Cardinal Maradiaga on Poverty and Optimism, Part 1

Interview With Honduran Prelate, President of Caritas

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ROME, JAN. 10, 2011 ( Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga says one of his great loves is teaching seminarians on their way to the priesthood. He adds that the first question to ask these young men is about their love for Christ, since a priest is «not following an idea or a theory or just a person from the past,» but rather «a living Christ who is in the midst of all of us and who calls us every day.»

This is one of the reflections that the Honduran cardinal, archbishop of Tegucigalpa and president of Caritas Internationalis, made in an interview with the television program «Where God Weeps» of the Catholic Radio and Television Network (CRTN) in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

In this first part of the interview, the cardinal gives an inside look at his own Salesian vocation and the Marian devotion of Hondurans. In part two, which ZENIT will publish Tuesday, Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga will speak about corruption in Latin America and why the situation of the youth is reason for hope.

Q: You entered the Salesians at a tender age of 19. Did you have an early sense of your vocation?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: I had it when I was 10. Actually I was in grammar school and I wanted to go to the aspirants when I was 12, when I finished grammar school, but my father said: “No you will not go because you are too vivacious and they are going to send you home after one day.» Later, I understood that he was right. And he said: “When you finish high school I will take you to the seminary.” And that was the story. I entered when I was 16. I was taken to the aspirants, then I went to the novitiate and then started as a Salesian at the age of 18.

Q: Who or what was decisive in your decision making process?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: I had the good fortune of studying in a Salesian school. I was impressed especially by the care they had for us young people. The spirit that was in our school: playing, singing, praying and studying hard. We had to be sent out of the school when the day was over because we didn’t want to go to our homes. We had a beautiful spirit. And then one day the director, my former archbishop, as we were coming from Mass asked me: “Would you like to be a priest?” and I said, “Of course,” and that was it.

Q: You have said that one of your great loves is teaching in the seminary. What would be the first question that you would ask a young man who expresses an interest in entering the seminary?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: The first is his love for Christ because this is the key. You are not following an idea or a theory or just a person from the past. You are following a living Christ who is in the midst of all of us and who calls us every day. So that’s the first question.

Q: You have said that there are two things that unite the Honduran people: The soccer team and Our Lady of Suyapa. Can you tell me about Our Lady of Suyapa and what is the love of the Honduran people for Our Lady?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Well, you know, it’s a small image. It is only six centimeters (less than half an inch) high. It’s a wooden image and it was found in 1747, when our people were » melting away.» It is calculated that when the Spaniards came in 1502 there were only 200,000 Hondurans. Why? Because in the eighth century the Mayas migrated to Guatemala and then to the Yucatan, thus leaving the land almost abandoned or empty. Some say that there was a war between the tribes, others say that there was an epidemic, others say that “El Niño” had exhausted the land and it was not possible to cultivate any more. In any case, the fact is that there were few left and so our nationality was melting away. In this context, Our Lady was found there. The image was found.

Q: Is it a miraculous image?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: Yes it’s very miraculous. It is a wooden image that was found in the mountain by two peasants sleeping in the open air. A young man felt something under his back. He threw it away three times (but continued to feel it under his back) and on the third time the other man said: “Put it in your sack and tomorrow we will see what it is.» When they arrived in the small village where they lived called Suyapa — in the Indian language it means “place of palm trees” — they saw it was an image and they started praying, and miracles started, until it was possible to make a small church and then another one and now we have a big shrine.

Q: Latin America is not without challenges. You yourself stated that “globalization” is the greediness of the few, which is leaving the majority on the margins of history. Is this something that we can say is particularly acute today, especially now with the financial crisis?

Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga: The Holy Father has been repeatedly stating that it’s a crisis of ethics that has left most of the population of our world on the outside. In the beginning it was like a marginalization, but not exclusion. Today there’s not even a margin for them. I am the president of Caritas Internationalis, so I know that the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said there was no money to alleviate poverty in the world. Seven billion dollars would have been enough and one month later they were giving $600 billion to save some of the banks of the world and they’ll never stop pouring money into the “sack” because it’s a ripped sack. They still haven’t touched the bottom and they continue pouring and pouring money into it. If you divide the $600 billion dollars between the 6.5 billion inhabitants of the world … poverty would disappear immediately.

[Part 2 of this interview will be published Tuesday]

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This interview was conducted by Mark Riedemann for «Where God Weeps,» a weekly television and radio show produced by Catholic Radio and Television Network in conjunction with the international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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