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
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.”
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.”
“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.
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.”
“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”
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.
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
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)
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.
“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….
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.
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.