Sunday, October 11, 2009

October 11 - Joao Bosco Bournier, Martyr, Priest, Champion of the Oppressed

Joao Bosco Bournier had an especially unremarkable clerical career for the majority of his life. He wasn't somebody you would have looked at and predicted great things of. You couldn't see the fire of a martyr in his eyes but circumstances would move in that direction, anyway. Joao had a gift for administration that made him very welcome in positions of ecclesiastical leadership including the nine years he spent at the central office of the Jesuits in Rome. From his ordination in 1946, he dreamed of missionary work abroad but served in a support role mostly in his native Brazil. In 1966, he was called as a missionary and his dreams seemed fulfilled. He was being asked to carry the Gospel he confessed to a people who did not know it. However, as he prepared to go he learned that this calling was the native people of Brazil and not some distant land. He was prepared to minister to them and, so, he went. He went to a place that was still the land of the native peoples but was slowly being eroded by developers and speculators. They saw a land full of natural resources and plenty of room to build. As they began to build, it became apparent that they were interested in building luxury accommodations for the wealthy and powerful. At first, they didn't come into direct conflict with the native peoples. But, the developers were spurred onward by the wealthy's desire to have more and control more and, so, conflict developed as more was seized and less was conceded. Joao went to these native peoples that were little more than an interference to those with power. There was much room for fertile ministry to a people who were being devalued for the value of their land and resources. Joao found that the people were regularly being abused and taken advantage of by those who had the power to do so and lacked reverence for the lives they were destroying. On October 11th, in the year 1976, Joao found himself in one of the many villages that he was missionary to. He heard that two peasant women had been seized by the police who were working with the speculators and developers. While in jail, they were being tortured and abused in an attempt to further dehumanize and break them. Joao and his bishop went to the jail to demand their release and plead for justice but were denied their request. They insisted upon the release of the women and were labeled communists by the police. One police officer struck Joao with his pistol and it discharged--allegedly by accident--and the bullet pierced Joao's body. As he laid dying on the floor, the police panicked in response to where their power had led and abandoned them. The bishop offered prayer and last rites to Joao and he slipped into the embrace of the triune God as a martyr. The native people recognized the power of what he had done. They remembered Joao fondly and told stories of his love and devotion to a people that were not his own by birth but had become his own by choice. They planted a cross near the spot of his martyrdom where they inscribed:
"On 11 Oct 76 in this place of Ribeirao Bonita, Mato Grasso, was assassinated Father Joao Bosco Bournier, for defending the liberty of the poor. He died, like Jesus Christ, offering his life for our liberation."

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