Thirty years ago Fr. Ezekiel (Lele) Ramin, a Comboni Missionary working in Caocal, in the state of Rondonia was killed. He was only 32. "A Martyr of Charity" Pope John Paul II called him a few days after his death. The diocesan process for beatification has already begun.
Fr. Ezekiel was worried about his parishioners, poor farmers for the most part, who stood to lose their land and livelihoods to rich ranchers. Lele together with the president of the rural union of Cacoal, Adilio de Souza, had visited the nearby community of Road 7 and had been advised to visit the beleaguered peasants on Katuva ranch.
The next day, the two men set out for Katuva arriving at 11.00 in the morning. Fr. Ezekiel had a meeting with a dozen or so people. He advised the peasants to steer clear of violence and said, among other things: "You must be patient for a few more days. Justice is achieved by peace, not with weapons. If you take up arms, you will come off worst because the others are too powerful. And that is what the "pistoleros" want so that they can wipe you out under the pretext of legitimate self-defence".
The meeting over, Fr. Ezekiel was convinced that he had persuaded the farmers to stay calm and not to resort to violence and so headed home. Back on the road Lele and Adilio had not travelled far when they found the road blocked by an off-road vehicle: before they knew what was happening, a machine gun and pistols opened fire. Fr. Ezekiel was hit by more than 100 bullets while Adilio managed to escape largely unscathed. Years later it came to light that Adilio, working with the assassins had led the priest to his death.
A Life of Commitment
Ezekiel Ramin from Padua, Italy, joined the Comboni Missionaries in 1972 and was ordained priest in 1980. By 1984 Lele found himself assigned to Cacoal in Rondonia in north-east Brazil.
It did not take long for Ezekiel to become aware of the struggle for land which afflicted the whole region. Powerful local landlords, by means of systematic violence, were increasing their holdings by stealing the land from the indigenous people once they had expelled or killed them. He once wrote in a letter: "Around me the people are dying while the landowners increase their wealth; the poor are humiliated, the police kill the peasants and all the reserves of the Indios are being invaded."
Ezekiele's commitment soon brought him into conflict with the landlords and the compromised local authorities. He received several death threats before he was eventually murdered at the early age of 32, on 25 July, 1985.
Failed agrarian reform
Thirty years later little has changed. Landowners who make up 1% of the population hold 44% of the arable land and 62% of these large ranches are non-productive.
Towards the altars
On 9 April last, the process for the beatification of Fr. Ezekiel was opened by Msgr. Claudio Cipolla, Bishop of Padua.
Pope Francis Mission Intention for July
"That the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, by means of her mission to the continent, may announce the Gospel with renewed vigour and enthusiasm." Let us Pray.
The words "mission to the continent" in this intention refer to a commitment the Latin American bishops, including the future Pope Francis, made at a meeting in Aparecida, Brazil in 2007. Receiving that document, Pope Benedict XVI said: "it was a cause of joy for me to know of the desire to launch a 'Continental Mission' which the Bishops' Conferences and each Diocese are called to examine and carry out."
The document itself said: "Everyone in the Church is called to be disciples and missionaries....We summon all our brothers and sisters so that united, with enthusiasm, we may carry out the Great Continental Mission. It will be a new Pentecost that impels us to go, in a special way, in search of the fallen away Catholics, and of those who know little or nothing about Jesus Christ, so that we may joyfully form the community of love of God our Father."
Latin America is the most Catholic continent, yet it has some of the worst poverty and corruption. Conversion is needed. In his opening address to the meeting, Pope Benedict said: "This being a continent of baptized Christians, it is time to overcome the notable absence - in the political sphere, in the world of the media and in the universities - of the voices and initiatives of Catholic leaders with strong personalities and generous dedication, who are coherent in their ethical and religious convictions." He reminded "the laity of their responsibility and their mission to bring the light of the Gospel into public life, into culture, economics and politics."
We join our Latin American brothers and sisters this month in not only praying for this great continental mission, but also striving to be missionary disciples ourselves so that Christian values may permeate our own society.
1 Peter 2: 1-12 Keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul.
Pope Francis General Intention for July
"That indigenous peoples, whose identity and very existence are threatened, will be shown due respect." Let us Pray.
We are all familiar with the history of indigenous peoples i.e. those people who already live in the land when immigrants arrive. In their encounters with other peoples, they often lost their land, their culture, and through war and disease, their very lives. Today many suffer terribly from poverty and its accompanying problems of violence and addiction. Native peoples in Latin America continue to be threatened as others push into their territory looking for cheap land.
When he visited Bolivia in 2015, Pope Francis admitted that members of the Church were party to these injustices. He repeated words of Pope St. John Paul II, saying, "I kneel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters." He also reminded people that there were "thousands of priests and bishops who strongly opposed the logic of the sword with the power of the Cross and who defended the rights of indigenous peoples."
We are called to follow their example today by showing respect to indigenous peoples and defending their rights.
Pope Francis continued: "To our brothers and sisters in the Latin American indigenous movement, allow me to express my deep affection and appreciation of their efforts to bring peoples and cultures together where each group preserves its own identity by building together a plurality which does not threaten but rather reinforces unity."
Unity amid diversity-this is what the Church strives to achieve. It is the work of the Spirit which enriches the Church and society with the gifts of native peoples. We ask the Holy Spirit to continue this great work.
1 Corinthians 12: 4-11 To each the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
Institute Intention for July
"That, in serving the poorest, we may be able to join together with all people of good will and create around us networks of solidarity." Lord hear us.
Prayer of the Month
Our Mother, protect the Latin American family! Guard under your protective mantle the children of this beloved land. Pour out upon our brothers and sisters throughout Latin America a true missionary ardour, to spread faith and hope. Make the resounding plea that you uttered in Fatima for the conversion of sinners become a reality that transforms the life of our society. And as you intercede for the people of the Continent of Hope, bless its lands and its homes. Amen.
--from Pope Benedict XVI's prayer before the Aparecida meeting (May 2007)