Elegy of enslavement and liberation: day of the assassination of the negro Joao Alberto Freitas in Porto Alegre, on the day of the negro conscientiousness

Elegy of enslavement and of liberation

On this day, November 20th, 2020, when we celebrate the day of the negro conscience, a day of reflection against racism and of recognition of the dignity of the black population in Brazil (more than half the population), the negro Joao Alberto Freitas, forty years of age was cowardly assassinated, by beatings and suffocation, by two guards and a policeman in Porto Alegre. The scenes of death show unspeakable brutality and cowardice and all the racism present in sectors of society and how inhumane and cruel we can be.

In homage to Joao Alberto Freitas I republish a text of some time ago but which has lasting relevance.

The Passion of Christ continues through the centuries in the body of the crucified. Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world, as even one of his sisters or brothers may be hanging from a cross. Something similar happens among the bodhisatwas budists (the illuminated) who stop at the threshold of Nirvana to return to the world of pain – samsara – in solidarity with the suffering plants, animals and humans. Along these lines, the Catholic Church, in its Good Friday liturgy, puts these poignant words in the mouth of Christ: “What have I done to you, my chosen people? Tell me how I have hurt you! What more could I have done, how have I failed you? I brought you out of Egypt, I fed you with manna. I prepared for you a beautiful land , and you, made a cross for your king”.

Celebrating the abolition of slavery on May 13, 1888, we gave credence that it is not yet over. The passion of Christ continues in the passion of the black people. A second abolition is necessary, one from misery and from hunger. We can still hear the echo of the laments of enslavement and of liberation, coming from senzalas, today from the favelas around our cities.

The negro population still speaks to us in the form of a lament:
‘ My white brother, my white sister, my people: what have I done to you, how have I failed you? Answer me!

I inspired you with charged music and contagious rhythm . I taught you how to use the drum. It was I who gave you the rock and the jig of the samba. And you took what was mine, and you made it renowned, and you accumulated money from my compositions and gave me nothing back.

I came down from the hills and I showed you a world of dreams and of fraternity without barriers. I created multicolored fantasies and prepared for you the greatest festival in the world: I danced in the carnival for you. I made you happy and you applauded me. But soon you forgot me, sending me back to the hills, to the favelas, to the nude and crude world of unemployment, of hunger and of oppression.

My white brother, my white sister, my people, what have I done to you to be sad with me? Answer me!

I gave you as a legacy the daily dishes, the rice and the beans. And you received the rest, the feijoada and the vatapa, the typical Brazilian kitchen. And you left me hungry, You let my children die of starvation or with brains incurably affected, leaving them always as infants.

I was violently dragged from my native Africa. I lived the naval nightmares of the slave ships. I was made a thing, a piece, a slave. I was the nurse-maid for your children. I tended the fields, I planted tobacco and sugar cane. I did all the tasks. It was I who built the beautiful churches that all admired and the palaces where the owners of the slaves lived. And you called me lazy and jailed me for vagrancy. Due to the color of my skin you discriminated against me and treated me as forever a slave.

My white brother, my white sister, my people: what have I done that you put me down? Answer me!

I knew how to resist. I fled and founded quilombos: fraternal societies, without slaves, of people poor but free, black, mixed and white. Despite the whips on my backs I extended the cordiality and the sweetness to the Brazilian soul. You sent the captains to hunt me down like a pest, your destroyed my quilombos and still today you make sure that the misery that enslaves, continues to be true and effective.

I showed you what it means to be a living temple of God. And how to feel God in the body full of vim celebrated in rhythm, in dance and in foods. You repressed my religions calling them afro-Brazilian rites or simply folklore. Your invaded my yards, throwing salt and destroying our altars. Frequently you made macumba a police case. The majority of the kids killed on the outskirts between 18 and 24 are black, seen as negroes and suspects at the service of drug mafias. The majority of them are simply workers.

My white brother, my white sister, my people, what have I done against you? Tell me!

When with a lot of effort and sacrifice I make some headway in life, making a sweat-filled salary, buy my little house, educating my children, singing my samba, rooting for my favorite team, and being able to have a weekend beer with my friends, you say I am a black with a white soul, thus diminishing the value of our soul as worthy and hardworking negroes. And in competitions with all things being equal, you almost always favor a white person.

And when they think about politics that might bring reparations for historical perversity, permitting me what has always been denied me, to study and graduate in universities and technical school so as to better my life and my family, the majority of you yell: it is against the constitution, there’s a difference, it’s a social injustice.

My white brother, my white sister, my people: what have I done to anger you? Answer me!

My black brothers and sisters, on this 20th day of November, the day of Zumbi and of negro consciousness, I want to laud you all for surviving because the joy, the music and the dance is within you, despite all the sufferings that have been unjustly imposed upon you.

With much love and affection,

Leonardo Boff, theologian, philosopher and writer.

Give up everything to gain everything: the salt doll

In more recent times we have dedicated our reflections almost exclusively to Covid-19, in its context, which is a super exploitation of the living Earth and of nature, by globalized capitalism, including that of China.  Earth and nature have been defending themselves by sending a gama of viruses (zika, ebola, avarian and swine fever and others) and now this one that attacks all of humanity, except for other living beings.  The reckless course of unbridled accumulation has come to a crisis and we have had to stop, to begin social isolation, to avoid contact in groups and to use uncomfortable masks.  We accept these limitations in solidarity with one another and with those who are suffering world-wide.

This grave situation prompts us to think not only about what may come after the pandemic but also about ourselves, about the daily questions concerning the continued development of our identity and the molding of our sense of being.  It is a never-ending task including in times of social confinement.  Two issues among many others are perpetually present and require our explanation: the acceptance of our personal limitations and the capacity to deny oneself.

We all live within an existencial arrangement that by its very nature is limited in possibilities and imposes numerous barriers; professional, intellectual, health related, economical, temporal and others.  There is always a chasm between wants and their realization.  And sometimes we feel impotent faced with what we are notable to change, as the presence of a person with the ups and downs of a terminal illness.  We have to resign ourselves vis a vis this unavoidable limitation.

This should not keep us sad or without possibility of growing.  Among the resigned are the creatively resigned.  In place of growing outward we can grow inward to the extent that we create a center from which things can be u nified and we discover how to learn from everything.   Ancient wisdom said it well: “if someone feels deeply about another, the latter will perceive it despite being thousands of kilometers away”.  If you modify your inner self, there will be born in you a source of light that will radiate to others.

The other task consists in the search for auto-realization.  Essentially this is the capacity to relinquish.  Zen Buddhism puts before us as a test of personal maturity and of interior liberty the capacity to relinquish and to leave.  If we observe well, giving away belongs to the logic of life.  We leave the maternal womb, and after that infancy, youth, school, our paternal home, parents and personal 

What is the meaning of this slow exit from the world?  Is it a mere, unchangeable fatality of the universal law of entropy?  That much is incontrovertible, but is there not an existential sense remaining in the search for the spirit?  If in fact we are an infinite project and an abysmal emptiness crying out for fullness, will not this act of leaving behind mean the creation of conditions so that a Greater can come to fill us?  Will it the Supreme Being, one of love and mercy, who comes taking everything so that we may be able to gain everything, on the other side, when our pursuit is finally over,  be as the restless heart of Saint Augustine?

In losing, we gain and when we empty ourselves we are filled.  They say that this has been the trajectory of Jesus, of Buda, of Francis of Assisi, of Gandhi, of Mother Teresa, of Sister dulce and I believe also of Pope Francis, the best of the humans of today.

Perhaps a story of the ancient spiritual masters, can clarify the sense of loss that produces wealth.  

“There once was a doll of salt.  After roaming arid lands it came to discover the sea, which it had never seen before, and which, for this reason, it did no understand. The doll of salt asked: ‘Who are you?’  And the sea answered: ‘I am the sea.’  The slat doll responded: ‘and what is the sea?’ and the sea said: ‘I am the sea’.  ‘I don’t understand”, said the doll of salt, ‘but I would very much like to understand you; how can I do that?’  The sea said simply: ‘touch me’.

Then the salt doll timidly touched the sea with the tip of its foot.  It noted that the sea began to be understood, but soon became aware that its toes had disappeared.  ‘O, sea, look what has happened to me’, it said.  And the sea responded: ‘you gave something of yourself and I gave you understanding; you need to give all of yourself to understand me totally’.

The doll of salt began to descend into the depths of the sea, slowly and solemnly, as if doing the most important thing of its life.  And to the extent that it went dissolving it understood the sea increasingly better.  And the doll kept asking: ‘what is the sea?’  Until the waves covered it completely.  However it could say, up to the final moment, before fusing into the sea: ‘I am’”.

Giving up everything, it gained all: the real me.

Leonardo boff is the author of Time of Transcendence (2009) and Homesick for God (2019) Sal Terrae

Translation by Richard Korn

The political dimension of faith today

Before the upcoming municipal elections, it would be a good idea to analyze the relevance of Christian faith vis-à-vis politics, whether social or partisan.

Faith is not one act among others.  It is an attitude that includes all acts, every person, together with their feelings, intelligence, will, and life options. And it is a basic experience of encounter with the Mystery which we call the living God and with the Resurrected Jesus.  This encounter changes life and the way of seeing everything.  Through faith we see that everything is united and tied to God.  God is that Father/Mother who created all, and who walks with all and who attracts all so that all can live with a fraternal spirit, caring for one another and for nature.  This social love is the central message of the  new encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti.  Faith is good not only for eternity, but for this world.

In this sense, faith embraces also politics with a large P (social politics) and a small p (partisan politics).  A person can always ask oneself: to what extent is politics, whether social or partisan, an instrument for the realization of the values of the Kingdom such as social love, fraternity without borders, personal and social justice, solidarity and tolerance?  To what extent does politics create conditions so that people are open to cooperation rather than mutual destruction, without communion with one another and with God?  In the recent encyclical of Pope Francis, Fratelli tutti, the best politics is that which embraces the heart, and also care and courtesy, however surprising that might be.

Faith is life a bicycle

Faith is not only a personal experience of encounter with God and with Christ in the Spirit.  It is translated concretely in life.  It is like a bicycle with two wheels on which it is grounded: the wheel of religion and the wheel of politics.  

The wheel of religion is found in meditation, prayer, liturgies, secular and Bible reading, pilgrimages, sacraments, or in a word, in worship.

Many reduce religion only to this wheel, especially on Catholic television channels.  These are generally a Christianity that is merely devotional, one of Masses, saints, rosaries and a family ethic.  Almost never does it deal with social justice, the drama of millions of unemployed, the cry of the oppressed or the groans of the Earth.  Those in this camp try to escape the reality of so many struggles.  This type of Christianity has difficulty understanding why Jesus was arrested, tortured, judged and condemned to death on a cross.  This type of Christianity is a comfortable Christianity, as if Jesus had died in old age surrounded by his followers.

Worse is the style of faith proclaimed by neo-Pentecostal churches via their TV and media programs.  There you never hear the message of the Realm of love, of justice, of fraternity and of pardon.  One never hears the fundamental work of Jesus: “Blessed are the poor, theirs is the Kingdom of God…Woe to you, the rich, because you have had your easy life!” (Luke6,20.24).  In its place there is a type of reading of the Old Testament (rarely from the prophets) where material wealth is highlighted.  They do not the gospel of the Kingdom, but one of material prosperity.

The majority are poor and logically need a basic material footing.  There is a real hunger that brings martyrdom to millions of believers.  But “not only by bread does man live” said the Master.  Human beings have another primal hunger: a hunger of recognition denied to women, to the lowly, to blacks and to the LGBT community. There is a hunger for beauty and transcendence, a hunger for the living God who is a God of tenderness and love for the most forsaken.  All of this, the essence of the message of the historical Jesus, is not heard from the mouths of the pastors.  The majority of them are wolves in sheep clothing, since they exploit the simple faith of the lowly for their own benefit.  Even worse, they are politically conservative, reactionary, normally partisan, supporting politicians of dubious conduct, interfering, as occurs today in Brazil, in the government’s agenda, naming individuals for high positions.  They do not respect the Constitution which calls for a secular State.  The actual president, who was once a Catholic, is taken advantage of for the convenience of these neo-Pentecostal churches as a base for their slanted, reactionary, authoritarian, fascist government.

Tied to them, there is a group of nostalgic Catholics of the past, conservatives who opposed the Pope, in the Pan-Amazon Synod launching evident lies, false news items and other attacks via youtube.  They can be conservative Catholics, but never Christians characteristic of Jesus, because in his legacy there is no place for the hate, lies and slander that they spread. 

Faith has a second wheel, the wheel of politics, which is its practical side.  Faith is expressed through the practice of justice, solidarity, disclosure of oppression, protests across borders, social love and universal fraternity as the Pope underlines in Fratelli tutti (n. 6).  As one can see, politics here is synonymous with ethics.  We have to learn how to balance ourselves on both wheels in order to proceed correctly.

Among those who live an ethic of solidarity, of respect and of a search for truth, there are many who call themselves atheists.  They admire the figure of Jesus for his profound humanity and his courage to condemn social evils, and for that, to suffer persecution and to be crucified.  Pope Francs articulates that well: I prefer those ethical atheists to Christians who are indifferent to human suffering and the resounding injustices of the world.  Those who seek justice and truth are on the road which ends in God, because the true divine reality is love and truth.  Such values are worth more than many prayers if these are said in the absence of justice, truth and love.  Whoever is deaf to human sufferings has nothing to say to God and He does not hear these prayers.

In the Judeo-Christian Scriptures the wheel of politics (ethics)seems more important than the wheel of institutional religion (worship, confer Matt 7:21-22; 9:13; 12:7; 21:28-31; Gal 5:6 and the prophets of the Old Testament).  Without ethics, faith is empty and ineffective.  It is performance and not preaching which counts for God.  It is worthless to say “Lord, Lord” and to celebrate a religion of aerobics; it is more important to do the will of the Father, which is love, mercy, justice and pardon, all practical things, and, for that reason ethical (confer. Matt. 7:21).  By ethics in politics is meant the dimension of responsibility, the resolve to build relationships of participation, and not exclusion, in all social circles.  This calls for transparency and disdain for corruption.  Currently, problems of hunger, unemployment, general decline of life’s conditions and exclusion of the great majorities are of a social and political nature, and therefore pertaining to ethos.  Here faith must reveal its power of mobilization and transformation (Fratelli tutti, n. 166).

Social politics (P) and partisan politics (p)

As we have said previously, there are two types of politics: one written with a capital P and the other with a small p: social politics (P) and partisan politics (p).

Social politics (P) is everything that concerns the common good of society; the good is the participation of people in social life.  For example, social politics has to do with public health, school and transportation systems, street infrastructure and maintenance, water and sewage, etc.  Similarly social politics embraces the fight for a neighborhood health center or for a bus line to a mountain top.  We can briefly define this by saying that social politics or that with a large P is the common search for the common good.

Partisan politics (p) is the struggle for state power, for winning municipal, state and federal government.  Political parties exist to attain state power, whether to change things via a free process or to exert constitutional power (to maintain the status quo).  The party, as the word itself says, is part and parcel of society, and not all that society is.  Each party is backed by interests of groups and classes that draw up a project on behalf of the entire society.  If parties arrive at state power they will conduct public politics according to their particular programs and their vision of problems.

As far as partisan politics go, it is important that the person of faith consider the following points:

What is the program of the party?

How are people involved in this program?

Has it been publicly discussed?

Does it satisfy the real and urgent needs of the people?

Does it foresee the participation of the populace through its movements and 

organizations?

Have these groups been listened to from its conception, through its implementation 

to its control?

Who are the candidates who represent the program?  What backgrounds do they have?  Have they always maintained strong contact with their constituents?  Are they true allies and representatives for causes of justice and social transformation and respect for rights?  Or do they strive to continue social relationships as they are, with their contradictions and inherent evils?

These days, before the rise of conservative and fascist thought in Brazil and other countries of the world, conscientious and committed Christians need to come together to recuperate the democracy in danger of being pulled down.  It is also required that they return to health, personal and social rights and the rights of nature, devastated by the greed of Brazilian and world capitalism, responsible among others, for the extreme fires of the Amazon and the Pantanal.

These simple criteria are enough to understand the simple shape of the party and the candidates, of the right (if they want to maintain unchanged the relationship with the forces that favor their permanence in power); and of the left ( if they want substantial changes to overcome the perverse structures that marginalize the majorities), or of the center ( those parties that balance the right and the left, always looking for advantages for themselves and for the groups they represent).

For Christians, it is necessary to analyze to what extent these programs are in harmony with the project of Jesus and the Apostles, how they aid the liberation of the oppressed and the marginalized, and to what degree they open space for the participation of all.  It is important to emphasize however, that the partisan decision is a matter of each one’s conscience and that a Christian knows which direction to take.

Given the connection of social exclusion due to the logic of neoliberalism, the financing of the economy and of the market, faith points to a partisan politics that should reveal a popular and free as proclaimed in the encyclical Fratelli tutti (n. 141-151).  This politics aims at another type of democracy: not only a representative/delegated democracy, but a participatory democracy through which the people and their organizations help to discuss, decide and direct social agendas.

Finally, it is important to inaugurate a social-ecological democracy that incorporates as citizens with rights to be respected, the Earth, ecosystems and beings of creation with which we have relationships of interdependence.  We are all Brothers and Sisters according to the encyclicals of Pope Francis: Laudato Si: on the care of our Common Home, and the recent Fratelli tutti of 2020.

Partisan politics has to do with power, which to be strong seeks to have always more power.  There is a risk in that, the risk of totalitarianism in politics, of politicizing all questions, of seeing only the political dimensions of life.  In opposition we must say that everything is political, but that politics is not everything.  Human, personal and social life has other dimensions, such as the affective, the esthetic, the pleasurable and the religious.

Conclusion: the dangerous memory of Jesus

Christians can and should participate in politics at all levels, those with a large P and with a small p.  Their action is inspired in the dream of Jesus, that implies an impulse of transformation of social and ecological relations with courage in the vein of the encyclical Fratelli tutti.  Nevertheless, we must never forget that we are heirs of the dangerous and liberating memory of Jesus.  Due to his commitment to the project of the Reign of love, of justice and of filial intimacy with the Father, and, especially due to his compassion with the humble and the hurting, he was led to death on the cross.  He rose, so that, in the name of the God of life, to enliven the insurrection against partisan and social politics that penalizes the poorest, eliminates the prophets and persecutes the preachers of a greater justice.  He strengthens all who want a new society with a fraternal and caring relationship with nature and with all beings, loved as human beings, and with the God of tenderness and goodness.

Leonardo Boff is a theologian, a philosopher and has written “Brazil: to conclude the refoundation or to prolong dependence“.  Vozes, Petropolis, 2018

Translation by Richard Korn

Coronavirus: Gaia’s reaction and revenge?

Everything relates to everything: that is now a data point in the collective consciousness of those who develop an integral ecology, such as Brian Swimme, many other scientists, and Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Letter, “On the Caring for the Common Home”. All beings of the universe and of the Earth, including us, human beings, are part of the intricate web of relationships, spun in all directions, in such a way that nothing exists outside of those relationships.  That is also the basic thesis of the quantum physics of Werner Heisenberg and Niels Bohr.

It was well known by the original peoples, as expressed in 1856 by the wise words of Duwamish Grandfather Seattle: “Of one thing we are certain: the Earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the Earth. All thing are interrelated like the blood that unites a family; everything is interrelated with everything. That which wounds the Earth also wounds the sons and daughters of the Earth. It was not man who knit the web of life: man is merely a tread of the web of life. Everything that man does against that web, is also done to man himself”. This is to say, there is an intimate connection between the Earth and the human being. If we hurt the Earth, we also hurt ourselves, and vice versa.

This is the same perception the astronauts enjoyed from their spacecraft and the Moon: The Earth and humanity are a single and unique entity. Isaac Asimov said it well in 1982 when, at the request of The New York Times, he summarized the 25 years of the Space age: “Its legacy is the verification that, from the perspective of the spacecraft, the Earth and humanity form a sole entity (New York Times, October 9, 1982)”. We are Earth.  Man,  Hombre, comes from húmus, fertile earth, the Biblical Adam means son and daughter of the fertile Earth. After this verification, never again have we lost consciousness of the fact that the destiny of the Earth and of humanity are inseparably united.

Unfortunately, we are seeing that which Pope Francis laments in his ecological Encyclical Letter: “we have never mistreated and wounded so much our Common Home as we have done in the last two centuries” (nº 53). The voracity of the form of accumulation of wealth is so devastating that some scientists say that we have inaugurated a new geologic era: the anthropocenic era. Namely, it is the human being himself who threatens life and accelerates the sixth massive extinction, which we already are experiencing. The aggression is so violent that more than a thousand species of living beings disappear each year, giving way to something worse than the anthropocene, the necrocene: the era of mass production of death. Since the Earth and humanity are interconnected, massive death is produced not only in nature but also in humanity itself. Millions of people die of starvation, thirst, victims of war or of the social violence everywhere in the world.  And uncaring, we do nothing.

James Lovelock, who offered the theory of the Earth as a self regulating super living organism, Gaia, wrote a book titled, Gaia’s Revenge, (La venganza de Gaia, Planeta 2006). He suggested that the current diseases, such as dengue, chikungunya, the zica virus, sars, ebola, measles, the current coronavirus and the generalized degradation in human relationships, marked by a profound social inequality/injustice and the lack of a minimal solidarity, are the reaction of Gaia for the offenses that we continually inflict on her. I would not say, as Lovelock does, that it is all “the revenge of Gaia”, because she, as the Great Mother she is, does not take revenge, but gives us great signals that she is ill, (typhoons, melting of the polar ice, droughts and flooding, etc.); and, in the end, because we do not learn the lesson, she takes reprisals, such as the aforementioned diseases .

I remember the book-testament by Theodore Monod, perhaps the only great contemporary naturalist, And if the human adventure should fail (Y si la aventura humana fallase, Paris, Grasset 2000): «we are capable of senseless and demented behavior, from now on anything could happen, really, anything, including the annihilation of the human race; that could be the just price for our madness and cruelty» (p.246).

This does not mean that all the governments of the world, resigned, will stop struggling against the coronavirus and protecting the people, or of urgently searching for a vaccine to combat it, in spite of its constant mutations. Besides an economic-financial disaster, it could mean a human tragedy, with an incalculable number of victims. But the Earth will not be satisfied with these small compensations. She pleads for a different attitude towards her: of respect for her rhythms and limits, of caring for her sustainability, and of us feeling more like the sons and daughters of Mother Earth, the Earth herself who feels, thinks, loves, venerates and cares. In the same way that we care for ourselves, we must care for her. The Earth does not need us.  We need the Earth. Perhaps she does not want us in her face anymore, and would keep on gyrating on the sidereal space, but without us, because we were ecocidal and geocidal..

Since we are intelligent beings and lovers of life, we can change the course of our destiny.  May the Spirit Creator strengthen us in this purpose.  

Leonardo Boff
Eco-Theologian-Philosopher
Earthcharter Commission

Free translation from the Spanish sent by

Melina Alfaro, volar@fibertel.com.ar.

Done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.