Tag Archives: Penny Lernoux

A journalist of the poor

There are many types of journalists.

Some are spokespersons for those in power and report only what supports the continuation of their friends. They may be tempted by their access to power, to privilege.

Some only look for the strange and titillating, whether it be macabre deaths or the sex lives of the rich and famous.

But there are those who take their calling as journalists seriously and seek to find out what is really happening, in service of the truth.

Their writing challenges the status quo.

This can be dangerous. In Honduras in the last three years, 25 journalists have been killed, many for speaking out against political corruption, structural injustice, and organized crime.

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1989 of a US journalist who dared to speak the truth, Penny Lernoux.

She worked in Latin America and laid bare the structures of injustice in society and the church but even more she told the stories of the poor and those who cast their lot with the poor, especially in her first book, Cry of the People: The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America — The Catholic Church in Conflict with U.S. Policy.

But she was not one to just show up at press conferences or to get stories from US Embassies or government spokespersons. She listened to the poor where they lived. As she wrote:

It was through them that I became aware of and entered into another world — not that of the U.S. Embassy or the upper classes, which comprise the confines of most American journalists, but the suffering and hopeful world of the slums and peasant villages. The experience changed my life, giving me a new faith and a commitment as a writer to tell the truth of the poor to the best of my ability.

That brought her back to a practice of her Catholic faith and a deep understanding of the power of the powerless Christ. As she wrote:

 You can look at a slum or a peasant village… but it is only by entering into that world — by living in it — that you begin to understand what it is like to be powerless, to be like Christ.

Penny Lernoux’s challenge is to see the world through the eyes of the poor, to enter their lives to be with them in their joys and struggles.

It is the challenge that begins with the story of the Good Samaritan that is today’s Gospel (Luke 10: 25-37):

seeing the man who fell among thieves,
being moved by compassion,
going near,
touching the man,
pouring out oil and wine over wounds,
and lifting him up to take him
to a place of healing and rest.

 The priest and Levite looked on from afar; but the Samaritan drew near. So did Penny Lernoux. And so are we called to draw near.

This entry, as many others, owes much to Robert Ellsberg’s All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time.