A church of the poor

Regarding fraternal love (phladelphia)
you do not need anyone to write you,
since God has taught you to love (agape) one another.
1 Thessalonians 4, 9

Today is the feast of St. Aidan, the Celtic bishop of Lindisfarne, as well as the anniversary of the death of two twentieth century witnesses to God’s love ifor the poor:  Monseñor Leonidas Proaño of Riobamba, Ecuador, and John Leary of Boston.

There is a story that reveals St. Aidan as “most compassionate, a protector of the poor and a father to the wretched.” King Oswin gave him a horse, which St. Aidan gave to the poor, with all its fancy trappings. Oswin was upset and suggested that there were less valuable horses which could be given away to the poor. But Aidan replied, “What are you saying, your majesty? Is this child of a mare more valuable than this child of God?”

Monseñor Leonidas Proaño, bishop of Riobamba, Ecuador, died  twenty five years ago, on August 31, 1988.

One of the prophetic bishops of Latin America, he lived and served the church with a deep love for God and for the poor, which showed itself in a struggle for justice, in particular in solidarity with the indigenous.

He once wrote a creed, which I read in Carta a a las Iglesias  many years ago. My translation follows:

Above all, I believe in God.
I believe in God the Father.
It is he who has given me life.
He loves me infinitely.
I believe in Jesus Christ, the Word of God made flesh.
According to God’s plan, he became poor,
lived among the poor and preached the Good News to the poor.

I believe in the human person that is within me
and that is being saved by the Word of God.
I believe in the human person that is within
all of my brothers and sisters
because this same Word of God was sent to save all of us.

Therefore, I can also say that I believe in hope.
And for the same reason, I believe in justice.
I believe in reconciliation,
and I believe that we are walking toward the Kingdom of God.

I believe in the poor and the oppressed.
I believe that they are tremendously capable,
especially in their ability to receive the salvation message,
to understand it, and to put it into practice.
It is true then that we are evangelized by the poor.

I believe in the church of the poor
because Christ became poor.
He was born poor, he grew up in poverty,
he found his disciples among the poor
and he founded his Church with the poor.

A tribute to Monseños Leonidas Proaño can be found here at the blog Iglesia Descalza.

John Leary died on August 31, 1982, at the age of twenty-four, jogging to his home at the Haley House Catholic Worker from his work with the Pax Christi Center on Conscience and War.

His short life was given to service of the poor at Haley House as well as nonviolent witness against war, nuclear weapons, the draft, and abortion. An unassuming young man, he radiated respect for others – as well as a profound commitment to the God of peace and the poor God made incarnate in Jesus.

I met him several times. I only wish I had taken to time to know him more.

These three men, from different continents, show us a bit of our vocation to be a poor Church and a Church of the poor (and not only for the poor).

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2 responses to “A church of the poor

  1. Pingback: Conformed or transformed | walk the way

  2. Paul Jeffrey sent me this verse from a song about Monseñor Proaño:

    Llegaste hasta nosotros;
    te hiciste nuestro hermano;
    miraste las angustias de este pueblo
    y decidiste optar por los más pobres.

    You came to where we were
    and made yourself our brother;
    You saw the suffering of this people
    and decided to take the side of the poorest.

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