18. juli 2015
Jerry Ryan, Commonweal Magazine, skriver bl.a.:
Outside of Bolivia, I don’t think many people knew of Luis Espinal before Pope Francis, during his recent visit to that country, stopped to pray at the site where Espinal’s body, riddled with bullets and showing signs of torture, was found in a landfill. Evo Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, gave the pope a replica of a wooden crucifix that Luis had sculpted; it portrays Christ nailed to a hammer and sickle. This seemed a clumsy and controversial gesture, to say the least, implying that Espinal, an icon in the country’s struggle for democracy, was in fact a secret Marxist who would have supported Morales. This, at any rate, was the impression I had from the way the incident was presented by the media. I was disconcerted at first. This was not at all the Luis Espinal I knew.
I lived in Bolivia for five years and got to know “Lucho” Espinal fairly well. In fact, he is one of the godfathers of my son. In a corridor of our house hangs a wooden sculpture by Luis depicting the head and arms of the crucified Christ. Christ appears to be in a peaceful yet somehow painful sleep, all absorbed in his work of redemption. It wasn’t hard to get to know Luis: he was a very simple and unpresuming person who always seemed to be available for anyone. At that time he was known mostly as a film critic and taught communications in the Catholic University of La Paz. His main interest was the media. He lived with two other Jesuits in a very simple dwelling in one of the poorer districts of La Paz.
To understand Luis, it is important to situate him in the context of his times. The day I arrived in La Paz in 1974, the big news was that Hugo Banzer’s government had ordered the suppression of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Bolivian bishops conference. The priest in charge of the commission was expelled from the country. The church, accused of fomenting social unrest and encouraging subversion, was deeply divided. The Bolivian Constitution still recognized Catholicism as the official religion, and the state promised to favor and protect it. (This changed a few years ago, when Bolivia became secular state after a referendum.) In return for this privileged status, the church had the obligation to cooperate with and support the state. Under Banzer, the military ruled by decrees; political parties and trade unions were banned. The Justice and Peace Commission was the only organization that had dared to criticize the government. With its suppression, tranquility was restored—but it was the tranquility of a graveyard. A large part of the clergy and hierarchy were satisfied with this: as long as they behaved and stuck to administering the sacraments and overseeing popular devotions, they were considered to be doing God’s work and had it pretty good. But underneath it all, there was deep frustration and humiliation. Elements of the clergy were shocked by the dismal conditions and thousand little tyrannies to which the people were submitted. Many foreign priests, in particular, were unaccustomed to dealing with such situations and felt they could not cooperate with policies and practices so offensive to simple human dignity. Luis was Spanish but totally devoted to the poor of Bolivia; he had renounced his Spanish citizenship and was a naturalized Bolivian.
When Pope Francis was questioned about the “strange” gift of the “Marxist Christ,” his response clarified the real significance of the sculpture. The pope, unlike myself, seems to have gotten it right away. Just as those who tried to live the Beatitudes were automatically branded “Marxists” by the powerful and comfortable, Christ too might have been crucified as a Marxist, branded with the stigma of the hammer and sickle, with all its connotations of hatred and destruction. It is a very powerful and provocative challenge. There are not lacking voices today, in this country and even in the church, similarly branding Pope Francis a “Marxist” (for example, Rush Limbaugh). Bishop Romero was assassinated two days after Luis for being a “Marxist”; Dorothy Day was considered a Communist; Thomas Merton, a subversive. Time has shown them to be prophets, ahead of their time. “By their fruits shall you know them.”
What Pope Francis, the “Marxist pope,” is doing for the church is the stuff Luis dreamed of. And I think that Pope Francis, who certainly knew Luis, is well aware of that. It was people like Luis who went to the peripheries and prepared the way.
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