The Witnesses of Love – Enzo Santângelo (1995)

[Taken from: SANTÂNGELO, Enzo. Terra e Arame Farpado: Ezequiel Ramin, voz dos excluídos. São Paulo: Loyola, 1995, pp. 39-48. Translated by V. S. Conttren [@wordpress], September 2020.]

[Fr. Ezequiel Ramin was an Italian Comboni missionary who was described as a martyr of charity by Pope John Paul II after his murder in Brazil while defending the rights of the farmers and the Suruí natives of the Rondônia area against the local landowners. In 1970, Ramin joined the Florentine section of Mani Tese, showing since then a clear propensity for Marxism, as noted by his biographer Rafael Vigolo. A short documentary about him can be found here. He is cause for beatification began earlier last year, more information can be found on the Amazon Synod website.]

There exists a profound social inequality; on one side I see tragic undernourishment and hunger, and on the other, well-being and outrageous squandering.

Ezekiel Ramin

1. The Models

Ezekiel’s constant concern is with the human person. He truly sympathizes with the humanitarian work of the various personalities highlighted during the years of his philosophical preparation.

He sympathizes with the world-renowned French journalist, Raoul Foullereau, who seeks to “free society from the fear of leprosy, offering to the fifteen million bearers of this illness the hope of being healed and of becoming human beings like the others.”

He sympathizes with Mother Teresa de Calcutta, who “brings love, understanding and help to the poor who live marginalized in the great metropolises of India, Europe and South America.”

He sympathizes with Pope John XXIII who, “shaking off the old and useless schemes of the Church, spreads over yesterday’s lost hopes a roof of trust and love” for the humanity of today and tomorrow. “With this Pope,” writes Ezekiel to his brother Antonio, “a prophetic pontificate begins. He wants the Church to dialogue with all the peoples of our time. The Church can only exist beginning from its members, from its mission, from the interpretation of the content of its faith, from the commitment of the peoples, through the same historical adventure. In the Encyclical Lumen Gentium, the problems of God’s people are situated before the hierarchical structure. This is the real revolution!

If the Church is to be discovered within God’s people, then it is necessary to discover ‘the signs of the times’. It is in the aspirations and cries of human beings where ‘the will of the Father’ is to be found. These are aspirations to freedom, to sharing, to equality…

If the People of God truly wishes to evangelize the contemporary world, every Christian must necessarily place themselves at the service of the world, as the Pope expresses it in the Encyclical Gaudium et spes.”

2. Attuning Misery

To put yourself at the service of the world, at the service of life! That is the basis of Ezekiel’s spirituality. Still a student in Padua, he meets certain movements, Catholic and not, that were attracting the attention and heart of many young people. And among them, there emerged “Emmaus”, a movement launched by Abbé Pierre.

The French priest, meditating on Mary’s anguish, who had no roof over her head to give birth to Christ, left the comfort of the Capuchins’ convent and dedicated himself to the service of the poorest. 

Ezekiel sympathizes with this movement because, with the assistance of the rich’s waste, it seeks to give a home to many homeless mothers and to instill hope of liberation in the poor of the Third World.

“The habitation problem,” Abbé Pierre would say, “doesn’t solely exist in France. It is a pressing problem throughout the world. And it will only be resolved when a clear awareness of its importance has been achieved.

Bidonvilles, slums and favelas are amazingly the same in every corner of the world: human settlements that have as roofs tables, boards, old divans turned over, tires worn out….

3. Youth Enthusiasm

Ezekiel attunes to Abbé Pierre’s ideas and agrees with him when he denounces the Government for not doing charity to any poor person: “It does not know how to do charity. It is its own system which forbids it.”

If the Government does not help, it is necessary to find other means to defend the lives of so many people. So he appeals to the youth.

“Despite their philosophical convictions,” says Abbé Pierre, “men who are not capable of awakening the youth’s energies to solve these problems are not worthy of governing.”

He spoke with a dramatic accent to the youth and tells them that a “Goodness Campaign” is urgent.

The youth understands and hurries. In this way a Support Movement is formed throughout the country; the Communities of Emmaus are born. The purpose is the same for all: “To save the sufferers by making them saviours of others who have suffered and to bring to institutions the leaven of hunger and thirst of Justice.

These movements all have their own characteristics. It is signed by young people who commit themselves, dedicating their time to help the most impoverished fellow human beings.

4. “Mãos Estendidas

Because of Ezekiel’s merit, in 1971 the “Extended Hands” movement resurfaces in Padua, for which he is also elected coordinator. Its members discuss the great social problems existing in these countries: hunger, exploitation, violence, injustice, selfishness. The themes of peace, non-violence, justice and sharing are not lacking.

The problem of the Third World, the poor, the billions of impoverished men and women oppressed by unjust systems saddens him greatly. He knows that it is contrary to God’s plan, that is, the plan of life.

During his vacations, he helps a little in the “workshops” organized by the youth. In these workshops, the participants, divided into groups, gather rubbish for recycling (cardboard, iron, glass, used clothing) to finance humanitarian projects in the Third World. Ezekiel admits that this is an emergency work, but condemns the assistentialism and paternalism in favour of the poor, recalling the words of Bishop Hélder Câmara: “The poor do not need charity, but justice.”

After Ezekiel’s death, some of his fellow workers in the “Mãos Estendidas” movement remember his inner strength and the serenity with which he faced life’s difficulties, his stubbornness, the kindness with which he fulfilled all of his commitments.

It is precisely his sense of justice, of fighting for the voiceless and the helpless, that will later lead him through the Comboni missionaries from Padua to Brazil, to stand by the side of the peasants and help them defend their land from the violence and greed of the landowners.

5. The Gospel In Defence Of Life

Later, while still a student in Chicago, writing a very long letter (almost a historical-philosophical-religious treatise) to his brother Antonio, a politician and catechist, Ezekiel expresses his conviction that the Gospel “lives from life and within concrete life….”

….that there exists many points in common between the social being and the Christian being…

….that being a missionary means working for the integral promotion of the human being, respecting the various cultures, assuming as evangelical values those that already exist among the different peoples.

And he concluded by advising his brother to renew his Christian being, assuming the words of John XXIII addressed to the participants of Vatican Council II:

“Dear Fathers, the key word of this Council is aggiornamento (updating, renewal, insertion). It is our desire to have a 20th century Church concerned with the problems of the 20th century.”

Ezekiel sympathizes with Roger Schutz, the monk of Taizé, who “welcomes in his convent thousands of young people of every belief, race and continent to have an ecumenical dialogue with the supernatural and thus solve their problems in the light of Christ’s love.”

“The problems of the Brazilian youth from the Northeast who are slaves to the large landowners, who exploit the energies and misery of the peasants.”

“The bitternesses of the young black people of Africa and America, for their skin colour prevents them from joining the university of the whites.”

“The disappointments of the poor and malnourished youth from India, to whom the government’s vanity shows him the nuclear bomb, made with the money withheld from them.”

“The desires and discouragement of many young Europeans who cannot find a job and cannot raise a family or support it sufficiently.”

“The resentments and angers of many young people all over the world who, unconsciously, are instrumentalized for political purposes and psychologically enslaved to wrong theories.”

6. The Disfigured Face Of Christ

Ezekiel does not hide a particular sympathy for Bishop Hélder Câmara, a Brazilian bishop known internationally for his option for the poorest. Seemingly he identifies with some of his attitudes. He admires him because he knows that the northeastern bishop does not lack the courage to say what is fair. In fact, Bishop Hélder would say:

“It is not enough to stop in front of the poor and recognize in them only the disfigured face of the Saviour. It is necessary to identify Christ with the human person who has to be torn out of underdevelopment.

Even if anyone is offended, I dare say that Christ in the Northeast is called José, Antonio, Severino…

The disfigured face of Christ, says Puebla:

— Is the suffered face of the indigenous people expelled from their own lands.

— Is the suffered face of the marginalized and non-valued Afro-Brazilians.

— Is the suffered face of the small settlers expelled from their lands, who wander from north to south and east to west of the country in search of land they do not find.

— Is the suffered face of the elderly, forgotten and abandoned by their relatives in large metropolises.

— Is the suffered face of the minors abandoned in the streets of big cities, with no destination, no affection, no future.

— Is the suffered face of the numerous women, abased in their dignity, used as toys without heart and without love, to satisfy sexual appetites, and instrumentalized to encourage blind consumerism.

— Is the suffered face of the millions of young people who, not finding a suitable job according to their studies, become disoriented and desperate.

— Is the suffered face of the every poor human being who needs justice, who has a right to justice, who deserves justice.”

Far from giving in to indignation at seeing workers lean on extremist associations, the boss, honestly and loyally, must recognize that the worker rarely has a turn and a voice.

The bishop’s address, considered to be a communist speech by the conservatives, was accepted by all, young people and adults, committed like Ezekiel to the social action of the Church.

7. To Serve The Poor

Having completed his philosophical studies in Florence, Ezekiel made his novitiate in Venegono, province of Varese, Italy, consecrating himself temporarily to God for his Mission on May 5, 1976.

Once again accepting the obedience of his superiors, Ezequiel, after spending two years in Chicago, goes to Cape St. Luke, Baja California del Sur, Mexico, to “confront the theoretical study of theology with the human reality of the poor.”

“There is no better time to evangelize here,” he wrote, “because serving the poor of the world is already part of evangelization.”

For nearly eight months, Ezekiel stood amid the peripheral poor and the abandoned children of Ciudad de los Niños, where he suffered for not being able to give more attention to those people. He remembers the words of Gandhi:

“As long as there is a person dying of hunger and I have not become bread to them; as long as there is a man in jail and I have not broken his chains; as long as there is a person alone and I have not perceived their presence, Christ has not yet been born to me.”

His suffering is caused by the difficulty of reconciling faith and action, the structure of community life and presence among the people. When receiving the “News” from the Province in Saint Paul, he expressed his perplexity regarding the concept of Evangelization, presented in a bulletin article. “The Lord has told us,” Ezekiel wrote, “that in his Father’s house there are many dwellings” (Jn 14:2); but his disciples often think that all should live in a single one.”

What is evoked by the article is, once again, the traditional image of the evangelizer (priest?); but I still trust that it is not so… I hope, however, that whoever is attentive to the needs of our people will become more sensitive to the community formation and the lived experience of the Eucharist….”

“It is necessary to commit oneself to the ‘human project’,” he wrote elsewhere.

He accepts the idea of some theologians when they affirm that “there, history begins where a collective consciousness arises” and that “sacred history must be seen as an event of humanity in Christ and of Christ in humanity.”

8. The Christians’ Contradictions

Among Ezekiel’s writings, we find a draft of a reflection he made during Mass on World Mission Day. With an abundance of statistics, he draws a picture of the situation of the poor in the world, and with the Gospel in his hand he makes listeners aware of the need to engage in the fight against injustice.

He concludes the reflection by inviting those present to make a concrete gesture of love and of sharing with the poor.

“I think it is opportune to say a few words about the meaning of this meeting of ours which does not want to be a lecture or a practice, but a common reflection.”

“It is an attempt for me to be able to make clear some of today’s contradictions.”

“I ask: is it fair to let 20,000 people die of hunger every day while we swallow pills to lose weight, to maintain our physical fitness?”

“Is it fair that 70 percent of people live in a permanent state of fasting, that 600,000 children grow up malnourished while here we are dying of indigestion from too much food; that more than a billion illiterate people exist?”

“I highlight this profound social inequality because on one side I see tragic undernourishment and hunger, and on the other, well-being and outrageous squandering.”

“Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel: ‘Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same’ (Lk 3:11).”

“But the statistics from both the UN and the FAO speak clearly: today we do not share our bread with our brother because we love only in words.”

9. He Is Not Here!

“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Ezekiel continues, “says at the beginning: ‘All human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights, they are rational, conscious and must act amongst themselves in the spirit of fraternity’.”

But today this is not true, for two human beings out of three are going hungry, and those who are hungry are not free. The Declaration continues to the third item: ‘Every human being has a right to life, to freedom and to the safety of his being’. Therefore, his freedom is a right, just as it is a right for him to live.

It is therefore necessary that we act to make this right to life something concrete.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, 10 but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:7 [Correction: Mt 7:21]). And the commandment given by Christ is: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you… You are my friends if you do what I command you.’ (Jn 15:14).”

“When our life is over”, Ezekiel continues, “God could ask us: what have you done for your brother? I would not want anyone to discover his selfishness and the great lack of love only at that moment. If the starving perish, we are also to blame for their death, and we cannot reduce to the common denominator our responsibilities which, in our consciences, have a name and a surname. If we do not give food to the hungry, we are killing them.”

“You have come here today to attend Holy Mass, to meet Christ with your brothers. Father Primo Mazzolari, on Easter Sunday, said to the faithful gathered in church: ‘Do not be afraid, you are looking for Christ, but he is no longer here, this is merely where he was placed’.”

“The same thing I repeat to you, because Christ is now walking along the road to Emmaus, in the streets; He is in the face of the poor brother; He is the old man devoured by leprosy, He is the millions of famished, He is the 600 Million malnourished children.”

10. The Poor Shall Be Our Judges

Ezekiel is a young man who sincerely loves and expresses his mystique to his listeners by saying: “Our Christianity must be a strong commitment which, wishing, becomes a discourse of life for those around us, for we cannot reach God alone.”

“To overcome many resistances and sometimes impossible things, it is necessary to love. And we as Christians must know how to love, for ‘this is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (Jn 13:35).”

“In one of his letters, the apostle Paul writes: ‘You shall be judged by love’.”

“According to the statistics of UNESCO, in 1965, 180 billion dollars were spent in the world on military expenses, and fifty million people were employed in military activities, not counting the twenty million people belonging to the regular armed forces.”

“Alongside these statistics there must be plenty of increasingly tragic information about hunger, misery, underdevelopment, the Third World; a reality often forgotten and not contested by anyone.”

“We, committed today as human beings and as Christians, must love, sacrifice ourselves, take on the difficulties of others and personally pay.”

“In June we will have the ear of wheat, but we know that this ear is born because the seed that generated it has perished.”

“At the gates of the Church we will gather the offerings for World Mission Day. However, I would not like to see the money you give make you feel more just and at peace with your conscience. It is an act of justice that we must achieve.”

“Let us take the human being out of hunger, out of sickness, let us make them a free human being, thus witnessing the Christ that is within us.”

“Raoul Foullereau writes: ‘No one has the right to be happy alone!’ To this end, friends, if you are not involved in the solution of the problem, you too will be a problem. Think about it, and act accordingly!”