Monday, January 18, 2016
Víctor Codina: "The Latin American Church turned the dimension of the poor into something essential to Christianity"
January 16, 2016
Victor Codina came to Bolivia 33 years ago, developing his missionary work in various cities in the South American country such as Oruro, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba where he currently lives. Being a professor at the Faculty of Theology in Barcelona, the death of Luis Espinal, of whom he was a colleague, killed two days before Monseñor Romero, motivated him to take this step. In the more than three decades, the Jesuit of Catalan origin, has been professor of theology and currently works in the formation of lay people and work with the Christian base communities, without neglecting his production of theological writings.
In this interview, he analyzes the Latin American church situation and the first Jesuit pope, showing the Ignatian influence on the the life and mission of Francis and what he represents in the life of the Society of Jesus.
What distinguishes Latin American church life?
Latin American church life since the Council has tried to discern the signs of the times. In that sense, the Vatican II document that was most influential in Latin America was Gaudium et Spes. It was precisely this discernment of the times that made it discover the situation of poverty and injustice and that the Gospel had to start from that reality and the option for the poor, with bishops who were really pastors of the poor, from the base communities, with committed Christians, with religious life that made itself present in the most common places, with indigenous people, with peasants, with miners...
Based on that praxis, a reflection emerged as a second act, which Gustavo Gutierrez would say, which is liberation theology, which shows a vision of the Church as People of God in history who discern the signs of the times.
Could one say that today there are two Churches in Latin America?
In the Church the renewal movements, the prophetic movements are always a certain minority and it has always been somewhat hard for them to be accepted in the Church itself. If there's been somewhat of a lag in Latin America with respect to the post-conciliar years it's due largely to the fact that the Universal Church, since the final years of Paul VI and during the two pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, re-centralized itself and replaced ideas from the Council such as People of God and a more committed Church that the Council had brought as something new. This "ecclesial winter" dimension, so to speak, showed itself in Latin America too.
What does the Latin American Church bring -- or what could it bring -- to the experience of Christianity in general?
The dimension of the poor is an essential dimension -- not that the Church has forgotten it since there have been signs of charity and solidarity -- but the Latin American Church changed this into something structural, that is, into something essential to Christianity and as such, it leads it to a very critical view of the structures of injustice that kill, as the pope says. This is universal, but is seen more clearly from Latin America.
Based on what was addressed at the recently held conference which had as its theme "A Church that walks with the Holy Spirit and the poor," to what extent is God's Spirit more present in Latin America?
The Spirit of God fills the universe, but that Spirit always manifests itself more strongly in the places where there are more signs of death, more contradiction, more chaos. And Latin America is one of those places where inequality is great, with the vast majority in poverty, although it certainly has gotten better lately.
But this Spirit is also manifest in the refugees who are invading Europe and that leads to questioning Europe about what is being done with all those people, since it's a human tragedy. It manifests itself in Africa, in Asia, and my impression is that the Spirit always acts from below, that is, in favor of the poor, in favor of the oppressed, in favor of those who need to seek, to renew and create a world of justice, peace, harmony, where we can all live as brothers and sisters.
One of Pope Francis's phrases that quickly became famous was the one he uttered at the beginning of his pontificate, where he said "I want a poor Church and for the poor". Does the Church today really want to walk with the poor?
That phrase is really a new formulation of John XXIII's phrase at the beginning of the Council in which he said that he would like the Church to be the face of all, but especially the face of the poor. That wasn't taken into account much in the Council, except in a few texts like Lumen Gentium 8.
Latin America has taken it up again and the Pope, from the Latin American perspective, is the one who has re-introduced it for the whole Church. To what extent the Church is fulfilling it is a slow and very difficult task because so-called Christians have often been divorced from social gospel praxis and there has been a lot of contradiction, so I think it's a very long-term task, until all of us Christians realize that this is the core issue in the Gospel and that following Jesus implies conversion.
St. Ignatius always started from below in his way of understanding life. How has the Ignatian experience influenced Pope Francis's life?
I think it has been influential in many aspects. Ignatius states in the Spiritual Exercises that "it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth." Therefore, in the Exercises, which are the nucleus of Jesuit life, the spiritual experience of Jesus appears. Before being a bishop, for forty years more or less, Pope Francis was fully integrated into the Society of Jesus, taking on various positions, assuming these ideas. Another issue is that of discernment which St. Ignatius applied to internal motions, but it also applies to discerning the Spirit not only within ourselves but also in the world.
As to content, Christ-centeredness is a distinguishing theme. St. Ignatius didn't want the Society to be called "of Ignatius" or "of Francis", but "of Jesus." So, Jesus has a central place in the Society. St. Ignatius stresses that following Jesus is following a poor and humble Jesus. The sociological dimension of the poor, that would be developed more later, doesn't appear so much in St. Ignatius, but it's based on the foundations, on the following of the poor and humble Jesus of Nazareth. St. Ignatius in the Exercises, with the meditation on the two standards, presents the program of the world as an enemy of Christ -- wealth, power, prestige -- and the way of Jesus, which is the way of service and poverty, asking the exercitant to choose the latter. I think that must have influenced Bergoglio and that in his personal life and later as bishop and now as pope, he has a perspective that is not worldly but gospel-centered.
St. Ignatius doesn't talk much about the Spirit in the Exercises but they are Spiritual Exercises, fruit of the Spirit, so this Spirit dimension is a dimension that animates the Jesuit's whole spiritual life and, as such, it also marks Bergoglio, which is why he gives a lot of importance to the action of the Spirit which always surprises us, which is always something new.
Another characteristic of Ignatius in the Exercises is seeking God in all things and finding that God is in Creation. He says that He is in animals, in plants, in people. I think that this too would have influenced Francis, as he has expressed in Laudato Si' when showing the importance of everything related to nature and climate change.
The importance of consolation also stands out in the Exercises, which is the joy of feeling oneself in the hands of God and following Jesus, which has marked Bergoglio, as the title of his first exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, shows. This experience produces joy and happiness, so Christian life is oriented towards joy, towards happiness in the deepest and fullest sense.
These would perhaps be some of the elements that have marked Bergoglio. Together with that, the apostolic dimension of service to the Church that led St. Ignatius of Loyola to make the fourth vow of obedience to the Pope for the missions and that now, as pope, he doesn't have to fulfill, but has to see if there are people who will help him in those missions.
Speaking of that fourth vow and the Jesuits' obedience to the pope that St. Ignatius wanted to be a characteristic of the Society, what does the fact of having a Jesuit pope, the first in history, mean for the Society?
Structurally it doesn't imply any change; humanly and emotionally, it means greater closeness and familiarity. In fact, the pope has made some gestures towards the Society, for example canonizing a companion of St. Ignatius, Peter Faber, who had been beatified but more or less neglected, to whom the pope had great devotion and he canonized him. Anchieta [José de Anchieta y Díaz de Clavijo, S.J.] in Brazil, a great apostle and founder of São Paulo. These gestures imply an attitude of familiarity, of closeness to the [superior] general of the Jesuits, but they don't mean we're going to have any special privileges, or that we will be his consultants, or that we'll be the only ones who are going to work with him.