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A quintessentially Christian story

Around here, we often talk of typical NCR articles. Some are stories of hope and glory but all too often they’re bad news. Such is our account of the ongoing tragedy in Chiapas, Mexico: Chiapans regroup at scene of massacre.

Yet, life being the enigma it is, and our religious heritage being the paradoxical mixture of crucifixion and resurrection that it was, it’s hard to say that any story is all bad or good news.

Most media, when they cover Chiapas at all, present it as a struggle between impoverished peasants and various wealthy but selfish interests. But closer examination, as Leslie Wirpsa points out, uncovers a thoroughly Catholic story. The characters on the peasant side of this drama are not Catholics in name or by coincidence but in deed and by conviction. The community that gathers at the site of the massacre to lament the past and plan the future does so at Mass.

It is a scene reminiscent of many others from the catacombs to every land and era where religion has been repressed and Catholics persecuted. Most Americans, protected by this mighty and generally tolerant country, have trouble imagining such a massacre as Acteal. Definitely something that happens only elsewhere. In this sense at least, ours is an easier Catholicism.

Despite its monolithic structure, the Catholic faith, it turns out, has a wide variety of manifestations. Hermits generally go out of their way not to rub elbows with the world. Then there are high profile Catholics who make quite comfortable accommodations with politicians and potentates. An embarrassing example of this is recalled in our lead editorial Editorial: New antiabortion strategy should ‘lead in steps’. Such Catholics are at home in the world. Theirs is not a countercultural Christianity.

Then there is a Catholicism that swims against the tide. It’s as bothersome to the status quo as Jesus was. Such Catholics are usually where the poor and oppressed are. Usually they are the poor and oppressed. When some of them are killed, others step forward. Countercultural Catholicism is different from that in the suburbs. Often people get killed.

This is a church of martyrs. The recent litany includes Archbishop Romero, the four Maryknoll women, the five Jesuits and two lay helpers in El Salvador. Many on the list are nameless, but they suffered as much, had the same anticipation and perhaps fear, probably made the same fateful choices that led to a certain day when the option for the poor came home to roost.

The Catholicism of Chiapas revolves around Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, whose words of resolve and compassion taunt the repressive regime that has held Mexico’s poor in bondage for most of this century. In The People’s Church, by Gary MacEoin, Ruiz is quoted as saying: “The violation of God’s plan, which is a plan of life and of life in abundance, has brought on us individual and community suffering. Many communities have been displaced or evacuated, including their most unprotected members, old people, women, children.”

This is a Catholic bishop deliberately headed down the narrow, treacherous road that so often leads to martyrdom.

Not just an NCR story, this is the quintessential Christian story.

National Catholic Reporter, January 23, 1998