Ernesto Cardenal (1925-2020)

Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, Nicaragua (The Ernesto Cardenal Papers, University of Texas)

Fr. Ernesto Cardenal, one of Latin America’s most admired poets and priests, who defied the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980s by serving in the revolutionary Sandinista government of Nicaragua, died on Sunday in Managua, Nicaragua. He was 95. His priestly authority was revoked by Nicaragua’s bishops in 1984 under Pope John Paul II’s purge of priests practicing liberation theology. Fr. Cardenal celebrated Mass from his hospital bed in February 2019, after Pope Francis granted him absolution from “all canonical censorships.”

Here’s an excerpt from The Gospel in Solentiname (p136) by Ernesto Cardenal based on recording years of Sunday reflections on the gospel readings with the community in Solentiname, a remote archipelago in Lake Nicaragua. It was first published in 1970 in four volumes.

Are you the one who is to come or do we wait for another one? (Matthew 11)

DONA OLIVIA: I imagine John knew he was going to die. He knew the regime he was living under. And he asked that question so his disciples would know that there was going to be somebody else who would replace him, so they would know that the Messiah was already here. I don’t believe he would have doubted. And he asked it so that the disciples wouldn’t be discouraged when he died, for he had to die for freedom, and Jesus had to die for the same reason. Their fate wasn’t to triumph but to die.”

And below a beautiful poem by Cardenal translated from Spanish to English by Thomas Merton.

Ernesto, presente!

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Richard Rohr: Knowing from the Bottom

Knowing From the Bottom From Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation at the Center for Action and Contemplation (Sign up here to receive these daily):

The vast majority of people throughout history have been poor, disabled, or oppressed in some way (i.e., “on the bottom”) and would have read history in terms of a need for change, but most of history has been written and interpreted from the side of the winners. The unique exception is the revelation called the Bible, which is an alternative history from the side of the often enslaved, dominated, and oppressed people of Israel, culminating in the scapegoat figure of Jesus himself.

We see in the Gospels that it’s the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, and the foreigners who tend to follow Jesus. It is those on the inside and the top—the Roman occupiers, the chief priests and their conspirators—who crucify him. Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point. We must be able to critique our own perspective if we are to see a fuller truth.

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The Irish Famine in Theological Perspective by Oliver Rafferty, SJ

An in-depth historical look at the “Providentialist theology” that influenced government and church decisions at the time of the Irish holocaust in 1845-1850.

“The failure of government robustly to rise to the challenge of the Great Hunger because of an ideology underpinned with theological considerations caused many in Ireland to believe that ‘a British Protestant state has allowed massive starvation as a means of reducing the Irish Catholic population and strengthening its control over the country.’ I don’t think myself that it’s true, but never-the-less it was an opinion prominent in Ireland in the immediate aftermath of the famine.”—Oliver Rafferty, SJ

Violence, Politics, and Catholicism in Ireland by Oliver Rafferty

The Catholic Church and the Easter Rising 1919

‘Was there an Irish liberation theology?’ by Oliver Rafferty at St. Mary’s University College, Belfast (August 2014)

Video: Arturo Sosa Addresses Latin American Theologians in Boston

Arturo Sosa is the current head of the worldwide Jesuit order. (Pope Francis is a Jesuit. The movie Silence is the story of Jesuits in Japan in the 1600s.)

This 5-minute video by Sosa gives context and direction to the leadership Pope Francis is offering the church and the world.

It was part of a unique gathering that just concluded at Boston College on the theology of Latin America. See an excerpt from the press release below:

The weeklong conference examined the role of liberation theology as Pope Francis and the Catholic Church respond to issues of globalization, migration and economic exclusion, said Boston College School of Theology and Ministry professor Rafael Luciani, a co-organizer of the conference with his Boston College colleague, professor Felix Palazzi.

Luciani said the theologians – among them professors, priests and Vatican officials – will return to their communities in the U.S., Latin America, and Spain with a renewed commitment to the Pope’s reforms and a deeper understanding of the pontiff’s own thinking, rooted in the “theology of the people” and liberation theology.

Two papal representatives, Cardinal Baltazar Porras, of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America, and Bishop Raúl Biord Castillo, SDB, together will present the group’s work to Pope Francis. Research and analysis from the theologians is scheduled to publish in a book later this year, said Luciani, a lay theologian from Venezuela.

The work of the conference is of particular importance in efforts to better serve Hispanic Catholics, who make up the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. church. Worldwide, more than 65 percent of Catholics live in the “Global South,” which includes Latin America and Africa.

Attending the conference were some of the leading figures in the birth of liberation theology, including Juan Carlos Scannone, SJ, a founding philosopher of the “theology of the people” and the pope’s seminary instructor, and Notre Dame University Professor Gustavo Gutiérrez, OP, regarded as the founder of liberation theology.

Fr. Scannone reminded participants that the pope has called the poor “protagonists” and “makers of history.” He told the conference: “The poor should not just feel at home in church. They should feel like the heart of the Church.”

 

Pontifex Tosses Halo Toward Salvador’s Romero

Photo by Rose Marie Berger
Photo by Rose Marie Berger

Paul Vallely, director of UK’s The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly, wrote a great piece (A Church for the Poor, New York Times, 9/4/14) about Pope Francis bringing Liberation Theology back from its Cold War exile. Here’s an excerpt:

“Pope Francis grabbed headlines recently when he announced that Rome had lifted the block on sainthood for Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador, who was shot dead while saying Mass in 1980. But much less attention was given to another of the pope’s actions, one that underscores a significant shift inside the Vatican under the first Latin American pope in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Archbishop Romero was assassinated after speaking out in favor of the poor during an era when right-wing death squads stalked El Salvador under an American-backed, military-led government in the 1970s and ’80s. For three decades Rome blocked his path to sainthood for fear that it would give succor to the proponents of liberation theology, the revolutionary movement that insists that the Catholic Church should work to bring economic and social — as well as spiritual — liberation to the poor.

Under Pope Francis that obstacle has been removed. The pope now says it is important that Archbishop Romero’s beatification — the precursor to becoming a saint — “be done quickly.”

Read Paul Vallely’s whole piece.

Learn more about Archbishop Romero’s Christian courage and martyrdom here.

Video: Gustavo & Paul on Liberation and Health

“Real service to the poor means understanding global poverty,” said Partners In Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer at a 2011 event with Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez, hosted by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies at Notre Dame.

Farmer and Gutierrez, who have been friends and admirers over the last decade, focused their 90-minute discussion on “Re-imagining Accompaniment: Global Health and Liberation Theology.”

Gutierrez is known around the world as the articulator of a liberation theology that links the gospel with social empowerment and the struggles of the poor from unjust economic, political, or social conditions that shackle them. “Fr. Gustavo is one of my heroes and has inspired much of my own work in global health with a preferential option for the poor,” said Farmer.

“Poverty is not fate, it is a condition; it is not a misfortune, it is an injustice,” Gutierrez is known for saying. “It is the result of social structures and mental and cultural categories, it is linked to the way in which society has been built, in its various manifestations.”

“Poverty is not an act of nature … but a historically driven by social and economic factors,” added Farmer. “Real service to the poor … requires listening to those most affected by poverty.”

Dorothee Soelle: Manipulating Human Desire

Dorothee Soelle

“Trivial religion in the age of consumerism” has made human desires totally manipulable. All desires to be different, to become a new being, to relate differently to others, to communicate in a new way, have been exchanged for the wish to possess things. It makes a difference whether a person says at some point in life, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10), or whether the yearnings that take this direction of radical change find no language in which to express themselves. These lines are not promoting some bourgeois inner spirituality. Their context speaks against such an interpretation. It simply states the human desire to be other than one is (“renewed”) and to have a “right” spirit, a less vacillating one.”–Dorothee Soelle, “Rebellion Against Banality”

From The Strength of the Weak:Toward A Christian Feminist Identity by Dorothee Soelle (Westminster Press, 1984)

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)

Video: Salvadoran Archbishop Romero Last Sunday Sermon (The Appeal to Soldier to Lay Down Their Guns)

Here’s a very moving 3-minute video of images (some graphic) from El Salvador’s war and the voice over of Archbishop Romero’s last Sunday sermon on March 23, 1980,  in which he appeals to the members of the Army to put down their weapons. Romero was shot and killed while celebrating Mass the following day.

The 30th anniversary of Romero’s assassination will be in March 24, 2010. I’ll be interviewed on NPR’s Latino USA by Maria Hinojosa with Salvadoran theologian Ernesto Valiente who teaches at Boston College. The English translation of an excerpt of Romero’s sermon is below the video.

Archbishop Romero:
“We want to greet the entities of YSAX, which for so long have awaited this moment which, thanks to God, has arrived. We know the risk that is run by our poor station for being the instrument and vehicle of truth and justice, but we recognize that the risk has to be taken, for behind that risk is an entire people that upholds this word of truth and justice….

We give thanks to God that a message that doesn’t mean to be more than a modest reflection of the spoken Word finds marvelous channels of outreach and tells many people that, in the context of Lent, all of this is preparation for our Easter, and Easter is a shout of victory. No one can extinguish that life which Christ revived. Not even death and hatred against him and against his Church will be able to overcome it. He is the victor!

As he will flourish in an Easter of unending resurrection, it is necessary to also accompany him in Lent, in a Holy Week that is cross, sacrifice, martyrdom; as he would say, “Happy are those who do not become offended by their cross!” Lent is then a call to celebrate our redemption in that difficult complex of cross and victory. Our people are very qualified, all their surroundings preach to us of cross; but all who have Christian faith and hope know that behind this Calvary of El Salvador is our Easter, our resurrection, and that is the hope of the Christian people….

Today, as diverse historical projects emerge for our people, we can be sure that victory will be had by the one that best reflects the plan of God. And this is the mission of the Church. That is why, in the light of the divine Word that reveals the designs of God for the happiness of the peoples, we have the duty, dear brothers and sisters, to also point out the facts, to see how the plan of God is being reflected or disdained in our midst. Let no one take badly the fact that we illuminate the social, political, and economic truths by the light of the divine words that are read at our Mass, because not to do so would, for us, be un-Christian….

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Gustavo Gutierrez: Who Are the Rich?

Gustavo Gutierrez
Gustavo Gutierrez

Simon Barrow over at Ekklesia in the U.K. has a nice commentary Why Poverty and Wealth Remain the Issue.

Simon’s got a great anecdote about Gustavo Gutierrez, the “father of Liberation Theology” (or “really just the uncle,” as Gutierrez told me once).

In my experience, where you talk about wealth and poverty makes a huge difference in the conversation. A conversation that happens in a corporate board room at the World Bank will come to a radically different conclusion than the one had in a tin-roofed home in Sonsonate, El Salvador.

Here’s an excerpt:

Some years ago the Latin American theologian, Gustavo Gutierrez, was addressing a large international Christian audience on the subject of biblically-informed responses to poverty. Someone got up from the audience and asked pointedly, ‘But really, professor, who are the poor these days?’

This was a question he was often confronted with, Gutierrez noted. But it was invariably asked by a particular kind of person. Namely, someone who was not in any sense in danger of falling into poverty themselves!

Sit a group of wealthy people down and ask them to identify the poor, suggested the Peruvian “father of liberation theology” (who has spent a good deal of his own time and ministry working among the most vulnerable, oppressed and on-the-edge), and “they will argue about it until the cows come home, or until the kingdom of God comes, whichever is first.”

They will split opinions over ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ poverty. They will earnestly ask whether someone living in a shack who has a small TV can really be classed as poor. They will debate measurements, guidelines, axes and thresholds for arriving at an adequate definition of ‘the poor’… before deciding, in all probability, that it is too complicated, that no-one really knows the solution, and perhaps that “poverty isn’t the only or even the most important issue” when confronting human need today.

Then they will most likely retire back to their own comfortable lives and put some money into a charity box dedicated to “those less fortunate” than themselves (ourselves).

By contrast, remarked Gutierrez, if you were to get together a group of people who know themselves to be poor – who struggle for daily survival, who are left out, who are made dependent because of their lack of resources – it will usually take them only a matter of seconds to answer the parallel question, “Who are the rich?” They will take one look at you, in comparison to themselves, and point their fingers of recognition.

Read the whole commentary here.