Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Jon Sobrino: The impact of the Pact of the Catacombs on the Church today

by Jon Sobrino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Speech at Universitá Urbaniana, Rome, November 14, 2015

Shortly before the Council, emerged again powerfully what in my opinion is the fundamental historical problem of a Church that goes back to Jesus of Nazareth and that, in faith, we confess as his body in history. This fundamental problem is the relationship of the Church with the real poor, those who don't give life of course, or security, or dignity.

What we have just said is not routine. Nor is it a way of defending liberation theology, or supporting Pope Francis, or remembering the poverelo of Assisi. It is central to our faith. Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed the good news to the poor, and, shockingly, only to the poor. And he also defended them and confronted those who impoverished them. And for that he died a death of slaves, very cruel and vile -- he was crucified.

In another passage from the origins of Christianity, very important but not very well-remembered, Paul is defending himself against the Judeo-Christians who were very suspicious of him and never left him in peace, with this forceful argument: "at the meeting in Jerusalem, they only put one condition on us -- that we not forget the poor of Jerusalem." Paul fulfilled it to the letter. He went around the Empire collecting alms and returned to Jerusalem, running great risks there, to give alms to the poor.

From its origins in Jesus and in the communities of Paul, making the real poor a central reality has been essential for the Church. If it ignores them, it isn't the Church of Jesus.

1. John XXIII and the Council. "The Church of the poor". 1962

Fifty years ago, a group of bishops took up the fundamental issue of the Church and the poor again. They signed a pact, not well known, but that these days has come to light again. It was an extraordinary event, nothing normal. With this pact, they wanted to support Pope John XXIII, and encourage each other.

Indeed, shortly before the opening of Vatican II, Pope John XXIII had said in a radio message, quietly but incisively, these striking words: "For the developing countries, the Church presents itself as it is and as it wants to be, as the Church of all, and in particular as the Church of the poor." [1]

There were already ideas and innovative impulses in that direction -- the worker priests in France with the support of Cardinal Suhard, voices of the Third World like those of Dom Helder Camara in Brazil and Monsignor Georges Mercier of the missionaries of Africa. And it is important to remember that those groups also advocated a break with the civilization of capitalism with which the Catholic Church had come to make a pact.

The Council having started, other bishops were going in the same direction. Cardinal Gerlier, Archbishop of Lyon, at a meeting at the Belgian College on October 26, 1962 spoke of the duty of the Church to adapt with the greatest possible sensitivity to the suffering of a lot of people. Referring to the tasks of the Council, he said, "If we do not examine and study this, everything else runs the risk of being worth nothing. It is essential that we strip this Church, which does not want to be rich, of all the signs of wealth. It is necessary that the Church appear as what it is -- the mother of the poor, concerned above all with giving her children the bread of the body and the soul." [2] And he added the aforementioned words of John XXIII.

However, on December 6th, two months after the Council had started, Cardinal Lercaro said with some poignancy that "[after] two months of toil and truly generous, humble, free and fraternal searching... we all feel that the Council has lacked something up to now." He also continued with the words of John XXIII, "If it is the Church of all, today it is especially 'the Church of the poor'."[3] That day a journalist commented that "the great moment of today's session was during the intervention of Cardinal Lercaro. You could cut the silence with a knife." At the end of Lercaro's speech, the conciliar assembly erupted in applause. [4]

But the Church of the poor did not prosper. It is a notorious lacuna in the Council, with important exceptions such as that of Msgr. Charles Marie Himmer, Bishop of Tournai, who bluntly said "primus locus in ecclesia pauperibus reservandus est". It is important to recognize it. And in my opinion, it doesn't do any good to ignore it by putting in texts however important they may be for other chapters. One of them is the one in LG 8. "Just as Christ carried out the work of redemption in poverty and persecution, so the Church is called to follow the same route." It must imitate and follow Christ, who emptied himself taking the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-7) and who, though rich, became poor for us (2 Cor 8:9), and therefore the Church "is not set up to seek earthly glory, but to proclaim, even by its own example, humility and self-sacrifice." The Church embraces all those afflicted by weakness, because "Christ was sent to evangelize the poor and lift up the oppressed." (Lk 4:18) Finally, the text makes an important statement about the place where you can find Christ in history: "The Church recognizes in the poor and the afflicted the image of its poor and patient Founder." And about what to do with them: "it strives to relieve their needs and seeks to serve Christ in them" (LG 8).

The text is great, but it doesn't deal with the Church's being poor in its various spheres of reality, or what the poor do for the Church, or the fate of persecution that comes upon it for defending the poor, with the radical nature with which it fell upon Jesus.

The second text is the most cited. "The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties...especially of those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ." (GS 1). It is another great text. It expresses what the Church should keep in mind being in the world and facing the world, and it implies which ethical-historical direction its mission should move in. In the text, however, it doesn't say how the real poor form the real Church in its Church identity nor how they make it a sacrament of Jesus in all its dimensions, nor how they are principles of salvation for humankind and for the Church.

2. The Pact of the Catacombs. "A servant and poor Church". 1965

At the Council, several bishops soon grasped that for the majority of the assembly a Church itself geared towards the poor in poverty and powerless was not a central topic. It wasn't the time for that. The group shared the inspiration of John XXIII, and met confidentially and regularly at Domus Mariae on the outskirts of Rome, consciously avoiding giving the impression of wanting to teach a lesson to their brothers in the hall. They thought thoroughly about how the poverty of the Church should be. And just days before the close of the Council, on November 16, 1965 about 40 bishops celebrated a Mass in the catacombs of Saint Domitilla.[5]

It was presided by Monsignor Himmer, who delivered the homily. The bishops asked to "be faithful to the spirit of Jesus", and at the end of the celebration signed what they called "The Pact of the Catacombs: a servant and poor Church".[6] The pact was, objectively, a challenge to the "brothers in the episcopate" to lead a life of poverty and to be a servant and poor Church. And subjectively it was a way for the signatories to encourage one another to accomplish a far from easy task. The signatories, Latin Americans, from other parts of the poor world, and also from First World countries[7], committed themselves to live in poverty themselves, to reject all symbols and privileges of power, and to put the poor at the center of their pastoral ministry. Thus begins the text:

"We, Bishops meeting at Vatican Council II, being aware of the deficiencies of our life of poverty according to the Gospel, encouraged by one another in this initiative in which each one wants to avoid singularity and presumption...with humility and awareness of our weakness, but also with all the determination and all the strength that God wants to give us in His grace, commit ourselves to the following."

The text is magnificent, and several things powerfully draw attention.

The first word of the text is of absolute importance: "we". So bishops are speaking, but they aren't speaking doctrinally or even just pastorally as bishops, but - something unusual - they are speaking personally and existentially. They aren't speaking to others or about others, but they are speaking to themselves and about themselves. And by the nature of the matter, whether the Pact begins to bear fruit or not depends largely on what they do.

Signing this Pact is a major shakeup for them and a call to their own conversion. They have to ask the Lord for strength and energy for themselves to act like Jesus. They want this new way of living as bishops to encourage everyone else, but not delegate to others the requirement of living in poverty and service.

They list their commitment in 13 points, they bind themselves to fulfilling it and do it with clear words so the document might not evaporate into general words. Thus they commit themselves to experience themselves the real poverty of the majority, and to suffer the slights that real poverty causes. And they decide to, not for ascetic reasons, but to incorporate and introduce the real poverty of humanity within the Church (nos.1-5). They require avoiding favoritism toward the rich (no. 6), and fighting for justice and charity (no. 9). They encourage rulers to implement laws, structures and institutions for justice, equality, harmonious development (no.10). Towards the end they note the fact that in the world there is a "majority in physical, cultural and moral poverty," two-thirds of humanity. And they underscore Paul VI's United Nations speech, demanding economic structures "that do not create poor nations in an ever richer world." (no.11). If I can now make a leap of fifty years, the words of those bishops are absolutely timely to be heard and put into practice by the United Nations, the United States, the OAS, the European Community...

The text of the pact ends with the commitment to share with all human beings and be welcoming to all of them (no. 12), and to make known the pact to their diocesan priests, asking for their understanding, collaboration and prayers.

The Pact of the Catacombs has been the root of later reflections and documents. But we must not forget that it requires of the bishops - of everyone - an existential decision to put it into practice personally.

3. Medellín. "Poverty of the Church" and "Justice". 1968

I don't really know if and to what degree after the Council, the Pact of the Catacombs was picked up, at least basically, by the churches around the world. It was in Medellin. And we are going to look at two of its documents.

3.1 "Poverty of the Church"

The Medellin document which is most immediately related to the Pact of the Catacombs is "Poverty of the Church". It begins with a double affirmation.

The first is the observation of the objective reality of the continent -- social injustice, poverty, inhuman squalor, that by their very existence are an exigency on the bishops. "The Latin American bishops cannot remain indifferent in the face of the tremendous social injustices existent in Latin America, which keep the majority of our peoples in dismal poverty, which in many cases becomes inhuman wretchedness." (no.1) The fact is presented as an obvious reality without the need for discernment. And the reaction can only be the compassion of the bishops, which by implication has absolute priority.

The second is the observation that this misery is a cry that they, the bishops, can not ignore. "A deafening cry pours from the throats of millions of men, asking their pastors for a liberation that reaches them from nowhere else." (no. 2) And to it, they add honestly what isn't normally mentioned: "And complaints that the hierarchy, the clergy, the religious, are rich and allied with the rich also come to us." (no. 2). The Medellin bishops clarify that sometimes appearance is confused with reality, but they recognize that there are things that have helped create the image of a rich institutional Church: large buildings, the houses of priests and religious when they are superior to those of the neighborhood in which they live, their own vehicles, sometimes luxurious, the way of dressing inherited from other eras...

Having clarified the exaggerations, and speaking in the first person, the bishops recognize what really is in the complaints. "Within the context of the poverty and even of the wretchedness in which the great majority of the Latin American people live, we, bishops, priests and religious, have the necessities of life and a certain security while the poor lack that which is indispensable and struggle between anguish and uncertainty." (no. 3)

They also recognize cases of distancing and lack of interest that the poor resent. "And incidents are not lacking in which the poor feel that their bishops, or pastors and religious, do not really identify themselves with them, with their problems and afflictions, that they do not always support those that work with them or plead their cause." (no.3).

These detailed and specific words make us understand that the bishops personally took seriously the cry of the poor.

The conclusion is that the Church must "denounce the unjust lack of this world's goods and the sin that begets it," "preach and live in spiritual poverty, as an attitude of spiritual childhood and openness to the Lord." And commit itself "to material poverty." (no. 5)

Finally, the document requires "testimony" in the way of life and in the administration of goods (nos.12-17). And that the Church distance itself from power. "We want our Latin American church to be free from temporalities, from intrigues and from a doubtful reputation; to be 'free in spirit as regards the chains of wealth,' so that her mission of service will be stronger and clearer." (no. 18)

These aren't pious words and good intentions. They point to realities and ways of acting. They give something to think about about how not to be and how to be Church.

3.2 "Justice"

The second document is "Justice". Medellin begins with it, and these are its first words:

"There are many studies of the Latin American people. All of these studies describe the misery that besets large masses of human beings in all of our countries. That misery, as a collective fact, expresses itself as injustice which cries to the heavens." (no.1)

The text is of absolute importance. It insists that the Church must take into account great human groups, all without distinction, believers, Muslims, Buddhists, agnostics, we would say today. By putting it at the beginning of the document, the bishops confess clearly what is in their minds and hearts. And it catches the eye that, being a document written by bishops, believers in God, lovers of Jesus Christ and servants in the Church, their first words are not religious, Biblical, or dogmatic words. They are words about the reality of this world, more directly, about its sin. They mention those who suffer from it and, by implication, those who commit it. In what K. Rahner called word/symbols, the bishops focus everything on the word "injustice." The words "cry to heaven" may be the equivalent of the Spanish term "desorbitante" ("exorbitant"), but they can also be understood as in Exodus 3:9: "The cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me," says Yahweh.

In my view, the unfamiliar content and strength of this language is due to the fact that an irruption of reality took place around Medellin. [8] It was not the serene conclusion of a discursive process, but the explosion of something that imposes by itself. Nor was it just the unveiling of something that is factually true, but the appearance of a reality with its own spirit, with the potential to demand a personal and group reaction, and to offer salvation. The poor irrupted.

The poor had been a secular reality in Latin America, but suddenly they became a challenging reality that was impossible to hide. In an expression, again from Karl Rahner, "reality spoke up." The irruption around Medellin made us wake up, without the need for discernment, from the sleep that Antonio Montesinos denounced in 1511: "Why are you sleeping in such a lethargic slumber?". Centuries later, in Latin America many had the courage to "awaken from the sleep of cruel inhumanity," as Kant had demanded of human beings the courage to 'awaken from dogmatic slumber."

And the irruption of the poor also made it impossible to hide the sin that Montesinos denounced: "Why do you keep them so oppressed and weary, not giving them enough to eat nor taking care of them in their illness? For with the excessive work you demand of them they fall ill and die, or rather you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day."

The reality of the poor characterized our world certainly as a sign of the times, but above all it proclaimed its ultimate truth without the possibility of error. More dangerous than not hitting the mark in discernment is not seeing the obvious, but the misery produced by oppression and the suffering caused by it, and the desire that would soon end, became evident. And the absolute necessity of the praxis of justice to achieve liberation from injustice also became evident. All of this was beyond dispute. [9] Although we don't know it, I think that today we are living in a very similar situation.

The irruption of the poor, oppressed, and persecuted in Latin America was soon joined by another irruption -- persecution. Father Arrupe would say later in 1975: "We will not carry out the crucial struggle of our time, the fight for faith and the struggle for justice that faith demands, without paying a price." And in this way a greater love also irrupted -- martyrdom for defending the poor. Since then -- forgive me for speaking as a Jesuit -- around 60 Jesuits have been killed in the Third World. And many, many other men and women.

Returning to Medellin, as far as I can see, unlike what happened after the Council, Medellín, by making the poor and their necessary liberation central, had the economic, financial, military, and police powers -- and a very large part of the media too -- of the continent against it. And with good reason. The 1968 Rockefeller report stated that "if what the bishops said in Medellin were put into practice, United States interests would be threatened." Reagan's advisers said something similar at the Santa Fe meeting in 1980. And more recurrently in the meetings of the military in the Southern Cone, certainly, and in Central America in the 1980s. These powers -- sometimes joined by part of the institutional Church -- triggered campaigns opposing Medellin and cruel persecution. Since then, in Latin America whenever the Church has remained faithful to Medellin, it has suffered persecution. Not so when it's been on good terms or compromised with the powerful.

In the Council, persecution wasn't talked about, much less martyrdom, in that way. It is content to quote the beautiful words of Augustine: "The Church is on pilgrimage amid the persecutions of the world and the consolations of God." But the text does not have the force of reality. Today the demand for solidarity has increased, for working with effort, for involvement. But there's not much talk of martyrdom -- or of the crucified people whom we will discuss below -- nor are the martyrdoms of still very recent times taken seriously.

In addition to this, the ecclesiastical institution saw with fear how Medellín and prominent bishops -- plus liberation theology -- granted adulthood and freedom to Christians who were defending the poor. And this happened not because Medellín was propitiating an abstract "freedom of the sons of God," but because it emerged along with the decision to liberate the poor. What Metz says was taken as real: the ultimate authority is "the authority of those who suffer." And that suffering gives us the "greatest freedom."

Within the Church some hierarchs also felt that Medellin was making the power of the hierarchy stagger, which they judged to be a grave evil, and so, within the Church too, persecution arose. Several bishops -- let me mention just a few of them: Angelelli, Don Samuel Ruiz, Leonidas Proaño -- were mistreated by some of the hierarchs in their countries and the Vatican.

The case of Monseñor Romero was especially outrageous. At the spiritual retreat he made one month before his assassination, he spoke with his confessor, Father Azkue, about the three problems that were worrying him. The first of them, not being careful enough in the practices of piety -- to which Father Azkue replied by encouraging him to overcome his scruples. The second, fear of a violent death -- Father Azkue appeased him by telling him that life is more important than the moment of death, and that God would accompany him at the time of death, whatever that were to be.

The third point is the one that concerns us now: his very great difficulty living and working with his brother bishops, which caused him to suffer much in life. Only one of the bishops attended his funeral, his great friend Arturo Rivera y Damas. And when Pope John Paul II, on a visit to El Salvador in 1996, invited the Bishops Conference to dinner, he asked the bishops what they thought about the beatification of Monseñor Romero. The majority answered that it seemed good to them. Bishop Monseñor Revelo, however, said that Monseñor Romero "was responsible for the deaths of 70,000 Salvadorans."

And in addition to various bishops, liberation theology was also fought. With major vileness, so was CLAR [Confederación Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Religiosos y Religiosas -- Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Men and Women Religious]. And sadly, many women religious.

Altogether, the Church of the poor was condemned by the hierarchy, and they gave the reason: it is the "people's Church." The animus -- and stupidity -- is noteworthy, since in the New Testament and at Vatican II, the Church is called the "people" of "God." Getting ahead of ourselves, let's say that we shouldn't be surprised that Pope Francis is being attacked. He has taken up the themes mentioned after Medellín again.

And we must not forget the fundamental thing. After Medellin there was an outpouring of the greater love. These were times of martyrdom. We call the victims, men and women, for the most part, Jesuanic martyrs. Like Jesus, they worked to bring liberation to the poor, proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and denounced the anti-kingdom. And like Jesus, they died assassinated. If these martyrs, many men and women, are ignored or undervalued, let's say henceforth that ignoring them or undervaluing them is the end of the Church of Jesus.

4. Puebla. "The option for the poor". 1979

It is well known that the bishops in Puebla formulated the option for the poor. It was an important way to relate the Church and the poor. In Latin America it has become orthodoxy from which, at least in word, almost no one deviates. But it was harder for the option for the poor to become orthopraxis, because of the novelty of the business and its costs -- persecution, defamation and martyrdom.

In my opinion, the most novel in theory and powerful in practice was raising this option to the theological level. Speaking of the option for the poor, Puebla says "regardless of their personal and moral condition, by the mere fact of being poor God defends them and loves them." It speaks of the mystery of God, with great boldness and with very great consequences. Allow me two brief reflections:

1) Puebla emphasizes the reality of the poor, regardless of their personal and moral condition. We've talked about primordial holiness, which is to find and maintain life, in times of closeness to death, walking with each other and for each other. The expression "primordial holiness" came to my mind twenty years ago when I saw on television caravans of thousands of women walking with small children holding their hands and with their "home" on their heads, a large basket in which they had put all they could carry. This finality, beyond virtues and sins, I have called primordial holiness. It is the equivalent of "regardless of their personal and moral condition."

2) Puebla speaks of how God reacts to the poor, and mentions all He does -- defend and love them. The core of the option for the poor is normally understood as love, support, solidarity -- and God willing, may they abound. But what Puebla mentions first isn't usually stressed -- you have to defend the poor. The poor are needy and so we must help them, but historically they become poor because they are made poor. They are hurt because there are people who hurt them. And in that situation the key part of the option is defending the poor. And taking the risks that that entails. These reflections are going a bit beyond the Pact of the Catacombs, but that Pact of fifty years ago gave impetus to the option, to the defense of the poor and risks one must take to defend them.

5. Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría. "The crucified people". 1977-1989

In Latin America, the ideal of Church that emerged in Medellín, with greater or lesser intensity became a reality in several places and through several bishops. Through Leonidas Proaño in Ecuador, defender of the indigenous, through Don Samuel Ruiz in Mexico, defender of indigenous peoples and workers, with Dom Pedro Casaldáliga in the Amazon, defender of peasants whose land was being snatched. And many others. They all promoted the Church of the poor.

I'm going to concentrate now on El Salvador because the Church took on specific features that I got to know. Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría, simultaneously, from ministry and theology, conceived and drove the construction of "a Church of the poor."[10] Due in part to the historical situation in which they had to live, it took on a remarkable depth. It became "the Church of the persecuted" and "the Church of the crucified." This language is not usually used, nor does it sufficiently recall the genius and creativity of Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría to speak thus of the true Church of Jesus. Let's look at it very briefly, interspersing the ideas of Monseñor and those of Ellacuría.

5.1 "Church of the poor"

I think Ellacuría is the one who best conceptualized the Church of the poor [11], twelve years after the Pact of the Catacombs. This conceptualization might seem unnecessary, but it isn't. Let's look at it. In the Church of the poor, the poor are not "part of the Church"[12] along with others, which wouldn't move beyond a regional focus, Ellacuría said. Nor is the ethical approach enough -- although a lot has to progress there --, since the Church of the poor "is not that which, being outside the world of the poor, generously offers them its help."[13]

In other words, the Church is not constituted independent of them to -- later -- be able to and have to wonder what to do with them, but rather "the poor are its main subject and its internal structuring principle."[14]. In operational terms, this means that how the pastoral work of the Church should be, the administration of the sacraments, ministries, Canon law, the exercise of authority, theology, Catholic social doctrine, all must be configured and historicized in each era, in an important way, according to the reality of the poor. And without forgetting that, in the best Christian tradition, "the poor are vicars of Christ." [15]

The poor are then the real place from which one should think about and configure the different realities in the Church. And the reason is theological-christological. "The union of God with men, such as occurs in Jesus Christ, is historically a union of a God poured out in His primary version into the world of the poor." [16] The poor form the Church from within. And turning towards them, it becomes a sacrament of salvation for all. "Becoming incarnate among the poor, finally devoting its life to them and dying for them, is how it can in a Christian way become an effective sign of salvation of all men."[17] And it emphasizes that "the poor and... only the poor in community can make the Church avoid both excessive institutionalization and its worldliness."[18]. That the poor can help in both things is a blessing, since institutionalization and worldliness are two serious dimensions of the sinfulness of the Church.

Monseñor Romero also thought about the reality of the Church and did it from a Christological perspective. His second pastoral letter is titled "The Church, The Body of Christ in History."[19] But before thinking about the reality of the Church that way, he constructed it. I remember well the night of March 12, 1977, when they murdered Rutilio Grande, together with the boy Nelson and the man Manuel. There was Archbishop Romero, nervous, shocked, affected. The courage and freedom with which he spoke denouncing the crime greatly impressed me. But thinking a lot about it, it later came to my mind that the first thing Monseñor did was "create an ecclesial body." In fact, he asked all of us to join him and help him. And without knowing it, he was building the corpus, the Church. During the following weeks, he convened many meetings at the Archbishopric. In El Salvador, that corpus around three corpses made the Church grow. And it made it grow as a Church of the poor.

Day to day, Monseñor Romero had immediate direct contact with the real poor, with their humanity, their suffering and hopes, with their courage to build humanity and Christianity, and also their failings. He himself lived in a hospital for poor women with incurable cancer, and in a cottage close to them. He frequently visited the poor in their cantons, and he received them in the Archbishopric with more devotion than to distinguished visitors. Also the Cathedral, his Sunday Chair, was poor. It had remained half rebuilt after the fire of 1951, but the moneyed people didn't offer to rebuild it. They did offer to build him an archbishop's palace. Monseñor did not accept it.

All this was in accordance with the Pact of the Catacombs. And it fell to Monseñor to take historic steps forward.

5.2 "Church of the crucified"

Both Monseñor Romero and Ignacio Ellacuría were very sensitive to the state of poverty of Salvadorans, but more passionately, they were sensitive to the repression under which they lived -- their state of crucifixion. They didn't tolerate the cross of the people remaining ignored, but denounced the reality with words never heard before in the country. They analyzed the cross historically and biblically. And this, both when speaking of the people and of the Church.

Ellacuría theorized about the crucified people in three important articles. The first "Poor", 1978. "Here, crucified people means that community which, being the majority of humanity," is deprived of and impeded by some minorities from enjoying the basic resources to live."

The second is "The Crucified People, An Essay in Historical Soteriology."[20] In it he says, in a difficult leap of faith, that this people brings salvation. The crucified people light up our reality, offering a judgment upon our world. They show that the solutions put forward by the First World are not true, by not being universalizable, besides being bad ethically, because they are dehumanizing. The crucified people shine a light on what utopia can and must historically be. That utopia in today's world cannot be anything other than the civilization of poverty, everyone sharing the Earth's resources austerely, and the civilization of work, which must prevail over that of capital.

In another article in 1981, "Discerning the signs of the times"[21], he says that the crucified people are always those who characterize an era and through whom the servant of Yahweh is present.

And he expressed existentially what we must do in the face of the crucified people. In a lecture given in Valladolid, he concluded with these words:
"The only thing I would like -- because that "challenge" thing sounds very strong -- are two things: that you lay your heart and your eyes on those people who are suffering so much - some from poverty and hunger, others from oppression and repression - and then (since I am a Jesuit), that in the face of these crucified people, you would do Saint Ignatius' Colloquy in the first week of the Exercises, asking yourselves,"What have I done to crucify them? What am I doing to de-crucify them? What should I do so that these people might rise again?"
Monseñor Romero often spoke implicitely but very forcefully about the crucified people, and he certainly did so in his denunciations. He didn't reduce poverty to neediness, but expanded it to the oppression and death of the poor. "Above all else, I denounce the absolute of wealth. This is a great evil in El Salvador because wealth and private property are seen as untouchable absolutes. Ah, the person who touches this high tension wire is burned!" [22]. "That is the way the masses are manipulated...many people are controlled through hunger."[23] "I never tire of denouncing the abuse of human life by arbitrary arrests, disappearances, torture."[24]. "Violence, murder, torture (which leaves so many dead), hacking with machetes, throwing into the sea --- people discarded. All this is the reign of hell."[25]

And Monseñor compared the crucified people with Christ crucified. On June 19, 1977, Monseñor went to Aguilares, when the army left the town after a month of having occupied it and perpetrated a few hundred murders of peasants. I remember perfectly how he began his homily: "I have the sad task of gathering up the bodies." In his homily he was tough on the criminals and reminded them the words of Scripture -- "all who take the sword will perish by the sword." In the Offertory, he presented to God the four women religious who had volunteered to replace the priests expelled from Aguilares. And to the peasants who, frightened, had not gone to church but could hear his words, he said, "You are an image of the wronged Divinity... You are the image of all people, who like yourselves [in Aguilares], have been pierced and abused."[26]

Monseñor also used to prepare his homilies thinking about the crucified people. So he said in his last Sunday homily, on the eve of being killed: "I ask the Lord during the week, while I gather the people's cries and the sorrow stemming from so much crime, the ignominy of so much violence, to give me the right words to console, to denounce, to call to repentance. Though I continue to be a voice that cries in the desert, I know that the Church is making the effort to fulfill its mission."[27]

He was committed to the crucified people until the end. "I want to assure you and I ask your prayers to be faithful to the promise that I will not abandon my people but will share with them all the risks that my ministry demands of me."[28]

It isn't normal to talk about the true Church as a persecuted Church. And less so to declare it blessed and rejoice in it. Monseñor Romero did it in an evangelical outburst: "I rejoice, my sisters and brothers, that our Church is persecuted precisely because of her preferential option for the poor, for attempting to incarnate herself in the concerns of the poor."[29] And in a greater outburst, he confessed: "It would be sad, if in a country where murder is being committed so horribly, we were not to find priests among the victims. They are the testimony of a Church incarnated in the problems of her people."[30]

And he was a happy man. To the head of a delegation of sister churches from the United States, in 1979, he said at the beginning of his homily: "As you return I ask that you simply express what you have seen and heard and bring with you the testimony that with this people it is not hard to be a good shepherd. They are a people that impel to their service...rather than a service...I see this as my duty which gives me great satisfaction."[31]

6. Pope Francis. The reform of the Church. 2015

I don't feel qualified to judge how the Church as a whole is today, or how the Pact of the Catacombs is -- or isn't -- being lived out in it. I will end with some brief reflections on the emergence of the Pope Francis. He is working for Church reform. He moves between denunciation and mercy. He is generating hope and encouraging everyone to make a pact to rebuild a poor and servant Church today. It is his way of making the Pact of the Catacombs present.

Pope Francis and the truth of our world. I think that the fundamental lie is to ignore evil, or more sophisticatedly, to inculcate that we have already found correct paths. It is true that small steps are being taken, but the globalization being invoked doesn't mean the homogenization of a planet that covers the basic needs of all. Much less the elimination of Lampedusas, Syrias, Slovenias, El Salvadors, Haitis and Kenyas... They are recurrent. Neither life nor human dignity are resolved matters, nor are they on the road to being resolved. One-third of the Salvadoran population no longer lives in their country, and something similar, and worse, is happening in Syria. The manner of migration is very often inhumane. What is happening in the Mediterranean is daunting. And the effective suppression by the powerful countries cries out to heaven -- they agree on many things, but not on what to do with the migrants. Pope Francis has unmasked it.

Pope Francis and the truth of the Church. The Pact of the Catacombs was a pact of bishops, of the "we", and hence we must ask ourselves how the episcopate is going, certainly today. Recently we have had a synod, i.e. a meeting of bishops, on the family. Many important questions about the family have been raised, about what to do with doctrine, and about the willingness to use mercy. But because of occurring at a synod of bishops, Pope Francis has made the Pact of the Catacombs resonate.

The "we" that the bishops of the Pact wrote, is very present. The encouragement he gives the bishops and his joy when the latter behave in a Christian manner, is clear. But it is also clear the seriousness with which he reacts towards that "we" when they behave badly. Sometimes clearly and very harshly.

Bishops, are we poor? Are we still determined to remain poor or to begin to be? Do we serve the poor, without anything, inside or outside the Church, weakening our decision? "The church must speak truthfully and also by her witness: the witness of poverty. If a believer speaks about poverty or the homeless and lives like a pharaoh, this is not good."

Pope Francis has set the Church in a Christian direction. Without giving the last word to doctrine, even without sometimes knowing how to reconcile it with Christian life, he has given the last word to compassion and mercy, like J.B. Metz, like Monseñor Romero, like Jesus of Nazareth. And looking at his whole discourse, he has stressed justice.

Pope Francis and Monseñor Romero. Coincidentally, Pope Francis mentioned Monseñor Romero recently. Two weeks ago, he told a group of Salvadorans who were visiting him in Rome that the Salvadoran bishops had slandered and vilified Monseñor Romero -- "They were stoning him with the hardest stone that exists in the world: the tongue." It is a serious way of insisting on the truth of the Church.

And it strikes me, personally, how Pope Francis reminds me of Monseñor Romero when he says these words: "I would like a world without poverty." Monseñor too. And he explained it well. In his September 23, 1979 homily, he felt compelled to explain how he answered a question that could get him in trouble. "I am asked: 'And when tomorrow things have been settled, what will the Church do?' I reply: 'It will keep on being the same.'...It will feel fortunate if tomorrow in a more just order it need not speak about so many injustices, but it will always have the task of building itself on the foundation of the gospel. We will have that work to do in times of peace or persecution."

These words of Monseñor make me think of Pope Francis and us today. I think that the Pope would answer more or less as Monseñor did. The issue is us, that we listen to Francis. It's understandable that there's speculation in the media about his growing or diminishing popularity, how long he can last -- even whether they might eliminate him, about how powerful his adversaries are, and so forth. On this, I have nothing to say.

Pope Francis has taken a step which, by its nature, leaves a mark in history and on the Church. But what I would like to stress is that the issue isn't Pope Francis, whether we like or dislike him, whether we applaud him publicly or boo him silently. The issue is us, whether we put into practice what we think is good about the Pope, and whether we steer clear of putting into practice what, according to our conscience, doesn't seem good to us.

I close with a sincere word of thanks in a world that isn't going well and a church of ambiguities.

Among those who are no longer among us, I thank Monseñor Romero, the martyrs of the UCA, whose anniversary we will celebrate the day after tomorrow. And many other martyrs. They have enriched the Pact of the Catacombs.

And among those who are with us, I want to sincerely thank Monsignor Luigi Bettazzi, the only survivor and symbol of the bishops who signed the Pact of the Catacombs.

All of them, and many other men and women, still give us hope and encouragement.

Many thanks.


[1] September 11, 1962

[2] Cited in Giuseppe Alberigo, Historia del Concilio Vaticano II, Spanish edition published by Peeters/Sígueme, 2002, pp. 197ff.

[3] J. L. Martín Descalzo, Un periodista en el Concilio I, Madrid, 1964, pp. 326ff.

[4] Ibid. p. 327.

[5] The first news only appeared three weeks later, on December 8th, in an article in Le Monde titled "Un groupe d' éveques anonymes s'engage à donner le temoignage extérieur d'une vie de stricte pauverté." Before, during the third session of the Council, two documents of the group had received the support of over 500 conciliar fathers: Simplicitas et paupertas evangelica and Ut in nostro ministerio primus locus pauperum evangelizationi tribuatur.

[6] The full text can be found in Carta a las Iglesias, San Salvador 590 (June 2009) 6-8. [Translator's Note: English translation of full text available here.]

[7] It is important to stress this fact. There were various Latin American bishops. From Brasil -- Antônio Fragoso, Francisco Austregésilo Mesquita Filho, João Batista da Mota e Albuquerque, Luiz Gonzaga Fernandes, Jorge Marcos de Oliveira, José Maria Pires, Helder Camara. From Chile -- Manuel Larraín of Talca. From Panama -- Marcos Gregorio McGrath. From Ecuador -- Leonidas Proaño from Riobamba. From Argentina -- Alberto Devoto from Goya, Vicente Faustino Zazpe from Rafaela, Juan José Iriarte from Reconquista. From Uruguay -- Alfredo Viola from Salto and his auxiliary Marcelo Mendiharat. From Colombia, Tulio Botero Salazar from Medellín and his auxiliary Medina, Muñoz Duqueder from Pamplona, Raul Zambrano from Focatativá, Angelo Cuniberti from Florencia. There were also other bishops from the Third World. Georges Mercier from the Sahara, Hakim from Nazareth, Haddad auxiliary from Beirut, Bernard Yago from Abidjan, Joseph Blomjous of Mwanza, Tanzania. From Asia, Charles Joseph de Melckebeke of Ningxia, China, and other bishops from Vietnam and Indonesia. And various bishops from the First World. From Canada, Gérard Marie Coderre from Saint-Jean-de-Québec. From Spain, Rafael González Moralejo auxiliary of Valencia. From Germany, Julius Angerhausen, auxiliary of Essen. From France, Guy Marie Riobé from Orleáns, Gérard Huyghe of Arras, Adrien Gand auxiliary of Lille. From Italy, Luigi Betazzi, auxiliary of Bologna. This data has been provided by José Oscar Beozzo.

[8] About the term "irruption", see my article "Recuperar y poner a producir a Jesús de Nazaret y su cruz en un mundo de pobres y oprimidos", Revista Latinoamericana de Teología 82 (2011) 49-51

[9] In "getting the irruption" there is something of greater cognitive depth than in the process of "scrutinizing and discerning what's real." ersonally this reminds me some words of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. It is well known that Saint Ignatius was a believer in "seeking the will of God" and putting it into practice. Hence his important thoughts on "discernment" and the wise rules he left us to get to practicing it, which today is considered central in Ignatian Spirituality and is well received in spiritual retreats. Personally, however, what has most struck me is what Saint Ignatius says when talking about the election of state, no small matter. Undoubtedly one has to come to discern what God wants for the individual person, and he gives wise advice for that. But the priority is "first to make good and sound election" (n.175). That happens when the choice is made "without doubting or being able to doubt." The reason is that "Our Lord God" draws the soul in such a way that there is no possible doubt. In this context, I usually repeat that the community of Jesuits who were murdered in El Salvador, even in the face of abundant serious threats, never discerned whether to stay in the country or leave. That was not a subject of discernment. There was something of the "without doubting or being able to doubt."

[10] Think there was concurrency, and Ellacuría definitely felt indebted to Monseñor Romero. See what I wrote in "Monseñor Romero y la fe de Ignacio Ellacuría", in Jon Sobrino/R.Alvarado (eds.), Ignacio Ellacuría, "Aquella libertad esclarecida", 1999, pp.11-23

[11] See the cited article "La Iglesia de los pobres, sacramento histórico de liberación".

[12] Ibid. 717

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] See the book by J. I. González Faus, Vicarios de Cristo en la teología y la espiritualidad, Trotta, Madrid, 1991.

[16] "La Iglesia de los pobres"

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] In Cartas Pastorales y Discursos de Monseñor Oscar A. Romero, Centro Monseñor Romero 18, San Salvador 2007, pp. 39-66.

[20] He wrote it in 1978 at the request of the Centro de Reflexión Teológica in Mexico as preparation for Puebla. After his death, it was published in Revista Latinoamericana de Teología 18 (1989) 318. It has previously appeared in Cruz y Resurrección, México, 1978, pp. 49-82.

[21] Published in Diakonia 18 (1981) 57-59.

[22] Homily on August 12, 1979, V 208.

[23] Homily on December 16, 1979, VI 61.

[24] Homily on June 24, 1979, V 38.

[25] Homily on July 1, 1979, V 62.

[26] Homily of June 19, 1977, I 150. Monseñor Romero took the expression from Zech 12, 1b-14, which was the first reading of the Mass... In the text of Zechariah the wronged one is God Himself. The New Testament applies Zechariah's prophecy to Jesus on the cross in Jn 19:37. That's what Monseñor did.

[27] Homily on March 23, 1980, VI 426.

[28] Homily on November 11, 1979 homily, V 530.

[29] Homily on July 15, 1979, V 110.

[30] Homily on June 30, 1979, V 56.

[31] Homily on November 18, 1979, V 543s.