Samuel Ruiz

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Samuel Ruiz García (3 November 1924 – 24 January 2011) was a Mexican Roman Catholic prelate who served as bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, from 1959 until 1999.[1] Ruiz is best known for his role as mediator during the conflict between the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) and the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), a Mexican political party which had held power for over seventy years, and whose policies were often disadvantageous to the indigenous populations of Chiapas. Inspired by Liberation Theology, which swept through the Roman Catholic Church in Latin America during the 1960s, Ruiz’s diocese helped some hundreds of thousands of indigenous Maya people in Chiapas who were among Mexico’s poorest and marginalized communities.[2]


Samuel Ruiz García
Don samuel ruiz con atenco
Successor Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel
Orders
Ordination 1960
Personal details
Born (1924-11-03)3 November 1924
Guanajuato, Mexico
Died 24 January 2011(2011-01-24) (aged 86)
Mexico City
Denomination Catholic
Parents

Guadalupe García

Maclovio Ruiz Mejía

Early Life and Seminary[edit]

Samuel Ruiz García was the first of five children, born on 3 November 1924 in Guanajuato, Mexico to Guadalupe García, who worked as a maid for upper-class families, and Maclovio Ruiz Mejía, an agricultural worker.[3] Ruiz grew up as a Catholic in a modest family during the Cristero War, a time in which the Church was being persecuted and many were killed or assassinated in Mexico by the anti-Catholic ruling government.

At the age of fifteen, Ruiz completed high school and seminary at León in Guanajuato.[4] He continued his studies at the Gregorian University in Rome, a Jesuit institution where he focused on Sacred Scripture, earning his doctorate in 1952.[5] In 1949 he was ordained to the priesthood.[6]

Priesthood[edit]

After receiving his doctorate in philosophy and theology from Gregorian University, Ruiz returned to Guanajuato where he taught at the León seminary.[7] In 1960, Ruiz was ordained bishop of the Diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas of Chiapas Mexico, where he remained until he retired in 1999.[8] San Cristóbal de las Cases is made up mostly of the highlands of Chiapas, comprising mostly poor, indigenous communities who speak a variety of Mayan languages.

In his early years as bishop, Ruiz subscribed to traditional views of the Church and evangelization.[9] Ruiz’s first pastoral letter acknowledged the dangers of communism developing in Mexico, reading “Behind a creed that flaunts a banner of social justice, communism has been sneaking in falsehoods, hypocrisy, deceit, and calumny….”[10] Original methods of evangelization within the diocese were largely top-down practices that focused on Western methods of social change. Often catechists communicated messages of passivity to the indigenous communities rather than one of consciousness-raising, which was in reaction to reforms being implemented by the government at the time, often in the name of “development” and “civilizing” the Indians.[11]

Not long after arriving in San Cristóbal, Ruiz set out on a mule to tour his diocese, visiting every town and village over which he held jurisdiction. During his travels, he discovered the incredible poverty and marginalization that communities in his diocese were inflicted by, realizing what the true reality was for many indigenous communities in Chiapas.[12] His 1993 pastoral letter reflects this experience, in which Ruiz comments on the actions taken by him and his diocese, admitting that they were culturally destructive and explaining that “We only had our own ethnocentric criteria to judge customs. Without realizing it, we were on the side of those who oppressed the indigenous.” [13] Ruiz began to slowly identify and challenge the structures of oppression, questioning the structure of the government and military, as well as figures within the church that were furthering these systems. He encouraged indigenous communities to take charge of their own lives, and openly voiced that the poor of Chiapas were victims of structural oppression and institutionalized violence. Gradually, Ruiz underwent a series of conversion experiences, leading him to take up the cause of the Mayan indigenous population in his diocese and to develop an inculturated approach to indigenous Catholicism and evangelization.

Ruiz "learned to speak four Mayan languages."[14]

Vatican II (1962-1965)[edit]

In 1962, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) convened, focusing on the social responsibility of Christians and with goals of opening the Church up for theological development and dialogue. Vatican II encouraged that sermons be translated and read to communities in their local languages and that the Church be more involved in eradicating the social problems occurring in Central and South America.[15] For Ruiz, his participation in the Second Vatican Council allowed for reflection of the decisions and actions carried out under his administration, which brought him a long way from the somewhat naïve enthusiasm which he’d had during his first years as bishop.[16] It was Vatican II which inspired Ruiz to translate scripture into local indigenous languages, and from which his emphasis on inculturation grew.

Medellín Conference (1968)[edit]

In 1967, Bishop Ruiz became the president of the Mexican Bishop’s Committee on Indigenous Peoples (CEPI), and in 1968 he was named the president of the Department of Missions of The Conference of Latin American Bishops (CELAM), also called the Medellín Conference. This was a position which he held until 1972 when elections for secretary general chose Archbishop Alfonso López Trujillo, who proceeded to replace progressive department heads, such as Ruiz, with his own conservative allies.[17] Out of this conference, held in Medellín, Colombia in 1968, emerged a consensus that the root of poverty and oppression in Latin America was a systemic problem, one which grew out of the ethic of expansion and development by United States imperialism.[18] Marxist approaches to class analysis, which emphasized that the great conflict between “capital” and “labor” had its origins in the exploitation of workers by “the entrepreneurs following the principle of maximum profit,"[19] as well as dependency theory, the idea that the economies of certain countries are conditioned by the development or expansion of another economy to which the former is subjected, converged with the bishops’ growing concern for the poor and disenfranchised.[20] The Catholic Church condemned these ideas as communism, claiming that it undermined the Church’s mission and reduced the Gospel to a purely earthly one.[21] The United States and Latin American governments also responded with threatening hostility. The United States supported Latin American militaries in their methods of assassinating those who subscribed to liberation theology and conducting low-intensity warfare against guerilla groups.

The diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas, under Samuel Ruiz’s direction, began to redefine evangelization methods and to abandon the traditional approach of Europeanizing indigenous peoples, instead incarnating the gospel in the local culture of each community. Catechists no longer delivered the Word of God to the communities with which they worked, but incorporated the Gospel within the cultural traditions and day-to-day lives of the indigenous.[22] This meant committing themselves to learning the culture and languages of Chiapas, organizing services and discussions in indigenous languages, and inculturating local customs that could be integrated into the Word of God.[23] By doing so, and by translating the Bible into indigenous languages, this work allowed for the poor of San Cristóbal to begin identifying parallels between their own experiences of oppression with those in Biblical passages, most notably the Exodus.[24] Rather than focusing only on the religious affairs that they had once been restricted to, catechists began fostering discussion of economic and political matters that impacted people’s daily lives.[25] Passivity was replaced by these new methods of catechists and the development of base communities, which built the framework for reflection and collective action.[26] Indigenous poor no longer accepted the “low wages they earned on plantations, the lack of security in their land titles, the corruption of government agencies, and the abuses of merchants and landowners”, instead using “their religious faith and interpretation of the Bible to create concrete solutions to immediate problems.”[27]

Mediation[edit]

This theology of liberation, however, appeared threatening to government structures and those with political and economic power, and in some cases oppression of rural and urban poor in Mexico and other areas of Latin America grew worse. Areas which practiced these new ways of interpreting the Bible and encouraged the poor to fight for their human rights were labeled Marxists, and often under government orders, para-militaries conducted counter-insurgent campaigns using low-intensity warfare to target civilians who supported these resistance movements. The indigenous started to realize that the cause of their poverty was their lack of freedom and democracy, a repression that grew out of the policies of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) government.

EZLN Uprising[edit]

On 1 January 1994, the date that NAFTA came into effect, a group of several hundred indigenous guerillas occupied several transit routes and government offices in San Cristóbal de las Casas and other cities in the highlands. These occupations, a response to increased marginalization of Indians at the hands of their government, were carried out under the name of the previously unheard of Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), a name inspired by Emiliano Zapata, a leading figure during the Mexican Revolution who stood as a powerful symbol of equity and social justice that the men and women of Mexico’s rural south demanded of their government.[28] The Mexican government, who for years had silenced protests in Chiapas in order to create the political and economic conditions needed to ensure its admission into NAFTA, was outraged and blamed Ruiz’s pastoral practices and consciousness raising techniques as one of the roots of the Zapatista Uprising.[29] The PRI, which had held monopolized power for nearly 70 years, attempted to respond to the uprisings with military pressure by implementing strategies of low-intensity warfare to terrorize the civilian population that supported the Zapatistas.[30]

Mediation[edit]

Reflecting on these events, Bishop Ruiz later explained that “It became clear that the diocese could not be absent from the situation. Our job was neither to represent the Zapatistas to the government nor to represent the government to the Zapatistas, but rather to offer a mediation in which there could be mutual confidence in talks.”[31] The Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) attracted national and international attention as negotiations with government authorities were underway, for which Ruiz was elected mediator and during which the guerillas demanded not only constitutional recognition, but reformation of the state and systemic structures which were the root of their oppression.[32]

San Andrés Accords[edit]

National and international support of the Zapatistas’ demands increased and in 1996 the San Andrés Accords were signed by the EZLN and the federal government. This committed the parties to basic respect for the diversity of the indigenous population of Chiapas, granted the right to participation in determining their development plans, control over administrative and judicial affairs, and self-government. However, the proposal for the implementation of these conditions was accepted by EZLN, but refused by President Zedillo.[33]

Resignation[edit]

In 1998, Bishop Samuel Ruiz resigned from his position as peace mediator, accusing the government of “simulating” a peace process, and the committee disbanded.[34] Ruiz continued to act as a protector and supporter of Chiapas and to advocate for human rights for the indigenous until his death in 2011. Following his resignation, he was succeeded by Bishop Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel, a socially progressive supporter.[35]

Death[edit]

On January 24, 2011, at the age of 86, Samuel Ruiz García passed away at Hospital Ángeles del Pedregal in Mexico City, the causes of which was determined to be respiratory failure and other complications, including high blood pressure and diabetes.[36][37] During the Mass in Mexico City which commemorated Don Samuel, other bishops described Ruiz as “a person whose actions were discussed and condemned by a section of society, but for the poor and for those who worked with him, Don Samuel was a bright light.”[38]

Awards[edit]

In 1996, Samuel Ruiz received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award for his fight against injustice and institutionalized violence inflicted against the poor and oppressed of his diocese of San Cristóbal de las Casas.[39]

In 1997, Ruiz received the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.[40]

Samuel Ruiz was awarded the Simon Bolivar International Prize by UNESCO in 2000 for his work to defend the indigenous peoples of Chiapas, his role as mediator between the government and the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and for his commitment to the promotion of human rights and social justice for Latin America peoples.[41]

Samuel Ruiz was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, 1995, and 1996.[42]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mexico bishop and indigenous champion Samuel Ruiz dies". BBC News. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  2. ^ "Mexico bishop and indigenous champion Samuel Ruiz dies". BBC News. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 
  3. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New york: The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 20. 
  4. ^ Klaiber, S.J., Jeffery (1998). The Church, Dictatorships, and Democracy in Latin America. New York: Orbis Books. p. 254. ISBN 1-57075-199-4. 
  5. ^ Klaiber, S.J., Jeffery (1998). The Church, Dictatorships, and Democracy in Latin America. New York: Orbis Books. p. 254. ISBN 1-57075-199-4. 
  6. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 21. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  7. ^ Klaiber, S.J., Jeffery (1998). The Church, Dictatorships, and Democracy in Latin America. New York: Orbis Books. p. 254. ISBN 1-57075-199-4. 
  8. ^ Stephen, Lynn (2002). ¡Zapata Lives!. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-520-23052-3. 
  9. ^ Stephen, Lynn (2002). ¡Zapata Lives!. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-520-23052-3. 
  10. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 21. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  11. ^ Harvey, Niel (1999). The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Duke University Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-8223-2238-2. 
  12. ^ Stephen, Lynn (2002). ¡Zapata Lives!. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-520-23052-3. 
  13. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 23. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  14. ^ Catholic News Service. "In Chiapas, Mayans get Mass, sacraments in two of their languages". Catholic Sentinel (Portland, OR). Retrieved 2013-10-24. 
  15. ^ Axtell, Rick (3–24 January 2013). "Liberation Theologies in Historical and Political Context". Centre College Class Lecture. 
  16. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 25. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  17. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 25. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  18. ^ Harvey, Niel (1999). The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Duke University Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-8223-2238-2. 
  19. ^ Gutierrez, Gustavo (1988). A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation. New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 0883445425. 
  20. ^ Harvey, Niel (1999). The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Duke University Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-8223-2238-2. 
  21. ^ Ratzinger, Joseph (1984). Instruction of Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation". Rome: Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. 
  22. ^ Harvey, Niel (1999). The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Duke University Press. p. 73. ISBN 0-8223-2238-2. 
  23. ^ Stephen, Lynn (2002). ¡Zapata Lives!. Los Angeles: University of California Press. p. 114. ISBN 0-520-23052-3. 
  24. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  25. ^ Harvey, Niel (1999). The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Duke University Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-8223-2238-2. 
  26. ^ Harvey, Niel (1999). The Chiapas Rebellion: The Struggle for Land and Democracy. Duke University Press. p. 72. ISBN 0-8223-2238-2. 
  27. ^ Axtell, Rick (3–24 January 2013). "Liberation Theologies in Historical and Political Context". Centre College Class Lecture. 
  28. ^ Stephen, Lynn (2002). ¡Zapata Lives!. Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-23052-3. 
  29. ^ Higgins, Nick (2007). A Massacre Foretold. Brooklyn, NY: First Run/Icarus Films. 
  30. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. p. 47. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  31. ^ Higgins, Nick (2007). A Massacre Foretold. Brooklyn, NY: First Run/Icarus Films. 
  32. ^ Higgins, Nick (2007). A Massacre Foretold. Brooklyn, NY: First Run/Icarus Films. 
  33. ^ MacEoin, Gary (1996). The People's Church: Bishop Samuel Ruiz and Why He Matters. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company. ISBN 0-8245-1576-5. 
  34. ^ Higgins, Nick (2007). A Massacre Foretold. Brooklyn, NY: First Run/Icarus Films. 
  35. ^ Preston, Julia (26 January 2011). "Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, Defender of Mexico’s Mayans, Dies at 86". New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  36. ^ Preston, Julia (26 January 2011). "Bishop Samuel Ruiz García, Defender of Mexico’s Mayans, Dies at 86". New York Times. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  37. ^ Obituary in Spanish
  38. ^ Agren, David (25 January 2011). "Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia, 86, champion of indigenous, dies in Mexico". Catholic News Service. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  39. ^ Diocese of Davenport. "Pacem In Terris Past Recipients". Diocese of Davenport. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  40. ^ "Bishop Msg. Samuel Ruiz Garcia - 1997". The Martin Annals Award for Human Rights Defenders. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  41. ^ "2000 - Samuel Ruiz García". United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Retrieved 23 April 2013. 
  42. ^ "Mexico bishop and indigenous champion Samuel Ruiz dies". BBC News. Retrieved 3 May 2012. 

External links[edit]