Thursday, January 18, 2018

Pope Francis' teaching seems made for what Peru needs today

By María Rosa Lorbés (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Observatorio Social-Eclesial
December 15, 2017

Miguel Cruzado, a Jesuit from Piura, receives us to talk about the Pope and his upcoming visit. Father Cruzado, despite his youth, has had a distinguished career in the Peruvian and universal Church. He was the provincial superior of the Society of Jesus in Peru in 2010 and several years later was named by the Father General as his General Counselor and Regional Assistant for Southern Latin America and had to move to the Jesuit General Curia Community in Rome. He returned again to Peru and was just named director of Fe y Alegría a few days ago.

What do you think is the most important aspect of the Pope's visit? How do you feel about this great ecclesial event?

It makes me very enthusiastic because I think it's very important that some of Francis' central themes be developed, heard and debated in Peru, both in the Church and in society. There are societies, hemispheres, realities where Francis' teaching, although important, may not seem urgent. In Peru, it goes to the heart of what we're experiencing today -- the importance of Christian discernment in a church with pastors who don't accompany their faithful very much, the situation of the poorest in the face of the naturalization of social inequalities, public responsibilities in the midst of the tremendous ethical crisis that we are experiencing today. It's as if Francis' teaching were made for what Peru needs now.

At this moment, before the coming of the Pope, people are looking more towards the Church; it's in the display window. What do you think the average Peruvian sees when he looks at that Church?

Unfortunately, I believe that in recent years the Church, myself included, has been moving away from real life, from the important issues of people's lives. Especially the poorest and the youngest. In fact, as we know from various studies, the ones who leave the Catholic Church are the poor and the young adults. We're losing people because we don't have a message that's close to their lives.

It concerns me not only because they are the majority of the population in our country, but also because they are the ones who we want to accompany especially as Church. God is without a doubt in the working class and youth worlds of Peru; their alienation from the Catholic Church expresses our inability to hear Him and recognize Him in their midst. Alienating ourselves from the lives of the people is alienating ourselves from God Himself.

We have reached a point where we aren't even controversial; we arouse more indifference than debate. Not only are we decreasing, we are, moreover, less and less relevant to people's lives. For example, for young people with future reference points, for families with openness to the challenges of distances and ruptures between their members, special situations that are sometimes painful, for professionals with criteria to discern ethical life, the political and economic options in society. The Church is a weak voice among many others, one that is losing legitimacy, mostly it's not even a voice that is sounding.

We need Pope Francis...

In that sense, I think that the Pope's visit could help us to focus as Church on the relevant issues we are experiencing as a society. The Pope has something of this spiritual grace of a pastor who feels and acknowledges what people are experiencing, and reacts to it. I think Francis will get what we are experiencing in Peru and know how to respond to what we need to attend to today from the Gospel. Even though he comes with already prepared texts, you have to also pay attention to his spontaneous words, the unforseen reactions. That's where we should be revitalized as the Catholic Church, since they aren't idle reactions for a photo, a video, they're reactions of someone who feels what the people are living, linking it to what is most authentic in Christian tradition, the Gospel.

So, as believers and as citizens, what should we expect from this visit -- to be content, unsettled, or called to change?

I hope and am convinced, because of Francis' charisma and because he knows Peru, that this visit can give us back a bit of hope, both to the Church and to society. We're a bit down as Church and society. We've been hit again and again. The corruption is showing the worst of us. We don't recognize clear voices that help us orient ourselves as a nation. In the Church, we haven't had a clear word, in which we recognize ourselves as a community, in a while. I think the enthusiasm and joy with which Francis lives can help us lift our gaze to renew ourselves and seek common horizons.

But Francis is coming for a few days. What he can awaken will depend on how the people, all of us, receive the message. It will depend a lot on how the media, pastors, opinion leaders take the key points from Francis' message and promote them to make decisions. The Francis effect depends on Peruvians the day after Francis leaves. It will be very important to get what the Spirit is saying to us during the visit so that it later becomes messages to develop. That's why the "reception" of Francis is very important. "Reception" is a theological concept that implies not just listening but also interpreting for one's own life and putting into practice.

Because of what we've been saying, what do you think the Peruvian Church should do to respond to the Pope's invitation to be a poor Church and for the poor?

It's true that the Church's public voice is losing importance, but at the level of people's daily life, the Church in Peru, thank God, has thousands of laypeople -- men and women, men and women religious, who are this "field hospital Church" that Francis wants. A Church that welcomes people, listens, heals, that doesn't discriminate and helps us to be a little more human and therefore more holy. Unfortunately these things aren't public and appear as movements, partial or private initiatives; they aren't seen as the most visible face of the Church.

In the face of what you're saying, there is in effect a public opinion that doesn't know what the Church is doing at the service of society, sometimes in the most remote corners, a Church that serves the poorest.

I believe that the Church in Peru has a tradition that has become invisible. A tradition of closeness, solidarity, involvement with the poorest and with the working class worlds of Peru, with what is most authentic in us as a nation. It has been made invisible by people who haven't understood it, by narrow political viewpoints, by fearful theological opposition. However, it must become visible because it is real, it exists. It is the Church without communiqués or declarations, the everyday one.

In Fe y Alegría alone, we're talking about 43 religious orders and thousands of laypeople -- men and women -- committed to the education of the poorest in Peru. Half are religious, but the other half are laymen and women, teachers who direct the best public schools in Peru and sometimes have better evaluations than others from private schools in the country. How many health missions to people in indigenous areas carried out by religious, laymen, laywomen, there are in Peru -- tens of thousands. The work for people's rights as well. For example, on the issue of equality between men and women and stereotypes and gender equality, the huge work that is being done and has always been done for the rights and defense of women and girls has not been made visible. It is organized by lots of Christian organizations in Peru, above all in the most wounded areas, where there is the greatest danger. That work didn't begin now, but has been going on for decades.

Today more and more men and women are becoming aware of the role of women and many Christians have collaborated, contributed, and are working on this daily, but it's not visible. Christian voices are  becoming more visible and they're in the newspapers, sometimes of our pastors, who instead view with mistrust all these efforts for equity and women's rights for which so many have been fighting for decades, long before these debates began.

So there is a Church that is close to the people, to the poor, to the most typical of the country and that, moreover, knows how to discern. Being a Christian isn't applying a few rules to fulfill them, it's believing and listening to God. These people who are close to poor people are discerning, trying to listen to what God is saying and asking from people's lives. That is believing in God, not just applying rules, but always thinking about what God is asking of me in this situation. Francis asks us to be a Church on the borders that discerns. That's why I do believe that Francis will help us to know more about this rooted, massive Church, close to the poor, to its own and that is discerning and is linked to so many people.

Making that Church visible is important, and above all, because through this it will be placed at the center of the public agenda, the social problems, the debates that the country doesn't raise.

Yes, above all because it allows you to get closer to the fundamental problems of the country's reality. We have been making the gospel dialogue with the culture, looking for ways to believe and recognize the seeds of the gospel that are proper for Peru. That Church not only works hard but has a word, a theological and spiritual reflection. A Church that discusses fundamental issues in the lives of people. Unfortunately these issues are not always picked up by our pastors, by us priests. We have become too formal and fearful. We are afraid, for example, of talking about the inequalities that exist in society. It seems normal that some Peruvians are condemned to a very low quality education. That is not normal, it's not good and it has been taken as normal. We are afraid to question gender stereotypes that do so much harm. And we contribute to normalizing inequalities between men and women. I hope the Pope helps us lose that fear a little.

Father, you're one of the few Peruvians who knows the Pope. I would like to ask you, what's he like? What would you say about him? How is Francis up close?

The first thing that struck me is that he is attentive to the people around him. He captures details of people. Suddenly, a group approaches that doesn't know what to say and it's as if the Pope has guessed. He reacts naturally, he's not silent, he's not suspicious. He intuits people, he has that grace of a pastor close to people.

Another trait is that, just as he's close he is also very demanding. He encourages us to continue the good we might be doing but also raises high challenges. That's how he is with everybody, with every order. He raises big challenges. His closeness isn't a cheap closeness, it's an expensive, demanding grace. What's surprising is that nobody feels offended, but rather recognized. We feel his trust. He knows we can go further.

The Pope has already made various trips to Latin America. Did any of his comments on his return strike you?

He always comes back happy from his trips in Latin America. And before the trips, yes, one senses that spiritually the Pope is preparing for something decisive. Which you see in the messages he gave when he arrived at his destination. In Latin America, Francis has said things that will always be remembered. He has opened immense doors for the universal Church teaching. Like what was said in Ecuador to indigenous people, in Bolivia to the popular movements, in Paraguay to women, in Colombia to a divided society.

Thank you, Father Cruzado. Do you want to add anything more?

I'll add something as an educator. Francis has had a message every year for educators. He has stressed a complete education for all, that helps people and communities to grow. The school, he has said, is like a small Church in which you grow, you discern, you are welcomed. I hope he challenges us in that respect in Peru and that we move beyond an instrumental view of education, just as techniques to offer and as a place for training people, that he helps us reassess the central role of the teacher in society in general.