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Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodriguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, the Cardinal of Honduras.
Q) You entered the Salesians at a tender age of 19. Did you have an early sense of your vocation?
A) I had it when I was 10. Actually I was in grammar school and I wanted to go to the aspirants when I was 12, when I ended my grammar school, but my father said: “No you will not go because you are too vivacious and they are going to send you back the next day”. Later, I understood that he was right. And he said: “When you end your high school I will take you to the seminary” and that was the story. I entered when I was 16. I was taken to the aspirants, then I went to the novitiate and then started as a Salesian at the age of 18.
Q) Who or what was decisive in your decision making process?
A) I had the luck to study in a Salesian school. I was impressed especially by the care they had of us, young people. The spirit that was in our school, playing, singing, praying and studying hard. We had to be sent out of the school when the time was up because we didn’t want to go to our homes. We had a beautiful spirit. And then one day the director, my former Archbishop, as we were coming from Mass asked me: “Would you like to be a priest?” and I said “Of course” and that was it.
Q) You have said that one of your great love is teaching in the seminary. What would be your first question that you would ask a young man who expresses an interest in entering the seminary?
A) The first is his love for Christ because this is the key. You are not following an idea or a theory or just a person of the past. You are following a living Christ who is in the midst of all of us and who calls us every day. So that’s the first question.
(Cardinal Maradiaga leading a procession during a recent trip to Germany)
Q) You have said that there are two things that unite the Honduran people: The soccer team and Our Lady of Suyapa. Can you tell me about Our Lady of Suyapa and what is the love of the Honduran people for Our Lady?
A) Well you know it’s a small image. It is only 6 cm high. It’s a wooden image and it was found in 1747, when our people were so-called “melting away”. It is calculated that when the Spaniards came in 1502 there were only 200,000 Hondurans. Why? Because in the 8th century the Mayas migrated to Guatemala and then to the Yucatan so leaving the land almost abandoned or empty. Some say that there was a war between the tribes, others say that there was an epidemic, others say that “El Nino” had exhausted the land and it was not possible to cultivate any more. The reality is that we were few and so when our nationality was melting away, Our Lady was found there. The image was found.
Q) Is it a miraculous image?
A) Yes it’s very miraculous. It is a wooden image that was found in the mountain by two peasants sleeping in the open air. A young man felt something under his back. He threw it away three times and on the third time the other man said: “Put it in your sack and tomorrow we will see what it is”. When they arrived in the small village where they lived called Suyapa - in the Indian language it means “place of palm trees” - they saw there was an image and they started praying and miracles started until it was possible to make a small church and then another one and now we have a big shrine.(6:32)
Q) Latin America is not without challenges. You yourself stated that “globalization” is the greediness of the few, which is leaving the majority on the margins of history. Is this something that we can say is particularly acute today especially now with the financial crisis?
A) The Holy Father has been repeatedly stating that it’s a crisis of ethics that has left most of the population of our world outside. In the beginning it was like a marginalization, but not exclusion. Today there’s not even a margin for them. I am the president of Caritas International, so I have information that the FAO said there was no money to alleviate poverty in the world. Seven billion dollars would have been enough and one month later they were giving $600 billion to save some of the banks of the world and they’ll never stop pouring money into the “sack” because it’s a broken sack. They still haven’t touched the bottom and they continue pouring and pouring money and if you divide the $600 billion dollars between the 6.5 billion inhabitants of the world each one of us could have $1.4 Million dollars and poverty would disappear immediately.
Q) We’ve seen, over the last years, in Latin America a shift to more socialist governments, for example Chavez in Venezuela and Morales in Bolivia. Can one say that these governments have come into power out of a frustration - precisely a frustration of a lack of social justice and poverty? Is this what is driving this shift?
A) Yes, but the main reason, in my perception, is the corruption of the politicians. The biggest illness of our countries in Latin America is that most of the politicians lose the real perception of politics and so they see the state as a “booty for pirates” and so they go there and after a period in the government they can be rich and live the rest of their lives without working and without any consequence from justice. This concept of a nation like a business and politics as a business is wrong, and this is why we are so corrupt.
Q) I would like to present to you a contradiction - which I think is self evident for you as well - but we see these socialist governments that have been elected on the basis of their option for the poor. The Church has always had this option for the poor and yet these socialist governments are starting to attack, ever more, the Church in these countries. Where is the contradiction?
A) The contradiction is when they start these kind of governments, the first thing that disappears is freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of information; for instance, in Venezuela all the media that are not with the government have been confiscated or they make life impossible for them because they only have one goal and there is no place for dissent. There is no place for the freedom of movement and organizing and so when the Church sees these things, it has to denounce them. And so these kinds of governments look at the Church as an enemy because the Church is not obedient to their purpose.
Q) Can one say then that there is persecution of the Catholic Church occurring in these countries?
A) Yes and I say it because we meet frequently with the bishops from the different parts of the world whenever we meet. I have visited Ecuador for the Missionary Congress and I have witnessed these kinds of persecutions. I was in Peru and I met with some bishops from Bolivia who spoke about it. I’ve even met, here in Rome, bishops from Venezuela and we see that there are indeed these persecutions.
Q) What can the Church do as a response to this present situation particularly in the country where the Church is persecuted?
A) What we can do is to be in solidarity with them and also denounce these politicians. I have done it sometimes and I’ve been attacked by President Chavez but I don’t care because it is necessary to tell the truth and of course this is another aspect of these kinds governments; they do not tolerate the idea that somebody can think differently from them. They think that they alone have the exclusive concept of the truth but it is all lies. Look at a nation that is so rich and yet poverty and hunger is on the rise. That is a contradiction and it is truly ridiculous. So this is a consequence of the lack of political education among most of our people. In some places votes are bought. In my country, people, during most of the year, do not see a single penny until after the harvest. Some politicians come and offer them, let us say $50. So they vote for them and this is unfortunately the situation.
Q) You have said that we are not going to have peace as long as poverty is increasing. Are we in for a rough ride because, we’ve just been speaking about how poverty is increasing throughout Latin America?
A) When you have no work and you have to feed your family, what can you do? Migrate! Go to the promise land of the North to increase your poverty? Now they have all these walls, barriers and all these legislations against migrants. They are in hiding and unable to work and employers are fined heavily if they employ these (illegal) migrants. So they are unable to send back remittances to their home country. Once our economy was dependent on these remittances, but not anymore. It’s going down very fast. So people resort to violence, get involved in gangs, the drug trade, which is flourishing in Latin America, unfortunately, and kidnapping is now an industry. There is no social peace. This is tragic, and we have lost this peace because of this injustice, because there is no avenue to earn a living honestly.
Q) Some Latin American countries have focused their strategies of poverty reduction through birth control. Can you tell us, is this a misguided approach and where is this approach coming from?
A) This has been for a very long time - perhaps fifty years - in the UN Population department. They decided that we were growing too fast. Of course we did in Honduras! We were only 1.5 Million in 1959 and we are now 7 Million, but we were under populated because of civil wars. We had a century of civil wars and sickness. When health conditions improved we started to grow, but we are still under populated as a country. We need labour to develop. There is a nation in South America. This country started birth control in the beginning of the 1950’s. What is the result? They never grew, and there is no industry that succeeds without consumers. They are so dependent on the bigger countries that surround them. This is a mistake. What we need is not to reduce the guest at the table but to increase the seats so people can sit at the table to eat.
Q) You just mentioned that the UN has had a hand in this. Would you say that the influence on birth control policy is coming from within the local government or is it coming from organizations such as the International Planned Parenthood Federation, that are external but imposing their policy on the continent?
A) That is one of the worst organizations and I have no fear in denouncing them because they are using very dirty methods and even insulting those who do not agree with them. They’re paying, sometimes bribing and misinforming the population. We do not need this. We need help for development. We do not need bribes to corrupt the people in government. We need resources to be employed in favour of the people and not destroying the people.
Q) What would be the reasons for the IPPF and other organizations? What would be their agenda in the continent like Latin America?
A) They have decided that we are not good partners for their businesses because, as you know, since our continent is mainly a Catholic continent, we will never accept their “Philosophy” which is against Creation, against God. We are not comfortable with their reasoning, and of course, I’ve said it truly, and I have said it in the UN. For example my country decided that marriage is something according to natural law - the union between a man and a woman. Since there are lobbyists who do agree with this they will press our congresses, they will attack the Church saying that we are wrong but we know that we are not wrong and that we want to live in peace like human beings with no deviations.
Q) Abortion is a big issue at the moment. There is a great pressure on many of the Catholic countries in Latin America to entrench abortion in the law. Can one say that we are losing the battle in this regard? Do you see that the governments in the countries in Latin America will impose abortion?
A) They are trying to do it every two or three years and we have to be always alert. I’ve been a bishop for thirty years and I’ve been always opposing and talking in a reasonable way to the representatives of the Congress and until now we were able to stop that kind of law because once you accept abortion, the next step will be to accept euthanasia. This is their global plan. So what is the purpose? Is to destroy life. This is the culture of death that John-Paul II was always warning us about.
Q) And yet you have said that you see and consider the continent Latin America as being the renaissance of Faith and the renaissance of the Catholic Church in the world. How can you be so optimistic with so many “body blows” that are coming at you?
A) Because we are a people of faith. Especially the poor. The Church has always made an option for the poor, since Medellin in 1968 there was this preferential option. These are the people who come to our Churches. They support the catechesis, the Sacraments and so they will ask the Church to guide them, not the UN.
Q) In light of this idea of optimism, you told a story to your seminarians about the falling tree in the forest. Can you tell us about this?
A) We are a very young nation. 42% of our population is under the age of 15. And so many people say that the young are lost. There are too many in gangs. I said “no”. That is what is publicized because there is more noise from a falling tree in the forest than from the multitude of trees growing up. Of course we hear the big noise but we don’t see that the majority of our young people are good and they are following Christ. I celebrate the Sacrament of Confirmation every year and we have nearly 10,000 - and this is beautiful because these are not kids but young men and women who have decided to follow Christ and live their Christian life. So our main challenge is how to accompany them after Confirmation in order to make an option for life – for marriage or consecrated life. There are many, many reasons for hope and most of the young people want to follow Christ.
Q) You said once: “We have to be like stained glass windows”.
A) Yes, because you know, we are just like stained glass windows which reflect the light that comes from Christ and we have to be like those beautiful stained glass windows in the big Cathedrals; plenty of light and plenty of colour in order to present the beauty of the Christian life to the young.
This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for "Where God Weeps," a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
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On the Net: For more information: www.WhereGodWeeps.org
Our Lady of Suyapa
Feast: February 3. The tiny image of Our Lady of Suyapa was found by a humble young peasant on a Saturday in January, 1747. Alejandro Colindres, and Lorenzo Martinez, an eight year old boy, were returning to the village of Suyapa, tired from working all day gathering corn. They were half way there when night fell as they reached the Piligüin ravine. This seemed to them like a good place to spend the night and they laid down on the hard ground. Right away Alejandro felt that something, apparently a stone, was preventing his finding a comfortable position for his back. In the dark, he picked it up and threw it far away. Strangely enough, on lying down again he felt the same discomfort, but - intrigued - this time he did not throw it, instead he put it away in his knapsack. At day break he discovered that the mysterious object was a charming small image of Our Lady carved in cedar wood. Our Lady of Suyapa measures only six and a half centimeters. It is a very old carving, probably the work done with devotion by an amateur artist. Her angelic looks reflect the nobility of the native race. It is a dark image with an oval face and shoulder length straight hair: her tiny hands are joined together in a prayerful attitude. The original painted color of her robe is light pink, which now can be seen slightly, covered by a dark cloak trimmed with golden stars and adorned with valuable jewels. The object of great veneration on the part of the Honduran people, the image rests on a solid silver sphere, and appears surrounded by a circle of silver rays, which evoke "the woman dressed by the sun" mentioned in the Book of Revelation. In 1925, Pius XIIl declared Our Lady of Suyapa patroness of the Republic of Honduras, and the 3rd of February was chosen as her feast day with proper Mass and office. The first shrine was blessed in 1780 and the first notable attested miracle, occurred in 1796. The present enormous church, with space for the multitude of pilgrims who visit Suyapa, was visited by John Paul II in 1983. In the land of the poor, this sanctuary of Santa Maria de Suyapa is located in one of the humblest parts of the city.
 Food and Agricultural Organization: A UN organization.
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