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BBC Newsnight finally offered a different perspective on the Catholic Church on the eve of the conclave to choose the next pope (11 March 2013), profiling a remarkable and inspirational Mexican bishop.
To be clear, Bishop José Raúl Vera López stands no chance of being elected the next pontiff, but he provides a clear signal of the Church that is possible beyond the current stranglehold it finds itself in.
A friar of the Dominican Order who has been Bishop of Saltillo since 2000, this determined, grey-haired man is known for his advocacy for the poor, for human rights and for social justice.
The BBC filmed him offering words of encouragement to striking workers whom he has backed resolutely in a long standing dispute. "If I just talked [to] the bosses, how could I understand the situation and what these people are going through?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
At some considerable personal risk, Raúl Vera has exposed abuses of power, corruption, drug money, the absence of the rule of law and numerous violations of human rights in his northern region. It is plain wrong that in Mexico around half of the 110 million population live below the poverty line, he says.
Talking about the need for the church to be on the streets as well as in the sanctuary, 67-year-old bishop was forthright: "We have often preached religious dogma, but we have not always followed Jesus," he told the BBC.
The views he has espoused have infuriated hard-liners in the Vatican, but they are not those of someone who wants to swap Catholic faith for liberal indulgence. Rather, Bishop Raúl Vera's theological commitments are deeply rooted in the social teaching of the Church, in the community created by the Eucharist, and in pastoral engagement with some of the poorest and most marginalised people. These, animated by a passionate, profound and prayerful commitment to the cause and movement of Jesus in the world are where the true ecclesial community is formed, he believes.
As Christopher Sherman and Galia Garcia-Palafox reported for AP on Christmas Day, the day of the birth of hope at the end of last year: "In late 2007, Mexico City's Human Rights Commission denounced death threats against Vera and a burglary of the diocese's human rights offices. The following year, after Coahuila became the first Mexican state to allow civil unions for gay couples, a move the bishop endorsed, Vera was invited to speak at a US-based conference for a Catholic gay and lesbian organisation. In 2010, he was awarded a human rights prize in Norway."
Fr Robert Coogan, an American priest ordained by Bishop Raúl Vera, and who began an outreach programme to marginalised gay youth in 2001 with his approval, explained simply: "It flows out of his conviction: The church is for everyone."
As the deliberations continue in Rome this week, the witness of people like the Bishop of Saltillo, like the late Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, like Dom Helder Camara of Brazil, and like many thousands of religious, priest and lay people sacrificing themselves in risky ways in demanding situations across the globe, speak an important message: another church is possible. One that has as its priority meeting and serving Christ in those pushed to the edge by top-down politics, top-down economics and top-down religion.
* 'Mexico Bishop Raul Vera inspires, infuriates with activism': http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/25/mexico-bishop-raul-vera-inspire...
* The next Pope, social change and liberation theology: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18143
* Will Cardinal Martini's '200 years out of date' comments echo in the Conclave? http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17976
* Engaging church crises - how 'traditionalism' betrays a truthful tradition: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18101
* Cardinal O'Brien and beyond: the crisis in the Catholic Church: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18066
© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. A member of the Scottish Episcopal Church with strong Anabaptist/Mennonite leanings, he has worked at a Catholic university college in the past, as well as within the ecumenical movement. He has a long-standing interest in, and appreciation for, Catholic spirituality and liturgy, alongside the peace and justice traditions of the Catholic Church.Tweet