Saturday, January 9, 2016

Father Felipe Berríos remembers Saint Alberto Hurtado

Reflexión y Liberación (English translation by Rebel Girl)
January 7, 2016

Father Felipe Berríos currently lives simply in Campamento La Chimba in Antofagasta, as one more villager. Today he reflects on one of the key men of the Jesuit order to which he belongs.

What has Father Hurtado meant to you?

He has been a gift for Chile and for me. He, despite having been a Jesuit who lived before Vatican II, embodied its ideals. In the Chilean church, we've had a setback and they aren't applied. Father Hurtado lived in a Church turned outwards, of those who suffer most, the outcasts, of joy, of good news. In understandable language, what the Pope is calling us to today, to go out into the street to mingle.

Very different from the one today...

It's not like the one we see today, a withdrawn hierarchical church, fearful, with some abuse of power and that doesn't speak a language that touches people, unconcerned about the changes that are being experienced in Chile, with a more democratic country.


You would have to make a distinction, because the Church, as Vatican II saw it and as Father Hurtado lived it is of the common people, the simple people. The problem is centered in the hierarchy, that distance from the problems of the people and their problems makes it seem and act quite arrogantly.

How do you know Father Hurtado?

I'm 56 years old. Father Hurtado died in '52 but I witnessed how he marked the Chilean province and his works such as Revista Mensaje, Hogar de Cristo -- all the work with young people is marked by Father Hurtado's imprint.

Did Alberto Hurtado inspire you to go into the priesthood?

He didn't influence that. I think he was an influence in the sense that he marked the Chilean province. I studied at San Ignacio and there you couldn't be Christian if there wasn't social involvement and you couldn't follow Christ without sticking your neck out for others, without finding Christ in the other. That has marked me deeply. I didn't know that was the influence of Father Hurtado, that he makes us look at the gospel in a very coherent way. Then I was recollecting and once already in the society (...) I realized that the way of looking at the gospel and living it out in the province with joy and commitment, was Father Hurtado's imprint.

What were Father Hurtado's main values?

All the discomfort there is among Catholics and non-Catholics today with the hierarchical Catholic Church is a reflection that the people want to see and be part of the Church that Father Hurtado experienced, a Church of simple language, turned outwards, that speaks a simple language, where the poorer people aren't visitors but part of the Church, a joyful Catholic Church that welcomes all who have made mistakes, that ‘contento, señor contento’ ["content, Lord, content" -- a phrase of St. Alberto Hurtado] and that question, "what would Christ do in my stead?" in all situations without drawing distinctions between people -- that proposition is still alive and it's what the people are waiting for, that's the Church we want to see again strong.

What's happened that Father Hurtado's message is unable to flow? Are there questions about what the Church should take responsibility for?

I think the problem isn't in the Church, which is still alive. By "Church", I'm referring to the inhabitants -- the woman who kneads the bread, the nun who goes to the hospital, the priest who goes to the jails -- that Church is still alive. The problem is in the hierarchy, the bishops who listen to each other and aren't listening to the people, who stay a bit silent in the face of the Pope's insistence on going out into the street, mixing with the people, making a fuss, as he says. The Church that Father Hurtado wants, Catholics or non-Catholics, believers or nonbelievers, the same ones who were enthused by the Church that Cardinal Silva Henríquez used to propose. We, with a secular government, La Moneda ordered that the biggest currency there is in Chile (the $500 one) be printed with the face of the Catholic cardinal, that because, beyond whether one believes or not, the people are seeking in the Church an experience of the gospel, of giving oneself to others, that's still alive. The problem is in the hierarchies and in a certain group in the hierarchy that really doesn't reach the people, doesn't know how to interpret them, nor views them like shepherds.

If Father Hurtado were alive, how do you think he would face what's happening in Chile in the social sphere?

He's still alive in the great majority of people who want structural reforms to make a more participatory, more democratic country, in which meritocracy works more, who want a country where we don't see ourselves as competitors or consumers but as citizens, with more joy, more unity. He would fight for that to be possible.

What do you think he would do on the issues of education, the demand for rights with regard to sexual diversity and abortion?

We Catholics will continue in our beliefs, but one learns to live in a plurality and for that, a secular state is necessary. That doesn't mean against the religious, but tremendously respectful of the distinct ways of thinking. I think Pope Francis has also talked about the importance of a secular state. These reforms that are being made in Chile aren't because they want to impose something, they want to ensure everything, the State ensures that the opinions and feelings of the vast majority are expressed.

He would be in favor of education reform. What would be his position on the sexual abuse there has been in Chile involving people from the Church?

Obviously he would be against it -- not just the sexual abuse which has nothing to do with what the Catholic Church promotes, but he wouldn't just be against it, he would go against the abuse of power that exists within the Church that allows and supports it. He often had to face those abuses of power that make other points of view intransigent.

Do you imagine him participating in marches for the vindication of the rights of sexual minorities?

I wouldn't want to use his figure to say if he would support something or not, but he made clear the line that it's one thing to agree with something and another to respect the rights of others to give an opinion and respect a Congress that decides things for the majority and a state that respects the decisions of others. Behind all those movements, beyond what one might agree with...He would use Voltaire's phrase, "I disagree completely with your idea, but I would give my life for your possibility to express it, make your opinion known, and make it law if you're the majority."

Is the image of Father Hurtado sufficiently large in Chile or are there people who are bothered by the fact that this is happening?

It drew my attention, when I returned from Africa, that almost nobody was talking about Father Hurtado. I think that, in general in the Catholic Church, we appear -- at least in the media -- with quite dire news of sexual abuse or abuse of power or unfortunate phrases that put us in the spotlight and, in that sense, Father Hurtado's figure dims a bit, disappears because he is something else. He speaks to us of a committed church, close to the common people, and social justice, joy and freedom. Perhaps these themes aren't present today, except for the Pope. The figure of the Pope has made the image of Alberto Hurtado very close again, but the rest ... one doesn't notice much echo of the Pope's words among the Catholic hierarchy.

Could it be because there are people whom it doesn't suit that his ideology be transmitted and embodied in specific things?

The Gospel is burning and if we want to have a religion without the Gospel, based on an ethereal doctrine, it might be a religion that is reassuring at best, but it's not the Gospel. Catholicism is living the Gospel with passion. Father Hurtado shows that and perhaps Teresita de Los Andes and ... Father Hurtado may be uncomfortable for some sectors.

Who are the ones who are uncomfortable with his figure?

I defined it once. In the hierarchy, in the Church all those I would call "collared priests", who don't identify with Father Hurtado because he calls us to a simpler Church, more involved with the poor, with the excluded, a Church that doesn't promote hell and morality just in sexual things but that calls us to joy, to strong social freedom, he makes them uncomfortable.

"Collared priests," do you think there are a lot of them in Chile?

I think so, there are certain sectors at least.

Do you see yourself as a sort of contemporary Father Hurtado?

No, not at all. Father Hurtado lived the Gospel deeply in a unique way.

But some people have said it...

There are certain sectors who want the priest to be far away from the circumstances and when one makes some comments, they get uncomfortable.

In your daily actions, do you question yourself? Does self-criticism operate?

One would always like to be more consequential and more involved.

More involved?

Yes, because this isn't a chore one fulfills. I entered the Society [of Jesus] to be deeply happy. This isn't a sacrifice; I'm privileged.

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