There Can Be No Social Change without a Change of the Heart

Peruvian Bishop Speaks of the Challenges in Evangelizing the Poor

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ROME, SEPT. 28, 2012 ( Liberation Theology and the role of the Catholic Church in the lives of the poor were discussed by Bishop Martin Kay Schmalhausen SCV, Bishop of the Prelature of Ayaviri, Peru.

Bishop Schmalhausen was interviewed by Johannes Habsburg for the program «Where God Weeps,» in cooperation with Aid to the Church in Need.

Q: Peru is the country where Liberation Theology was born and that also brought reflections that, while very beautiful and interesting, were not the answer to poverty and social injustice and not an authentic Christian response. Why is Liberation Theology not that answer that the church can offer to these challenges of injustice and the need?

Bishop Schmalhausen: The perspective was wrong, very wrong unfortunately. We need liberation, liberation of the human heart from sin. We cannot make that liberation, Jesus Christ makes it, it is he who reconciles us, it is he who forgives us, it is he who makes a man new again and makes us new. That’s the only, the authentic liberation that is capable of arousing and achieve real social change. Social change begins in the human heart.

Q. But with Liberation Theology, the roles were reversed…

Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, according to it, it is we who frees man, who liberates society, we who are here to restore the dignity of the human person and Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, the Savior became a political leader. In this reversal of roles, we have lost a lot of energy, and we have left a long open field for much confusion and bewilderment. In that sense, you cannot think of Liberation Theology in partnership with the principles of Marxism, seeks a social demand of the poor simply for economic, social, political reasons … forgetting that the whole question of man is in his heart. And that heart is transformed, transfigured by the Lord and by his grace.

Q: But precisely atheist-Marxist approach leads to heart more violence and conflict.

Bishop Schmalhausen: I think here we have a very serious problem; liberation theology posed a direct opposition to the Gospel, something which hadn’t been seen. A conflictual perspective that belies, radically, the dynamics of love and reconciliation that the Lord has come to bring; No hate, but unity: unity in truth and in love and that’s what makes reconciliation.

Q: If this is not the answer to social injustice, but inequalities still exist, what we can offer in response? How does the Church respond to this challenge?

Bishop Schmalhausen: I think there are different levels to answer this. First, I think it is a mistake that as a Church we pretend to substitute the State. The State has a responsibility, a social role and must assume it, it must assume this role and not think that others will do it. In the region where I live, for example, there is a lack of state and it is certainly a shout, we would say, that is compelling.

Q: And is that where the Church is called to subsidize?

Bishop Schmalhausen: Yes, the Church cannot ignore the personal, family, and social concerns and anxieties that  God’s people live in, that our faithful live in and therefore we have to be close to them. Wherever possible, we have tried, but certainly my Prelature, which I can say in all honesty, is bankrupt, but by aid of others, of generous Catholics also of some companies who see the importance, the social responsibility they have in the area, we have been able through Caritas to organize some activities of importance in the area of health, drinking water for communities, education, and so we put our grain of sand.

Q: But that’s not all the help that is expected from the Church, only at that level?

Bishop Schmalhausen: Exactly, that’s only one level, then the other level is the level of evangelization, that means an announcement of the Gospel, close, clear, direct that really satisfies the hunger for God within people’s hearts. There is no social justice, there will be no social justice if you do not touch and help the conversion of hearts. And I have no hesitation in saying, here where I live and where the vast majority is very poor, however the injustices among themselves can be atrocious.

Q: I mean everyone needs a change of heart, not just the wealthy.

Bishop Schmalhausen: Correct. The first task of the church is this, without however neglecting the other side of effective charity, charity that gives concrete help. But the first task of evangelization of the church is the conversion of the heart. Therefore, a priority for us is the presence of priests, religious communities and our well trained laity – catechists and leaders in Christian communities where there are no priests – so that together, we as a body shape ourselves and grow and mature in the faith.

Q: You found your calling in a full Christian church movement, how do we wake up the lay people in Latin America to transform the world in Christ? It is a challenge because the lay often separates faith from their real life, how do we break that artificial barrier that we have created?

Bishop Schmalhausen: We need to help the Christian life to be part of everyday life. We need to overcome the divorce between faith I profess, that I say and then what I  sometimes do that has anything to do with that faith. This is in regards to parish communities. It is undisputed, moreover, that the Holy Spirit has raised in the bosom of the church – as we have heard so many times from [Pope] John Paul II and our beloved Pope Benedict XVI – the presence of movements. They are a touch of the Holy Spirit, an action of the Holy Spirit in the Church, to assist in this task that lay people can live a personal Christian commitment in a particular community in which they feel they have a sense of belonging and rootedness and then where they also learn to project their faith in a commitment to society.

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This interview was conducted by Johannes Habsburg 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.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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