Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, born in Spain, has lived in Brazil since 1968 and been a (Roman Catholic) bishop in since 1971. He is the recently retired bishop of São Felix de Arraguaia, a diocese in the state of Mato Grosso, a long journey from any of Brazil's major cities. He is a member of the Claretian order.
A 2005 movie from Spain, or more precisely Catalonia (Catalunya in the Catalán language), Casaldáliga's homeland, calls him "a militant of hope."
He is also a poet.
A book about Casaldáliga which I haven't read but which sure sounds like him calls him Mystic of Liberation. He chronicled some of his sojourns to Central America in this book.
In an interview published in Mev Puleo's The Struggle Is One: Voices and Visions of Liberation (1994), Casaldáliga said:
When I first arrived in Latin America in 1968, there was a full military dictatorship in Brazil.
Originally, the church hierarchy supported the dictatorship because of its fear of communism. But when the abuses and domination grew, they adopted a more prophetic and critical attitude.
The Brazilian Bishops Conference (CNBB) nearly unanimously voted on documents promoting social justice, land reform, education and the rights of the indigenous. This was unique! Even today, the three countries with the most religious persons murdered are El Salvador, Haiti and Brazil.
....[T]he region where I work was and is violent. It's a region of Indigenous, peasants and large landowners. Many have been murdered in the conflict between landowners and peasants -- without names, without coffins. We buried many people.
Really, in this situation, there was no other way to take another option. And we have suffered because of our option for the poor.
My friend, Father João Bosco Burnier, was shot while standing next to me. Many friends have been killed, and yes, I've received death threats for years. The landowners form their own death squads to threaten those who challenge them.
* * * * * *
My faith sustains me in these trying times. And the fact of being a bishop gives me a specific responsibility. We're obliged to become what our friends call us to be.
I thank God that I've never had a great faith crisis! My writing helps. Communicating in an open way about your life experiences naturally brings one to a certain coherence. And I think poetry, a love of nature and a childlike sensitivity all help me to live with more naturalness and vibrancy, overcoming problems.
They say a poet is born, so I guess I was born a poet!
This means I always carry with me a type of vibrancy before everything - a humming bird, a kitten, the face of a child, the stars, a death, loneliness, despair, God.
This pulses in me.
In one of my poems I say that no one can accompany me totally. I've heard that you can measure someone's personality by their capacity for solitude.
Ultimately, we're all alone. I alone have to answer for myself before society and God, because we aren't a collectivized mass, we're individual persons in communion. This is the greatness and tragedy of being human.
Now, this solitude can be filled with silence, contemplation and personal growth. But it can also be anguished or morbid. For one who has faith, who lives serving others, who loves nature, solitude is never morbid.
* * * * *
... Clearly, I'm not glorifying oppression, persecution or death. I don't just insist on the resurrection, I'm obsessed by the resurrection!
I say over and over again to our people --in celebrations and pastoral visits-- that the single most Christian word we can pronounce is Easter. I once wrote a poem that says, "This is our alternative: live or resurrected, never dead!"
And here is a short poetic quote by Dom Pedro which I once used as a signature on my e-mail and which a couple of friends of mine have used for memorial services -- one for his mother, the other for her university congregation in honor of alums and friends who had died the previous year.
At the end of the road, they will ask me,
‘Have you lived? Have you loved?’
And not saying a word
I will open
my heart full of names.
*****-- Dom Pedro Casaldáliga
On the feast of the Holy Innocents, 2007.
P.S. Yes, this continues to be a fund-raising appeal for our friends in Brazil. Details here and here. Buy one less iPod! Give to the classrooms, kitchens, and church programs of the children and community of Cristo Rei in Cidade de Deus, Rio de Janeiro! Secure ways to give, by check or PayPal, are here.