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Missionary, communicator, prophet and collaborator of the great causes of the excluded in Latin America

October 26 woke up with the sad news of the death of Konrad Berning: missionary, communicator, prophet and collaborator of the great causes of the excluded in Latin America. A SVD of pure strain, he lived the last years and died in the city of Münster, Germany. Coincidentally, the same place where he studied and was ordained Saint Arnold Janssen, founder of the Congregation of the Divine Word, a family to which he belonged. 

Konrad knew how to detect, select and find so many lives that were put at the service of a Church that builds the kingdom of justice, truth and peace, in line with the impulse given by the Council Fathers during the Second Vatican Council. Throughout his life, Konrad proved to be a Brazilian and Latin American missionary (born in Europe) who shared in the form of images and voices, the passion and vigor of the Church in Latin America after Vatican II.  Encouraged by the spirit of the Council and by the recommendations of the General Chapters of the Congregation of the Divine Word, he demonstrated his talent as an educator and communicator at the beginning of his mission in Curitiba and Foz do Iguaçu as a formator and parochial vicar.

The current director of Verbo Filmes, Cireneu Kuhn, SVD points out that Konrad understood very early on the importance and the need to use new media as an effective instrument of evangelization and promotion of justice and peace. With a camera on his shoulder, a microphone in his hand and the help of seminarians and some young dreamers like his friend Luís Valter de Souza, in the city of Foz do Iguaçu, in the 70s, little by little he left the parish sphere and making Brazil and Latin America his ecclesial terrain. His productions, of great density and theological and missiological content, transformed the local Church and its pastoral action into fertile spaces for the dissemination of the Gospel and the catholicity of the Church.

Nelson Augusto Tyski, one of the seminarians of SVD philosophy who accompanied Konrad in the first steps of this initiative and still works in the Verbo Filmes team, points out that Konrad was a visionary, someone who has lived beyond his time. Money for him never came first. With or without money, the important thing was to carry out initiatives that engaged people in the fight for a better world. Another noteworthy initiative, according to Nelson, was the incentive he gave dozens of young people to engage in communication and journalism. Neither he did everything possible to support so many lay men and women, Brazilian or German, who were willing to live and learn with the Church in Brazil for a few months.

With the support of the SVD provinces in Brazil and the CNBB (Conference of Bishops of Brazil), he founded Verbo Filmes in 1975. On the day of its foundation, in Santo Amaro, SP, the then general secretary of the CNBB, Dom Ivo Lorscheiter advised : ... try to create and evangelize with images of us, of Brazil and of Latin America; with images that people understand and assimilate easily, instead of bringing them in from outside and simply translating them.
The presence and experience in the Communication sector of the CNBB (National Conference of Bishops of Brazil), the coexistence with prophetic bishops of the 80s, among them Ivo Lorscheiter, Aloisio Lorscheiter, Paulo Evaristo Arns, Helder Câmara, Luciano Mendes de Almeida, José María Pires, Antônio Fragoso and many others, allowed him never to leave the most beloved topics to the Episcopal Conferences of Medellín, Puebla and to what today the pontificate of Pope Francis is proposing: a poor Church, for the poor and among the poor.

From the beginning, Konrad knew how to have eyes, ears and a heart for the reality of the poorest and most aggrieved in Latin America and the world. He always kept in contact and in tune with important institutions related to Christian communication, such as the Brazilian Union of Christian Communication (UCBC), ALER (Latin American Association of Radio Education) and others.
The beginning of his productions gave voice and time to young people with the vocational films “A Pedra Preciosa” and “Caminheiro não ha? Camino ... ”, which still resonates in the ears of many of us through the refrain of one of the songs in the video:“ walker, there is no path, step by step and the path is made ”. He enthusiastically covered Pope John Paul II's visit to Brazil in 1980 and documented it through the “A Be? Nc? TO? Or Joa? O de Deus ”,“ Terra Dom de Deus ”and“ Na Multidão um Pastor ”. Children's videos on biblical parables with "The Good Samaritan", "Ovelha Perdiendo", "The Sower" and "The Seven Signs of Life" helped the communities to make living and effective the commitments acquired in baptism and reaffirmed by receiving the others sacraments. They joined the documentary about the leper colony in Marituba and the testimony of the leper and minister of communion Adalúcio Calado through the video “I Love Life”.

He addressed the issue of inculturation in the films "Missa da Terra sem Males", "Missa dos Quilombos", "E? the life we celebrate” and “The Creole Gospel ”. He highlights the alliance that he always established with D. Pedro Casaldaliga, Bishop Emeritus of the Prelature of São Félix do Araguaia. He continued touring Brazil and Latin America and detected ecclesial realities and silent testimonies from so many people who with their dedication and dedication offered themselves to the last drop and many times gave their lives "so that everyone may have life." He documented the solidarity of the Southern Churches with the reality of the Amazon in the 1970s through the visit of Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns and bishops to the prelature of Itacoatiara in the film “Called to be a people”. She recorded the testimonies of Santo Dias da Silva in “Caiu em terra boa”, by Ezequiel Ramin, Sisters Cleusa and Adelaide Molinari; the fight of Fr. Josimo Morais Tavares among the squatters of Bico do Papagaio in the film “Na terra devastated”; the delivery of the Jesuit brother Vicente Cañas, assassinated by his struggle and presence among the Enawenê-nawê indigenous people in Mato Grosso; the testimony of the Sisters of Charles de Foucault, among them the French Geneviève Hélène Boyé, known as Sister Veva, who lived and died among the Tapirapè Indians, in Mato Grosso. The radical commitment to the poor during the northeastern drought appears in “The poor my masters”, a video testimony about Father Alfredinho (Fredy Kunz), a religious victim of Nazism who gave part of his life to the poor of Crateús and later to the outskirts of Santo André, SP.

Theological formation was fed with the videos of the Summer Course and other materials produced by CESEEP (Ecumenical Center for Services to Evangelization and Popular Education), the meetings of the CEB's (Base Ecclesiastical Communities), assemblies of the CRB (Conference of Religious of Brazil) and many other materials produced for CNBB based on the themes of the Fraternity Campaigns. His years of dedication made him a highly respected filmmaker for his vast cinematographic work with pastoral, social and ecclesial content. The trilogy: Ameríndia, Pé & Fé na Caminhada, Anillo de Tucum fueled the struggle and initiatives of communities of people who made the Gospel a source of life and resistance to the death projects that prevail in our country, continent and around the world. These feature films made him the winner of several national and international awards. On the occasion of his 25 years of priestly ordination, Berning received the tribute of a group of homeless people linked to Rede Rua in the Brás neighborhood in São Paulo and received as a gift a cascuda (can used to receive food on the street). He made this symbolic gift the cup used during the celebration and kept it as a relic to this day.

Konrad directed Verbo Filmes until 1994, when he moved to Germany. After more than thirty years of religious walking, he decided to continue his life project by starting a family and moving to the city of Münster, Germany. There, without the same material and economic resources, but with the support of his wife Briggite Schulte, friends and later his two sons Franz and Paul, he set up a small studio, where he continued to give a voice to the Church of the Poor and to the spirit reconciliation and translation. many of the videos produced in Brazil in German, to make the path of the Church in Latin America more known and alive.

Konrad Berning's dreams are still alive in the projects developed by Verbo Filmes in Brazil and in the numerous productions that he has made in recent years in Germany. I'm sure he followed it with his heart.

Thank you, Konrad for your life and missionary testimony! May you join the multitude of saints who preceded you to continue encouraging us to fight for the non-negotiable causes of the Kingdom of God!

Arlindo Pereira Dias, svd

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