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.
[Romero’s] prophetic message was that our duty as Christians is to bring the values of the Gospel to life. We have to put our principles into practice, he said. After 30 years from his death and after his recent beatification, Romero’s life and murder is a challenge to us, a challenge to all believers. And I would ask whether we are prepared to actually put that power, the one that comes from following the Lord’s way of life, at the service of others? And to fight for justice for the world’s poor and marginalised, whatever the cost is for our Church? In this particular time that we live in, it is so important to understand and follow what he once said.
Romero on 27th November 1977 said: ‘The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred, it is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to turn weapons into sickles for work.’ A couple of months before, on September 25th 1977, he said ‘Let us not tire of preaching love. It is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love, though we see waves of violence at sea drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out, it is the only thing that can.’
… Archbishop Romero and Pope Francis seem to follow parallel spiritual and pastoral tracks. Both men share an understanding of the practical implications of seeking God in all things. A sense of openness to
the presence of God in history and the world, including in struggle and discourse. For many of his biographers, Romero’s favourite subject coming from the Gospel was the incarnation of Our Lord. Christ is the Word that became flesh in history and continues doing that. And since that real faith leads to engagement, then some want to keep the gospel so disembodied that it doesn’t get involved at all in the world, it is safe. Christ is now in history, Christ is in the womb of the people, Christ is now bringing about the new heaven and the new earth, Romero wrote.
And if we believe truly in the incarnation of the Word of God, we have to make ours the real and true option for the poor.– Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga,SDB, of Honduras at the 2015 Oscar Romero lecture.
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.”
From our Earth-based vantage point, we creatures have watched the Sun complete its course through the zodiac constellations along the ancient ecliptic path.
For all our Judeo-Christian time pilgrimages we reach the zenith on the Feast of Christ the King–an upside down triumphalism. Our “King” comes not as a benevolent despot or one mighty in dominating power; instead he comes as servant of all, seeker of lost sheep.
“Christ is presented to us as the shepherd king, king and shepherd of all the world’s peoples, of all of history. It is for us, hierarchy and people, to proclaim the eternal, sole, an universal kingship of Christ and to bring it about that all peoples, families, and persons submit to him. His is not a despotic regime, but a regime of love.”–Oscar Romero, marytyred archbishop of El Salvador
I met Dean, a Jesuit priest, at “the UCA” (University of Central America) in San Salvador in 2005. I was in El Salvador to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination. Brackley has been at the UCA since 1990, when he volunteered with others to step in when 6 Jesuit members of the faculty were murdered by the U.S.-funded Salvadoran military in 1989.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — President Obama and his family spent a packed overnight March 22-23 here and took the place by storm. Reactions in this polarized society couldn’t help but be mixed, but many were positive. Obama surprised and pleased most people by his historic visit to the tomb of Archbishop Romero, the 31st anniversary of whose martyrdom we celebrate today.
Obama arrived under two clouds. His administration had been decisively instrumental in allowing an illegal coup to stand in Honduras a year-and-a-half ago and for the elections organized by the coup-masters to go unchallenged. And, of course, he arrived as U.S. cruise missiles were raining down on one more Arab country. While Salvadorans know tyranny of the Gaddafi stripe, they are also very sensitive to war.
Many probably sensed that Obama, like Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes, has mounted a horse he cannot fully control. He said as much when asked about helping “legalize” undocumented Salvadoran immigrants in the United States: The U.S. Congress is tying his hands. (Few drew attention to the 50-odd immigrants that the U.S. has been deporting by air to El Salvador each day for the last three years.)
The most dramatic moment of Obama’s stay was his visit to Romero’s tomb in the cathedal crypt. He listened to the current archbishop, José Luis Escobar, in silence, then closed his eyes, ostensibly in prayer. Before leaving the cathedral, the protestant president lit a candle at the rack near Romero’s tomb. The press, dominated by the right, spilled barrels of ink about Romero, about his life and ministry. (The main media had air-brushed Romero from Salvadoran history until 1999 when the Anglican Church mounted his statue, along with seven other martyrs, on the façade of Westminster Abbey.) Continue reading “Jesuit Dean Brackley on Obama in El Salvador”
With the creeping “reform the reform” movement that is blossoming under Pope Benedict, it is very important for Vatican II Catholics to give witness to why it is vital to the church (see also Hermeneutic of Dysfunction for more on this). Here’s an excerpt from his post:
Not too long ago, I considered myself a former Catholic. I asked, “How could I, in clear conscience, choose to remain in a church that often seems to forget its call to social justice and that covers up the terrible abuses of children at the hands of priests and bishops?” The answer to my angst now seems somewhat clear: If I leave the church, I would be dishonoring the legacy of the council fathers, who, in a span of some four years, rocked the foundations of an ancient edifice. Moreover, I would be “selling-out” the prophetic figures who followed in the Vatican II spirit – figures like Oscar Romero, Gustavo Gutierrez, Dorothy Stang, Jon Sobrino, Leonardo Boff, and several other less known men and women.
Though born twenty-one years after Vatican II, I consider myself a Vatican II Catholic. When I struggle whether to remain a Catholic, I simply recall the council fathers’ heroic and prophetic stances in favor of religious liberty, peace, social justice, the vernacular liturgy, and recognition of Jews as older brothers in faith. The council fathers and those following in their spirit remind me that being Catholic means emulating Jesus by practicing love and compassion for all, but especially the marginalized and oppressed. I can only hope to not disappoint these heroic figures!
I was very happy to see that both the Sacramento and Portland-OR Catholic newspapers printed the letter below in support of American Catholic sisters and asking the Vatican to discontinue its investigation.
I was doubly happy that this letter was written by my own parents! In addition to themselves as signatories, 30 others also signed in support.
When Pope Benedict proclaimed the year for priests, the Vatican began an investigation of American Catholic Sisters. The investigation lacks collegiality, subsidiarity and transparency, core values of the Vatican II Council. The investigation is an insult to the Sisters and to American Catholic lay people.
American Religious women, in struggling with the needed reforms from Vatican II, offered vision in examining our Catholic Christian roots. They instilled their charisms of faith, vision and courage and empowered us all to be advocates for peace and justice. They became our witnesses of discipleship and faithfulness. They, too, truly deserve our gratitude and support.
The emphasis from Rome, “Praise the Priests, Investigate the Sisters” illustrates the disparity in our church.
We have much to be thankful for the good and faithful priests who bring us the Eucharist. They deserve our fullest appreciation.
They are reeling from the sordid actions of a few, about 4.5 percent over the past 50 years, including bishops, who perpetrated and covered up the scandals. Financial settlements have cost dioceses, American Catholics, and their insurance companies $1 billion.
The Sisters and we lay people deserve better. We pray the Pope will cancel the investigation of the American Religious women and proclaim a Year of the Sisters.
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.”.