The Anglican world was rocked a couple of weeks ago with the brutal murder of one of its more outspoken and faithful bishops. On Sunday February 26th Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti of Recife, Brazil and his wife Miriam were murdered by their 29 year-old adopted son following a quarrel in their home.
Where is Recife? It is in the northeastern part of Brazil, where land protrudes as far into the Atlantic as possible. Recife is a lovely holiday city with tall resort hotels and beautiful beaches. Nearby is the historic city of Olinda perched on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. Olinda has the reputation of being one of the most attractively preserved colonial towns in all of Brazil.
I know, because in the fall of 2005 my wife, Sandra ,and I visited Recife and Olinda at the invitation of Bishop Cavalcanti. I had gotten to know him at several large Anglican conferences over the years, and was drawn to him and admired his stand for the Gospel and for his commitment to a biblical lifestyle. He and I often communicated via e-mail.
On our trip there, we toured his diocese, and I spoke to his clergy at a lunch. I also spent time at the seminary he had started, and talked to his students at least one of whom was later — with his wife — to attend Trinity Seminary in Ambridge. We also visited one of the largest Anglican churches in Brazil led by Miguel Uchoa. Uchoa, a former surfer, was one of the Bishop’s protégés. His church, the Church of the Holy Spirit, has a dynamic caring outreach to some of the poorer residents of Recife who live just a few blocks from its glitzy hotels.
Bishop and Mrs. Cavalcanti’s son, Edward, had been living in Florida where he had been arrested for possession of drugs and other crimes. A deportation process was in the works. However, this February he was visiting his parents in Olinda.
After an argument, Edward pulled a knife on his father and mortally wounded him. When his mother intervened and tried to protect her husband, Edward turned on her and knifed her. Both parents died either in the hospital, or on the way there.
Words of shock and consolation have flowed in from all over the Anglican world from the Archbishop of Canterbury on down. I feel personally very deeply sorry for the loss of this very special man.
But there are several twists to this story that make it unusually noteworthy. First, a bit of history. The Episcopal Church of Brazil was founded by American Episcopal missionaries who brought the Gospel to this part of South America. However, over the years it lost its evangelical fervor and adopted a revisionist theology. One can’t help but speculate that this was in part because of its dependence on financial and other aid from The Episcopal Church (of the USA). Within the Episcopal Church of Brazil the Diocese of Recife was a shining light. Bishop Cavalcanti brought spiritual renewal there and stood strongly against the consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. For this he was shunned by the other bishops in the Church and eventually deposed. The Archbishop of the Southern Cone (e.g. Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay) picked up Bishop Cavalcanti and his 23 clergy and parishes. Hence the Anglican Diocese of Recife became part of the Province of the Southern Cone.
Secondly, while Robinson Cavalcanti was a strong leader, and thoroughly biblical in his theology, he was also a socialist and deeply involved in the Workers Party in Brazil. He once ran for office and actively supported left-leaning politicians. He once said: “Communism has failed in the East…but it is also true that capitalism had been a permanent failure for two thirds of the World.”
What strikes me most about the story, however, is a third factor: the terrible tragedy of a couple in their Sixties who were obviously trying to cope with a wayward son whom they had adopted and clearly loved. History is filled with such stories, but few have ended so brutally as this.
Parental love is often stretched to the limit by children who find the boundaries set for them uncongenial. The drug culture has greatly exacerbated this problem for many caught in its terrible net. Parents often feel like failures, and the tough love they believe is called for sometimes backfires as it clearly did in this case.
Understanding friends can help. But as many such parents know it’s the Lord who comforts our hearts in times when we are at our wit’s end. David had two sons who tried to murder him, and his first mentor, Saul, also tried to do him in. He knew that comfort. His words in the Psalms have the ring of truth. They are where so many have gone when parental love reaches its limit. David composed these words shortly after Saul had tried to kill him:
Thou has been to me a fortress, and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to thee, for thou, O God, art my fortress, the God who shows steadfast love. Psalm 59:16,17
~ Peter C. Moore, D.D.