On January 25, 2019, the Vale mining company in the city of Brumadinho, Minas Gerais state, Brazil, let a dam collapse, spreading a wave of mud and sludge over the city. This crime caused the death of 272 people and brought deep sadness to the small city. Since then, the priests and bishops of the Church have assisted the community with spiritual support and a fraternal presence, helping the bereaved families to overcome the situation and seek reparation.
In memory of the victims, the IV Pilgrimage for Integral Ecology was held in Brumadinho, in which hundreds of people participated, among them several Laudato Si’ Animators and members of the Laudato Si’ Movement, who handed out stickers with the inscription “I am Catholic and I fight for our Common Home”. It was a gathering of remembrance, ecological justice and solidarity.
Among those present at the pilgrimage, Friar Higor Ferreira de Oliveira OFM affirmed that this activity motivated “men and women of good will to dedicate our care to our Common Home. Pope Francis has already called us to this, to conversion, to change our lives and dream of a new and more just world for all.”
He also mentioned that it is necessary to think of “a political pedagogical project with farmers, local entrepreneurs, so that integral ecology gives rise to new ways of life that reflect a more caring and supportive society, where everyone can have a space, a voice and a turn.”
Meanwhile, Friar Rodrigo Peret, OFM explained that this tragedy was a crime “because the company was fully aware of the possibility of this structure collapsing. Unfortunately, there is still no punishment for this crime due to the connivance of the government and sectors of the justice system”.
However, “the pilgrimage showed the strength of faith in mourning, which became a daily struggle. The families fight for reparation, to recover what they lost, beyond the lives and the degradation of the Paraopeba River, which is irreversible. The families demand justice, the families demand life. We say “no” to mining, “yes” to life”, said Rodrigo.
The auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Belo Horizonte (MG), member of the Special Commission on Mining and Integral Ecology of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), Monsignor Vicente de Paula Ferreira, and referent of the Episcopal Region of Our Lady of the Rosary, where the city of Brumadinho is located, is one of the main mobilizers of the pilgrimage and presided the mass in the Church of Saint Sebastian, concelebrated by priests of the region.
During the closing of Laudato Si’ Week 2022, the victims of this environmental catastrophe were also remembered during a prayer celebration presided over by Monsignor Vicente Ferreira, the local archbishop. This event was broadcast live to the hundreds of thousands of people who participate in Laudato Si’ Week around the world every year.
The socio-environmental tragedy that occurred in 2019, in addition to the fatalities, destroyed the Paraopeba river basin, with 18 municipalities affected by toxic sludge, affecting 944 thousand people.