Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, Primate of Brazil and Bishop of South-Western Brazil, is in Canada this month to speak to the Synod of the Diocese of Ontario about the Church’s role in transforming the world. While visiting Toronto, he shared some of his insights about the mission of the church in the world today.
The primate has a number of connections to the diocese of Ontario. Not only was his home diocese of South-Western Brazil a companion diocese with Ontario during the time of his predecessor, Da Silva is also a friend of Ontario’s Bishop Michael Oulton, whom he met at the Canterbury course for new bishops. “Despite not having a formal companionship agreement,” da Silva said, “we are very, very close dioceses.”
But it was not just friendship that brought da Silva to Canada. When asked why he was asked to speak to synod, da Silva said “I think that when the bishop invited me, he was looking for a contribution from someone outside the country, and with the experience working with agencies and ecumenical organizations that are working with human rights, and environmental issues; to say that as church we can transform the world.”
For the primate, transforming the world is a key part of the Church’s mission. “Every community in our church is challenged to have a clear kind of interaction with the social context. This is part of our witness as church. We are not church to be a place to come Sunday to celebrate the eucharist and shake hands between members and sing and have good preaching – the church goes beyond that.”
Da Silva spoke passionately of his conviction that the witness of the church cannot be divorced from its service in the world. “I think that from the context of the Anglican Church in Brazil, our church there is living a very insightful moment by taking seriously our commitment to justice, dignity, and peace,” he said. “We live in a context that was culturally conditioned by gender violence, by economic and social exclusion, and also by an appropriative way of exploiting creation.”
Da Silva knows of what he speaks. In addition to his work with the Anglican Church, he is also vice-moderator of ACT Alliance, an ecumenical coalition of churches and affiliated organizations that works against poverty and marginalization worldwide of which the Canadian Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is a member.
His analysis of the problems facing the world is one shaped by his work with those who have been excluded from economic prosperity. Speaking of the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis, he noted that “one trillion U.S. dollars could offer adequate help in the overcoming of poverty. But we have spent three trillion U.S. dollars to save interests, to save the salaries of high executives of banks. Something is wrong!” He went on to argue that “we need to address the crux of the problem – to make our system work for life, and not for profits. The economy exists to improve life, not the other way around.”
Da Silva’s comments speak to a growing reality. Recent data suggests that income inequality is a problem that is increasing worldwide, to the extent that in 2014 the World Economic Forum singled it out as one of the 10 global risks of highest concern. Brazil, especially, suffers from income disparity that the World Bank has called “excessive.”
And while the primate laughingly described himself at one point as being “very radical sometimes,” his passion for social justice seems closely tied to his faith. “We are citizens,” he said, “and as citizens, we need to witness our faith. And that is a faith committed to a different world in terms of justice, peace, and care of creation.”