Thousands of people have flocked to the historical city of Mariana, in the southeastern Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, to pay homage to Dom Luciano Mendes de Almeida, Archbishop of Mariana for 19 years, who died of liver cancer on August 27, after 42 days in hospital.
Among those present were Cimi (Indianist Missionary Council) missionaries and representatives of the Krenak indigenous people, who live in Resplendor, also in the state of Minas Gerais.
Dejanira, spiritual leader of the Krenak, sang prayers in her people’s language to ask the Marets, their protective spirits, to receive Dom Luciano.
In her opinion, the bishop was more than a friend. Dom Luciano’s presence in mediating conflicts was of great importance in the Krenak’s struggle against Companhia Vale do Rio Doce and its projects in the indigenous people’s lands.
At the end of her prayer, Dejanira proclaimed: "for us, he has not died; he continues to live in our struggle!" Next, the Krenak leaders sang a solemn song, with a melody that joins the spiritual world to that of the living, taking them to a place where the land rests and the spirit finds harmony.
Around 7,000 people took part in the celebration in the presence of the body, which was held in Praça da Sé. Bishops, priests, authorities, ministry and social movement representatives, and the people of the archdiocese of Mariana attended this celebration, which was commanded by Cardinal Dom Geraldo Majella, the CNBB (National Conference of Brazilian Bishops) chairman.
Dom Luciano was born in Rio de Janeiro and ordained in Rome. He was auxiliary bishop in the diocese of São Paulo, where he worked intensely with people who were living on the streets and at the Young People’s Ministry, which he founded.
The doors of his residence were always open to those who lived on the streets of the city’s East Zone, and he often spent the night walking with them in the square, talking to them and listening to their hopes and fears.
As chairman of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB) from 1987 to 1994, Dom Luciano played a decisive role in the Constituent Assembly, especially in the defense of indigenous people’s rights. He also worked on defending Cimi from the accusations made by the newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo.
In 1987, in an attempt to influence the Constituent Assembly against indigenous rights, this newspaper published reports, that Cimi calls "ridden with slander and lies, about the supposed role of religious missions as a front for foreign mining interests."
After six days of reports which directly accused Cimi, and through the work of the CNBB, the newspaper was obliged by the courts to grant and publish the organization’s right of reply.
Amongst his many contributions, the bishop leaves behind many beautiful phrases. "He, who is loved, carries within himself the mysterious desire to abandon his own egoism and to sample the joy of graciously loving others" is one such example.