Tag Archives: Mexico

Teaching how to fish is not enough

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…
to preach Good News to the Poor.
Luke 4: 18-19

There are bishops who are good news to the poor.

Five years ago today Bishop Samuel Ruiz, retired bishop of San Cristobal de Las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, passed on to his Lord.

A defender of the indigenous, he was loved by the poor but vilified by the rich and powerful. He developed a diaconate program among the indigenous in his diocese, which was eventually squelched by Vatican authorities. But when Pope Francis visits Mexico he will, according to reports, visit the tomb of Jtatic Samuel.

I visited the tomb in late January 2012 and saw it adorned with flowers.

Don Samuel's tomb

Tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz

I wrote about him in an earlier post, where I also mentioned Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey, another witness for the poor. But today I want to share this reflection of Don Samuel which appeared in Catholic Peace Ministry Newsletter, June 2000:

      It’s a very well known saying that if someone offers you a fish, you don’t take it. You ask him to teach you how to fish.
So, Pedro learns how to fish. He goes to the store and he says, “I want to buy a net and I want to buy a hook,” And the owner of the store says, “Uh, what’s going on here, Pedro? You learned how to fish?”
He says, “Yeah, I learned how to fish.” Then the owner says to him, “OK, but what you didn’t know is you have to sell me a portion of your fish.” And Pedro says, “OK,” and he goes out and starts fishing.
He’s on the edge of the lake and soon he feels somebody tapping on his shoulder and somebody is standing there, telling him, “What’s going on here? You can’t be fishing here. This is private land.” And so they push him off.
Pedro has been given a skill, but that’s not enough. You can work on the “development” of the individual person, but the other half of that is working on the structural injustices.
The only question at the end of our lives is about entering the Reign of God: the reign prepared for those who visited the least of their sisters and brothers in jail and who fed them when they were hungry, the reign which those who reject the poor will not enter.
So the ultimate question is not a question of orthodoxy [right belief] but of orthopraxy [right practice].
The final question is not was I right or wrong but did I love my sisters and brothers or not. Whether I was loving my brothers or sisters or not — that is the only question.

May Don Samuel inspire all of us to be Good News to the poor – accompanying them and working to change the structures that keep them impoverished.


A Lebanese hermit in Mexico

In January 2012 I went to San Cristobal de las Casas, in Chiapas, Mexico, for the wedding of a friend.

One day I went walking around town and visited a few churches. In one I saw the image of a saint with ribbons on his arms.

Iglesia Guadalupe, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México

Iglesia Guadalupe, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México

The image seemed very non-Mexican but it was there, right next to an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. It was the image of St. Sharbel Makhlof, a Lebanese Maronite monk who lived in the nineteenth century. Today his feast in celebrated in the Catholic Church.*

St. Sharbel never left Lebanon and spent most of his time in a monastery, living most of the later years of his life as a hermit. He was revered as a wonder-worker after his death.

Lebanese Maronites who immigrated to Mexico (and other parts of the Americas) brought their devotion to the holy monk Sharbel with them. (He was canonized in 1977.) Though many of them became Roman Catholics, they kept their devotion to him. Now many people write their petitions on colored ribbons and place them on the arms of St. Sharbel.

The holiness of a monk is spread to another continent, reminding us of the catholicity of the Church, the People of God.

We are one.

That oneness, that solidarity is reflected in the saints who are revered far from their homes.

That solidarity can also be practiced as we remember the Middle East, torn apart by so much conflict these days.

Saint Sharbel, pray for us, asking the Lord to grant us peace – in Honduras, in Latin America, in Lebanon and Syria.


The Maronites are Catholics, with a strong connection to the Patriarchal See of Antioch, who celebrated the Eucharist with a different rite but are in union with the Catholic Church and the pope.

Gentle strength

There is nothing so strong as gentleness
and there is nothing so gentle as real strength.
St. Francis de Sales

Today is the feast of Saint Francis de Sales, a Swiss bishop who pioneered a spirituality for lay people which emphasized patience with oneself and living God’s love.

Today is also the anniversary of the death of Sister Dorothy Marie Hennessey, a Dubuque Franciscan sister, who died in 2008 at the age of 94.

She was a remarkable little sister, a tireless advocate for peace and human rights. She took part in one of the walks for peace across the United States and continually protested against war in all its forms.

She was arrested several times, including an arrest at the age of 88 at the School of the Americas, protesting US involvement in Latin America.

In this she remembered the witness of her brother, Ron Hennessey, a Maryknoll missionary in Central America who lived under the oppression of the indigenous in Guatemala. (Ron’s witness is told in Thomas Melville’s Through a Glass Darkly: The U.S. Holocaust in Central America.)

Her persistence in witnessing for the poor and oppressed is a sign of how God uses all sorts of people to show His love and justice.

Today is also the anniversary of the death in 2011 of Don Samuel Ruiz, bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico. A detailed homage can be found at Mex Files here.

He was a bishop totally devoted to the poor, especially to the indigenous in his diocese in southern Mexico, who called him Jtatic Samuel. Although despised by those in power he was asked to meditate during the Zapatista rebellion because he was probably one of the few persons the people trusted. He had spent his life with them and had risked his life many times.

He also was not always appreciated by the Vatican, especially for his efforts to promote indigenous deacons in the diocese. A coadjutor was appointed, Monseñor Raúl Vera, who ironically has become one of the most progressive bishops in Latin America and is now the bishop of Saltillo, Mexico.

Don Samuel was beloved by his people. I saw a manifestation of that love when I visited San Cristobal in late January 2012 for the wedding of a friend. His tomb, behind the cathedral’s main altar was decorated with flowers.

Tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz

Tomb of Don Samuel Ruiz

But he was more than a beloved pastor. He was a prophet.

Reflecting the words of Mary in her Magnificat, he once said:

Justice means bringing down from their throne those who are privileged and elevating those who are humble to the same heights.

The gentle strength and the strong gentleness of Sister Dorothy and Don Samuel offer us a way into living the Gospel, in solidarity with the poor.


Mary and the martyrs of Acteal, Chiapas

Acteal poster.jpgHe has cast down the mighty
from their thrones
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
The canticle of Mary
Luke 1: 52-53

Fifteen years ago today, indigenous men, women, and children were gathered in the chapel in the town of Acteal, in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico, praying and fasting for peace and justice.

A group of paramilitaries, connected with the governing political party of Mexico, invaded the church and killed 45 people.

The people of Acteal were members of Las Abejas, the Bees, a faith-based indigenous movement that had been founded about five years earlier.

Las Abejas are pacifists and disavow the use of violence. Yet they supported the demands of the Zapatista uprising which sought justice for the indigenous in southern Mexico. The Zapatista uprising began on January 1, 1994, the day when NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect – thus protesting not only the practices of the Mexican government but also the demands for “free trade” which came from the US.

Las Abejas still exist and affirm their faith, their pacifism, and their militant call for justice for all, especially the indigenous.

They are just a few of the “wretched of the earth” who seek to put into practice today’s lectionary readings, not only Mary’s canticle, the Magnificat, cited above, but also  the song of Hannah who defiantly prayed:

The Lord makes poor and makes rich,
he humbles, he also exalts.
He raises the needy from the dust;
from the dung heap he lifts up the poor,
To seat them with nobles
and make a glorious throne their heritage.
1 Samuel 2: 8

Las Abejas, as well as Hannah and the Virgin Mary, challenge us, as persons and as nations:

This Advent, will we put ourselves on the side of the poor whom God exults or will we cling to our wealth and power?