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)

Poetry: ‘For Lucille Clifton’ by Joseph Ross

04_Lucille_Clifton_(5)I had coffee this morning with my friend Joseph Ross. We were discussing attending poet Lucille Clifton’s memorial service in April and he said he’d written a poem for her.

When Clifton won the prestigious Ruth Lily Poetry Prize in 2007, the judges remarked that “One always feels the looming humaneness around Lucille Clifton’s poems—it is a moral quality that some poets have and some don’t.”

Speaking to Michael S. Glaser during an interview in 2000 for the Antioch Review, Clifton reflected that she continued to write, because “writing is a way of continuing to hope … perhaps for me it is a way of remembering I am not alone.” How would Clifton like to be remembered? Glaser asked. “I would like to be seen as a woman whose roots go back to Africa, who tried to honor being human. My inclination is to try to help.”

Read Joe’s stunning tribute to one of our great American poets below.

For Lucille Clifton, 1936-2010

She insisted on breathing in
the defiant air
of her own survival.

She sailed through waters
more angry than blue,
waters that swirled

with the probing hands of others,
touching places where
only words belonged.

She found a vision
that saw through sadness
and a voice for calling out

to every waiting fear.
Her vision and voice
lifted her from the humid street

into canyons of night sky
to teach her the given name
of each anonymous anger.

And still, she washes us
in a sacred spray of stars,
making us holy.

And still, she sails,
carrying us in the carved-out
canoe of her womb,

whispering to us
the final message:
that we too can breathe

and be both
the blessing and the boat.

–by Joseph Ross

Read my earlier post about Lucille Clifton.