Bombs and balm

Remembering Orlando Letelier and Ronni Karpen Moffit

by Ken Sehested

        Recently declassified documents confirmed what many had long suspected, that former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet ordered the 1976 assassination of former diplomat Orlando Letelier, along with his colleague, Ronni Karpen Moffit, in Washington, DC. This news is of especially personal significance.

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       Surely I was not the only church-going, hymn-singing preschooler who wondered why a “bomb in Gilead” was worthy congregational music. Mine was a faith tradition which mostly kept the news of “the world” at bay, except of course when liquor by the drink was on the electoral ballot. It would take a while to dislodge those habits of piety. Read more ›

"God acted as a father who has two daughters"

A theological rationale for the conquest of the Americas

       Writing 1571 in opposition to Bartolomé de las Casas’ advocay for indigeneous citizens of the Americas, an unnamed Spanish church official in Peru penned the following parable as a theological rationale for conquest:

       "God acted . . . as a father who has two daughters: one very white, full of grace and gentility; the other very ugly, bleary-eyed, stupid and bestial. If the first is to be married, she doesn't need a dowry, but only to be put in the palace and those who want to marry her would compete for her. For the ugly, stupid, foolish wretch, it isn't enough to give her a large dowry, many jewels, lovely magnificent, and expensive clothes. . . .

Diego Rivera, 1951, Palacio Nacional in Ciudad de México

       "God did the same for us. Certainly we were all unfaithful, be it Europe or Asia; but in their natural state they have great beauty, much science and discretion. Little was needed for the apostles and apostolic men to betroth those souls with Jesus Christ by the faith of baptism. Read more ›

Witness to villainy

An excerpt from Bartolomé de las Casas’ documentation of Spanish conquest in the Americas

       If you want to read about a European pioneer on Columbus Day, learn about Bartolomé de las Casas. His story is one of unfolding repentance over the course of his life in regard to treatment of the indigenous population of the Spanish conquest of the “New World.”

        Born in 1484, Las Casas first traveled to the island of Hispaniola in 1502 along with his father, a Spanish merchant. Initially he participated in and profited from Spain’s enslavement of the population. In 1510 he was the first priest to be ordained in the Americas.

Right: Statue of Bartolomé de las Casas in San Cristóbal, Chiapas, Mexico.

        That same year a group of Spanish Dominicans arrived in Santo Domingo, and they were appalled at the injustices. Specifically, the Dominican Fray Antonio de Montesinos expressed public outrage, which had a significant effect on Las Casas and, in time, prompted him to become an equally outspoken opponent of the conquest. Read more ›

More Merton quotes

Supplement to the “Signs of the Times” special edition (No. 40) on Thomas Merton

§ It may be true that every prophet is a pain in the neck, but it is not true that every pain in the neck is a prophet. There is no more firmly entrenched expression of the false self than the self-proclaimed prophet.

§ The twofold weakness of the Augustinian [just war] theory is its stress on a subjective purity of intention which can be doctored and manipulated with apparent “sincerity” and the tendency to pessimism about human nature and the world, now used as a justification for recourse to violence.

§ While we learn to be humble and virtuous as individuals, we allow ourselves to commit the worst crimes in the name of "society."  We are gentle in our private life in order to be murderers as a collective group.  For murder, committed by an individual, is a great crime.  But when it becomes war or revolution, it is represented as the summit of heroism and virtue.

§ In the old days, on Easter night, the Russian peasants used to carry the blest fire home from church. The light would scatter and travel in all directions through the darkness, and the desolation of the night would be pierced and dispelled as lamps came on in the windows of the farm houses, one by one. Even so the glory of God sleeps everywhere, ready to blaze out unexpectedly in created things. Even so God’s peace and order lie hidden in the world, even the world of today, ready to reestablish themselves, in God’s own good time: but never without the instrumentality of free options made by free people. Read more ›

The quotable Thomas Merton

Introduction to a "Signs of the Times" collection of Thomas Merton quotes

by Ken Sehested

My favorite definition of God is Thomas Merton’s:
God is “mercy within mercy within mercy.” —Mary Lou Kownacki, OSB

A special issue of “Signs of the Times” devoted to Thomas Merton (31 January 1915 – 10 December 1968) quotes was already in the works, to mark the centennial of his birth. But when Pope Francis, in his historic address to a joint session of Congress, lifted his name for special recognition (along with three other Americans), it seemed timely to move up the schedule. Read more ›