Afro-Brazilian priests have pleaded with Pope Francis for more Black bishops in Brazil, and have complained to the pontiff of the knee of Catholic white supremacy they say has been “pressing on our necks”.

– “We know what that ‘I CAN’T BREATHE!’ cry means”

“We are Brazilian priests, descendants of Mother Africa, men of good heart, joyful by nature, full of life, enriched by the heritage received from our ancestors and by the grace of having been called, also by Christ, to work in the construction of the Kingdom of God. We are more than 110 million Afro-Brazilians, a [Black] population only surpassed by that of Nigeria, in Africa”, the priests of the Caminhada (“Way”) liberation theology movement wrote to Pope Francis in a June 19 letter.

“The violent death of George Floyd in the United States unleashed a wave of demonstrations around the world that highlighted an inescapable fact: Black lives matter!”, the clerics continue.

However, the priests denounce that “in our Brazilian society, strongly marked by slavery, we feel in our own skin that, many times, this value and wealth” of Black lives “are not recognised”.

“Going straight to the point, we, Black priests, to respond to the call of our Lord Jesus Christ, as workers of His harvest, feel, in our formation, the knee of our formators pressing on our necks. We know what that I CAN’T BREATHE! cry means”, the clerics deplore.

The priests decry that in their seminary years they felt “harassed, subordinated [and] ridiculed” and felt forced to travel the path to the priesthood “quietly and afraid”, out of “fear of not being accepted into Holy Orders”.

Reminding the Pope that at his June 3 General Audience he warned that “we cannot tolerate or turn a blind eye to racism and exclusion in any form and yet claim to defend the sacredness of every human life”, the Brazilian priests go on to say that they have felt “encouraged” by the pontiff “to make our voice heard”.

The Brazilian clerics praise the Pope for having “sought to put Holy Church on the path of Life, Hope, Justice and Peace”, and for having “courageously fought against clericalism and all the archaisms that fossilise the Church and make it elitist, inhumane, worldly and far from the impoverished majority”.

“It is precisely because of these numerous initiatives that we feel encouraged to cry out so that, as Father and Shepherd of the flock, you will see us, hear us and come to our aid”, the Brazilian priests clamour.

– “Call our shepherds to a sincere conversion!”

As for their specific demands to the Pope, the Brazilian clerics first plead with the pontiff to “call our shepherds to a sincere conversion!”

“Change the modus operandi of the Apostolic Nunciature with regard to the election of bishops”, the priests beg the Pope, insisting that “we need pastors who are in tune with the Gospel. We need pastors who truly seek to have the smell of the sheep and who are concerned with forming a presbyterate faithful to the gospel of Jesus”.

“In a country with a Black majority we can have more Black bishops. Why can’t a Black priest in Brazil be a bishop? Or is the election linked to white supremacy?”, the priests ask the Holy Father.

They denounce that “we are tired of vain career diplomats, eager for power!”, and add that the current system of selecting bishops does not distinguish the Church “at all” from “the established power… which subjects the men and women of this land, especially the least favoured, poor, Black, Indian and all those who live and die abandoned in the territorial and existential peripheries, to vile living conditions”.

“With simplicity and parrhesia and in sincere adherence to what you have taught us in Evangelii Gaudium, Laudato si’, Amoris Laetitia, Querida AmazOnia and, above all, in your courageous attitudes and gestures, the priests and bishops of the Caminhada sign [this appeal]… to better follow in the footsteps of Jesus in his love and care for the poor and the little ones”, the Brazilian priests conclude their petition to the Pope.

– Pope promises to take up with Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops Black under-representation in Brazilian episcopate

In his reply to the priests – made public September 9 – Pope Francis thanked them for sounding the alarm and promised: “I’ll keep in mind what you tell me in the letter, I am with you and I am close to you. I will discuss this matter with Cardinal Oullet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops”.

“I understand what they say about the Nunciature and the way candidates for the episcopate are chosen. Now a new Nuncio will be going [to Brazil] and I will also speak with him”, Francis continued in his reply.

“Thank you for the priestly witness you give. I pray for you; please do so also for me”, the Pope concluded, closing with a blessing and a prayer that the Virgin take care of the brave Brazilian priests.

More on Novena on the problem of Catholic white supremacy:

‘All Lives Matter’ is not pro-life: an anti-abortion agenda alone is a cover for Catholic white supremacy

Black Catholic priest accuses US Bishops of complicity in white privilege

While US Bishops are complicit in white privilege, New York City parish leads way forward in fight against racism

Amid controversy at ‘Sojourners’, on racism it’s the US Conference of Censoring, Cowardly Bishops


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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.