Sunday, November 29, 2015

José Arregi: "The Church has to be radically renewed"

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
November 17, 2015

Theologian José Arregi, a close associate of this establishment, is the author of Invitación a la esperanza ("Invitation to Hope" -- Herder, 2015), a text in which he elaborates on "active hope" in the midst of a suffering world in which, despite everything, there are reasons to be optimistic. In the Church too? "The Church has to be radically renewed, reverse the authoritarian, hierarchical and clerical model of the Church. And to flip the pyramid model, we must eliminate two dogmas -- the absolute power of the pope and infallibility," he argues.

The Synod on the Family just ended. How do you view this moment?

If you have followed my articles since the first phase was announced and completed, you know that I've never had many expectations about this synod. I sense that there are doubts as to whether what I thought was a small thing but was possible -- the issue of possible access of divorced and remarried persons to communion -- will come out of it.

You get the feeling that the bishops on whom the decision rests are trying to delay their responsibility and that it will be the Pope who decides.

The impression I have is of too much of a production for what is going to come out.

Especially the issue of the divorced that you've referred to. In fact, when the campaign by some theologians in favor of that revision came out, you put out an article which went well beyond it. You were much more direct.

On that point about the divorced, they accepted the penitential character of that potential communion. That is, they're treated as guilty and three conditions are required of them -- repentance, confession to the bishop, and purpose of amendment. They said it was a discipline of exception and that the whole doctrine of the indissolubility wasn't being put into question.

I think today, presenting ourselves as progressive theologians, this can not be addressed that way.

Today the Pope at Santa Marta referred to the need for us Christians to be in the world and attentive to the signs of the times to be able to change based on those signs. It sometimes gives the impression that Pope Francis would like to move more rapidly than Vatican reality will allow.

Yes, that's the impression, and certainly he would have to go further. The vast majority of people affected by that problem have already resolved it. And they've done it with their common sense which, from a Christian point of view, is the sense of the Holy Spirit. The presence and voice of this spirit deep in our hearts and conscience. And the people, faithful to that voice, are taking communion calmly.

You've come to introduce a book that deals with the Christian way of looking at life. You've written it with Herder publishing house and it's titled Invitación a la esperanza ("Invitation to Hope"). To what hope do you wish to invite the reader?

A double hope -- that of the breath of life, hope that has to do with the breath, with the spirit. And also inviting them to an active, creative hope. That makes things come true, that anticipates that which we hope for and for which we want to work.

Hope isn't waiting for something to happen. It's living in such a way that you make what you wish to happen come true. It's Jesus' hope.

In your opinion what is the hope that Jesus' message brings that could be applicable today?

Jesus lived in a world that had many points of similarity to the world we live in today -- a very acute economic crisis in Galilee, which was where he lived. Very great economic malaise that had to do with debt -- small landowners, forced to move away from their lands because they couldn't pay the debts and to become tenants. And tenants who couldn't pay the rent and were forced to become mere employees with wages that didn't provide enough to eat.

Jesus in his messages was very aware of the reality of these poor peasants and poor fishermen and women. And he was also very aware of the root of this poverty, which was debt. Debt that bound them and was imposed on them.

And why debt? Well, I think here there's also a very big point of similarity between what was happening then and what is happening today. Herod Antipas doubled and tripled taxes for his construction -- hippodromes, circuses, etc., and to look good with the emperor and win his favor.

I'm imagining Greece, Spain and Germany nowadays through your words.

There was a true real estate bubble by the vassal king, Herod Antipas, and at the expense of the poor peasants, the poor fishermen and tradesmen of the time.

 Yet the message of Jesus soaks in, entering and changing the concept of society.

It is that all Jesus' words have a big political subversion charge. All of them. We believe that Jesus talked about the forgiveness of sins, and the great beyond. About how well the birds live and how beautiful the flowers are. He admired the rain, the sun, the field, the seed ... but it was all a sacrament of the kingdom to him. And the kingdom, for him, was a political metaphor for the radical transformation that has to happen in social, economic, political, and religious structures.

And what happens when a subversive message is received and enables the creation of an institution that, today, is one of the least subversive that exists -- the greatest representation of that empire, not in tune with the world, of that dogma and those prohibitions. That Church of "no" that we have denounced on more than one occasion. How did we get to that?

Well, very quickly. First, Jesus' movement stabilized. Second, the movement that was subversive and reformist became a static and accommodating movement. And above all, with Constantine, starting in the 4th century, the Church accommodated itself to the great imperial social, economic and religious model.

The power Church perverts the message of Jesus, but the institutional Church has been able to create a culture with a series of values -- the issue of education, universities ... To what extent is this an acceptable lesser evil? There seems to be a dichotomy between the possible and the probable.

Surely anyone who ceases to be on the sidelines and can afford to proclaim the radical change they dream of, which is what Jesus did, and once a group becomes institutionalized, as Jesus' movement did, they have to take into account the principle of the real and the possible much more than Jesus did.

Jesus was always a prophet. He didn't systematize the doctrine or give guidelines or policy solutions. He proclaimed his dream and promoted it. And he made it come true in his immediate surroundings.

Of course, the Church, like any religious institution, to the extent that it gains power also becomes loaded with special interests and has to follow strategies, and not its primary dream so much.

And that is what happened to the Church as an institution very early on. It has done many things, it has forged a good part of Western culture. For a millennium it was practically the only thing that transmitted culture in the West but, as we know, this has had a price. That price was the consolidation of a very iron-clad and immutable doctrine. Based on an alliance with the political powers of each era. And this has prevented the Church from going much further in the prophetic spirit of Jesus.

However there are many prophets, I dare say, who continue to work, taking the letter and spirit of the gospel as the driving force of their lives. And who are still living not only on the frontier but in day to day life, moving and changing society. And they are a source of hope through faith in Jesus Christ.

Yes, we definitely forget that. Usually when we talk about the Church, we are talking about the institution and that's not fair. The spirit of active and peacemaking hope beats in the hearts of a lot of ordinary people who live that out day by day. Sometimes in extreme situations, at the limit. On the edge and beyond the edge. And nobody knows that. You have only to look at the number of Christians who are turning towards the refugees, immigrants, the homeless. That is the living Gospel of Jesus.

And what do we do so that those people who are church can be part of building it? Or do we not need to?

Well, the spirit blows, pulsates, and gives life. But it wouldn't be wrong either to publicize that active presence of the spirit. The media prefer a different type of news, more striking. You would have to do a lot more publicizing of the good, of this living presence of the Gospel in the hearts of many anonymous people.

How do you fit in the Church as a believer?

I define myself as a simple novice disciple of Jesus, just another in the Church. I don't have a clear conscience of my involvement with great causes -- the marginalized, the poor ..., I work mostly on other things. But I try to keep the sensitivity and small commitments. Attune my mind.

I also know that my position, like that of so many others is debatable and discussed. I don't know if I'm on the border or if I've crossed it, as many who put me outside are saying. I feel like I'm inside, although I don't think there's an inside or an outside.

You've had many problems with the current bishop of San Sebastian, Monsignor Munilla.

I don't have any problem; when we meet, I greet him. That's a stage we've moved beyond. I try to follow my path as peacefully as I can.

How do you view the arrival of a man like Francis, a pastor from the peripheries as he defined himself, to the halls of power of the institutional Church? How did you feel about him and how do you feel now, after two and half years?

We were all struck by his first words and his first gestures -- bowing to the people in the square, asking their blessing, recognizing he is the Bishop of Rome ... and then his way of being and the name he adopted made me dream a lot and touched my soul.

Two years later, even before, I had my doubts that a man could reach the minimum required to take the steps to enable a truly new Church.

What are those steps?

That it has to be radically renewed. Invert the authoritarian, hierarchical and clerical model of the Church. And to flip the pyramid model, we must eliminate two dogmas -- the absolute power of the pope and infallibility. Which are the two ultimate ones, certainly. They are not of Jesus or of the spirit that beats in the hearts in the world today.

Those who accuse those who advocate this position say that it would cause the destruction of Christ's Church.

It's not the Church that Jesus built, if he did.On this nearly all minimally critical exegetes agree: Jesus never thought of founding a church or a new religion. Jesus felt he was Jewish, even when he broke and changed things that were immutable for most Jews, such as the issue of circumcision and table fellowship with Gentile Christians.

But he never thought that he was forming a new religion, with popes and bishops, or about apostolic succession ...

All are terms of Roman law

Summus pontifes is an imperial title assumed in the 4th and 5th centuries by the bishop of Rome, who was not yet pope. That of Pope is a creation of the 11th century with the claim of absolute power. And infallibility comes later still; it's from the reform of Gregory VII and Boniface VIII and after Vatican I, when it was formulated. But of Jesus, no. This had already been suggested by John Paul II, Benedict XVI too, and Francis has just said so.

That the papacy has to be converted, well of course. And to what? Some say to what it was in the first millennium. I would say more. To what Jesus lived and dreamed of -- you are all brothers and sisters.

The radical distinction and subjugation of women to men in the church, is brutal.

And that has to do with patriarchal misogyny that comes from long ago, that's like in other religions ... but mostly with the male clerical and authoritarian model of the Church.

Yes, because Jesus lived in first-century Palestine where women had an infinitely lower social status than men.

And yet Jesus took unthinkable steps for that time. Like the fact of admitting male and female followers into his group, living an itinerant life. That, and that in the churches of Paul, women had leading roles and presided in the house churches.

But, even if it had not been so, the spirit is inventive, just as life goes on through renewing forms.

This is the problem for those who think that the solutions to the problems of life are just an interpretation of the words of Jesus, as if he could have answered questions such as genetic research.

Following Jesus can't consist of imitating his words and repeating his actions and his way of thinking. No. Jesus was innovative, and to be faithful to him is to be renewed, as life and the spirit call for. Going beyond Jesus, following his spiritual impulse.

Like that of Francis of Assisi who is a leader for many. Do you have hope that these steps might be taken, or that they are happening beyond what the institutional Church is offering?

If you're asking me about the hope of expectation, I'm not expecting much. I live, on my small level, with active hope that this might happen. But my expectations that it will happen of its own accord and through internal momentum of the ecclesial institution ...

On a personal level, it seems Pope Francis is pointing that way in his style. But I see no hint of institutional reforms of the ecclesial model. Or of the interpretation of dogmas that would be required at the institutional level.

I have no expectations that this will happen from within. It will happen, but like so many things, what's there will crumble from outside. And the Spirit will give shape to something else. As happens in all fields.

Are we followers obliged in some way to have that active hope, to be living hope?

Obliged, no. It's fortunate if we experience it. We have no obligation to do anything, except out of pleasure and spiritual impulse. That is to live what the body is asking of you, what the spirit asks of you when the spirit is good, the good life.

You have invited us to walk in that hope, with all its difficulties and without sanctimoniousness, but making note of a path that is there and that is largely necessary to build the world that Jesus helped emerge. With that joy and will for things to change also among those who are suffering the crisis of first-century Palestine in 21st century Europe. Invitación a la esperanza, published by Herder. Don't miss it. It's a delightful book that reads very easily. It's hard for a theologian to write in a way that ordinary people can understand.

I'm unable to write in a complicated way, and that's my limitation. I don't want to do academic theology; it doesn't interest me. Even less now, because I'm no longer in teaching, which always forces you to make that effort. And I always told my students that to do good theology you have to read a lot of science and a lot of literature and be aware. And read a lot less about the theology of those "versed in theology" -- theology books, manuals. Because then, theology gets into a feedback loop and goes around and around the same issues. This is broken by breathing in air from the environment, which is the spirit.

Another day, if you like, we'll talk about the state of theology because that would be for another interview. Thank you very much for joining us and for writing Invitación a la esperanza.

I take this opportunity to thank you. The invitation to write this book came to me from José Manuel Vidal and Religión Digital. I took it as a charge and did it, and then Herder published it. But the original intention and the first plan were born here.

Thanks for doing it and for being here, which was overdue.

It's been a pleasure, Jesus.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jon Sobrino: The impact of the Pact of the Catacombs on the Church today

by Jon Sobrino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Speech at Universitá Urbaniana, Rome, November 14, 2015

Shortly before the Council, emerged again powerfully what in my opinion is the fundamental historical problem of a Church that goes back to Jesus of Nazareth and that, in faith, we confess as his body in history. This fundamental problem is the relationship of the Church with the real poor, those who don't give life of course, or security, or dignity.

What we have just said is not routine. Nor is it a way of defending liberation theology, or supporting Pope Francis, or remembering the poverelo of Assisi. It is central to our faith. Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the good news to the poor, and, shockingly, only to the poor. And he also defended them and confronted those who impoverished them. And for that he died a death of slaves, very cruel and vile -- he was crucified.

In another passage from the origins of Christianity, very important but not very well-remembered, Paul is defending himself against the Judeo-Christians who were very suspicious of him and never left him in peace, with this forceful argument: "at the meeting in Jerusalem, they only put one condition on us -- that we not forget the poor of Jerusalem." Paul fulfilled it to the letter. He went around the Empire collecting alms and returned to Jerusalem, running great risks there, to give alms to the poor.

From its origins in Jesus and in the communities of Paul, making the real poor a central reality has been essential for the Church. If it ignores them, it isn't the Church of Jesus.

1. John XXIII and the Council. "The Church of the poor". 1962

Fifty years ago, a group of bishops took up the fundamental issue of the Church and the poor again. They signed a pact, not well known, but that these days has come to light again. It was an extraordinary event, nothing normal. With this pact, they wanted to support Pope John XXIII, and encourage each other.

Indeed, shortly before the opening of Vatican II, Pope John XXIII had said in a radio message, quietly but incisively, these striking words: "For the developing countries, the Church presents itself as it is and as it wants to be, as the Church of all, and in particular as the Church of the poor." [1]

There were already ideas and innovative impulses in that direction -- the worker priests in France with the support of Cardinal Suhard, voices of the Third World like those of Dom Helder Camara in Brazil and Monsignor Georges Mercier of the missionaries of Africa. And it is important to remember that those groups also advocated a break with the civilization of capitalism with which the Catholic Church had come to make a pact.

The Council having started, other bishops were going in the same direction. Cardinal Gerlier, Archbishop of Lyon, at a meeting at the Belgian College on October 26, 1962 spoke of the duty of the Church to adapt with the greatest possible sensitivity to the suffering of a lot of people. Referring to the tasks of the Council, he said, "If we do not examine and study this, everything else runs the risk of being worth nothing. It is essential that we strip this Church, which does not want to be rich, of all the signs of wealth. It is necessary that the Church appear as what it is -- the mother of the poor, concerned above all with giving her children the bread of the body and the soul." [2] And he added the aforementioned words of John XXIII.

However, on December 6th, two months after the Council had started, Cardinal Lercaro said with some poignancy that "[after] two months of toil and truly generous, humble, free and fraternal searching... we all feel that the Council has lacked something up to now." He also continued with the words of John XXIII, "If it is the Church of all, today it is especially 'the Church of the poor'."[3] That day a journalist commented that "the great moment of today's session was during the intervention of Cardinal Lercaro. You could cut the silence with a knife." At the end of Lercaro's speech, the conciliar assembly erupted in applause. [4]

But the Church of the poor did not prosper. It is a notorious lacuna in the Council, with important exceptions such as that of Msgr. Charles Marie Himmer, Bishop of Tournai, who bluntly said "primus locus in ecclesia pauperibus reservandus est". It is important to recognize it. And in my opinion, it doesn't do any good to ignore it by putting in texts however important they may be for other chapters. One of them is the one in LG 8. "Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route." It must imitate and follow Christ, who emptied himself taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-7) and who, though rich, became poor for us (2 Cor 8:9), and therefore the Church "is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice." The Church embraces all those afflicted by weakness, because "Christ was sent to evangelize the poor and lift up the oppressed." (Lk 4:18) Finally, the text makes an important statement about the place where you can find Christ in history: "The Church recognizes in the poor and the afflicted the image of its poor and patient Founder." And about what to do with them: "it strives to relieve their needs and seeks to serve Christ in them" (LG 8).

The text is great, but it doesn't deal with the Church's being poor in its various spheres of reality, or what the poor do for the Church, or the fate of persecution that comes upon it for defending the poor, with the radical nature with which it fell upon Jesus.

The second text is the most cited. "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties...especially of those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ." (GS 1). It is another great text. It expresses what the Church should keep in mind being in the world and facing the world, and it implies which ethical-historical direction its mission should move in. In the text, however, it doesn't say how the real poor form the real Church in its Church identity nor how they make it a sacrament of Jesus in all its dimensions, nor how they are principles of salvation for humankind and for the Church.

2. The Pact of the Catacombs. "A servant and poor Church". 1965

At the Council, several bishops soon grasped that for the majority of the assembly a Church itself geared towards the poor in poverty and powerless was not a central topic. It wasn't the time for that. The group shared the inspiration of John XXIII, and met confidentially and regularly at Domus Mariae on the outskirts of Rome, consciously avoiding giving the impression of wanting to teach a lesson to their brothers in the hall. They thought thoroughly about how the poverty of the Church should be. And just days before the close of the Council, on November 16, 1965 about 40 bishops celebrated a Mass in the catacombs of Saint Domitilla.[5]

It was presided by Monsignor Himmer, who delivered the homily. The bishops asked to "be faithful to the spirit of Jesus", and at the end of the celebration signed what they called "The Pact of the Catacombs: a servant and poor Church".[6] The pact was, objectively, a challenge to the "brothers in the episcopate" to lead a life of poverty and to be a servant and poor Church. And subjectively it was a way for the signatories to encourage one another to accomplish a far from easy task. The signatories, Latin Americans, from other parts of the poor world, and also from First World countries[7], committed themselves to live in poverty themselves, to reject all symbols and privileges of power, and to put the poor at the center of their pastoral ministry. Thus begins the text:

"We, Bishops meeting at Vatican Council II, being aware of the deficiencies of our life of poverty according to the Gospel, encouraged by one another in this initiative in which each one wants to avoid singularity and presumption...with humility and awareness of our weakness, but also with all the determination and all the strength that God wants to give us in His grace, commit ourselves to the following."

The text is magnificent, and several things powerfully draw attention.

The first word of the text is of absolute importance: "we". So bishops are speaking, but they aren't speaking doctrinally or even just pastorally as bishops, but - something unusual - they are speaking personally and existentially. They aren't speaking to others or about others, but they are speaking to themselves and about themselves. And by the nature of the matter, whether the Pact begins to bear fruit or not depends largely on what they do.

Signing this Pact is a major shakeup for them and a call to their own conversion. They have to ask the Lord for strength and energy for themselves to act like Jesus. They want this new way of living as bishops to encourage everyone else, but not delegate to others the requirement of living in poverty and service.

They list their commitment in 13 points, they bind themselves to fulfilling it and do it with clear words so the document might not evaporate into general words. Thus they commit themselves to experience themselves the real poverty of the majority, and to suffer the slights that real poverty causes. And they decide to, not for ascetic reasons, but to incorporate and introduce the real poverty of humanity within the Church (nos.1-5). They require avoiding favoritism toward the rich (no. 6), and fighting for justice and charity (no. 9). They encourage rulers to implement laws, structures and institutions for justice, equality, harmonious development (no.10). Towards the end they note the fact that in the world there is a "majority in physical, cultural and moral poverty," two-thirds of humanity. And they underscore Paul VI's United Nations speech, demanding economic structures "that do not create poor nations in an ever richer world." (no.11). If I can now make a leap of fifty years, the words of those bishops are absolutely timely to be heard and put into practice by the United Nations, the United States, the OAS, the European Community...

The text of the pact ends with the commitment to share with all human beings and be welcoming to all of them (no. 12), and to make known the pact to their diocesan priests, asking for their understanding, collaboration and prayers.

The Pact of the Catacombs has been the root of later reflections and documents. But we must not forget that it requires of the bishops - of everyone - an existential decision to put it into practice personally.

3. Medellín. "Poverty of the Church" and "Justice". 1968

I don't really know if and to what degree after the Council, the Pact of the Catacombs was picked up, at least basically, by the churches around the world. It was in Medellin. And we are going to look at two of its documents.

3.1 "Poverty of the Church"

The Medellin document which is most immediately related to the Pact of the Catacombs is "Poverty of the Church". It begins with a double affirmation.

The first is the observation of the objective reality of the continent -- social injustice, poverty, inhuman squalor, that by their very existence are an exigency on the bishops. "The Latin American bishops cannot remain indifferent in the face of the tremendous social injustices existent in Latin America, which keep the majority of our peoples in dismal poverty, which in many cases becomes inhuman wretchedness." (no.1) The fact is presented as an obvious reality without the need for discernment. And the reaction can only be the compassion of the bishops, which by implication has absolute priority.

The second is the observation that this misery is a cry that they, the bishops, can not ignore. "A deafening cry pours from the throats of millions of men, asking their pastors for a liberation that reaches them from nowhere else." (no. 2) And to it, they add honestly what isn't normally mentioned: "And complaints that the hierarchy, the clergy, the religious, are rich and allied with the rich also come to us." (no. 2). The Medellin bishops clarify that sometimes appearance is confused with reality, but they recognize that there are things that have helped create the image of a rich institutional Church: large buildings, the houses of priests and religious when they are superior to those of the neighborhood in which they live, their own vehicles, sometimes luxurious, the way of dressing inherited from other eras...

Having clarified the exaggerations, and speaking in the first person, the bishops recognize what really is in the complaints. "Within the context of the poverty and even of the wretchedness in which the great majority of the Latin American people live, we, bishops, priests and religious, have the necessities of life and a certain security while the poor lack that which is indispensable and struggle between anguish and uncertainty." (no. 3)

They also recognize cases of distancing and lack of interest that the poor resent. "And incidents are not lacking in which the poor feel that their bishops, or pastors and religious, do not really identify themselves with them, with their problems and afflictions, that they do not always support those that work with them or plead their cause." (no.3).

These detailed and specific words make us understand that the bishops personally took seriously the cry of the poor.

The conclusion is that the Church must "denounce the unjust lack of this world's goods and the sin that begets it," "preach and live in spiritual poverty, as an attitude of spiritual childhood and openness to the Lord." And commit itself "to material poverty." (no. 5)

Finally, the document requires "testimony" in the way of life and in the administration of goods (nos.12-17). And that the Church distance itself from power. "We want our Latin American church to be free from temporalities, from intrigues and from a doubtful reputation; to be 'free in spirit as regards the chains of wealth,' so that her mission of service will be stronger and clearer." (no. 18)

These aren't pious words and good intentions. They point to realities and ways of acting. They give something to think about about how not to be and how to be Church.

3.2 "Justice"

The second document is "Justice". Medellin begins with it, and these are its first words:

"There are many studies of the Latin American people. All of these studies describe the misery that besets large masses of human beings in all of our countries. That misery, as a collective fact, expresses itself as injustice which cries to the heavens." (no.1)

The text is of absolute importance. It insists that the Church must take into account great human groups, all without distinction, believers, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, we would say today. By putting it at the beginning of the document, the bishops confess clearly what is in their minds and hearts. And it catches the eye that, being a document written by bishops, believers in God, lovers of Jesus Christ and servants in the Church, their first words are not religious, Biblical, or dogmatic words. They are words about the reality of this world, more directly, about its sin. They mention those who suffer from it and, by implication, those who commit it. In what K. Rahner called word/symbols, the bishops focus everything on the word "injustice." The words "cry to heaven" may be the equivalent of the Spanish term "desorbitante" ("exorbitant"), but they can also be understood as in Exodus 3:9: "The cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me," says Yahweh.

In my view, the unfamiliar content and strength of this language is due to the fact that an irruption of reality took place around Medellin. [8] It was not the serene conclusion of a discursive process, but the explosion of something that imposes by itself. Nor was it just the unveiling of something that is factually true, but the appearance of a reality with its own spirit, with the potential to demand a personal and group reaction, and to offer salvation. The poor irrupted.

The poor had been a secular reality in Latin America, but suddenly they became a challenging reality that was impossible to hide. In an expression, again from Karl Rahner, "reality spoke up." The irruption around Medellin made us wake up, without the need for discernment, from the sleep that Antonio Montesinos denounced in 1511: "Why are you sleeping in such a lethargic slumber?". Centuries later, in Latin America many had the courage to "awaken from the sleep of cruel inhumanity," as Kant had demanded of human beings the courage to 'awaken from dogmatic slumber."

And the irruption of the poor also made it impossible to hide the sin that Montesinos denounced: "Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary, not giving them enough to eat nor taking care of them in their illness? For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day."

The reality of the poor characterized our world certainly as a sign of the times, but above all it proclaimed its ultimate truth without the possibility of error. More dangerous than not hitting the mark in discernment is not seeing the obvious, but the misery produced by oppression and the suffering caused by it, and the desire that would soon end, became evident. And the absolute necessity of the praxis of justice to achieve liberation from injustice also became evident. All of this was beyond dispute. [9] Although we don't know it, I think that today we are living in a very similar situation.

The irruption of the poor, oppressed, and persecuted in Latin America was soon joined by another irruption -- persecution. Father Arrupe would say later in 1975: "We will not carry out the crucial struggle of our time, the fight for faith and the struggle for justice that faith demands, without paying a price." And in this way a greater love also irrupted -- martyrdom for defending the poor. Since then -- forgive me for speaking as a Jesuit -- around 60 Jesuits have been killed in the Third World. And many, many other men and women.

Returning to Medellin, as far as I can see, unlike what happened after the Council, Medellín, by making the poor and their necessary liberation central, had the economic, financial, military, and police powers -- and a very large part of the media too -- of the continent against it. And with good reason. The 1968 Rockefeller report stated that "if what the bishops said in Medellin were put into practice, United States interests would be threatened." Reagan's advisers said something similar at the Santa Fe meeting in 1980. And more recurrently in the meetings of the military in the Southern Cone, certainly, and in Central America in the 1980s. These powers -- sometimes joined by part of the institutional Church -- triggered campaigns opposing Medellin and cruel persecution. Since then, in Latin America whenever the Church has remained faithful to Medellin, it has suffered persecution. Not so when it's been on good terms or compromised with the powerful.

In the Council, persecution wasn't talked about, much less martyrdom, in that way. It is content to quote the beautiful words of Augustine: "The Church is on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God." But the text does not have the force of reality. Today the demand for solidarity has increased, for working with effort, for involvement. But there's not much talk of martyrdom -- or of the crucified people whom we will discuss below -- nor are the martyrdoms of still very recent times taken seriously.

In addition to this, the ecclesiastical institution saw with fear how Medellín and prominent bishops -- plus liberation theology -- granted adulthood and freedom to Christians who were defending the poor. And this happened not because Medellín was propitiating an abstract "freedom of the sons of God," but because it emerged along with the decision to liberate the poor. What Metz says was taken as real: the ultimate authority is "the authority of those who suffer." And that suffering gives us the "greatest freedom."

Within the Church some hierarchs also felt that Medellin was making the power of the hierarchy stagger, which they judged to be a grave evil, and so, within the Church too, persecution arose. Several bishops -- let me mention just a few of them: Angelelli, Don Samuel Ruiz, Leonidas Proaño -- were mistreated by some of the hierarchs in their countries and the Vatican.

The case of Monseñor Romero was especially outrageous. At the spiritual retreat he made one month before his assassination, he spoke with his confessor, Father Azkue, about the three problems that were worrying him. The first of them, not being careful enough in the practices of piety -- to which Father Azkue replied by encouraging him to overcome his scruples. The second, fear of a violent death -- Father Azkue appeased him by telling him that life is more important than the moment of death, and that God would accompany him at the time of death, whatever that were to be.

The third point is the one that concerns us now: his very great difficulty living and working with his brother bishops, which caused him to suffer much in life. Only one of the bishops attended his funeral, his great friend Arturo Rivera y Damas. And when Pope John Paul II, on a visit to El Salvador in 1996, invited the Bishops Conference to dinner, he asked the bishops what they thought about the beatification of Monseñor Romero. The majority answered that it seemed good to them. Bishop Monseñor Revelo, however, said that Monseñor Romero "was responsible for the deaths of 70,000 Salvadorans."

And in addition to various bishops, liberation theology was also fought. With major vileness, so was CLAR [Confederación Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Religiosos y Religiosas -- Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Men and Women Religious]. And sadly, many women religious.

Altogether, the Church of the poor was condemned by the hierarchy, and they gave the reason: it is the "people's Church." The animus -- and stupidity -- is noteworthy, since in the New Testament and at Vatican II, the Church is called the "people" of "God." Getting ahead of ourselves, let's say that we shouldn't be surprised that Pope Francis is being attacked. He has taken up the themes mentioned after Medellín again.

And we must not forget the fundamental thing. After Medellin there was an outpouring of the greater love. These were times of martyrdom. We call the victims, men and women, for the most part, Jesuanic martyrs. Like Jesus, they worked to bring liberation to the poor, proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and denounced the anti-kingdom. And like Jesus, they died assassinated. If these martyrs, many men and women, are ignored or undervalued, let's say henceforth that ignoring them or undervaluing them is the end of the Church of Jesus.

4. Puebla. "The option for the poor". 1979

It is well known that the bishops in Puebla formulated the option for the poor. It was an important way to relate the Church and the poor. In Latin America it has become orthodoxy from which, at least in word, almost no one deviates. But it was harder for the option for the poor to become orthopraxis, because of the novelty of the business and its costs -- persecution, defamation and martyrdom.

In my opinion, the most novel in theory and powerful in practice was raising this option to the theological level. Speaking of the option for the poor, Puebla says "regardless of their personal and moral condition, by the mere fact of being poor God defends them and loves them." It speaks of the mystery of God, with great boldness and with very great consequences. Allow me two brief reflections:

1) Puebla emphasizes the reality of the poor, regardless of their personal and moral condition. We've talked about primordial holiness, which is to find and maintain life, in times of closeness to death, walking with each other and for each other. The expression "primordial holiness" came to my mind twenty years ago when I saw on television caravans of thousands of women walking with small children holding their hands and with their "home" on their heads, a large basket in which they had put all they could carry. This finality, beyond virtues and sins, I have called primordial holiness. It is the equivalent of "regardless of their personal and moral condition."

2) Puebla speaks of how God reacts to the poor, and mentions all He does -- defend and love them. The core of the option for the poor is normally understood as love, support, solidarity -- and God willing, may they abound. But what Puebla mentions first isn't usually stressed -- you have to defend the poor. The poor are needy and so we must help them, but historically they become poor because they are made poor. They are hurt because there are people who hurt them. And in that situation the key part of the option is defending the poor. And taking the risks that that entails. These reflections are going a bit beyond the Pact of the Catacombs, but that Pact of fifty years ago gave impetus to the option, to the defense of the poor and risks one must take to defend them.

5. Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría. "The crucified people". 1977-1989

In Latin America, the ideal of Church that emerged in Medellín, with greater or lesser intensity became a reality in several places and through several bishops. Through Leonidas Proaño in Ecuador, defender of the indigenous, through Don Samuel Ruiz in Mexico, defender of indigenous peoples and workers, with Dom Pedro Casaldáliga in the Amazon, defender of peasants whose land was being snatched. And many others. They all promoted the Church of the poor.

I'm going to concentrate now on El Salvador because the Church took on specific features that I got to know. Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría, simultaneously, from ministry and theology, conceived and drove the construction of "a Church of the poor."[10] Due in part to the historical situation in which they had to live, it took on a remarkable depth. It became "the Church of the persecuted" and "the Church of the crucified." This language is not usually used, nor does it sufficiently recall the genius and creativity of Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría to speak thus of the true Church of Jesus. Let's look at it very briefly, interspersing the ideas of Monseñor and those of Ellacuría.

5.1 "Church of the poor"

I think Ellacuría is the one who best conceptualized the Church of the poor [11], twelve years after the Pact of the Catacombs. This conceptualization might seem unnecessary, but it isn't. Let's look at it. In the Church of the poor, the poor are not "part of the Church"[12] along with others, which wouldn't move beyond a regional focus, Ellacuría said. Nor is the ethical approach enough -- although a lot has to progress there --, since the Church of the poor "is not that which, being outside the world of the poor, generously offers them its help."[13]

In other words, the Church is not constituted independent of them to -- later -- be able to and have to wonder what to do with them, but rather "the poor are its main subject and its internal structuring principle."[14]. In operational terms, this means that how the pastoral work of the Church should be, the administration of the sacraments, ministries, Canon law, the exercise of authority, theology, Catholic social doctrine, all must be configured and historicized in each era, in an important way, according to the reality of the poor. And without forgetting that, in the best Christian tradition, "the poor are vicars of Christ." [15]

The poor are then the real place from which one should think about and configure the different realities in the Church. And the reason is theological-christological. "The union of God with men, such as occurs in Jesus Christ, is historically a union of a God poured out in His primary version into the world of the poor." [16] The poor form the Church from within. And turning towards them, it becomes a sacrament of salvation for all. "Becoming incarnate among the poor, finally devoting its life to them and dying for them, is how it can in a Christian way become an effective sign of salvation of all men."[17] And it emphasizes that "the poor and... only the poor in community can make the Church avoid both excessive institutionalization and its worldliness."[18]. That the poor can help in both things is a blessing, since institutionalization and worldliness are two serious dimensions of the sinfulness of the Church.

Monseñor Romero also thought about the reality of the Church and did it from a Christological perspective. His second pastoral letter is titled "The Church, The Body of Christ in History."[19] But before thinking about the reality of the Church that way, he constructed it. I remember well the night of March 12, 1977, when they murdered Rutilio Grande, together with the boy Nelson and the man Manuel. There was Archbishop Romero, nervous, shocked, affected. The courage and freedom with which he spoke denouncing the crime greatly impressed me. But thinking a lot about it, it later came to my mind that the first thing Monseñor did was "create an ecclesial body." In fact, he asked all of us to join him and help him. And without knowing it, he was building the corpus, the Church. During the following weeks, he convened many meetings at the Archbishopric. In El Salvador, that corpus around three corpses made the Church grow. And it made it grow as a Church of the poor.

Day to day, Monseñor Romero had immediate direct contact with the real poor, with their humanity, their suffering and hopes, with their courage to build humanity and Christianity, and also their failings. He himself lived in a hospital for poor women with incurable cancer, and in a cottage close to them. He frequently visited the poor in their cantons, and he received them in the Archbishopric with more devotion than to distinguished visitors. Also the Cathedral, his Sunday Chair, was poor. It had remained half rebuilt after the fire of 1951, but the moneyed people didn't offer to rebuild it. They did offer to build him an archbishop's palace. Monseñor did not accept it.

All this was in accordance with the Pact of the Catacombs. And it fell to Monseñor to take historic steps forward.

5.2 "Church of the crucified"

Both Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría were very sensitive to the state of poverty of Salvadorans, but more passionately, they were sensitive to the repression under which they lived -- their state of crucifixion. They didn't tolerate the cross of the people remaining ignored, but denounced the reality with words never heard before in the country. They analyzed the cross historically and biblically. And this, both when speaking of the people and of the Church.

Ellacuría theorized about the crucified people in three important articles. The first "Poor", 1978. "Here, crucified people means that community which, being the majority of humanity," is deprived of and impeded by some minorities from enjoying the basic resources to live."

The second is "The Crucified People, An Essay in Historical Soteriology."[20] In it he says, in a difficult leap of faith, that this people brings salvation. The crucified people light up our reality, offering a judgment upon our world. They show that the solutions put forward by the First World are not true, by not being universalizable, besides being bad ethically, because they are dehumanizing. The crucified people shine a light on what utopia can and must historically be. That utopia in today's world cannot be anything other than the civilization of poverty, everyone sharing the Earth's resources austerely, and the civilization of work, which must prevail over that of capital.

In another article in 1981, "Discerning the signs of the times"[21], he says that the crucified people are always those who characterize an era and through whom the servant of Yahweh is present.

And he expressed existentially what we must do in the face of the crucified people. In a lecture given in Valladolid, he concluded with these words:
"The only thing I would like -- because that "challenge" thing sounds very strong -- are two things: that you lay your heart and your eyes on those people who are suffering so much - some from poverty and hunger, others from oppression and repression - and then (since I am a Jesuit), that in the face of these crucified people, you would do Saint Ignatius' Colloquy in the first week of the Exercises, asking yourselves,"What have I done to crucify them? What am I doing to de-crucify them? What should I do so that these people might rise again?"
Monseñor Romero often spoke implicitely but very forcefully about the crucified people, and he certainly did so in his denunciations. He didn't reduce poverty to neediness, but expanded it to the oppression and death of the poor. "Above all else, I denounce the absolute of wealth. This is a great evil in El Salvador because wealth and private property are seen as untouchable absolutes. Ah, the person who touches this high tension wire is burned!" [22]. "That is the way the masses are manipulated...many people are controlled through hunger."[23] "I never tire of denouncing the abuse of human life by arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture."[24]. "Violence, murder, torture (which leaves so many dead), hacking with machetes, throwing into the sea --- people discarded. All this is the reign of hell."[25]

And Monseñor compared the crucified people with Christ crucified. On June 19, 1977, Monseñor went to Aguilares, when the army left the town after a month of having occupied it and perpetrated a few hundred murders of peasants. I remember perfectly how he began his homily: "I have the sad task of gathering up the bodies." In his homily he was tough on the criminals and reminded them the words of Scripture -- "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." In the Offertory, he presented to God the four women religious who had volunteered to replace the priests expelled from Aguilares. And to the peasants who, frightened, had not gone to church but could hear his words, he said, "You are an image of the wronged Divinity... You are the image of all people, who like yourselves [in Aguilares], have been pierced and abused."[26]

Monseñor also used to prepare his homilies thinking about the crucified people. So he said in his last Sunday homily, on the eve of being killed: "I ask the Lord during the week, while I gather the people's cries and the sorrow stemming from so much crime, the ignominy of so much violence, to give me the right words to console, to denounce, to call to repentance. Though I continue to be a voice that cries in the desert, I know that the Church is making the effort to fulfill its mission."[27]

He was committed to the crucified people until the end. "I want to assure you and I ask your prayers to be faithful to the promise that I will not abandon my people but will share with them all the risks that my ministry demands of me."[28]

It isn't normal to talk about the true Church as a persecuted Church. And less so to declare it blessed and rejoice in it. Monseñor Romero did it in an evangelical outburst: "I rejoice, my sisters and brothers, that our Church is persecuted precisely because of her preferential option for the poor, for attempting to incarnate herself in the concerns of the poor."[29] And in a greater outburst, he confessed: "It would be sad, if in a country where murder is being committed so horribly, we were not to find priests among the victims. They are the testimony of a Church incarnated in the problems of her people."[30]

And he was a happy man. To the head of a delegation of sister churches from the United States, in 1979, he said at the beginning of his homily: "As you return I ask that you simply express what you have seen and heard and bring with you the testimony that with this people it is not hard to be a good shepherd. They are a people that impel to their service...rather than a service...I see this as my duty which gives me great satisfaction."[31]

6. Pope Francis. The reform of the Church. 2015

I don't feel qualified to judge how the Church as a whole is today, or how the Pact of the Catacombs is -- or isn't -- being lived out in it. I will end with some brief reflections on the emergence of the Pope Francis. He is working for Church reform. He moves between denunciation and mercy. He is generating hope and encouraging everyone to make a pact to rebuild a poor and servant Church today. It is his way of making the Pact of the Catacombs present.

Pope Francis and the truth of our world. I think that the fundamental lie is to ignore evil, or more sophisticatedly, to inculcate that we have already found correct paths. It is true that small steps are being taken, but the globalization being invoked doesn't mean the homogenization of a planet that covers the basic needs of all. Much less the elimination of Lampedusas, Syrias, Slovenias, El Salvadors, Haitis and Kenyas... They are recurrent. Neither life nor human dignity are resolved matters, nor are they on the road to being resolved. One-third of the Salvadoran population no longer lives in their country, and something similar, and worse, is happening in Syria. The manner of migration is very often inhumane. What is happening in the Mediterranean is daunting. And the effective suppression by the powerful countries cries out to heaven -- they agree on many things, but not on what to do with the migrants. Pope Francis has unmasked it.

Pope Francis and the truth of the Church. The Pact of the Catacombs was a pact of bishops, of the "we", and hence we must ask ourselves how the episcopate is going, certainly today. Recently we have had a synod, i.e. a meeting of bishops, on the family. Many important questions about the family have been raised, about what to do with doctrine, and about the willingness to use mercy. But because of occurring at a synod of bishops, Pope Francis has made the Pact of the Catacombs resonate.

The "we" that the bishops of the Pact wrote, is very present. The encouragement he gives the bishops and his joy when the latter behave in a Christian manner, is clear. But it is also clear the seriousness with which he reacts towards that "we" when they behave badly. Sometimes clearly and very harshly.

Bishops, are we poor? Are we still determined to remain poor or to begin to be? Do we serve the poor, without anything, inside or outside the Church, weakening our decision? "The church must speak truthfully and also by her witness: the witness of poverty. If a believer speaks about poverty or the homeless and lives like a pharaoh, this is not good."

Pope Francis has set the Church in a Christian direction. Without giving the last word to doctrine, even without sometimes knowing how to reconcile it with Christian life, he has given the last word to compassion and mercy, like J.B. Metz, like Monseñor Romero, like Jesus of Nazareth. And looking at his whole discourse, he has stressed justice.

Pope Francis and Monseñor Romero. Coincidentally, Pope Francis mentioned Monseñor Romero recently. Two weeks ago, he told a group of Salvadorans who were visiting him in Rome that the Salvadoran bishops had slandered and vilified Monseñor Romero -- "They were stoning him with the hardest stone that exists in the world: the tongue." It is a serious way of insisting on the truth of the Church.

And it strikes me, personally, how Pope Francis reminds me of Monseñor Romero when he says these words: "I would like a world without poverty." Monseñor too. And he explained it well. In his September 23, 1979 homily, he felt compelled to explain how he answered a question that could get him in trouble. "I am asked: 'And when tomorrow things have been settled, what will the Church do?' I reply: 'It will keep on being the same.'...It will feel fortunate if tomorrow in a more just order it need not speak about so many injustices, but it will always have the task of building itself on the foundation of the gospel. We will have that work to do in times of peace or persecution."

These words of Monseñor make me think of Pope Francis and us today. I think that the Pope would answer more or less as Monseñor did. The issue is us, that we listen to Francis. It's understandable that there's speculation in the media about his growing or diminishing popularity, how long he can last -- even whether they might eliminate him, about how powerful his adversaries are, and so forth. On this, I have nothing to say.

Pope Francis has taken a step which, by its nature, leaves a mark in history and on the Church. But what I would like to stress is that the issue isn't Pope Francis, whether we like or dislike him, whether we applaud him publicly or boo him silently. The issue is us, whether we put into practice what we think is good about the Pope, and whether we steer clear of putting into practice what, according to our conscience, doesn't seem good to us.

I close with a sincere word of thanks in a world that isn't going well and a church of ambiguities.

Among those who are no longer among us, I thank Monseñor Romero, the martyrs of the UCA, whose anniversary we will celebrate the day after tomorrow. And many other martyrs. They have enriched the Pact of the Catacombs.

And among those who are with us, I want to sincerely thank Monsignor Luigi Bettazzi, the only survivor and symbol of the bishops who signed the Pact of the Catacombs.

All of them, and many other men and women, still give us hope and encouragement.

Many thanks.


[1] September 11, 1962

[2] Cited in Giuseppe Alberigo, Historia del Concilio Vaticano II, Spanish edition published by Peeters/Sígueme, 2002, pp. 197ff.

[3] J. L. Martín Descalzo, Un periodista en el Concilio I, Madrid, 1964, pp. 326ff.

[4] Ibid. p. 327.

[5] The first news only appeared three weeks later, on December 8th, in an article in Le Monde titled "Un groupe d' éveques anonymes s'engage à donner le temoignage extérieur d'une vie de stricte pauverté." Before, during the third session of the Council, two documents of the group had received the support of over 500 conciliar fathers: Simplicitas et paupertas evangelica and Ut in nostro ministerio primus locus pauperum evangelizationi tribuatur.

[6] The full text can be found in Carta a las Iglesias, San Salvador 590 (June 2009) 6-8. [Translator's Note: English translation of full text available here.]

[7] It is important to stress this fact. There were various Latin American bishops. From Brasil -- Antônio Fragoso, Francisco Austregésilo Mesquita Filho, João Batista da Mota e Albuquerque, Luiz Gonzaga Fernandes, Jorge Marcos de Oliveira, José Maria Pires, Helder Camara. From Chile -- Manuel Larraín of Talca. From Panama -- Marcos Gregorio McGrath. From Ecuador -- Leonidas Proaño from Riobamba. From Argentina -- Alberto Devoto from Goya, Vicente Faustino Zazpe from Rafaela, Juan José Iriarte from Reconquista. From Uruguay -- Alfredo Viola from Salto and his auxiliary Marcelo Mendiharat. From Colombia, Tulio Botero Salazar from Medellín and his auxiliary Medina, Muñoz Duqueder from Pamplona, Raul Zambrano from Focatativá, Angelo Cuniberti from Florencia. There were also other bishops from the Third World. Georges Mercier from the Sahara, Hakim from Nazareth, Haddad auxiliary from Beirut, Bernard Yago from Abidjan, Joseph Blomjous of Mwanza, Tanzania. From Asia, Charles Joseph de Melckebeke of Ningxia, China, and other bishops from Vietnam and Indonesia. And various bishops from the First World. From Canada, Gérard Marie Coderre from Saint-Jean-de-Québec. From Spain, Rafael González Moralejo auxiliary of Valencia. From Germany, Julius Angerhausen, auxiliary of Essen. From France, Guy Marie Riobé from Orleáns, Gérard Huyghe of Arras, Adrien Gand auxiliary of Lille. From Italy, Luigi Betazzi, auxiliary of Bologna. This data has been provided by José Oscar Beozzo.

[8] About the term "irruption", see my article "Recuperar y poner a producir a Jesús de Nazaret y su cruz en un mundo de pobres y oprimidos", Revista Latinoamericana de Teología 82 (2011) 49-51

[9] In "getting the irruption" there is something of greater cognitive depth than in the process of "scrutinizing and discerning what's real." ersonally this reminds me some words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. It is well known that Saint Ignatius was a believer in "seeking the will of God" and putting it into practice. Hence his important thoughts on "discernment" and the wise rules he left us to get to practicing it, which today is considered central in Ignatian Spirituality and is well received in spiritual retreats. Personally, however, what has most struck me is what Saint Ignatius says when talking about the election of state, no small matter. Undoubtedly one has to come to discern what God wants for the individual person, and he gives wise advice for that. But the priority is "first to make good and sound election" (n.175). That happens when the choice is made "without doubting or being able to doubt." The reason is that "Our Lord God" draws the soul in such a way that there is no possible doubt. In this context, I usually repeat that the community of Jesuits who were murdered in El Salvador, even in the face of abundant serious threats, never discerned whether to stay in the country or leave. That was not a subject of discernment. There was something of the "without doubting or being able to doubt."

[10] Think there was concurrency, and Ellacuría definitely felt indebted to Monseñor Romero. See what I wrote in "Monseñor Romero y la fe de Ignacio Ellacuría", in Jon Sobrino/R.Alvarado (eds.), Ignacio Ellacuría, "Aquella libertad esclarecida", 1999, pp.11-23

[11] See the cited article "La Iglesia de los pobres, sacramento histórico de liberación".

[12] Ibid. 717

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See the book by J. I. González Faus, Vicarios de Cristo en la teología y la espiritualidad, Trotta, Madrid, 1991.

[16] "La Iglesia de los pobres"

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] In Cartas Pastorales y Discursos de Monseñor Oscar A. Romero, Centro Monseñor Romero 18, San Salvador 2007, pp. 39-66.

[20] He wrote it in 1978 at the request of the Centro de Reflexión Teológica in Mexico as preparation for Puebla. After his death, it was published in Revista Latinoamericana de Teología 18 (1989) 318. It has previously appeared in Cruz y Resurrección, México, 1978, pp. 49-82.

[21] Published in Diakonia 18 (1981) 57-59.

[22] Homily on August 12, 1979, V 208.

[23] Homily on December 16, 1979, VI 61.

[24] Homily on June 24, 1979, V 38.

[25] Homily on July 1, 1979, V 62.

[26] Homily of June 19, 1977, I 150. Monseñor Romero took the expression from Zech 12, 1b-14, which was the first reading of the Mass... In the text of Zechariah the wronged one is God Himself. The New Testament applies Zechariah's prophecy to Jesus on the cross in Jn 19:37. That's what Monseñor did.

[27] Homily on March 23, 1980, VI 426.

[28] Homily on November 11, 1979 homily, V 530.

[29] Homily on July 15, 1979, V 110.

[30] Homily on June 30, 1979, V 56.

[31] Homily on November 18, 1979, V 543s.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Examination before the Witness to the Truth

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
November 22, 2015

John 18:33-37

Within the trial at which Jesus' execution will be decided, the gospel of John offers a surprising private dialogue between Pilate, a representative of the most powerful empire on Earth, and Jesus, a handcuffed inmate who appears as a witness to the truth.

Pilate apparently wants to know precisely the truth that lies in this strange character he has before his throne. "Are you the King of the Jews?" Jesus responds by exposing his truth in two fundamental assertions, very dear to the evangelist John.

"My kingdom is not of this world." Jesus isn't king in the way Pilate might imagine. He doesn't aim to occupy the throne of Israel or dispute Tiberius' imperial power. Jesus doesn't belong to this system in which the prefect from Rome moves, supported by injustice and lies. He doesn't lean on the force of weapons. He has a completely different base. His kingship comes from God's love for the world.

But then he adds something very important, "I am king...and I have come into the world to testify to the truth." He wants to exercise his kingship in this world, but in a surprising way. He hasn't come to rule like Tiberius but to be a "witness to the truth", introducing God's love and justice into human history.

The truth that Jesus brings with him isn't a theoretical doctrine. It's a call that can change people's lives. Jesus had said it, "If you remain in my will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Being faithful to the Gospel of Jesus is a unique experience since it leads to knowing a liberating truth, capable of making our life more human.

Jesus Christ is the only truth we Christians are allowed to live on.

Don't we in Jesus' Church need to make a collective examination of conscience before the "Witness to the Truth"? Dare to discern with humility what's true and what's false in our following of Jesus? Where there is liberating truth and where there are lies that enslave us? Don't we need to take steps towards greater levels of human gospel truth in our lives, our communities, and our institutions?

Christian convictions

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
November 15, 2015

Mark 13:24-32

The disciples that had known Jesus are gradually dying. Those who remain believed in him without having seen him. They celebrate his invisible presence in the Eucharists but when would they see his face full of life? When would their wish to meet him forever come true?

They go on remembering Jesus' words with love and faith. They were their food in those difficult times of persecution. But, when would they be able to verify the truth they contained? Wouldn't they be gradually forgotten? The years were passing and the much expected "Last Day" didn't come. What could they think?

The apocalyptic discourse we find in Mark seeks to offer some convictions that are to nourish their hope. We are not to understand them in a literal sense but try to discover the faith contained in these images and symbols that are so strange to us today.

First conviction: The fascinating history of Humanity will someday reach its end. The "sun" that signals the succession of the years will go dark. The "moon" that marks the rhythm of the months will no longer shine. There will be no days or nights; there will be no time. Moreover, "the stars will be falling from the sky", the distance between heaven and earth will be erased, there will no longer be space. This life isn't forever. Someday, definitive Life will come, without space or time. We will live in the Mystery of God.

Second conviction: Jesus will return and his followers will finally be able to see his face as they wish -- "they will see the Son of Man coming." The sun, the moon and the stars will go dark, but the world won't remain without light. Jesus will illuminate it forever, putting truth, justice and peace in human history so enslaved by abuse, injustice, and lies today.

Third conviction: Jesus will bring with him God's salvation. He is coming with the great saving power of the Father. He isn't appearing in a menacing way. The gospel writer avoids talking about judgement and condemnation here. Jesus is coming to "gather his elect," those who await his salvation with faith.

Fourth conviction: Jesus' words "will not pass away." They will not lose their saving power. They are to continue feeding the hope of his followers and the spirits of the poor. We aren't going towards nothingness and the void. God's embrace awaits us.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

José Oscar Beozzo: "Pact of the Catacombs, for a poor and servant Church"

By Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Periodista Digital
November 14, 2015

This Monday, November 16th, is the 50th anniversary of the Pact of the Catacombs, through which a group of bishops participating in Vatican II made a commitment to a poor and servant Church. That Pact was embodied in a celebration held in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla, which involved 42 bishops who were later joined by many others, up to about 500 signatories.

Brazilian theologian José Oscar Beozzo, a diocesan priest in the Diocese of Lins (Sao Paulo), a graduate school professor at ITESP (Instituto de Teología de São Paulo -- "Sao Paulo Theology Institute" per its acronym in Portuguese) and at the Centro Ecuménico de Servicios a la Evangelización y Educación Popular (CESEEP, per its acronym in Portuguese), a Latin American ecumenical center that seeks to train leaders in the working class sector, assisting unions and political parties, has recently published a book in which he has aimed to make a small study of this moment which he deems fundamental in the life of the Church, titled "Pacto das Catacumbas, por uma Igreja Servidora e Pobre" ["Pact of the Catacombs, for a poor and servant Church"].

Among other things in favor of Beozzo, the fact that he was among the group of theologians that prepared the Puebla Conference [of CELAM], although he wouldn't attend it later, and having participated actively as a theological adviser at the Conferences of Santo Domingo and Aparecida, as well as at the Synod of the Americas in 1997.

In this interview, he shows us the importance of the Pact of the Catacombs, its current implications, and what Liberation Theology has brought to the Latin American theological and social situation.

What was the Pact of the Catacombs and what did it mean for the Catholic Church?

It was a decision of the Council, that had already since the First Session formed a group called "Church of the Poor," to think about the whole issue of the Council starting from the poor, their questions and anxieties, realizing quickly that they weren't getting a lot of results because amid the many interventions of those attending, discussions and successive drafts of the various committees, it was very difficult to make any statement that would refer to what the group intended. In preparing the texts, there were many modifications, anecdotally on the last vote on Gaudium et Spes, twenty thousand proposed amendments came up.

The group felt that, on the one hand, there was some sympathy with what they said and they had been heard, but their proposals weren't getting embodied in the texts. In the last session, they thought of making a gesture, without it being something to blame the others, as a personal commitment. Being very respectful, they held a discreet celebration and then went to the rest, offering the possibility of signing the pact. With great surprise, they saw about 500 bishops join.

How many participated in the celebration?

Forty-two bishops were present.

When and where did that celebration take place?

On November 16, 1965 in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla, in the Basilica of the martyrs Nereus and Achilleus.

Of the bishops who participated in that celebration, is anyone still alive?

None of them is alive. In the list appear five Brazilians, six really, since one of them had been bishop for a week and was accompanying the Archbishop of Vitoria, to whom he was an auxiliary. That bishop, Monsignor Luis Fernandez, would later be the one to initiate the interchurch meetings of the Base Ecclesial Communities (BECs), which still continue to be held throughout Brazil. With him were Archbishop Antonio Batista Fragoso, bishop of Crateus, Monsignor Henrique Golland Trindade, archbishop of Botucatu, Monsignor Jose Alberto Lopes de Castro Pinto, auxiliary of Rio de Janeiro, Monsignor Francisco Austregésilo de Mesquita Filho, bishop of Afogados da Ingazeira, and Monsignor João Batista da Mota Alburquerque, archbishop of Vitoria.

Among the Spanish bishops, Monsignor Rafael González Moralejo, auxiliary bishop of Valencia from 1958 to 1969 and later bishop of Huelva from 1969 to 1993, was present.

Could we say that the Pact of the Catacombs is what Pope Francis intends when he states that he doesn't want bishop princes?

The Pact starts by saying, "Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the ordinary manner of our people." And it continues, "We renounce forever wealth and the appearance thereof, especially in clothing."

The idea of the signatories was not deviating from what the people have, or rather, what they don't have, and many of those bishops left their palaces and went to live in simple homes. Dom Helder gave Manguinhos Palace to be the seat of the diocesan ministries and went to live in the sacristy of a church on the outskirts, Igreja das Fronteiras. Monsignor Antonio Fragoso lived in a simple house in a working class neighborhood. And there were others who weren't there but assumed the same spirit, such as Monsignor Paulo Evaristo Arns in Sao Paulo, who sold the Episcopal Palace and destined [the proceeds] for buying 1,200 plots on the outskirts, where community centers were built, worship places for the base ecclesial communities, and went to live in a simple house too.

What they wanted to convey was that what belongs to the Church belongs to the poor and therefore, if the Church has lands, they must be distributed among the poor. Dom Helder did that in the so-called Operation Hope, through which he gave the lands of the Archdiocese of Recife to the farmers, giving them technical training, with the support of the Community of Taize, from France. These kinds of actions were repeated in different parts of Brazil, highlighting the idea that what belongs to the Church belongs to the poor.

What is the aim of your new book, recently published, that addresses the subject of the Pact of the Catacombs?

In some countries, such as Italy and Spain, the publisher Verbo Divino has published a book on that subject, translated into different languages. In Brazil, the text of the Pact was published in a five volume work that tells what happened at the Council, but isn't very accessible. What I've published is a little notebook that begins by explaining what the Pact of the Catacombs was.

About each of the 13 commitments at the time they were written, what the inspiration was was discussed, always taking some biblical texts as reference, which have been put in the published book, as well as texts of Vatican II that have to do with the choice they made. It came to be a conversation with Scripture, with the Council, and with the commitment of the bishops. At the end of the book the list of signatories appears as well as pictures of the catacombs and of a visit by Cardinal Montini to a favela in Rio de Janeiro with Dom Helder, one of the principal drafters of the Pact, despite not being present on the day of the Mass in the Catacombs as he had to participate in the committee that was creating the final draft of Gaudium et Spes. Images of Monsignor Enrique Angelelli, one of those who signed the pact and then was killed by the military in Argentina, also appear.

Why has the Church forgotten these different proposals so quickly?

It didn't forget, as there were bishops who took this so seriously that they decided to meet every year for ten days to pray, review what the Pact proposes and make decisions in accordance with the new situation, in a prophetic way.

This group remains alive in Latin America and it meets every year in Sao Paulo, with the attendance of Latin American bishops from various countries. At the beginning this group met in different countries, but since some were detained in Ecuador in 1976, the meetings have focused on the Brazilian city.

At the end of the day it's what happened in the Council, where the signatories of the Pact were a minority among the participants. Prophets are always a fraction; what's important is that they be able to drag others along as have [the late] Dom Tomás Balduíno, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, Dom José María Pires, who, despite being few, dragged the Church in Brazil at a key moment, with a prophetic attitude, being architects of documents from their insight and gospel witness that were able to raise the awareness of all the bishops, or influence them, as happened at Medellin and more recently at Aparecida.

The ecclesial model has been changing little by little but is it possible, 50 years after the Council, with Pope Francis and his new ecclesial sensibilities, to come back again to the spirit of the Pact of the Catacombs in the Latin American Church?

I think many kept that spirit and when a seed is buried and it doesn't rain...But Pope Francis came so that it might rain and therefore, I hope that many of these seeds that have been dormant will now be reborn. In that sense, young people are appearing who are moving in this direction, like the young woman from Uruguay who commented to me that they're going to hold a vigil remembering the Pact and the martyrdom of the Jesuits in El Salvador. It's a propitious moment to launch all this again.

Has that Liberation Church, which has as one of its foundations the Pact of the Catacombs, died, as some say?

The Continental Congress of Theology, organized by the Liberation Church, is one proof of the contrary. Whoever says that, it's because they would like it to be so, since they've already killed it and buried it many times, but it's still alive, just like they killed and buried Jesus and He is living.

What does this Liberation Church bring to the Latin American situation?

I think that it keeps alive the idea that the glory of God is the life of the poor and the defense of life of the poor. What is happening with indigenous peoples, with those living on the periphery, with young blacks, is slaughter. I think you have to be on the side of life, but exposing the roots of that, since it's not enough to help the victims and we do need to understand why so many people continue to suffer in a system that has been getting worse since the sixties. It has become global, the mechanisms of domination have been internationalized and perfected, especially in the financial field.

That Church continues to have martyrs, like Sister Dorothy Stang, under new circumstances, such as lack of respect for nature, which shows a new side of the struggle for life, which is to preserve the environment. In this regard, Pope Francis will have the gift of arousing new commitment among people who were already fighting but thought they were alone.

The Continental Congress of Theology also shows we aren't alone, that there are many people working in many countries and that it's important to meet, like the councils in the Church, to renew our faith and commitment.

Is the spirit of the Pact of the Catacombs the basic spirit of the Council, that didn't manage to develop afterwards?

We should note a few things. Lumen Gentium made some fundamental changes, defining the Church as the People of God. But in Lumen Gentium, in number 8, it says that just as Jesus became poor, the Church must become poor; as He served, the Church must serve. It's a small text, that failed to make Lumen Gentium start there, but in Medellin, the text on the Church speaks of poverty in the Church, as appears in number 14, which would amount to the concretization of Lumen Gentium in Medellin.

This shows that the Latin American Church welcomed the gist of the Pact of the Catacombs with the option for the poor, rethinking the Church based on the poor, reiterating it at Puebla and showing as a novelty the idea that the poor evangelize us because they challenge the Church to be more faithful to the Gospel of Jesus.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Leonardo Boff: Letter of Support to Pope Francis

During the Second Continental Theology Congress that was held October 26-30, 2015 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, liberation theologian Leonardo Boff drafted a letter of support for Pope Francis which was co-signed, according to Boff's blog where the original Portuguese version of the letter appears, by about 300 of the conference participants. The full text of the letter in English follows:

Dear Pope Francis:

Many of us in Latin America, the Caribbean, and in other parts of the world are following with concern the opposition and attacks against you by a conservative but powerful minority in and outside the Church. Perplexed, we have witnessed something unheard of in recent centuries -- a stand taken by some cardinals against your way of conducting the Synod and, most of all, the universal Church.

A strictly personal letter addressed to you was leaked to the press, as happened with your encyclical Laudato Si', in clear violation of the principles of ethical journalism.

Such groups posit a return to the model of Church of the past, conceived more as a closed fortress than as "a field hospital always open to welcome those who knock at her doors," a Church that should "seek to welcome humankind today not with closed doors, which would betray herself and her mission, and that instead of being a bridge, would become a barrier." These were your brave words.

The pastoral attitude of the kind of Church proposed in your speeches and in your symbolic gestures, is characterized by warm love, by a living encounter between people and with Christ present among us, by mercy without limits, by the "revolution of tenderness," and by pastoral conversion. This implies that the pastor has a "sheep smell" because he lives with them and accompanies them along the way.

We regret that the most such groups do is say "no." We remind our brothers of the most obvious things in Jesus' message. He didn't come to say "no." On the contrary, he came to say "yes." Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians reminds us that "the Son of God was always 'yes,' because all of God's promises are 'yes' in Jesus." (2 Cor. 1:20)

In the Gospel of John, Jesus states explicitly, "If anyone comes to me, I will not send them away." (Jn. 6:37) It could be a prostitute, a leper, a fearful theologian like Nicodemus - he welcomed everyone with love and mercy.

The basic characteristic of the God of Jesus, "Abba," is His limitless mercy (Lk. 6:36) and His preferential love for the poor, the sick, and sinners (Lk. 5:32, 6:21). Rather than founding a new religion with the pious faithful, Jesus came to teach us to live and carry out the central message of the Kingdom of God whose properties are love, compassion, forgiveness, solidarity, hunger and thirst for justice, and the joy of everyone feeling like the beloved sons and daughters of God.

The attempts to delegitimize your way of being Bishop of Rome and Pope of the universal Church, being guided more by charity than by canon law, more by collegiality and cooperation than by the solitary exercise of power, will be in vain because nothing resists goodness and tenderness, of which you have given us a splendid example. From history, we learn that where power prevails, love disappears and mercy becomes extinct, core values of your preaching and of Jesus'.

In this context, given the new planetary phase of history and threats to the life-system and system-Earth boldly pointed out in your encyclical Laudato Si' on "care for our common home," we want to close ranks around you and show our full support for you and your ministry, your open pastoral vision of the Church and the charismatic manner through which you makes us feel like the Church is our spiritual home again. And there are many from other denominations and religions and in the secular world who support and admire you for your way of speaking and acting.

It is not insignificant that most Catholics live in the Americas, in Africa, and in Asia where one notes great vitality and creativity in dialogue with the different cultures, showing various faces of the same Church of Christ. The Catholic Church today is a Third World church since only 25% of Catholics live in Europe. The future of the Church is being decided in these regions where the Holy Spirit is blowing strongly.

The Catholic Church can not remain hostage to Western culture which is a regional culture, however great the merits that it has accumulated. It is necessary for it to de-westernize, opening up the process of globalization which favors the meeting of cultures and spiritual paths.

Dear Pope Francis: You share the fate of the Master and the Apostles who were also misunderstood, maligned and persecuted.

But we are calm because we know that you take such tribulations in the spirit of the Beatitudes. You bear them with humility. You ask forgiveness for the sins of the Church and follow in the footsteps of the Nazarene.

We want to be by your side, supporting you in your liberating gospel vision of the Church, giving you courage and inner strength to refresh for us, through words and gestures, the tradition of Jesus, made of love, mercy, compassion, intimacy with God and solidarity with suffering humanity.

Finally, dear Pope Francis, continue to show everyone that the gospel is good for all humankind, that the Christian message is an inspirational force in the "care for our common home," generating a bit of anticipation of an Earth reconciled with herself, with all human beings, with nature, and especially with the Father who has shown a Mother's traits of infinite goodness and tenderness. In the end, we can say together, "all is very good." (Gen. 1:31)

Photo: Leonardo Boff reads his proposed letter to participants in the Second Continental Theology Congress.

The Contrast

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
November 8, 2015

Mark 12:38-44

There is a total contrast between the two scenes. In the first, Jesus puts the people on guard against the scribes of the temple. Their religion is false -- they're using it to seek their own glory and exploit the weakest. They are not to admire them or follow their example. In the second, Jesus observes the gesture of a poor widow and calls his disciples. They can learn something from this woman that the scribes will never teach them -- total faith in God and boundless generosity.

Jesus' criticism of the scribes is harsh. Instead of guiding people towards God, seeking His glory, they are drawing the people's attention to themselves, seeking their own credit. They like to "go around in long robes" seeking people's greetings and bows. In the liturgy in the synagogues and at banquets, they seek "seats of honor" and "top places."

But there's something that undoubtedly hurts Jesus more than this fatuous and childish behavior of being gazed at, saluted and revered. While they put on an appearance of deep piety with their "long prayers" in public, they take advantage of their religious prestige to live at the expense of the widows, the weakest and most helpless beings in Israel according to biblical tradition.

Indeed, one of these widows will expose the corrupt religion of these religious leaders. Her gesture has gone unnoticed by everyone, but not by Jesus. The poor woman has only thrown into the temple treasury two small coins, but Jesus calls his disciples right away as it will be hard for them to find in the temple environment a more religious heart in solidarity with the needy.

This widow isn't seeking any rewards or prestige; she acts quietly and humbly. She doesn't think of exploiting anyone; on the contrary, she gives all she has because others might need it. According to Jesus, she has given more than anyone, since she isn't giving from her surplus but "all she has to live on."

Make no mistake. These simple people with large and generous hearts who know how to love unreservedly, are the best we have in the Church. They're the ones who make the world more humane, who truly believe in God, who keep alive the spirit of Jesus amid other false and self-interested religious attitudes. From these people, we must learn to follow Jesus. They are the ones who are most like him.