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Mexican priest and social justice leader says Christ’s love for poor is key to Church renewal
March 4th, 2009
By Rick DelVecchio

Christ’s love for the poor is key to renewing a Church mired in drab pragmatism, says Father Camilo Perez, a social justice leader for the Church in Mexico.


A vital Church in the Americas will be less about administration and doctrine and more about bearing witness to those who lack human dignity-especially to the migrants whose search for dignity forces them to move to the centers of wealth despite the rising risks of relocating, said Father Perez. He spoke at a Feb. 27 breakfast meeting hosted by Auxiliary Bishop William Justice at St. Mary’s Cathedral.


”Our Church unfortunately is living a pragmatic crisis of daily life-the grayness of the pragmatic life,” said Father Perez, a diocesan vicar under Bishop Juan Guillermo Soto in Cuauhtmoc-Madera, Mexico, and former secretary general of the Conference of Mexican Bishops for Justice and Peace.


The prophetic vision of the Church is degenerating, he said.


”We need to start again-go to the deep roots in the Bible,” he said. “We need to revitalize our way of being Catholic.”


Several Archdiocese of San Francisco offices, the Spanish-speaking choirs of the Archdiocese and Trabajo Cultural Caminante, a non-profit organization concerned with the experience of migrant people sponsored the meeting. Speaking to an audience that included visitors from Latin America and Catholic social justice ministry workers in the Archdiocese and neighboring dioceses, Father Perez addressed the political crisis in Mexico and its effects on immigration in the United States.


The meeting came amid growing concerns about the well being of migrants on both sides of the border. Advocates for migrant rights are alarmed about the threat to mobility caused by rising drug-related violence in Mexico and arms trafficking across the border. In the United States, they want an end to workplace raids targeting undocumented workers and are seeking comprehensive immigration reform from the Obama Administration and Congress.


Janet Napolitano, President Obama’s Homeland Security Secretary, has ordered reviews of many of the department’s programs, including worksite enforcement, immigration detention and combating border violence and drug smuggling. She has said she is particularly concerned about drug-related violence in Mexico and southbound traffic in assault weapons and cash.


”The situation in Mexico is one of the top priority items on my desk,” she told the House Homeland Security Committee in testimony Feb. 26. “Mexico has issues of violence that are of a different degree and level than anything we’ve ever seen before.”


There were 6,000 drug-related homicides in Mexico last year and there have been a thousand since January, she said.


The crisis presents the Church in the Americas with a “great continental mission” to renew Christ’s vision and appeal to Catholics who are leaving the Church because they are not finding spiritual fulfillment, Father Perez said.


”Sincere people who leave the Church aren’t doing so for dogmatic reasons but for testimonial reasons, for lived experience,” Father Perez said. “They’re leaving because they are not finding testimony to their faith.”


The Church should respond with “profound pastoral communion,” he said, arguing for a greater role for the laity and for deacons in ministering to the poor. He also called for a shift in clerical priorities from administration to bearing witness to the lives of the poor-pastoring “from the gut,” as he put it.


”The Church is not a proselytizing agency but a work of attraction,” Father Perez said. “Dignity of life is the central point. It’s not about getting members. The most important thing is the struggle for a dignified life for everybody.”


He said the 5th general conference of Latin American bishops, held in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, reaffirmed the preferential treatment of the poor as the heart of the Church’s mission. He held up the conference as a guide for the Church’s response to the migration crisis today.


At the core of the crisis is a quest for dignity as people “are forced to migrate to the poles of wealth” to find meaning in their lives, said Father Perez, who recalled serving as a pastor in a Mexican community where all the young had fled and the fields had turned barren. Under these conditions the freedom to relocate is so important as to be a human right, he argued. The Church must play its part in showing nations that the migration crisis is primarily one of human dignity.


”You might say we’re asking Santa Claus for a gift-universal citizenship,” Father Perez said.


From March 6, 2009 issue of Catholic San Francisco.


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