On February 23, 1997, a priest named Oscar Romero was installed as Catholic Archbishop of El Salvador. His appointment dismayed a number of his fellow priests and delighted the repressive governing regime. Romero was known as a conservative and both the government and reform minded priests thought he would remain silent on the human rights abuses that were occurring throughout the country.
Romero soon proved them wrong. During his priesthood he had spent time with the campesinos (peasant farmers) that made up his congregations and his attitude to politics changed. He saw the ways power and wealth were manipulated to the advantage of a small group of families. For the poor majority this issued in hunger, children dying because their parents could not afford medicines, and extreme violence, including beatings, rape and murder, when they dared object.
Two weeks after his installation, Archbishop Romero’s friend, Rutilio Grande, was murdered by the paramilitary. Grande had been creating self-reliance groups among the campesinos and was seen to challenge the status quo. Romero demanded the Government investigate the murder, but his demand was met with silence.
From this point on Romero’s opposition to State sanctioned injustice became increasingly vocal. He used his masses, his public speeches, his Sunday sermons that were broadcast by radio, and both public and private correspondence, to denounce the exploitation of the poor and the violence against those who opposed injustice. He publicly reported injustices and called for reform of the political and economic institutions which entrenched violence and injustice. He refused to officiate or appear at Government events, knowing that would be seen as endorsing the State. When the Government refused to investigate its crimes, Romero established his own investigative tribunal to bring the crimes to light. Romero became an outspoken advocate for justice.
Romero had got in the way. On the 24th May 1980, as he was celebrating mass, Romero was assassinated by gunshot. Just moments before he had said:
We know that every effort to improve society, above all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.
Blaise Pascal was an influential French scientist who lived in the 1600’s. He was something of a genius. For example, at the age of twelve, even before he had received any formal training in geomoetry, Pascal independently discovered and demonstrated Euclid’s thirty-two propositions. I don’t even know what Euclid’s thirty two propositions are, let alone demonstrating them! It’s no surprise then that as an adult Pascal completed important works on mathematics and experimental physics. He even gave us buses. Noticing a crowd of people all headed in the same direction to work he came up with the idea of the bus and in 1662 helped form the very first bus company.
Pascal was also a devoted Christian. He wrote books on grace and the life of Christ as well as other Christian works.
Through all this Pascal realised that his faith, though intensely personal, could not be merely individualistic. His love for God drove him to love for the poor. “I love poverty” he said, “because he (Christ) loved it. I like wealth because it gives a means to assist the needy.” Increasingly Pascal deprived himself so that he could give more. He sold his coach and horses, his fine furniture and silverware and even his library in order to give to the poor. When he received an advance of 1000 francs for his bus he sent the money to the poor in Blois, who had suffered from a bitter winter. He then signed over his interest in the company to the hospitals of Paris and Clermont.
When Pascal died at the age of 39 on August 19, 1662 his funeral was attended by family, friends, scientific colleagues, worldly companions, converts, writers, and the back of the church was filled with the poor, each and every person there someone Pascal had helped during his life.
Source: reported in Charles Kummel, The Galileo Connection (IVP, 1986)
Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940’s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmas-time wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.
“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”
“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.
When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”
“I know,” he replied, “but I do!”
Lawrence was a deacon serving in Rome in the third century when a wave of persecution broke out. When Pope Sixtus and others were killed Lawrence knew it was only a matter of time before they came for him. As keeper of the Church’s goods, he had already been responsible for giving alms to the poor. Now he started giving them even more.
Soon Lawrence was called before Roman officials who demanded he hand over the church’s treasure. He replied that indeed the church was rich and asked for three days to get everything in order.
The days passed and the Roman officials arrived not to a church filled with silver and gold but one filled with the poor, blind, lame and leprous. “Here are the treasures of the church” declared Lawrence.
The official were furious and in the year 258 had Lawrence executed.
Lawrence was right about the treasures of the church was he not?
Sources: wikipedia, americancatholic.org
The great novelist Rudyard Kipling, once gave a commencement address at McGill University in Montreal. He warned them about making money, position or glory their life ambition. “Some day,” he said, “you will meet a man who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.”
Source: Reported by Dale Turner in the Seattle Times, August 7, 1999
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church sits on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue and 55th St, New York City. It’s a part of the city where the wealthy congregate. The exclusive St Regis hotel is on the southeast corner, with a Godiva chocalatier and Louis Vuitton showroom on the ground floor. On the Southwest corner is the Peninsula motel where you can get a room for the night for just $US1390.00.
The only problem is the people over at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian aren’t cooperating. They have a policy of allowing the homeless to sleep on the church grounds. Each morning they make their showers available to the homeless and allows them to come in and warm up each morning.
The sight of 20 or 30 people in makeshift cardboard homes in the plain view of wealthy shoppers, businesspeople and VIP’s doesn’t sit well with a lot of those in power. In late November and early December church officials were asked to keep the homeless off their premises due to the presence of important dignitaries in nearby hotels. The church obliged for those few occasions, but when the homeless returned a campaign of police harassment began. First they arrived with vans and transported many of the homeless away. Then they returned hourly throughout the night, banging on the cardboard shelters of the homeless, waking them and inquiring about their health. Police officers were clearly uncomfortable about this, but reported that the orders “came from on high”.
Well Fifth Avenue Presbyterian church went higher. They took the authorities to court, and in late December 2001 the judge ruled in their favour. The police were not to remove or harass the homeless anymore.
Source: reported in New York Times, December 20, 2001.