One of the most important Brazilian religious figures of the XX century, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns,from São Paulo, celebrated his 90th birthday this past September 14th. He was my teacher when He came back from the Sorbonne, in Agudos, Sao Paulo, when I was still wearing shorts, and after that, in Petropolis, Rio de Janeiro, when I was already a friar, professor of Liturgy and of theology of the Fathers of the Early Church. He demanded that we read them in their original languages, Greek and Latin, which instilled in me a profound love for the classics of Christian thinking. Later, he was elected auxiliary bishop of Sao Paulo. To protect him, because he defended human rights and –at the risk of his own life– denounced the torture of political prisoners in the dungeons of the organisms of repression, Pope Paul VI made him a Cardinal.
Prophetic, but as gentle as a Saint Francis, he always maintained the dimension of hope, even during the long night of the dictatorship. Everyone who saw him could hear, without fail, as I did, these firm and strong words: «courage, always forward, from hope to hope.»
Valor, or courage, it is an urgently needed virtue at present. I like to seek the deepest meaning of human values in the wisdom of the original peoples. This is why, at the Earthcharter gathering celebrated in The Hague, on June 29, 2010, where I actively participated alongside Mercedes Sosa, when she was still alive, I asked Pauline Tangiora, an old Maori woman from New Zealand, what was to her the most important virtue. To my surprise, she said: «courage». I asked her again: «why exactly courage?» She replied:
«We need courage to stand up for what is right where injustice reigns. Without courage we cannot reach the top of any mountain; without courage you can never reach the depth of your soul. To face suffering, you need courage; only with courage you can lend a hand to and lift a fallen one. We need courage to raise sons and daughters for this world. To find courage we have to unite with the Creator. It is the Creator who elicits from us the courage to struggle for justice.»
This is the courage Cardinal Arns instilled in all who strongly opposed those who stole democracy from us, and who detained, tortured and murdered, in the name of the Security of the National State (in reality, in the name of the security of capital.).
I would add: we need courage today to denounce the mirages of the neoliberal system, whose theses have been thoroughly debunked by the facts; courage to recognize that we are not headed for an encounter with global warming, but that we are already within that global warming; courage to show the causal links between the undeniable extreme events, the consequences of this global warming; courage to show that Gaia is seeking her lost equilibrium, which may result in the elimination of thousands of species and, if we are not careful, also the elimination of ours; courage to denounce the irresponsibility of those who make decisions, who still continue with the vain and dangerous objective of growth and more growth, taking from the Earth goods and services she can no longer replenish and thus weaken her, day after day; courage to recognize that the refusal to change the paradigm of the relationship between the Earth and the means of production will unfailingly lead us down a path of no return, thereby endangering our civilization; courage to undertake the option for the poor and against their poverty and in favor of life and justice, as the Church of liberation and Don Paulo Evaristo Arns do.
We need courage to say that Western Civilization is in mortal decline, unable to offer an alternative to the process of globalization; courage to recognize that the strategies of the Vatican to regain the Church’s lost visibility and credibility are illusory, and that the media-churches are reducing the message of Jesus to a cheap sedative to banish the realities of the poor from their consciences, in a shameless process of childishness of the faithful; courage to declare that a humanity that had come to see God in the universe, the carrier of conscience and responsibility, can still rescue the vitality of Mother Earth and save our essay of civilization; courage to affirm that, taking everything together, life has a greater future that death, and that a small ray of light is more potent than all the obscurity of a dark night.
To declare and to denounce all this, as Cardinal Arns and Indigenous Maori Pauline Tangiori did, we need courage… Lots of courage.