Thursday, July 06, 2017

Progressive Renaissance in Central America


EL FARO photo.

#BlessedRomero #Beatification
The return of the newly promoted Salvadoran Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez to his native country on July 4, 2017 was accorded the welcome normally given to a war hero or champion of sport. Awaiting him at the Archbishop Romero Airport was the country’s episcopal conference and the President of the Republic. Along the road from the airport to the capital were groups of admirers; Rosa Chavez stopped his caravan to greet them, in one case, from the back of a pickup truck. The cardinal even became a “trending topic” on Twitter for his sensational return.
While Rosa Chavez’s appointment to the College of Cardinals implies “a personal element” (in the neo-cardinal’s words)—a reflection of his personal merits—his nomination is also a reflection of the continental rise of the progressive trend in the church, of which the new cardinal is an icon. That movement is partly a vindication, as we analyzed in an earlier post, not only of Rosa Chavez, but also of figures such as his mentor, Blessed Oscar Romero, the martyr bishop of the Americas. Rosa Chavez’s insistence that the honor belongs to Romero has been constant. In his first formal stop after his return, Rosa Chavez visited Romero’s Tomb in the Cathedral Crypt where he intoned an emotional tribute to his patron: “Archbishop Romero, before I was born you were here ... We come here joyfully, because you are the Cardinal of this country. We ask you to help me be a good Cardinal, Archbishop Romero, we need you.”

Yes—Archbishop Romero’s name has been restored in this process (which includes his beatification in May 2015), and Gregorio Rosa Chavez’s as well. But in reviewing the balance of cardinals in the region, it is easy to recognize a strong revitalizing impulse at the hand of the current pontiff which extends beyond these men. Four countries of the isthmus now have a cardinal; three of them have been appointed by Pope Francis (Rosa Chavez in El Salvador, Leopoldo Brenes in Nicaragua, and Jose Luis Lacunza in Panama). The fourth, Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, was named by St. John Paul II, but is the great architect of the progressive swing in the region under the current pontiff. In fact, Rodriguez Maradiaga, the president of the Council of Cardinals that advises the Pope, is a great friend of Rosa Chavez and has undoubtedly had a hand in his nomination. The natural deterrent to progressive power in the region is the weight of Mexican cardinals, who tend to be more conservative (especially their primate in the Aztec capital, Norberto Rivera Carrera).
This new movement favoring the liberal trend tracks the paradigm followed by the Continental Church. Although the Latin American bishops’ conference in Medellin Colombia in 1968 emphasized the spirit of reform, the next meeting in Puebla, Mexico (1979), led by John Paul, had an impulse of moderation. The next meeting in Santo Domingo (1992) had more to do with the Roman Curia than with the analysis of the Latin American reality found in the first two meetings. The analytical engagement with the problems of contemporary society, characteristic of CELAM in its original meetings, had to await for the conference in Aparecida, Brazil (2007), whose final document was drafted by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio—now, Pope Francis .
The restoration can also be traced through the history of the Church in San Salvador. During the 20th century, the archdiocese saw over fifty years of a progressive pastoral ministry under three successive archbishops (Luis Chavez y Gonzalez, Óscar Romero, and Arturo Rivera Damas) who were influenced by the currents of the Second Vatican Council and Medellin (which birthed the phrase "preferential option for the poor"). Following a 12-year Civil War that began in 1980, the Church returned to a more traditional line under the watch of the conservative Archbishop Fernando Saenz Lacalle, a former military chaplain and member of Opus Dei.
Pope John Paul II’s visits to the region (including El Salvador) in 1983 and 1996 were considered as attempts to moderate the inclination towards the left in the local church. The Polish Pope is famously remembered for admonishing Sandinista sympathizers “¡Silencio!” in Managua, and for publicly scolding Fr. Ernesto Cardenal for joining the Marxist government, waving his finger in front of his face while greeting him on the airport runway. However, the Polish pontiff also created Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga as a cardinal in Honduras, and made Gregorio Rosa Chavez the youngest bishop in the continent in 1982 (he was 39 then). As such, Pope Wojtyla planted the seeds of the restoration that has followed the conservative interlude in the region.
The absence of a cardinal in the Salvadoran Church had become quite notable—so much so that former President Tony Saca openly asked Pope Benedict XVI during a visit to the Vatican in 2005 to grant the title to Archbishop Saenz. In Romero's time, the cardinal void in the Latin American continent was such that the title of monsignor (“monseñor”) received by Romero in 1967 came to acquire large cache—becoming practically a proper name for Romero, who is still so affectionately called among the faithful. Finally, the Italian cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the Jesuit lion of Milan, went so far as to say that Romero was his favorite cardinal because the red of his martyrial blood had made him a de facto cardinal.
Rosa Chavez bishop (1982) and cardinal (2017); with Blessed Romero, Saint Teresa and Saint John Paul.
Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chavez is a veteran of all these pitched battles inside and outside the Church. In spite of wanting to attribute his appointment to the merits of Romero, he recognizes that “there is a personal element” in his nomination. The cardinal recalls that “I have been a bishop for thirty-five years, a long road the Pope knows well.” Like the other Bergoglian neo-cardinals of the region, Rosa Chavez is not a young man (74 years old; the Panamanian Lacunza is 73; and the Mexican Suárez Inda is 78). All this is characteristic of a papal strategy that seeks vindication, and not necessarily permanence.
This strategy is also detectable in the words that the Pope said to Rosa Chavez in the intimacy of the moment that he shared with him while placing the biretta on his new cardinal: “Coraggio! Avanti!” (“Courage” and “onward”).

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