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A Kenotic Attitude and a Dialogical Movement

By: Maria Clara Bingemer

August 23, 2022

Challenges of Interculturality: Responses to Fr. Arturo Sosa

In his keynote speech during the Culture of Encounter: An Imperative for a Divided World conference, Rev. Arturo Sosa, S.J., the superior general of the Society of Jesus, developed the key point that interculturality is not just an “encounter between cultures.” He added: “Intercultural encounter is a ‘reciprocal exchange between cultures that leads to the transformation and enrichment of all those involved.’"1 I feel moved by this assertion to try to reflect a little deeper, bringing a Latin American point of view to this universal call.

Since the Medellin Conference in 1968, the Latin American Catholic Church has tried to make poverty and violence a top priority of the universal church agenda, along with respect and inclusion of native cultures present in the continent. The bishops gathered in Medellin referred to the state of injustice and poverty on the continent as “institutionalized violence.” Poverty is always present, while millions suffer from hunger. Violence, too, is far from being overcome on the continent. However, its face has changed. Now, instead of the army and the soldiers who persecuted and tortured people during the dictatorships of the 1970s and 1980s, contemporary agents of violence are often drug dealers. A whole generation of young men are steadily being killed every year. Among those, indigenous people are especially vulnerable.

This violence also extends to other victims, such as those who are among the vulnerable and the poor, sharing their culture, defending them, standing up to speak for them—experiencing with them resistance and resilience strategies in order to overcome aggression that threatens their life and their future. Recently in Brazil, a Brazilian indigenist, Bruno Oliveira, and a British journalist, Dominic Philips, were killed because they denounced the crimes committed against Amazonia and the original indigenous people who depend on the forest to live. Philips was collecting material to write a book on Amazonia where all these injustices and atrocities would be reported. Oliveira, who was close to isolated indigenous tribes who have no contact with civilization, was helping Philips through the region he loved and knew like no one else. After they disappeared, while the Brazilian government was slow in taking measures to find them, the indigenous peoples crossed all the way through the forest and across the Javari River to provide accurate information about the location of their bodies and belongings.

Two weeks later, two Mexican Jesuits, Javier Campos and Joaquín Mora were killed in the Tarahumara region for helping a man who came to their parish wounded and scared, asking for help. The man was being persecuted and terrorized by local traffickers. Both Jesuits had been in the Tarahumara hills for many years and were completely devoted to the indigenous population there. They were well-known, respected, and loved by everybody. They entered the Tarahumara culture and were not afraid to engage in a deep encounter with the people. These Jesuits were killed for welcoming a stranger into the parish, someone under threat. Like him, they were murdered by local traffickers. Their bodies took several days to finally be returned to the Jesuit community.

These people are witnesses and martyrs of the culture of encounter. Philips and Oliveira gave their lives for what they believed and loved intensely: the forest and the indigenous people. Their murderers wanted to destroy the forest and subjugate the indigenous to their interests of profit and ambition. They are predators of nature and life, contributors to the climate crisis and the planetary tragedy that threatens the entire world as well as the ethical and political catastrophe in Brazil. Brazilians continue to battle with hunger and disease, as 33 million people are starving and more than 600,000 people have died of COVID-19, many cases due to the delay in the arrival of vaccines. These martyrs belong to the lineage of many who preceded them in the same fight without quarter: Dorothy Stang, Chico Mendes, and so many others shared a trajectory and destiny with them. Today, they are a luminous inspiration for those who follow this same path.

Campos and Mora are remembered as dedicated and tireless servers of the Tarahumara community. The Jesuit order condemned the murders and called on the authorities to find the bodies and bring justice: “These incidents are not isolated. The Sierra Tarahumara, like many other areas of Mexico, faces violence and oblivion. People like our brothers are arbitrarily murdered every day.” The Jesuits in Mexico specialize in working in regions especially affected by drug-related violence and crime. Cerocahui is close to the “Golden Triangle” of drugs, a major logistics hub between the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Sonora. The Jesuits are popular and appreciated there. Since the 1950s, they have provided pastoral care and protected the civilian population from attacks. Therefore, the murders triggered a wave of outrage on social networks. “Joaquín Mora was a deeply sensitive person who shared everything he had with the poorest,” wrote Mexican writer Martín Solares, a student of the priest. “Even atheists called him a saint.”

I think those four people embodied what Fr. Sosa tried to explain as an intercultural encounter. It is not only to observe the culture of the other. It is to enter it, learn from it, and serve within it. It is a participatory and interactive experience which demands a kenotic attitude of self-emptying and dialogical movement. Along the way, testimonies will be required. Some of them can be radical like those that Philips, Oliveira, Campos, and Mora gave. May their testimony shine ever brighter so that justice can arrive and hope can overcome the oppression that seeks to crush the beauty and vulnerability of life. This is the definitive fruit of a culture of encounter. 

1 Cf. Lazar Stanislaus and Marin Ueffing (eds.), Interculturalidad (Spain: Estella, 2017), Ed. Verbo Divino, pp. 18-22, as an interesting synthesis of the elements of culture.