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In the name of unity and respect, inter-religious group offers symbolic embrace to the Ilê Axé Toalegi Worship House

“A moment that represents unity and respect.” This was how Mãe Rosa do Axé, Ialorixá of the Ilê Axé Toalegi Worship House, defined the symbolic embrace offered to this House on the morning of 15 September.  Leaders from different religious faiths went to the House to demonstrate their solidarity and reassert their commitment to the struggle against religious racism in the name of inter-religious dialogue.

“To show that not everybody is prejudiced.  Whether they are christians or catholics, they are people who have shown that we can walk among them. Everything is fine if everyone respects one another.” She ended by saying that prejudice and intolerance never come from the people of the African-origin worship houses to the Christians.  “The lack of respect is always from them to us.”

One worship house that, for years, has been the target of threats, prejudiced attacks full of rage and empty of explanations, today opened its doors to welcome and celebrate diversity and to receive the embrace of religious people from the tradition of Christ in a sign of respect.

The Mãe de Rosa worship house, Mãe Rosa herself and devotees have been the victims of fundamentalist violence.  The Ialorixá described how people have threatened to throw stones at the worship house, alleging disturbance because of the volume of celebrations. Mãe Rosa has also heard insults from the same neighbour.  In another case, a babalorixá was hit by a torrent of mud, thrown into the worship house from outside.

Geovane Cardoso, Babalaxé from the Ilé Axé Toalegi, talked about prejudice, which begins in daily life. “The children who reproduce what is said in school about our rites and clothes.  If, in a conversation with a friend, we say ‘in the name of Oxum’, they reply with a reproach.  We are reproached all the time.”  He also rebutted one of the most common attacks suffered by the people of these worship houses.  “They say that we worship the devil. And we don’t even have this figure in our religion.  No.  We worship the Orixas.  The Orixas are the force of nature – the forest, fresh water, salt water, and so forth.  And who created all of this? God. We love God above all and we only want respect.”

The symbolic embrace of the Ilê Axé Toalegi Worship House took place simultaneously with others around Brazil and marked celebrations for Ubuntu Day, which was proposed by the ACT (Brazil) Ecumenical Forum (Fórum Ecumênico ACT – Brasil: FEACT), the National Centre of Africanity and Afro-Brazilian Resistance (Centro Nacional de Africanidade e Resistência Afro-Brasileira: CENARAB), the Brazilian Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (Associação Brasileira de ONGs: ABONG) and the Platform of Social Movements for Reform of the Political System (Plataforma dos Movimentos Sociais pela Reforma do Sistema Político).

States such as São Paulo, Mato Grosso, Rio de Janeiro, Paraná and the Federal  District also offered symbolic embraces to worship houses that have suffered intolerant attacks in recent years.

 

Inter-religiosity

Diversity was a notable feature of Ubuntu Day in Salvador, which was organized by the Bahia Ecumenical Council of Christian Churches (Conselho Ecumênico Baiano de Igrejas Cristãs: CEBIC), the Ecumenical Coordination of Service (Coordenadoria Ecumênica de Serviço: CESE) and Koinonia – Ecumenical Presence (Koinonia – Presença Ecumênica). Leaders attended the act from other worship houses and various christian churches: the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil (Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil: IEAB), the Roman Apostolic Catholic Church (Igreja Católica Apostólica Romana: ICAR), the United Presbyterian Church (Igreja Presbiteriana Unida do Brasil: IPU), the Lutheran Church and representatives of the Trinidade Community and the Focolare Movement.

Sônia Mota, IPU pastor and CESE’s Executive Director, described how the purpose of the day is to recognize the meaning of Ubuntu. “I am what I am because we are.” I am only christian because we are all from this diversity and this is our greatest strength.  We worship and celebrate in different ways, but we are not enemies.  This meeting has made us stronger, has taught us that love is the greatest good.  We are gathered here today, on Ubuntu Day, for a concrete gesture to embrace the worship houses: one of affection, welcome and profound respect.”

Iyá Márcia de Ogum, Ialorixá from the Ilê Axé Ewá Olodumare Worship House, stressed that she truly believes in inter-religious dialogue.  “I believe in the construction of peace through respect.  We need more acts like this one, coming from the other side, because we, as Candomblé devotees, always want this peace, want to come together, want to embrace. If today we are celebrating Ubuntu Day, I need to be here, not only to strengthen Mãe Rosa, but also our christian brothers, who construct this peace daily.”

Bianca Daébs, IEAB pastor and CESE’s Advisor on Ecumenism and Inter-religious Dialogue, noted that the Ubuntu Day held in Mãe Rosa’s Toalgei Worship House was a special moment, because it brought together christians from various denominations, catholics and protestants, as well as people from other Worship Houses: “Leaders that come together to celebrate love and give witness that it is possible to live together in diversity with respect and dignity.  It is a time of fellowship, also one of saying, with a gesture of collective embrace of the worship house, that we join together with those from African-origin religions in their daily struggles against intolerance and the religious racism that attacks them.”

Camila Chagas from the ICAR and the Koinonia team, argued that this was an embrace for each and every day. “Because being christian is to love. To love is to welcome, respecting the other in their diversity.  We are not equal, we are different, but we are united and love is the most important thing.”