Monday, October 4, 2010

A priest's journey: Ex-fighter pilot on mission to bring change to Juárez

What a pleasure to see this article about Fr. Peter Hinde, O.Carm., co-founder with Sr. Betty Campbell, RSM of Tabor House (photo), which moved from Washington, DC to San Antonio, TX and finally to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Fr. Hinde was also a co-founder of CRISPAZ, Cristianos/as por la Paz en El Salvador. A lifetime of solidarity with the poorest of the poor...

By Marty Schladen
El Paso Times
Posted: 10/03/2010

JUAREZ -- You might not agree with James Hinde on everything, but it is hard to doubt his sincerity.

Known now as "Father Peter," Hinde has gone from World War II fighter pilot to a member of Veterans for Peace who comes to El Paso every Friday to protest U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And as a priest, Hinde lives among and ministers to some of Juárez's poorest residents. And he argues that U.S. policies help keep them poor.

After experiencing the civil-rights movement while living in Washington, D.C., and the beginnings of the movement known as liberation theology while living in Peru, Hinde plans to end his days in Juárez trying to demonstrate what he sees as the effects of trade policy on Mexican workers.

"Christ challenged the authorities of his day, and that's what is going on here," Hinde said in a recent interview.

Even though he's 87, Hinde's end seems a long way off.

One Sunday last month, the slight priest walked a mile up and down steep, unpaved streets in the western outskirts of Juárez, past loose dogs and kids playing soccer outside cinder-block shacks.

Then he donned his vestments and celebrated Mass in a sweltering chapel on a hill. He had to speak loudly because thieves stole the public-address system a month earlier.

After Mass, he hiked another mile to a humble bazaar held by two other chapels. Hinde stopped repeatedly to hug parishioners, many of them maquiladora workers. He bought a hamburger from one of the four booths in the rocky street and kept trying to give away half. And after he ate standing up, he busied himself finding chairs for his guests.
It was a long way from where he started.

Born in 1923 in Elyria, Ohio, Hinde grew up in Chicago. He attended a Catholic High School run by the Order of Carmelites and vaguely thought of becoming a priest. But he pursued a more worldly profession when he started college at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

"I was setting out on an engineering career," Hinde said.

But war broke out, and in 1942 he volunteered for the Army Air Corps.

Hinde is as modest about his service as he is about every other aspect of his life. Based on an island off of Okinawa, Japan, he flew three combat missions, but he says there was little danger.

"They were almost milk runs, as they used to call them."

But one mission took Hinde over the Japanese city of Nagasaki just days after an atomic bomb leveled it.

"We saw where the city was," Hinde said pointedly.

It was not that, or any other searing experience in the war, that led Hinde to the priesthood and pacifism. They came gradually, he said.

After the war, he thought of becoming a priest, but he also wanted to keep flying and to play baseball. After he was ordained in 1952, Hinde taught math and science and then spent three years in an Austrian monastery.

Upon returning to the U.S., Hinde was placed in charge of 60 seminary students in Washington, D.C., between 1960 and 1965 -- the height of the civil-rights struggle. He encouraged students to go into the urban areas and to work with young black activists. Hinde formed a close friendship with activist Stokely Carmichael that lasted until Carmichael's death in 1998.

Hinde says the seminarians and the activists confronted and then helped the all-Anglo Washington police department prepare to implement provisions of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"We learned how racism is structural," Hinde said. "And the system conditions people who go through it."

The experience conditioned Hinde for the Peru he saw in 1966, when he went to work in a new Carmelite community. The Peruvian government was embroiled in a fight with Standard Oil of New Jersey over oil leases that vastly underpaid Peru, Hinde said. The U.S. government was threatening to cut foreign aid if Peru interfered with the leases.

In the midst of the fight, in July 1968, Hinde saw the Rev. Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru give a speech in which he articulated the idea of liberation theology -- that Christians have a responsibility to see life through the eyes of the poor and ask how social institutions help or hurt them.

Some conservatives called liberation theology a Marxist ideology, and Pope Benedict XVI criticized parts of it before he became pope. But to Hinde, it is a way of life.

"God is speaking to us through Latin Americans struggling for a fair wage," Hinde said.

Since 1995, he has lived among the poorest people in Juárez, celebrating Mass at whichever chapel the archdiocese asks him to. He has no television, and he hasn't had a car since 1978.

Just about all the families he preaches to have at least one member working in the maquiladoras, making $50 to $55 a week, he said.

As he preached recently, in front of a padlocked tabernacle, Hinde likened the economy to a boat in which millionaires upset the balance. The more millionaires, he said, the more poor people are needed to balance the boat. The message seemed to resonate with his audience.

"I've watched as NAFTA has impoverished the great majority of Mexicans," he said later of the trade agreement that has helped foster the maquiladora industry.

Many on both sides of the border would disagree. Outgoing Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz counts retention of the industry as a major achievement in an administration marred by epidemic violence.

But Hinde means what he says and has devoted his life to proving it. And he has no regrets about choosing his humble life.

Doing "otherwise would have spiritually been a disaster to me," he said. "I would have ended up with my head in the same bubble as so many people."

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