Friday, July 10, 2015

Romero and the “Communist Crucifix”


Children examine Bl. Romero's pectoral cross; Evo Morales presents Francis hammer & sickle cross.
 Google Translate:
Blessed Oscar Romero and Fr. Luis Espinal Camps, SJ, were killed days apart in March 1980.  But they may have been worlds apart in their attitudes about the sacred and the profane.  A minor tempest was unleashed when Bolivian President Evo Morales gave Pope Francis a crucifix designed by Fr. Espinal.  The sculpture took the corpus or body from a traditional crucifix and affixed it to a decidedly untraditional form—the Communist hammer and sickle.
The fusion of the ultimate symbol of Christianity with the ultimate symbol of Communism might suggest a blending of Catholic ideas with Marxism along the lines of the most radical strands of Liberation Theology.  If so, that is a synthesis Romero rejected out of hand.  First, Romero rejected any alliance between the Church and Communism:
·         The Church cannot be Communist ...  The Church has little interest in whether people have more or less.  The Church, however, is interested in those who have and don’t have, she promotes them and wants them to be truly man and truly woman—to be children of God.” (June 19, 1977 sermon.)

·         The Church can never be an accomplice of an ideology that attempts to create, on this earth, a kingdom where men and women will be completely happy. In other words, the Church cannot be communist.” (August 21, 1977 Sermon.)

·          The Church cannot be communist nor the liberator that brings about worldly liberation.” (April 9, 1978 Sermon.)
Secondly, Romero rejected any figurative commingling of the symbols of the Church with political ones.  This was, in part, because he wanted to maintain reverence toward the sacred symbols of the Church.  Miguel Cavada was a Romero scholar who met Romero, and he recalled when activists were chanting political slogans during a funeral mass while the choir was singing Church songs:
·         Romero then grabs the microphone and says, visibly angered: at least wait until I conclude this Holy Mass; afterwards, out in the street, you can yell all the chants you want, but not in here.” (Cavada interview.)

·         One cannot insist that the Church or its ecclesial symbols become instruments of political activity … If Christians have matured in their faith and their political vocation, then concerns of faith cannot be simply identified with a specific political concern.  Still less can the Church and the organization be identified as one and the same reality.” (August 6, 1978 Sermon.)
Third and finally, if Fr. Espinal intended his crucifix to only symbolize a “dialogue” between Christians and Marxists, as has been reported, Blessed Romero had some choice advice.  Romero, too, was interested in dialogue with popular organizations, and he made it a high profile component of his pastoral mission to reach out.  In fact, he did so knowing full well that his actions would be distorted, that he would be falsely accused of favoring Communism and that he might well die for it.  In his fourth and final pastoral letter, however, he laid out some concerns about Christian-Marxist dialogue:
·         Marxism, as “a materialistic, atheistic ideology that is taken to explain the whole of human existence and gives a false interpretation of religion … is completely untenable by a Christian.”

·         Even when Marxism is only “understood as a scientific analysis of the economic and social order,” the “magisterium of the church (in Octogesima Adveniens, for example) … prudently warns of possible ideological risks.”

·         Finally, Romero cautioned that “greater hidden dangers” lie in using Marxism as a political strategy, because “Marxist political praxis can give rise to conflicts of conscience about the use of means and of methods not always in conformity with what the gospel lays down as ethical for Christians. Such political praxis can lead to the absolutization of popular political organizations. It can dry up the Christian inspiration of their members, and even cut them off from the church.”
Accordingly, Blessed Oscar Romero entirely foreclosed any fusion between Christianity and Communism and had significant concerns about a “dialogue” between the Church and Marxism (and thus he undertook it with caution).

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