Cleusa and the martyrs of the Amazon, honored in the VII Pilgrimage of the Martyrs in São Félix de Araguaia

Every five years it organizes this Pilgrimage in the Sanctuary of the Martyrs of the Way, built by Pedro Casaldáliga in his Prelature of San Félix de Araguaia (Mato Grosso, Brazil). Under the motto “Everything for the Kingdom”, a representation of the Augustinian Recollect Family has been present promoting the testimony of Sister Cleusa, murdered in Lábrea in 1985.
News | 2022 Aug 04

Claretian Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga (Balsareny, Barcelona, Spain, 1928 - Batatais, São Paulo, Brazil, 2020) wanted to turn a place of desolation, injustice and sadness into a sanctuary of prayer for peace and defense of human dignity.

He called it the Sanctuary of the Martyrs of the Way and it was built on the exact spot where on October 11th, 1976, the Brazilian Jesuit João Bosco Penido Burnier was murdered in cold blood by a policeman when he was trying to mediate so that two women would stop suffering torture.

Every five years this Sanctuary receives a great pilgrimage in which the Catholic Church remembers those who have given their lives in defense of human dignity, materialized in the rights of indigenous or riverside peoples, in denouncing injustices, in defense of an integral ecology against the greed of the most extreme capitalism.

From July 13th to 20th of this year, the VII edition of this Pilgrimage of the Martyrs was held. And since the first one was held in 1986, the name and example of an Augustinian Recollect missionary, Cleusa Carolina Rhody Coelho, assassinated in 1985 precisely for defending the rights of indigenous people in the Prelature of Lábrea, Amazonas, Brazil, has been present.

Martyr of the indigenous cause”. This is how the figure of Cleusa in the Pilgrimage is honored and remembered. An Augustinian Recollect missionary, Josefina Casagrande, has been able to participate in six editions of the Pilgrimage carrying the banner of Cleusa and spreading her testimony of life.

The acts lasted five days. The first one had Bishop Casaldáliga as its main protagonist, who left a great legacy for his commitment to practical action, and also for his reflective and poetic writings.

The second day was dedicated to the victims of the pandemic, to support the families they left behind, to thank the health professionals and to denounce the authorities who decided not to act or help the most disadvantaged.

The third day the celebration was liturgical, spiritual and testimonial. A woman, a witness to the murder that gave rise to the Sanctuary, recounted what happened that day:

We were celebrating a triduum to Our Lady of Aparecida. João Bosco Burnier was then accompanying the Bakairi Indians and came here together with Pedro Casaldáliga for the triduum.
As they passed by the police station they heard the screams of the two women who were being tortured at the time. They wanted to intercede, but the agents' reaction was first to insult them with profanity and then they first hit João Bosco with a gun to the head, followed by a shot.
They tried to help him and, still in agony, he reached Goiania, but he died. Right after the altercation I myself was trying to dry his bloody head. He had time to tell Casaldáliga: “Pedro, we finished our mission.”
A week later, after the funeral mass, people spontaneously went to the police station and completely destroyed it. “That place only serves to arrest and torture the poor,” they said. And it really was.

The fourth day of the Romería is the great procession of four kilometers with the banners of the martyrs. Josefina carried the banner of Cleusa during the tour, with seven stops marked by a large cross, each dedicated to one of the great causes of defense of human rights today: women, ecology, native peoples, rural workers, blacks, sexual diversities, earth.

At each stop a prayer was made, a cry, and along the way there were reflections, songs, and the name of the martyrs was cheered. “Sister Cleusa, present at the pilgrimage” was repeated several times.

The end of the tour was in the same Sanctuary of the Martyrs of the Way, where a prayer vigil had been organized and, to close the celebration, yucca cake was distributed to everyone.

The Sunday Eucharist, on the fifth day, presided over by Adriano Ciocca, current Bishop of the Prelature of São Félix de Araguaia, closed this VII Pilgrimage of the Martyrs. Among the people, many Xavante Indians and the nieces of Pedro Casaldáliga. His words were remembered:

“For the love of God, let us not forget our martyrs: a people, a Church that forgets its martyrs, does not deserve to survive.”

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