Sunday, November 15, 2015
José Oscar Beozzo: "Pact of the Catacombs, for a poor and servant Church"
November 14, 2015
This Monday, November 16th, is the 50th anniversary of the Pact of the Catacombs, through which a group of bishops participating in Vatican II made a commitment to a poor and servant Church. That Pact was embodied in a celebration held in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla, which involved 42 bishops who were later joined by many others, up to about 500 signatories.
Brazilian theologian José Oscar Beozzo, a diocesan priest in the Diocese of Lins (Sao Paulo), a graduate school professor at ITESP (Instituto de Teología de São Paulo -- "Sao Paulo Theology Institute" per its acronym in Portuguese) and at the Centro Ecuménico de Servicios a la Evangelización y Educación Popular (CESEEP, per its acronym in Portuguese), a Latin American ecumenical center that seeks to train leaders in the working class sector, assisting unions and political parties, has recently published a book in which he has aimed to make a small study of this moment which he deems fundamental in the life of the Church, titled "Pacto das Catacumbas, por uma Igreja Servidora e Pobre" ["Pact of the Catacombs, for a poor and servant Church"].
Among other things in favor of Beozzo, the fact that he was among the group of theologians that prepared the Puebla Conference [of CELAM], although he wouldn't attend it later, and having participated actively as a theological adviser at the Conferences of Santo Domingo and Aparecida, as well as at the Synod of the Americas in 1997.
In this interview, he shows us the importance of the Pact of the Catacombs, its current implications, and what Liberation Theology has brought to the Latin American theological and social situation.
What was the Pact of the Catacombs and what did it mean for the Catholic Church?
It was a decision of the Council, that had already since the First Session formed a group called "Church of the Poor," to think about the whole issue of the Council starting from the poor, their questions and anxieties, realizing quickly that they weren't getting a lot of results because amid the many interventions of those attending, discussions and successive drafts of the various committees, it was very difficult to make any statement that would refer to what the group intended. In preparing the texts, there were many modifications, anecdotally on the last vote on Gaudium et Spes, twenty thousand proposed amendments came up.
The group felt that, on the one hand, there was some sympathy with what they said and they had been heard, but their proposals weren't getting embodied in the texts. In the last session, they thought of making a gesture, without it being something to blame the others, as a personal commitment. Being very respectful, they held a discreet celebration and then went to the rest, offering the possibility of signing the pact. With great surprise, they saw about 500 bishops join.
How many participated in the celebration?
Forty-two bishops were present.
When and where did that celebration take place?
On November 16, 1965 in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla, in the Basilica of the martyrs Nereus and Achilleus.
Of the bishops who participated in that celebration, is anyone still alive?
None of them is alive. In the list appear five Brazilians, six really, since one of them had been bishop for a week and was accompanying the Archbishop of Vitoria, to whom he was an auxiliary. That bishop, Monsignor Luis Fernandez, would later be the one to initiate the interchurch meetings of the Base Ecclesial Communities (BECs), which still continue to be held throughout Brazil. With him were Archbishop Antonio Batista Fragoso, bishop of Crateus, Monsignor Henrique Golland Trindade, archbishop of Botucatu, Monsignor Jose Alberto Lopes de Castro Pinto, auxiliary of Rio de Janeiro, Monsignor Francisco Austregésilo de Mesquita Filho, bishop of Afogados da Ingazeira, and Monsignor João Batista da Mota Alburquerque, archbishop of Vitoria.
Among the Spanish bishops, Monsignor Rafael González Moralejo, auxiliary bishop of Valencia from 1958 to 1969 and later bishop of Huelva from 1969 to 1993, was present.
Could we say that the Pact of the Catacombs is what Pope Francis intends when he states that he doesn't want bishop princes?
The Pact starts by saying, "Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the ordinary manner of our people." And it continues, "We renounce forever wealth and the appearance thereof, especially in clothing."
The idea of the signatories was not deviating from what the people have, or rather, what they don't have, and many of those bishops left their palaces and went to live in simple homes. Dom Helder gave Manguinhos Palace to be the seat of the diocesan ministries and went to live in the sacristy of a church on the outskirts, Igreja das Fronteiras. Monsignor Antonio Fragoso lived in a simple house in a working class neighborhood. And there were others who weren't there but assumed the same spirit, such as Monsignor Paulo Evaristo Arns in Sao Paulo, who sold the Episcopal Palace and destined [the proceeds] for buying 1,200 plots on the outskirts, where community centers were built, worship places for the base ecclesial communities, and went to live in a simple house too.
What they wanted to convey was that what belongs to the Church belongs to the poor and therefore, if the Church has lands, they must be distributed among the poor. Dom Helder did that in the so-called Operation Hope, through which he gave the lands of the Archdiocese of Recife to the farmers, giving them technical training, with the support of the Community of Taize, from France. These kinds of actions were repeated in different parts of Brazil, highlighting the idea that what belongs to the Church belongs to the poor.
What is the aim of your new book, recently published, that addresses the subject of the Pact of the Catacombs?
In some countries, such as Italy and Spain, the publisher Verbo Divino has published a book on that subject, translated into different languages. In Brazil, the text of the Pact was published in a five volume work that tells what happened at the Council, but isn't very accessible. What I've published is a little notebook that begins by explaining what the Pact of the Catacombs was.
About each of the 13 commitments at the time they were written, what the inspiration was was discussed, always taking some biblical texts as reference, which have been put in the published book, as well as texts of Vatican II that have to do with the choice they made. It came to be a conversation with Scripture, with the Council, and with the commitment of the bishops. At the end of the book the list of signatories appears as well as pictures of the catacombs and of a visit by Cardinal Montini to a favela in Rio de Janeiro with Dom Helder, one of the principal drafters of the Pact, despite not being present on the day of the Mass in the Catacombs as he had to participate in the committee that was creating the final draft of Gaudium et Spes. Images of Monsignor Enrique Angelelli, one of those who signed the pact and then was killed by the military in Argentina, also appear.
Why has the Church forgotten these different proposals so quickly?
It didn't forget, as there were bishops who took this so seriously that they decided to meet every year for ten days to pray, review what the Pact proposes and make decisions in accordance with the new situation, in a prophetic way.
This group remains alive in Latin America and it meets every year in Sao Paulo, with the attendance of Latin American bishops from various countries. At the beginning this group met in different countries, but since some were detained in Ecuador in 1976, the meetings have focused on the Brazilian city.
At the end of the day it's what happened in the Council, where the signatories of the Pact were a minority among the participants. Prophets are always a fraction; what's important is that they be able to drag others along as have [the late] Dom Tomás Balduíno, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, Dom José María Pires, who, despite being few, dragged the Church in Brazil at a key moment, with a prophetic attitude, being architects of documents from their insight and gospel witness that were able to raise the awareness of all the bishops, or influence them, as happened at Medellin and more recently at Aparecida.
The ecclesial model has been changing little by little but is it possible, 50 years after the Council, with Pope Francis and his new ecclesial sensibilities, to come back again to the spirit of the Pact of the Catacombs in the Latin American Church?
I think many kept that spirit and when a seed is buried and it doesn't rain...But Pope Francis came so that it might rain and therefore, I hope that many of these seeds that have been dormant will now be reborn. In that sense, young people are appearing who are moving in this direction, like the young woman from Uruguay who commented to me that they're going to hold a vigil remembering the Pact and the martyrdom of the Jesuits in El Salvador. It's a propitious moment to launch all this again.
Has that Liberation Church, which has as one of its foundations the Pact of the Catacombs, died, as some say?
The Continental Congress of Theology, organized by the Liberation Church, is one proof of the contrary. Whoever says that, it's because they would like it to be so, since they've already killed it and buried it many times, but it's still alive, just like they killed and buried Jesus and He is living.
What does this Liberation Church bring to the Latin American situation?
I think that it keeps alive the idea that the glory of God is the life of the poor and the defense of life of the poor. What is happening with indigenous peoples, with those living on the periphery, with young blacks, is slaughter. I think you have to be on the side of life, but exposing the roots of that, since it's not enough to help the victims and we do need to understand why so many people continue to suffer in a system that has been getting worse since the sixties. It has become global, the mechanisms of domination have been internationalized and perfected, especially in the financial field.
That Church continues to have martyrs, like Sister Dorothy Stang, under new circumstances, such as lack of respect for nature, which shows a new side of the struggle for life, which is to preserve the environment. In this regard, Pope Francis will have the gift of arousing new commitment among people who were already fighting but thought they were alone.
The Continental Congress of Theology also shows we aren't alone, that there are many people working in many countries and that it's important to meet, like the councils in the Church, to renew our faith and commitment.
Is the spirit of the Pact of the Catacombs the basic spirit of the Council, that didn't manage to develop afterwards?
We should note a few things. Lumen Gentium made some fundamental changes, defining the Church as the People of God. But in Lumen Gentium, in number 8, it says that just as Jesus became poor, the Church must become poor; as He served, the Church must serve. It's a small text, that failed to make Lumen Gentium start there, but in Medellin, the text on the Church speaks of poverty in the Church, as appears in number 14, which would amount to the concretization of Lumen Gentium in Medellin.
This shows that the Latin American Church welcomed the gist of the Pact of the Catacombs with the option for the poor, rethinking the Church based on the poor, reiterating it at Puebla and showing as a novelty the idea that the poor evangelize us because they challenge the Church to be more faithful to the Gospel of Jesus.