Francis on the shoulders of giants


Cardinal Lorscheider


Cardinal Arns

A very high bar has been set for Pope Francis.

He stands on the shoulders of giant church men.

Most northerners of course know little or nothing of the heroic clerics but their witness is written in the book of  life and well known in Latin America. As are the thousands of lay martyrs to the cause of social justice.

First we must begin with the reborn church of Medellin, a direct response to Vatican ll which called the Church of Christ to be involved in the life of the poor.

3 years later in the summer of 1968, the Latin American Episcopal Conference (CELAM) met in Medellín, Colombia. Its purpose was to apply Vatican ll to the very different reality of Latin America, a continent groaning under  massive poverty and under the powerful sway of the United States. The Monroe Doctrine  proclaimed in 1823 warned Europe to stay out of the Americas. They were “owned” by the great hegemon, the United States.

A great Canadian missionary  Padre Harvey “Pablo Steele  SFM  described all of this in his widely read pamphlet Quien tiene America Latina —who owns Latin America? The United States and all of its satraps were employed to keep the poor invisible and the cheap goods flowing back to El Norte (the USA)

A series of dictaduras (hard dictators) were propped up by the States to break labour unions and facilitate the cheap goods flowing north. Their names, all friends of the USA live in infamy—Trujillo, Somoza, Duvalier, Armas, Videla, Pinochet, Garcia, Banzer, Duarte  shameless brutal men who lived like princes off the backs of their own people.

Medellin adopted “the preferential option for the poor”. Many of the bishops appointed by Pope Paul Vl caught this spirit of liberation and bravely defended the face of Christ in the poor. The  church officially left the embrace of the wealthy and was reborn in solidarity with the poor. Liberation replaced development. This gave rise to the theology of liberation. Peruvian theologian Gustavo Guttierez’s question rang out,”In the north you speak about the existence of God; we in the south are concerned about the existence of the human.”

Great bishops stood tall defending the poor and liberation theology. Aloisio Lorscheider, Helder Camara  and Evaristo Arns in Brazil, the martyrs Juan Gerardi in Guatemala and Oscar Romero in El Salvador,Sergio Arceo and Samuel Ruiz  in Mexico, Juan Landazuri in Peru, Raul Silva in Chile, Leonidas Proano in Ecuador were incredible leaders, champions of the poor. They “got” it long before the penny dropped for the present pope Bergoglio.

All the great bishops were replaced by highly conservative prelates, mostly members of Opus Dei. In this way John Paul ll did a major disservice to the gospel in Latin America, a continent he never understood. He was terrified of “Marxist analysis”, simply a tool for understanding oppression. It was a great failure of his pontificate.

Memories however are not short in the southern cone. People do remember the great bishops on whose shoulders the present pope stands.


1 Comment »

  1. 1

    Pope Francis’ lived experience with the giants of Medellin is amazing! I am recalling the wonderful servant leaders whose unconditional self-giving inspired and empowered so many in the struggle for liberation in Latin America. My dream was to share missionary service in L.A. I had a short-lived experience in Tierra Nueva 1, in Zone 7 of Guatemala city. A powerful life-altering time! Looking forward with great hope for the ministry of Pope Francis! The windows are once again opening!! Grace abounds!

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