Category Archives: solidarity

Solidarity with the victims

The terrorist attacks in the city of Paris have stirred up feelings of solidarity and concern – which is right and good. We are called to feel and respond to the suffering of all people.

But for me it is paradoxical that a single terrorist attack evokes so much concern and news, while every month more than 300 people are killed here in Honduras, while each day, while, according to the World Food Program, “Poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five – 3.1 million children each year.” I recall the thousands killed in Gaza last year, the tens of thousands fleeing Syria, those feeling hunger and gang violence from Central America. The list goes on and on.

The deaths in Paris ought to open us to wider compassion, a compassion a which embraces all the victims of violence, including all the victims of structural violence which leaves so many powerless and hungry.

The words of Martin Luther King, Jr., from June 1961, can help us open our hearts in this time of pain and sorrow:

“This is to say that all life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. As long as there is poverty in this world, no man can be totally rich even if he has a billion dollars. as long as diseases are rampant and millions of people cannot expect to live more than twenty or thirty years, no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way the world is made. I didn’t make it that way, but this is the interrelated structure of reality. John Donne caught it a few centuries ago and could cry out, ‘No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main . . . any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.’ If we are to realize the American dream we must realize this world perspective.”

May our solidarity embrace all people.

True love of neighbor

Every morning I try to read about the saints and events from the day. I have assembled my own calendar of persons, events, and quotes but I also rely on Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints and Richard McBrien’s Lives of the Saints.

I also occasionally read María Berta Arroyo’s Profetas para un Mundo Nuevo, the second volume of short accounts of the martyrs of Latin America.

The entry for September presents a lesson that we could all learn.

Fortunato Collazo was a leader of his neighborhood, Juan Pablo II, in the district of San Juan de Lurigancho.

In the early hours of the morning of September 14, 1991, a group of Sendero Luminoso guerrillas broke into his house to kill him.

Another leader, Alfredo Aguirre, was awakened and walked into Fortunato’s house.

The guerrillas told Alfredo, “Vete de aquí; es pleito no es contigo. – Get out of here. Our complaint is not against you.”

Alfredo responded, “Si es contra mi vecino es contra mi. – If it against my neighbor, it’s against me.”

Both were shot and killed.

Such love, such solidarity, such sense of our connectedness are so needed in our world.

What would it be like if took Alfredo’s words to heart?

If it affects my neighbor, it affects me.


Our hope for you is unshaken;
for we know that as you share in our sufferings,
so also you share in our consolation.
2 Corinthians 1: 7

Sharing in others’ joys and sorrows, in their sufferings and consolation – that’s what solidarity is.

I think today’s first reading, 2 Corinthians 1: 1-7, is one of the most profound explications of what solidarity is.

Solidarity is not feeling sorry for someone. It’s not just looking at others’ pain and suffering.

No, it’s identifying ourselves with others – as Jesus totally identified Himself with us by becoming human.

When we identify with others, God helps us break the bonds of division and find real healing and reconciliation.

Pope John Paul II put it well, in his encyclical On Social Concern (Sollicituo Rei Socialis), ¶ 28:

         Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all….
Solidarity helps us to see the “other” — whether a person, people or nation — not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our “neighbor,” a “helper”, to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.

We are in this together. So as Christ Jesus cast His lot with us, so we too are called to cast out lot with all the people of the world – especially those most in need.

This is the way to real peace. That is the way that brings real joy.

Good news for the poor

Make justice your aim.
Isaiah 1: 17 

Today the Catholic Church in the US honors Mother Katherine Drexel who died in 1955 at the age of ninety-six. She founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for the care of “Indians and Colored People,” in the terminology of her time.

When I was a kid rowing up in Darby, a suburb of Philadelphia, I remember her sisters coming to Mass at our church as part of a mission appeal, asking for funds but also asking us to pray for her canonization.

Although she was born to a wealthy family and inherited an incredible fortune, when she founded her order she made the decision that her fortune would be used for others and that her sisters would beg for money.

With her fortune she founded schools and institutions for Native Americans and Black Americans, including helping fund the founding of Xavier University in New Orleans, the first Catholic institution of higher learning for Black Catholic Americans.

Though she was not known as an outspoken advocate of justice, she did speak out against segregation and her sisters working in Harlem were maligned for their identification with Blacks.

She is an example of a person who came from a position of wealth and power but gave not only her wealth, but her life, for those on the margins of society.

She was inspired by her father and her stepmother, who opened the doors of their mansion three times a week to feed and help the poor.

What I find inspiring is that, though she controlled and distributed hundred of thousands of dollars each year, she used none of it for herself or for her congregation of sisters. It was all for others.

She took seriously the phrase from today’s Gospel, “The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 23: 11)

She sought to be Good news for the poor, in the ways she could. As she once said:

“If we live the Gospel, we will be people of justice and our lives will bring good news to the poor.”

How will I be a person of justice and peace and good news for the poor? How will I dispose of my wealth, compared to the people around me, to be a sign of God’s love for those at the margins? How will I live the Gospel?

Martyr of Solidarity

Thirty years ago today, in the wee hours of the morning, a Catholic priest was beaten and thrown into a reservoir. Blessed Jerzy Popielusko was a martyr for Solidarity whom I’ve admired ever since I read his story.

Solidarity was the name of a labor union movement in Poland that began soon after Pope John Paul II made a visit to his homeland in 1979.

In August 1980, ship workers in Gdansk went on strike. Warsaw steelworkers joined them in solidarity and sent someone to the chancery to ask for a priest to come and say Mass for them.

Father Jerzy Popieluszko happened to be there and volunteered to go and celebrate Mass at the huge cross the strikers had erected at their factory.

This young priest was an unlikely advocate of the strikers. But he soon became their chaplain, advocate, and spiritual advisor.

After the December 1981 martial law crackdown and arrest of many Solidarity union members, he visited those in prison and help organize ways to respond to their families. He also began to celebrate a monthly Mass for the Fatherland where he helped Solidarity discover its spiritual roots.

He very clearly saw his work not as political – though it had strong political implications. He was only doing what the church should always do – be at the side of people struggling to live as human beings.

As he said:

…when people suffer and are persecuted, the church also feels the pain. The mission of the church is to be with the people and to share in their joys and sorrows.

He, like another martyr for solidarity with the poor, Monseñor Oscar Romero, knew that this was dangerous work. When we truly side with the poor we can expect to be misunderstood and even persecuted.

As Father Jerzy said:

If we must die, it is better to meet death while defending a worthwhile cause than sitting back and letting an injustice take place.

For his preaching and solidarity his Masses were interrupted and a bomb thrown at his apartment. Finally, he was kidnapped on the night of October 19, 1984, and killed early the next day.

Not many of us are called to witness by dying for God and the oppressed, but we are all called to give our lives to serve God.

As Blessed Jerzy put it:

To serve God is to seek a way to human hearts. To serve God is to speak about evil as a sickness which should be brought to light so that it can be cured. To serve God is to condemn evil in all its manifestations.


Relic of Father Jerzy Popieluszko

Relic of Father Jerzy Popieluszko

The church of San Bartolomeo all’Isola in Rome has been set up by the Community of San Egidio as a place to remember the martyrs of the New Millenium. In the chapels there are relics of many recent martyrs, including the Missal used by Archbishop Romero the day he was killed in El Salvador, one of the letters from a Nazi prison of Blessed Franz Jägerstätter, and one of the stone in the bag that was used to drown Blessed Jerzy Popielusko. Here is a photo of the relic of Blessed Jerzy.

Dean of Solidarity

Dean Brackley, a Jesuit priest, died of pancreatic cancer in San Salvador on October 16, 2011. I feel privileged to have met him several times and to have profited from his wisdom. His book of Ignatian spirituality, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola, helped me discern my decision to come to Honduras.

Dean had worked in the South Bronx and at Fordham University before going to El Salvador and teaching at the Jesuit University there – the UCA, the Central American University. He had volunteered after the killing of the Jesuits there on November 16, 1989. Besides working in a parish he taught at the University and welcomed groups from the US that came to visit El Salvador and the UCA. Every so often, Dean returned to the US to speak as well as to teach at a Jesuit university.

Dean is an embodiment of the solidarity that Christ calls us to. He was a bridge between the world of the poor in El Salvador and the world of those of us who have much.

I like to share his essay “Meeting the Victims, Falling in Love” with people who come to visit. Here is an extended excerpt:

These people [the poor] shake us up because they bring home to us that things are much worse in the world than we dared to imagine. But that is only one side of the story: If we allow them to share their suffering with us, they communicate some of their hope to us as well. The smile that seems to have no foundation in the facts is not phony; the spirit of fiesta is not an escape but a recognition that something else is going on in the world besides injustice and destruction. The poor smile because they suspect that this something is more powerful than the injustice. When they insist on sharing their tortilla with a visiting gringo, we recognize there is something going on in the world that is more wonderful than we dared to imagine.

It seems that the victim offers us the privileged place (although not the only place) to encounter the truth which sets us free. The poor usher us into the heart of reality. They bring us up against the world and ourselves all at once. To some extent, we all hold reality at arm’s length — fending off intolerable parts of the world with one hand and intolerable parts of ourselves with the other. The two go together. As a rule, our encounters with the world place us in touch with internal reality, as well. In particular, when the world’s pain crashes in upon us in the person of the victim, the encounter dredges up from within us the parts of ourselves that we had banished. The outcast outside us calls forth the outcast within us. This is why people avoid the poor. But meeting them can heal us. We will only heal our inner divisions if we are also working to heal our social divisions.
The victims of history — the destitute, abused women, oppressed minorities, all those the Bible calls “the poor” — not only put us in touch with the world and with ourselves, but also with the mercy of God. There is something fathomless about the encounter with the poor, as we have said — like the opening of a chess game with its infinite possibilities. If we let them, the poor will place us before the abyss of the holy Mystery we call God. They are a kind of door that opens before that Mystery.

A copy of the full article can be found here.

Where are the others?

We must be saved together.
We cannot go to God alone;
else He would ask
“Where are the others?”
Charles Péguy

One hundred years ago today, on September 5, 1914, French Catholic playwright and poet Charles Péguy was killed in the battle of the Marne.

Péguy is one of the French Catholic writers who initiated a resurgence of Catholic life and thought in France. I don’t recall ever having read one of his plays or poems but he deserves to be remembered for who he was and what he tried to do.

Born poor, he was a socialist who had a deep fascination with Saint Joan of Arc. In the early years of his married life, he and his wife ran a book store and a salon for discussions in Paris’ Left Bank.

He was an ardent supporter of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French officer who was accused falsely of espionage and treason. He continued supporting Dreyfus long after others had abandoned him.

Eventually Péguy regained his Catholic faith – to the astonishment of his political friends and the disdain of his wife. But Péguy retained his convictions of concern for the poor and his disdain of bourgeois Catholicism.

But his was a faith that was both traditional and revolutionary.

In 1911 he walked to the shrine of Mary at the Cathedral of Chartres, pleading for his son who was ill of diphtheria. The pilgrimage continues to this day.

What strikes me is that he maintained his radical sense of solidarity with the poor as he sought to follow God in the Church.

As Robert Ellsberg notes in All Saints, his was “a spirit of solidarity informed not only by his socialist convictions, but in a peculiar sense by his understanding of the communion of saints.”

“We cannot go to God alone.”


Being a disciple is not an individualistic pursuit of my individual salvation. It is a call to be with others and, with them, to approach the “throne of grace.”


“Where are the others?”


Where are they – in our lives now and in our journey to God?


Do we walk with them?


Will we find ourselves before God with others – especially the poor and outcast?


That’s for me the challenge of Charles Péguy.



The solidarity of Mary and Elizabeth

Painting in the church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador

Painting in the church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador

Mary went in haste
to visit her cousin Elizabeth.
Luke 1: 

Mary, pregnant with the Word of God, goes to visit her aged cousin, Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist.

Did she go just to help her cousin or did she go seeking the help and advice of an older relative who was also experiencing pregnancy?

Did she go confident of what she had experienced when the angel appeared to her or did she go to share her misgivings with a cousin whose husband had also been visited by an angel?

We will probably never know.

But I think this is a case of real solidarity, real accompaniment. Both are sharing and caring for each other. Both have something to offer. Both experience the presence of the Lord in very physical ways – Mary with Jesus in her womb and Elizabeth with John jumping (kicking?) in hers.

When we realize that God is present, we can be more open to accompanying the other person, being there with them in joys and sorrows, in pain and in laughter.

May this season be a time to renew experiences of solidarity and accompaniment – so that we can remember that God is present.

Thomas Merton, democracy, and St. Elizabeth

“It seems to me that there are very dangerous ambiguities about our democracy in its actual present condition. I wonder to what extent our ideals are now a front for organized selfishness and systematic irresponsibility. If our affluent society ever breaks down and the facade is taken away, what are we going to have left?”

So wrote Thomas Merton decades ago, but I think his thoughts are an antidote to a love of self and of one’s own self-interests that a professed love of country often hides.

In the face of the economic downturns of the last few years, looking from outside, I believe that, in the US and other countries, an evil spirit of contention has replaced the love of the common good, of all God’s people.

In the early 1980s, a friend who knew of my rather strong anti-nationalism feelings, mentioned to me the insights of Georges Bernanos, in The Two Sources of Religion and Morality, (pp. 266-7) on the difference between the open and the closed society. I need to re-read the book, but these quotes give an idea of the difference between the two types:

“The closed society is that whose members hold together, caring nothing for the rest of humanity, on the alert for attack or defence, bound, in fact, to a perpetual readiness for battle.”

“The open society is the society which is deemed in principle to embrace all humanity.”

The open society is, as I see it, is the society that makes solidarity central, not as a mere feeling, but, as Pope John Paul II wrote in  On Social Concern,  ¶ 28:

Solidarity is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all….

Solidarity helps us to see the “other” — whether a person, people or nation — not just as some kind of instrument, with a work capacity and physical strength to be exploited at low cost and then discarded when no longer useful, but as our “neighbor,” a “helper”, to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God.

Such a vision will lead to a concern for the common good and will break through the narrowness of our concerns that leads to war and injustice.

And so it is fitting that today is also the feast of St. Elizabeth of Portugal, Queen and Franciscan tertiary, noted for her care of the poor and her peacemaking efforts. In her words, set in the framework of medieval Portugal and Spain:

Do not forget that when sovereigns are at war they can no longer busy themselves with their administration; justice is not distributed; no care is taken of the people; and this alone is your sovereign charge, this it the main point of your duty as kings.

In a democracy that is an open society, focused on the common good, the solidarity of the children of God who are peacemakers and hunger and history will become the goal and the ideal.

May the US, Honduras, and other countries begin to work in this direction.

Guatemala’s Martyred Bishop, Juan Geradi

The history of Central America, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, is bloody. Many know of the violence in El Salvador, partly because of the killings of Archbishop Romero and the four US women missionaries in 1980, partly because of the overt US support of the government and military – in the mid-1980s at a rate of about one million US dollars a day.

The history of Guatemalan oppression is much less known, though it is bloodier and lasted longer. After the war was over, the Guatemalan Archdiocesan Human Rights Office supported the Recovery of Historical Memory Project [REMHI], to investigate the killings. The project released a report that implicated the Guatemalan government and military in 90% of the 200,000 plus killings and disappearances.

Guatemala City auxiliary bishop Juan Gerardi led the investigation and spoke at the release of the report. He had experienced the repression first hand when he was bishop of Santa Cruz de Quiché. The violence got so bad that he and the priests withdrew from the diocese, partly at the urging of the people. He went into exile but later returned.

Two days after the REMHI report was released, Bishop Gerardi was killed on April 26, 1988, fifteen years ago today.

When he reported the findings of the REMHI report on April 24, 1998, he noted the importance of the report and the dangers in releasing such information:

We want to contribute to the building of a country different than the one we have now.  For that reason we are recovering the memory of our people.  This path has been and continues to be full of risks, but the construction of the Reign of God has risks and can only be built by those that have the strength to confront those risks.

Even today there are dangers as can be noted in the trial of former Guatemalan general and president Rios Montt, which was revealing more of the massacres of indigenous peoples. The status of the trial is unsure now. For more information, look at the Central American Politics blog of a friend and University of Scranton professor, Mike Allison.

Impunity for crimes against the poor and indigenous are not uncommon in Latin America.

But that means that we are called even more to practice the virtue of solidarity, that is, as Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis [On Social Concern], paragraph 28, wrote, the “firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all….”

This is not something political, nor is it merely the social aspect of our faith. Solidarity is, as Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it, “an encounter with God.”

Bishop Gerardi put it more starkly, on March 10, a few weeks before his martyrdom:

We ought to reflect on the suffering of Christ in his Mystical Body. That means, that if the poor person is not part of our life, then, perhaps, Christ is not part of our life.

El sufrimiento de Cristo en su cuerpo místico es algo que nos debe hacer reflexionar. Es decir, si el pobre está fuera de nuestra vida, entonces quizás, Jesús está fuera de nuestra vida.

May Christ – present in the suffering and the poor, in the crucified peoples of this world – become ever more central to our lives.