A fantastic turn out at the Southeast Regional Harvest briefing on 4 September

It was such a pleasure to welcome nearly a hundred volunteers and supporters from Brentwood, Westminster, Portsmouth, Southwark, East Anglia and Arundel and Brighton dioceses on Saturday 4 September.

The meeting included a powerful talk given by Clare Dixon, (CAFOD’s Head of Latin America and the Caribbean programmes) about Brazil and the impact of climate change. Clare has led these programmes for over forty years and has a wealth of knowledge and experience. She has been the Secretary of the Archbishop Romero Trust since 2005, and in 2020 was awarded the José Simeón Cañas Medal for Extraordinary Merit by the UCA Central American University in recognition of her commitment and work in support of the people, the Church and the Society of Jesus in El Salvador and Central America.

The morning started with a welcome by Tony Sheen (Westminster Coordinator) and a prayer led by Jane Crone (East Anglia Coordinator).

Jo Lewry (Portsmouth Coordinator) thanked everyone for all they had done to support the Lent Fast Day Appeal saying, that it is through the incredible support and generosity of our supporters that CAFOD is able to raise funds, despite the lockdown. This gives us hope us for the success of the Harvest Appeal.

Jenny Finlayson (Arundel and Brighton Coordinator) spoke about the link between the climate crisis and our Catholic faith and Chris Driscoll  (Brentwood Coordinator) gave a detailed account of how the climate crisis has escalated in recent years. The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in August gave a stark warning that the world temperature will rise by 1.5ºC by 2040 if emissions are not reduced.

Clare Dixon began her talk by saying how pleased she was to attend and meet the volunteers. She outlined in detail what a wonderful country Brazil is with a wealth of natural resources and has the greatest biodiversity on the planet but it is a country with more than its fair share of challenges. 

On her first visit to Brazil in 1979, she encountered the work of a CPT lawyer who had been imprisoned defending the rights of political prisoners and, on his release, devoted his life to helping the poorest people defend land security.

The photo above shows Jose Batista Afonso, CPT lawyer receiving the European Union’s Human Rights Award from the EU Ambassador to Brazil on behalf of the CPT.  He continues to receive death threats on account of his work and has needed police protection.

Clare said 60% of food was produced by small farmers and yet, their land was being taken over by industries: mining, logging, soya and cattle. Rural people were intimidated by the military and private armies of large-scale ranchers. In 1981, Clare first visited the region where Ivanilde (who is featured in our Harvest appeal), lives and learnt about the amazing work of Bishop Patrício José Hanrahan, C.SS.R. who was living under threats to his life at the time having denounced rural slavery and defended the poor, who were being pushed off their land.

Clare outlined that the rainforest is under attack from timber logging, beef producers and soya bean plantations, all of which have forced both rural workers as well as indigenous people off their land. The Land Commission was set up to educate people about their rights, support them in their work and to have them recognised. Now times are even more challenging with the Covid crisis taking hold across the country. Yet the government is still trying to expel indigenous people from their lands. The government of Santa Catarina state and a logging company have filed a repossession lawsuit against the Xokleng indigenous people who live there, claiming that the people have only lived on limited parts of the territory since 5 October 1988 – the date Brazil’s current constitution was enacted and that they have no right to their ancestral land. You can read more about this here.

Clare showed regional maps of Brazil and emphasised how increasingly the rainforest is being lost to outside economic interests with the backing of the authoritarian regime and its exploitation. Further information can be found here.

However, despite the difficulties and challenges Clare said a lot of good work is going on.

The Pastoral Land Commission is educating people about their land rights and providing legal assistance to defend and help them to flourish and avoid relocating to the city slums. Programmes include sustainable farming techniques, campaigning for services such as electricity, drinking water, health and education for children. The Bishop’s Conference also works hard to defend their rights. CAFOD with the help of its supporters has for many years assisted the Church in its work across 26 states.

The attendees were given the opportunity to ask questions in a session chaired by Celeste Lyinbo (Coordinator for Southwark.) Some of the questions were:

1)   What are we doing to help reduce the destruction of the Amazon?

CAFOD has drawn up 26 green ideas for COP26.  Supermarkets have already taken action and put out statements that their purchases have not caused damage to the Amazon. The UK buys soya animal feed. Work needs to be done educating people on the ecological way forward, like using oat milk instead.

2) Is there any sign of political change?

President Jair Bolsonaro’s popularity has plummeted with hundreds of indigenous people encamped outside the Congress building to protest against his policies. The previous government which was in power from the late 90s until 2015 brought in many reforms which provided social support and subsidies for low-income families and brought people out of poverty. President Bolsonaro wants to change the electoral system.

Cardinal Cláudio Hummes former Archbishop of São Paulo, is an outspoken proponent of social justice and close colleague of Pope Francis whose encyclical Laudato Si speaks of protecting the Amazon and ensuring survival of the indigenous peoples.

In London, a demonstration organised by CAFOD, Amazon Rebellion, Brazil Matters, Greenpeace, Parents for the Future and Survival International, in solidarity with the Articulation of Indigenous Peoples in Brazil (APIB), took place to oppose the ruling and call for indigenous rights to be guaranteed.

CAFOD is also working to ensure that the global south is vaccinated against the Delta variant and vaccinations are made available. Lobbyists and coalitions of Catholic agencies in Europe and the US are working together on COP26 and not to abandon the Paris Agreement.

3)   What gives Brazilian people hope?

Brazilians tend to have a positive outlook on life. They are upbeat and strong in their faith. There is strong leadership within the Catholic Church who support them.

4) What are the causes of fires that make Ivanilde’s life so difficult?

Fire and climate change are interrelated. Climate change causes vegetation to dry and catch alight easily from sparks. The destruction of trees contributes to climate change and fires make climate change worse, it is a vicious circle There is an increase in deliberate fires to clear forest for cattle production. A lack of trees causes less rain to fall, and the land becomes hotter and drier.

5)   What can we do to help?

Give, act and pray. CAFOD has plenty of suggestions on how you can act, such as signing the Petition to the Prime Minister ensuring he puts the poorest people at the heart of the COP26 talks. You can email the Chancellor and urge the government to hear the voices of the Catholic community and play a leading role in keeping temperature rises below 1.5C.  Why not lobby your MP and organise a meeting to ensure the Catholic voice is heard?

Sunday 5 September is Amazon Day in Brazil. It is a day on which, traditionally, we celebrate the Brazilian Amazon. It is more important than ever that we stand in solidarity with indigenous peoples and other peoples of the Amazon.

Brazilian people have a strong sense of ‘can do’ and are uplifted knowing they are supported by people like yourselves through CAFOD. Clare concluded with this lovely prayer written by a young man on work experience called Alexander Ugoh.

Sarah Cadwallader (Coordinator Southwark Diocese) outlined the focus for the Harvest Fast Day Appeal collections, the proceeds of which will go towards CAFOD’s work around the world. She highlighted Ivanilde’s experiences shown on the poster and showed the short talk about her. For the last part of the meeting, volunteers were briefed about the procedures to follow for promoting Harvest Fast Day in parishes which included promotion in newsletters, distribution of envelopes, promotion of online giving, opportunity to order a Zettle device for online giving, and as well as promoting the Petition to the Prime Minister. Volunteers were also encouraged to prepare themselves for COP26, by attending a ‘Faith in Action Day’ on Saturday 10 September.

Information was given on CAFOD’s ‘Go Green’ campaign in October which will ask people to encourage family and friends to sponsor them to “go cycling, go veggie and go plastic-free”. In this way, choices in our everyday lives will help to restore our common home, and through our Climate Crisis Appeal we will continue to support our sisters and brothers overseas.

The meeting was very lively with lots of comments and questions made through the chat box. The volunteers finally went into their own diocesan groups in breakout rooms for further discussion and questions. People left enthused and energised, keen to promote the Harvest Appeal to their parishes, friends and family. 

Thank you to all who attended the session. It was wonderful as to see you! We look forward to hearing how you get on.

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