Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tenemos Esperanza: Why We Have Hope

As I have mentioned before in this blog, one of the joys of belonging to the Hispanic community at Our Lady Queen of Peace is the choir which, because that parish is not wedded to Flor Y Canto -- good as it is -- or some narrow concept of liturgical correctness, exposes us to a variety of songs that celebrate the preferential option for the poor. Sometimes a song will move me to explore its origins, as was the case with the closing hymn this past Sunday: "Tenemos Esperanza". The lyrics, my translation of them, and a video of the authors performing it themselves are below.

The author of the lyrics of "Tenemos Esperanza" turns out to be none other than Rev. Federico J. Pagura, bishop emeritus of the Evangelical Methodist Church of Argentina. Rev. Pagura has also served as president of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) and of the Council of Methodist Bishops in the Latin America and the Caribbean. A former member of the World Council of Churches Commission on World Mission and Evangelism, Pagura was elected a president of the WCC by the Harare assembly in 1998. Pagura is also a member of the board of the Life & Peace Institute of Uppsala, Sweden, and co-president of the Ecumenical Movement for Human Rights in Argentina.

And in his spare time, this former professor of theology also writes Christian hymns, frequently to the tango rhythms of his native land. His musical collaborator is Homero Perera, a professional pianist, organist, and composer from Uruguay. According to C. Michael Hawn, author of Gather Into One: Praying and Singing Globally, their collaboration began at the Facultad Evangélica de Teología where Rev. Pagura served as chaplain and Perera was studying organ and composition in the early 1960s.

The hymn itself is part of a trilogy the pair wrote in the 1970s in response to the human rights situation at that time in Latin America, including the overthrow of Salvador Allende and the establishment of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, and the "dirty war" in Argentina. People were asking why this was happening and wondering if God had abandoned them. The "Porque" trilogy, which also includes "Porque él venció" (also called "Sursum Corda") and "Porque hay un mundo" (also called "Alegría"), was Pagura's attempt to answer that longing for a reason to hope.

In his chapter "Pagura...El Cantor" in the book Por eso es que tenemos esperanza: homenaje al obispo Federico J. Pagura (Oshige, Fernando ed. Quito: CLAI, 1995), the Christian musician Pablo Sosa wrote about these hymns:

[In] a time of military dictatorship, the death, the disappearances, the injustice, the horror...How is it possible to have hope? Someone has to raise up our faith before everything is emptied out. It was Federico's turn. He completed the mission of the poet, as he intuited it, to put wings to the gospel. To lift up hope with a song. And Perera accompanied him with a tango, because he needed the male determination (or, perhaps, the determination which many women have, and not all men) to have hope, even in Christ, and especially in Christ in those terrible time.
And Hawn concludes: "By using the tango to embody Christ's ministry and hope in a difficult time of persecution and oppression, Pagura...planted the gospel of the incarnation deeply in Latin American soil."

Tenemos esperanza

Porque El entró en el mundo y en la historia;
porque El quebró el silencio y la agonía;
porque llenó la tierra de su gloria;
porque fue luz en nuestra noche fría.

Porque nació en un pesebre oscuro;
porque vivió sembrando amor y vida;
porque partió los corazones duros
y levantó las almas abatidas.

Por eso es que hoy tenemos esperanza;
por eso es que hoy luchamos con porfía;
por eso es que hoy miramos con confianza,
el porvenir en esta tierra mía.

Porque atacó a ambiciosos mercaderes
y denunció maldad e hipocresía;
porque exaltó a los niños, las mujeres
y rechazó a los que de orgullo ardían.

Porque El cargó la cruz de nuestras penas
y saboreó la hiel de nuestros males;
porque aceptó sufrir nuestra condena,
y así morir por todos los mortales.


Porque una aurora vio su gran victoria
sobre la muerte, el miedo, las mentiras;
ya nada puede detener su historia,
ni de su Reino eterno la venida


We Have Hope

1. Because He came into the world and into history,
because He broke the silence and the agony,
because He filled the earth with His glory,
because He was light in our cold night.

Because He was born in a dark manger,
because He lived sowing love and life,
because He opened up the hard of heart
and lifted up downtrodden souls

Chorus: Therefore we have hope today,
Therefore we fight on tenaciously today,
Therefore today we look confidently
on the future of this land of mine.

2. Because He attacked the ambitious merchants
and denounced evil and hypocrisy;
Because He exalted the children, the women,
and rejected those who burn with arrogance.

Because He bore the cross of our suffering
and because He tasted the bitterness of our ills;
because He accepted to suffer our condemnation
and thus died for all mortals.


3. Because a dawn saw His great victory
over death, the fear, the lies;
now nothing can hold back His history
or the coming of His eternal kingdom.



Photo: Federico Pagura (standing) and Homero Perera (at keyboard)

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