Monday, September 3, 2018

Letter from the 3rd Continental Congress on Latin American and Caribbean Theology to Pope Francis

This is an English translation of the letter that was issued. The original Spanish version can be found on the Amerindia website.

Dear brother Francis:

In this harsh time of trial, we want to make you feel our closeness and support because we know of your fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus. To tell you that your proposal for a poor church for the poor is also our quest and commitment.

Amerindia, in its forty-year journey on the continent, seeks to present the essential challenges of the Second Vatican Council and the Latin American magisterium from a liberating theology. In the Third Continental Congress on Latin American and Caribbean Theology, more than six hundred of us participants are gathered -- men and women theologians and Christians involved in various areas of social and ecclesial life to delve into the 50th anniversary of Medellin and its actualization today.

These lands bear witness to prophecy and martyrdom as a consequence of following Christ in the search for justice and the preferential option for the poor, as attested to by Mons. Romero, the UCA martyrs, and so many others. From this context, we are reading this "your hour" and because of it, we believe and affirm that the blood of martyrs is the seed of life and hope. We are aware that a new spring is emerging in the Church and is taking place in the complexity of the transforming processes.

In these times of celebration of the 50th anniversary of Medellin under the powerful beacon of Vatican II and the great movement that second Conference conceived, you have emerged as a genuine son of that Church.

We know that your gospel fidelity implies discernment and the courage of prophetic denunciation, an affectionate embrace of the disinherited of the earth and the victims of human cruelty, in and out of the Church.

As daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, we are fully with you and assume the co-responsibility this means, praying that you be able to carry forward the work God has entrusted to you.

"The cries of the poor and the earth challenge us" on the 50th anniversary of the Medellin Conference - El Salvador, August 30 - September 2, 2018.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

"I am Agustina Gamboa and I will no longer keep silent"

Fathers and teenage daughters at loggerheads over a political issue isn't news. Imagine if the father in question is a prominent priest in the archdiocese who holds traditional views on reproductive rights and you, his daughter and guilty secret, are a feminist. Agustina Maria Gamboa Arias, did not reveal her biological father's identity for 18 years, but when she saw Fr. Carlos Gamboa, a member of the Archdiocese of Salta, Argentina, on the TV program La Otra Campana speaking out against the bill to legalize abortion that her nation's government is considering, she knew she could no longer keep silent. On July 29th, Gamboa Arias issued the following statement on her Facebook page, revealing her father's identity, his past actions, and her opposition to his views:

"Priest and point of reference of the Catholic Church of Salta Carlos Gamboa was interviewed on the program "La Otra Campana" about the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act to be dealt with soon in the nation's Senate. On the occasion, Carlos Gamboa appealed to the slogans "Yes to life", "Yes to all life", "All life is worthy." Those were his statements. However, reality contradicts his words since he has systematically neglected and disregarded me, his daughter Agustina María Gamboa Arias, born in May 2000.

I bear the last name of my progenitor, but originally I was noted in the Public Registry as Agustina Arias since he refused to acknowledge me legally, denying me also the right of every boy and girl to their identity. On August 16, 2002, at the behest of a lawyer, I was able to be recognized as is recorded in the annotation on the margin of my birth certificate. Even though I am alive, if it were for him I would be in complete abandonment.

I have always known everything about my identity, who I am and where I come from, but this reality was inconclusive. As I grew up I needed not only to know it but also to understand what was happening. Why was my father absent?

In the interview in which he appeared, Gamboa talks about "accompanying the woman who is in the dilemma of continuing or interrupting a pregnancy." He also talks about "supporting the kids who are alive." Being his daughter, I went through many abandonment issues because Carlos Gamboa never cared to  know me.

Based on my insistence, we were able to coordinate some meetings that became more and more complicated. We would see one another at service stations far from anyone who might recognize him. In the meetings he would repeat the argument that he loved me but that he couldn't be my father. In those days for a girl of 6 or 7 years, it was a very confusing story since I didn't have the emotional tools to understand what he was saying in such a contradictory way. I was a girl who believed my father loved me; I waited for his calls on important dates like birthdays and holidays or any show of interest that never came.

There were never any initiatives on his part, despite the fact that my mother and my heart father [stepfather] offered him many options to facilitate our bond like meeting in other provinces or paying his fare to the Federal Capital, the place where I live, so he could come see me. He never agreed and with the passing of time, the silences were longer and longer.

I understood a lot later, in my adolescence that my father didn't love me so I sought affection in other members of my paternal family. Through the social networks I started to look for everyone with the last name Gamboa who might be a relative. There were many and I was even able to meet a cousin who with her parents and brothers, received me with joy. However, that unleashed a storm that manifested itself in verbal and psychological abuse over the phone by Gamboa towards me and my mom.

Carlos Gamboa's family lined up behind him, protecting him and preventing me from knowing them and completing part of my identity and my life -- what Gamboa says he's defending. In this very unfortunate episode, Víctor Gamboa, Carlos' twin brother, had a terribly violent and destructive role, being that at the beginning he seemed to be a trustworthy person and a good father.

In this struggle to achieve recognition, space, a little affection and to complete my story, I ended up confronting the Catholic Church of Salta which, as we know, has a lot of power and through a lawyer defended its interests, going completely against my rights.

So, when my progenitor talks about "respecting both lives" I must say that he did not respect the life of his daughter because of defending his image and his economic privileges. The church covered it up and helped hide me. No one was to be aware of my existence.

I was the victim of all these manipulations that affected me psychologically. The abandonment of the child who was born is so destructive for the personality that it makes it still hard for me today when bonding or shaping my personal relationships to the point that I came to think that I didn't deserve to be loved.

Carlos Gamboa in the interview says the Church should form and respect people but he never did that with me; his actions affected my way of being, the way in which I bond with people and how I've developed emotionally, having experienced so much emotional manipulation, having heard so many empty words that have affected me forever. I've been going to a psychologist as long as I can remember. How to trust others if you can't trust your biological father? That's why, when in the interview he says he's "for both lives" and says "let's not harm it more with another abuse," I must state that the damage he did to me is irreversible, harm that also manifested itself in relation to child support since for him to comply with his obligation, a private agreement had to be concluded. On numerous occasions he fell behind on the support payments and abused my mother when she requested what was due me, so that situation was very violent.

So when Carlos Gamboa and the Church he represents talk about "yes to life", "yes to all life", and "every life is worthy," I ask myself what does he mean by that? Why does he feel he has the moral authority to say it so lightly? Imposing with this argument a way of thinking on society, knowing that his words have a lot of weight but his actions contradict him. I have to say that all this seems total hypocrisy to me.

Against my father's position, my family and I are in favor of the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act without modifications because we know that this Act will help women and gestating bodies that are at risk or want to decide about their future. We also think that abandonment is death and that the dogma of the Church should not be interposed in republican life and that women's decisions should be respected.

To conclude, I would add that this letter was very hard to write and that there have been months of preparation, analysis and removing issues that hurt or are troublesome, but it leaves me somewhat clearer, it frees me from the stigma the curia imposed on me at birth. Now I can proudly say that I participated in the vigil at the [Chamber of] Deputies, that I've had an ideological life formation oriented towards human rights and those of women and dissident sexualities and that is why I'm making this letter public. My name is Agustina María Gamboa Arias and I have decided on my own -- and with my family's support -- to stop being an accomplice in the moral double standard of the Church of which my biological father, Carlos Gamboa, is a part.

I am expressing myself because I want abortion to be LEGAL SAFE and FREE and that there be SECULAR SEXUAL EDUCATION WITH THE GENDER PERSPECTIVE in ALL educational institutions in the country, and because I want ALL women and gestating bodies to have FREE CHOICE over our bodies and our lives.


Gamboa Arias' public statement caused a huge uproar. On July 31st, Msgr. Mario Cargnello, the Archbishop of Salta, issued a communique asking God's forgiveness and that of the faithful for the pain caused by this news, by the scandal it has caused. While he did not apologize directly to Ms. Gamboa Arias, Msgr. Cargnello did say that he wants to "staunch" her wounds and would be launching a canonical investigation into her allegations.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Truth and its violent consequences

by Ivone Gebara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Carta Capital (em português)
July 5, 2018

"Do you swear to tell the truth and only the truth?" I swear. "Do you swear by God, by the homeland, by the family, by your honor, by the Bible?" I swear. What would be this truth to which one must swear and often risk one's own life?

 According to the Greek origin of the word, truth -- aletheia -- has to do with what is not occult, the unconcealed, the unmasked. It extends through diverse knowledge, situations, emotions and personal and social actions. In other words, it gambles on the possibility of the human person revealing something that only she knows, something that she has discovered, something she is hiding about facts, people, situations or about herself.

Truth would be a kind of clarity about a fact, an event, a feeling, and therefore a belief that we are able to reach into the depth of ourselves and even reveal it to others. Such behavior means to many that it is possible to find 'something', 'a thing', 'an emotion' free from deception or lies, as if it were a nugget of gold, or pure love.

Some ancient philosophers believed that there was a truth of things, that it was possible for the word to be identified with the object and the object with the word. They believed in an adequation between thought, essence and thing, and vice versa.

We moderns and postmoderns find that this quasi-coincidence does not exist, but that truth is a personal and even collective point of view on interpretations of life. A thick cloud envelops us and prevents us from reaching the place indicated by our desire. Reason and desire are in conflict.

We contemporaries are lovers of circumstances, of changes and we believe in the mutation of truths, in their multiple conditionalities and consequently we live in their social belligerence.

Truth is in social movement, in its multi-faceted personal and collective reality. This is why all attempts, whether from politics or from religion, to unify the truth have led and lead to totalitarianism and violence. And both one and the other in their historical diversity and in the diversity of their forms of truth have tried the way of unification of truth and have used weapons to defend it.

Both of them from their authority have wanted to impose their truths without perceiving the truth of diversity and the impossibility of a unification by force. However, we are well aware that the foundation of political truth expressed in the forms of government and the authority of leaders is visible, whereas the foundation of religions and in particular of monotheisms, is invisible. The legitimization of religious power is done through divine invisibility that is presumed to be represented by the clerical hierarchy.

Today, we are experiencing a certain failure of the traditional foundations of the order of truths. We understand the world differently. What we see in fact is the difficulty of total agreements from affirmations called 'truths', especially those emanating from political and religious powers.

Moreover, empirically we experience the cruelty of truth every day. When we denounce the lie and want to affirm something of the truth, of the real, we are condemned. Therefore, the truth we know in history is the mother of pain, the mother of suffering, the mother of injustice, the mother of murders. Mother in the sense of being generative, of giving birth.

If we reveal it, we are brought to court, we are expelled from parties, synagogues and churches, crucified, imprisoned, condemned to death, forced to drink hemlock and tortured by those who think they have the power over truth.

If we tell the truth we have our works burned, our teaching interrupted, expulsion from our land to guarantee the truth of those who claim to be its owners. Truth is cruel! It saves no one from accusations, from prisons, from the many Gulags in history!

In 1837, Hans Christian Andersen published a story called "The Emperor's new clothes." In it, a king is deceived by two astute tailors who make him believe that they would weave him beautiful clothes that only the intelligent and capable ones would be able to see. They spend weeks weaving and making the king try on the clothes by making flattering remarks to him.

The king himself, wearing the invisible clothes, does not admit to being either incapable or unintelligent. He decides to wear the clothing and introduce himself to his subjects. They all look at it and admire it, but no one is able to reveal the truth about the king's nakedness because it would reveal their own ignorance. In this, a child in the crowd shouts, "The king is naked." The truth came out of the mouth of a child who was not afraid of being ridiculed or called incompetent or unintelligent.

She said what her eyes saw. The truth was stated by a child. It is she who reveals the hidden, it is she who says what everyone sees but is unable to say. Revelation is dangerous, truth is threatening.

The everyday story continues to show the cruelty of truth. Donald Trump's violent 'truth' is that he does not want more foreigners in the United States. He separates the children from their families and puts them in prisons. The numbers are scary. More than 2000 children are imprisoned! The truth about immigrants is that they are seeking to save their lives, to get out of hunger and go to a place where there is work and decent survival.

The conflicts show and the cruelty of some is evident over the fragility of others. The violence and hatred of some contrasts with the fragility of others. How to live with so many 'truths' and so many lies? Is there a way to negotiate them?

There might be another way when, according to the Book of Genesis, we disobey the all-powerful Father, and, seduced by the serpent of freedom that inhabits us, we transgress orders and are expelled from Paradise ...

Truth makes us wanderers in search of our bread with the sweat of our body and the abundance of our tears. Truth makes us without a fatherland, without a motherland, without family, without the friends of our childhood, without the smell of our land, without God. Might this be the freedom of truth?

Deep down it is the lie that protects us, it is the one that teaches us juggling to carry out our intent. It is the lie that hides our face from the face of others who judge and persecute us. That is why we love lies more, although we say that we swear by the truth and seek the truth.

The fact is that we are wanderers, and in this situation and condition, we can only count on the companions of that long journey. Like the child who cried out the king's nakedness, we need to welcome each other's cry of helplessness and realize that deceit about ourselves leads us to premature death, kills life, kills forests, rivers ... It kills the planet and us with it. This tragedy is an aspect of truth.

Along these lines, we are witnessing today wandering from the truth and lack of rights from different human groups. Thousands and thousands of homeless, landless, and stateless, each seeking the most important truth -- "protecting your life and that of your neighbors." To have the right to your own life is the first written truth, inscribed in our own bodies, in our breathing in search of air.

That is why one leaves his land occupied by others who are extracting precious metals, wood, water and gold from it. They kill the earth and its population in the name of their truth called progress, human development ... It is boundless greed. Conflicts are inevitable when those who have not died go out in search of a land to live in.

And where they arrive, they are not welcomed; on the contrary, they are expelled and remain wanderers. For all this, the idea of a total integral humanism and a pure truth that harmonizes us in a single vision is not only ambiguous and deceptive but unlikely.

Perhaps the way out is not to solve problems through a single social, political or religious truth since the very truth of human history is plurality. And this plurality or diversity manifests itself in all human activities and in the whole flow of life where the unforeseen and foreseen mingle, attract one another, cancel one another, and coexist.

One step would be to promote respect for the real complexity of truth and the need to continually unmask our multiple temptations to reduce the world of others to our own truth, to eliminate the lives of others to affirm our economic, political, and religious truth. Educate ourselves at all levels for diversity to avoid totalitarian dogmatisms.

Diversity costs. It is not just a spoken word, it is an external and internal modification of ourselves when in fact we want a world where all will fit with dignity. Everything is allowed, but everything is not good for the maintenance of life, human dignity and the whole planet. Respect for the diversity of life and its total interdependence must be part of our common creed.

It is what opens us to the hope of unity in real diversity. This unity is made of a continually renewed dialogue and it is in our image, fragile and helpless, always open to betrayal and communion. It is hope, in the uncertainty of the journeys. And on these journeys, the luminous truth that stubbornly inhabits us lives and will live, mixed with the many stones of the way.

The last battle of the activist nun: "I'm going back to the cloister"

by Paolo Rodari (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Repubblica (in Italiano)
July 16, 2018

"The constituent process in Catalonia will end on the first of September. On that day I'll return to the normal life of the monastery, ever more convinced that the Catalan movement for independence from Spain is an opportunity to deepen democracy and tackle some fundamental issues of exclusion and social abuse. This has opened the eyes of many people to the insufficient nature of our democracy and to the fact that in the globalized twenty-first century, political power is subject to economic power."

A feminist theologian and Benedictine nun, Teresa Forcades left her cloister two years ago to engage in politics, fighting for the independence of Catalonia. In a month, she will return to the monastery where she will continue her battles, but in another way. Among the most read writers in Spain, engaged against the pharmaceutical industry lobby, for gender rights and for the LGBT world, she tells La Repubblica about these two years "outside the walls" and the challenges of the future, all with a look beyond the Spanish borders.

On Italy, for example, Forcades has precise ideas: "Lega ["The League"] is a far-right movement. All extreme right-wing movements are dangerous for democracy because they are by definition authoritarian, enemies of pluralism and suspicious of critical thinking. I believe that the widespread success of current right-wing authoritarianism in Europe is a reaction to the frustration created by capitalist democracy -- it is impossible to have political democracy without economic democracy. One can't be expected to act as a responsible democratic citizen after spending ten hours a day working in degrading conditions for a poor salary. The book Hired by James Bloodworth opens one's eyes in that sense and so does Il mondo deve sapere ["The world must know"] by Michela Murgia."

For Forcades the political ideal is the United Nations, "but not the one we have today, with the right of veto, nor the European Union we have today, designed to favor economic powers." "The economic powers," she says, "have more power than politicians, more power than voters. I see this as the main problem."

In the Church, Forcades is always an active nudge. In fact, there are many subjects on which the Church is struggling to have a new view. Among these, homosexuality. The catechism preaches acceptance, but at the same time asks that homosexual persons live in chastity. Says Forcades: "I think it's deeply inhuman. I believe that homosexual marriage should be recognized as a sacrament because what constitutes the sacrament of marriage is what this particular human bond has in common with the life of the Trinity and the life of the Trinity has nothing to do with gender or sexual complementarity and nothing to do with having children. Homosexuality is not a problem, homophobia is." And again: "On some issues, such as social justice, the Church's doctrine and some of its practices are prophetic and ahead of our times. On other matters, the Church is really behind. It is particularly behind on sexual morality (such as prohibiting contraception) and on the role of women and I think this is most likely a consequence of having only celibate males who govern the Church."

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

José María Castillo: Why are women not allowed to be priests like men?

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
July 24, 2018

José María Castillo is one of our best theologians. Persecuted and condemned for years for supporting a popular theology, open and close to the poor. Now the coming of Pope Francis has meant a full-fledged rehabilitation for Castillo.

Not just theological but visible -- Bergoglio himself received and thanked Pepe Castillo for his theology in a historical day that we remember in this interview on the occasion of the publication of La religión de Jesús. Comentarios al Evangelio diario Ciclo C ["The religion of Jesus: Comments on the daily Gospel, Cycle C"], published by Desclée. The future of the Church and religions, also on the table, with one clear idea: "The Gospel is not a religion and, therefore, nor is Christianity -- it's a life project."

It's always an honor and a pleasure. Pepe Castillo, welcome to your home.

Indeed, this is an extension of my house.

That is also what's intended. We are trying to create a big family at Religión Digital, with you and us. In this family there are always new and very desired children who come because, moreover, this is a book you do every year and we now have it here: La religión de Jesús. Comentarios al Evangelio diario Ciclo C (2018-2019) by José María Castillo, from the publisher Desclée. They've always chosen some precious photos of children in recent years.

Yes. They take care of the cover, among other things. It's now been eleven years in a row.

Isn't it complicated? In the end, there are three cycles, right?


You've repeated that; this will be the third or the fourth one.

Sure. It's one of the difficulties that doing this book and its corresponding commentaries has at this point -- there's a danger of repeating oneself. I've tried to overcome it by paying a lot of attention to something that seems basic to me and it's the situation. Because life is changing very rapidly and, moreover, in very deep and very important things. And, as such, responding to the questions that people are asking or the problems people are experiencing seems to me one of the most important things to do to the extent that a book of this sort can do it.

And what does the Gospel tell us about what's happening in the world today?

It tells us that on very fundamental questions of life this world has drifted towards other interests, other problems, and other solutions that are exactly opposite to the Gospel. This seems important to me. And what I want to add is, as I see it, what is most fundamental at this time is the relationship between the Church and the Gospel.

What is that relationship? What problems do we have in that relationship?

The main problem, as I see it and as I'm developing it in a book that will come out after the summer, is that the Church, to a great extent and fundamentally, has marginalized the Gospel

But wouldn't it be the base on which it sits?

Sure, it's the base; it's the axis, the core. But, however, it isn't. Although we're lucky to have the current pope.

Pope Francis is a unique character in the history of the papacy -- he is, as far as we know, an entirely original pope. From my point of view, he's a man who, without saying it, deep inside him, is what he has set for himself and how he has programmed it. But the fact is that he's changing the papacy. And he's changing it by his lifestyle, his humanity above all, his closeness to the people, his harmony with those no one else tunes in -- the most helpless and unfortunate people of this world.

This pope is changing the situation. He's changing the papacy and he's also changing the future of the Church. I want to emphasize that.

Is it enough? I mean, he's still a man in front of a mastodon like the church institution, that he's fighting strongly and fiercely so as not to commit harakiri, not disappear, in the sense of disappearing from the hierarchies, from the links of power, this pyramidal structure that leaves the people of God a bit drowning.

Yes, that's how it is, because deep down there's a threat that's much more serious. It's no secret that the Pope has great -- we're going to say it -- enemies in the Church. And very high level enemies. Not just in the secular, political, economic, social, intellectual world...but most painfully, in the ecclesiastical world.

He has them at home.

Yes. Enemies who would like to get him out of the way as soon as possible, or for God to take him out of the way. And the root of the problem, from my point of view, is that the Church since its own origins has always had difficulty, distance from and sometimes a very strong contradiction with the Gospel.

Let's not forget a very important thing: the Gospel is plain and simply not a religion. Proof of it is that religion killed the protagonist of the Gospel, who is Jesus. And according to the accounts of the Gospel, which ultimately is a narrative theology not laid out in theories or doctrines but in stories of deeds, of life events.

These recompilations of tales that each one of the evangelists organized and presented differently, basically concur on one essential thing which, normally, a notable quantity of the clerical world refuses to acknowledge.

And what is it?

That the gospel is not a religion and, therefore, Christianity isn't either. It's a life project. And I say it isn't a religion because of what I already indicated before and I'm not tired of repeating: we should never forget that the Gospel is the story of a conflict. A conflict that ended in death and -- this is curious -- the great defender and the one who most resisted killing Jesus was, according to the Passion stories, the Roman procurator.

Yes, Pilate.

The remarkable thing is that those most determined that he not only had to be killed but killed on a cross (that is, in the most cruel and humiliating and degrading way there was in that culture and in that society) were the highest officials of the religion.

The fact that the Church and Christianity have been presented, lived out, been organized and are in society as one more religion has been at the cost of defacing, deforming and marginalizing the axis and core of the Gospel.

So, -- and we're always discussing this -- how do you manage to expand the message, the life project of Jesus to the whole world without becoming a religion that, moreover, is attached to a power? Because without the Roman Empire, this expansion would probably have been impossible, And without certain ties between power and religion, surely Jesus' message would not have reached so many people over the centuries.

Is this a theory of the lesser evil? Or did it serve for a period to spread the message but the institution should have withdrawn, afterwards, from its relationship with power?

What I've been able to find out from reading, studying and reflecting on this practically all my life, but especially in recent years, is that there is a process that is provoked right from the start. I will be as brief as possible: The first is that the early Churches spread through the Empire without knowing the Gospel because the main propagator of those Churches was Saint Paul. Saint Paul didn't know Jesus or, therefore, the Gospel either. What he experienced in the famous incident on the road to Damascus when, they say, he fell off the horse (although the story doesn't mention any horse) was the experience of Christ resurrected. Therefore: Christ, no longer of this world but after this world in the fullness of his glory in eternity.

So it looked like the PP primaries, because Paul and Peter (Paul did know and dealt with Peter) already had their squabbles about how this ought to be. Sounds a bit like Cospedal/Soraya [Translator's note: This is a reference to María Dolores de Cospedal and Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, two rivals in Spain's Partido Popular (PP) party].

They had clashes because of this and for other reasons for which we don't have time now. But the fact is that Paul didn't know Jesus. And also he came to say, in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, that Jesus according to the flesh (that is, the human Jesus) didn't matter to him. And he continues: "and if I once cared about that, at this moment it matters not to me."

The Church today, is it more Paul or more Peter? Or more neither of the two?

The Church isn't confined to Peter and Paul.

Well, but as a symptom: whether it's a more spiritual Church, a more structural Church, or more trying to go back to the roots.

If by Peter we mean the Church that comes from the historical Jesus, obviously the Gospel is more of Peter. While the apostolic letters that Paul was sending to his Churches throughout the Empire from the East to -- they say he got there - Spain, Paul elaborates from his experience of the transcendental, of the Resurrected One. Very conditioned too by his education ideas -- he was educated in Greek culture, he's very marked by Stoic thinking, and it seems that one can state with full assurance that he had conditioning factors of Gnostic origin. And all that isn't Jesus, it's something else and goes along other paths.

What's remarkable is that the gospels began to appear starting from the year 70, forty and some years after Jesus' death. When the Church had already been organized into communities and assemblies throughout the big cities of the Empire. That's the first difficulty.

The second difficulty is that the assemblies that Paul's Churches organized didn't have temples, or what today we call churches, in the sense of buildings. They met in homes, but they had to be big homes and those who had homes like this were the rich and powerful. So the Church was organized around the homes of rich, important people and their consequent interests.

The third factor -- that many people don't know and that has never been taken into account -- is that in the first centuries the whole Empire was bilingual -- Greek was spoken above all, Latin too. But the gospels were drafted in Greek, and educated people knew Greek. So, people of a certain social and cultural level with all the attachments that inevitably entails. And the poor, what did they do? Well, what they've always done and still do: they stayed on the margin.

The first complete translation of the Bible we know of isn't the one given by the famous patrologist Quasten from the year 180, which is already enough: it would be almost a century and a half long after the death of Jesus. According to Tertullian, the 3rd century is when there's news of this first translation of the whole Bible into Latin. So for the first two centuries the people couldn't know the Gospel.

There's a fourth very important factor: at the beginning of the 4th century comes the famous so-called "conversion of Constantine." From that moment privileges begin to be granted to the Church. I'll not dwell on this. But it's worth taking into account. And in the same 4th century, now at the end, with Emperor Theodosius who was a native of what we now call Spain (from Aragon, it seems).

He was the one who declared the Church as the official one of the Empire.

Sure. Theodosius was the emperor who took a step further than Constantine because Constantine allowed it but Theodosius declared it the only one and all the others went underground. From that time on, end of the 4th century to the beginning of the 6th century, a phenomenon happens that has been studied carefully, well documented, by one of the most competent men we have in this business. Probably the most competent one in the whole world: an Oxford professor named Peter Brown. He wrote a book that has a very curious title, Through the Eye of a Needle. Which is that Gospel thing where a camel enters through the eye of a needle before a rich man enters the Kingdom of God.

This historian shows that from about the end of the 4th century, the whole 5th century, and until the beginning of the 6th century, a surprising phenomenon happens: an avalanche entrance of the most rich and powerful people into the Church. The thing got to the point that there were many cases of bishops named without even being baptized. The best known case is the one of the one who was bishop of Milan, Saint Ambrose. Saint Ambrose was a catechumen, and from a catechumen he was consecrated bishop because they saw he was the only one who could rule an ungovernable Church because of the troubles it had. That was repeated by the Gauls and also in Roman Hispania. It spread.

This massive entry of rich and powerful people into the Church gave it a completely new twist: the Gospel was maintained, but it wasn't lived out. And here I want to emphasize an issue that seems capital to me: the Gospel isn't a theory, it's a way of life. And it's present to the extent that it is lived out. If it isn't, we will have one or many theories -- there are even a lot of gospel sayings that have become popular sayings -- but saying them is one thing and living them, another.

And this is the Church's big problem: that we have an institution that's well organized, well managed, and well structured but also alienated and distant from the gospel. Although there are individuals, movements and groups that live it, that make an effort to live it. It occured to me at the time of Paul VI, being in Rome on Easter Sunday, to go to St. Peter's Square to the Pope's Mass. I lasted ten minutes there. When I saw the impressive spectacle, I thought, "And all this, what does it have to do with Jesus who was born in a manger and died hanging like a criminal?"

Have you found an answer to that?

I assure you that that morning I went to take a walk through the streets of Trastevere and I was turning it around in my head: " Have I lost my mind? Am I crazy? Or are the people crazy? How is it possible that the story of Jesus was the source of this?".

That day there were representatives of those soldiers who killed so many people in Argentina. There were representatives of the dictatorships of Latin America, of Europe...Search me! From all over the world, and there in the first row...

How it impressed me when I was a student and my parents, now seniors, came to see me in Rome. And the Pope was still using the gestatorial chair, the tiara and all that apparatus of bugles, incense, vestments ...

I remember that my mother (she was a good woman, but we're from a village and a simple family) who had no special culture, went pale. I asked her:

"Mom, is something wrong with you?"

"I'm sinning."

"Mom, please, we're in St. Peter's. You don't sin here; you come here to pray or join the Church."

And my mother said to me:

"It's that I remember that the only thing the Lord got up on was a little donkey. And look how that man is coming!"

What a bit of lesson.

That has stuck in my soul and I haven't stopped turning it over since then. And now, in the eleven years I've been writing this about the gospels, I haven't stopped thinking about the same problem.

I'm now finishing a book titled El Evangelio marginado ["The marginalized Gospel"]. And it's that this is painful; that's why the current pope is a blessing. But him fighting alone...Although he's not alone at all, he's very conditioned. And what they're saying about "why doesn't he remove them all and put others in" is said very soon; the Pope has to be very careful in this because a schism could be organized.

Pontiffs are bridge-builders not destroyers of communion and, sure, it's complicated. The work Francis has ahead of him is very hard.

It's an extremely complicated thing, and delicate -- being good but at the same time being firm and consistent with everyone. Harmonizing these two things is an authentic miracle. It will take years and years for this to succeed.

But there are things I don't want to keep quiet about and I'll take advantage of this time.

First -- I''ve already said it -- that it would be fundamental to organize the family thing because it's a shame; after all there are many thousands of people who still go to Mass. Few institutions have so many people guaranteed every Sunday.

Another important thing would be to allow married men as priests. And more so when it's known for sure that it [Translator's note: mandatory celibacy] was a tradition that was introduced in the 4th or 5th century.

And third, the woman problem: why are women not allowed to be able to be priests the same as men are? Here there's a more basic issue: Why is a sociological, cultural and historical phenomenon so frequently confused with a theological fact?

Naturally women in ancient cultures were marginalized. And we're still experiencing residues of that. But if we're convinced of anything, and each day we see it more clearly, it's that a society that marginalizes women can't go anywhere. And the Church has to address this phenomenon as soon as possible. Women have the same rights as men, and in theology too. Moreover, reading and re-reading, studying the gospels, one of the things that most draws your attention is the exquisite care, protection, respect, and support Jesus gave women, always. Whether Jewish women or of other origins, and regardless of their conduct. Jesus always defended them; well, we're going to defend them.

And the last thing I want to say is I don't have the mouth or the words, nor do I find arguments to ponder and thank Pope Francis for the fact that he himself called me at my home and organized for us to be able to see each other and have an interview. I told him:

"Look, Father Francis, you and I are both undocumented Jesuits just like Díez Alegría, except that he came out on top and I've come out below."

And he laughed. Then I gave him two books and he told me:

"Keep on writing. Don't stop doing it because with this you're doing people a lot of good."

This has done me more good than all the preachers, spiritual directors, confessors, etc. that I've had in my life.

We'll heed the Pope, right? Keep on doing it.

I'm trying to. And though I'm quite old now, I keep on working and will keep on working with enthusiasm while mind and body endure.

Age is in the heart, José María, and you're very young. Like this girl on the cover of your book: La religión de Jesús. Comentario al evangelio diario. Ciclo C (2018-2019) published by Desclée, as always.

Many thanks for the chat and for your magnificent work on Religión Digital too -- this huge service you do to a ton of readers who follow you the world over.

Many thanks and ever onward.

Many thanks to you and to Religión Digital for the huge good you do throughout the world, especially in Spain, in Europe, and in Latin America.

Here we are, José María, and thanks to people like you, we manage.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Recovering the Christianity of Mary Magdalene

By Juan José Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
July 23, 2018

On the occasion of the feast of Mary Magdalene, which is celebrated on July 22.

In her work Le Livre de la Cité des Dames ("The Book of the City of Ladies"), in the early 15th century, French writer Christine de Pizan noted the disparity between men's negative image of women and the knowledge she had of herself and other women. The men stated that female behavior was full of every vice -- a judgment that in Christine's opinion showed meanness of spirit and dishonesty. She, on the contrary, after talking with many women of her time who told her their most intimate thoughts, and studying the lives of prestigious women of the past, recognizes their gift for words and a special intelligence for the study of law, philosophy and government.

The situation then repeats itself today in most religions which are patriarchally configured and have never gotten along well with women. The latter are not usually considered religious or moral actors,therefore they are put under the guidance of a male who leads them along the path of virtue, understood and practiced patriarchally as obedience, submission, modesty, silence, humility (=humiliation), service, self-denial, sacrifice. They are denied the right to freedom on the assumption that they would misuse it. They are vetoed at the time of assuming leadership responsibilities because it is understood that they are irresponsible by nature. They are excluded as impure from sacred space. They are silenced because it is believed they are garrulous and say improper things. They are the object of every sort of violence -- moral, religious, symbolic, cultural, physical, etc.

However, religions would have hardly been able to be born and survive without them. Without women, it is possible that Christianity would not have emerged and perhaps not expanded as it did. They accompanied its founder Jesus of Nazareth from the beginning in Galilee to the end at Golgotha. They traveled the cities and towns with him proclaiming the Gospel (=Good News), they helped him with their resources and formed part of his movement on equal terms with the men.

The feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has shown in her book In Memory of Her that Jesus' first followers were Galilean women freed from all patriarchal dependence, with economic autonomy, who identified themselves as women in solidarity with other women and met to celebrate common meals, live experiences of healing and reflect as a group.

Jesus' movement was an egalitarian collective of men and women followers, without discrimination for reasons of gender. It did not identify women with motherhood. It opposed Jewish laws that discriminated against them, like the libel of repudiation and stoning, and it questioned the patriarchal family model. It harmoniously combined the option for the poor and emancipation from patriarchal structures. Women were friends of Jesus, trusted people and disciples who were with him until the most dramatic moment of the crucifixion, when the male followers had abandoned him.

In Jesus' movement, women recovered the dignity, citizenship, moral authority and freedom that both the Roman Empire and the Jewish religion denied them. They were recognized as religious and moral agents without the need of patriarchal mediation or dependence. One example is Mary Magdalene, a figure of myth, legend and history, and icon in the struggle for women's emancipation.

Both the secular feminist movements and the theologies from the gender perspective appeal to her, whom they consider a fundamental link in the building of an egalitarian society respectful of difference. Mary Magdalene responds, I think, to the profile Virginia Woolf draws of Ethel Smyth: "She belongs to the race of pioneers, of path makers. She has gone before and felled trees and blasted rocks and built bridges and thus made a way for all those who come after her."

Women were the first people who lived the experience of the resurrection while the male disciples were unbelieving at the beginning. It is that experience that gave rise to the Christian church. One more reason to state that without them, Christianity would not exist. Quite a few of the leaders of the communities founded by Paul of Tarsus were women, according to the principle that he himself established in the Letter to the Galatians: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female..." (Gal 3:28)

However, things soon changed. Peter, the apostles and their successors, the pope and the bishops appropriated the keys of the Kingdom for themselves. They made off with the ruling rod which had nothing to do with the shepherd's crook to pastor the sheep, while on women they imposed the veil, silence and religious or domestic cloister. This happened when the churches stopped being domestic communities and became political institutions.

When will such injustice to women in Christianity be repaired? One would have to go back to its origins, more in tune with the emancipation movements than with the Christian churches of today. It is necessary to question the supremacy - the primacy - of Peter, which implies the concentration of power in one single person and impedes women's access to shared leadership responsibilities.

We have to recover the discipleship of Mary Magdalene, "Apostle to the Apostles," a recognition she was given in Christian Antiquity and that feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza recovered in an article by the same pioneer title in feminist research on the Christian Testament. It is necessary to revive, re-found the Christianity of Mary Magdalene, inclusive of men and women, in continuity with the men and women prophets of Israel and with the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, but not with the apostolic succession, of marked hierarchical-patriarchal accent, of scholastic theology, that viewed the Church as a monarchy.

A Christianity forgotten among the walled ruins of the city of Magdala, Mary Magdalene's place of birth, which I visited five years ago, seven kilometers from Capernaum, where Jesus of Nazareth resided during the time his public activity lasted. In the excavations that are taking place in Magdala, an important synagogue was discovered in 2009. There is found the subversive memory of the original Christianity led by Jesus and Mary Magdalene that was defeated by official Christianity.

But from that Christianity buried under those ruins emerges a vigorous liberating Christianity, defiant and empowered through the egalitarian movements that are rising on the margins of the great Christian churches, as rose up on the edges the first movement of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other women who accompanied him during the few months his public activity lasted.

It is necessary to inherit the moral and spiritual authority of Mary of Magdala as friend, disciple, successor of Jesus, and pioneer of equality. We have to rebuild the line of continuity of the emancipating movements throughout history and establish new inclusive alliances, created from below and not from power, fighting against the social, political and religious exclusion of women that ends in gender violence, and against discrimination against women, which is intersectional in nature -- by social class, culture, ethnicity, religion, affective-sexual identity, etc.

Juan José Tamayo is a member of the Comité Científico del Instituto Universitario de Estudios de Género of the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid. Among his works devoted to feminism should be cited: Otra teología es posible. Interculturalidad, pluralismo religioso y feminismo (Herder, Barcelona, 2012, 2nd ed.); Cincuenta intelectuales para una conciencia crítica (Fragmenta, Barcelona, 2013), that offers and intellectual profile of fourteen women pioneers of equality; Invitación a la utopía. Ensayo histórico para tiempos de crisis (Trotta, Madrid, 2012), that devotes a chapter to feminist utopia; Religión, género y violencia (Dykinson, Madrid, 2017, 2nd ed.). Islam: sociedad, política y feminismo (Dykinson, Madrid, 2018, 1st reprint).

Friday, July 20, 2018

Gustavo Gutiérrez, Father of Liberation Theology

by Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Gente de Opinião (em português)
July 6, 2018

Gustavo Gutiérrez turned 90 on June 8th. On the five continents, books, theses, articles and critiques about his work, as well as that of other theologians such as Leonardo Boff, Hugo Assmann, João Batista Libânio, Juan Luis Segundo, José Míguez Bonino, Elsa Támez, and many others identified with the principles and the methodology of liberation theology, proliferate.

Liberation theology occupies a prima donna position in current theology. Thanks to Cardinal Ratzinger's "Instructions" (1984), it became a subject of interest even for the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, as I verified when I visited the country as part of a group of Brazilian theologians in June 1987.

The two "Instructions" issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the proceedings against the book Church: Charism and Power and its author, Leonardo Boff, brought theological debate into the sacred walls of ecclesiastical institutions, and gave it ample space in the media, universities and political movements.

The works of theologians provoke more interest than the personalities of their authors. This epistemological bias has its advantages. As long as the work is rigorous, according to the criteria of its specific field, there is no need to disturb the author, safe in his conquered privacy. However, divorce between author and work has not always been a mere whim of modern reason. It has sometimes served as an ideological instrument -- in the primitive sense in which Marx used the term "ideology" -- precisely to cover up the contradiction between author and work. Suffice it to recall the recent impact of the revelations that Heidegger collaborated with the Nazi regime.

In the case of dead authors, biographies are always of great interest to those who seek a better understanding of the text within the context. Who today reads Althusser with the same attention that his works provoked before November 15, 1980, when the Marxist philosopher strangled his wife? In contrast, the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a Nazi concentration camp gave his works a new character, just as the murder of Archbishop Oscar Romero guaranteed a wide distribution of his sermons.

Although the main target is always the works they produce, the liberation theologians themselves have always aroused considerable controversy. In any case, we are accustomed to living in situations of conflict -- be it the occupation of lands that brought the brothers Leonardo and Clodovis Boff to prison in Petropolis on March 4, 1988, or the censures and punishments imposed by those who govern our Churches.

A certain discomfort is created in some theological sectors of the First World precisely because of this criterion, which gives liberation theology a new character. In it, theological discourse can not be separated from pastoral commitment. The liberation theologian is not an armchair intellectual, confined to libraries and reading rooms, dedicated to academic rigor, protected from current conflicts.

And liberation theology is not written without penetrating deeply, because the liberation theologian's starting point is not his supposedly enlightened mind but the pastoral practice of poor Christian communities, committed to the cause of people's liberation.

For this reason, liberation theology does not exist without a link with its source -- the liberating practice of oppressed Christian communities in the Third World. Gramsci helps us to understand this new status of theology with his concept of "organic intellectual," which defines the relationship of the theologian to the popular movement. This explains why liberation theology is representative of grassroots groups through the support it receives from an immense network of Basic Ecclesial  Communities and countless martyrs and confessors whose ecclesial life and prophecy are sources for the theologians' thought and production.

An "illegitimate" theology

In Latin America, being an "illegitimate child" does not necessarily affect one's social image. We are all sons and daughters of relationships between Spaniards and Amerindians, Portuguese and Caboclos, whites and blacks, mestizos and mulattoes. Our racism is only for social effect -- it is diluted in the heat of the tropics, where sexuality is power and party, bargain and submission, fantasy and transgression. In this part of the world, the family is as recent a concept as its constitution. To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, life extrapolates thought here. Not even theology escapes from the genealogical tree of uncertain roots and twisted branches. Questioning liberation theology about its legitimate ancestors is like asking an indigenous Mexican or a Colombian coffee planter about the historical truth behind his family tradition.

Gustavo Gutiérrez can rightly be considered the father of liberation theology, for he was the first to publish a book with that title in 1971 through the Spanish Ediciones Sígueme. But he himself does not deny the importance for his work of his visit to Brazil in 1969, when he came into contact with our Basic Ecclesial Communities and experienced up close the drama of the assassination -- still unpunished today -- of Dom Helder Camara's youth advisor, Father Henrique Pereira Neto, strangled and shot by the Brazilian military dictatorship in Recife on May 26, 1969. Gutiérrez dedicated his A Theology of Liberation to him and to the Peruvian novelist José María Arguedas. Despite this, it is not possible to deny the European roots derived from Jacques Maritain's integral humanism, Mounier's engaged personalism, Teilhard de Chardin's progressive evolutionism, De Lubac's social dogmatics, Congar's theology of the laity Lebret's theology of development, Comblin's theology of revolution, and Metz's political theology.

The Second Vatican Council encouraged the conditions for the severing of the umbilical cord that kept the theology of Latin America dependent on the womb of Mother Europe. By the beginning of the 1960s, the Cuban revolution, the failure of the Alliance for Progress, the crisis of the development model, and the growth of leftist movements not linked to the traditional Communist parties were some of the factors that led Latin American theologians to root the thought in the soil that they trod. Not that it was a matter of looking for categories that would allow a reinterpretation of social and political facts. The engine of the theory was the practice of grassroots Christian communities, rooted in the struggle. As they transformed the world, they also altered the model of the Church. Social change and ecclesiogenesis are ultimately linked.

The building of an alternative political project does not leave the Church untouched, as if it were a community of angels hovering over the contradictions that cut through the fabric of society. The new element was the awareness, achieved in the life of the Basic Ecclesial Communities, that the Church is not just the Pope or the bishops, but the people of God in history. And the presence of this believing and oppressed people in the social movements of Latin America marked the faith with a critical character that gave rise to liberation theology.

An indigenous theologian

At the seventh international conference of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) in Oaxtepec, Mexico, in December 1986, African American theologian James Cone complained that Latin American liberation theology was too white. The strange thing is that next to him was Gustavo Gutierrez, of typically indigenous appearance -- brown skin, round face, short and squat, with slightly almond-shaped eyes, revealing his Quechua ancestry. At home, his father spoke the language of the ancient Inca empire. But more than language and appearance, Gutiérrez inherited the style of the Andean Amerindians. And this is what surprises anyone who knows him. He combines -- not without some conflict -- a mind endowed with quick, rational, magisterial intelligence, which expresses itself in a language constructed like the parts of a precision instrument, and a sensibility that disarms all models of modern rationality.

In him co-exist the intellectual trained in Louvain -- where he was a colleague of Camilo Torres and defended a thesis based on Freud -- and the Amerindian of the Peruvian altiplano. This is what allows him to enter a classroom without being noticed -- as if gliding on his own feet -- or visit his friend Miguel d'Escoto without anyone noticing his presence in Managua. It is as if he could travel not only on the roads accessible to urbanized travelers but also on the tracks and trails that only the inhabitants of the jungle know. This ancestral gift allows him to dominate a new language, a new field of knowledge, or to pass through New York, Paris, or Bonn like an Amerindian sneaking through trees and leaves, observing unobserved, fast as a bird and discreet as a llama.

This characteristic allowed him to work on the draft of the famous Medellín Document, approved by the Latin American Episcopal Conference in 1968 -- a text that would become fundamental to the practice and theory of the Church of the poor in Latin America.

On one occasion, Gutierrez arrived in Rome just as the Peruvian bishops were discussing his work with the highest dignitaries of the Curia. Who can swear that the final text, more favorable to him than the original draft, was not drafted by Gutiérrez's own quill?

Discreet as a Capuchin, he moves in the political domain of theological conflicts with all the subtlety of a Jesuit. Although his expression sometimes reveals that metaphysical anguish characteristic of people to whom the narrow line separating death from life is familiar, he never panics, and his keen intuition is capable of presenting immediate solutions to complicated problems as if he had meditated for years on an issue that has just emerged. He can sit for hours in an airport seat, writing an article or listening to someone, nervously biting a toothpick all the time with his strong, slightly separated teeth. His answers are almost always ironically amusing, as if he were setting up a riddle.

In lecturing and speaking, he follows a rigid pattern so carefully assembled that he appears to have ornamented his text. His jokes give the words a flavor all his own, because he is always capable of manifesting that rare virtue that so enchants him -- humor. His sense of humor allows him to keep some critical distance from any fact. He does not allow himself to be betrayed by emotion because he knows that nothing human deserves to be taken too seriously.

I lived with Gustavo Gutierrez in Puebla in January and February 1979 during the Third Latin American Episcopal Conference. At that time, his name, like those of other liberation theologians, had been excluded from the list of official advisers. He did not have direct access to the meeting place of the bishops, but many prelates came to him for help, which obliged him to spend whole nights drafting proposals.

We were all housed precariously in two unfurnished apartments, which seldom had water and whose bathrooms lacked light. We survived with manna fallen from heaven because we had no kitchen, and in the city's restaurants we would have been easy prey of the international press, always in search of a theologian to decipher the ecclesiastical language of the texts or to give an exclusive interview that would confirm the rebellious and heretical nature of liberation theology...

After dodging all foreign correspondents for days, on Sunday afternoon, February 4, 1979, Gutierrez accepted the suggestion of the Mexican Center for Social Communication (Cencos) to hold a press conference at the El Portal hotel. In his comments, he emphasized that liberation theology had not planned to begin with a reflection on the poor. The poor themselves, agents of historical transformation, began this theological reflection. The goal of liberation theology is to give the poor the right to think and express themselves theologically. The more the journalists pressured him to let something escape that might sound like heresy, the more Gutierrez was faithful to the poor and to the Church. He is a master at reconciling (harmonizing) seemingly opposing poles, presenting syntheses that encourage us to reinterpret tradition and the world around us.

I met him on different occasions in his office - the "tower" of Rimac, a poor neighborhood in Lima. It was definitely one of the most cluttered offices I've ever seen. Scattered and mixed on the floor were Coke cans and Cardinal Ratzinger's books. Also bottles on top of papal documents, torn electrical wires roaming among dusty papers. There was no hint that a mop had been there since Francisco Pizarro's arrival in Peru.

Despite that, the confusion was logical for him. He knew exactly where to find everything. And amid that pile of papers, he devoured the books he received. When he felt hungry, he ate some undefined common meal, together with the unemployed and underemployed.

Gutierrez always preferred reading to writing. He had his own dynamic reading method, as if an antenna would show him the quality of the content of a work. Writing, for him, is a painful act. And when he writes, admitting that he has reached the final version is a sacrifice. He always considers it provisional text, to be revised and improved. For this reason, almost all of his works began as mimeographed lectures. It is very likely that he is the author of more unpublished works, known only to a small circle of readers, than published ones. In general, he does not even sign the mimeographed texts, which include an excellent introduction to the ideas of Marx and Engels and their relationship to Christianity.

In January 1985, on the eve of Pope John Paul II's visit to Lima, I met him in the "tower" of Rimac, writing a series of articles related to this important ecclesial event. As we talked, Gutierrez tried to untangle a long telephone wire, which looked more like a ball of yarn in the mouth of a playful cat. He always keeps his hands busy when he is nervous, whether twisting a rubber band or playing with a ballpoint pen. And at that moment he had more than enough reasons to be tense, because Cardinal Ratzinger had announced for September a response to Leonardo Boff's defense of his Church: Charisma and Power against Rome's criticism. Christmas had passed and the Curia still remained silent. The second "Instruction" on liberation theology, based on a consultation with the bishops of Latin America, promised for November or December, had also not appeared.

Perhaps it had been decided that the pope should make a more official statement on liberation theology on the spot. Nothing could be more timely than a pronouncement during a visit to the birthplace of the father of liberation theology. Gutiérrez feared that the Pope would say something that could be interpreted as condemning his theology. It would be disastrous. Nevertheless, he was ready to leave the "tower" that protected him from the siege of the press and appear at the Pope's meeting with priests and laity in the square. Once again he seemed certain that because of his native roots, as a person able to walk at night in the forest without awakening nature from its sleep, his presence would be as discreet as the drizzle that covers the roofs of Lima before dawn.

Admirers and inspirers

On the way to Cuba, brothers Leonardo and Clodovis Boff and I passed through Lima in the late afternoon of September 4, 1985. We found Gutierrez in the worker parish where, together with Father Jorge, director of the Workers' Ministry of Lima, the theologian exercised his priestly ministry. We insisted that he go with us to Havana because Fidel Castro had shown a great desire to meet him. Gutiérrez was evasive, objecting that at that very moment a group of Peruvian bishops, led by Dom Durán Enriquez, was preparing a textbook criticizing his writings, which meant that he would have to concentrate on producing a kind of advance defense.

Some time later, Gutiérrez confirmed that he had not come to Cuba in response to a request from Father Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, then general secretary of the Cuban Bishops Conference, who had been his colleague in Rome. The Cuban priest was afraid that the presence of the Peruvian theologian in Cuba would be exploited politically.

The night after our meeting in Lima, the brothers Leonardo and Clodovis Boff and I met Fidel Castro in Havana. We handed him the letter that the theologian had sent him. When he finished, Fidel commented that he had just read A Theology of Liberation and said he was impressed with its scientific basis and its ethical impact. He mentioned in particular the honesty with which Gutierrez treats the issue of class struggle and the dimension of poverty. He added, with emphasis, "We need to distribute books like this to the Communist movement. Our people know nothing about this. It is harder for you to write a book like this than for us to produce a text about Marxism." A few days later Fidel declared, in the presence of Dom Pedro Casaldaliga from Brazil who was visiting Cuba, that "liberation theology is more important than Marxism for the revolution in Latin America."

But whoever thinks that politics speaks louder in the heart of Gustavo Gutierrez is mistaken. He is above all a mystic. His most famous books, The God of Life, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent, and We Drink from Our Own Wells are fundamentally spiritual, aiming to nourish the faith life and prayer of Christians committed to the people's struggle.

For Gutiérrez, theology is secondary. The essential thing is to do God's will in liberating action. And his keen theological vision captures the presence of the Lord, solidary where He seems to be most absent, in the suffering of the poor. This suffering permeates the life of Gustavo Gutierrez himself, because his delicate health requires constant care. But he does not complain. He prefers to cry out for the poor.

On one occasion, I spent a whole day with him at the Summer Course in Lima, where thousands of militants from Christian base communities came in search of a theological foundation. I realized that he was sad, although he had presented his class with his usual vivacity. There was a shadow on that face that lights up, happy, when surrounded by simple, poor people, dedicated to the utopia of the Kingdom. We talked and not a word of self-pity came from his lips. Only later did I hear that his mother had died that day.

The book about Job is a disguised autobiography of Gustavo Gutierrez. From its pages comes the deep conviction that all liberation theology derives from the effort to make sense of human suffering. In pursuit of this meaning, the theologian knows that, as Clodovis Boff says, everything is political, but politics is not everything. Solidarity with the poor is not exhausted in the cause of justice; it leads us to the sphere of gratuitousness, where spiritual emptying opens the way to communion with God.

Just as in Latin America the life of faith can not be separated from the demands of politics, so the revolutionary project should find in the Christian mystic the model for the formation of new men and women. Consequently, liberation theology can only be accused of despising the spiritual dimension by someone who does not know the long list of works that have come from the contemplation and hands of Segundo Galilea, João Batista Libanio, Elsa Támez, Carlos Mesters, Arturo Paoli, Raúl Vidales, Pablo Richard and Leonardo Boff.

The divine stigmata burn within Gustavo Gutierrez. It is impossible to grasp the full depth of his intellectual inspiration, his prophetic role and his mystical soul without knowing those three Peruvians who are at the root of his genius: José Carlos Mariátegui, César Vallejo and, above all, José María Arguedas.

From the communist Mariátegui, author of the classic Siete Ensayos Peruanos ["Seven Peruvian Essays"], Gutiérrez learned the technique of cultural cannibalism necessary to Latin Americanize all the theoretical baggage of his years of studies in Rome, Belgium, France, and Germany. From the poet César Vallejo, author of Trilce -- poetry as important to modern literature as Ulysses -- he inherited the nostalgic lament of the suffering creature before the silence of the Creator: "My God, if You had been human today, You would be able to be God" (Los dados eternos). "I was born on a day when God was sick" (Espergesia).

However, the greatest influence was the novelist José María Arguedas, of whom Gutierrez was a friend and to whom he pays tribute in many of his lectures and writings. It is interesting that he chose as the epigraph of his A Theology of Liberation a page from the book Todos las Sangres by this Quechua author, specifically the one in which the indigenous sacristan of Lahuaymarca tells the priest, "Your God is not the same. He makes people suffer without consolation ..."

"Was God in the hearts of those who broke the body of the innocent teacher Bellido? Is God in the body of the engineers who are killing 'La Esmeralda'? In the authorities who took from its owners that field of corn where, at every harvest, the Virgin used to play with her Little Son?"

In November 1981, I met Gustavo Gutiérrez in Managua. There, between theological discussions with the Sandinista leaders in an attempt to help them understand the different positions of Christians regarding the revolution, what later became his book on Job was born. In it, he raises the fundamental question and asks himself: How can we talk about God in the midst of so much oppression? If we want to do theology, talk about God, he said, we must first be silent before God. From this silence, which surrounds the hearts of the poor, wisdom is born. And we must repeat with Job, in the midst of so many Latin American crosses and a deep thirst for love: "Before, I only knew you by hearsay but now my eyes have seen you." Everything in Gustavo Gutiérrez, his work and his life, converges toward this vision.

Today, Gutiérrez is my confrere in the Dominican Order.

Frei Betto is an adviser of pastoral and social movements, author of Fidel & Religion (Ocean Press, 2006), among other books. Gustavo Gutiérrez is the author of many books, the newest of which is De Medellin a Aparecida (Centro de Estudios y Publicaciones, 2018)