Pedro Casaldáliga’s Open Letter to Brother Romero

Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga

In March 2005, I attended the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Jesuit Central American University [UCA] in San Salvador. Brazilian poet and bishop Pedro Casaldáliga was scheduled to attend, but was delayed due to illness. In his stead, he sent an “Open Letter to Brother Romero” to the gathering for the Week of Theological Reflection. It was read there by the famous little bishop of Chiapas, Mexico, Don Samuel Ruiz. Afterwards, I was invited to be on a small team that translated Casaldáliga “open letter” into English. They wanted a poet to help with Casaldáliga’s precise, rich poetic allusions. Below is his letter, with notes following:


I should be there with you… and I am: with my whole heart. You are very present in the thoughts of all of us in this small church of São Félix de Araguaia, my brother. I can see you in my own room, in the chapel of the patio, in our cathedral, in many communities, in the Sanctuary of the Mártires de la Caminada Latinoamericana. You are even present when a mango falls on my roof and I remember how your heart would lurch when the mangos fell on the tin roof of your little refuge at the Hospitalito.*

In the month of March in 1983, I wrote in my diary: I either can´t understand it at all, or I understand it all too well: the photograph of the martyred Monseñor Romero with Pope John Paul II, on some huge posters for the Pope’s visit was banned by the joint church-government commission in El Salvador. * The image of the martyr was painful. Naturally, it would bother a Government that was persecutor and assassin. It is also natural that it would be painful to a certain sector of the church. Sadly natural.

Well, anyway, once again this month of March, all of us here in this little corner of Mato Grosso, and throughout the Americas as well as around the world, many Christian men and women and also non Christians celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Romero, the good shepherd of Latin America. Your image comforts us; it commits us and unites us, like a deeply felt version of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

And now we are here, millions, celebrating in many ways the Jubilee Year of your definitive testimony, that homily written in blood that no one can silence. You have the power to bring us together, a macro-ecumenical power as saint of Catholics, Protestants and even of atheists. We are there celebrating, rebuilding, accepting your call. You call us to a commitment, like Jesus of Nazareth did, that historic Jesus who so many times is reduced to helenistic dogma and sentimental spiritualism. That Jesus the Poor, in solidarity with the poor, the Crucified one with all the crucified peoples of History.

You were right, and we also want to celebrate this, with Easter joy. You have been reborn in your people, who will no longer be submissive to the empire and the oligarchies. Nor will they allow themselves to be swayed by repentant former revolutionaries or by overly-spiritualized church leaders. You are reborn in the People—we are millions of dreamers, both women and men, who believe that another world is possible and that another Church is possible. Because the way things are now, brother Romero, neither the other world nor the other Church is yet in view. Wars continue, now even preemptive wars; hunger continues, strikes, violence—either by the state or a mob; sham democracies, false progress, false gods that dominate through money and the media, with weapons and politics. And a large part of the church remains silent. We have moved from the doctrine of National Security to that of transnational capital and we’ve gone from military dictatorships to the macro dictatorship of the neoliberal empire.

It’s also been 25 years since Puebla. The faces, Romero–the faces of the “slaughtered”* Jesus–are more numerous and more disfigured today. And those utopian revolutions–beautiful and naive as though in an adolescent stage of history–betrayed by some, tremendously denigrated by others, are missed by many of us here–but we would want them to be different, gentler, more profoundly personal and communitarian. We are here with you, pastor of accompaniment, companion of the poor of the Earth in grief and in blood. How much we need today for you to show the poor how to become one body in solidarity, organization, and stubborn hope!

In you, said teacher and martyr Ellacuria,* “God has walked through El Salvador” and through our entire world. And the ground breaking theologian, José María Vigil has made three bold statements about you that, more than statements of belief, are urgent challenges for us for us take up.

“Romero: preeminent symbol of the option for the poor and of liberation theology;
Romero: preeminent symbol of the conflict between the State and those who make the option for the poor; Romero: preeminent symbol of the conflict between the institutional church and those who make the option for the poor.”

It’s not that you ever stopped being “institutional” and observant in your vocation. I always admired in you the way you married discipline and freedom, traditional piety and Liberation Theology, and the most daring prophecy and the most generous forgiveness.

You were a saint in the making, undergoing a constant process of conversion. It has been repeatedly said to your credit that you were a “converted” bishop. One with God and with the People, without dichotomy. “I have to listen,” you said, “to the Spirit speaking through the People.” This was in your homily of March 23 1980, the day before your ultimate sacrifice, and your homily had the most appropriate title, “The Church at the Service of Personal, Communitarian, Transcendent Liberation.”

Romero, we remember you so often, my exemplary brother, because we need you so much. You encourage us, you continue offering us a homily of wholistic liberation. You continue crying out “stop the repression” to all repressive forces in society, in the churches, in religions. You warn us that “those who commit themselves to the poor will share the same fate as the poor: to be disappeared, tortured, captured, and to reappear as corpses.” And you remind us that when we commit to the cause of the poor we are merely “preaching the subversive witness of the beatitudes, which have turned everything upside-down.”

You trusted us—and we won’t let you down—that “as long as there is injustice, there will be Christians who denounce it and put themselves on the side of the victims.” As you asked for it to be, your blood has truly been a “seed of liberty.”

Our memory of you is not simply nostalgia nor is it a sacramentalized veneration that lingers like incense in the air; we want it to be, we will make it, a militant commitment, a ministry of liberation. Our theologian, the theologian of the martyrs, Jon Sobrino, sums up for us the evangelical and political task that the work of the Kingdom demands of us in fidelity to your memory: to confront reality with truth; to analyze reality and its causes; to work for structural change, to carry out an evangelization that is mature, freeing, critical and self critical; to build the Church as a people of God; to give hope to the People who suffer so much….

This week of your Jubilee, in San Salvador, will end up being a people’s synod, an encounter of aspirations and commitments within the conciliar process we are living. It will be a great Easter Vigil with emphasis on you and so many other faithful witnesses, those known and those anonymous, but all recorded in luminous letters in the Book of Life, followers loyal to the end to that ultimate Faithful Witness.

“We are once again en marche bearing witness,” I said to you in the poem I wrote about you. And it’s true. We are part of the great World Social Forum, with the Gospel and for the Kingdom, making another World possible, and also another Church—a church that is liberating and united. We are making an immense Homeland, Our America* with the Caribbean and with the South and with our indispensable Central America; with another North, finally part of the same family, no longer empire.

They are announcing a fifth Latin American Bishops’ Conference, possibly for 2007, and we hope that it will be held in Latin America. Help in the preparations, brother. All the saints of Our America need to work celestial overtime so that this Conference be another Medellin, but for today.

We will continue to talk, brother Romero. Every day. You are accompanying us, from your place of complete Peace, on this arduous and liberating path of the Gospel. So many times, like the disciples at Emmaus, we feel cheated, directionless, because “we thought that…”

People have said that your last homily was your last words, your last testament. You wrote other last words, even stronger, but not as well known. On April 19th of April in that year of 1980, Bishop Arturo Rivera Damas, apostolic administrator of San Salvador, wrote to me: … we have taken the liberty of including with this letter a letter that our beloved Monseñor Romero had written to you on the very day of his murder and that he would have signed that night. We thank you for your Christian solidarity with him and with our Church and we ask you to always pray that we can continue the work that the Lord and the Church have entrusted to us according to the criteria which Monseñor Romero used…”

Your letter, Romero, which we keep in our archives and treasure as a “relic,” reads like a prayer:

… My dear brother bishop:

With great affection, I thank you for your fraternal message expressing your sorrow about the destruction of our radio transmitter.

Your warm expression of support greatly encourages us in our commitment to our mission to continue to be the expression of the hopes and anguish of the poor, joyfully running the same risks as Jesus, because of our identification with the just cause of the dispossessed.

In the light of faith, feel me closely bound to you in affection, prayer and in the triumph of the Resurrection.

Oscar A. Romero, Archbishop

These last words that you wrote, and signed with your blood, could not have been more Christian.

Beloved Saint Romero of America, brother, pastor, witness: you lived and gave your life because you truly believed in “the triumph of the Resurrection.” Help us to truly believe in this triumph, so that we might live–and give our lives as you did–with the poor of the Earth, following the Crucified Resurrected Jesus.– Pedro Casaldáliga, 24 March 2005

Translated by Yvonne Dilling, Irene Hodgson, and Rose Marie Berger
Notes from the translators:

This letter was sent to the gathering of the Week of Theological Reflection for the 25th aniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero at the Jesuit Central American University [UCA] in San Salvador) and read there by Don Samuel Ruiz, retired bishop of Chiapas, Mexico.

We have left “monseñor” in Spanish when it refers to Romero. “Monseñor” is often used to name Romero without his last name. Translating it as ”bishop” or “archbishop” creates a distance not there in the Spanish.

Pedro Casadáliga is a poet. We have tried to preserve as much of the poetry in this translation as possible and, as much as possible, to leave open to the reader’s interpretation the multiplicity of meanings in certain phrases.

*“Hospitalito” refers to the Divine Providence Hospital for indigent cancer patients where Mons. Romero had a little house.

* There have been two posters made of Pope John Paul II connected with Romero in El Salvadaor: one with the two walking together; another of the Pope kneeling at Romero’s first tomb. It is said that the Vatican was not happy about either one of them.

*The author is making an allusion to a phrase in a sermon by Fr. Rutilio Grande, who first used the word “destazado” to describe how Jesus was killed on the cross. The Spanish word is typically only used to describe the slaughter of animals. Guillermo Cuéllar heard this sermon and popularized this same image from Fr. Grande in “Cordero de Dios” (“Lamb of God”), one of the songs from the Misa Popular Salvadoreña.

*Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J., murdered at the Jesuit university November 16, 1989.

*“Our America” and the hopes for a new kind of relationship with the “brother” to the North are reminders to a Latin American audience of essays by Cuban writer and hero of the Independence, José Martí, called the “apostle of the Americas.” What we have translated as “immense homeland” contains language used to describe the “great” regions of Latin America before they were divided into individual countries.

* “Con los pobres de la tierra” is a line from the Versos sencillos de José Martí (above) and used in the popular song “Guantanamera.”

Elaine Enns: Martin King, Vietnam, Iraq

Today is marks 14 years since the U.S. reinitiated bombing Iraq as part of the second Gulf War, now called “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” We are also approaching the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Silence” speech, one of the most significant speeches in American history.

Over at Radical Discipleship, they’ve been hosting a series of short essays on sections of King’s speech. Today’s by Elaine Enns focuses on the section where Dr. King says, “Ho Chi Minh has watched as America has spoken of peace and built up its forces, and now he has surely heard the increasing international rumors of American plans for an invasion of the north. He knows the bombing and shelling and mining we are doing are part of traditional pre-invasion strategy.”

Below is an excerpt from Elaine’s essay:

In 1990, shortly after I arrived in California from my home place of Saskatoon, SK I got to witness firsthand the lies and propaganda of the first Gulf War. But 13 years later, during the second Gulf War, was my baptism by fire into this reality. In the spring of 2003, Ched [Myers] and I were visiting professors at Memphis Theological Seminary and Christian Brothers University.  We learned quickly that many folks in the “Bible belt” South didn’t like to hear U.S. policy criticized or a war effort questioned.   I was teaching a class at Christian Brothers University; half of the students were African American women. In January our class began by looking at basic Restorative Justice theory and practice, which set the context for difficult but meaningful discussions during the days leading up to the second Bush invasion of Iraq in March. It was during this time that Ched and I first started using the King sermon to speak truth to this new chapter in American duplicity – the relentless fabrication of Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Up until that time, my experience in teaching Restorative Justice had been that once students wrestled with more complex narratives of violation, and mapped them on the “spiral of violence” model they tended to question the dominant paradigm of retributive justice (see Ambassadors Vol 11). However, in the early days of this second Gulf War, the majority of my white students remained stuck in the prevailing war propaganda. Each class became more difficult for me, and I only survived because of the Black students who privately thanked me, saying “we never have conversations like this here.” In one poignant exchange, a Black mother of two small children revealed with fear and frustration that she was being deployed to Iraq; we cried together. (The fact that there is still a disproportionate number of people of color in the “volunteer” military underlines the persistence of the “economic conscription” King called out in this sermon.)–Elaine Enns

Read Elaine’s whole essay.

1 April 2017: Walking into the Future with Jesus, Martin, and Francis

This April 1 gathering in DC will be a wonderful opportunity to hear some deep Bible from Terry Rynne and some soul-jolting power from Lisa Sharon Harper–and I’ll do my best to bring the wisdom of Francis (past and present) into the mix.

1 April 2017 at 8:30a – Noon.WALKING INTO THE FUTURE WITH JESUS, MARTIN, & FRANCIS.” Location:  Friends Meetinghouse (Dupont Circle 2111 Florida Ave. NW, Washington, DC). Register here.

As the Trump presidency unfolds, panelists Terrence Rynne, Lisa Sharon Harper, and Rose Marie Berger will situate this historical moment in the context of Jesus’ radical Gospel Nonviolence, the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, and our hope for renewal in the church and the world.

Rose Marie Berger, Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners, has rooted herself with Sojourners magazine ( and ministry for more than 30 years. She is currently active in the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, which formed in 2016 following a landmark April meeting in Rome on Catholics and Nonviolence ( Terrence J. Rynne is Professor of Peace Studies at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI, where he founded the University’s Center for Peacemaking. Lisa Sharon Harper is Chief Church Engagement Officer at Sojourners.

Pax Christi Metro DC-Baltimore is a region of Pax Christi USA, the national Catholic peace and justice movement. Through prayer, study, and action, we work as individuals and in groups to build a just and peaceful world, witnessing to Jesus’s message and example of nonviolence. To register, go to

Merton: ‘It’s a huge gang battle’

“The world is full of great criminals with enormous power, and they are in a death struggle with each other. It is a huge gang battle, using well-meaning lawyers and policemen and clergymen as their front, controlling papers, means of communication, and enrolling everybody in their armies.”–Thomas Merton to Ernesto Cardenal, November 17, 1962

Looking for Nonviolence and Active Bystander Intervention Training?

What Kind of Nonviolence Training Do You Need?
Read Rivera Sun’s round-up on types of nonviolence training to determine what will work best for your group. Read Rose Berger’s When You See Something … Act (April 2017 Sojourners).

Are you looking for Peace Team, Active Bystander and Nonviolent  Intervention Training?

What you’ll learn: In this training, participants learn skills for nonviolently interrupting vio lence and discrimination, hate, intolerance, intimidation and harassment. They learn de-escalation skills, documentation skills, intervention and disruption skills, protective accompaniment, peace team and unarmed peacekeeping skills. Role-playing is often an essential part of the training process.

When to use this training: You see verbal abuse happening on the subway, or in line at the grocery store. You live in an area where discrimination and intolerance is visible and vocal. You are going to a situation where there is likely to be hate crimes, verbal abuse, active discrimination, or tensions around difference that could lead to violent and abusive situations.

Who offers it:

D.C. Peace Teams
Michigan-Meta Peace Team
Kit Bonson at the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (email:
Tameka Bell at Story Fuel Strategies
Green Dot
Beautiful Trouble

What if I want to facilitate my own Active Bystander and Nonviolent Intervention Training?

While we recommend inviting trainers who have a broad expertise in nonviolence and a variety of conflict situations, anyone can facilitate an introductory training with a few basic tools.

Contact Kit Bonson at the Montgomery County (Md) Civil Rights Coalition ( to request the training curriculum used by Swamp Revolt at the 23 trainings held in the greater D.C. area on Inauguration Day.

Materials for Nonviolence & Active Bystander Intervention Trainings
Want to learn how to de-escalate hate speech and harassment and better understand what it means to (safely) stick up for your neighbor with compassion and resolve?

Take 32 minutes to complete the following self-study on the basics:

  1. Familiarize yourself with the Principles of Bystander Intervention by Kit Bonson (2 minutes)
  2. Read Six Principles of Nonviolence by Michael Nagler (6 minutes)
  3. Watch Ken Brown explain the science behind bystander effect and active bystander effect: The bystander effect is complicated — here’s why(16 minutes)
  4. Study this illustration on Islamophobic Harassment by French artist Marie-Shirine Yener about how to help if you witness public harassment of a Muslim woman (3 minutes)
  5. Review and personally commit to the Nonviolence Pledge (5 minutes) and see the Meta Center’s Pledge of Resistance.


Go Deeper in Nonviolent Civil Resistance and Active Bystander Intervention
Want to learn more about the broader social movement for civil resistance to injustice and how to build stronger, more inclusive, democratic communities?

  1. Read Education and Training in Nonviolent Resistance by Nadine Bloch (20 minutes)
  2. Watch Standing Up for Racial Justice’s video, Don’t Be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks (4 minutes)

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent

Our friends over at Radical Discipleship are hosting a Lenten journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” Speech. Last autumn I was asked to make a contribution and it was posted yesterday.

Led Down the Path of Protest and Dissent
By Rose Marie Berger, a senior associate editor at Sojourners magazine

Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read “Vietnam.” It can never be saved so long as it destroys the hopes of men the world over. So it is that those of us who are yet determined that “America will be” are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of our land.–Martin Luther King Jr

Between the first and second sentence of this paragraph, Brother Martin fully entered into his “vocation of agony.”

Between these two–the first, where he holds America accountable to the ideals of her founding and the second, where he begins his sharpest theological critique to date–King “sets his face like flint” (Luke 9:51; Isaiah 50:7) toward the center of military empire: Washington, D.C.

The Riverside speech launches the next phase of King’s ministry. Now he will address the mechanism of empire–not just its bitter fruits. Now he will hold America accountable not only to her founding ideals but to God.

In that space between “the present war” and “America’s soul,” an assassin snicked his soft-nosed bullet into a 30-06 rifle.

King names America as “Hope-Destroyer;” Vietnam is what the Prophet Jeremiah calls a “high place of Baal, to burn their sons in the fire for burnt-offerings” (19:5). … [read the rest at Radical Discipleship]

March 7: Feast Day of Perpetua and Felicity

Perpetua was a 22 year old married Christian woman who lived in Carthage (modern day Tunisia) during the first century. She had given birth to a son a few months before she was arrested for her faith, under the persecutions of Septimus Severus.

Excerpt from Perpetua’s diary:

While we were still under arrest (she said) my father out of love for me was trying to persuade me and shake my resolution. ‘Father,’ said I, ‘do you see this vase here, for example, or waterpot or whatever?’

‘Yes, I do’, said he.

And I told him: ‘Could it be called by any other name than what it is?’

And he said: ‘No.’

‘Well, so too I cannot be called anything other than what I am, a Christian.’

A pregnant slave, Felicity, with her husband Revocatus and six other African Christian men were also arrested. The group were kept together in a house for several weeks, during which time Felicity had her baby. Around this day in 202, they were gathered together and taken to the games. Contemporary accounts say they left joyfully ‘as though they were on their way to heaven’.

The group were all killed by wild animals in front of the crowds. Perpetua and Felicity are said to have clung to each other and prayed so much that they became unaware of what was happening to them. Both were mauled by a heifer. The men were killed by leopards and bears. Perpetua had her throat cut by a gladiator.

The feast of these martyrs soon became very famous throughout the Christian world. It was recorded in the Roman and Syriac calenders as well as in the Martyrology of St Jerome. In 1907 an inscription in their honour was discovered in Carthage in the Basilica Majorum where they were buried.

Francis Stratmann: ‘The souls of the well-intentioned’

I had a wonderful Skype interview with Jim Forest this morning. It’s great to be able to see one another’s faces, laughter, tears, and even a pesky sleek feline who likes to sit on Jim’s lap.

In the course of our conversation he mentioned a German Catholic priest who was head of the German Catholic Peace Union in the 1930s and wrote a significant book, War and Christianity Today. His name was Francis Stratmann, OP.

In learning more about Stratmann, I came across an excerpt from a letter he wrote on April 10, 1933, to Cardinal Faulhaber. This was less than a month after the German Catholic bishops had accepted the legitimacy of the National Socialist government and rescinded their mandate that Catholics could not support National Socialism.

“The souls of the well-intentioned are deflated by the National Socialist seizure of power, and I speak nothing but the truth when I say that the bishops’ authority is weakened among countless Catholics and non-Catholics because of their quasi-approbation of the National Socialist movement.”–Francis Stratmann, OP, to Cardinal Faulhaber in Munich (April 10, 1933) [from Catholic Theologians in Nazi Germany, by Robert Krieg]

Stratmann’s German Catholic Peace Union was banned in July 1931 when their offices were raided by 26 men and Stratmann and others had to flee the country. Gordon Zahn’s German Catholics and Hitler’s War tells this story well.

I was struck to my heart’s core at reading this. Our souls are indeed “deflated” by the current “seizure of power.”–Rose Berger

Catholic Bishop McElroy Calls ‘All to Become Disruptors’

“President Trump was the candidate of “disruption.” He was “the disruptor,” he said, challenging the operations of our government and society that need reform.

Well now, we must all become disruptors. We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children.

But we, as people of faith, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of Abraham, as followers of the Prophet Muhammad, as people of all faiths and no faith, we cannot merely be disruptors, we also have to be rebuilders.”–Bishop McElroy

To read Bishop McElroy’s whole statement, see below.


MODESTO,  Calif., Feb. 18, 2017 – The Most Rev. Robert W. McElroy, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego, today delivered the following comments at the U.S. Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements during a panel discussion on the barriers marginalized people face in housing and work:

For the past century, from the worker movements of Catholic action in France, Belgium and Italy to Pope John XXXIII’s call to re-structure the economies of the world in “Mater et Magistra,” to the piercing missionary message of the Latin American Church at Aparecida, the words “see,” “judge” and “act” have provided a powerful pathway for those who seek to renew the temporal order in the light of the Gospel and justice.

As the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace described this pathway, it lies in “seeing clearly the situation, judging with principles that foster the integral development of people and acting in a way which implements these principles in the light of everyone’s unique situation.”

There is no greater charter for this gathering taking place here in Modesto in these days than the simple but rich architecture of these three words: “see,” “judge” and “act.” Yet these words — which carry with them such a powerful history of social transformation around the world in service to the dignity of the human person — must be renewed and re-examined at every age and seen against the background of those social, economic and political forces in each historical moment.

In the United States we stand at a pivotal moment as a people and a nation, in which bitter divisions cleave our country and pollute our national dialogue.

In our reflections in these days, here, we must identify the ways in which our very ability to see, judge and act on behalf of justice is being endangered by cultural currents which leave us isolated, embittered and angry. We must make the issues of jobs, housing, immigration, economic disparities and the environment foundations for common efforts rather than of division.  We must see prophetic words and prophetic actions which produce unity and cohesion and we must do so in the spirit of hope which is realistic. For as Pope Francis stated to the meeting in Bolivia: “You are sowers of change,” and sowers never lose hope.
See Clearly the Situation

One of the most striking elements of “Laudato Si” is its clear and bold analysis of the empirical realities that threaten the Earth which is our common home. “Seeing the situation clearly” is the whole foundation for that encyclical. It is the starting point for transformative justice. Pope Francis was unafraid to venture into this controversial set of questions about climate change and the environment despite the fact that massive social and economic forces, especially within our own country, have conspired to obscure the scientific realities of climate change and environmental degradation, in the very same way that the tobacco companies obscured for decades the medical science pertaining to smoking.

There is a lesson for us here, as agents of change and justice. Never be afraid to speak the truth. Always find your foundation for reflection and action in the fullness of empirical reality. Design strategies for change upon ever fuller dissemination of truths, even when they seem inconvenient to the cause.

This is an especially important anchor for us, in an age in which truth itself is under attack.

Pope Benedict lamented the diminishment of attention to the importance of objective truth in public life and discourse.  Now we come to a time when alternate facts compete with real facts, and whole industries have arisen to shape public opinion in destructively isolated and dishonest patterns. The dictum “see clearly the situation” has seldom been more difficult in our society in the United States.

Yet the very realities which our speakers this morning have all pointed to in capturing the depth of marginalization in housing, work and economic equality within the United States point us toward the clarification and the humanization of truth, which leads to a deeper grasp of the realities of injustice and marginalization that confront our nation.

As Pope Francis underscored in his words to the Popular Movements in Bolivia, “When we look into the eyes of the suffering, when we see the faces of the endangered campesino, the poor laborer, the downtrodden native, the homeless family, the persecuted migrant, the unemployed young person and the exploited child, we have seen and heard not a cold statistic but the pain of a suffering humanity, our own pain, our own flesh.”

One of the most important elements of your work as agents of justice in our midst in this country in this moment, is to help our society as a whole become more attuned to this reality of humanized truth, through narrative and witness, listening and solidarity. In this way, you not only witness to the truth through the lives and experiences of the marginalized, you help us all to see the most powerful realities of our world in greater depth.

Those realities embrace both scientific findings and stories of tragedy, economic analysis and the tears of the human heart. “See clearly the situation” is not merely a step in your work on behalf of justice, it shapes everything that you do to transform our world.

Judging with Principles to Foster Integral Development
The fundamental political question of our age is whether our economic structures and systems in the United States will enjoy ever greater autonomy or whether they will be located effectively within a juridical structure which seeks to safeguard the dignity of the human person and the common good of our nation.

In that battle, the tradition of Catholic social teaching is unequivocally on the side of strong governmental and societal protections for the powerless, the worker, the homeless, the hungry, those without decent medical care, the unemployed. This stance of the Church’s teaching flows from the teaching of the Book of Genesis: The creation is the gift of God to all of humanity. Thus in the most fundamental way, there is a universal destination for all of the material goods that exist in this world. Wealth is a common heritage, not at its core a right of lineage or acquisition.

For this reason, free markets do not constitute a first principle of economic justice. Their moral worth is instrumental in nature and must be structured by government to accomplish the common good.

In Catholic teaching, the very rights which are being denied in our society to large numbers of those who live in our nation are intrinsic human rights in Catholic teaching: The right to medical care; to decent housing; to the protection of human life from conception to natural death; of the right to food; of the right to work. Catholic teaching sees these rights not merely as points for negotiation, provided only if there is excess in society after the workings of the free market system accomplished their distribution of the nation’s wealth. Rather, these rights are basic claims which every man, woman and family has upon our nation as a whole.

These are the fundamental principles which the Church points to as the basis for judgement for every political and social program that structures economic life within the United States. And they are supplemented in Catholic teaching by a grave suspicion about enormous levels of economic inequality in society. Pope Francis made clear the depth of this suspicion two years ago. “Inequality,” he said, “is the root of social evil.”

In his encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel,” Francis unmasked inequality as the foundation for a process of exclusion that cuts immense segments of society off from meaningful participation in social, political and economic life, as we have all heard this morning. It gives rise to a financial system that rules rather than serves humanity and a capitalism that literally kills those who have no utility as consumers.

Now, when I quote the Pope that “this economy kills,” people very often say to me, “Oh come on, that’s just an exaggeration; it’s a form of speech.”

I want to do an experiment with you. I want you to sit back in your chair for a moment. And close your eyes, and I want you to think of someone you have known that our economy has killed:  A senior who can’t afford medicine or rent; a mother or father who is dying, working two and three jobs, really dying because even then they can’t provide for their kids; young people who can’t find their way in the world in which there is no job for them, and they turn to drugs, or gangs or suicide. Think of one person you know that this economy has killed.

Now mourn them.

And now call out their name; let all the world know that this economy kills.
For Catholic social teaching, the surest pathway to economic justice is the provision of meaningful and sustainable work for all men and women capable of work. The “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” states, “Economic and social imbalances in the world of work must be addressed by restoring a just hierarchy of values and placing the dignity of workers before all else.”

In work, the Church proclaims, men and women find not only the most sustainable avenue to economic security but also become co-creators with God in the world in which we live. Work is thus profoundly a sacred reality. It protects human dignity even as it spiritually enriches that dignity. If we truly are in our work co-creators with God, don’t we think that deserves at least $15 an hour?


After the panel yesterday, when the panelists were asked in one word how they would summarize their message, I tried to think, what is the “act” that summarizes how we must act in this moment?

And I came up with two words. The first has been provided in our past election. President Trump was the candidate of “disruption.” He was “the disruptor,” he said, challenging the operations of our government and society that need reform.

Well now, we must all become disruptors. We must disrupt those who would seek to send troops into our streets to deport the undocumented, to rip mothers and fathers from their families. We must disrupt those who portray refugees as enemies rather than our brothers and sisters in terrible need. We must disrupt those who train us to see Muslim men, women and children as forces of fear rather than as children of God. We must disrupt those who seek to rob our medical care, especially from the poor. We must disrupt those who would take even food stamps and nutrition assistance from the mouths of children.

But we, as people of faith, as disciples of Jesus Christ, as children of Abraham, as followers of the Prophet Muhammad, as people of all faiths and no faith, we cannot merely be disruptors, we also have to be rebuilders.

We have to rebuild this nation so that we place at its heart the service to the dignity of the human person and assert what the American flag behinds us asserts is our heritage: Every man, woman and child is equal in this nation and called to be equal.

We must rebuild a nation in solidarity, what Catholic teaching calls the sense that all of us are the children of the one God, there are no children of a lesser god in our midst. That all of us are called to be cohesive and embrace one another and see ourselves as graced by God. We are called to rebuild our nation which does pay $15 an hour in wages, and provides decent housing, clothing and food for those who are poorest. And we need to rebuild our Earth, which is so much in danger by our own industries.

So let us see and judge and act.
Let us disrupt and rebuild in solidarity and peace.
And let us do God’s work.

–Most Rev. Robert W. McElroy, Bishop of San Diego, Calif.