Advocacy is a process that impacts, in an organized and systematic way, public interest issues. It speaks in defense of human, economical and political rights and ensures change where there is injustice.
In Brazil, the issue of land has been one main rights issue, but it did not enter into the political agenda for many decades. Re-active advocacy – the one that is “forced” because the problem already exists – brought in many conflicts even deaths among civil rights defenders. One of them, Ezekiel Ramin, a Comboni Missionary, Italian born in February 1953, was brutally killed on 24th July 1985 while returning from a mission of peace. Ordained a priest in September 1980, he arrived at Cacoal in Rondonia (Brazil) in 1984. There are many ways of doing advocacy: Policy work, Research and investigation, Campaigning, Alliance Building and creating Public awareness. The last was what Ezekiel chose to do, as he wrote in a letter: Around me the people are dying while the landowners increase, the poor are humiliated, the police kill the peasants and all the land reserves of the Indigenous People are invaded. Like the winter, I would create spring. My eyes find it hard to see the history of God here on earth.
Pope John Paul II described him as a martyr of charity. On Saturday 25th March, 2017 the diocesan phase of the cause for his beatification was concluded. Nevertheless, his death raises questions: What does the advocacy faith based bring to professional work of advocacy? What was the significance of such an advocacy to his call to follow Christ, in chastity, poverty and obedience as a priest, religious, missionary?
Advocacy demands that one’s credibility as an advocate is established: does he/she legitimately speak having information or/and expertise relevant to the issues? Is he/she known and respected by those involved in the issue? Is there no one who can lead that advocacy initiative better? Advocacy implies also personal risks linked to intimidation and denigration, opposition and accusation someone should consider before being involved in such an initiative.
The life of Ezekiel makes one wonder whether he addressed his work in a professional way and with technical awareness. Maybe this is the difference between a professional and a witness. Witnesses risk their life because they believe that it’s repugnant to speak of God and not be faithful to his main feature: justice (Cardinal Martini) – because witnessing to Christ means bringing together God and human reality without counting the cost. As Ezekiel himself wrote: The Cross is the solidarity of God which assumes the process and its pain, not to make it last forever but to end it. The way he wants to end it is not by force or dominion but the way of love. Christ lived and preached this new dimension. The fear of death did not make him desist from his project of love. Love is stronger than death. I am on a journey with a faith that creates, like the Winter creates Spring.
Advocacy keeps the poor and marginalized at the focal point of its issues: advocacy may be carried out for the poor and marginalized; with the poor and marginalized; by the poor and marginalized. After more than thirty years the memory of Ezekiel is still very much alive among indigenous peoples and farmers. His figure still animates and illuminates the commitment of Christian communities and popular organizations. Is not this the added value to advocate based in faith and to operate feeling the commitment as an answer to the call of Jesus Christ?
John Paul Pezzi, mccj
VIVAT International NGO,
with consultative special status at UN