Bishop who defended indigenous people dies in Brazil aged 92

Spanish bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, shown here speaking to actor Eduard Fernandes in an undated photo released by Minoria Absoluta Productions, has died aged 92 in Brazil
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The Spanish bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, a fervent defender of the indigenous people of the Amazon, died Saturday at the age of 92 in Brazil, where he had been living since 1968, his office said.

The Prelature of Sao Felix do Araguaia, in the central-western state of Mato Grosso, where Casaldaliga was bishop emeritus, announced in a statement that he passed away in the morning at hospital in Batatais, near Sao Paulo.

He had been in intensive care due to respiratory problems and was suffering from Parkinson's disease. 

"Our land, our people are losing today an example of generous living for a better world; we will miss him very much," former left-wing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva tweeted.

Born in 1928 in Balsareny, Catalonia, and ordained a priest in 1952, he went on mission to Sao Felix do Araguaia, in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, in 1968, while the country was under a military dictatorship.

He opposed the regime, the wealthy landowning class, and even the Vatican, defending the landless and indigenous people. 

"In this country, it is easy to be born and die, but difficult to live," the prelate told AFP in 2012, as a TV series about his life was released -- "Barefoot on Red Soil," from the book of the same name by Catalonian writer Francesc Escribano. 

Living under the constant threat of hired killers in the pay of large landowners, he was one of the founders of the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT) and the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI), two key bodies in the struggle for agrarian reform. 

In 1998, Bishop Casaldaliga was called to Rome, where he underwent a tough interrogation by the then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who seven years later became Pope Benedict XVI.

In Spain, where news of Casaldaliga's death gained considerable media attention, government spokeswoman Maria Jesus Montero expressed "recognition and gratitude" for the bishop's dedication of his "life to serving the poor."

The Spanish Foreign Ministry expressed its condolences as well, noting Casaldaliga's "enormous religious, humanitarian and social work, whose tangible legacy resulted in... the creation of schools and medical assistance centers."

At the end of last month, Casaldaliga and 150 other Brazilian bishops signed an open letter criticizing the extreme right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro, castigating his "incompetence" and his "inability" to manage the coronavirus health crisis, which has caused nearly 100,000 deaths in Brazil -- including several hundred indigenous people.