by Avelino Seco (English translation by Rebel Girl)
October 7, 2013
There are people who attract from afar because they are glimmers of hope in a commercialized world and a Church that is trying to get out of winter. One of those people is Peter Casaldáliga, a prophet wrapped in poetry, whose words spoken in April on synodality, the role of women, collegiality, shared responsibility, and joy, seem to have been heard by Francis.
In his penetrating eyes and big heart that is manifested in long arms and expressive hands that seem to escape his small body. "Brother Parkinson's" [disease] keeps him under house arrest, but numerous visits and abundant mail, always answered, keep his heart full of names and life.
From Santander, Ernesto Bustio, a priest who has walked many roads and a welcomer of pilgrims, and I went out to meet him. In Madrid, we would join José Centeno, a married priest not tired of traveling and opening furrows with seeds of social and ecclesial commitment. At the airport, Maximino Cerezo (Mino), a Claretian like Casaldáliga and a friend from his younger years, was also waiting for us to make the trip. Vatican II impelled them to go to Latin America as Claretian missionaries -- one would soon be Bishop in Mato Grosso in Brazil, in the prelature of Sâo Félix, and the other would do a great job of conscientization as a painter (he is known as the painter of liberation), filling various cathedrals and churches in Brazil, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and other Latin American countries with murals. Casaldáliga impregnated with a Saving Jesus who gives light to his liberating ministry and Cerezo capturing in beautiful paintings the paths of liberation (...)...
From there we headed to the house where Pedro lives with the small community of Augustinians: Paulinho, José Luis, an Augustinian from Bolivia and Joan, a theology student who is taking a break, a time of ministry and caring for Casaldáliga. He melts into a tender and welcoming embrace with each one of us. He shows the charm of the old man full of kindness who enjoys life with his own, and it's that we are many whom he considers, and who consider ourselves, his own. Not even Parkinson's has taken away the strength of his arms (...)
With a background sound of some roosters and birds singing, we begin the interview.
Q: We would like you to tell us about the Christian Base Communities, what they are and what role they have in the renewal of the Church.
They start from the grassroots, from the people, and they're the foundation of the Church. We say in Brazil that it's a new way of being Church. I would add: a whole new way of being Church. Bishop Leonardo was somewhat alarmed. Pedro, he said to me, that's an illusion. It would be the way of being Church: communitarian, faithful, joining faith to life, with the Bible in the hands of the people, with capacity for dialogue, taking ecumenism into account. We have always said it will happen if the dialogue of the people with the culture happens. Now the challenge is coexistence, coexistence is the challenge in all areas -- the family, the neighborhood, at work, in the church community, coexistence is the big challenge. The Minky people say that "to live is to co-exist." Coexistence means that we place ourselves in the Church in an attitude of equality, as equals with other denominations, with other religions, with the other spiritualities, with humanity. We must start from that macroecumenical viewpoint, rather than being turned in on ourselves, start from an open viewpoint in communion with all other movements, spiritualities and faiths. We must explain our faith not as imposing superiority but as contributing with the specific history of Jesus of Nazareth.
Q: In Spain, the base communities are not mainstream. They're small groups with a special awareness, with a critical, utopian and transformative awareness. The parishes are a different thing. What role can the parishes play? Would it be ideal if they were all communities?
They should be entirely communities. I would say that it's not about arguing whether they are many or few, it's about everything being community. I like to speak of communality, that everything would be communitarian from the Pope on down, that everything would be participatory, that -- from each one's own situation -- everything would be a contribution to the whole. Parishes as parishes don't have a future. These days the CNBB [the Brazilian Catholic Bishops' Conference] is discussing "Community of Communities, a new Parish." It has been proven that the parish as such becomes bureaucracy and doesn't encourage real participation. One can understand, on the other hand, that a legal -- canonical, we would say -- point of reference is needed. That they are small groups is part of the nature of seeds, leaven, salt. I think the most rabid phase of the relationship between communities and bishops has already passed. We have learned to co-exist quite a bit. Much is still needed, but there's less acute episcopalitis. If the bishop or the priest doesn't accept us, that's fine. We're not going to lose sleep over that. Outrage must be hopeful outrage, otherwise we're vomiting bile everywhere and we don't have any good news. Christianity is more than that; it's not about living an embittered, overseen life.
Q: The so-called new movements of the Church call themselves communities. What would be the fundamental flaw of these new movements with respect to being community? And one more question: Can you be a non-political Christian community?
Faith without politics is not Christian faith. With respect to the new movements, I had an interesting experience in Honduras. We were in Lent. The cook at the Claretians told us she was Neocatechumenal and added, "we celebrate the Eucharist; you celebrate Mass." If they refuse to participate in parish life at certain times, in certain things, there they would also stop being Church. I tell friends they have to attend the priest's Mass at least once a month. It's the contribution to the elders who attend every week, to lift their spirits. Refusing to do so seems like an anti-Christian attitude to me.
Q: Could you explain a little more about not being able to have faith without politics?
There can be no Christian faith without incarnation. Incarnation is the mystery of God's entrance, fully, in our humanity through Jesus of Nazareth, and that means that we take on the challenges of each day. Everything is political, although politics isn't everything. Jesus said He came that all may have life, and have it in abundance. If I'm not concerned about land, health care, education, communications, including vacations to rest, I'm not concerned about human life. Life in the next world is God's business, which He'll work out fine, because there, there will be life and life in abundance for all. Our job is to improve life and universalize life here in this world. And if the Church, the Pope, the bishops, priests, nuns and all those who want to be followers of Jesus don't do politics, if we don't promote the social, political and economic consequences of faith, what witness do we give to love?
Q: You used to distinguish between communality and community.
It's an attitude of participation, shared responsibility, that the Pope is the Bishop of Rome, that the bishops really participate in the collegiality that doesn't exist right now, shared responsibility of everyone. A community attitude in one's own family, at work. A pastor shouldn't decide anything all by himself, or a parent either.
Q: Currently, all the pastoral councils -- in Spain, at least -- are just advisory. There are lay people who get angry and say, "if I'm just going to offer a word and then not get into the final decisions, I'd rather not get in the setup."
And they're right. The Synods are a failure. Cardinal Arns himself, who was Archbishop of Sâo Paulo, and who participated in the Synods, said at a meeting of the bishops of Brazil that the Synod is a failure because it's only advisory, the bishops speak and the Curia then fixes it its own way and, after two or three years, a document appears signed by the Pope that we don't even read. It wasn't participatory and is outdated and out of place. When they're asking these days for the reform of the Curia, many stress this aspect: that the synods be about participation, collegiality, shared responsibility.
Q: The problem we have, says José Centeno, is that the communities in Spain are all older people and there aren't any young people -- few young people enter -- so then we ask ourselves -- we don't know -- aren't we giving them room?
It's about being understanding with them. We must recognize that they're experiencing a personal and group process not previously imagined -- all the sexual problems previously experienced clandestinely, now out in the open, parental authority is up for discussion today. The father and mother, those who form them can't feel disappointed. They must encourage criticism, outrage, but also bearing witness and acting themselves in the family in a participatory way.
Q: There are youth groups, continues Centeno. I have two children, 36 and 34, who were in the JEC [Juventud Estudiante Católica -- Catholic Student Youth], participated in the University protest groups, in several associations. They have always been very involved in solidarity groups, in feminist movements, along with other young people there in Valladolid, many without work. They're a very interesting group, but from the point of view of religion and faith they're alienated. They're not practicing but they're open. They don't have a problem with participating in Christian communities or Justicia y Paz [Justice and Peace] or the Círculos de Silencio [Circles of Silence], but they see the Church as two churches -- the official one with all the negative connotations it has in Spain and, on the other hand, the Christian people who are, we are collaborating on everything, old and young. But forming a Christian community with them is more complicated.
Let them participate in all that is justice and peace. You can ask them, too, for a little understanding, because sometimes a radically negative attitude can become childish. It's not about creating parallel churches, but it's about being able to live the faith in a parallel way with celebrations, with gestures of solidarity, with an attitude of respect.
What's true of young people who have been trained in grassroots Christian groups is that Jesus continues to draw them.
You have to start from there, but they have to live it in community. You have to convince them that without community, no human activity works. It's not about submitting to the parish. They can live in a parallel way and once in a while give a contribution or time to the Christian community where they live or that they feel close to. That they not give too much importance to the priest, that they try to live their faith communally as equals. The church organization should not be an insurmountable obstacle to living the faith in Jesus communally.
Q.: I do agree with what you're saying. It's true that if we simply admire Jesus but don't live in community, there's a strong deficiency. But how do you overcome the bad image of the Church?
It's better today. The Church is better today than yesterday . Even among the conservative bishops, there's a tolerance for youth. Those who condemn liberation theology and stay on the sidelines. Some of those who were candidates for Pope have repeatedly said that liberation theology has died. Nobody gave me the obituary. We shouldn't become bitter. You have to give a contribution to peace and hope, a hope against hope, which is ours, an Easter Hope that comes through the cross, but is an invincible hope. I always quote the words of a Spanish soldier, "Who's afraid since there are hospitals?," and if he had been more optimistic, he would have said, "Who's afraid since there are cemeteries?," and if he had been even more optimistic, he would have said, "Who's afraid, since there's Easter?". We are the people of hope, the people of Easter. Our Christian faith is hope, it's trust. Hope, trusting in the God of life, love, freedom, peace, in His Kingdom.
Q: Given that God speaks through the facts, through history, and that facts are stubborn things, what does He want to tell us right now with the lack of vocations to the priesthood, at least in Europe?
Here there are still certain vocations. We must review the whole issue of ministry, from the Pope to the last Christian. Celibate priesthood has to be an option. Women should have every right. It's tragic and ridiculous that they want to argue with the Gospel to prevent women's full participation. It wasn't Jesus who said that it has to be twelve men. There are cultural situations that affect the Church today. Humankind has been very sexist and so it continues. Almost every culture is sexist.
Q.: There's a Spanish theologian -- I don't know if his name rings a bell -- Martínez Gordo, who says that one of the fundamental evils of the Church is the sharp division between priests and laypeople.
We must stress the ministerial Church. Ministry has been made the essence of Christian law when ministry is only a service. Baptism, integration into the community of Jesus -- that is the Church. It will change everything that we're now demanding and that seems impossible to achieve. It will change with respect to women, with respect to the priest-laity division, with respect to the views on sexuality, with regard to ecumenical dialogue. It's already changing in part.
Q: From what you know about the new Pope and Latin America, do you think he'll be able to break away from the Curia and organize the government of the Church differently?
It won't be easy. We can't have the illusion that he'll dismantle the entire Curia, but he's introducing wedges. The appointment of the superior general of the Franciscans to the dicastery on religious life seems a step, it's a message he's sending. If he deals with other strong positions in the Curia along those lines, we'll see what happens. We need to transition from a fundamentalist authoritarian era, from having the whole truth, to a time of dialogue. Today, for many, it's essential that all religions be as equals.
Q: Not just ecumenism among Christians is important but dialogue with all religions, but there's some fear of being diluted on the part of the hierarchy in charge.
That was Benedict's anxiety, a fear that the Church would become diluted during his tenure. Interreligious dialogue implies a certain courage to get over the attitude of theologizing fairly smoothly, saying "outside the Church there is no salvation". Now suddenly they're telling us that there is salvation everywhere. I say that the Church is only Church when it saves, when it proclaims the good news, when it promotes fraternal sharing. The world is diverse. God is greater than all religions. Obviously you need to know how to combine an attitude of open dialogue and an attitude of freedom in your own identity. It's not about being bashful Catholics, but of living out one's own faith easily and elegantly. There's only dialogue with an adult attitude, contributing with your identity to the identity of others.
Q: You're still very up-to-date on theology. Which Spanish theologians do you follow, do you read the most?
González Faus, Queiruga...
Q: Queiruga is a friend of ours. He studied with us.
He's a great figure, one of the best Spanish theologians. He's been lucky to have two bishop friends so they haven't condemned him openly. I think they were fellow students and backed him up. Also, he's very Galician and knows how to put things.
Q: Moreover he's a man of God, which is very important.
That's what you have to say to young people: that we must pray, we must live in contemplation. We must give thanks to those who have reminded us of the importance of the Spirit that dwells within us -- the Spirit with two wings, the wing of contemplation and the one that impels us towards life.
There was a time, during the early years of liberation theology -- they were years of Marxist revolution in Latin America, when the Church was shacked up with the State, and those who had a revolutionary consciousness disowned that Church. Now on the occasion of the new Pope, the attitude of the Argentine hierarchy has come out everywhere. How hard it was for the Argentine bishops to acknowledge that Angelelli was martyred! How hard it was for them to acknowledge that it was the army that killed him! We had some events to mark the anniversary of Angelelli, in Argentina, and there were only two bishops.
Q: Going back to Torres Queiruga and those few theologians who aren't dogmatic -- they dialogue with the scientists without the will to impose, with the modern world of enlightened mentality, try to give reasons for their faith. I, José Centeno continues, after retiring, I've been going to history courses at the University of Valladolid, especially contemporary history while preparing the book on worker priests. I saw there, in the world of professors, that there's disparagement with respect to the Church, because when the bishops appear, they don't give reasons, they aren't rational, they're categorical. At the university, these positions are not acceptable.
They're right not to accept those positions.
Q: When the book came out, the professor invited me to talk about the book in a class. My son works at the Comisiones Obreras, at a foundation to help Third World trade unionists. They have a culture Athenaeum, so my son asked me, "Why not present the book in the Athenaeum?" I said that the issue of priests would not be of much interest in that forum. Yes, yes, he replied. And it was very well received. A lot of people came. There were many from Comisiones, former activists, former members of Juventud Obrera Cristiana. What I mean to say is that there's only a partial distancing. Sometimes they bring some theologians to the university -- Juan José Tamayo was there recently -- but they want people who give reasons for things and who aren't categorical. That's not supported in the college world.
We have to openly acknowledge the Church's faults, the inconsistencies of the Church. We can't justify the unjustifiable, but it's also saying that there are many in the Church who are honest, who are consistent.
Q: Yes, so that they're able to see the positive. Often, in recent years, journalists do make a distinction. They talk about those missionaries who are in Africa and are the last to leave when there are serious dangers; they make some distinction, treat it as an honorable exception of a few, the underdogs.
They feel like real dialogue. Basically everyone is able to have a lucid attitude. I see they accept questioning both belief and unbelief. That's why I said we're better today than yesterday. We have to avoid the triumphalist spirit, but we must also avoid the defeatist spirit and return to Jesus of Nazareth. "Following" is the best definition of Christian spirituality, following Jesus with the option for the poor, open dialogue, solidarity.
Q: In all that you've been telling us one thing is clear: there is no faith without politics, no isolated faith but one in community. It's very important to pray together with or without a priest. What importance do you give to what Rahner said about the 21st century Christians that either they'll be mystics or they won't be? What importance do you give to prayer, to being contemplative?
It has gained in the world in personalism, understood along the line of Mounier, and that authentic personalism requires inwardness, contemplation. It can be done, it should be done communally, so we have to promote celebrations in small groups, certain movements should be encouraged. We wondered about the foundation of World Youth Day. It's ambiguous. On the one hand, you can criticize the Church's triumphalist will -- gathering all the millions possible to fill the space -- but there are positive elements. What makes it difficult is that we have a Church that is a state and the pope is head of state and that, from the get-go, already causes insurmountable stumbling blocks. Reforming the Curia should have, as a first step, the automatic disappearance of the Vatican State and the Pope no longer being head of state. This should be elementary. You just have to think a bit about other religions. What does it mean that because he's Head of State, the whole country rolls over?
Mino Cerezo: I'm not asking you, I'm asking myself. I tell myself that, basically, the problem is not believing in Jesus, but to believe as Jesus believed. I don't think we go there. To believe as Jesus believed the issue of prayer is important, because Jesus believed thinking of others, he prayed thinking of others. He climbed the mountain alone, left the apostles, he spent the whole night, but he returned to be with the people, to proclaim the Kingdom of God, that is, he put prayer in the perspective of praxis, and that's what I think we're lacking. Young people believe in Jesus, but my question is for them and for us old folks. Are we believing like Jesus, not just in Jesus?
Thinking of the shirts, it's easy to wear Jesus on your chest; what's hard is having the patience, the courage to follow Jesus.