Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Francis visited Bolivia

by Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
July 13, 2015

It isn't easy to summarize in a few lines Francis' marathon trip to Bolivia, where the people went out and received him with great warmth. People waited for hours in the cold to watch the popemobile pass through La Paz and to participate in the big Mass in Santa Cruz. There was great excitement, there was emotion and tears.

The Bolivian people once again demonstrated their simple and deeply religious essence with a faith rooted in centuries of tradition that, at times, used to even drift into papolatry and magic.

Internationally, perhaps what caused the greatest impact was Francis' request that differences between countries be resolved through genuine dialogue and he added ... like on the subject of the sea -- not walls but bridges. But it would be unfair to reduce the papal message to the sea problem. There were other signs and messages.

Among the signs is obviously his closeness to the people, the embraces and kisses to children and seniors, the affection with which he approached those deprived of freedom in Palmasola prison, where he told them that for God there are no prison bars and detention doesn't mean exclusion.

Another big symbolic and prophetic moment was the Pope's brief stop at the place where the corpse of Jesuit priest Luis Espinal (1932-1980) was found, riddled with bullets for having preached a faith united to justice. Francis briefly prayed at that place and said "his comrade Espinal" preached the freedom of the gospel, that that bothered people and that's why he was killed.

The Pope's visit to the 2nd international meeting of popular movements was also very significant because it showed that the Church not only supports the struggle for "labor, lodging, and land", but puts its hope for lasting social change in these grassroots movements, not in the elites.

The Pope's messages didn't just have a church dimension, but Francis came out of the walls of the church to the street and addressed civil society. Surely his address to the popular movements was the most revolutionary. He didn't fall into the trap of just blessing the ongoing process of change or aligning himself with the Bolivian opposition, but went to the root of the current socio-political world situation and asked that the logic of discard be replaced by the logic of inclusion, bringing about change not imposed from above but the result of a conversion that desires a different model of society and a different type of relationship with nature.

Taking up the proposals of Laudato Si', he called for an integral ecology that cares for people, the family and the earth. He harshly criticized the idolatry of money that generates exclusion and rejection, and encouraged a new paradigm of life that not only affirms the Andean slogan "Don't lie, don't steal, don't be lazy" but integrates all the excluded -- children, youth, women, indigenous people, the elderly -- towards development that respects the values of human dignity and the wealth of cultures in the service of the people and in defense of Mother Earth.

In this change process, Francis urged Christians to play a determining role, being leaven and light, announcing the joy of the gospel. That ministers and consecrated people listen to the people, not shut them up but get close to the "holy People of God." That they not feel like a higher caste or elite, that they remember their origins and not be foremen but pastors. They must welcome the people, show the tenderness and mercy of the Father, heal their wounds, accompany them. The Pope honestly acknowledged that the Church had participated in the genocide of indigenous people during the time of the conquest and asked God's forgiveness for it. But he acknowledged that both yesterday and today there have been many prophetic voices who have distanced themselves from the colonial system and have accompanied and defended the indigenous people.

We can summarize the papal message in these points: tenderly approaching excluded people, proclaiming a gospel that requires deep personal, family, social and ecological change, and denouncing the injustices of a system that no longer works and an ideology that discard weak people and destroys our common home on Earth. We must return to Francis of Assisi, go back especially to the joyful gospel of Jesus.

With Francis, God passed through Bolivia these days and gave us a big embrace.

Photo: Victor Codina (far left) with Pope Francis in Bolivia.

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