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A Marxist Saint? The Brazilian Bishops’ Strange Proposal for the Synod

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Fr. Ramin

On the eve of the Pan Amazon Synod, two hundred Brazilian bishops have signed a letter asking Pope Francis to recognize Ezechiele Ramin, an Italian Comboni missionary, as a martyr. Ramin died in an ambush in 1985 while involved in a farm invasion with militants of the MST (Landless Workers Movement). The Brazilian bishops consider Fr. Ramin to be an “important figure” and therefore propose to proclaim him the “Patron Saint” of the Synod.

Father Ramin was born in Padua in 1953. From an early age, he showed an ardent “social conscience” by focusing his attention on alleged situations of poverty or oppression and a consequent desire to solve them by addressing the root of the problem: social and political structures that generate inequalities. This led him to frequent leftist circles just as the “years of lead” [marked by bloody acts of terrorism in Italy] raged on. In 1970, he joined the Florentine section of Mani Tese, showing since then a clear propensity for Marxism, as noted by his biographer Rafael Vigolo (Padre Ezequiel Ramin. Biografia e Escritos, Alô Mundo Sem Fronteiras, Sao Paulo 2018, p. 96).

Father Ramin was the main writer of the Political Document published in April 1972 by the Florentine section of Mani Tese.

The Document explains that it intends to “clarify our political commitment” and admits the closeness of the Florentine section to “revolutionary, committed youth groups [ranging] from non-governmental to student movements” influenced by “Karl Marx and Mao.” A chapter titled “No to Capitalism and Imperialism” is dedicated to defend an “alternative society.” The text outlines a strategy that goes from an analysis of the current situation employing the dialectic criteria to the definition of a “mobilizing and inspiring utopia,” leading to a “political and social strategy.”

This analysis is done according to Marxist criteria: “Marxism aims first of all at the structures and then builds its discourse through the development of a historical force that is expressed in reality.” Therefore, the Document proposes “a revolution in structures and consciences simultaneously.” It states, “We must make a class choice” within an “anti-capitalist strategy” and calls for a “non-violent” option, which it defines as promoting “general strike … non-cooperation with unjust structures … boycott … civil disobedience.”

After his priestly ordination with the Comboni Fathers and pastoral experience in the United States, in 1984 Fr. Ezechelie is sent to the Amazon region of Rondônia, in Brazil.

His Marxist formation led him to engage in the rural and indigenous cause as a member of the Pastoral Commission on Land (CPT), the agency of the Brazilian Bishops’ Conference dedicated to rural issues and always marked by socialism in the mold of Liberation Theology. To understand CPT’s stand, suffice it to read these excerpts from the Final Document of its Second National Assembly in 1976: “Comrades! … We have decided to support the workers’ struggles! … Here is our peasant Easter: the struggle to free the earth from the greed of the rich. … Away with all fences!”

We also read in the July-August 1977 Bulletin of the Pastoral Commission on Land: “There will be a lot of struggle, a lot of spilled blood. Either we throw ourselves into the fray, or we lose the battle. The peasant who does not fight will remain thirsty.”

The peasant Way of the Cross which Bishop Moacir Grecchi, prelate of Acre and Purús and president of CPT sponsored in 1980, reads, “We will go to the fight! It will be very difficult, but we will win by law or violence. If any companion dies, his blood will be a seed.”

It is no coincidence that the vice-president of the CPT, who later became a mentor to Fr. Ezekiel, was Most Rev. Pedro Casaldáliga, bishop of São Félix do Araguaia and self-proclaimed “Monsignor Hammer and Sickle.” His support for Marxist guerrillas even led him to wear a Sandinista guerrilla uniform one of the terrorists gave him. Upon donning it, he stated, “I would like to thank you for this sacrament of liberation that I receive with facts and, if need be, even with blood! Dressed as a guerrilla fighter, I feel vested like a priest. The guerrilla struggle and the Mass are the same celebration that drives us towards the same hope. We must bear witness to our commitment even unto death!”

To incite the peasants to this struggle to the death, the CPT gathered them in so-called Basic Christian Communities (BCCs). “We are the rural church, organized in the form of Basic Christian Communities, where CPT militants are formed,” a CPT document reads.

In the BCCs, peasants underwent a noxious process of “awareness-raising” conceived by the Marxist pedagogue Paulo Freire. This process, based on psychological techniques and group dynamics, was intended to erase the peasants’ “primitive conscience” by causing a “critical conscience” to emerge, which would lead them to acquire a “revolutionary conscience” and make a concrete social and political commitment to establish socialism. “What we propose is Marxism in theology,” stated Leonardo Boff, the great ideologue of the Basic Christian Communities operated by the CPT.

This is what went on in the Pastoral Commission on Land, where Father Ezechiele Ramin worked. All of it was inspired by Liberation Theology, which shortly thereafter was condemned by John Paul II. One should also recall that on several occasions, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Pope himself strongly condemned this kind of rural agitation.

Father Ezechiele’s commitment was not confined to the theological and pastoral field but resulted in a very concrete commitment to participate in peasant struggles alongside the Rural Workers Union and the Landless Workers Movement (MST), both Marxist and subversive. “The Church supports the Landless Workers Movement because it is a popular movement,” said Fr. Ezekiel in a homily in 1985, urging his faithful to join it — “The CPT is fully supporting this movement.”

The Landless Workers Movement has never hidden its Marxist and subversive character. “In the MST’s political formation, we study Marx, Lenin, Gramsci. … We are inspired by the school of historical Marxists,” declares João Pedro Stédile, the movement’s national coordinator.” “Our goal is to establish socialism, defeat the bourgeoisie, control the State. We do class struggle, and the earth will tremble!”

Can it get any clearer?

On 24 July 1985, Fr. Ezechiele Ramin was killed in an ambush while intervening in an invasion of the Catuva Farm.

The person of a priest is sacred, and any violence on his person is sacrilegious. Father Ezechiele Ramin’s murder must be condemned in no uncertain terms and especially since he made no physical provocation that could justify an act of legitimate self-defense.

Nevertheless, the proposal to proclaim him a martyr and, indeed, the patron saint of the Pan Amazon Synod, causes many perplexities.

Beyond any consideration of Fr. Ezekiel’s person, such a move would be interpreted as a canonization of Marxism, as a papal seal of approval to the subversive action of CPT and MST. It would be seen as the definitive consecration of Marxist Liberation Theology. In short, it would be interpreted as the pontifical approval of socialist revolution in Latin America and, consequently, throughout the world.

Is this the impression they want to convey?

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