Mercy: A View from Salamanca.
By Sr. Mary Joanna O.P Input for the Dominican Seminar January 2017 held at Hinsley Hall, Leeds.
Why Salamanca? Because the General Chapter held in Trogir in 2013 asked for, as part of the agenda of the Jubilee celebration of the 8th Centenary of the approbation of the Order of Preachers, an event, & I quote, “under the Salamanca Process, devoted to the heritage of Vitoria and posterity, to reflect on the challenges that human rights are today..”. In the Acts of that Chapter the definition of the Salamanca process was described as , and I quote, “….consisting of a way of ongoing collaboration between the friars committed to the mission and friars dedicated to studies, as happened in the 16th century among missionaries in the New World and the friars of the Convent of San Estaban de Salamanca”. (ACG Trogir 2013, 112).
Why Salamanca? Because of our Dominican brethren who, in 1508 were sent from Salamanca to the island of Hispaniola at the instigation of Cajetan, master of the Order, and those who remained working in the School of Theology in Salamanca, thinking through the new questions that arose from the treatment of the indigenous people by their conquerors. So we heard of Pedro de Cordoba and Anton Montesinos; of Bartlolomé de las Casas, Francisco Vitoria, Domingo de Soto and Luis Bertran. Why Salamanca? Because Sr. M. Pauline asked me to apply for a place at this Congress– and I got one!
In response to the request of the Trogir General Chapter, the Master, fr. Bruno Cadore asked fr. Mike Deeb (our present permanent representative at the United Nations) to organise such an event. He and Sr. Celestina Veloso Freitas O.P.(from Brazil working in Rome with Dominican Sisters International) organised an International Congress entitled “Dominicans in the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights: past, present, future” for 200 people. They were helped by an amazing team and with wonderful cooperation of the OP Family in Spain and hospitality from the Dominican Community of San Estaban in Salamanca – and 2 other colleges in Salamanca who provided accommodation and meals.
The list I was given only had 193 names – some visas only came at the very last minute. Those on the list were 113 men and 80 women and came from 49 countries: Angola 2, Argentina 4, Austria 1, Australia 6, Belgium 1, Benin 2, Bolivia 1, Brazil 6, Burundi 1, Cameroon 4, China (Hong Kong) 1, China 1, Colombia 6, Congo (Democratic Republic of) 6, Cuba 1, Dominican Republic 3, East Timor 3, France 4, Germany 2, Guatemala 1, India 1, Indonesia 4, Iraq 1 Ireland 3, Italy 16, Ivory Coast 2, Japan 3, Kenya 4, Malta 2, Mexico 4, Myanmar 1, New Zealand 2, Netherlands 1, Nicaragua 1, Nigeria 1, Philippines 9, Poland 2, Portugal 3, Slovakia 2, South Africa 3, Spain 36, Sri Lanka 1, Switzerland 6, Taiwan 2, Turkey 1, UK 5, USA 17, Venezuela 1, and Vietnam 1.
We were a very international gathering of people engaged at various levels in work for Justice & Peace. There was one Jesuit among us and we represented all branches of the Dominican Family except for the Dom. Secular Institute –at least not identified on the list and I did not meet one.
The main aim of the Congress was to bring together the leaders of the intellectual Dominican Institutions along with members of the Dominican Family who are at the forefront of promoting and defending human rights in order to move into the future with a look of hope and searching, wondering what more we can do, and do it as a Dominican Family together, using the model of the Salamanca process. There were inputs that covered the historical aspects of the topic. During one of the inputs we were reminded that, “In the end, all the writings on behalf of the Indians did nothing or little to ameliorate their plight. The battles that were sometimes won in the debating halls of Salamanca or Madrid were nearly always lost among the harsh realities of life in Mexico and Peru.” quoting Tierney, The Idea of Natural Rights, Eerdmans 1997 p256. However these writings eventually helped provide the basis for the RC Church to embrace human rights for all. Fr Frank Brennan SJ reminded us of the privileged avenue the RC Church has to contribute to human rights internationally - its “special observer status” at the UN.
We heard how this work is continued now in the United Nations in USA and in Geneva, in Vienna, Belgium, the Great Lakes area of Africa, in South America and in the Philippines that bring into the local and international arenas facts and testimonies of human rights abuses happening now. Our Dominican representatives at the UN get much of their information by visiting, and keeping in touch with, Dominican brothers and sisters from all branches of the Dominican Family working in very many parts of our world to relieve suffering in many ways. We have Dominican Sisters & brothers, lay and religious, whose witness to the need for the corporal and spiritual works of mercy means that their lives are endangered. They are present where– to give a few examples- war has robbed people of their homes, their livelihoods, even members of their families; where just to be of a different faith can endanger life; where terrible intertribal massacres have taken place and healing has yet to happen; where people are hungry and thirsty, without clean water, or shelter or decent clothing for the climate they live in; without security of tenure of the lands their forebears have cultivated or used for livestock for many generations and where these lands are seized by the powerful and/or Multinational Companies so that minerals can be exploited- leaving the soil and water polluted; where people lack medical help when it is needed and who have little or no access to education and many who are wrongly imprisoned. These Dominican men and women are able by the presence, and therefore first-hand knowledge, to challenge governments about their complicity with the wealthy and/or Multinational Companies in this destruction of homes and livelihoods. They help the people to have a voice, to campaign for justice and to bring injustices to the attention of our representatives at the UN. In some situations their very presence is a safeguard for the indigenous people. Living among the people our sisters & brothers, both by their deeds and words, sometimes alongside others, members of different organisations, witness to the values of Jesus and share the Good News that he came to give. This can at times mean they face death threats because of their witness.
It was a very moving experience for me to be among these Dominicans –and I know there are others, both in the Order and members of other organizations-who are living such courageous lives, willingly sharing the circumstances of those suffering great hardships and giving faithful witness to Gospel values that we know reach back into OT teachings. They do this because they believe it is the right thing for them to do, having been given the obedience by the leaders of their branch in our Order.
Sadly I heard more than once that their mission and work for justice has sometimes been described as, “not part of the Dominican vocation” by some members of their entity within the Order. I find that the command of Jesus that we love one another and Matthew’s description of the judgment at the Second Coming of Our Lord is enough for me to say, “This is doing what Jesus asks of us.” If we look at St. Dominic’s life, while studying he saw the needs of others and sold his books to help them. He saw that people – who were trying to serve God – needed help- through discussion and example – to find the Truth and to see how it is that God wants to be served.
However we are not all called to witness in the same way.
The Salamanca process reminds us of the much needed academic work in the Church to examine the opposing views on several issues and to bring out the difficulties where 2 different “subjects” clash and to provide sound teaching and guidance – as Fr Frank Brennan SJ reminded us. He warned us not to be naïve. “The topic of Human Rights is an ideological battle ground in international civil society. The debates about the limits & development of rights will be determined and won ….. by ascribing rights to those entitlements which pay due regard to all conflicting claims and which promote the common good.”
Francisco de Vitoria, of the Salamanca School in the 16th century wrote, “The office and calling of a theologian is so wide that no argument or controversy on any subject can be considered foreign to [this] profession……. Perhaps this is why there are now, to put it strongly, so few really good and solid theologians.”
Fr. Frank added, “The same might be said of preachers. The world is crying out for good preachers on human rights. We need the work of sound theologians and preachers. He warned us too, “If this work is not done the results might be even worse than the plight of the Indians of the New World in the 16th century.
I cannot do justice in the time available here to all the inputs but it is possible for you to access some of the inputs at this Congress by going into the Internet
I was most moved by a young lay woman, a lawyer in the Philippines. Her presentation gave many facets of the situation in the Philippines as it has been over recent years up to the beginning of September 2016. She lives under threat to her safety because of the work she does trying to get cases of injustice into the courts. In between lecture times one of those I met is a young Philippine Dominican Sister who is working in the far north of the Philippines among people whose traditional land is being used by foreign organizations; who move people from their homes, extract minerals and pollute the soil and the water.
The inputs about the history of the League of Nations being replaced by the United Nations, and the reason behind the giving of the veto to certain Nations, helped me to understand the seemingly impossible task for the United Nations to be an effective agent for peace in a number of the troubled parts of our world. If the parties/countries involved do not want to cooperate with UN declarations or allow Peace keeping forces into their area, there seems to be very little that can be done. There is the situation in Syria for example – and I think too of the Israeli/Palestinian situation and now the Yemen too. You may know of others.
This can only be a glimpse of what the Salamanca Congress meant for me yet I hope you have some sense of the works of Mercy being done by so many in our Order– yet never enough – and not everywhere.
Let us pray for them and for the people that they live among and work with. Let us give thanks for their witness and do what we can to support them.
Let us pray that the Lord will inspire more activity in the field of Human Rights by the best of our theologians, and courage and perseverance for those given this calling.
For further witness to the many expressions of Mercy by members of our Dominican Family there are 2 volumes sharing what has been and is being done: they are, “Preaching Justice I” - the men’s contribution and “Preaching Justice 2”- the women’s contribution, both edited by Helen Alford OP and Francesco Compagnoni OP.
I would like to draw your attention to “Spirituality” the Nov/Dec 2016 volume. Under “Books Noticed”, Joe Egan SMA has written his review of “Preaching Justice volume 2” in poetry form which I think is well worth reading.
Some facts about the Salamanca Congress about Dominicans, Justice & Peace, Past, Present , Future.
We were to be 200 members.
The list I was given only had 193 names – some visas only came at the very last minute. Those on the list were 113 men and 80 women and came from 49 countries:- Angola 2, Argentina 4, Austria 1, Australia 6, Belgium 1, Benin 2, Bolivia 1, Brazil 6, Burundi 1, Cameroon 4, China (Hong Kong) 1, China 1, Colombia 6, Congo (Democratic Republic of) 6, Cuba 1, Dominican Republic 3, East Timor 3, France 4, Germany 2, Guatemala 1, India 1, Indonesia 4, Iraq 1 Ireland 3, Italy 16, Ivory Coast 2, Japan 3, Kenya 4, Malta 2, Mexico 4, Myanmar 1, New Zealand 2, Netherlands 1, Nicaragua 1, Nigeria 1, Philippines 9, Poland 2, Portugal 3, Slovakia 2, South Africa 3, Spain 36, Sri Lanka 1, Switzerland 6, Taiwan 2, Turkey 1, UK 5, USA 17, Venezuela 1, and Vietnam 1.
There was one Jesuit among us, Fr. Frank Brennan S.J. from Australia. We were a very international gathering of people engaged at various levels in work for Justice & Peace. We represented all branches of the OP Family except for the Dominican Secular Institute –at least they were not identified on the list and I did not meet one.