Friday, May 15, 2015

Pope Francis and Luís Espinal

by Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Blog de Cristianisme i Justícia
May 12, 2015

UPDATE: Since Fr. Codina wrote this article, the Secretary of the Bolivian Bishops' Conference, Fr. José Fuentes, has officially confirmed that the Pope will stop and have a moment of silent prayer near the place where Luis Espinal was killed, to remember him.

The fact that on the agenda of the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis to Bolivia, it is being contemplated that on the afternoon of July 8th during the descent from El Alto to La Paz, the Pope would stop briefly on the road, relatively near Achachicala, the place where the murdered body of Luis Espinal was found, has certainly drawn attention.

And although many have heard of Luis Espinal and many centers bear his name, the under-40 generation doesn't know what happened in 1980 or who Lucho Espinal really was.

Luis Espinal was born in St. Fruitós de Bages (Barcelona) in 1932 in the midst of a poor and very Christian era. After he finished high school, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1949. He completed his studies for the priesthood and was ordained in 1963. From '64 to '65, he went to Bergamo, Italy to specialize in Communications. There he began writing his famous "Oraciones a quemarropa" ["Point-blank prayers"].

After returning to Spain, he began working in film and TV. These were the years of the Franco dictatorship and they censored his program called "Cuestión urgente" ["Urgent Matter"] . Then he resigned from TV and accepted the offer to go work in Bolivia. He arrived in Bolivia in 1968, the year of the meeting of the Latin American bishops in Medellin, when the Church of Latin America began to be sensitive to poverty and injustice. From the political perspective, Espinal coexisted with democratic and dictatorial governments: R. Barrientos, L.A. Siles, Ovando, J.J. Torres, the Banzer dictatorship from '71 to '78, Pereda Asbún, D. Padilla, Guevara Arce, Natusch Busch and Lydia Gueiler, during whose weak government Espinal was killed in March. In July, Garcia Meza made the coup d'etat.

Why did they kill him? Espinal was a communications professional -- he wrote in the press, he did film critiques, he had radio and TV programs, he taught film at the university, he wrote 12 books on cinema, he worked on the production of the film "Chuquiago", he edited “Aquí” ["Here"], a magazine on social thought. But Luis Espinal didn't limit himself to being a mere communications professional; he used the media as a means to denounce injustice, poverty, the lack of freedom of the dictatorship, the massacres, the exiles, the complicit collaboration of many with the dictatorship, drug trafficking, the guilty silence of members of the Church. In December '77, he joined a hunger strike by women miners to demand amnesty for political prisoners of the Banzer dictatorship. On the night of March 21st, 1980, when leaving the cinema after seeing the film "Los desalmados" ["The Heartless"] for his later critique on the radio, he was violently put into a jeep by a group of murderers led by Arce Gomez. They took him to the Alto slaughterhouse where he was tortured and killed with 17 bullets. His body was found by a peasant in a landfill in Achachicala. About 80,000 people attended his funeral. That same day, Mons. Romero was murdered in El Salvador.

About his life and his death there is a real conflict of interpretations. While for some he was killed for meddling in politics and being revolutionary and Marxist, those who knew him well believe he was a prophet and defender of justice and the poor, based on faith in Jesus of Nazareth and following him. He died for that, as did many prophets and Jesus himself. And though he never wanted to be a martyr, he can be considered a martyr of faith and justice. He gave his life for others.

To better understand Lucho Espinal's stance, it's good to remember that in 1974-75, the Society of Jesus, in its General Congregation 32 convened by Father Pedro Arrupe, redefined the mission of the Jesuits as service of faith and the promotion of justice, an option that should permeate all its life and apostolic ministries. And with great foresight, they said they would not work for the promotion of justice without paying a price. Since then until today, more than 50 Jesuits from Asia, Africa and Latin America have been murdered for defending a faith linked to justice. Among them, Luis Espinal.

But Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio attended that General Congregation 32 as Provincial of Argentina. As Provincial and then as Bishop and Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was very sensitive to the issue of justice and the poor, and once elected Pope he assumed the name of Francis, dreaming of a church that is poor and for the poor, prophetically denouncing the injustice of an economic system that puts money above human beings. This Pope, who unblocked the beatification process of Mons. Romero of El Salvador, could not remain indifferent to the life and death of Espinal. And as a Jesuit, he understands that his murder is part of the social cost of the option for the poor and justice, as happened to Jesus.

In this brief stop near Achachicala, Pope Francis wants to bless a place watered by the blood of a witness to the gospel and confirm the conviction of the Bolivian people who see in Espinal a martyr for democracy and a champion of freedom and human rights.

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