The Rev. James Bacik is a hero to a lot of people in Toledo, including me. He is the retired, and founding, pastor of Corpus Christi University parish at University of Toledo and now a visiting scholar at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
Father Bacik has all three of the gifts that make a priest, or minister, or rabbi great. He is pastoral, a person who can help a person with his problems. People have told me their faith, or very lives, were saved by him. He is a great preacher — he can communicate the reality of God to people. Think about how hard that is. And he is a theologian and scholar. He is a saintly and prophetic man. To be in his presence is to be uplifted.
And I wish he were back in Toledo, full time, and in a pulpit here weekly. Chicago’s gain is our loss.
But he is here once a month this academic year for a lecture series at Lourdes University. I heard him the other night speaking about the urgent need for immigration reform, which Father Bacik contextualized in the theology of Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the fathers of liberation theology.
Father Gutierrez is still alive at age 85, a member of the Order of Preachers, and teaching at Notre Dame. But he began in Peru. As Father Bacik told it, Father Gutierrez, was classically educated in Europe and returned to Peru to find that contemporary theology didn’t address the needs of his people. They were not struggling with the “death of God” or the relevance of church structures and rituals, but with finding enough work and bread to stay alive. So he went back to the Psalms and to Exodus, and began to re-imagine his Christian faith, not as a private, interior quest for God but a common quest for God’s justice; not as a doctrine but a way of living in the world.
Father Bacik said liberation theology was not born as a permutation of Marxism, but a common sense expression of biblical values: the Godly man protects the widow, the orphan, and the alien. And God loves all people, but there is a special providence for those who suffer in poverty and abandonment — the invisible; the alien.
To Father Bacik, it is obvious that the invisibility of the illegal alien is a stain upon America’s conscience and that support of comprehensive immigration reform is the duty of every Catholic. Father Bacik asked his audience to write to Ohio Rep. John Boehner, who presides over the U.S. House of Representatives, and demand that the matter be brought to a vote.
Father Bacik told a moving story about Father Gutierrez. For thirty years the father of liberation theology has been on the outs with the Vatican. Indeed, he was driven from Peru, and Catholics throughout the world were warned away from his books. He became an alien. But a few weeks ago, Pope Francis invited Father Gutierrez to Rome, met with him, and embraced both the man and his ideas. Pope Francis, says Father Bacik, is loved because he embraces the plain meaning and simple power of the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth: Forgiveness, acceptance, service to those who have nothing, embrace of those who are rejected, hope for those who have been cast off.
That might rightly be called liberation theology, biblical prophecy, or love.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: email@example.com or 419-724-6266.