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Brazilian Dialogue

Need For Dialogue

When Rev. Lawrence DeMong, OSB, began this column 15 years ago and selected "dialogue" for its title, he chose well and wisely. Dialogue suggests mutual encouragement, mutual information sharing, and the sharing too of professional and cultural riches. It's so much more than simply we sharing our material goods with them.

A hunter from the US asked me recently, "What exactly do you do in Brazil? For instance, do you teach them English?" I asked, "Why would I?"
She replied, "To bring them up in the world, so they get ahead." She added, "Do you show them how to farm, how to make things -- you know, like the Peace Corps?"
"No," I said. "Organized groups, NGOs, pick their own projects. They identify an urgent problem and suggest a way to resolve it. And then we, the Canadian NGOs, if they've convinced us it's viable, may choose to support it financially. And you should know too that the Peace Corps became a Trojan horse, an American infiltration into Brazil leading to America's linkup with Brazil's military in 1964 in a coup designed to thwart land reform."

I told her about our recent Pastoral da Crianca (Church Outreach to the Child) project and how the movement's founder Zilda Arns-Neumann received a Nobel Peace Prize nomination several years ago. When I got to the part about a nutritional supplement that works wonders and is very cheap (wheat bran, rice bran, eggshells, dried macaxeira leaves, seeds of sunflower, flax, pumpkins), she said, "Now that is something concrete, something useful!" But then she added, "Is this product shipped down there from the States?"

"No," I said. "We North Americans are not the repositories of all knowledge, of all enterprise. Nor should we think that nature has asked us to assume the 'white man's burden' as Kipling phrased it, but simply that we play fair."

This conversation highlights the need for dialogue. Many people from Western Canada have visited Brazil in the last 30 years and have been changed by the experience. How changed? By being increasingly humanized, learning compassion and solidarity and thereby growing in spirit. This column has featured many obvious Brazilian teachers, people like Paulo Friere, greatest educational theoretician and philosopher of the 20th century; people like Dom Helder who took the Third World to the floor of St. Peter's in Rome during Vatican II and insisted that all 2,500 bishops take a close look; people like Pedro Casaldaliga who, as both poet and prophet, has been an Isaiah for our age.

But it isn't only these super-teachers with whom we have dialogued. The poor, the nobodies, the majority, by joining the base communities in their hundreds of thousands, have brought their folk wisdom to bear on the Scriptures, read and pondered in the light of their lived experience today. And then there's Carlos Mesters who has so marvellously synthesized this folk wisdom.

Yes, we've had things to share with them too: technology, of course, material resources that we have in such abundance that we've become wasteful, a sobriety and patient reconsideration when they, spontaneous and volatile, need a bit of restraint.

No, we don't have a "white man's burden." We are fellow pilgrims with all our Third World brothers and sisters and we learn from each other as we walk. Learn what? "Ah," said Richard Schoeck in his address to the Thomas More Symposium in Saskatoon in 1989, "What do we learn? But that is the magic of open-ended dialogue."

Al Gerwing