Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Blood of the Poor

Some who come to visit Honduras are very concerned about the security issues, especially since the two major cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, are among the five cities in the world with the highest percentages of killings.

This is not helped by the Honduran newspaper which often put bloody scenes on the front page and have three pages of “Successos,” reports of crimes and other violent events, replete with photos of bloody bodies.

Of course, most of those killed are the poor – caught in a web of organized crime, drug trafficking, police corruption, and a “justice” system in which very few crimes are investigated and very few killers are brought to trial and convicted.

But there is one aspect of the blood of the poor that is not seen – the effects of the extremely rich and the political and economic elites that profit from the poor. The world caught a glimpse of this in the bloody deaths in the Bangla Desh clothes factory. But it is much more pervasive, as people die from the effects of a society with glaring inequalities.

Dorothy Day once wrote about St. Ignatius of Laconi, a Sardinian Capuchin brother of the eighteenth century, whose feast is celebrated today by the Franciscans. He was the questor, the official beggar for his friary.

As Dorothy Day wrote in in May 1952 Catholic Worker:

      One way to keep poor is not to accept money which is the result of defrauding the poor. Here is a story of St. Ignatius of Sardinia, a Capuchin recently canonized [1951]. Ignatius used to go out from his monastery with a sack to beg from the people of his town, but he would never go to a merchant who had built up his fortune by defrauding the poor. Franchino, the rich man, fumed every time the saint passed his door. His concern, however, was not the opportunity to give alms, but fear of public opinion. He complained to the friary, whereupon the Father Guardian ordered St. Ignatius to beg from the merchant the next time he went out.
      “Very well,” said Ignatius obediently. “If you wish it, Father, I will go, but I would not have the Capuchins dine on the blood of the poor.”

The merchant received Ignatius with great flattery and gave him generous alms, asking him to come again in the future. But hardly had Ignatius left the house with his sack on his shoulder when drops of blood began oozing from the sack. They tickled down on Franchino’s doorstop and ran down through the street to the monastery. Everywhere Ignatius went, a trickle of blood followed him. When he arrived at the friary, he laid the sack at the Father Guardian’s feet. “What is this?” gape the guardian. “This,” St. Ignatius said, “is the blood of the poor.”

Here in Honduras there are church leaders who are tempted to receive the gifts of the rich and to curry favor to the political and economic elites. The temptation affects church leaders from bishops to rural pastors. 

I know of at least one case where a priest was offered money for the church from a local drug lord. He refused. Another priest was offered money by a local politician for himself, but he publicly made sure that the money went directly to the church

 But there are at least two towns that have gorgeous new churches which are probably paid for by drug trafficking or other organized crime leaders.  

And who knows how connected other church leaders are to the powers that support and conserve the radical inequality here in Honduras (and throughout the world). According to Monseñor Luis Alfonso Santos, bishop of Santa Rosa de Copán during the 2009 coup, the coup was the work of political and economic elites. Why was it that he was one of the few religious leaders to condemn it? Another prelate, in 2010, actually compared the leaders of the coup to the founding fathers of Honduras.

The temptation of money and power is strong – for all people, especially those who hold positions of power in the economic sphere, the church, and the state. But it is also a temptation for all of us.

Let us always remember “the blood of the poor.”


The quote from Dorothy Day can also be found in Robert Ellsberg's By Little and By Little: The Selected Writings of Dorothy Day,  pp, 108-109;

1 comment:

Charles said...

It gets revolting, doesn't it?

One wishes that the Lord would provide us with more people of the courage of Ignatius and more teaching moments as delivered by the alms sack, because we in the U.S. surely seem to have lost any wisdom we had. As much as we can fault church leaders who are timid or even corrupt, as much as we can blame the temptations of the wealth of the drug trade, neither the coup nor the drug lords would exist without the United States.

Thanks for this post.