Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Berta Cáceres and the response of the church

Berta Cáceres was a Lenca woman who stood up for the Lenca people and advocated for the care of our common home, this earth which is God’s gift.

Her killing on March 3 in La Esperanza leaves Honduras without the gift of her love and struggle for the earth and for the Lenca people.

The world has responded in protest of her killing and demanding a just and prompt judicial process – something which is rare in Honduras.

I have not written until this moment but I have been deeply affected by this example of the persecution of another person committed to the poor and to our common home.

A question some may ask is, “Where has the Catholic Church been in this time?”

There has not been the outpouring of concern I had hoped – but there are small efforts.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the major role that the Jesuit-supported Radio Progeso has played in responding to the killing of Berta Cáceres. Padre Melo (Ismael Moreno, S.J.) was at the front of the crowd on the day of her burial, together with Padre Fausto Milla of our diocese and two Claretian priests. A friend who was there told me how Padre Melo’s talk was interrupted by the mourning rites of the Garifuna. Rather than being distraught, he invited them to come forward and pray the Our Father in Garifuna.  He invited representatives of other indigenous groups from Honduras and Guatemala to come forward and pray the Lord’s Prayer in their languages. The prayer was also offered in Spanish and English. A US clergywoman who works with refugees was among those at the front.

But what about other sections of the church, especially the institution?

Perhaps the strongest institutional response to date has come from the Vatican. Yesterday I came across a strong letter from Cardinal PeterTurkson from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, dated March 15, lamenting the death and calling for an “independent and impartial investigation.”

On March 3, a letter was distributed which was signed by Caritas Honduras as well as several other diocesan offices of Caritas, together with various congregations of religious and parishes, mostly in the dioceses of San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba. I will translate this soon. I found it on the Caritas Honduras website but have not been able to access the site last night or today.

Caritas Honduras also had a statement on the killing of Berta Caceres dated March 11which I came across yesterday. 

The diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán had hoped that there would be a Mass for Berta Cáceres on the day of her burial and sent a priest with a special message. For various reasons they were unable to celebrate the Mass. This is my unofficial translation of the homily which was prepared for the funeral Mass.  (I will post the Spanish in my Spanish blog later since I only have the homily in printed version.)

Homily for the celebration of the funeral of Berta Cáceres
Parish of Our Lord of Intibucá
 Texts: Genesis 1, 1-31; Psalm 8; Luke 11: 21-27
 Brothers [and sisters]:
 We are gathered to entrust to the infinite and merciful love of God, our Father, Bertita Cáceres, whose death has filled with sorrow all of us citizens of Intibucá, of Honduras, and of the international community. At the same time we wish to console her family and her community with the tenderness of God, as the psalmist says.
 It is not our place to judge anyone; only God knows the depths of persons and only he knows that which is enclosed in the human heart. Therefore, his justice is always wrapped in mercy. In these moments, we turn our gaze to Christ who died for our sins and rose for our justification; be believe in him, we trust in him, and we hope in him.
 It is this Christian hope which we celebrate in a special manner in the holy Mass, since this sacrament is the memorial of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his Passover, which gives all of us Christians a profound hope in the moments of grief and sorrow. It is a  certain faith that life continues for all those who believe and hope in Christ.
 We have heard the Word of God in the book of Genesis, which reveals to us God as Creator; he created the earth, water, trees, animals and everything that exists and as the summit of work that generates life, he create man and woman in his image and likeness. We are not the owners of the earth, nor of the [natural] resources, nor of life. We are simply administrators. Our obligation derives from this. To care, protect, and defend this common home. The goods which the Lord has created were destined for the common good, not for the good of a few. Thus we believe that our sister Berta understood this and struggled much for this.; she consecrated her life and sealed this struggle with her blood: to defend our natural resources and the rights of the indigenous.
 In this respect, our bishops in the Fifth Latin American Episcopal Conference in Aparecida declare the following:
 “The Church is grateful to all who devote themselves to defending life and the environment. Particular importance must be given to the most serious destruction under way in human ecology. She is close to small farmers who with generous love very laboriously work the land, sometimes under extremely difficult conditions, to draw out a livelihood for their families and to provide all with the fruits of the earth. She especially cherishes the indigenous for their respect for nature and love for mother earth as source of food, common home, and altar of human sharing.” (472)
 Analyzing the actions against the environment, such as the ominous consequences for the present and future of our Latin American continent, our bishops point out, continuing to point out that
 “Today the natural wealth of Latin America and the Caribbean is being subjected to an irrational exploitation that is leaving ruin and even death in its wake, throughout our region. A great deal responsibility in this entire process must be attributed to the current economic model which prizes unfettered pursuit of riches over the life of individual persons and peoples and rational respect for nature. The devastation of our forests and biodiversity through a selfish predatory attitude, involves the moral responsibility of those who promote it because they are jeopardizing the life of millions of people, and particularly the milieu of peasants and indigenous, who are pushed out toward hillside lands and into large cities where they live overcrowded in the encircling rings of poverty. Our region needs to advance in its agroindustrial development toward appreciating the wealth of its lands and its human talents at the service of the common good, but we must mention the problems caused by the savage uncontrolled industrialization of our cities and the countryside, which is polluting the environment with all kinds of organic and chemical wastes. A similar warning must be made about resource-extraction industries which, when they fail to control and offset their harmful effects on the surrounding environment, destroy forests and contaminate water, and turn the areas exploited into vast deserts.” (473)
 As the diocesan church we are grateful for the testimony and the struggle of Berta Cáceres in the defense of our natural resources, and we are in solidarity with our Lenca indigenous brothers [and sisters], making our own the words and sentiments which his holiness, Pope Francis directed to the indigenous in his recent visit to Mexico, by affirming to them:
 “In a systematic and structural way, your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society. Some have considered your values, cultures, and traditions as inferior. Others, dizzy with power, money, and the laws of the market, have stripped you of you lands and have implemented actions which contaminate them. How sad! Would that we all make an examination of conscience: forgive us, forgive us, brothers [and sisters]. Today’s world, despoiled by the throw-away culture, needs you.”
 With the words of Jesus which we have heard in the holy Gospel, we address the family of Berta: “your brother will rise; likewise we make clear our accompaniment, assuring you of our prayers.
 Brothers and sisters, let us renew the supreme act of handing oneself over to death which Jesus did to save us. Trusting also that the redemptive sacrifice reaches our sister Berta in so far as it is needed and that it be a source of forgiveness also for those who caused her death.
 The risen Lord strengthens our Christian hope: I am the Resurrection and the Life.


Phil said...

The great omission is of course the voice of the highest authority of the Catholic church in Honduras, Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga. It is known that the Cardinal was a strong supporter of the coup of 2009 and since then has been the religious spokesperson for the dictatorship for which he is amply compensated out of the Presidential treasury. The Cardinal has opposed COPINH,the organization co-founded by Berta Cáceres, which assists the poor indigenous groups to mobilize and share their common struggle. The Cardinal even went so far, in this the 21st century, to issue a declaration that people should not listen to the radio broadcasts of COPINH. In this light, the declaration of Cardinal Turkson as an official Vatican voice is even more important and interesting.

John (Juancito) Donaghy said...

Phil, I have read the report that the Cardinal told people not to listen to COPINH radio broadcasts but only on leftist and opposition sites. I have not been able to find this on other sites and so I have not written about this. If you have a source that is not from the opposition I would like to know. I try to be very careful on this and other news reports because we live here in a very conflictive society where there at times the news is manipulated - most often by the government, but also by the opposition.

I was very glad to read Cardinal Turkson letter since this may be a challenge to the institutional church here, which needs to be pushed.