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:
OPEN LETTER TO BROTHER ROMERO FROM PEDRO CASADALIGA, IN BRAZIL:
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.
In 2010, Dom Erwin Kräutler, Catholic bishop of Xingu, Brazil, received the Right Livelihood Award for his work for the human and environmental rights of indigenous peoples and his efforts to save the Amazon forest. He has been a leading opponent of the controversial Belo Monte dam in his diocese — and warns of the connection between unchecked “development” and global warming. This excerpt is part of a series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council in US Catholic magazine.
When Pope Paul VI in his 1967 encyclical Populorum Progressio surprised the world with his slogan “Development is the new name for peace,” he wasn’t thinking of the kind of economic growth at all cost that allows a few oligarchies and business people to get filthy rich while intentionally excluding most people and plunging many into poverty. Pope Paul called on all the people of the world to promote development that is based on justice and solidarity.
The definition of development is key. When the free market is seen as the engine of progress and the measure of all things, earth, water, air, and fire will be commodified and subordinated to the rules and powers of the market, multinational companies, and international trade.
But when life in human dignity is the goal and meaning of all development, then development will be geared toward the survival and well-being of all people, including the generations that are coming after us.
The unrelenting pursuit of increasing exports, trade surpluses, and economic growth that exploits the human family and its environment has become a dangerous dead end.
A change in the direction of our thinking and actions is urgent. What is needed is development that is oriented toward the protection and promotion of life and human capacities; toward education, health, security, housing in dignity; and toward environmentally responsible agriculture, stewardship of our water resources, and careful protection of biodiversity.
Averting climate change and saving our planet will require both a change in consciousness and concrete measures that hold all people and countries of the world accountable.–Dom Erwin Kräutler, Catholic bishop of Xingu, Brazil
“An option for the poor does not mean that we reject those who ‘have,’ but will be rejected by them. When we are classed with the poor, it is a sign that we are living out our option.” — Medical Mission Sisters, Rubiataba, Brazil, 1978
Seven years ago on Feb. 13, 2005, Dorothy Stang, an American Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, was martyred in the Amazon as a result of her work with the landless poor there. When two hired gunmen met her on a muddy path they asked if she was carrying a weapon. In reply, she took out a Bible and began to recite the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the poor in spirit…blessed are the peacemakers.” Then she was shot six times and killed.
James Martin, over at America magazine, posted this wonderful video by students James Newton and Sam Clements that is one part of a series of four on Dorothy’s work in the Amazon.
In the summer of 2003 Newton and Clements headed to Brazil with a video camera, a map, and the idea to make a documentary. While filming in Southern Brazil, they heard about the extraordinary work of U.S. missionary Sister Dorothy Stang, a nun with a price on her head. For more than 20 years she had been fighting to preserve the Amazon rainforest, while helping peasant farmers live sustainably. Inspired by a mere five-minute call to Sister Dorothy, they set off on a 2500-mile journey to find her. Little did they know of the dangers ahead, or that Sister Dorothy would later be killed by hired gunmen.
I love Mexico. And now I have a reason to love it even more. Tomorrow, Mexico City will be the first in Latin America to put into effect laws legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption. (Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions back in 2007.) There is, of course, sharp criticism and hand-wringing from my beloved Catholic Church hierarchy and social conservatives — but with a 50 percent approval rate for gay marriage among regular Mexicans (89 percent of whom are Catholic), I’d say that the laity are once again leading the way.
Here’s an excerpt from today’s Washington Post article:
On Thursday, [Mexico City] this sprawling megalopolis will catapult to the front lines of gay rights in Latin America when a city law legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption goes into effect. … Mexican actress Jesusa Rodríguez will marry her partner, Liliana Felipe, after 30 years together. “The important thing is that this law grants equality,” Rodríguez said. Many marriage-minded gay couples are preoccupied by concerns about the security of their loved ones. Reyna Barrera, 70, had a breast removed two months ago, and although she is weak from chemotherapy, she is busy planning her wedding to her partner of 36 years, Sandra Ponce. “This way, she is protected. She will get my pension, our house, everything from the life we built together,” said Barrera, a literature professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.
The Legislative Assembly passed the gay marriage act by a broad majority in December, as activists cheered and PAN representatives looked on in dismay. Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, a PRD leader, signed the bill into law — a first in Latin America. … Mexico City legalized same-sex civil unions in 2007; they also are recognized in Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador and Argentina, but advocates for gay rights say only marriage can protect the rights of families in such matters as property and custody. … An opinion poll by El Universal newspaper in November found that 50 percent of Mexico City respondents accepted gay marriage and 38 percent opposed it. Residents ages 18 to 39 were more likely to be supporters.
When international climate negotiators meet in December in Copenhagen, Brazilian Catholic Amazonian activist Marina Silva will serve as the conference’s conscience. A native Amazonian who grew up in a community of rubber-tappers, Silva worked with murdered Catholic activist Chico Mendes, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 1996, and served as Brazil’s minister of the environment under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from 2002 to 2008, when she resigned in protest.
Of her early faith, Silva writes: “One of my biggest problems during my childhood was to find out who God was and where He had come from. Even if I had never seen a Bible and had never entered church, I started a journey” (see Marina Silva: Defending Rainforest Communities in Brazil). She’s also known for her deeply held beliefs in nonviolence. “I have a great admiration for people who struggle in the way Gandhi did: at once activist and pacifist, ” she said in a 1995 interview.
Washington Post‘s environment reporter Julie Eilperin interviewed Marina Silva when she was in town this month. Here’s an excerpt:
What inspired you to do environmental work?
It was a combination of things. First, the sensibility I gained from living with the forest, from being born there and taking my sustenance from it until I was 16 years old. Second was my contact with liberation theology, with people like Chico Mendes, a connection that raised social and political consciousness about the actions of the Amazonian rubber-tappers and Indians who were being driven out of their lands because the old rubber estates were being sold into cattle ranches. These encounters made me become engaged with the struggle in defense of the forest. Later, I discovered that this was about “the environment” and the protection of ecosystems. It was an ethical commitment that these natural resources could not be simply destroyed.
How does your Amazon upbringing affect the way you see the issues at stake?
Without doubt, the experience of living in one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions of the world has affected how I see the world. I see two time frames: forest time and city time. Forest time is slower; things have to be more fully processed; information takes a long time to get there, so people didn’t have access to new information. When a new idea arrived, you thought about it, elaborated on it, talked about it for a long time. So this way of thinking, reflecting on and developing ideas, helps me have a sense of the preservation of things, to not make rushed decisions.
According to a recent Associated Press story, the Take Back the Land folks in Florida are making the sub-prime debacle work for those living on the streets. “We’re matching homeless people with peopleless homes,” said TBL activist Max Rameau. Yep! They are moving homeless folks into beautiful, spacious, foreclosed upon houses.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Max Rameau delivers his sales pitch like a pro. “All tile floor!” he says during a recent showing. “And the living room, wow! It has great blinds.”
But in nearly every other respect, he is unlike any real estate agent you’ve ever met. He is unshaven, drives a beat-up car and wears grungy cut-off sweat pants. He also breaks into the homes he shows. And his clients don’t have a dime for a down payment.
Rameau is an activist who has been executing a bailout plan of his own around Miami’s empty streets: He is helping homeless people illegally move into foreclosed homes.
Rameau and a group of like-minded advocates formed Take Back the Land, which also helps the new “tenants” with secondhand furniture, cleaning supplies and yard upkeep. So far, he has moved six families into foreclosed homes and has nine on a waiting list.
“I think everyone deserves a home,” said Rameau, who said he takes no money from his work with the homeless. “Homeless people across the country are squatting in empty homes. The question is: Is this going to be done out of desperation or with direction?”
“There’s a real need here, and there’s a disconnect between the need and the law,” he said. “Being arrested is just one of the potential factors in doing this.”
With the suicide of capitalism comes the blurring of what has been narrowly understood as “private property.” At the top, the Bush administration has been forced to “nationalize” the banking industry and, apparently, at the bottom, in Miami, TBL is reclaiming as public property those abandoned houses now owned by the banks due to foreclosures. Interesting.
Tonight, PBS’s Frontline will air “The Hugo Chavez Show: An illuminating inside view of the mercurial Venezuelan president, his rise to power, and the new type of revolution he seems to be inventing – on television.” In the Washington Post review of the show, David Montgomery writes:
What Americans have been missing is a direct encounter with the temperamental, charming, fierce, cruel, seductive, whimsical and overwhelming personality that comes through on “Aló, Presidente.” When Chávez, 54, isn’t ordering troops to the border, he’s singing folk songs, riding horses and tractors, tramping through gorgeous countryside or castigating cabinet ministers who fail pop quizzes that he administers as the cameras roll.
In 2004, I was in the audience for Chavez’ “Aló, Presidente” … for 5 hours. And this was one of his shorter
shows! It was one of the most fascinating examples of political theater I’ve ever seen. He used media deftly to create a politically engaged populace.
Here are some of my journal notes from that day – January 18, 2004 – Caracas, Venezuela:
We were invited to be in the audience during the screening of President Chavez’ weekly television program. After coffee and about an hour’s wait, we were led to a tent behind the presidential house where the filming would take place (it is in a different location each week) and seated in chairs with our names on them in the midst of cameras and microphones and the “set” for the show.
Then Chavez sat at a desk “on stage” and for five hours hosted a program with only two short breaks. He talked about teachers in honor of National Teachers Day – honoring and joking with the Minister of Education who was present. He introduced an old prize fighter who was also present. He talked about the cross and scapular he wears. He chatted on the phone through a call-in mechanism with a number of people from around the country – a young girl about her school, one woman about the need for her to get involved in elections for mayor in her town, another woman about jobs for her sons and her nephew.
He talked about how unemployment was often the result of the neoliberal capitalist model and how Venezuela was creating a new economy – that they were going to initiate another revolution within the revolution by starting a new “mission” called Mision Vuelven Cara. This new mission will train and incorporate workers into development projects that will emphasize small farms and forestry projects, petroleum related businesses, tourism etc. The unemployed will be included as they build Venezuela’s capacity for productive employment. Then he recommended a book on the rebellion of 1840.
Then he went on to talk about how Venezuela has a deficit of beef and would be importing beef for a while from Brazil and Argentina, but that Venezuelans will be trained to raise beef, as well as for dairy farming. He said that it was good for poor people to eat more beef for the protein and that beef would be made available in poor neighborhoods for purchase in small quantities. He introduced the new Minister of Defense. He read from newspaper articles about the strengthened position of Venezuela in the world.
Then he spoke about the 1979 Puebla Conference of Latin American Catholic bishops which outlined the preferential option for the poor and he talked about the death of Oscar Romero. Chavez said that the challenge before Venezuela now is to take up the challenge of an option for the poor. Fr. Roy Bourgeouis was invited to make a statement. Fr. Roy talked about the School of the Americas and asked Venezuela to stop sending soldiers there for training. Chavez listened very intently. When Roy finished Chavez said quite a bit about the SOA. He had obviously done his homework. Then he moved on to talk about the writings of John Kenneth Galbraith. And so the program went on and on.
Chavez continues to be an ego-obsessed narcissist who doesn’t mind using his cult of personality to promote a particular political and social agenda and he’s not above taking direct, anti-democratic action against his enemies and to maintain his own power. So what else is new in the world of politics?
He is also “the peoples’ choice” in Venezuela’s fair elections. This week Chavez’ party swept most states, according to The Guardian, in Venezuela’s regional elections. The record turnout of 65% among 16.8 million registered voters shows the passion and antipathy elicited by this larger-than-life personality.
The Frontline show is tough, fair, and shows Chavez with his good points and his bad points. “The documentarians credit Chávez with being the first president in the 50-year history of Venezuelan democracy to elevate themes of poverty and social justice to the top of national discussion,” writes Montgomery. “But they suggest that his methods for addressing those issues have been uneven and over-hyped.”.