Monday, May 25, 2015

Quest for Decolonization #6: Liberation Theology with Father Miguel D'Escoto

This year's regional seminar featured two keynote addresses by Father Miguel D'Escoto, a longtime priest, champion of human rights and a former President of the United Nations General Assembly. He has been a very controversial figure because of his outspoken criticism of the United States in particular. As a priest in Nicaragua he was very supportive of the Sandanista Revolution even to the point of joining the government of Daniel Ortega and serving as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. For this and his other explicitly political activities he was suspended by Pope John Paul II in 1985. He was reinstated last year after he reportedly petitioned the current Pope that the 81 year old be allowed to perform mass again before he dies.

His speeches last week were fiery. He did not pull punches in condemning the United States for its lack of respect for international law. He criticized it for the wars it is carrying out around the world. He admonished it for its role in making Latin American a place, to borrow the phrase from Eduardo Galeano, of blood and veins. A place where other countries came to exploit and the people and the land suffered like a body from which one has greedily drawn too much blood. Here is a quote of his to give you a sense of his politics:
The Church has never been in favor of a revolution to benefit the poor. This is because the Church is an old institution that for much of its history, has worked in cahoots with the empires and has accrued many privileges. The privileged classes hate, fear and despise revolution. This has been a lamentable fact.
 He told many stories, some of which were truly touching, especially when he talked about his connection to another famous priest who lived and breathed what we know as "Liberation Theology" Oscar Romero from El Salvador. Many consider their churches to be apolitical, simply dealing with religious and cultural matters. But major religions are huge political forces and we see it sometimes mobilized in official means, for instance against gay marriage, casino gambling or abortion rights. The church doesn't necessarily see these stances as political because they consider them to be within their religious domain. But for the general political structures of society the church is sometimes torn. Most would argue it is the responsibility of the church to help the poor and the downtrodden, but there is a wide difference of opinion as to what that "help" entails. For most it is simply treating the symptoms. Feed the hungry. Shelter the homeless. Treat the sick. But for those invested in Liberation Theology, there is an obligation not just to lessen the suffering, as in providing a divine pat on the back and a holy, it'll get better, but to actually work against those structures that are oppressing or hurting people. There is a responsibility to change the world, not just ease people through their earthly suffering.

Oscar Romero was recently beatified, after the church was divided over his legacy for a long time. On the one had he was a hero to the people, someone who spoke out against tyranny and oppression. But he was also someone who exposed the unwillingness of the Catholic church to clearly take the side of the common, suffering masses against the elites and the powerful, whether they be individuals, families or entire countries. Here's a quote from one of his speeches:
In less than three years, more than fifty priests have been attacked, threatened, calumniated. Six are already martyrs--they were murdered. Some have been tortured and others expelled [from the country]. Nuns have also been persecuted. The archdiocesan radio station and educational institutions that are Catholic or of a Christian inspiration have been attacked, threatened, intimidated, even bombed. Several parish communities have been raided. If all this has happened to persons who are the most evident representatives of the Church, you can guess what has happened to ordinary Christians, to the campesinos, catechists, lay ministers, and to the ecclesial base communities. There have been threats, arrests, tortures, murders, numbering in the hundreds and thousands....But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people's defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.
According to D'Escoto, he was scheduled to meet with Romero around the time he was assassinated. He met him at his funeral instead.

He also spoke about the connection between Liberation Theology and Decolonization, but that is something for another blog post.


Pope Francis Reinstates Father Miguel D'Escoto, Suspended for Involvement in Nicaraguan Revolution

Pope Francis has reinstated Father Miguel D'Escoto 29 years after he was suspended from priestly duties for his involvement in Nicaragua's revolutionary government in the 1970s, Catholic News Service reports.

The 81-year-old priest sent a request to the Vatican asking for permission to resume his priesthood, reportedly writing that he wanted the chance to celebrate Mass again "before dying." Cardinal Fernando Filoni, prefect for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, signed the letter lifting D'Escoto's suspension.

The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, an American Catholic missionary organization of which D'Escoto was a member, released a press release and quoted the Vatican's letter as saying:
"The Holy Father has given his benevolent assent that Father Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann be absolved from the canonical censure inflicted upon him, and entrusts him to the superior general of the institute (Maryknoll) for the purpose of accompanying him in the process of reintegration into the ministerial priesthood."
D'Escoto had reached considerable stature in the church before becoming involved in Nicaraguan politics, which ran counter to the church ban on clergy holding government positions and led to his suspension by Pope John Paul II in 1985. After his ordination in 1961, D'Escoto went on to found Orbis Books, Maryknoll's theological publishing division, and became an official with the World Council of Churches.

D'Escoto served as the Republic of Nicaragua’s Minister for Foreign Affairs for more than a decade and currently acts as Senior Adviser on Foreign Affairs to President Daniel Ortega Saavedra. He is still a member of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), a political movement rooted in Marxist philosophy and which once had ties to the Soviet Communist party.

In an interview with America Magazine in 1985, D'Escoto commented on the escalation of revolutionary attitudes in Nicaragua -- including, he said, among the church elders who typically stay out of such debates:
If you tell me that there is a revolution somewhere and the church is against it, I will say, "What else is new?" I mean, what would be newsworthy is to tell me that the church is for it. So in Nicaragua the new thing is, and the question is: How come so much of the church is in favor of it [the revolution]? How come so many of the priests, even of the bishops?
Pope Francis, then Jorge Bergoglio, also lived through a dictatorship in the 1970s in his native Argentina, but his role in the country's political arena was less defined than D'Escoto's was in Nicaragua. Instead of joining a political movement, the pope reportedly worked from behind the scenes to provide shelter for people at risk of persecution by the government.

The pope's decision to lift D'Escoto's suspension may have something to do with this shared experience of political turmoil, Father James Martin suggested to HuffPost.

"It is a sign not only of generosity and a desire for reconciliation," Martin said, "but also a recognition that many of those who were involved in such political efforts were trying their best to help God's poor."


Martyred Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero closer to sainthood

Updated 11:48 PM ET, Sat May 23, 2015

San Salvador, El Salvador (CNN)Just over 35 years to the day that an assassin's bullet hit his chest, Archbishop Oscar Romero was beatified on Saturday, bringing the slain priest one step closer to sainthood. 

Tens of thousands of people crowded El Salvador's Savior of the World Plaza for the bestowing of an honor that some wondered if Romero -- a controversial figure in his time -- would ever receive. 

He was a hero to the progressive liberation theology movement, but his beatification was delayed for decades over political concerns. Pope Francis put things in motion when he declared Romero a martyr earlier this year. 

"Romero, friend, the people are with you," the crowd, which numbered in the tens of thousands, chanted.

Many braved heavy rains overnight to secure a seat or spot to stand. On Saturday, the rain gave way to a blistering sunny day. 

Romero was named Archbishop of El Salvador in 1977, during a period where the Central American country was run by a succession of military dictatorships. 

Historians say he was chosen in part because he was seen as conservative and unlikely to be overly critical to the authoritarian government. 

But the murder of a friend and fellow priest, Rutilio Grande, just one month later, brought out a new resolve in Romero.

The archbishop became an especially fierce critic of the U.S.-backed military regime that seized power in 1979.

In 1980, a group of more than 100 soldiers sent him a letter asking for his intervention regarding orders to kill guerrillas, whose ranks often included their own brothers. 

In what would be his last sermon, Romero made a special appeal to the military and police: "No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order."
He concluded: "In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression."

The next day, March 24, 1980, he was assassinated while celebrating Mass. 

"In times of difficult coexistence, Archbishop Romero knew how to lead, defend and protect his flock, remaining faithful to the Gospel and in communion with the whole Church," Pope Francis wrote in a letter Saturday to mark Romero's beatification. "His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the most poor and marginalized."

While his killers were never found, many blame Romero's assassination on right-wing death squads.
He was held up as a protector of the poor and marginalized who stood up to the government, though his path toward sainthood was held up for decades in a debate over whether he was killed because of his religion or because of his politics. 

Pope Francis settled the issue by declaring him a martyr. 

At Saturday's event, some of the faithful sold or traded Romero-related memorabilia. Everything from t-shirts to dolls to stamps. 

The celebratory pop of fireworks occasionally pierced the otherwise respectful Mass. The approximately 2,000 clergy who were present helped with the massive job of celebrating communion with the masses. 

Placing Romero's words in the context of today's El Salvador, where democracy has returned but gang violence is problematic, many speakers called for an end to the current bloodshed. 

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