Richmond Hill, Ont.
Among the guests slated to address General Synod July 11 is the primate of the Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva.
Born near the city of Recife, along Brazil’s easternmost edge, Assis studied at the Northern Brazil Baptist Seminary and the Anglican Seminary in Recife. He was ordained a priest in 1991, and served as secretary of the province of Brazil for four years before being elected bishop of Southwest Brazil in 2010. He was elected to his current post in 2013. Assis is also a lawyer.
The Canadian and Brazilian churches had enjoyed a long relationship until 2010, when General Synod, after consulting with the Brazilian church, withdrew from their formal partnership. At the time, the Canadian church wanted to focus more on its relationship with Cuba. Now, after this six-year lapse, the two churches are moving to re-establish links with one another. Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, visited Brazil last December and, on his return, said he looked forward to the renewal of a formal relationship between them.
The Anglican Journal spoke briefly with Assis Sunday, July 10.
What has been your experience of General Synod so far?
In general lines, it is quite similar with our synod in Brazil. We have some cultural or legislative procedures quite different, but it’s not too different from our way to manage our provincial bylaw, our provincial synod. I’m feeling that people are very, very engaged with synod. They’re very well prepared. The introduction to the new delegates to the legislative process, to the rules, to the bylaw process, is very, very useful. I was impressed with the number of people that are first time in synod. And in general, my feeling is to be at home [yet] not necessarily home—not difficult to understand the procedures, not difficult to stay in communication with people. So my feeling is a very good feeling.
What are the main challenges facing the Anglican church in Brazil?
As a church spread through a large country as Brazil, we have many, many challenges. But if you are asking me exactly [about] the recent environment in Brazil, I think our big challenge now is to witness the gospel of Jesus Christ to a society that is living a serious crisis. Brazil has, since the military dictatorship left power—the last military government was…in ’84, so we have less than 30 years as a civil-ruled state—now we are having some difficult times because the process of the democracy is under risk, not by military forces, but the conservative civil forces that are managing the country, to [make it take] a step back in the field of rights, in the field of freedom, in the field of the way where the country’s trying to overcome inequality, poverty, overcome the gap between the duty of the state and the rights of the society. So we are living difficult times, and the church is demanded to talk and to do strong advocacy for those who are on the most fragile side of the society.
Is that why the Brazilian church opposed the impeachment of President Dilma Roussef?
The process of the impeachment of President Dilma to us seems to be vicious…In the Brazilian case, up to now, we have no concrete criminal charge against the president. And for us, this is a…coup d’état, differently than in the past—it was the military who did that. Now it’s some very conservative forces with the mediation of political parties and elitists that are managing this process. They are not satisfied with the fact that President Dilma was re-elected. They were waiting to defeat by votes the government. It did not happen. So they tried to make up a strong alliance…with very conservative forces to find a way to defeat by impeachment the president. So to us the process is not respecting the constitution. So the churches that have ecumenical relationships and commitment to the transformation of society are together with this reading…You have religious forces that are supporting the coup d’état, but they are very conservative, very fundamentalist Christian groups, and some of the leaders of these groups are allies of the conservative forces that are trying to oust President Dilma. And we don’t know where this is going, because…[it] could be the beginning of August when the procedure will be finalized, and we are expecting that truth and justice could [prevail]. If not, I don’t know what will happen with Brazil. Demonstrations, clashes—I hope that we don’t have this and that justice will prevail in the process.
Where do you see the relationship between the Canadian and Brazilian churches going, and what do they have to offer each other?
We have a long history of companionship. In my speech Monday morning, I will be saying some things about this companionship. Firstly, we have many, many similarities in the way we live our faith, our common faith and also some similarities with the environment where we live. We are big countries. We have big differences—geographical, cultural—so this is a common ground between both our churches. Second, Canada and Brazil as countries have also a very historical companionship. For example, during the military dictatorship, Canada received some Brazilians [as] refugees. This is a kind of companionship that we have not had with everyone.
As churches, we have a long companionship in the field of mission, in the field of co-operation around communication, mission, voluntary Canadians that work in Brazil. We have a theological common ground; we learn a lot from the Canadian experience. You can, for example, [take] the liturgical reform in the ’70s, ’80s, the theological approach related to issues such as justice, peace, environment and reconciliation. We have learned a lot from the Canadian experience. We feel as brothers and sisters in the absolute sense, in stricto sensu, in lato sensu—in both senses. We are very, very, very close churches. So we feel at home in each place—Canadians in Brazil and Brazilians in Canada.
We have companionship between dioceses in Canada and Brazil in the past and now…the companionship between the diocese of Amazon and the diocese of Huron here. My diocese had companionship with Ontario. Montreal had companionship with a diocese in Brazil. So it’s easy to walk together.
The Olympics will be held in Brazil soon. Is the Anglican church in Brazil planning anything around that?
We are ready to offer our space as the Anglican church in Brazil to those who will be coming to the Olympic games. We have some initiatives in the diocese of Rio de Janeiro to people who want to attend a community that has the Anglican way of celebrating.
As a church, we are very, very critical of the way that the Olympic Games are managed in our context, because we have a process of not bringing benefits to our place. For example, big buildings, big constructions, many, many advertisements around the Games, but many people were displaced, many people were not part of the social appropriation by the city to the process of the Olympic Games—a very elitist process. [There were] some clear problems with corruption, issues in terms of management of public resources, in terms of management of contracts, in terms of management of costs. So these are, for us, issues about which we cannot only say, “Oh, OK, we are not seeing this.”
What we are feeling is…we are not critical against the Games as a celebration of the diversity of people. We are not against that. But unfortunately, the ways to prepare and make all the arrangements were with high social costs. So we need to distinguish our appreciation for the Games as a big event—all the world will be looking to Rio de Janeiro—we are not against that, but we are critical with a simple question: after the Games, what will be the heritage for the people in the city of Rio de Janeiro?