(Source: Leonardo Boff, Brazilian liberation theologian; translation: Novena)
Bishop Pedro Casaldàliga (he did not like the title of don) was transfigured on August 8, 2020 at the age of 92. A Catalan, he came to Brazil and was consecrated bishop in 1971 for the Prelature of São Félix do Araguaia-MT [Mato Grosso state – ed.].
He was an exemplary shepherd, a courageous prophet, a poet of great stature and a mystic with his eyes wide open. His 1971 Pastoral Letter “A Church in the Amazon in Conflict with Serfdom and Social Marginalisation” brought him several death threats and threats of being expelled from the country by the military dictatorship.
Here I will only touch on some themes of his poetry and mysticism that are in line with the great Spanish tradition of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávila.
Some of his works are in Spanish, others in Portuguese.
He lived evangelical poverty to an extreme degree: “To have nothing, to take nothing, not to be able to take anything, and, on the journey, to kill nothing, to silence nothing. Only the Gospel as a sharp knife and a look of weeping and laughter, the outstretched and ready hand, and life already there. And this sun and these rivers and this bought land as witnesses of an already-cracked resurrection. And nothing else”.
Courageously he says before the oppressors: “Where you say law, I say God. Where you say peace, justice, love, I say God. Where you say God, I say freedom, justice, love”. These values are the true names of God.
Threatened with death, he wrote a Song to Death:
“… May you haunt me, dark one, clothed in fear and shadow. May I haunt you, dark one, clothed in hope and glory. You haunt me in silence, I haunt you with song. You haunt me with a sting, I haunt you with a laurel wreath.
“May you haunt me, may I haunt you. You to kill, me to be born. May I haunt you, may you haunt me. You with war and death, me with war and Peace. May you haunt me in me, or in the poor of my people or in the famines of the living or in the accounts of the dead. You will haunt me in a bullet, you will haunt me in the night, you will haunt me in the wing, you will haunt me in the car. You will haunt me in the bridge, you will haunt me in the river, kidnapping, accident, torture, martyrdom; feared, called, sold, bought, lied, felt, silenced, sung.
“May you haunt me, may I haunt you, may we haunt you, all of us, me, and Him. If with Him we die, with Him we will live: With Him I die alive, For Him I live dead. You will haunt us, but we will catch you”.
But he was afraid of nothing:
“And I will come at night with the happy amazement of seeing that I have walked day after day on the palm of your own hand”.
This poem takes us back to the Spiritual Canticle of St. John of the Cross:
“‘No through way here now’. To where is there no way? If we don’t have their wine, will chicha not do?”.
“Will those who go with us live to see the day? How can we have a party if we haven’t any bread? What path will you take to heaven, other than earth? For whom will you go to Carmel, if you go up and don’t come down?
“Will the balm of the law heal our old wounds? Are this King’s battles fought with flags or lives? Does mission find its harvest in the curia or in the street? /If you let the Wind be still, what will you hear in prayer?
“Without hearing the Voice of the Wind, what words will you bear? What will your offering be, if not yourselves in what you give? If you let Hope and Truth yield to the Empire’s sway, who will tell the mystery of the fullness of freedom?”
He lived in a wooden “palace” of extreme simplicity. He identified so much with the murdered Indians and peones that he wanted to be buried in the “Cemetery of the Interior” where they, anonymously, lie:
“To rest, I only want this wooden cross, like the rain and the sun, these seven palms and the Resurrection”.
And so he imagined the Great Encounter with the Beloved who served the damned of the earth:
“At the end of the road you will say to me…
And you, did you live? Did you love?
And I, without saying anything,
I will open my heart full of names…”
The cry of his prophecy, the total dedication of a Pastor to the most oppressed, the poetry that will nourish our beauty, and his open and practical mysticism will remain as a perennial legacy to the Christian communities, to our country that he loved and to all humanity.