This is the fourth reflection, commemorating the two hundredth anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. A reflection on the life of Vincente Cañas.
Ex Cathedra, directed by Jeffrey Skidmore, sing Hanaq Pachap Kusikuynin, a hymn in the Quechua language of South America, a beautiful prayer which I might make my own as I listen now: “Bliss of heaven: a thousand times I adore you. Tree of uncountable fruits. Hope of the peoples. Pillar of the weak. Listen to my prayer.”
Vicente Cañas was born in 1939 and was a Spanish Jesuit Brother from the Aragon Province who went to Brazil in 1966. He became a champion of the rights of indigenous peoples. He made what is believed to be the first peaceful contact with the Enawene Nawe people of the Mato Grosso, and lived among them for more than ten years. These simple Amerindian people were under constant threat and attack because their traditional lands for hunting and fishing were of great value to incoming farmers and cattle ranchers, and Brother Cañas spoke up forcefully for the land-rights of the indigenous people to be recognised and respected. In April 1987 he was found murdered in the small hut where he lived.
So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb.
Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. He journeyed on by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the LORD. Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them living together; for their possessions were so great that they could not live together, and there was strife between the herders of Abram’s livestock and the herders of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites lived in the land.
Then Abram said to Lot, ‘Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.’ Lot looked about him, and saw that the plain of the Jordan was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar; this was before the LORD had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. So Lot chose for himself all the plain of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastwards; thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the Plain and moved his tent as far as Sodom. Now the people of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the LORD.
The LORD said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, ‘Raise your eyes now, and look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards; for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring for ever. I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. Rise up, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.’ So Abram moved his tent, and came and settled by the oaks of Mamre, which are at Hebron; and there he built an altar to the LORD.
Today's reading offers a dilemma. Abram's story is legitimisation of a land grab away from indigenous peoples, while Cañas’ entire life is an indictment against it. How do these conflicting examples of God's justice square up with one another?
This conflict of justice relates to the way we understand what we have been given. What is your attitude to the things you own? Do you hold possessions as gifts to be shared or do your possessions possess you? Do you work hard for the increase of material wealth that, though not the total value of the happiness, certainly helps me feel good, valuable, and successful?
We can understand ownership in a far more positive way when we think of the idea of stewardship. Are you responsible with what you have been given or earned? Do you use your gifts wisely? Could you be a better steward?
Amazonian cultures don’t have the same idea of personal ownership that we do. Instead, if someone else in the community needs something more, then that thing rightly belongs to them.
As you listen again, consider whether you are able to give of your gifts so freely?
Finally, the martyrdom of Vicente Cañas offers us a very radical idea of the value of a person. In the end even his very life was gifted to his community. Can you give your life to others and God in this total way? Or do you hold back a part of yourself? In the last few moments of this prayer time, ask God to give you clarity about your sense of self worth and your relationships with others in your community.