by Arturo Flores (English translation by Rebel Girl)
December 10, 2012
"The Lord can even make a Zeta a saint", Father Solalinde, the flamboyant recipient of the Premio Nacional de Derechos Humanos 2012, told Playboy.com.mx...
A recognized promoter of the rights of migrants, Alejandro Solalinde received this honor from President Enrique Peña Nieto and ombudsman Raul Plascencia. Leader of the Hermanos del Camino shelter, where he welcomes Central American travelers who are in transit through Mexico, this character has had to leave the country because of this task and his inflammatory statements. Death threats from organized crime are hanging over his head.
But inside the philanthropist, there is a man who remorselessly acknowledges that he has not been celibate. That he was with a woman, an experience he characterizes as a miracle that helped humanize him. In the end, he's not afraid, and while he goes through life under guard, he recognizes that when they want to kill him, they will. But even with that, he won't stop being a rebel priest.
Father, either you have a very hectic life or your colleagues are very comfortable in their parishes.
Wow! Maybe it's both. I'm not the only one, but my life is very hectic because the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. It distresses me that there's so much need.
Where does this concern to make faith more of a field than a desk job come from?
I've been a rebel my whole priestly life. To date I haven't followed the conventional path. I've made my own way. I went to seminary, then I went into the novitiate with the Carmelites, but because of being as I was, for viewing freedom as I view it, they chased me away! I didn't fit in. The Carmelites are excellent, but I didn't fit in a fixed system. So I entered a more open system, a diocesan Institute, but I didn't like it either. So, with other seminarians, I chose to do a separate experiment. I went to live in a neighborhood in colonia Portales and I began to have a real closeness to the working people, to the lower middle class. The problem came when they ordained me. Academically, I was taking classes at the Instituto Superior de Estudios Eclesiásticos del Cardenal Miguel Darío Miranda, but while the others went to their communities, to their secure lives, I set out to risk life in the street, with the lay people, the common people (laughs). But I wondered, "and how are they going to ordain me? What bishop is going to recommend me?" And a miracle happened. A Superior general came along who promoted my ordination from Rome. That day there was rock-and-roll, mariachis, I danced until I was tired and my jaws ached from so much happiness. God endorsed my path and I'm not putting myself up as a paradigm for others to follow -- not at all -- because otherwise I'm making myself into dogma and life isn't dogma. Life is fresh and always being built; there's no reason to adjust oneself to others' brackets. I rebelled against that. I didn't want a comfortable life because since I was a boy, I always had a poor life with my family. Once I was ordained, they took me to live at La Herradura for free. You're kidding! How was I gonna stand life with just rich folks?
And how did the rich folks take you?
That's where the problems started, because every Sunday Doña Chole Ávila Camacho (the widow of the former president) went to Mass and since you have to apply the Gospel, I applied it to her case. It was the parable of the rich man Epulon and poor Lazarus. I said, "Doña Chole is like the rich man Epulon and poor Lazarus is Palosolo," very poor colonia that was on the other side. They ran me out of the church too and sent me to San Isidro, a very poor area. That is, God knows how to get it done. My greatest rebellion was getting off the track and seeking my own path, my way of being church. And I'm very happy; I feel like I won the lottery, being among the people. Rather than judging anyone, because Jesus didn't come to judge anybody, it's about accepting people as they are. Later, when I was in the Toluca Diocese, I refused to live in a church and got a little apartment where I would receive people.
A priest who refuses to live in a church?
Yes, because of the structures and stereotypes. It wasn't useful for reaching the new generations.
Father, many of the things you say jump out at me...a priest who says that life isn't dogma?
No, life arises. I'll tell you something marvelous. I believe a lot in our human condition, I'm delighted to be human and fallible, defective, I'm delighted to have errors, to be limited, to be wrong. In those years I learned something; I was 32. Let's see, I talk to God like I'm talking to you. I deal with all the issues, even those of a sexual nature, with God. I have no inhibitions. I used to say to Him. "I've been ordained 4 years now and I've never had a relationship with a woman. I don't know what that is. I'm celibate out of obligation, because if I weren't, they wouldn't have ordained me, but...how am I going to understand a couple or women, if I don't know anything about this?" And the miracle happened, without looking for it! Among the young women I was working with, it ...happened. I found it and it was marvellous; I discovered an incredible dimension that made me feel more human, more like a man. And far from feeling guilty -- not at all -- I didn't even confess it. I gave thanks to God and walked around like a boy with a new toy, because I discovered women as they are and I found myself as a man. I struggled over whether to continue my path or leave the priesthood and get married. She was very much in love, but I just liked her. So my vocation was stronger. I chose to be with the people, with the poor, and to be a priest. Now I'm celibate. Now (laughs).
Doesn't telling me that you were with a woman cause you problems?
No, because when they ordained me I was celibate. I did everything they asked, although I was repressed. I was faithful to God, but later I could become more human. It's impossible for one, as a priest, to try to guide young people, who talk so much about sex, while being in the dark. Nor am I saying that all seminarians should go through this like I did, but it worked for me. Now I'm a normal person. When I see a woman who attracts my attention, I tell God about it and that experience taught me to value women, not just see them as sex objects. I admire them a lot. Women are the most beautiful expression of the face of God.
Aren't you afraid your superiors will find out about this?
You have to understand that celibacy isn't a dogma of faith, but just a discipline,. Sex isn't bad, nor is getting married or having a relationship with a woman. Jesus was celibate, free, but he was a sexual being. He never rejected having a relationship with a woman from his nature as a man. He saw everything more naturally. On the other hand, the church is still very closed on the question of sex. Jesus chose a married man from among his disciples to go live in his house. And to top it off, he chose a married man, Peter, as the first leader of the Catholic Church, and he knew his wife. He never said you had to be celibate to follow him. The Catholic Church began to impose that when the sons of priests, popes, and bishops started to demand their inheritance rights. It hurt them administratively! Moreover, the time is coming soon when the Church will view celibacy as something optional.
They say one can get used to everything except not eating. Have you gotten used to the death threats?
Yes, I've now gotten used to them. They're secondary. I'm not afraid because I trust in Jesus. He says, in John 8:29 I think, "He who sent Me is with Me". Be it known that I am not "the One sent", but I am one who has been sent and the One who sent me is with me. Yesterday I went to the Interior Ministry and they said, hands on hips, "since you aren't going to change or stop making statements, we will have to implement security measures of the magnitude of your attitude." (laughs) Like that. And no, I'm not going to change. I feel very happy serving the truth. I don't care about the damn money, nor do I believe in power or fame.
Have you also gotten used to bringing along bodyguards like guardian angels?
It's like bringing eyeglasses. To be honest, the day the bad guys want to break me, they'll do it without hesitation. And if they haven't done it, it's because they haven't wanted to. I understand that my personal security agents carry big weapons and have undergone special training, but the day they really want to kill me, even 20 agents would be useless. That's why I take them as a measure of respect and obedience to the international community which tells me "you aren't the Messiah, but be careful because we need you." But I'm not afraid that they'll dispatch me. I don't believe in death; it's just a step from one dimension to another. This life is beautiful and I enjoy it, but the one to come is better. Although I don't want to be a martyr either, that would be a great gig!
What is your first memory associated with a migrant?
When I was in the Holy Trinity parish in Juchitán (Guerrero). Four very young migrants came and said to me, "Look, Father, they just robbed us." I took them in my little car to where they had been assaulted. I found out it had been law enforcement officers and I confronted them. That's how this life began. "What you stole from them, you have to give back to them", I demanded. Of course, they didn't do it but I made accusations to their superiors.
And how was the shelter born?
It started on February 26, 2007, when I had been giving out food along the railway tracks for a year. It wasn't enough because what the migrants need most is security. One day I was giving out food on one side of the train and on the other, they began to assault them. I went to that side and on the one where I had been, it was the same -- assaults. It was a joke. So a place was needed where they could be so they wouldn't be walking around like sheep without a shepherd. I feel honored to serve them, but human blindness outrages me. I don't divide the world into good guys and bad guys because we're all, as they say in Oaxaca, interspersed. It saddens me that the institutions have done nothing to train up human beings. I charge the PRI, which was in power for so many years and didn't do anything to train people; I charge the PAN because in spite of being so Catholic, they didn't make Mexico more humane; I charge all the parties that have become corrupt, but I also charge the Catholic Church, with all that it's an institution with moral authority, it wasn't able to train people, because don't tell me that the law enforcement officers and soldiers who have deserted the army to get into crime aren't Catholic! Don't tell me that the financial capital people, starting with Carlos Slim, aren't Catholic! How can they do what they're doing, being Catholic? Because they were tricked; they were told that faith is religion. That's not true. Faith is following Jesus. But they do what they do, go to Mass and calmly receive their blessing from a bishop and even give him their little bit of alms.
It was for statements like that they had to get you out of Mexico. How were those days abroad?
Hard, because I missed the shelter, but I don't waste time. I'm a missionary 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In Europe, I rejected going about like a tourist. I risk my neck and for that I deserve a vacation? No! I took advantage of the spaces that the international peace brigades gave me and I had parliaments, chambers of deputies and senators listening to me, 90% full. I asked what they do with migrants over there. As I said yesterday to two European diplomats I was eating with, "You're exemplary on human rights for regular people, but I reprove you on human rights for migrants." Mexico is a country that pretends -- it signs international treaties and says it respects human rights, but the truth is that it tramples them.
As a critic of the Church, what do you think of Marcial Maciel?
He was a poor addicted man, sick, a criminal, but also a victim of a system that, once again, hasn't been concerned with forming people. He was the victim of a system in collusion with money. How is it possible that they didn't see Maciel's hidden life? Of course they knew, but they didn't say anything because he brought in lots of money. They had to save the f---ing capital rather than saving people. How horrible! If I were high up in the Church hierarchy, I wouldn't have an administrative soul, so I would save people. Sometimes God writes straight with crooked lines. I would ask the ones who remained in charge of his institute, "How do you feel?". Well f--- it, they would say, our founder wasn't a saint, now how are we going to free ourselves from the stigma? I would propose forming a new institute, one which they would initiate. But no, what did they do? They sent two cardinals from Rome to put a bandaid on a gaping wound and save the name and the product. This happens in Mexico -- human beings don't have priority when it comes to investments. So we have the dying countryside, the indigenous people who are neglected, those who have been rejected by the universities, the slackers.
But we'll have a new presidential plane!
Yes. Those are the great contradictions. We don't understand our drama. We give ourselves luxuries as if we were in the First World.
Do you agree with the separation of Church and State?
I'm delighted; that's how it should be. In the Middle Ages, the Church usurped money to become a power. But thanks be to God, the French revolution, the Renaissance and Mister Benito Juárez, the Church is in its place now. The Church doesn't have to be a power body. Let's hope the Vatican will stop being a State and become just the Holy See.