Thursday, 16 April 2009

A Better World

One of the best books that I have ever read was Vicente Romero's Donde anidan los angeles: Historias de la lucha contra la injusticia (Where angels nest: Stories of the struggle against injustice). Published in 2004, I had purchased the book in Madrid a few days before I went to live in El Salvador.

In his book, Romero - an atheist - documented the efforts of several individuals scattered all over the planet; individuals who were determined to fight against the suffering that still plagues so many parts of the world. Many of those interviewed were Roman Catholic missionaries.

As stated in a previous post, there is probably no other organisation that has done so much to help other human beings in the way that the Roman Catholic Church has done over a number of centuries. Of course, there have been several political parties and non-governmental organisations that have also contributed to improving the lives of thousands of individuals. Yet, as we read about the increasing inequality in most parts of the world and as we read about the many social ills that still affect millions of human beings, there are several times when the efforts mentioned by countless politicians in summit after summit appear to be little more than pleasant rhetoric. In such a situation, one could not be blamed for asking: how could the world be transformed in order to become a better place for ALL people?

In his work, Romero echoed similar concerns. Indeed, he wrote "What instruments of change are available to those who decide to rebel against a radically unfair system, established as the best of all possible worlds? Political parties, social movements, humanitarian organisations, individual projects...? All could count, but none are working. The classical leftist movement has disappeared, reduced to ideological discourse and to sterile testimonies...Parties and trade unions have lost their identifying traits and in practice seem to be accept the inevitability of injustice when it comes to the global distribution of wealth, giving up even the dream of revolutions against a system that was unacceptable in the light of the principles that had given rise to them a long time ago" (pp. 12-13).

As various organisations are hardly anywhere to be found in those parts of the world where a great deal of help is required, the Roman Catholic Church has never given up its commitment to provide assistance to those who have nobody else to look to for a piece of bread, a life-saving medicine, a hug...Even though Romero does not believe in God, he cannot hide his praise for the many missionaries who have brought some degree of happiness to thousands of people.

When I read Romero's interviews with the Catholic missionaries that he met, I was fascinated by how critical many of them were of the type of church that seemed to be more interested in rules and in dogma than in following Jesus's example of building a better world by helping other human beings. In the post I wrote a few days ago, I mentioned my belief that the Roman Catholic Church could attract more people if it implemented a number of changes. Taking celibacy as an example, one of the priests told Romero "The [Church] hierarchy should think seriously about it since celibacy is causing many dysfunctions" (p. 173).

One part of the book also contained an interesting discussion about the notion of salvation. When asked about the latter, Enrique Figaredo - the Jesuit priest quoted above - said the following: "God's salvation starts here. It consists in the fact that all people have something to eat, that people are able to get an education and medicines. Theologically, salvation is feeling loved by God. But how are you going to tell a person that God loves them if they lack a roof over their head and if their children are in pain because of hunger? I cannot understand religious work that is done only by preaching since deeds are also important, doing something that could change people's lives. For this reason, when dealing with the communities I work with, I try to avoid cult clubs and I try to ensure that they are organisations that can help others" (p. 172).

Talking about catechism, Joaqui Salord - another Jesuit priest - had some interesting views. Indeed, he said "Look, catechism does not worry me. I have never used it. That is something that belongs to a very narrow section of the Church. For example, when they say that what is moral is not cultural...yet most moral values are cultural! The same thing applies to catechism. Although I can barely remember what I had studied, I could not forget that it defined God as 'our Father who art in heaven, who rewards the good and punishes the bad'. Such an image of God was very harmful for me; I noticed that I was believing in a sort of judge, that I had grown up with such an absurd belief, and in order to be free I had to kill that God who had been transformed into a policeman. In my family, we believed in a different type of God; not in a salvation obtained through merit, but in a God that offers, invites, gives. There isn't a a heaven for good people and a hell for evil individuals. We construct heaven and hell. Good and evil are a part of every person, like the two sides of the same coin, and human beings have the potential to do both" (p. 176).

I do believe that it is possible to build a better world. At the risk of sounding too simplistic or romantic, I think that this can only be done if we are guided by love. A love for ourselves and for every other human being.

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1 comment:

annuca said...

Just read your post and was drawn to comment. The view presented here of the Roman Catholic Church is what I think it should mean...that love is first and foremost rather than an all-seeing all-knowing God always ready to judge at the slightest error. I sincerely hope that the RCC can evolve with the time to represent what it should mean best.