Back when I went to school for my religious studies degree, liberation theology was a new phenomenon. One could have gotten a major in just that. In the April 2015 issue of Sojourners, Emilie Teresa Smith writes about it in her article, “Coming in From the Cold”. She quotes Jon Sobrino Laughs in defining liberation theology: “Liberation theology is a way of thinking about how a Christian must live-in active, engaging struggle for the flourishing of all life. Liberation is the primary movement of the Holy Spirit. It is the duty of those baptized into the life, death, and ministry of Jesus Christ to live this out, immediately and urgently.”
I can still remember stories of those who died in central America because they took to heart liberation theology’s approach to the scriptures. I especially remember Bishop Oscar Romero killed by government assassins during the Eucharist for speaking out against the injustice toward the poor of El Salvador. Jean Donovan, along with three other women, was murdered for helping the poor in the same country. The homeless shelter where I briefly served in St. Cloud MN was named in her memory. When Bernie and I were in Guatemala in the 90’s, we visited the village of Santiago Antitlan and were taken on a tour of the church where Fr. Stanley Rother was murdered. In the room where he was shot, we saw his picture and candles were lit to honor the priest the people believed to be a saint.
What I did not realize is that these martyrs were not honored by the Church they had given their lives in service. Those I mentioned above and many others who died “were left off the list of nearly 500 saints proclaimed by Pope John Paul II,” Smith says. “Additionally, liberal theologians were disowned and prevented from writing.” This was done under the leadership of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who later became Pope Benedict XVI. I can still remember listening to the radio announcement that Ratzinger had been chosen. It was a turning point for me and my relationship with the Catholic Church.
Smith suggests that perhaps with the arrival of Pope Francis “a fresh wind is blowing.” There is no doubt in my mind that something has changed. Many of those ignored by the Church are now on the list for sainthood. And Francis statements in support of justice and preferential treatment of the poor are echoed throughout the world.
I am one who believes that to be Christian is to live as Jesus did in the way he healed the sick, cared for the poor, and comforted the grieving. I am grateful for this important shift in the Church that claims to be the messenger of Christ on earth.