Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Bergoglio saved me by misleading the secret police"

A new book by Italian journalist Nello Scavo, La Lista di Bergoglio: I salvati da Francisco durante la dittatura (EMI, 2013), with a preface by Nobel prize winner and human rights activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel, offers personal accounts of those who say that Pope Francis helped them during the period of the dictatorship in Argentina. The book will be published in Spanish this month by Publicaciones Claretianas, with the title La Lista de Bergoglio. In this excerpt published in the Spanish newspaper La Razón (11/30/2013), Fr. José Luis Caravias, a Spanish Jesuit now residing in Paraguay who got caught in the repression, explains how Pope Francis helped him during this diffcult period in his life and Argentina's history.

"I was dragged into a police van. The journey lasted a few hours. I didn't realize where I was being taken. Then they opened the door, pushed me out and sped off." When they left, Father Jose Luis Caravias found himself in Clorinda, in Argentina. No money, no documents, no clothes. Paraguay was behind him. It happened on May 5, 1972, the day of his expulsion. One of many. Various vicissitudes awaited him in obtaining asylum from the democratically elected government of Buenos Aires.

José Luis Caravias (below) has the strong hands of a campesino and a good-natured grin. You just have to look him in the eye to realize he has many stories to tell. To the forty books he has written about issues of genuine theology, as well as economics and sociology, he adds a blog where he doesn't stop expressing what he thinks about the evolution of Latin America. That is now his land. What remains from desolate Andalusia is his way of dreaming of the world Cervantes sought.

"I knew the ferocity of dictatorship. I experienced it in the flesh." The Spanish Jesuit was welcomed by his Argentine brothers, but the situation was becoming precipitous there too. "The alarm signal was the death of Father Mauricio Silva, the street sweeper priest, who died after brutal torture and deprivation. I realized that this was not just one episode. I knew because things were going the same way in Paraguay too"(...). "It's not the time to be heroes," Bergoglio would say a while later to the most exposed priests. "But Jalics and Yorio refused to listen," says Caravias. "On the other hand, he was right. As in the case of Father Silva, the death of the murdered priests would not achieve changing the plans of the dictatorship or arousing popular indignation that might have frightened the regime."

Fear was stronger than the truth. However, Father Caravias didn't learn the lesson either at that time. He went to Chaco province, somewhat larger than Portugal, where the ranchers and peasants weren't much better off than those in Paraguay. There too, in the vast plain to the south of the Bermejo River, the stubborn Jesuit formed the union for the loggers, the lowest paid and most exploited among the workers. It was impossible for the landowners of the 26 departments to just stand by and watch. "Shortly thereafter, messages of death and real intimidation began to come." The year was 1973 and the Society had a new provincial, the young Father Bergoglio.

"If I'm alive today, if I've been able to write forty books, if I've been able to continue to promote the rights of the last and the least and the Gospel among the poor and, finally, if I've been able to tell how things went down, I owe it to him," Father Caravias emphasizes. As an untarnished liberation theologian ("in an Argentine version," he specifies), Caravias sees in the attacks on the new pope a crude reaction from "some of international capitalism." Father Jorge is the sort of person willing to smell of humanity. "For his accusers, a pope who denounces global poverty is too dangerous," he says.

After fourteen years of mission among the indigenous people in Ecuador, Caravias moved to Paraguay. In the eye of the military, he was behaving like a perfect communist. Where the extraordinary Jesuit missions had existed long ago, he organized the peasants and laborers into cooperatives. For the peasants, it meant finally having a voice in the food market and moving tons of products with the consistency of those who, thanks to the partnership between small producers, would not have to submit to the conditions imposed by the ever present opportunists.

In sum, Father José Luis was what one would call a hothead...Once he had set foot in South America, he was certainly not going to be satisfied with a comfortable room and a pile of books. From the start, he went to work in the field. Then, as a peasant priest, he began to deal with the professional training of the agricultural leagues. But that career didn't last long. "In May 1972, I was violently captured by the police and abandoned on a street in Clorinda."

In Argentina, in Chaco province, we already know that it didn't go better for him. A bishop who received him in his home, explained why: "I have here, on my desk, some letters you wrote in Paraguay," argued the prelate who was wearing a white poncho and protected himself from the heat with a wrinkled peasant hat. "The problem is that what you're explaining is called Marxism." He said it with the peremptory bonhomie of a spiritual father who wants to warn about heresy.

Caravias, though fascinated with the Church's social doctrine and liberation theology, didn't think he could be classified as Marxist. But neither did he worry more than necessary that time. Among the new generation theologians ran an expression: "Don't be afraid of anything, not even the Vatican."

Considering the messes he had gotten into so many times during his journey through South America, from the missions in Ecuador to Peru and Bolivia, Caravias was forced to go home, exiled. In those days he didn't look favorably on Bergoglio. Especially because the latter, although he was able to remove him from the evil intentions of the military several times, made him go back to Spain for a while, waiting for good times to come back to Buenos Aires.

"Given my insistence on returning to Argentina, Father Bergoglio answered with a letter on July 15, 1975." It was eight months before the coup but the situation seemed clear. The country was sinking hopelessly. It was preparing to become an open-air prison. From Chaco to Patagonia, many warned that this was the unavoidable fate of the country. The mind of the international community was elsewhere. The United States hadn't blinked at the massacres that were being perpetrated by other South American regimes.

Bergoglio had understood it perfectly. And he had already started to take precautions. Answering Father Caravias' supplication, he sent him a cryptic letter. After fraternal salutations to his distant friend, the provincial got into the merits of the matter: "As far as the possibility of your return, I've consulted doctors and specialists and they agree that the climate wouldn't suit you, not even for a brief time, fearing a relapse of the illness you suffered."

Quite obviously, the provincial father knew that the secret forces had him under observation. And that if this letter were intercepted, the military could hardly suspect it. The Spanish Jesuit did not take it very well, but he realized that the situation was worse than he had imagined. The tone and metaphor about the state of health made an impression on him, raising questions in him to which the following year would give a dramatic response.

"Bergoglio had warned me that the extreme right-wing anti-terrorist vigilante group had ordered my elimination. So Spain would be the most "healthy" destination for me. It wasn't excessive worry or a way of keeping a cumbersome priest far from the Argentine province. "Two priest friends of mine had been assassinated: Carlos Mújica and Mauricio Silva. Surely Bergoglio didn't entirely agree with my work of organizing the people. Perhaps the many police reports had made him doubt me, but he behaved nobly, he never imposed an alternative "doctrine" on me, and he helped me escape certain death. I will always be grateful to him."

Moreover, in that lawless terrain that was Chaco province, "I had been arrested and jailed for one night," recalls Father Caravias. "At midnight I was exposed to a mock execution. One terrible night in a filthy prison. That time I knew the uncertainty of tomorrow. I didn't know if I would get to see the dawn. Today I can say I did well to follow Bergoglio's advice. Both when he suggested I leave the country and when he explained in that letter that the climate wouldn't suit me."

Certainly for Father José Luis, "as for many of us, a great effort brought us to healing. It isn't easy to forgive and forget those horrors. But for him, for me and for many more, such as Father Franz Jalics, faith in Jesus was vital.


"Bergoglio's List":How Francis saved dissidents from Argentina’s military dictatorship, Vatican Insider, 9/25/2013

Book says pope saved more than 1,000 in 'Dirty War', National Catholic Reporter, 10/7/2013

El Nobel Pérez Esquivel prologa "La Lista de Bergoglio", Religión Digital, 12/1/2013

Yvonne Pierron: "Bergoglio nos ayudó mucho cuando las hermanas fueron secuestradas", Religión Digital, 10/27/2013

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