Remembering Samuel Ruiz, Bishop of Chiapas

Bishop Ruiz at the Mass on the anniversary of Archbishop Romero's death. José Carlo González.

Samuel Ruiz, the archbishop of Chiapas, Mexico, died this week. I met him in 1993 in Washington, D.C. It was one of my first official “interviews” for Sojourners magazine. I was really nervous, but I knew that I couldn’t miss the chance to talk to this man who was truly a saint. I was put at ease by his humility and humor – as well as his clear passion for his people.

To read more about Ruiz, his role in Vatican II, his dedication to genuine liberation theology, his passion for indigenous communities, his peace negotiations with the Zapatistas, his assistance in founding the pacifist community Las Abejas, then check out my longer reflection Remembering the Little Bishop Who Roared.

But for a quieter memorial, I offer California poet Gary Soto’s lovely poem instead. Don Samuel, presente!


by Gary Soto

There is the one who turns
A spoon over like a letter,
Reading the teeth-marks
Older than his own;

The one who strikes a match,
Its light flowering
In his eyes,
The smoke in his throat;

The one who opens the mouth
Of a dog to listen
To the sea, white-tipped
And blind, feel its way to shore.

At night
They walk in the streets,
The dust skirting their legs
Raw with lice

And the wind funneled
Through a doorway
Where someone might pray
For a loaf of good luck.


Somewhere the old follow
Their canes down
A street where the front
Pages of a newspaper

Scuttle faceless
And the three-legged dog hops home.
A door is locked twice
And flies ladder a scale of fish.

Somewhere a window yellows
From a lantern. A child
With fever, swabbed in oils
And mint, his face

Spotted like an egg,
His cry no different
Than the cry
That shakes the trees lean.

A candle is lit for the dead
Two worlds ahead of us all.

Gary Soto, “Chiapas” from Where Sparrows Work Hard (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981)

2 responses to “Remembering Samuel Ruiz, Bishop of Chiapas”

  1. A lovely mournful reflection on a simple bishop at home among the people and the homelessness of the curia careening from here to there in search of control that was never theirs to begin with. With holy Bishop Ruiz we pray for them.

  2. Two years later and one still weeps over this saintly bishop while we wait to see what folly 100 plus cardinals will commit once again in Rome. One can only wonder what Samule Ruiz would think about the Grand Inquisitor being pope. . .even for only 8 years. When will we tire of the trappings of the dead Roman empire and be content with simply calling Peter’s successor simply the Bishop of Rome.?When will Rome stop needing to have a fearful throathold on those it mockingly calls its children? When will the saintly clergy be eased of the burden of their sinfilled brothers, and the Church collectively, without Rome’s seal of approval, open the door and say, “Go!” When will we look at Samuel Ruiz and know that he is what God meant for all of us to be? But God help us, the good cardinals in their Spirit guided wisdom will once again play politics with our souls and thousands more will leave the Church.

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