As our modest little tribute to Pedro Casaldàliga – the Spanish-born ‘bishop of the poor’ of the Brazilian Amazon and indeed the world over who died Saturday at 92 – we at Novena are publishing texts from the prophet and poet in which he himself explains some of his visionary and intensely gospel-driven ideas for the Church and the world.

Sunday we published an excerpt from a circular letter Casaldàliga wrote in 2009 in which he insisted on the need for Church and society “to radicalize the search for justice and peace, for human dignity and equality in otherness”.

Today we publish an extract from another circular letter the bishop-prophet wrote in 1999 entitled “Jacob’s Ladder”, in which he sets out his dreams for the Church and world of the Christian 21st century and third millenium.

“In the measure in which the criminal inequality increases in the world, the option for the poor appears ever more as an essential constitutive element of the Church of Christ”

… Soon we will be entering into the 21st century, into the third (Christian) millennium. You will recall the saying about… “It will either be mystical or it will not be.” Well, thinking about the great challenges with which reason, faith and hope confront us, I would reformulate that saying in this way:

  • The 21st century will be mystical or it will not be human. Because mysticism is that profound sense of life, that opening to the horizon of God, that search for the ultimate response.
  • The 21st Christian century will make an option for the excluded or it will not be Christian. In the measure in which the criminal inequality increases in the world, excluding human majorities from life and dignity, the option for the poor appears ever more as an essential constitutive element of the Church of Christ.
  • The 21st Christian century will be ecumenical or it will not be ecclesial. It could be a multi-colored blooming of minicristianisms without evangelical consistency or a witnessing communion, but it will not be the Church of Jesus, witness of the Pasch, sent “so that the world may believe.”
  • The 21st century will be ecological or it simply will “not be.” Not that I believe that we are coming to the end of the world in that ballyhooed year 2000, but according to the sciences and experiences which seem to indicate that we are all bent upon doing away with our air, our water, our forests, our life. Ecology is the great pending political issue, and it needs to be ever more: ethics, theology, spirituality.

This our new year, our new millennium which is at hand, has to open itself sincerely to dialogue with God, with the God of all names, with the God of all religions, with the God of all countenances, questions and hopes.

It has to be open increasingly to fraternal dialogue with nature, life of our life, house of our hearth. It has to undertake a dialogue that is open, joyful, enriching, between men and women, between peoples and cultures, between the two or three or four worlds that tragically now exist, in order to construct another world, the globalization and solidarity of humanity beautifully plural and one.

My Augustinian friends, men and women, in a recent meeting from Latin America and the Caribbean, also dreamed about a “new” new millennium, and proposed these just alternatives to inhuman neoliberalism:

  1. Social supremacy instead of market supremacy
  2. Efficacious solidarity instead of corrosive individualism
  3. Cultural affirmation instead of the idolatry of globalization
  4. Economic and social inclusion instead of mass unemployment
  5. Human rights instead of violence and impunity
  6. A social and participatory state instead of a minimal and police state
  7. Respectful ecumenism instead of fundamentalistic sectarianism


As Church and for the Church, during this last year I also have dreamt much, with many brothers and sisters, about the great Church of Jesus. And from different places I have been asked precisely to make explicit those dreams. Here I am sharing with you some of them, already well known dreams of my vigils:

– In our faith, theology and spirituality look again at the God whom we adore and about whom we dogmatize and preach, because perhaps that does not always correspond to the true God, to the God of Jesus, in plain language.

– To live ecumenism, but in reality, passing very concretely from an ecumenism of intentions, meetings and generalities to a mutual recognition of the Churches as being the Church of Jesus.

Why not? What would the Church lose, what would the Gospel lose, what would God lose with a real ecumenism lived in the Spirit?

Certainly we would have to relativize many things and review what is faith, what is culture, what is history, what is prejudice, and passionately adhere to the testimony of the Lord Jesus: “That they may be one, Father!” […]

– Acknowledge the option for the poor – today the majority of excluded humanity – as an essential commitment of the Gospel and as such also essential to the Church of Jesus, a true “mark” of its identity.

– For the Church to decentralize itself “catholicly,” inculturating itself in every people and empowering the identity and the otherness of the local Churches and of the episcopal conferences; consequently revising the way of exercising the ministry of Peter and all the ministry of the Church, and making possible the adult and corresponsible participation of lay men and women.

Fr. Haring, who has recently passed to the full liberty of the Reign, used to say that “the Church needs Christian women and men of adult maturity, the vanguard of true liberty and responsibility, pioneers in the world of social justice and of the politics of peace.”

– To draw nearer, in the manner of the Samaritan, to all the anxieties, troubles, sufferings and hopes of Humanity, and to bring to it the light and oil of the Good News of the love of God.

The patriarch Georges Hourdin in his last book, The Old Man and the Church (paraphrasing Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea) dreams that the Church might more and more have “the capacity of the Gospel, taken up by men and women alike, to turn to the future world with thoughts of humanity and happiness.”

So Hourdin is in tune, from his faith and his culture, with the desperate faith and misery of the campesino in the song: “What does ‘blessed’ mean? I surely know what ‘poor’ means!” […]

For more texts by Casaldàliga in English, follow this link to the Koinonia website

Next on Novena:

Bishop-prophet Casaldàliga, in his own words (I): “We need to radicalise the search for justice, peace, human dignity and equality”

Pedro Casaldàliga, Spanish-born ‘bishop of the poor’ in Brazil and hero of liberation theology, dies at 92