FOR more than 20 years, Clonlara’s Fr Jim Crowe has advocated for some of the world’s most marginalised people in the Jardim Ângela favela in Brazil.
A well-known human rights activist, Fr Crowe mobilised 300,000 people to demand peace in one of the most violent places on Earth. By bringing people together, Fr Crowe did something no one else could – he helped the local community transform the favela.
When Fr Crowe, from the Saint Patrick’s Missionary Society, started work in Jardim Ângela in 1987, it was one of the most dangerous favelas in São Paulo. Located in the south-west outskirts of the city, Fr Crowe was presiding over 35 funerals every day. Many of the dead were victims of the drug-related violence, and Fr Crowe struggled to comfort the sheer numbers of grieving families.
The reality of living in the favela was highlighted in 1996, when the UN declared the Jardim Ângela as “one of the most dangerous places in the world”.
Fr Crowe resolved to do something about it, commenting, “It’s not enough to stay praying about it, that isn’t going to solve the problem.”
Through word of mouth, he organised the March for Life and Peace, which brought the local community out onto the streets.
“The Brazilian people often remind me of our own Daniel O’Connell. They were great at finding alternatives and getting their way around things,” said Fr Crowe.
“For instance, if an assembly was forbidden, they would call it a march and, if a march was forbidden, they would call it something else,” he explains.
After the March for Life and Peace to remember São Paulo’s fallen martyrs, Fr Crowe worked with the local community to keep the momentum going.
A forum in defence of life was established, and it drafted a 10-point proposal for a community police force – one that would work with the community to solve its problems and be free of corruption.
One of the forum’s major successes, the community police force, started working in the favela in 1997.
Fr Jim Crowe is one of many Irish missionaries around the world who helped transform a community.
Fr Crowe is featured in a radio documentary, The Garden: Jardim Ângela, which will be broadcast on Newstalk Radio as part of their Spring Season of Documentary this Saturday at 7pm and again on Sunday at 11pm.Newstalk Radio