leaders, which she saw as a sign of shifts towards a less progressive Church overall. In the summary of one CPT leader, “the changes have been radical.”
These changes are also manifested in the new incarnation of CEBs, according to several interviewees. One CPT leaders said that while the CEBs exist, they no longer have the form they used to, a view supported by the priest who was interviewed, who said that they no longer talk about the suffering of the people but focus on catechism and individual spiritualism. Another CPT leader said that some Church members today want to call the CEBs “Christian Communities” instead of base communities, and that in general they don’t talk about the “luta pela terra” or about improving one’s life. Furthermore, some people who used to coordinate or support the more progressive CEBs began suffering repression. This has been another cause of decreased progressivism in the Church overall.
In trying to explain these changes, many interviewees referred to changes in the Vatican and in the hierarchies of the Brazilian Church. One CPT staff member cited the Vatican’s systematic strategy, starting around the time of John Paul II’s accession, of slowly placing conservative bishops where progressives had been, in Latin America at large as well as in Brazil. This lessened the progressive space in Church leadership, and pushed the Church toward the center. Another CPT member stated that the published Church documents don’t discuss agrarian reform and liberation theology as they used to. The priest actually stated that “no one” talks about liberation theology anymore, and that the CNBB no longer encourages political participation of Christians as it once did. When talking about changes in Church emphasis, nearly all interviewees referenced the increasingly “individualistic” nature of Church spirituality—that it has become “all about the fate of the soul,” and no longer about the importance of fighting for a better life. Some priests also apparently believe that the Church should not have so much involvement in the agrarian question, because there are other organizations to represent these interests, such as the Sindicatos, the MST, and other small agriculturalists’ groups. The priest who was interviewed said that there is much “tiredness” with this fight for the land within Church leadership.
For progressive Church members still working in the Marabá region, the hope is to help people achieve or at least imagine a better life through faith in God and Christ. The priest stated that he himself and other progressive Church members still work on “conscientização,” or consciousness-raising, and on giving people a political consciousness from which to understand and analyze their own lives, but that even this is a much smaller dynamic than it once was. Inspiration for social action, he said, is “very small.” While both the priest and the nun repeatedly referred to their work as “small,” the nun pointed out that the movements themselves are independent, and expressed a reassurance that they would continue to operate even though the Church today only manages to give minor support.
At one point during his interview, the priest said with a laugh that the CPT is the “salvation” of the Church today. Their work is described next.