A patron Saint for the Amazon and the upcoming Synod. This is the exceptional request recently submitted to Pope Francis, signed by as many as 200 Brazilian bishops. In their letter the bishops ask the Pope to recognize as martyr the Italian Comboni missionary Ezekiel Ramin from Padua, assassinated in 1985 after standing up for the rights of landless farmers in the diocese of Cacoal, in the Brazilian State of Rondônia.
In the letter that SIR has had the possibility to read, the Brazilian bishops declare their support to the cause of beatification now into its final stage.
They highlight the witness of Father Ramin who gave his life for the indigenous peoples and landless farmers, in the framework of the ecclesial action of the home Community
along with the topical relevance of his witness today, in a context of increasing violence. The Brazilian bishops who signed the letter equally pointed out that the local population cherishes a vivid memory of Father Ezekiel, who is often invoked as an intercessor and protector of the poorest and most persecuted people.
“Living memory.” His memory was honoured two days ago when over 500 people participated in the so-called Romaria, a procession and celebration in memory of Father Ramin, in Rondolândia, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, not far from Cacoal.
Father Ezekiel’s brother Antonio attended the ceremony along with pastoral workers, catechists, leaders involved in politics and social affairs, men and women religious and the bishop of the prelature of Borba, dom Zenildo Luiz Pereira da Silva, who defined the Comboni missionary “an important figure for us and for the Synod in the light of his witness and love for the mission.”
“We celebrated a living memory of Father Ezechiele – added Father Dario Bossi, provincial of the Comboni missionaries in Brazil – Now more than ever the rights of the indigenous peoples are at risk, disputed land is plundered, the forest destroyed and razed to the ground by those who want to seize these lands.
Ezekiel still lives in the resistance of communities, in the dozens of agro-ecology and education projects that were created under his name.”
These words are supported by the figures published a few days ago by INPE, the National Space Research Institute, according to which, an area of more than 3,700 square km has been deforested this year – 100% more compared to 2018. According to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) of the Brazilian Church, in 2018 about a million people were involved in land conflicts ( 960,630): a 35% increase compared to 2017.
A weaver of communion and forerunner of the Synod. Since so many people were killed, why is Father Ezekiel Ramin at the centre of attention today? SIR collected the testimony of two prominent witnesses.
Father Arnaldo Baritussio, Comboni missionary, is the postulator of the cause of beatification. While on the one hand he maintains due discretion over the progress of the cause (“There are time-frames to be respected”, he says, “it’s a matter of proving that he was violently killed as a priest, that it was an attack on his faith”), on the other he highlights some of the characteristics of Father Ezekiel and his martyrdom. In particular, “his ability to unite and create communion. There were frequent disputes between the indigenous peoples confined in the reserves and the farmers driven out by the landowners in those years. Father Ezekiel had the intuition that only together could indigenous people and landless peasants improve their situation.
He made them value the need for coexistence in diversity, a long-lasting fruit that makes him a precursor of the Synod.”
The postulator went on: “He fulfilled a specific aspect of the Kingdom of God in a very short time, as he had arrived in Cacoal just over a year before his assassination. He injected the Gospel into people’s veins. He upheld the ministerial Church where service to the Gospel forms social and personal relationships. In his action the local Church always remained his point of reference, he was a creative person while remaining faithful to it. He was perceived by the natives as ‘one of them’ and after his death his reputation spread throughout.”
A great sign. Particularly intense is the testimony of Sister Antonietta Papa, now Superior General of the Missionary Daughters of Mary who was with Father Ezekiel on a mission when he was killed. “I was secretary to the bishop, and that evening I was waiting for him. I had told him not to be late and not to awaken the bishop when he arrived. At 4 in the morning the telephone rang… to inform us of what had happened.
I was there the next day when they unrolled the hammock that contained his body riddled with bullets.” Years later, Sister Antonietta recalls: “The Eighties were very significant in Brazil, marked by many battles and intense activity, pastoral organisms were created to defend indigenous people and landless farmers. Father Ezekiel was a young man, but he had already been through experiences in Mexico and the United States. He immediately understood that it was necessary to bring together the diverse communities involved in the struggles.”
Why was he killed? “Because, as they say in Brazil, ‘he called things by their name.’
I remember that once, during a meeting, he read us the text of his homily, spelling out names and surnames… ‘You can’t say these things’, we told him out of concern.”
For the nun his beatification would be a great sign: “It would embrace all the victims of the Amazon, let it suffice to remember that all his collaborators at the time were eventually killed.”