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!

CHIAPAS

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)