa Vermelha, just outside this seaside resort in the
northeastern state of Bahia. Italian Cardinal Angelo Sodano represented Pope
John Paul II.
"We ask the Lord for forgiveness for the sins committed against our brothers,
especially against the Indians whose rights have not always been respected," said
the Most Rev. Jayme Chemello, president of the National Brazilian Bishops'
"We ask forgiveness for not always having respected the dignity of our
brothers and sisters, whose ancestors were brought to this country as slaves,"
Chemello added, a 13-meter-high (43-foot) cross towering behind him.
Moments later, some 50 Pataxo Indians in feather headdresses and red-and-black
body paint marched to the altar and stretched out a large black banner. A
24-year-old Pataxo named Matalaue climbed the altar and said the banner
symbolized "our mourning for 500 years of suffering."
"Apologies are not enough. We want respect. We want our dignity," he said.
weren't respected 500 years ago and we continue not being respected today. We
have been and continue to be the victims of exploitation, rape and extermination."
The mass was held near the same spot where police used clubs, tear gas
bullets last Saturday to break up a crowd of about 2,000 Indians, who had gathered
from all over Brazil to protest what they called Portugal's "invasion" of this country.
"We want justice and demand that those responsible for last week's violence
punished," said Matalaue, The crowd cheered and applauded.
Still, the apology was welcomed by Guanair da Silva Santos, a representative
Bahia's Afro-Brazilian community.
"The apology opens the door to dialogue," Santos said. "And the only way
with the racism and prejudice that prevail in this country is through dialogue. It is
a first step that hopefully will be taken up by the rest of society."
The mass also opened the 38th General Assembly of the Bishops' Conference.
the week-long meeting, the bishops will discuss internal issues as well as national
Among the issues on the agenda is economic globalization and the widening
between Brazil's haves and the have-nots. Another topic is land reform. Much of
the clergy sides openly with the Landless Rural Workers Movement, which
encourages the invasion of idle farm land to pressure the government to
accelerate agrarian reform.