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The BBC's Brazil correspondent Stephen Cviic
"Three hundred bishops gathered on a beach"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 20:21 GMT 21:21 UK
Church apologises to Brazil's Indians
indians
Indians take part in mass in Brazil
Five hundred years after the first Mass was celebrated in Brazil, the Roman Catholic Church has formally apologised for the "sins and errors" committed by its clergy against Indians and black people.

The apologia was read at a special service near the spot where Friar Henrique de Coimbra celebrated the first Mass on 26 April, 1500.

Fifty thousand people, including more than 300 bishops, were at the open-air service in Coroa Vermelha, just outside the seaside resort 800 kms (500 miles) northeast of Rio de Janeiro.

"The Mass is a moment of penitence," said the Most Reverend Raymundo Damasceno Assis, secretary general of the National Brazilian Bishops' Conference.

protest
Police used tear gas against protesting Indians last week

"We ask God to forgive the sins and errors committed by the Roman Catholic clergy against the human rights and dignity of the Indians, the first inhabitants of this land, and the blacks who were brought here as slaves."

The Church "admits that some of the acts committed by its clergy over the past 500 years did not correspond to what is written in the Gospel," he said.

Protest

The Mass was held near the same spot where last Saturday police used clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a crowd of about 2,000 Indians, gathered from all over Brazil to protest what they called Portugal's "invasion" of their country.

pataxo
Pataxo tribe do a traditional dance on the beach at Mutari

"It was an unfortunate incident which we repudiate because the Indians were denied the right to express themselves," the Reverend Assis said.

When the Portuguese arrived in 1500, there were some five million Indians in Brazil, comprising 1,000 tribes.

Now there are only about 350,000 people, in 210 tribes, according to the government's Indian agency.

Analysts say their population is only now starting to recover.

Most of the Indians are destitute and live in strips of land, usually allocated by the government.

They have minimum sanitary, health and educational facilities.

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