Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas in times of Herod

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
LeonardoBoff.com (em português)
December 20, 2016

This year's Christmas will be different from other Christmases. It is usually the feast of family fellowship. For Christians, it is the celebration of the Divine Child who came to take on our humanity and make it better.

In the present context, however, in his place has appeared the figure of the terrible Herod the Great (73 BC- 4 BC), linked to the slaughter of the innocent. Zealous for his power, he heard that in his kingdom, Judea, a child-king was born. That's when he ordered all boys under two years old to be slaughtered (Mt 2:16). Then we hear some of the most painful words in the Bible: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more." (Mt 2:18)

This story of the murder of innocents continues in another way. The ultracapitalist policies imposed by the current government -- taking away rights, lowering wages, cutting basic social benefits such as health care, education, safety, pensions, and freezing for 20 years the possibilities for development -- have resulted in a perverse and slow slaughter of innocents from the large and poor majority of our country.

The legislators are not unfamiliar with the lethal consequences stemming from the decision to consider the market more important than people.

Within a few years, we will have a super-rich class (today they are 71,440, according to IPEA, therefore 0.05% of the population), a middle class frightened by the risk of losing their status and millions of poor people and pariahs who will go from poverty to destitution. This means starving children who die from undernutrition and absolutely preventable diseases, elderly people who no longer get their medicines and access to public health, doomed to die before their time. This slaughter has those responsible for it. Most of the current legislators of the so-called "death PEC ["Proposta de Emenda Constitucional" - "Proposed Constitutional Amendment"]" can not be exempt from the stain of being the current Herods of the Brazilian people.

The moneyed and privileged elites were able to return. Supported by corrupt parliamentarians, with their backs to the people and deaf to the clamor of the streets, and by a coalition of forces that involves vigilante judges, the Public Ministry, the Military Police and part of the Judiciary and the corporate, reactionary and putschist media, not without the backing of an imperial power interested in our wealth, they forged the removal of President Rousseff. The real engine of the coup is financial capital, banks and rentiers (not affected by fiscal adjustment policies).

Political scientist Jessé Souza rightly denounces, "Brazil is the scene of a dispute between two projects: the dream of a big and powerful country for the majority, and the reality of a predatory elite that wants to drain everyone's work and plunder the country's riches for the pockets of half a dozen. The money elite rules by the simple fact that it can "buy" all the other elites."(FSP [Folha de São Paulo] 4/16/2016).

The sad thing is to realize that this whole process of plunder is a consequence of the old politics of conciliation between the owners of money among themselves and with governments, which has been in existence since the time of the Colony and Independence. Lula-Dilma were not able or failed to overcome the fine art of this dominant minority who, on the pretext of governability, seeks conciliation between themselves and with the rulers, granting some benefits to the people at the price of keeping the nature of their process of wealth accumulation at very high levels untouched.

Historian José Honório Rodrigues, who has thoroughly studied class conciliation always with backs turned on the people, rightly affirms: "The national leadership, in its successive generations, has always been anti-reformist, elitist and personalistic ... The art of stealing practiced by these minorities and not by the people, is noble and ancient. The people don't rob, they are robbed ... The people are cordial, the oligarchy is cruel and pitiless...; the great success of the history of Brazil is its people and great disappointment is its leadership."(Conciliação e Reforma no Brasil ["Conciliation and Reform in Brazil"], 1965, pp. 114,119).

We are experiencing the repetition of this evil tradition, from which we will never be liberated without the strengthening of an anti-power, coming from below, capable of overthrowing this perverse clique and establishing another type of state, with another type of republican politics, where the common good is imposed over private and corporate good.

Christmas this year is a Christmas under the sign of Herod. Nonetheless, we believe that the Divine Child is the liberating Messiah and the Star is generous to show us better ways.

Leonardo Boff has written Natal: o sol da esperança, Mar de Ideias, Rio, 2007.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Latin American Prelates and Theologians Remember Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, the retired cardinal archbishop of Sao Paulo, died this week at age 95. He was well known as a staunch defender of human rights, even facing down Brazil's military dictatorship. Here are some of the tributes that have come in (English translations as needed by Rebel Girl):

Pope Francis (in Spanish):

I receive with great sadness the news of the death of our venerated brother, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns. I express also to the auxiliary bishops, the clergy, the religious communities and the faithful of the archdiocese of São Paulo, as well as to the family of the deceased, my condolences for the passing of this intrepid pastor who in his ecclesial ministry revealed himself to be an authentic witness of the Gospel amid his people, showing to all the path of truth in charity and in service to the community, in constant attention to the most disadvantaged.

I thank the Lord for having given the Church such a generous pastor, and raise fervent prayers that God may grant eternal joy to this good and faithful servant of His. I convey to the archdiocesan community that mourns the loss of its beloved pastor, to the Church of Brazil, which found in him a sure point of reference, and those who share in this hour of sadness that announces the resurrection, the comfort of my Apostolic Blessing.

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga (in Spanish):

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, a fraternal protector on the journey!

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, at the end of a long journey presents himself to us as a pluralistic prophet who had timely words in all sectors of society as a Franciscan bishop confronting injustice, comforting the poor, denouncing and announcing.

A prophet of our America who was able to respond to all appeals, in favor of human rights, living the Gospel in ecumenical dialogue in the various situations of life he had to take on.

The Prelature of São Félix do Araguaia owes a huge debt to Dom Paulo and he will continue to be a fraternal protector on the road.

Leonardo Boff (in Spanish):

Farewell to an endearing friend of the poor and of liberation theologians

These were the words read to the people at the Mass before the burial of Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns on Friday in the Cathedral of São Paulo.

Dear confrère, friend of the poor and my friend, teacher and promoter of my life as a theologian, Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns.

Dying is not dying. It is responding to a call from God. God has called you and you have gone contentedly to meet Him. There, I am sure, you will have met thousands of poor people, refugees, tortured and assassinated people whom you defended and protected and for whom you came to risk your own life.

I will never forget the time in Petrópolis at the beginning of the 1960s when together on weekends we would perform ministry on the margins in the barrio of Itamarati, your love for the poor on the hillsides, your affection towards the children.

I will never stop thanking you for the courage with which you stood up for liberation theology and myself in the dialogue we had with then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger immediately after the interrogation to which I was subjected in Rome. In my presence, and jointly with Cardinal Dom Aloysio Lorscheider, you stated that the theology we theologians were doing in favor of the poor and with them was good for the communities and represented an asset of the local church that ought to be supported by its pastors. That is how you justified your presence in Rome.

You always encouraged and supported me in my theological activity. Until now I have kept, like a sacrament, the note you left in my hand before I boarded the boat that took me to study in Europe.

"Dear confrère Fray Leonardo, I want you to know this: We want to give you the best because the Church in Brazil needs the best. You also know that you have been sent in the name of God. Live and study because of Him and for Him.
Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, in vanum laborant qui aedificant eam." -- "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor."

I want to be faithful for the time remaining to me to this mandate of useful work in the service of faith and the liberation of the suffering of this world, the safeguarding of life and the protection of Mother Earth.

If it is true what the poet says that "dying is closing one's eyes to see better," then now, dear Dom Paulo, you will be seeing God, whom you always served, face to face, participating in the fiesta with all the liberated and the blessed in Heaven.

With all my prayers before the Lord, and with fond memories, I ask that from there with the Father and Mother of goodness, you look upon us all and help us follow the luminous example you have left us.

Your old pupil and friend
Leonardo Boff
Petrópolis, December 15, 2016.

Frei Betto (in Portuguese)

The man who didn't know fear

January 20, 1970. Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns finally got permission to visit the Dominican brothers incarcerated in Tiradentes Prison in São Paulo. A Franciscan, the auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Agnelo Rossi was responsible for Prison Ministry. Before the director of the prison, we told the prelate about our arrests, torture, interrogations and the threats we had received.

October 21, 1970. Pope Paul VI declared that the method of torture was spreading throughout the world like an epidemic, without referring directly to Brazil. He mentioned, however, "a big country" in which "torture, that is, cruel and inhumane police means to extort confessions from prisoners" was being used. He added that such means "should be openly condemned."

October 22, 1970. On deplaning at Guarulhos, coming from Rome, Cardinal Agnelo Rossi, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), declared that "religious persecution doesn't exist in Brazil and, yes, there is a defamation campaign being directed from outside against the Brazilian government." According to the cardinal, when condemning torture, the pope wasn't referring to Brazil. In the afternoon of the same day, Dom Rossi was dismissed by the Vatican from the Archbishopric of São Paulo and named prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome. In the same act, the pope named Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns to succeed him at the head of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo.

October 23, 1970. In Tiradentes Prison, we received a visit from Dom Paulo. He granted us the honor of his first pastoral visit as the new archbishop. From there he left for the retreat that preceded his inauguration, on November 1, 1970.

November 21, 1970. We were woken up at six in the morning for Dom Paulo's visit. He had come to celebrate with us in Tiradentes Prison. The altar, an empty apple crate, the chalice, an American cup, the church, a narrow cell, the faithful, mostly prisoners.

January 1971. Dom Paulo denounced the arrest of Father Giulio Vicini and pastoral agent Yara Spadini. Found with protest manifestos against the death of the worker Raimundo Eduardo da Silva who had been taken to the Military Hospital available to law enforcement authorities, they were tortured in the DEOPS [Brazilian Department of Social and Political Order]. The archbishop invaded the division and was able to see the two, who showed him the marks of their abuse. Outraged, he ordered posted in all the parishes of the archdiocese a note in defense of the prisoners and denunciation of the tortures they had suffered.

May 5, 1971. At the Palace of Planalto, General Médici received Dom Paulo, who told him about cases of torture. The dictator, with his characteristic harshness, didn't back down and reiterated: "They exist and will continue because they are necessary. And let the Church not get involved, because the next step will be the arrest of bishops ..."

December 23, 1971. In the afternoon, during visiting hours, Dom Paulo went to Tiradentes Prison. He went around to every one of the cells. We gave him a big leather cross -- the Jail Commendation -- pyrographed with verses of the Gospel, excerpts of the Document of Medellín, and the names of all the assassinated revolutionaries. We engraved: "The Good Shepherd is he who lays down his life for his sheep."

May 22, 1972. Dom Paulo, our mediator in the collective hunger strike, was in the State Penitentiary, where we were mixed with the common prisoners. We were not allowed to see him. According to the director, we could only talk to the lawyers. However, we learned that the archbishop warned him that it has been historically proven that measures of prison isolation usually precede physical elimination ...

In a meeting with Judge Nelson Guimarães of the Military Court, the archbishop questioned him: "Do you know that you are responsible for the life of the prisoners?" The hearing judge nodded: "I take responsibility if they die." Dom Paulo replied: "My son, you take it two or three days. Then you don't take it any more. Your conscience begins to torment you. And what accounting will you give to yourself and to God?" The judge replied with his head bowed, "You're right."

Vladimir Herzog committed suicide. Dom Paulo decided to celebrate a solemn Mass in the Metropolitan Cathedral [of Sao Paulo] in tribute to him. Jews who supported the dictatorship tried to move the cardinal: "Why a Mass for Herzog? He was Jewish!." Dom Paulo responded, "Jesus was too."

Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns was one of the bravest men I have known. Imbued with the faith that characterized his patron and model, Francis of Assisi, he never thought of his own success. His life devoted to his neighbor, was brought to the public, with rich detail, in the work "
Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns — um homem amado e perseguido" ["Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns — a beloved and persecuted man"] by Evanize Sydow and Marilda Ferri.

If the history of Brazil's independence can not ignore Tiradentes, or the ecological movement, Chico Mendes, or the resistance to the dictatorship that governed us for 21 years, it is largely due to the unique figure of Dom Paulo. The same loving care that St. Francis devoted to the poor and to nature, Dom Paulo extended to the victims of repression.

The book
"Brasil: Nunca mais" ["Brazil: Never again"] is an irrefutable radiography of the dictatorship, thanks to the initiative of Dom Paulo and Pastor Jaime Wright, who promoted an inquest into the archives of the Military Justice. They analyzed the content of more than one million pages of political trials. Amnesty still prevents torturers from paying for their crimes. But, thanks to these two ministers, state terrorism and the suffering of thousands of victims will not be erased from the Brazilian memory.

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns prayed with his life the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, adapted to our times: "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is...repression and poverty, let me bring freedom and justice."

Eduardo de la Serna (in Spanish)

A prophet walked among us!

On February 12, 1992, I was in Rome looking for material for my doctorate. On the advice of Orlando Yorio I went to live in the house that the Brazilian Episcopate had there for its priests, but that is also open to priests of other nationalities (Pio Brasilero College). There, as well as making good friends, I was able to meet many Brazilian bishops when they came to Rome for some business, meeting (or lobbying). They would stay there.

I'm pointing out February 12th because it's my birthday and on that very day Paulo Evaristo Arns was visiting and he came by my room to greet me. It's the only time in my life that I saw that "monument" of a bishop.

There he told me that when he began with the group Clamor (to the best of my knowledge the first Human Rights organization that received information about and denounced Rights violations in Argentina), he received a letter from Cardinal Primatesta, then president of the Argentine Bishops Conference. In the letter, the Argentine cardinal told him to abstain from meddling in the affairs of another particular church. Notable contrast between two cardinals! A compassionate father, firm fighter and defender of the victims, a prophet and, on the other hand, an accomplice in pain and suffering, a friend of dictators, a voice that was silent in the face of death and killers! A notable contrast! I knew other things about the Argentine cardinal too that aren't worth recalling here, in fact I don't know who mourned his passing (maybe some business accomplice, for example). Looking at history from the victims, an enormous gulf opens up between these two personalities now that each one "remains" (by their own choice) on one side. My grateful memory goes to that great Franciscan who yesterday passed into the fullness of Life; the others, though they enjoy the timorous silence of their "younger brothers," will pass into the history of shame. Simply that.

Many years later I went to a theology conference in Brazil and I wanted specifically to go into the Sao Paulo cathedral to render homage to this great man. He was already retired and in poor health. Even his sister had died in Haiti, also fighting for the lives of the poor and the victims. But I wanted to go in to see the "
cathedra" from whence the Word of God resounded for our suffering times. On the right of the great altar was the Virgin of Aparecida, the Jesuit José de Anchieta, the founding saint of Sao Paulo, and on the other side,Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. Something had changed! A lot! I celebrated the fact that Dom Paulo Evaristo's illness did not allow him to see that. At the same time I was concerned when Cardinal Archbishop Odilio Pedro Scherer, from that city, "rang out" among the papabile. They were the palpable fruits of "the Church that John Paul bequeathed to us."

Dom Paulo: Thank you! and Pardon! Simply this. You will remain in the memory of the Holy Fathers of the Latin American Church; you will go on being an icon of hope.