AN INVITATION TO ROMARIA DA FORESTA IN ANAPU, PARA, BRAZIL
by Sister Kathryne Webster, SNDdeN
During a 3-day period, groups of about 50 to 250 people walk 34 miles from the St. Raphael Center to the Project of Sustainable Development, Esperança. Why? What is the point? Why is this Romaria or Pilgrimage a commitment?
The Project of Sustainable Development (PDS) is a collective way for small farmers to use the land and the forest without destroying it. People who were trying to destroy this project murdered Sister Dorothy Stang in 2005. They thought that killing Sr. Dorothy would put such fear into the people so that they would abandon the project and flee. Then, the forest, land and wealth of nature would belong to these wealthy landowners and be theirs unchallenged. The murder of Sr. Dorothy did not put fear into the people. In fact, the few people living in the projects when Dorothy was killed have increased to over 200 now! This is hardly a sign that the people would give up and let fear cancel the project.
In a meeting in 2006, the people were determined to show that they were still involved. They were assuming responsibility to secure the land for small farmers, to keep the forest standing and to preserve the environment. They really desired to call attention to their presence and to the fact that they were still producing on the land, struggling to preserve the environment and grow as a strong organization.
There was a spark: a pilgrimage! In fits and starts, the idea grew and took shape. We decided to start in Anapu, beginning at the parish Church and now in the St. Raphael Center. The Center is a place where people gather for meetings, courses, celebrative events, and recreation. It is also where Dorothy is buried. Together, we walk the 34 miles to the Project of Sustainable Development, Esperança where Dorothy was killed. Families are now living and working there; they defend the forest, restore the areas of cow grass, planted by the ranchers who had stolen the land. Two ranchers were masterminds behind Sr. Dorothy’s murder.
At the end of July, the pilgrimage takes place. July 25 is the Day of the Small Farmer. In the past, the Pioneer Association, an association of small farmers secured the land with Sr. Dorothy’s help. Migrating from other areas in Brazil, with different climates and farming experience, members of this association learn new techniques necessary to work in the Amazon area. They plan a weekend to study new techniques, to celebrate the value of the land, to preserve nature, and to come together in a festival! The pilgrimage is a way to continue this tradition, marked to include July 25.
We send invitations to all the communities in Anapu, all the parishes in the diocese, and friends and collaborators of the Land Pastoral all over Brazil. For the past 6 years, we have participated and are now planning our 7th pilgrimage. This year the them is “Anapu on pilgrimage and planting million trees.” The annual pilgrimage is a way that the people say: “We are here and that no one is going to destroy us, or push us off the land.” The pilgrimage is also a way also to work together and share with others so that all have enough.
Each morning, we begin with a spiritual event…a prayer, an exercise, a reading, a song, a gesture. A committee is responsible to help us begin the day, in the beauty of the dawning sun.
First afternoon: We walk 6 km and are welcomed at the first community with dinner of beans and rice and beef. We hang our hammocks, and in the evening there is a presentation. One year it was the routines of Capoeira, a combination of martial arts and dance inspired by our African roots. Another year it was the movie of the history of our Pioneer Association. Another year it was a film on the study of the Bible.
Second day: This is the longest and hottest day because it is through an area that has been deforested, a sign of what we do not want in the future. We stop for lunch and a break at the lot of one of the local farmers where a creek provides a wonderful place to cool off. A team of cooks goes ahead of the pilgrims to prepare the meal for us. All food is a gift from the people of the parish….beans, rice, meat, salt, oil, squash, onions, coffee, sugar, garlic, manioc. It is a tremendous sharing of what people have grown; this sustains everyone during the pilgrimage.
In the evening of the second day, we arrive at the Vila Santana. Again, the people and the travelling team of cooks are waiting with dinner, and the hammocks are strung from trees, from beams of a few buildings and in people’s homes. There is no creek here, so the huge tanks of water have been filled so we can take buckets to the wooden structures for a bath. After supper again, there is still energy to play with the children or see a movie.
On the third day, we reach the Project for Sustainable Development. Everyone notices the change, as the forest becomes more dense. There are long stretches of shade! We stop for lunch on the frontier of the PDS. Now there is a barrier, a chain that crosses the road. The chain is guarded by a company financed by the Brazilian federal government, which has the responsibility to keep loggers out. This guard post was won after a small group of people spent nine months camping on the road to prevent the loggers from entering, or if they had entered, they were unable to leave with the wood from the PDS. This action was part of the systematic struggle to defend the forest, the patrimony of the people of the sustainable project. Where there is a story to be told in each place, the story is told. The memory is kept alive and passed on and spread….this is what we have done as an organized force to defend the land, the forest, our lives and the future of our children.
In the late afternoon of the third day, we arrive at the cross in the middle of the road. Here is where Sr. Dorothy met Rayfran and Clodoaldo. After a brief conversation, they shot her dead on this site, now adorned with a cross, plants and flowers. During pilgrimages, there are flowers, paper streamers, balloons, and posters that speak of the struggle and the dream for life. The produce of the PDS is evident: plenty of cacao, pineapple, beans, rice, manioc, bananas, squash, and lots of each. People remember Dorothy, the events around her murder, the struggles, the events of the year, and their dreams. We light candles. We sing, pray and we cry. We absorb the energy of this sacred place.
We move on to the huge pavilion that is a place for meetings, courses and celebrations. We have dinner and we bathe in the river. We hang our hammocks among the trees of the forest. In the evening, there is a celebration of life….dance performances, music and songs, composed for the event. Stories are told, and then everyone dances. At this point, many people arrive who were not on the pilgrimage, but who come to participate in the last day of the celebration.
On the last day, we rise to music and the call for coffee. We go back to the place of the cross for the final celebration. We celebrate a liturgy, prepared by the pilgrims with the folks of the community of the PDS. Songs, dances, dramatizations of the struggle, testimonies of graces granted, offerings of thanksgiving and statements of commitment are part of the ritual.
The pilgrimage is an act of faith. It is an event that says death does not ever have the last word. Problems do not disappear; new ones rise up. Sometimes it seems that all will be lost. Then the spirit blows again, new ideas surface and new solutions appear. In this pilgrimage, we celebrate and take energy from the unity of the people and the surrounding life of the forest.
The Sisters of Notre Dame are present in this pilgrimage, helping with preparations, on the cooking team, walking with the people, and being a support. To date participants have been: Sisters Jane Dwyer, Lucyane Diniz, Maria Fátima Borges Costa, Maria de Jesus Borges da Costa, Maria Sousa Arruda, Sandra Araújo dos Santos, Zenilda Maurício de Nascimento, Ani Caroline Wihbey, Júlia Depweg, Mary Alice Mc Cabe, Maria do Socorro Oliveria, Josineide Silva, Maryann Gillespie, Maria Tecla Gaia, Kátia Webster.