I Was In Jail And You Did Not Let Them Visit Me – Leonardo Boff

There is a very dramatic scene in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, dealing with the Last Judgment, namely, when the final destiny of every human being is revealed. The Supreme Judge does not ask to what Church or religion the person belonged, whether the person accepted the dogmas, or how often the person attended the sacred rites.
That Judge will look to the good and tell them: “Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for I was hungry, and you fed me; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: I was naked, and you clothed me: I was sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to see me… every time you did this for one of my little brothers and sisters, you did it for me…and when you did not do it for one of the smallest ones, you did not do it for me” (Gospel of Saint Matthew, 25, 35-45).

What counts in this supreme moment is what we do for those who suffer in this world, and not the preaching. If we have cared for them, we will hear those blessed words.
This was experienced by 1980 Argentinian Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, (1931), who is an architect and well known sculptor, a great activist for human rights and the culture of peace, as well as being profoundly religious, and my supporter. Perez Esquivel asked the Brazilian judicial authorities permission to visit former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, his friend of many years, in jail. I personally witnessed the events noted here.

Perez Esquivel called me from Argentina and on Twitter the conversation is summarized, in sort of a youtube. We would go together, because in 2001 I had received the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize (The Right Livelihood) from the Swedish Parliament. But I told Perez Esquivel that besides embracing a friend of more than 30 years, my visit was to fulfill the Gospel precept, “visit the one who is jailed”. I wanted to reinforce the tranquility of the soul Lula has always maintained. Shortly before he was arrested, he assured me: my soul is serene because nothing accuses me, I feel like a carrier of the truth that possesses its own strength and will manifest itself in due time.

Perez Esquivel and I arrived in Curitiba at different times, on April 18th. We went directly to the great auditorium of the Federal University of Parana, that was already filled with people, for a debate on Democracy, Human Rights and the Brazilian crisis that had culminated with Lula’s jailing. There were university authorities, Celso Amorim, the former Minister of Foreign Relations, representatives of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Sweden, and other countries. Beautiful Latin American songs were sung, especially those sung by the magnificent voice of actress and singer Leticia Sabatella. The Afro-descendants danced and sang in their outfits of beautiful colors.

There were several speeches. As if by magic, the general discouragement gave way to an aura of goodwill and hope that the parliamentary-juridical-news media coup would not succeed in determining the future of Brazil. Better yet, that a cycle of domination of the backwards elites would close with the opening of the path to a democracy from below, participant and sustainable.

Before the meeting we had been told that Judge Catalina Moura Lebbos, the right hand of Judge Sergio Moro, had forbidden the visit we wanted to make to President Lula.
Judge Lebbos did not realize the great significance of being a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. That person has the privilege of traveling all over the world, visiting jails and places of conflict, to promote dialogue and peace. This is supported by the 2015 Document from the United Nations called “The Mandela Rules”, about the Prevention of Crimes and Criminal Justice. That Document also touches on visits to prisoners. Brazil was among the most active countries in formulating The Mandela Rules, but does not follow them in her own territory.

But it was in vain. Judge Lebbos stood firm. The following day, April 19th, we arrived at the encampment where hundreds stood in vigil at the Federal Department of Justice, were Lula is jailed. They shouted to him, “Good morning, Lula”, “Lula free!” and other words of encouragement, hoping that he could hear them perfectly from his cell.
There were police everywhere. We tried to talk with their chief, seeking an audience with the Superintendent of the Federal Police.

The answer was always the same: you cannot, orders from above. After insisting, with telephone calls coming and going, Perez Esquivel received an audience with the Superintendent. He explained the reasons for the humanitarian and fraternal visit to an old and dear friend. But no matter how Perez Esquivel argued and referenced his title of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, recognized and respected worldwide, he always heard the same old song: You cannot. These are orders from above.

And so, dejected, we returned to be with the people. Personally, I insisted that my visit was purely spiritual. I had planned to give him two books, The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing, a detailed commentary that really nourishes trust. And one by Carlos Mesters, our most articulate exegeta, The Mission of the People who Suffer, describing the helplessness of the Hebrew people in the Babylonian exile, how the Prophets Isiah and Jeremiah consoled them, and how those Prophets fortified the meaning of their suffering and hope.

The Federal Police Department prohibited everything. Not even a note could be sent to President Lula.

Among the people who spoke were representatives of several groups that support Lula’s candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize, especially a couple from Sweden. Perez Esquivel and I also spoke, reinforcing the hope that in the end, it is this powerful energy that sustains those who struggle for justice, and a different type of democracy. Perez Esquivel announced that he had launched a worldwide campaign to propose Lula as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. There are already thousands of signatures from all over the world. Lula meets all the requirements for the Prize, especially for his social policies that lifted millions of people out of hunger and misery, and for his consistent work for social justice, the basis for peace.

There were many interviews by national and international means of communication. Photos of the event began to be published worldwide, and solidarity came from many countries and groups.

There we came to understand that in effect we live under a regime of exception, in the form of a “golpe blando” that confiscates freedom and denies fundamental human rights.

The spiritual pettiness of our Judges of the Lava Jato and denial of the guaranteed right of a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate to visit his prisoner friend in the spirit of pure humanity and warm solidarity, shames our country. This only corroborates the fact that we effectively are under a regime of exception that negates democracy.

But Brazil is bigger than her crisis. Purified, we will come out better, and proud of our resistance, of our indignation and, starting in the streets and the elections, our courage to retake a rightful State.

We will never forget the sacred words: “I was in jail and you didn’t let them visit me”.

Leonardo Boff
04-30-2018

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