Dialogue at the Bishop's House

Interview With Peruvian Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro

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By Jose Antonio Varela Vidal

VATICAN CITY, JULY 5, 2012 (Zenit.org).- Last June 29, Solemnity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Pope Benedict XVI conferred the pallium on the metropolitan archbishops whom he appointed over the past year. Among them was Archbishop Salvador Piñeiro of Ayacucho, Peru, who, since January of this year, is also president of the Peruvian Episcopal Conference.

ZENIT spoke with him about the challenges of his work as head of one of the poorest jurisdictions of the country, from where the terrorist Shining Path group spread at the beginning of the 1980s.

ZENIT: What is the meaning of the pallium conferred on you by the Holy Father?

Archbishop Piñeiro: They are signs that have so much richness, so much expression in the Church. It is about arriving in Rome to meet with the Successor of Peter for him to confer on one this sign of communion, of affection, of concern and solicitude for our Churches.

ZENIT: The pallium is made of sheep’s wool.

Archbishop Piñeiro: Yes, because it is an insignia made with the wool of sheep, blessed by the Pope and raised by Benedictine nuns. This emblem that the Holy Father places on the shoulders of a bishop reminds us that we must be good shepherds who must look after our flock.  

ZENIT: It also has some crosses and golden pins. What do they mean?

Archbishop Piñeiro: In those crosses are the virtues which are the strength of the soul, to persevere in the good, to proclaim the truth, to have a capacity to love and to serve with fortitude. And the pins inserted in the crosses, are a reminder of the glorious wounds of Jesus in order to follow Him in virtue, because if we don’t understand the way of the cross, we don’t know where we are going.

Being received from the hands of the Pope, it represents communion with the universal Church, because as a metropolitan archbishop one must also support and look after the suffragan dioceses.

ZENIT: What relationship does a metropolitan have with the suffragan dioceses?

Archbishop Piñeiro: It is an honorary presidency, including some decisions that are made in the archdiocese. I have two, which are the Diocese of Huancavelica and the Prelature of Caraveli. Also in some emergencies, when a suffragan leaves, the government of the local Church is assumed by the metropolitan until a decision is made as to who will head that see. Or when we are sent a consultation on issues of government of the universal Church, the region meets, that is, the metropolitan archbishop with his brothers.

ZENIT: You have already had eight months in the Archdiocese of Ayacucho. What is your diagnosis?

Archbishop Piñeiro: It is a Church in the Andes and very limited by the geographic circumstances. It has a very poor economy, with no valleys, all gorges. There is no industry, there are some very good people whose work is trade, and there is extreme poverty.

ZENIT: Are future generations receiving education?

Archbishop Piñeiro: One of the concerns of the Church is to foment educational formation. We have a technological institute with five careers, with priests who help in teaching, because not only technical things must be learned, but also the Social Doctrine of the Church, and the faith. At the request of the Pope, this year I have personally given each of the students the Catechism of the Catholic Church, because ours is a center of formation of the Church. Not only must there be experts in mechanical or agricultural and health sectors, but there must be laymen who witness to their faith and rely on the Gospel,which is the source of justice and peace.

ZENIT: What resources do you have for this work?

Archbishop Piñeiro: There are 25 parishes that are functioning, although there are others that we should look after better and which are in the most remote areas, or with populations that have declined. However, there are large populated centers looked after by worthy priests who, despite the distances and meager resources, are giving their affection, their witness as guides and pastors of these communities.

ZENIT: Do you have religious who are working with you?

Archbishop Piñeiro: I am pleased to say that in these first months, three religious communities have come voluntarily to help. There are 14 communities that are already established. As good women of faith, they are in the most difficult areas, looking after abandoned children, the elderly, where priests have yet to arrive. I am overwhelmed to recall how in the difficult hours of terrorism, they were sowing the seed of reconciliation and love.

ZENIT: Since being president of the Peruvian Episcopate, you have experienced several conflicts in the south and north of the country, which have called for the Church’s mediation. 

Archbishop Piñeiro: We have grown used, in recent times, to the confrontations. We see that the people go out to protest and in the end one does not know exactly why. Then the topics of justice and politics interfere with one another. That is why dialogue is important, and that the house of the bishop, the episcopal curia, must be a neutral place where points of view are expressed and clarified. Sometimes we end up discussing and forget the main topic, the beginning of the difficulty. We don’t know how to dialogue. We have lost that ability to seek the truth. How well Saint Paul teaches, when he says that truth must be sought in charity, because we don’t possess the answer but must seek the solution together in dialogue.

ZENIT: It is difficult to call for unity,

Archbishop Piñeiro: Another issue is the sense of assembly. I am respectful of democracy, but once a decision is made, and a regional or local government is elected, we must all don the jersey of Peru to go forward. Just because one isn’t elected, because one is of the opposition, one cannot devise schemes to get someone out, instead of putting shoulder to the wheel and working for the country. Eventually there will be a process and there will be new elections, because that is democracy, then there will be opportunities to find ways of the solution proposed. But now we must all contribute our initiatives, we must bet on Peru.

ZENIT: In every dialogue there is disagreement, isn’t there?

Archbishop Piñeiro: We can disagree, we see things differently, and this disagreement is healthy. However, what is never democratic – and is anti-Peruvian –, is discord in the heart, discord that foments hatred, enmity, which avoids concord. By temperament and vocation, I believe we must be people who seek consensus, who talk, who dialogue to discover the great motivations.

ZENIT: I am curious to know what your episcopal motto is.

Archbishop Piñeiro: It is Psalm 18, “the Lord is my fortress.” We can have many projects, talk a lot, but if Jesus isn’t there, if his Gospel doesn’t strengthen me, then routine takes over, exhaustion, discouragement. Jesus is our fortress, we must trust Him.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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