(Apologies for the tabloid headline. I couldn't resist. If anyone doesn't know Bishop Oscar Romero, there is good reason. A sadly neglected saint and martyr to injustice in El Salvador, assassinated by hit men hired by military extremists trained and indoctrinated in the US at the School of the Americas. Only one kind of figure in one kind of mould has reached the altars in the RCC under the past two papacies. Perhaps now things might change. )
Spending a few days in retreat for the beginning of Holy Week in the Unesco World Heritage site of Cesky Krumlov, considered the finest, best preserved Renaissance township in existence-dating back to the 13th century. There is a fine Jesuit College here among other sites, and the town breathes the atmosphere of a long forgotten Catholic Europe, when the medieval Christian world view was the only conceptual and spiritual space the majority of human beings could inhabit. Crosses by the roadside, small statues of Mother and Child by the wayside, images of Saints over the door frames, the guiding, protecting spirits of the Church spiritual make their presence felt as part of one seamless, living whole. It reminds me so much of the atmosphere of Buddhism mixed with animism one breathes every where in Thailand, with so many wayside shrines to the Buddha and the Spirits popping up everywhere. An invisible world of the spirit, made tangible and real, yet ever mysterious and elusive. It is here and still alive in this tiny but radiant alcove of a now secularized, post Christian Europe.
I'm only just now coming to terms with my own deeply joyful, astonished, yet peaceful reaction to the election of Cardinal Bergoglio to the papacy. So I was deeply moved to read at Colleen Colkcoch's blog, Enlightened Catholicism, her recent discoveries that Pope Francis is on record as saying-twice-that if he were elected pope (which he considered to be impossible at the time of these utterances), he would make it a top priority to push for the canonization of Martyred archbishop Oscar Romero. Colleen very wittily suggests that Bergoglio's election to the Papacy, against his expectations, may very well be Bishop Romero's first miracle. I concur. While it is still too early to tell-much too early to be anything but heartfelt wishful, thinking-this papacy is already beginning to look more and more like the surprise appearance in the Church of Angelo Roncalli as Pope John XXIII, a man considered by the Cardinals who elected him to be a benign but harmless doctrinally conservative interm pope. However, there are considerable signs that the men who elected this present pope did have hopes he would reform the Curia, refresh the image of the papacy and restore the tarnished image of the church in general. A very smooth PR move. Is it just possible that they may have - very unwittingly- released the genie out of the bottle? OH the best laid plans of mice and men. Oh again-all those political machinations and behind the scenes maneuverings - and the end result is the paradoxically gentle detonation of a hidden unsuspected bomb.
Colleen also quotes from Vatican Insider:
Paolo Mastrolilli - Buenos Aires - Vatican Insider - 319/2013 Francis’ first saint will be a martyr of Argentina’s military dictatorship, if the wish he expressed before he became Pope is respected. Carlos de Dios Murias, a young Franciscan friar who was tortured and brutally murdered by a military death squad in the province of La Rioja, in 1976.
“Bergoglio himself signed Murias’ canonization cause in May 2011. He did so with discretion, so as to prevent other Argentine bishops “who are still opposed to initiatives based on priests’ social commitment” from stopping the canonization.
Colleen's commentary needs to be read in full, but it appears that the doubts about Francis' behavior during Argentina's dirty war have finally been laid to rest. This fact also highlights the testimony of many that Francis is more open and liberal than he seems. He is simply discrete about it.
I found this statement by Fr. Miguel Civita to be very significant (with Colleen's editorial comments in italics):
I met him when we were students. A few days after the assassinations took place, he took our Seminarists and hid them in the Jesuit Collegium Maximum he headed. These are not just stories I heard somewhere: I actually experienced these events in person. And let me make one thing clear: I was the archetypal third world priest, as they were called back then: liberation theology. The College used spiritual retreats to help the persecuted: it gave them a place to hide, had false documents made and helped them flee abroad. Bergoglio was adamant the military would never muster up the courage to invade the College.”(This is very reminiscent of Angelo Roncalli's actions during WWII. The man we now know as Pope John XXIII.)
One now begins to understand the depths of humility of this man, Francis I, and the gentle, unobtrusive, discrete way he operates. Colleen suggests that this might just be his proven method of reform, indirectly through stealth rather than direct confrontation. And she then made the observation that was so startling and surprising that I laughed out loud while reading it in bed at 5am in the morning in the medieval Christian outpost of Cesky Krumlov. One of those original insights that one would never have made oneself, but once someone else expresses it , seem so obvious and right. Francis' most effective way of reform might just be through personal example, leading to a deep metanonia or conversion of heart, something his predecessors could not accomplish, for all of their dictatorial top down methods of coercion.
Is it utopian to hope for this, a reform through conversion of heart. Perhaps, but it is a significant fact that this man, Francis, has made such speculation possible. That in itself is a signifier of hope and transformation, and a remarkable miracle in itself, however small. One doesn't wish to get too carried away here, however, as I have little hope for any significant, public change in the church's position towards gay people, yet even there one can hope. All I know is that I feel such an enormous interior sense of relief, as if a heavy burden has been lifted off of my own shoulders, a burden I didn't even know I was carrying, until its absence revealed itself. Out of love for the church and for its Risen Lord, I have always felt, unconsciously perhaps, that as a believing Christian, albeit one among many, I must DO something to heal the many wounds of the Church, that a moral obligation of great weight was pressed upon me continually, like the call of the Beloved within one's heart, and unless this obligation was lifted, I could not be at peace. I had no idea the burden was so heavy until now. It is as if I can finally breathe again. The church is finally in the hands of a genuinely good and humble man, after such a long, difficult drought. And yet, it isn't in his hands really, is it? It is in our hands, and the pope is only a figurehead of unity and should not be the final, absolute arbiter of change and transformation. He should be a servant by example,and so far Francis' example has been inspiring. Let us hope this example continues and that Francis has the strength and grace to face his opposition, which is going to be formidable. There is no way forward without the Cross. Part of that Cross may be that Francis is forced to face his own need for growth and evolution in the area of sexual ethics and the rights of LGBT people. Our task as witnesses to the beauty and dignity of being gay - and gay in a sexually expressive way- is far from over, and the Cross awaits us as well. But I am so relieved that I can finally breath again.