2000 Years of Jesus, 20 Years of Romero

-A Fraternal Circular Letter-

In this "end" and "change" of century, of millennium, of "paradigms", we are many, with different tones and perspectives, who express our dreams of a new society, and also of a new Church. There is as it were a kind of anonymous collective dreamer which expresses itself, which we express, according to necessities or interests, but which impatiently palpitates in humanity in this year 2000.
On the social, political and economic levels, one desires a real change, and not merely some finishing touches of marketing. On the Christian level -which does not cease to be also social, political and economic- we have a Jubilee, which should be a true Jubilee, the definitive Jubilee which Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed, a time of justice for the poor, an era of liberation for all humankind.
We "human beings" of today have something like 35,000 years of journeying. Sufficient time to learn the great lessons of history. Unfortunately, the neoliberal power which rules humanity today manifests a sort of suicidal "irrational exuberance" of speculation, according to Alan Greenspan, of the all-powerful World Bank. And other high officials of that Bank and of the IMF have come to recognize that "we have to begin to take into account the poor....". One cannot disregard with impunity the majority of humanity!
In the face of the death of hope which the system preaches in practice, the jubilee of Jesus is defined from his proclamation in Nazareth as total liberation of the poor.
As we close the cruelest century of history, we have seen go to the house of Father the prophet dom Helder Camara, insisting on hope. And in this our Brazil of the maximum social disparity, the people has placed itself in march "multiplying the marches" for the vindication of their rights. And in our America has resounded, in confluence, the Cry of the Excluded. And in the entire world, solidarity continues becoming not only "the new name of peace", but also the inevitable name of survival.
The Inventory of Iniquity
The customary statistics and balance sheets are multiplied in magazines and electronic communications.. Unfortunately, they continue to be the same as always. But now, with the specific objective of the end of an epoch, they become a strong reminder and requires prognostication.
Approximately four-fifths of the world population assist in the process of globalization, but do not participate in it. 1,300 million persons (=USA 1.3 billion) persons have to make do with less than a dollar a day. With absolute poverty estimated as an income of less than 370 dollars a year, Asia has 700 million in absolute poverty, Africa 390 million, and America 156 million.
Of the 4,400 million (=4.4 billion in USA terminology) inhabitants of the "developing countries", approximately three-fifths do not have access to clean water, a fourth do not have adequate housing, and a fifth do not have normal health services. It is calculated that in the new millennium potable water will be lacking for 40% of humanity in this our planet earth, which is with more reason "planet water". On the other hand, the United States, with hardly 5% of the world population, uses 25% of the world resources. With irony and reason, the United States sociologist Petras speaks of "North American globalization or imperialism".
The external debt has come into play both as news and as a challenge. That debt which, according to our Pope, "enormously threatens the future of the nations", and which, according to the United Nations, every day causes the death of 19,000 children in Africa. On the other hand, Africa transfers to the West more than 33 million dollars a day.
The "Jubilee 2000" movement has made a campaign throughout the entire world to demand that the external debt of poor countries be canceled. They obtained 17 million signatures. A little later came the gladdening news that the lords of world power were going to cancel part of those debts. The truth is that what they are going to cancel is simply some 25,000 million (= USA 25 billion) dollars, which is the equivalent of only one percent of the total debt of the countries of the Third World; because the total external Third World debt reaches the frightening figure of 2 billion 30 thousand million (=USA 2,030 trillion) dollars, and only 41 countries would be able to receive that "generous pardon".
Among the distressing balances at this end of the century, one must bitterly weigh the burden of unemployment and semi-slave employment, violence of every type (without forgetting what Pope John Paul II affirmed that "poverty is the primary violence"), and the cynical arms race.
The "Working Paper of the Agenda for Peace and Justice in the 21st Century", which responds to the "Call of The Hague for Peace", proclaimed that "on the eve of a new century, it is time to create conditions in which the primordial objective of the United Nations, 'to save from war the coming generations', can be realized." Heavy on our conscience weigh the hundred and ten million who died in the interminable wars of the 20th century. But still, only in Africa today there are 18 countries involved in wars that affect some 180 million persons. In 70 countries 199 million planted mines lie in wait, and in Angola alone they have mutilated 100,000 persons. The Mexican army which in 1995 had 130,000 men now has 40,000 more, principally to impede the more than justified demands of the indigenous peoples of Chiapas. The Clinton Administration has reached the record level of 21.3 billion dollars in exported armaments.
The greatest part of the victims of these wars, today so modern and even virtual, are, as Noam Chomsky lamented speaking of East Timor, "victims who aren't worth the effort."
"The beautiful mother Earth", as Francis of Assisi would say, is being brutally violated. Its products are no longer natural, they are transgenic. And just in our own Brazil, in only one year, 16,838 square kilometers were deforested. And in Amazonia the equivalent of seven thousand football (soccer) fields of trees are cut down every day. One fourth of the surface of the land is under the threat of becoming a desert.
Not long ago, the director of the UN World Food Program acknowledged the incapacity of the UN to resolve the "alimentary insecurity" of the coming years, which means to say that between 800 and 900 million human beings -approximately twenty percent of the world population- are condemned to die.... of starvation
The overpopulation of the large cities is by now much more than a threat. According to a 1998 Report of the UNDP (United Nations Development Program , in 2015 Mexico City will have more than 19 million inhabitants, Sao Paulo more that 20 million, Bombay (Mumbai) more than 26 million, Shanghai more than 17 million, Buenos Aires more than 13 million, metropolitan Manila more than 14 million, and Lagos more than 24 million. So, in the next 15 years 55% of humanity will live in cities, whereas in the 19th century only five percent of the world population lived in them
The MAI (Multinational Agreement on Investments) has not died, it is only disguising itself. Likewise, the School of the Americas has not yet died, and thought is being given to a School for Africa, which is really not a new idea: of the 53 African nations, 43 have received USA military training, and 26 of these were not democratic nations.
Yesterday, let us say, in their "Communist Manifesto" Marx and Engels lucidly prophesied for our neoliberal today that "the modern power of the state does not pass from an executive committee charged with managing the the common affairs of the bourgeoisie", of the IMF (International Monetary Fund), of the transnationals. Because it is always necessary to recall that while the external debt is being paid, in obedience to the neoliberal dictates, the internal debts of our countries are not paid. And the governments cease being at the service of their people, in order to submit to a true neoliberal stateless empire.
When a sustainable development is fought for so insistently, we ought to understand dialectically, for all the consequences of militancy, that the actual model of development of the United States and of Europe is not only socially, economically and ecologically unsustainable, but also ethically iniquitous.
The Subversive Memory
We are going to make truth our memory, "and that will be truth which does not forget anything" (Mario Benedetti). Neither the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, nor the ambiguous history of the Church, nor the age-old increasing yet unheard clamor of the poor of the land, nor so many men and women witnesses of blood who convoke us to fidelity.
There are 2000 years of Jesus and 20 of Romero. Two dates that might seem disproportionate in the same title, because Jesus is Jesus, but which nevertheless are intimately related. At least in Latin America a good way, very much ours, to celebrate the Jubilee of the Incarnation and of the Redemption is to celebrate it "in the style of Romero".
Much is also being written about the celebration of he Jubilee. For months already people have been awaiting the great celebrations, and other even greater celebrations are being prepared. Nevertheless, there have not been lacking some opportune voices which should draw our attention.
"in 2000", writes Giuglio Girardi, "we have to take a position against a triumphalistic interpretation of the Jubilee which conceives it as an exaltation of historic Christianity. That opinion demands a re-interpretation of the Jubilee as a severe criticism not only of western Christianity but (also) of the model of Christianity which sacrificed the option for the poor to the option for empires; a criticism inspired by imprecation against the religion of the temple, launched by the prophets and above all by Jesus himself at the installation of the jubilee epoch.
Naturally, there is a proper place for celebrations, pilgrimages, and "Jubilation" for the coming of God in flesh and in history to our human land. But these ought to be realized always in accordance with the humility and "kenosis" of that coming. We should give the jubilee all the biblical substance that already comes to us from the prophets, and which Jesus definitively rehabilitated so that it would be a total and universal jubilee; so that it would respond -that was its great purpose- to the heart of his Father God, our Father.
Theoretically we all understand that the Jubilee above all has to be a return to Jesus of Nazareth, to Jesus of the Gospel, and to his Cause, the Reign of God.
For my own examination of conscience, and sharing with so many brothers and sisters who journey together, or who at least should journey together, I would emphasize concretely:
The rediscovery of the God of Jesus, who is God-Love, Father-Mother of the whole human family, one and plural. A God capable "of raising from the stones sons and daughters." A God of all names, whatever they might be in all the religions, a God present beforehand and always in all human hearts.
As a consequence of this faith in that God, an authentic universal brotherhood/sisterhood, "in which it will be recognized that we are the disciples" of Jesus.
Beyond the law, and sometimes against the law (and I am speaking of civil as well as religious laws) love-justice, love-solidarity, love-mercy. A partial love, because it arises always from the poor, from the excluded. Jon Sobrino has just published a volume on Christology significantly titled " Faith in Jesus Christ: The Experience of Victims".
Victorious hope, founded on the cross of the Risen Lord and daily translated, on a personal and social level and in an always coherent fidelity, into an irreproachable militancy, as a witness without arrogance but also without fear, and which goes to the final consequences, as did so many brother and sister martyrs. A lived and celebrated hope "against all hope", in spite of all limitations and failures, "in spite of all the neoliberal and ecclesiastical structures", it is good for me to repeat.
To celebrate the 20 years of Bishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, martyr at the height of the Eucharist, on March 24, 1980 in El Salvador, has to be to take up the heritage of Romero, the causes for which he gave his life. His conversion to the poor. That Jubilee of three definitive years which he sealed with his blood. His attitudes of listening, of welcoming, of prophesy, of hope, his way so faithfully situated and so politically consequent of being a pastor. The people, loved, sought after, pastorally attended in their anguish and claims, made him a saint. And saint they continue to declare him since his death/martyrdom, and saint they venerate him especially in the cathedral-catacomb of San Salvador. The true process of canonization of the good shepherd Romero has to be the process of assimilation of his causes and attitudes.
At this end of a century it is interesting to recall the affirmation of Ludwig Kaufmann, in his book "Three Pioneers of Tomorrow's Future Christianity ". "Three pioneers of the faith who look face to face at the reality of their respective present..., and who indicate a way so that we can be Christians tomorrow. John XXIII, who trusted that God continues working in history, who knew how to read the signs of the times, and had the courage to situate the Church in the midst of the service of humanity. Charles de Foucauld, who inspired the community of the little brothers (and sisters) , and in successive stages attempted to leave behind the frontiers and the privileges of European Christians. Oscar Romero, who made his commitment in a radical way in favor of the poor and came to be a martyr of the Church of the oppressed.
The Prophetic Option
In the light of these two dates, so much ours, and of their exigencies and hopes, I personally -and I thank also millions of brothers and sisters of this anonymous collective dreamer- would like to see the following (radical) transformations in Society, in Religions, and in the Church.
1. As Society, to respond efficaciously to that globalized universalization of the accumulation of wealth, of bewildering consumerism, and of homicidal exclusion, in order to construct the other universalization, which starts with an attitude of universalism in everything and every day. Against "speculation, capricious investments, the privilege of the circulation of merchandise over the circulation of labor,controlled information, global darwinism", to facilitate "the transparency and abundance of information, the circulation and application of technologies, productive investments, the universalization of human rights", "and to base these rights on the local politics of education, health, communications, and employment." (Carlos Fuentes)
As someone has aptly suggested, constantly keep together on the world level the verbs "share, participate, present".
An inescapable objective will be, evidently, to substitute the actual UN and its institutions for others that are truly worldwide, with equal rights, without privileges and without cynicism. For a world "where there is place for all" and for all peoples, also the indigenous peoples, also the minorities.
For some time now there has been a campaign for the reform of the World Bank and the creation of an International Penal Tribunal. In our "Agenda Latinoamericano", which from the beginning of the year 2001 will be "Latinoamericano-mundial" we present an ideology and some concrete realizations of that "other" universalism. There are many proposals and experiments that keep opening up that road; from the insistent appeals of Amnesty International for the abolition of the death penalty in the entire world (in just one year there were 1625 executions), even to the creation of the "Bank of the Poor".
Countries, evidently, will have to maintain their status as State, sovereign and servant. The "economic communities" will not exist to impose but rather to complement each other. And NATO and its adjuncts will be superfluous.
Listening prophetically to the situation of our people of Latin America (and of the whole third world) and prophetically anticipating the even more dramatic situation that neoliberal capitalism has created, Medellin denounced: "We wish to underline that those who are principally culpable for the economic dependence of our peoples are those forces which, inspired by profit without any restraints, lead to economic dictatorship and to the imperialism of money" (2,9).
As an alternative proposal, we ought to cultivate on all levels, a citizenry spiritually international, the solidarity of respective identities, and the internationalization of solidarity.
2. Religions will have to agree among themselves, in the name of the God of Life, of the Universe and of Peace, for the common service of the great Causes of humanity, if they wish to be human religions, the most profound plural expressions of the soul of humanity itself. Those vital causes which are food, peace, health, education, housing, all human rights, the rights of peoples and the exigencies of ecology.
The "Letter of United Religions" has already been written, and last December, in South Africa, the "Parliament of the Religions of the World" was celebrated.
It rejects all fundamentalisms, all proselytism, all prepotency in the living of one's own religion, because they are a denial of the living God whom all religions wish to worship.
Adult, dialoguing and fraternal macroecumenism will come to be a fundamental attitude of any religion that merits that name. From their own identity, in an openness to the plurality of worship and of hope. Following the wise advice of the 13th century Iranian Sufi: "Like a compass, let us keep one foot firm in Islam while with the other foot we travel within the other religions."
3. The Church, in order to be the Church of Jesus, has to place itself exclusively at the service of the Reign and get away from its obsessive self-service. For that, the Churches, and especially the Catholic Church, have to open themselves to real ecumenism... without waiting for the end of the world! And, for the sake of the Gospel, to be truly inculturated in the different peoples and in the different historical coordinates.
The magazine "Foc Nou", from Catalonia, has gathered together a series of proposals which respond to the question, so current, of "How should Christians of the 21st century be?" Here I glean a few of those responses, which without doubt many Christian men and women also make our own: "With common sense"; "Giving up all the superfluous things that have invaded us"; "convinced that God wants to save all"; "challenged by today's humanity"; "remaining believers in this time of post-Christianity"; "making our vital cause the great causes of humanity"; "with a vital experience of the God of the poor"; "without putting a limit to the love of God"; "more faithful to the Gospel than submissive to the Vatican"; "with a spirituality alien to all integralism"; "persons that keep hope alive"; "waiting for Vatican III"; "profoundly and intimately grasped by Jesus"; "with both human and faith-filled maturity"; "sparks of fire blessed in the Easter Vigil".
Focusing now more concretely on our Catholic Church, we need to seriously review co-responsibility and ministry, beginning with a profound revision of the exercise of the papacy and the power of his curia. I'm not the only one who says this, poor me; there are millions of us who say this, and many authoritative voices have declared this very openly. Cardinal Ratzinger, in the time of his famous book, "The New People of God", wrote: "The Church needs men with passion for the truth and prophetic denunciation. Christians ought to be critical even in regards to the Pope himself, because certain panegyrics do great harm to the Church and to him".
Cardinal Etchegaray, in the inaugural address of the encounter "Sister Churches, Brother Peoples", which took place last September in Genoa, spoke of the great paradox planted by the latest popes "conscious of being (as the ministry of Peter) the principle of the unity of Christians and for which (in reality) they are seen as a dramatic obstacle". "Theministry of Peter", the Cardinal added, " which structurally serves to promote the synodality of the Church, is also by its very nature synodal: its proper function is not situated outside or above the episcopal college. The pope is a not on a higher grade than the episcopacy, and his roots are in the very same sacrament which makes bishops."
In his turn, Cardinal Martini, presiding at a large pilgrimage in the Holy Land, acknowledged that the Catholic Church needs to take some very fundamental steps in ecumenism, "among them, the way of exercising the primacy of Rome, which needs to be re-thought". "In fact", Martini here recalled what had made world news, "The Pope himself has declared that he is disposed to re-think and listen to suggestions about the form of exercising the primacy."
The Church is asking for pardon for its many sins in the course of these two millennia, but we continue to be sinners also today. The Synods of the various continents that have just been concluded have not been indeed very synodal. They have not responded to the necessities and the contributions of the Church in each continent. To cite one example: the Japanese bishops insisted that "the relation between the Churches of Asia and the Holy See should be considered under a new light", and they specifically asked for "a system of relations based on collegiality and not on centralism."
The reform of the papacy and its curia would make possible -with the "autonomy" of the Spirit and the expectations of the universal Church- many reforms in co-responsibility, collegiality, inculturation, legitimate pluralism, and in ministries.
In ecumenism, there is some good news; but there is still such a long road ahead that the steps taken seem slow and timid. The document of Augsburg, for example, between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran Church, comes after five centuries of misunderstandings, to end up saying that both sides complement each other in the ineffable doctrine of "Justification"....
We all need to feel that we are brothers and sisters "separated"; we Catholics too. We need to understand ecumenism as a going and coming to the encounter of the one Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth. And we need to recognize the respective traditions, as also to recognize the legitimate autonomy of the local churches, and to discover in those traditions and in that autonomy the action of the Spirit "which blows where it wills" and "manifests to us the complete truth." We need to encourage men and women theologians, instead of frightening them, in their service of systematization of the faith and opening of horizons. Lamentably, "during the present papacy some five hundred of them (men and women) have been silenced in one way or another by the Vatican. "
In the light of this generalized unease, and in the face of this programmed involution and the obsession to decree, define and close the door, to wish for a new Ecumenical Council -within the next decade, suggests Cardinal Martini- is in no way an ecclesial frivolity.
So that this new millennium will not be able to repeat the bitter definition that Rahner made concerning the existence of the Church outside of Europe, as "the fruit of the activity of a multinational that exported religion as a good that could not be altered and that was brought to all places by means of a culture and civilization considered superior."
This is not bitter defeatism nor irresponsible hypercriticism. It is love for the Church and above all for the Reign. It is committed love. Cardinal Franz Konig, in the defense he made last year of Jacques Dupuis, theologian of interreligious dialogue, spoke his mind frankly in this way, with truly ecclesial emotion: "I cannot remain silent, because my heart bleeds when I see such evident failures against the common good of the Church of God."
Fraternal Programs
Among the many celebrations -some better than others- and respecting all tastes, provided that they are always according to the Gospel and respect the spirit of the Jubilee, I wish to point out here (and at the same time extend an invitation to) some happenings in the near future which intimately affect us.
-In San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, from January 20 to 26, the celebration of the farewell-homage for the providential Tatic, don (Bishop) Samuel Ruiz, with a seminar on theology, among other manifestations.
-In San Salvador, from March 19 to 26, a celebration of the 20 years of martyrdom of our "Saint Romero of America". Among other activities and celebrations, the SICSAL (International Christian Secretariat of Solidarity with and from Latin America) Congress will take place.
-In Brazil of the 500 years, badly counted, badly lived politically and economically, from July 11 to 15, in Ilheus, Bahia, the 10th Inter-ecclesial Encounter of the CEBs (Basic Ecclesial Communities) for the " 2000 Years of Caminada (Journey)" and as "Memory, Dream and Commitment".
In Belo Horizonte, from July 24 to 28, "the Latin American Encounter of Theology 2000", organized by the Theological Societies of Brazil (SOTER), of Argentina (SAT), and of Uruguay (SUT), but with continental scope.
-In the Dominican Republic, from November 1 to 7, and with a pilgrimage to Haiti, we will celebrate the third Assembly of the People of God (APD) , a new, small, pentecostal, macroecumenical group.
-And here, within the Prelature of Sao Felix do Araguaia, in Ribeirao Cascalhera, on July 17 and 18 of 2001 (two thousand and one, please note) we are going to celebrate with commitment the Pilgrimage of the Martyrs of the Latin American caminhada (journey), on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom of our Father Joao Bosco Penido Burnier.
"We ourselves are the time", pondered Saint Augustine. Let us be the Jubilee, with all our life.
A solemn cycle of conferences, celebrated in this last year of the century, was titled, anxiously, "In Search of a Lost Paradigm". We, brothers, sisters, have not lost the paradigm, right?
Pedro Casaldaliga
In the Year 2000]
São Felix do Araguaia, MT, Brazil