Brazil’s Anglican dioceses respond to catastrophic flooding, seek help from across the communion

By David Paulsen
Posted May 14, 2024
Brazil flooded street in Porto Alegre

A drone view of people being evacuated May 14 from their homes in a flooded area due to heavy rains, in Serraria in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. Photo: Reuters

[Episcopal News Service] Anglican leaders in Brazil are responding to devastating flooding in the nation’s southern regions – an ongoing “climatic catastrophe,” the leaders say, that has killed an estimated 150 people and displaced a half million residents from their homes.

Two weeks of torrential rains have swollen rivers in southern Brazil to historic levels, particularly the Guaíba River, which has flooded an estimated 1,500 square miles around Porto Alegre, capital of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, which borders Argentina and Uruguay.

“Within this bleak situation, our parish communities have been working tirelessly to offer shelter and bring food and clothing to those in need,” the Most Rev. Marinez Rosa dos Santos Bassotto, primate of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, said in a May 13 written statement.

“We have never experienced a disaster of this proportion before and it is a consequence of climate change, but also of the negligence of authorities who failed to care for the cities’ infrastructure and ignored warnings,” she said. “Please keep our church and people in your prayers.”

Three of the province’s dioceses serve Rio Grande do Sul and are responding directly to flood-ravaged communities in the state.

“Undoubtedly, this is the largest climatic disaster in the state’s history,” Southwestern Brazil Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva said in a written statement on the crisis. The three dioceses there “are facing demands for sheltering displaced individuals, collecting clothing, hygiene supplies and food to assist victims, and providing basic services.”

Downtown Porto Alegre

A drone view shows flooded streets in downtown Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, on May 13. Photo: Reuters

The people in those areas are desperate for relief, Paula de Mello Alves said in a written statement to Episcopal News Service. She is executive secretary for the Diocese of Southern Brazil in Porto Allegre.

“In the city of Guaíba, the neighborhood of our chapel was completely flooded with water,” Alves said. “Holy Trinity National Cathedral, in the Historic District of Porto Alegre, is surrounded by water and the only way possible to get there is by boat.”

There have been “many heart-breaking stories of loss,” and such a “huge catastrophe” defies quick remedies, she said. “When the water retreats, another phase starts, cleaning and rebuilding. But right now, we’re trying to help people to survive.”

The Diocese of Southern Brazil has opened its facilities for use as shelters for displaced families. The Diocese of Southwestern Brazil is collecting food and clothing for families, while the Diocese of Pelotas also is providing assistance.

“Unfortunately, the authorities have shown themselves unprepared to respond adequately, and significant public investment will be needed to rebuild the state and effectively assist the population in recovering material losses,” da Silva said. “Urgent emergency support from the entire Anglican Communion, especially emergency and development agencies, is crucial in this situation.”

The U.S.-based Episcopal Relief & Development has been in contact with Anglican leaders in Brazil to support them as they conduct local assessments. Donating to Episcopal Relief & Development is the primary way for Episcopalians to assist in relief efforts in disaster areas like southern Brazil.

The Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil, one of the few Portuguese-speaking provinces in the 42-member Anglican Communion, was founded in 1889 with support from The Episcopal Church. Once an Episcopal missionary diocese, it became an autonomous province in 1965. Since then, the Church of Brazil and The Episcopal Church have maintained a close relationship, particularly through a bilateral committee established by a covenant between the two provinces that was endorsed in 2009 by The Episcopal Church’s 76th General Convention.

The Rev. Adam Shoemaker, a priest in the Diocese of South Carolina who chairs the bilateral committee, said its Episcopal members have been planning a weeklong trip to Sao Paulo in late May and early June. “The recent flooding in Rio Grande do Sul is very much top of mind for the church there, and our bilateral committee plans to bring needed items to donate,” Shoemaker told Episcopal News Service by email.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service based in Wisconsin. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.


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