Tag Archives: Latin American bishops

A bishop of the Church of the Poor

“What do you think?”
Monseñor Leonidas Proaño

Though the Latin American bishops did not have a very pronounced role in the Second Vatican Council, a number of them proceeded to put the reforms of the Council into practice. In November 1965, just before the close of the Council about 39 bishops got together and formulated what has become known as “The Pact of the Catacombs.” A translation of an article by Jon Sobrino can be found here.

One of those bishops was the Ecuadoran Leonidas Proaño, who died on August 31, 1988.


After the Council, he proceeded to help in the founding of IPLA, the Latin American Pastoral Institute, which held short training sessions for many priests, including the Salvadoran Jesuit Rutilio Grande. After the session he and another Salvadoran, Higinio Alas, spent a month in Bishop Proaño’s diocese of Riobamba. It was there that Higinio was impressed by the persistent question of Monseñor: “What do you think?”

Monseñor Proaño was a great defender of the poor indigenous campesino. They saw him as one who treated them with a deep respect. He often went throughout his diocese wearing a poncho.

Respect was not enough and needed to be shown in social changes. One of the ways Monseñor Proaño did this was a redistribution of the land owned by the church in Ecuador. I don’t know the full details of this but this preceded later government efforts to redistribute land.

All this was based in a deep faith in God, expressed in this Credo:

   “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 [person] that is within me and that is being saved by the Word of God. I believe in the 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.”

Bishop martyr of Argentina

“…we should have one ear to the Gospel
and the other to the people,
to know what God is saying to us.”
 Bishop Enrique Angelelli

Forty years ago, on August 4, 1976, Monseñor Enrique Angelelli, Bishop of La Rioja, Argentina, was killed. It was made to look like a car accident but it was the work of the Argentinian dictatorship. He was the first of twentieth century Latin American bishops martyred for their faith in a God of justice and love for the poor.

A few weeks before he was killed, he preached at the funeral of two of his priests who were martyred, Gabriel Longueville and Carlos Murias.

What was their final sermon – as I see it? It is very difficult to be consistent in one’s life; but they were; they achieved the privilege and the choice by God to give witness and to seal with their own blood what is means to be Christians.

What does it mean to be a martyr, a witness of the resurrection of our Lord? The witness is the one who has seen, has touched, has heard, has experienced, has been chosen, and even more has been sent to go and say to all: the Lord has risen.

Therefore, this blood is joyful, the blood of martyrs poured out for the Gospel, for the name of the Lord, to serve the people and to announce the Good News of peace and joy.

Within a month he himself was dead, another victim of the dictatorship. A briefcase he was carrying, full of documents on the crimes of the dictatorship, was suspiciously not found. In 2014 two former soldiers were sentenced to life imprisonment for killing him.

At the funeral of Father Carlos and Gabriel, Monseñor Angelelli addressed the question of forgiveness in a very profound but concrete way:

How difficult it is to be a Christian? Because the Christian has to forgive.

If someone would tell us, “We don’t have to forgive; to kill priest is not Christian, nor even human,” we would respond without hesitating: the Christian has to forgive everyone. But it’s another thing to approve their errors and another thing altogether to fail to work to stop these things from happening.

But surely the conscience of the person who is responsible has to tell him: “You did this!” I don’t know how he could sleep or, if he’s married, how he could kiss his wife and children. I don’t understand this from the perspective of faith, nor even humanly, in this and other cases…. I don’t understand how those men can take those like themselves, and,  calling themselves Christians, tear them into pieces and grind them up as one does with wheat to make bread, even though this time the wheat has yielded blessed bread. Don’t you remember that Tertullian said that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of new Christians. This, these very executioners are tools, in a certain way, of good, so that there may arise a community which is strong in faith, hope, and love.

We will be happy if God forgives them and we wish them to take account of what they have done. We also hope that those who have used their intelligence to perpetrate this crime find their mind enlightened by truth. And we pray that God does not permit whoever plotted this to think that they have done this in the name of faith; that would be an aberration. Let us forgive and ask God to forgive them.

Bishop Angelelli was one of the lights of the church in Latin America, calling for conversion – both personal and social. May his witness, his martyrdom, awaken in many the commitment to God and the poor.

Fortunate are the poor

Fortunate are those who have the spirit of the poor.
Matthew 5: 3
Fortunate are you who are poor.
Luke 6: 20
All members of the church are called to live in evangelical poverty,
but not all in the same way…
Medellin, Poverty, ¶ 6

The first beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel, most often translated as “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” is difficult for us who are first world Christians. We want to reduce it to spiritual poverty, a mere detachment from goods, which lets us hold on to our wealth and privilege in a world of massive poverty.

The first beatitude in Luke’s Gospel is much more challenging and upsetting, even in the usual translation. It truly turns the world upside down.

Blessed are you who are poor…

The best commentary I know of is from the document on Poverty from the Latin American bishops conference meeting at Medellin in 1968.

In paragraph 4 the bishops distinguish three understandings of poverty:

a) Poverty, as a lack of the goods of this world necessary to live worthily as humans, is in itself evil. The prophets denounce it as contrary to the will of the Lord and most of the time as the fruit of the injustice and sin of humans.

b) Spiritual poverty is the theme of the poor of Yahweh. Spiritual poverty is the attitude of opening up to God, the ready disposition of one who hopes for everything from the Lord. Although one values the goods of this world, one does not become attached to them and recognizes the higher value of the riches of the Kingdom.

c) Poverty as a commitment, through which one assumes voluntarily and lovingly the conditions of the needy of this world in order to bear witness to the evil which it represents and to spiritual liberty in the face of material goods, follows the example of Christ who took to himself all the consequences of humanity’s sinful condition and who “being rich became poor”  in order to redeem us.

In the following paragraph the bishops suggest what “a poor church” does:

–Denounces the unjust lack of this world’s goods and the sin that begets it;
–Preaches and lives in spiritual poverty, as an attitude of spiritual childhood and openness to the Lord;
–Is herself bound to material poverty. The poverty of the church is, in effect, a constant factor in the history of salvation.

If we would try to live this, I think we would be a better church and the world would be a bit better.

And we would be living the solidarity that Paul speaks of in today’s first reading from 2 Corinthian 1: 1-7, a sharing of both comforts and afflictions.

And so I pray, as Paul does,

Our hope for you is firm,
for we know that as you share in our sufferings,
you may also share in the consolation.

May we strive to be a poor church, a church for the poor, and a church of the poor.