Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Church of the Poor

Pablo Ospina (translation by Rebel Girl)
El Telégrafo (Ecuador)

Like every October, for three years, delegates from organizations of nearly ten provinces of Ecuador held a meeting. There were both lay people and religious, but the main players were the former. That is the first novel feature of this reunion of the survivors of the popular church after twenty years of retreat: it does not owe allegiance to any clerical structure.

In the first meeting in 2006, theologian José Comblin called attention precisely to this weakness in liberation theology. In the sixties it was thought that the structure of the official church could become a "community of communities" -- in the image and likeness of the first underground Christian communities made up of slaves and other excluded people. But, said Comblin, that's impossible. A structure built over 1,500 years ago on the basis of hierarchy and power, can not be transformed into its opposite. As a result, base ecclesial communities devoted themselves to taking on religious duties like organizing the celebrations, rituals and worship, forgetting the message of Jesus. That message was not to praise Him in the sanctuaries, but to build His kingdom on earth. Celebration has its place in the Christian world, but is far from being essential in the sacramentalized and disembodied way we have become used to. In the end, then, the base communities reproduced the clericalism and subordination that the message of Jesus repudiates.

The annual meetings of the Church of the Poor are still small. But they continue to grow and consolidate. They begin by analyzing the social and political reality of these changing times. In the end, they always make a public statement summarizing the discussion about this shared reality. This year, the manifesto recognizes the positive changes that the Government is promoting, but deplores the fact that they want to do it without the organized leadership of the poor. The theme this year was "With community protagonism, we the poor build the revolution." In one of the key sections of the message, it says: "The civil revolution of this government has not favored the organized protagonism of the poor. Rather, many times such as now, ignoring the historical process of organizations, it wants to replace it and acts as if it wants to destroy it. It opposes bigger and stronger organizations, such as CONAIE, closing the door on dialogue and much more concerned with the principle of authority than with the justice of the popular demands. Other important organizations, such as the teachers unions or public sector unions, are also treated as enemies. It does not view the demands of organized people as a contribution, but as a sad opposition. The greatest danger is, then, that without the involvement of people no changes will be lasting and no transformation will be really deep." I hope there are ears that are open to this cry.

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