Category Archives: Latin America

Going out to meet the other

Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.
Luke 1:39

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Today, the church in the Americas celebrates the visitation of the Mother of God to an Indian, Juan Diego, on a hilltop in Mexico.

Mary appears to Juan Diego several times and asks him to go to the bishop to have a church built on the site, “so that I can show and bestow my love, compassion, help, and protection to all who inhabit this land…”

Twice he receives a lukewarm reception from the bishop.

On December 12, 1531, Juan Diego set out for the city to get a priest to hear his ill uncle’s confession. As Antonio Valeriano writes, “he went around the hill and passed on the other side, to the east, so as to arrive quickly in Mexico City and to avoid being detained by the Heavenly Lady.”

But Mary was insistent: “she came out to meet him.”

Mary had gone in haste to her cousin Elizabeth’s and then went out to meet Juan Diego on the road.

Mary shows us a God, the God she bore in her womb, who goes out to encounter the other, especially those in need. She reaches out to the poor, the outcast, the nothings of this world.

What a contrast to what a friend experienced a few months ago. He went to a government office to ask for help to get some soil samples tested. He was told that they didn’t have time for him.

In contrast, Mary takes time for the other, for us, and especially for the poor.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a challenge to us to take time for others, especially the poor, to welcome those who are without power, who are despised by the rich and powerful.

For, as Pope Francis said in a general audience on December 11, 2013:

When the image of the Virgin appeared on the tilma of Juan Diego, it was the prophecy of an embrace: Mary’s embrace of all the peoples of the vast expanses of America — the peoples who already lived there, and those who were yet to come.
Mary’s embrace showed what America — North and South — is called to be: a land where different peoples come together; a land prepared to accept human life at every stage, from the mother’s womb to old age; a land which welcomes immigrants, and the poor and the marginalized, in every age. A land of generosity.

 

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Prayer of St. Alberto Hurtado SJ

Today is the feast of the Chilean Jesuit Alberto Hurtado who lived between 1901 and 1952.

img-Saint-Alberto-Hurtado-CruchagaHe combined in his life a deep spirituality, a commitment with the poor, and participation in the struggle for justice, based in his faith.

He founded El Hogar de Cristo for homeless and abandoned children; he helped found a Christian labor union movement; he started a periodical to explain Catholic Social Teaching.

I have written about him in earlier posts here, here, and here. Fr. James Martin, SJ, has a reflection on St. Alberto on the America magazine blog here.

I came across a prayer of his that I think deserves sharing. My English translation is followed by the original in Spanish.

Lord, help me to speak the truth in front of the strong
and not say lies to gain the applause of the weak.

If you give me fortune, don’t take happiness away from me.
If you give me strength, don’t take reason away from me.
If you give me success, don’t take humility away from me.
If you give me humility, don’t take dignity away from me.

Help we always see the other side of the medal.
Do not let me blame others of treason
for not thinking like me.
Teach me to love people as myself
and to judge myself as others.

Do not let me fall into pride if I triumph
nor in despair if I fail.
Rather, remind me that failure
is the experience which precedes triumph.

Teach me that forgiving is the grandest for the strong
and that revenge is the primitive sign of the weak.

If you take away my fortune, leave me with hope.
If you take away success, leave me with the strength
to triumph from the defeat.

If I fail people, give me the courage to ask pardon.
If the people fail me, give me the courage to forgive.
Lord, if I forget You, don’t forget me.

Here’s the Spanish:

Señor, ayúdame a decir la verdad delante de los fuertes
Y a no decir mentiras para ganarme el aplauso de los débiles.

Si me das fortuna, no me quites la felicidad.
Si me das fuerza, no me quites la razón.
Si me das éxito, no me quites la humildad.
Si me das humildad, no me quites la dignidad.

Ayúdame siempre a ver el otro lado de la medalla.
No me dejes inculpar de traición a los demás
por no pensar como yo.
Enséñame a querer a la gente como a mí mismo
y a juzgarme como a los demás.

No me dejes caer en el orgullo si triunfo,
ni en la desesperación si fracaso.
Más bien recuérdame que el fracaso
es la experiencia que precede al triunfo.

Enséñame que perdonar es lo más grande del fuerte,
Y que la venganza es la señal primitiva del débil.

Si me quitas la fortuna, déjame la esperanza.
Si me quitas el éxito, déjame la fuerza para triunfar del fracaso.

Si yo fallara a la gente, dame valor para disculparme.
Si la gente fallara conmigo, dame valor para perdonar.
Señor, si yo me olvido de Ti, no te olvides de mí.

The dying grain of wheat

…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.
John 12: 24-25
NRSV translation

Monseñor Romero and Padre Luis Espinal

Monseñor Romero and Padre Luis Espinal

When I die, I’d like John 12: 20-26 read at my funeral.

Years ago, I came across Archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero’s commentary on this passage, in Fr. James Brockman’s collection of quotations, The Violence of Love:

“Those who, in the biblical phrase,
would save their lives —
that is, those who want to get along,
who don’t want commitments,
who want to stay outside
what demands the involvement of all of us —
they will lose their lives.
What a terrible thing to have lived quite comfortably,
with no suffering, not getting involved in problems,
quite tranquil, quite settled,
with good connections
— politically, economically, socially —
lacking nothing, having everything.
To what good?
They will lose their lives.
But those who for love of Me uproot themselves
and accompany the poor in their suffering
and become incarnated and feel as their own
the pain and the abuse —
they will secure their lives,
because my Father will reward them.”

Brothers and sisters, God’s word calls us to this
today.
Let me tell you with all the conviction I can muster:
it is worthwhile to be a Christian.
To each of us Christ is saying:
“If you want your life and mission
to be fruitful like mine, do as I do.
Be converted into a seed that lets itself be buried.
Let yourself be killed. Do not be afraid.
Those who shun suffering will remain alone.
No one is more alone than the selfish.
But if you give your life out of love for others,
as I give mine for all,
you will reap a great harvest.
You will have the deepest satisfaction.”
Do not fear death threats; the Lord goes with you.

I also want this quote read at my funeral, since it has been central to my understanding of God’s call for me – even before I came to Honduras.

I think it was important for Monseñor Romero who used a shortened version of this in his last homily, on March 24, 1980, moments before he was martyred at the altar as he finished his homily.

Today, I came across another quotation that sheds light on today’s reading, from another Latin American martyr. Fr. Luis Espinal, S.J., was abducted on March 21, 1980, and his tortured and bullet-ridden body was found on the afternoon of March 22. The quote, taken from Margaret Hebblethwaite’s Base Communities is found in Jim Manney, An Ignatian Book of Days:

Losing one’s life means working for others, even though they don’t pay us back. It means doing a favor without it being returned. Losing one’s life means jumping in even when failure is the likely outcome— and doing it without being overly prudent. It means burning bridges for the sake of our neighbor. Losing one’s life should not be accompanied by pompous or dramatic gestures. Life is to be given simply, without fanfare— like a waterfall, like a mother nursing her child, like the humble sweat of the sower of seed.

These two quotes express the challenge of Jesus’ call to be like the grain of wheat. Meditating on this Gospel and the two commentaries of martyrs will be a good discipline for me in these last two weeks of Lent.

The quotation from Romero, from The Violence of Love, is reprinted from www.bruderhof.com. Copyright 2003 by The Bruderhof Foundation, Inc. Used with permission.

The imprudence of a martyr

…let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more.
Jeremiah 11: 19

 In a few days we will celebrate the 35th anniversary of the martyrdom of Blessed Monseñor Romero, the archbishop killed at the altar on March 24, 1980.

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Yet a few days before his martyrdom, a Jesuit missionary from Catalonia, in Spain, was abducted and killed in Bolivia.

Father Luis Espinal, Padre Lucho, was abducted from a jeep in La Paz Bolivia in the evening of March 21, 1980. He was tortured in El Alto, near La Paz, and his bullet-ridden body was found the next day.

Luis Espinal was a print and television journalist, as well as a movie critic. His work revealed the oppression and injustice at the root of the Bolivian political and social system of his day.

His assassins tried to silence his voice, as they often try to silence the voices of truth and justice.

Father Luis Espinal’s martyrdom has been overshadowed by that of Monseñor Romero but his witness and his words can inspire us to live the truth of the Gospel in our daily life – no matter the cost.

It may have seemed imprudent to Padre Lucho – as wellas to Monseñor Romero – to be quiet in the face of persecution and death. But, as Fr. Luis Espinal once wrote this prayer:

Everyone speaks to us of prudence, Lord, but of a prudence that is not yours, that we search for in vain in your Gospel. Jesus Christ, we give you thanks because You did not stay silent so as to avoid the cross, because You lashed out at the powerful, knowing that You were gambling with Your life…. You do not want a prudence that leads to omission and that makes imprisonment impossible for us. The terrible prudence of stilling the shouts of the hungry and the oppressed…. It is not prudent to ‘sell all that you have and give it to the poor.’ It is imprudent to give one’s life for one’s God and for one’s brothers and sisters.

May God give all of us the true prudence that give us the courage to stand up for justice and not the “prudence” of the world that keeps us silent in the face of suffering.

Hearing the poor

My dear Lady,… this I beg you, entrust your mission to one of the important persons who is well known, respected, and esteemed, so that they may believe him. You know that I am a nobody, a nothing, a coward, a pile of old sticks… You have sent me to walk in places I do not belong. Forgive me and please do not be angry with me, my Lady and Mistress.
St. Juan Diego

 On December 9, 1531, a Christian from the Chichimeca tribe, Juan Diego Cuatitlatoatzin (“the talking eagle”), was called by the Virgin. She told him to go to the bishop and ask that a church be constructed on the hill of Tepeyac.

The bishop was skeptical, to put it mildly. But several days later the Virgin had Juan Diego gather roses in his tilma, his cloak, to show the bishop a sign. But an even more impressive sign was the image of the Virgin imprinted on his tilma, the image we now know as the Virgin of Guadalupe.

“Who would listen to an ‘indio,’ an Indian?” some would say. What can one of those uneducated savages teach us, who have been trained in the schools and churches of Europe?

That message is what Juan Diego seems to have imbibed from the Spanish invaders. It is a message that the poor, especially the rural poor, still receive from much of the world – especially here in Honduras. “You are just an ‘Indio;’ you don’t know anything. Let us tell you what to do and how to do it.”

This message comes not just from foreign institutions; it comes from people in their country, even in the government. A few years ago I read of a Honduras president of Congress who called the people “gente del monte,” which can be variously translated as “hill billies,” “hayseeds,” “people of the weeds.”

But said to say they also sometime get this message from the church. I have heard radical priests denigrate the poor because they don’t understand things.

But the message of the Virgin of Guadalupe is that God speaks to us through the poor. Sometimes those with the least education are those who can show us the wisdom of God.

This is the message of Jesus that we find in the Gospel for the Mass of St. Juan Diego:

I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and have reveled them to the simple.
Matthew 11: 25

Today, Lord, help me to listen to the little ones, so that I may hear your voice and respond in love, as Juan Diego responded to the call of Your Mother.

Crucified peoples

Today is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the killing of two women and six Jesuits at the Jesuit Central American University (UCA) in El Salvador.

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The Jesuits, only one of whom was a native Salvadoran, had spent their lives at the service of the poor, some in direct work with parishes and the poor, others as world-renowned intellectuals. Some were both – Father Ignacio Martin-Baro was a social psychologist and also served with the parish of Jayaque; Father Segundo Montes was a sociologist and an advocate for Salvadoran refugees and displaced because of the civil war.

I remember the morning when the word reached Ames, Iowa, where I was serving as a campus minister. I was outraged; I called my senator and spoke with an aide who insisted the killings were the work of the guerilla. I told him that he was absolutely wrong and that Salvadoran archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas had placed the blame directly at the feet of the US-backed Salvadoran forces.

In 1990, Orbis Books published Companions of Jesus: The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador, with article by Jon Sobrino, the martyred UCA rector Ignacio Ellacuría, and several other of the Jesuits. I used it several time when teaching the course “Belief and Unbelief” at Iowa State University.

What especially struck me were these words of Jon Sobrino that reflect on a meditation of Ignacio Ellacuría, related to St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises:

Something that was very original and extremely relevant to our situation was Ignacio Ellacuría’s interpretation of the meditation on our sins in the presence of the crucified Jesus. He related it to our Third World, and asked what have we done to cause all these people to be crucified, what are we doing about their crosses and what are we going to do to bring them down from the cross.

That is a good meditation for today – and for everyday, as we seek to look at the crucified peoples of the world, who often suffer from our sins as Jesus died for ours.

 

Paying the price

“What does it mean to be a Jesuit today? to commit oneself under the banner of the cross in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and the struggle for justice which that very faith demands…. We will not work in the promotion of justice without paying the price.”

These words from the Constitution of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, were written in the 1970s. They were prophetic words in light of the Jesuits killed in many parts of the world.

Tomorrow is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Jesuit martyrs of San Salvador Central American University (UCA) who were killed by Salvadoran military forces who were trained and financed by the United States.

A plaque with the above words from the Jesuit Constitution graces the wall in the UCA chapel where they are buried.

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But dying while seeking justice is not just a recent experience of the Jesuits.

Today is the anniversary of the killing of two Jesuits in Paraguay, Saints Roque González and Alonso Rodríguez, who were working among the Guarani in the Jesuit “reductions,” places of refuge for the native peoples. Though they were killed by chiefs who saw them as agents of the colonial exploiters, they had given their lives for the marginalized and often enslaved Guarani.

The struggle for faith and the struggle for justice are not separate; they are part of the same endeavor to live as members of the Kingdom of God. We need to show people the loving God we worship but we also need to accompany them in their efforts to live as children of that loving God.

It is not always easy and sometimes comes at a step cost. But God calls us to commit ourselves under the banner of the Cross, a banner of love, of mercy, of justice, of self-giving.