Fraternity and The Challenge of Overcoming Violence

1 Comment(s) | Posted | by Alexandre Martins |

Urban/rural violence has achieved astronomic numbers in Brazil. Many say that violence in Brazil kills more people than some wars, such as the Syrian war. This seems to be true. Numbers show that the death toll in Syria (although these numbers vary according to different agencies) was 49,700 people in 2016.[1] In the same year, 61,283 people were killed in Brazil as victims of violence.[2] Although Brazil has only 3% of the world’s population, 13% of the world’s homicides occur in this country. Organized crime and narcotrafficking have grabbed such power that public authorities and security forces are lost and inoperative in some cities, such as in Rio de Janeiro. Only there, 134 police officers were killed by organized crime in 2017.[3] With the failure of civilian leaders from State and city governments, the federal administration took authority to lead the public security in this region by promoting a military intervention; that is, the federal administration sent the army to Rio de Janeiro to address the out-of-control violence. However, this is a very controversial (and inefficient) measure that brings terrifying memories from a recent past of twenty-one years of an oppressive and violent military intervention: the military dictatorship from 1964 to 1985.

              The Catholic Church in Brazil is aware of the spread of violence. This is not something that began in the last few months. It has been growing in recent years in a country that has failed to address socio-economic inequalities and to promote justice and opportunities. The growth of violence occurs in parallel to the growth of unemployment and poverty. Preoccupied with this reality, CNBB (National Conference of Brazilian Bishops) elected Fraternity and the Overcoming of Violence as the theme of its annual Fraternity Campaign of 2018, launched every year on Ash Wednesday. With this, the Catholic Church aims to “build fraternity by promoting a culture of peace, reconciliation, and justice in light of God’s Word, as a way to overcome violence.”[4]         

              According to a document written to guide reflections and actions of Catholic communities, studies show that violence in Brazil is:


-          Classist – against the poor;

-          Racist – against Afro-Brazilians;

-          Sexist – against women;

-          Religious – against Afro-Brazilian traditions.


People from these groups are those who suffer more as victims of violence. The police and prison systems are broken and inoperative. Brazil has more than 650,000 inmates detained in extremely precarious conditions with approximately 40% of people with more than two years in jail waiting for their trial. This places the country in the top five for prison population. In almost the entire country, the police force is not trusted by the citizens. This force does not work effectively, is precariously trained, does not have adequate equipment, and is under paid. All this contributes to the corruption of police officers, many of whom collaborate with organized crime in the exchange of (narcotraffiking) money or guarantee that an officer will not be killed. The Catholic Church denounces that the public power (at all municipal, state, and federal levels) has been recalcitrant in addressing violence and its socio-economic causes. This contributes to the creation of “cultural violence” in which part of a population becomes tolerant to acts or situations of violence against specific people, usually from the groups listed above.

Military intervention is an example of the failure of public power and the use of violence to combat violence. This does not work and creates even more violence and death against those who are vulnerable. The Jesuit theologian Élio Gasda denounces this arbitrary decision by the current federal administration saying: “This measure shows the banalization of the lives of the poor, the black and those who live in slums… State racism persecutes and kills those whose crime is being black and living in a slum.”[5] Following the same perspective, the theologian Maria Clara Bingemer (who was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, where she works as faculty member at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio) stresses: “Rio de Janeiro people have a deep desire that the federal intervention, now in place, does not add more blood, more mourning, and more pain to those that are already daily present in the lives of these people… Violence generates violence. The dynamics of peace cannot be applied if the starting point is a cruel and aggressive intervention…Violence is the daughter of injustice.”[6]

The CNBB document was written before the military intervention in Rio de Janeiro; so it does not address this topic. But it shows that violence is not the way to address violence, but rather a culture of mercy and reconciliation. A specific objective of this campaign is: “To identify the impact of violence on all rural and urban realities of our country in order to propose ways to overcome violence with dialogue, mercy, and justice in accord with Catholic social teaching.”

Moreover, the Brazilian bishops know it is necessary that public policies are able to promote justice and socio-economic opportunities to address the problem of violence. They invite the Catholic community and all society “to identify, accompany, and advocate for public policies to overcome social inequality and violence.”

Being on the same page, Gasda suggests: “The formula to combat violence is: formal employment, fair wages, public schools of quality, and universal access to health care.”[7] And Dominican Frei Betto emphasizes: “The causes that must be urgently addressed are: social inequality, the dismantling of public schools, unemployment, and the destruction of the public healthcare system.”[8]

In conclusion, I end with a quote from Pope Francis’ message to CNBB and the launch of 2018 Fraternity Campaign: “We all must be agents of overcoming violence by making us heralds and builders of peace. A peace that is the fruit of integral development of all, a peace that is also born from a new relationship among all creatures.”[9]

[1] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,

[4] CNBB, Texto-Base da Campanha da Fraternidade 2018 (Brasília: Edições CNBB, 2017).

[5] Élio Gasda, “Perverso: Um Exército a Revistar Crianças a Caminho da Escola” in Dom Total (March 1, 2018).

[6] Marica Clara L. Bingemer, “Intervenção: Um Mal Necessário?” in Jornal do Brasil (February 22, 2018),

[7] Gasda, Op. cit.

[8] Frei Betto, “Carta ao General Braga Neto” in Jornal o Globo (February 23, 2018), 

[9] Pope Francis, Mensagem Do Papa Francisco Aos Fiéis Brasileiros Por Ocasião Da Campanha Da Fraternidade De 2018 (January 27, 2018),


  1. John Reuwer, MD's avatar
    John Reuwer, MD
    | Permalink
    Thank you for this article telling us how the documents of the National Conderence of Brazilian Bishops speak to the systemic injustices that underlie the epidemic of violence, and state that violence cannot overcome violence, but must be addressed with "ways to overcome violence with dialogue, mercy, and justice in accord with Catholic social teaching."

    Dialogue, mercy, reconciliation, and reform of injustices are all necessary parts of peacebuilding, but are near impossible to do in the midst of overt physical violence, whether from criminal activity, police, or military forces. When one is under immediate threat of being shot or bludgeoned, dialogue and mercy offer little protection. What are needed are peacekeepers, those who are willing to risk their lives to counter the immediate threat to safety. While common parlance assumes these must be armed police or soldiers, the crisis in Rio de Janiero demonstrates how counterproductive more people with weapons can be.

    Missing from this commentary is the possiblity for powerful but little known nonviolent action. In his world day of peace message in 2017, the Pope called for nonviolence to become our prefered method of dealing with conflict. One of the manifestations he had in mind is that of civilian unarmed peacekeepers, people trained in any of the hundreds of tactics of nonviolent power that have been used with great success in many countries in the world in the last 70 years. Such approaches may include strong and confident neighborhood watches and patrols, professional "violence interrupters", highly trained Nonviolent Peaceforce, or mass movements against corrupt regimes like the people power movement that helped overthrow Ferdinand Marcos in 1986.

    It might be well for Church thinkers and leaders to learn about the many forms of nonviolent action (often called civil resistance), and add it by name to their call for the end of violence in Brazil. Many ideas for beginning this process can be found at>>

Leave a Comment

Nonprofit Web Design and Development by New Media Campaigns