Pedro Freedom Casaldáliga – In Memoriam – Obituary

NOTE- The following text is part of a previous and longer article published in 2010 when the book Pedro Casaldáliga: Las causas que dan sentido a su vida (edited by Benjamín Forcano, Nueva Utopía, 2008) was presented in Vitoria (Basque Country). I publish it again here as a tribute to the mystic prophet and poet of freedom and liberation.


“A prophet was raised”, the Bible repeats. Prophets have always existed, and every time a prophet appeared history breathed again. The Spirit of Light and Consolation, the Spirit of goodness and of freedom keeps moving over the waters, fertilizing and incubating them and recreating the world. Prophets have always existed, saviours of the Earth, before and after the Bible, before and after all frontiers, in all ages, in all countries, in all cultures, and also in all religions, thanks to religion and in spite of religion.

A prophet was raised in Sâo Felix de Araguaia, in the State of Mato Grosso, in the green and martyred Amazonia of Brasil: Pedro Casaldáliga. He was a Claretian priest from Catalonia who arrived determined never to look back, but forward, once his hand gripped the plough to work the land and sow the seeds of the Kingdom. He never returned to his country since that year of 1968 when he left for good. No ideological principle was behind his decision, but his determination to be consistent with his ideas until the end and to give himself in full, radically but without radicalisms, and with a touch of that friendly stubborness that Brasilians call “teimosía”. Like the stubborness of Jesus. Pedro, or Pere, remained there since he arrived because he wanted to be word incarnated and liberator on the banks of the Araguaia, like the tapirapé people he evangelized and, above all, was evangelized by them. He became one like them, in body and soul, in his food and clothes (three shirts and two pants, not even one more, like the natives), and, obviously, in his travels, too. He did like Sister Genoveva, of the order of Charles Foucault’s “sisters of Jesus”, who, before him, decided to live with the natives and be like them. She initiated him in being a prophet, teaching him to discover the Word made flesh and mind and life, and even religion, among the tapirape people and all other natives. When in 1971, he reluctantly accepted to be ordained Bishop, his life and clothing did not change and he continued being a prohet like before. And he remained there when he retired in 2005, with his faith and fight as always: the land and the natives. And he is still there, practically secluded at home because of “brother Parkinson”, without losing his full mental capacity, the fire of his heart, and his witty word. A prophet standing upright until the end, or until the beginning of the end which will arrive when it may.

Like all prophets, the heart of Casaldáliga is full of sacred compassion and sacred rage: from compassion to rage and rage from compassion. So was Jesus, compassionate and subversive, from the mountain of the Beautitudes to the Calvary mountain, from the humble villages of Galilee to the magnificent Temple of Jerusalem. Once, when he accompanied workers who were cutting down trees under the guns of landowners, with fire in his heart and his pocket knife Casaldáliga wrote on a leave of a wild palm tree: “We are a people of persons, / we are the People of God. / We want land on Earth, / we will have land in Heaven”. He envisioned the new land as “a gigantic plate / of rice, / an immense loaf of bread / which is ours, / for everybody’ hunger”. A land without injustice, a land without hunger. This is the dream of God for earth and heaven. “Everything is relative except God and hunger”, is one of Casaldáliga’s famous aphorisms which should be printed on the front page of all our theology books, encyclicals and rituals. Our words, dogmas and rituals do not give glory to God, as all prophets have proclaimed loud and clear in front of kings and priests. The glory of God does not depend on temples being full with the faithful and incense. Blessed be the incense and the faithful! The glory of God manifests when all tables are full of bread. Blessed be all breads and all tables! Jesus dreamed of free land and savoury bread.

Pere Casaldáliga rebelled and spoke loudly against all economic and political powers which are directly responsible for poverty in the world and against all religious structures that pact with them, either in action or in inaction. Casaldáliga is an unusual species of subversive bishop and prophet for the glory of God on Earth and the salvation of the planet. (And for the much needed dignity and credibility of the Church). “They call me subversive / and I will tell them: I am, / I live for my people who fight. / I march with my people”. Even the rythm of the words is prophetic and subversive, the rythm of a march, strenous and joyful to the music of the Gospel, to the music of the Beatitudes for the empoverished, to the sound of the curses against wealth (“in favor of the rich, but against their wealth, their priviledges, their possibility to exploit, dominate and exclude”; “in favor of private property, but against the property that deprives). And he restates: “I believe that the only way to live today is subversively. And I believe that the only way to be a Christian today is to be a revolutionary, because to pretend to “reform” the world is not enough. And he explains why: “the Gospel subverts all interests because it demolishes all idols”. He does not accept an attitude of “fitting in” or cowardice: “I rebel against the three commandments of neocapitalism: voting, keeping quiet and watching television”.

This is the prophet with lit up eyes, a passionate heart, a careful listener, with inspired lips, in love with Jesus and furiously raged by injustice. This is the prophet who is free, son of the Spirit of Freedom or of Ruah. Some time ago he wrote: “if you baptize me again, name me Pedro Freedom”.