Gathering the Stones: Story in Maceió, Brazil

By Sisters Lucyane Ribeiro Diniz, Betsy Mary Flynn & Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN

Since 1985, Maceió, located in Itapipoca, Ceará, Northeast in Brazil, has been an Agrarian Reform Settlement. It comprises 5,000 acres of arable lands, coconut tree plantations, sand dunes, lakes, streams and virgin beaches.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur (SNDdeN) have been in Maceió since the 1970s. For generations, local fishermen, farmers, lace makers and algae gatherers have occupied and cultivated the land and sea providing them with all they need to sustain a simple lifestyle.

The people gathered in secret under the trees, as they prayed for land lights and discussed liberation from landlords.
The people gathered in secret under the trees, as they prayed for land lights and discussed liberation from landlords.

These courageous and faith-filled people have faced numerous challenges over the years. The first and most significant was their historical struggle for land rights during the early 1980’s. They call this time of unity their Holy or Sacred Resistance, when they liberated their land from unjust and illegal “landlords.”

The generation that lived through this oppression asks to preserve this story and pass it on to their grandchildren; “…so that they will remember that we, their grandparents, faced a very difficult challenge, a sacred struggle, so that today they can live on free land, and appreciate how this land was liberated…”

The people recall how they met together to study the story of Moses and the Israelites in the Bible: “We discovered that the people of God… lived the same kind of slavery and oppression that we were living… and finally liberated themselves. And we discovered that we, as a people of God, must imitate their struggle for liberation.”

They reflect on the Book of Joshua and how the People of God… passed on their story of struggle to future generations. The 12 tribes of Israel cross the River Jordan, with dry feet; Joshua orders one person from each tribe to carry and place one stone with the other stones, on the other side of the river.

“Why these stones for Maceió? To remember and tell your children that you gathered these stones and carried them over the river, with dry feet in order to recall the hand of Yahweh as he led you… to a new, free land.”

In those days, they did not write or record. So the stones were the way to remember. We, today, have paper, pens and recorders, our stones… they can tell our story.

Sisters Collaborate with People
The challenge in this book is to “gather the stones.” Sr. Mary Alice McCabe, SNDdeN has organized an Oral History based on 60 interviews, in Gathering the Stones: Maceió’s Story of Resistance – A Story of Faith.
In Maceió settlement since the 1980’s, Sr. Mary Alice has compiled the stories of resistance and victory told by the people themselves.

In thirteen chapters, the people describe their lives as veritable slaves under the domination of local tyrannical landlords.

They discover in the Bible the God of the oppressed who gives them courage to confront injustice and transform the land and their lives.

They tell about their struggles to live according to collective values on the newly liberated land. Twelve interviews are a study on collective values, contributed by Sisters Lorraine Connell and Ellen Dabrieo, SNDdeN after these Sisters had spent several months with the people in 1993. Sr. Betsy Flynn, SNDdeN, also serving in Maceió for many years, photographed many significant moments in gathering precious stones for this story.

Youth Ministry Today
Sr. Lucyane Ribeiro Diniz, SND, (Lu) is currently developing a dynamic mission with the youth, where through theatre, music and art, they are discovering new ways of recapturing key “stones” of Maceió’s story.

Sr. Lucyane with the children.
Sr. Lucyane with the children.

Sr. Lucyane says: “It is always a challenge to pass on the story of a people to future generations. Our Theatre Group, Seeds of Art, is producing a play based on Maceió’s story of resistance and faith. Our goal is not only to gather the stones but also to inspire the new generation to continue the work of liberation and transformation begun by their ancestors.”


Source: Good Works, June 2015, pp. 18-19. GWJune2015

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