Bishops' conference expresses its 'solidarity and support' for protesters

The Brazilian bishops’ conference has given its backing to the massive demonstrations sweeping the country, but declined to say how they might affect World Youth Day activities and the visit of Pope Francis in July.

The support was expressed in a document distributed to journalists in Brasilia last week by Archbishop Raymundo Damasceno Assis of Aparecida, the bishops’ conference president.

The document said the conference “declares its solidarity and support to these demonstrations, as long as they are peaceful, and which have taken to the streets persons of all ages, especially the youth”.

Missing from the document was any mention of World Youth Day, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro on July 23-28. But Archbishop Assis told reporters it was the government’s responsibility to guarantee the safety of the pilgrims. He conceded that the events of the recent few days may discourage foreign pilgrims from attending World Youth Day.

Earlier Archbishop Orani Joao Tempesta of Rio de Janeiro said in a separate statement that the protests would not affect World Youth Day or the planned visit of Pope Francis. The demonstrations are, he said, “in some ways similar to the spirit of WYD – the desire to work together for a new world, for a new life, a new society”.

The archbishop said the local committee planning World Youth Day events continues “to focus on the safety of pilgrims as well as the general population during the event”. He added that the military police and municipal guard would closely monitor the situation.

“I think that there will not be any safety issues, whether for the pope or for those in attendance as we are studying everything down to the smallest details, to all of the minutiae,” he said.

The protests have expanded since the first were organized primarily by student groups in mid-June to protest against an increase in public transportation fares. Protesters have since expanded the list of grievances with the government to include high taxation rates, decreased government services and attention to massive public projects such as stadium construction while vital social needs go unmet.

Government officials estimated that nearly 1.2 million people participated in protests across the country on June 20. The mayors of Brazilian cities, such as Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, announced on June 19 that they were revoking transportation tariff increases.

“These demonstrations show us that it is not possible to live in a country with such inequalities,” said the bishops’ document.

The document also emphasised that the Church strongly opposes the violence that has erupted and the destruction of private property as the protests have grown.