“To shake the hand of an Indian is a political act.”
Fr. Stanley Rother
Fr. Stanley Rother was a priest – an Oklahama farm boy, as Robert Ellsberg writes – who spent many years in the indigenous town of Santiago Atitlan, serving the pastoral needs of the people.
On July 28, 1981, he was killed in the rectory by three armed men who sought to silence his voice.
From what I can gather he was not a very “political” person, like some people I know here in Central America, including some priests. But his work with founding cooperatives and training catechists and pastoral workers made him a threat to the powers of Guatemala in those days. Those rulers saw every effort to work with the indigenous peoples and to empower them as threats to their national security state.
I have always been struck by Father Stan’s statement: “To shake the hand of an Indian is a political act.”
I think this has been part of the inspiration of my custom to shake the hand of almost everyone I meet when I come into a meeting.`
Here it is customary for the men to greet each other with a handshake. But I try to shake the hand of everyone – man, woman, child. Sometimes the younger children recoil, or even cry – not having seen many gringos. But other kids just smile – a little embarrassed, perhaps.
But I consider that this simple act is a way to show that I try to respect their dignity as children of God, as my sisters and brothers in Christ.
The little things mean a lot.
Thus I have grieved when I see the reaction of some in the US to the tens of thousands of young people and children who have fled poverty or violence or have travelled far to meet up with their parents. The hate, the fear, the anger fill me with a deep sadness.
But I rejoice at those who welcome the stranger, open their churches and houses to the adolescent and child migrants who seek a like of tranquility.
Their acts are political acts – not because they are supporting a political ideology, but because they are opening their lives and their hearts to the poor, the migrant, the stranger.
And in that political act, which is really just a human act, they are – I pray – experiencing Christ.