In 1492 Christopher Columbus “discovered” Central and South America. In 1493 Pope Alexander VI gave those territories to the powers of Spain and Portugal and reduced to slavery the native peoples. The beautiful church of St Mary Majors in Rome has a ceiling decorated by gold sent by the Spanish conquerors, so the slaves were working. When I look at that ceiling I feel shame and disgust – the lives of the native peoples ruined into slavery. There were, there are, two Argentina’s – the European and the native.
Some of my friends volunteered to go on mission in the countries of South America and loved the native peoples they served, but the local priests of European descent served only their own class and caste. Pope Francis, then Fr Bergoglio, was disliked by his Jesuit brethren who had seen those needs but he forbade them to serve. The ruling Triumvirate, had the sinister Videla as its leader. He was a daily mass-goer but oversaw the constant arrest of suspected trouble-makers, had them drugged, bound and thrown into the ocean. “The Disappeared Ones” they were called, their mothers holding constant vigils for them in Buenos Aires ignored. (Galtieri is better known here for his invasion of the Falklands and claimingthemunder the Argentinian name the ‘Malvinas’).
When Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis his brethren said he would be a disaster. He has not been. He had undergone a change of heart when he became assistant bishop to the cardinal and he began to go to the poor, to the shanty towns, to do what he had formerly stopped his brethren doing. Untie the knots . . . . We have a pope who has seen the cruelty of European conquest, domination and virtual enslavement of many native peoples. The horrors of European empires in Africa and Asia, the terrible division of “White” European cruel conquerors in lands where the native peoples were of different colour seems unbelievable, but the root causes of the violence are European white supremacy in their brutal empires wherever we look, England outstanding amongst them. Our modern world is judgment on them.
Who will put it right? Not any religion, with their dreadful histories of power and wars, but people of faith and love, who want justice for everyone, who live from the heart. The dream is a world united in peace and justice. We can work together to make it so, loving our present world as we reshape it.
Today’s world reflects a greater awareness of the world’s problems than any previous age. We know so much more and knowing can bring healing. The great healing has been called for by our inspiring Pax Christi (Peace of Christ) who tell us that colour prejudice, especially against people who are black, is the world’s greatest scourge. The Pax Christi prayer card shows the most touching crucifixion I have ever seen: a stained-glass window in Birmingham, Alabama, depicting a black Jesus with hands of non-violence – one stopping oppression and the other reaching out in forgiveness and reconciliation.
This weekend, I don’t mind who loses the World Cup final. I see only the horror of Spanish and French enslavement of native peoples and the brutality of the treatment by Qatar of the many thousands of immigrant workers, so badly paid and treated, and thousands dying.
This year’s World Cup is a horrifying story of money and power. Others, like me, have not watched any of the games because of the reported corruption on which they have been established. Instead I have been praying for a world we can heal with justice and peace and love and wondering how to involve you who are reading this letter. We can pray but we should also witness. If we do nothing, nothing will happen. Do you want that? Does God want that, talkers not people of deeds? Seek God from your heart, be willing to witness to God’s love by what you do, not just by “tossing a few prayers in God’s direction”, which is what the Cure of Ars accused his people of doing.
May God inspire us to act, not simply think.
(18th December 2022)