SÃO PAULO OSV News – Fifteen-year-old Daiana Fonseca wanted to attend World Youth Day in Lisbon since she first heard about it in 2022. She thought, however, that traveling to Portugal would be impossible for her, a member of a Black rural community in Feira de Santana, Bahia state, in Brazil. But it was precisely her community, named Candeal 2, that made it possible.
Candeal 2 is a "quilombola" community, formed by the descendants of enslaved Africans who fled captivity and settled in that region when slavery was legal in Brazil (between 1500-1888).
The 2022 census demonstrated that there are 1.3 million quilombolas in Brazil. Bahia is the state with the highest number of quilombolas, with almost 400,000.
Most quilombolas do not have ownership over their traditional territories and are waiting for the government’s land grant program, which has been historically slow. They face higher poverty rates than non-quilombola Brazilians and have to deal with insufficient public services and poor infrastructure.
Those problems are part of Daiana's life. Her mother produces and sells traditional cassava flatbreads called beiju. Some people in her community grow food there, but many try to get a job in the city. Unemployment rates are disastrous.
"There is only one medical service here, which lacks equipment and doctors. The same problem occurs in our school. With few teachers, at times we have classes only once a week," Daiana said.
In November 2021, the local diocese created a parish in the district of Matinha dos Pretos, where Candeal 2 is located. That was the first parish to be established in a quilombola community in Brazil.
"I took it as an obligation for us to represent the quilombolas in the WYD. That is why I talked about it with the community," said Kenyan-born Father Ibrahim Muinde, I.M.C., one of the parish’s priests.
Father Muinde has been working at Matinha dos Pretos parish since it was founded. He said that when he left Kenya to be a missionary, he did not think that he would have such an "extreme experience" like the one he had in the quilombola community.
"I was very surprised when I first arrived here. I was using my phone to send messages, and when the car got into the quilombola area, the signal just went off," he recalled, adding that he soon realized how quilombolas were mistreated and deprived from several rights in Brazil, "from the right of occupying their own lands to the right of using the internet."
But the community organization helps members of the community face all those challenges. When Father Muinde talked about WYD in Lisbon, the residents decided to help Daiana raise the money for the trip.
"We sold sandwiches during festivities, organized events and lunches, and promoted raffles," Daiana described.
Daiana said that the quilombola culture has been significant throughout her life. She is part of a group of "samba de roda," a traditional rhythm that was created in Bahia by Black people and later was disseminated across the country, resulting in other kinds of samba music during the 20th century.
"My great-grandfather used to play samba. It is something that crosses generations," she said.
Some of her colleagues from the group play in the church during Mass. Father Muinde said that celebrations prepared by the community, with music and dance, are remarkably beautiful, so the priests have been incentivizing the people to resume them after years without proper community involvement in liturgy.
Father Muinde and Daiana are traveling with another young girl from a nearby quilombola community. They informed the WYD committee that they are members of a traditional community and hope to have the opportunity to share their experiences with other WYD pilgrims.
"We will be there as members of a quilombola parish; that is what we are," Father Muinde said.
For Daiana, it will be a chance to learn about other people’s cultures.
"I want to bring with me everything that I learn there and share it with my community," she said.
Eduardo Campos Lima writes for OSV News from São Paulo, Brazil.