25th Anniversary of the murder of Father Josimo
by Mariana Duque
On 10 May 1986, another fighter of the people fell. Josimo Morais Tavares, known as Father Josimo, was murdered by regional landowners in Imperatriz, Maranhão.
Born to a humble family in Marabá, Pará, Josimo was the son of a washerwoman, who gave birth to him at the bank of the river Araguaias in 1953.
As a child, he moved with his family to the city Xambioá in Tocantins. At 11 years of age, he went to Tocantinôpolis where he studied at a school of theology.
From there, he went to Brasília, later Aparecida do Norte (São Paulo), and then to Petrópolis (Rio de Janeiro) in order to study at a Franciscan school of theology.
Being poor, black and the son of peasant farmers, Josimo was a target of discrimination. Upon finishing his studies in Petrópolis, he decided to return to Xambioá in order to dedicate his life to the cause of rural workers.
He became a priest in 1979, moving then to Wanderlândia (Tocantins), where he began his work with the poor, working in a secondary school and taking responsibility for the city's Pastoral Youth. It was there that he realized how urgent the problem of unequal land distribution was among the region's population.
He also served in the Bico do Papagaio region, where he coordinated the Pastoral Youth of the diocese. The region was well-known for being witness to a number intense land disputes, and had years earlier been the site of the Araguaia guerrilla movement as well as the site of its subsequent defeat.
Throughout his life, he condemned illegal land grabs (grileiros de terra) and oppressive landowners. Father Josimo defended the rights of the people and strove to make them aware of their own strength. Because of his ideas and actions, he fomented the hatred of regional landowners, and began receiving threats to his life.
In April 1986, an attempt was made on his life but the bullets missed their target. Aware of the risks of defending his ideals, he wrote a testament in which he reaffirmed his commitment to the Brazilian people.
A month after the first attempt on his life, he was killed by two shots in the back while climbing the stairs of the CPT office building in Imperatriz.
Testament of Father Josimo, written in 1986
I have to take a stand. I am committed to fighting for the cause of defenseless rural workers; a people oppressed by the grip of the powerful landlord. If I silence myself, who will defend them? Who will fight for them?
I have nothing to lose. I have no wife, children, riches...
I regret only one thing: that my mother has only me and no one else. She is poor. A widow. But of you I ask only this: that you stay and care for her.
Fear doesn't stop me. It is time to take the stand. To die for a righteous cause.
I want you to understand one thing: all that is happening is the logical consequence of my work in the fight and defense of the poor, in commitment to the Gospel, which has led me to take this fight to its very last consequences. My life is worthless in light of the deaths of so many rural workers; murdered, raped, evicted from their lands, forced to leave their women behind and their children abandoned, unloved, homeless and hungry.
Translated by Eric H.