Tuesday, December 20, 2016

"A man who rose to the occasion"

Most people are not heroes. Heroism is beyond most of us and we might as well know that. A 95 year old hero in the struggle against torture and for the empowerment of the poor died in Brazil this week. Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns of Sao Paulo, Brazil stood up against a murderous military regime (1965-1985) and lived to see democracy, however imperfect, restored.

The Cardinal's New York Times obituary is full of vivid detail of the priest's bravery.

After the murder in 1975 of a journalist, Vladimir Herzog, that the government called a suicide, Cardinal Arns led an ecumenical service, along with rabbis and a Presbyterian minister, that was attended by 8,000 people.

Afterward, a group of bishops issued a pastoral letter that deplored torture, the denial of prisoners’ rights to a full legal defense and the suspension of habeas corpus. In support, Cardinal Arns said: “Those who stain their hands with blood are damned. Thou shalt not kill.”

In 1979, when Cardinal Arns went to a morgue to retrieve the body of Santo Dias da Silva, a labor leader killed by the military police, officers backed away as he waved his hand.

A lawyer, Luiz Eduardo Greenhalgh, accompanied him to the scene. “We went in, and Cardinal Arns looked at the bullet holes on Santo’s body,” he was quoted saying this year by the Catholic News Service. “He pointed his finger at the policemen and said, ‘Look what you did!’ And all the officers lowered their heads in shame.”

In his sermon at Mr. Dias’s funeral, Cardinal Arns said, “Every age, and sometimes every event, must have its Christ, because only thus will the fellow workers remain united and will not lose hope.”

In A Miracle, A Universe: Settling Accounts with Torturers, reporter Lawrence Weschler described Arns' role in facilitating secret collection of detailed records of torture and abuse, eventually published as Brasil: Nunca Mais/Torture in Brazil. The horrible story is all there. Like so many torture regimes, the military kept fastidious records of its own misdeeds, never fearing disclosure. Working with Brazilian Presbyterians, Arns created space and helped secure funding for millions of documents to be clandestinely copied, preserved, and published. When Weschler visited Sao Paulo, he belatedly understood what a risk Cardinal Arns had taken:

I don't know why, but it took me a while before I fully grasped one of the key facts about this project: Cardinal Arns was completely out on a limb. He had not consulted with his fellow-bishops before or after giving his go-ahead, nor had he sought permission from the Vatican; indeed, the Vatican never knew about the project. ...

[Ralph Della Cava, a scholar of the Brazilian Church, described Arns.] He's not particularly charismatic or dramatic -- not like Dom Helder Camara, who hardly has to lift an eyebrow to draw a sigh from the crowd. No, his strength grew out of a situation in which everyone knew that something was rotten and nobody would say it. And then along came this Mr. Everyman -- a man like us: not tall, not powerful, not charismatic -- who spoke with clarity and immediacy and truth. A man, that is, who rose to the occasion. ...

1 comment:

Hattie said...

What a hero. Inspiring to read this. But would it not be wonderful if we could live in a world where no one is tortured or murdered!

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