In search of a subject for the verb to kill
Brother Santiago Agrelo
Archbishop emeritus of Tangiers
To all those following the work of this (40th Madrid Theology) Congress (3-5 September 2021), the cordial greetings of a Friar Minor: Peace and Well-being.
The theme to be addressed by the presentations is formulated as follows:
"Neo-liberalism kills: 'You cannot serve two masters: God and money'".
Even if the confession makes me look ridiculous, I confess that I had to search in Google for a definition-explanation of what neoliberalism is. And this is what I came up with:
"A political and economic theory that tends to minimise State intervention".
"A form of liberalism that supports economic freedom and free markets", whose "basic pillars include privatisation and deregulation".
The main characteristics of neoliberalism would be free trade, a minimal State, an autonomous Central Bank and currency regulator, privatisation, reduction of public spending, financial deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthiest in order to promote a "supply-side economy", "structural adjustment plans" and "support for the process of globalisation".
At first glance, what the statements suggest does not seem to bear any relation to the verb to kill: "to take life".
But the harmless appearance fails to hide the evidence of the death that the application of this political and economic theory generates.
In the space of time granted to me to inaugurate the Congress, I am going to go out with you in search of concrete subjects - discrete subjects - for the verb "to kill" which, with a clear basis in reality, you have placed at the centre of the chosen theme.
An old story:
No one is unaware that the neoliberal proposal is seductive, it is a beautiful fruit to look at, and the yearning to possess it creeps into your soul: economic freedom, free market, free trade, you will be who you want to be, you will do what you want to do, what you are capable of doing, without that enemy called the State conditioning your goals, your dreams, your power. You will be the master of yourself, you will have your world and your destiny in your hands, you will be like God.
The serpent is still there, the seduction, the deception, death as well.
Then and now we encounter something unnamed that carries within it a poison that reaches us all.
Then and now life has its chance, and death has its chance.
I have always been struck by the naturalness with which the biblical narrative presents man enjoying everything and risking everything for a dream.
What we call paradise on earth is nothing other than a world that God has prepared in detail, and in which he has placed human beings to enjoy the gift and take care of it. It was - it always is - a space of abundance and enjoyment and freedom, a space in which everything is God's, and in which everything is for man.
If I say: "Neo-liberalism kills", saying an easily verifiable truth, I may give the impression that I am referring to something that is outside me and remains outside me. But this is not so: the will to possess is mine, it is within me, in my heart.
Hence the timely reminder of Jesus' saying: 'You cannot serve two masters: God and money'.
These words shed light on what is going on inside me.
And I will have to choose between God and money; between the fruition of paradise and the appropriation of the forbidden fruit; between my brother Abel and my claims to be unique; between understanding with everyone and the loneliness of our confrontations; between giving life - which is God's way - and killing - which is the way of the idol called money.
I will have to choose.
This is what Jesus said: You cannot serve God and money.
And the heart senses that if I serve money, I will kill.
It is obvious that if I have been called to open this Congress, it has not been because of my knowledge of economic liberalism - I have already confessed my ignorance - but because of my service as a bishop in a frontier diocese. For that is the reality: geography and politics have made the diocese of Tangiers a frontier territory, where the fences of the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla stand tall, dangerous and deadly, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea stretch wide, dangerous and deadly, and the Strait of Gibraltar pretends to be deceptively close. Two artificial barriers - the fences - and one natural barrier - the seas.
These barriers are traps in which, for many years, thousands of emigrants, thousands of men, women and children have been trapped in search of a future, whether that future is called bread, justice, freedom or dignity.
I said "they are trapped". They are cornered, harassed, humiliated, and forced to endure suffering that would be unacceptable cruelty to inflict on criminals in a prison; they are pushed to the point of being forced to accept illness, mutilation and death.
As a pastor of that church, I denounced with all my strength and almost with all my words the continued violation of the rights of these people.
There was no need to elaborate complicated political or moral reflections; there was no need for magisterial documents: the pain was there; the humanity suffered there; the need cried out there. One thought that it would be enough to make it visible, to denounce it, to make it visible for all to see.
But it was not like that. It is not so. I would have to learn that, even with death in front of our eyes, we are capable of not seeing, we prefer not to see, it is in our interest not to see.
This is the only way to explain why the denunciations are turned against those who make them, as if by doing so they were attacking reason, common sense: "Do you want to abolish frontiers? If there is no work for us, how can we take in more people, do you want to increase the number of unemployed? "You say "We can share with the migrant our little bit of firewood, our little bit of bread". How many migrants should we share our bread with? A hundred thousand? A hundred million?"
Questions about frontiers, about work, about unemployment and about bread, but not about migrants. Questions from someone who has organised his life, planned his welfare, and is not willing to risk "his" for "people" who have nothing to do with him.
Those who ask such questions do not even realise that they are considering the migrant as their own possession, they are reducing him to the status of a commodity that the owners can dispose of, they are reducing him to an economic factor in a world without a soul.
Of course, they also fail to realise that these questions are not asked by faith in the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, but by faith in the god of money. In the accounts of money, what is not shared, is saved, kept, earned. In the accounts of God, what is not shared is lost. He who does not share is lost!
And if those who ask such questions are Christians, they have not yet realised that they are blind, that they have not begun to believe, for they have not seen God in their brothers, they have not recognised Christ in the needy, they have not seen Lazarus lying on the doorstep of their own house.
If they had begun to believe, then they would know that the answer to their questions does not end with a hundred million, but with ALL: We must welcome them all.
What I am going to recite here like a litany is taken from a 2017 report on medical care for sub-Saharan migrants, guests of camps around the autonomous city of Melilla. I quote camp and reason for hospitalisation. It is like a war report:
Last thursdayAmputation of a foot
Gurugú Elbow fracture
Gurugú Jaw fracture
Gurugu Foot injury
Gurugú Spine injury
Bolingo Dog bite
Bolingo Arm operation
Bolingo Spine injury [does not walk]
Carrier Burn on foot
Gurugú Beaten in immediate devolution
Previous Thursday Caesarean operation
Bolingo Broken leg
Gourgu Knee operation
Gurugu Broken arm and leg
Gurugú Operation arm
New Bolingo Glaucoma
Bolingo Knee injury [fence]
Carrier foot fracture
Carrier Injured [jumping over fence]
Gurugú Injured [jumping over fence]
Gurugú Injured [jumping over fence]
Gurugú Broken ankle
Bolingo Burnt body [inflatable boat fire]
So on up to 168 annotations, the last of which reads: [Fractured, direct aggression by militia] - bone fracture.
In this litany there are numerous aggressions suffered with knives, axes, direct aggressions by the militia, rapes, burns, infections...
Who cares about this litany? To those who dedicate their time to heal the wounds left on the flesh of the poor by the greed of the rich.
For the reporters of these supposedly rational questions, these aggressions, rapes, burns, infections, are nothing more than notes on paper, notes made by an institution that ensures that these wounded men and women - their names and surnames appear in the report - are cared for, but which cannot, however much it might wish to, get the States and their institutions to dedicate themselves to making a dignified future possible for these people, instead of dedicating themselves to robbing them of everything: past, present and future; nor, of course, can they succeed in changing the mentality of those who are coldly asking questions.
No one is interested in the thousands of dead who are known² , men, women and children whom we bury far from their land and even farther from our memory, from our feelings. And if those who die leave us indifferent, I ask: what interest can there be in those who are left broken along the roads?
² (Yesterday, Tuesday 13 July 2021, a local newspaper - El Día, from Santa Cruz de Tenerife - reported the death of sixteen migrants who had left Cabo Bajador on Sunday.
I could only find this news in another newspaper: elDiario.es; here, in a sub-heading, it was recalled that "the Canary Islands route remains the deadliest route to Spain with 1,922 victims this year".
1,922 victims, only on the Canaries route, and we were in the first fortnight of July.)
Cain's answer to the God who has gone out in search of Abel comes to mind, as a memory of fratricidal indifference: "Am I my brother's keeper?"
A cynical question that can only be asked by someone who has forgotten that he is "his brother's brother".
And this fratricidal forgetfulness, so much theirs and so much ours, is born and grows in the shadow of the will to possess, to be unique, to be masters... This fratricidal forgetfulness is born and grows in the shadow of the reasons with which we protect what we consider to be our well-being.
The first way in which information kills is "information silence".
This silence is a deliberate denial of reality.
And when reality throws its dead at the door of our lives, then silence will reduce them to the category of insignificant dead, dead without mourning, without history, without a name.
That silence is an accomplice of the will to kill of those who, in search of a future for the poor, put them in camps, small boats and cayucos, where they are very likely to lose their lives.
This silence favours the inhibition of personal conscience and prevents the formation of an adequate social conscience about the suffering of poor migrants, about the tragedy that life ends up being for them, about their horrible and avoidable deaths.
That silence is the mother of indifference - the blindness - that makes us immune to compassion; an indifference that we fear active in our personal lives, in the political choices we make, in the christian community to which we belong; an indifference that, by making us impervious to compassion, opens a gulf between us and the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, between us and God.
This silence kills: it kills poor migrants, and it kills us!
Information also kills when it is used in the service of power and against the poor.
It is a fact: at the frontiers there is no free information, there are no journalists; there are only repeaters of the "information" - it is a manner of speaking - provided by representatives of the government or of the state security forces.
This type of "information", which is always biased, self-serving and distorted, is reminiscent of the forms used in the old Nazi-fascism; it is always about blaming the victims and justifying that they are victims.
It takes immense cynicism for the information to underline the violence of the migrants who try to jump the fences of the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, and to ignore the fact that the dead, the crippled, the broken, the men, women and children are only migrantes who, moreover, we force to spend days and nights in the open for interminable periods of time.
For these professional informers, only the wounded among the security forces are worth mentioning, but, to the relief of the migrants, they are always lightly wounded.
In this war against the poor, the handling of information - the manipulation of information - is a weapon used by governments to numb consciences, criminalise the victims, and justify the violence exercised against them.
The official truth is always a lie.
It prevents us from feeling responsibility for the deaths we have already caused, and paves the way for us to continue to watch the spectacle without responsibility and remorse.
That truth kills.
Another way of making information against the poor is to use language to depersonalise those who come to break the tranquility of our sacred frontiers.
The headline read: "A boat with 18 migrants on board and one dead person was rescued in the south of Gran Canaria". And the subtitle added: "The boat was sighted this Friday (16th July 2021) by the Sasemar 103 aircraft, 80 miles from Maspalomas. Salvamento Marítimo (the Spanish Lifeboat Service) transferred the undocumented migrants to the port of Arguineguín".
A lady friend of mine commented: "We live on labels: migrants, undocumented, illegals, irregulars... we call them everything but "people".
On that boat there was "a deceased person", one of so many deceased on any given day, a normal deceased... only that deceased of whom nobody wants to know anything, at my own risk I will have to think and say that he died of thirst, died of hunger, died of cold, died without palliative care, without any assistance other than the terrified compassion of his companions in misfortune.
No, that one is not a deceased person; they are not undocumented. That one, however much you try to depersonalise him, is your brother, he is my brother. And to the extent that you contribute to us ignoring him, to the extent that we forget him, to the same extent you contribute to other brothers dying tomorrow.
Another normalised way of reporting is to use language to demonise men, women and children who illegally cross our frontiers.
It is hard to believe that a text such as the one I am about to reproduce can be found in a Spanish national daily newspaper. I do not quote the newspaper. I do not quote the author of the "information". I limit myself to extracting what it "says" about immigrants, without actually saying it:
"D-Day: when the Ceuta inhabitants locked themselves indoors".
"A week after the historic avalanche of immigrants, the neighbours ... say that "it seemed that we were in a state of siege". No one left the house. The schools were empty and the shops were closed".
"The city of Ceuta is still recovering from last Monday's avalanche".
"... an unusual trickle of immigrants... turned into an avalanche of illegals... sponsored by Morocco as a 'weapon of war' against Spain".
"... this city is used to dealing with the continuous passage of Moroccans and sub-Saharan Africans"
"... mother and daughter say they stayed at home out of fear".
"Faced with this explosive situation, the Ceuta inhabitants opted to lock themselves indoors. "We were afraid, I'm not going to deceive you. Nobody knew what was happening. It was an avalanche of kids running through the streets, they came with nothing and were looking for food and clothes. They were looking in the shop windows to see what they could pick up"".
"... he was in "a tremendous panic"."
"They are human beings and they need to steal in order to survive.
"Many come out of necessity, others come to commit crime.
So much for the information, information which, yes, is much more dangerous than all the men, women, children and babies who entered Ceuta in those days last May: this information stifles the concerns of those who threw themselves into the sea, it stifles their hopes, their tears, their fears, their tiredness, it stifles their humanity - it leaves us without what is proper to human beings; this information, which ignores the reality of the migrants, at the same time deforms it, because it gives the impression that these men, women and children - some of them babies - represent a threat, a cause for alarm, a danger to the ordinary citizen.
This information kills.
With Christ at the frontier
There are many names we could give here to the hand that rages against migrants on the southern frontier of Spain.
We should talk about iniquitous laws that prevent the poor from exercising their fundamental rights; we should talk about economic policies that generate masses of poor people, policies that are a factory for the hungry, men, women and children abandoned to their misfortune as necessary debris of the progress and welfare of a blessed few; we should talk about complicity that kills, the most painful of all, that of the Church, habitual sympathiser of economic policies that kill, of frontier policies that kill, of information policies that kill.
But I am not going to do so. I will close this reflection with an old letter. I wrote it to the Church of Tangiers in the autumn of 2014.
It was entitled: "With Christ at the frontier".
And I think it is a good way to close my reflection.
History has made this Church into a frontier, and it would have been natural that, in our life as believers, this frontier should have meant only a recognised limit or boundary between two sovereign States.
But injustice, violence and exploitation have filled the roads of the world with the impoverished, and, for them, many frontiers have become a limit imposed by the powerful on rights that belong to all, and a disregard for the particular rights that the poor have because they are poor.
Selfishness, arrogance, cruelty, have transformed our frontiers into razor fences, into barriers that claim to be impassable for the impoverished of the earth, into a stage for a web of deprivation, disease, wounds and mutilations, into a graveyard for young lives and legitimate hopes.
For believers, this dehumanised perversion of the frontier compels us to stand at the frontier to be at the side of its victims. And God's grace, the power of his Spirit, anoints us to assume our responsibilities towards the poor and the Gospel entrusted to us as witnesses of a new humanity.
The perversion of these frontiers is not episodic, any more than the injustice, violence, exploitation and arrogance that have transformed them into spaces of death. Our frontiers are cemeteries that never close; we only ignore what will be - and how many will be - the next name or the next number to be written on their list of deaths
Within this structure of death that many would like opaque because they want it to go unpunished, there are sometimes gaps in the information, or because the dead cannot be hidden, or because some images escape the control of the established power.
On the 15th, the feast of Saint Teresa of Jesus, one of these gaps occurred at the Melilla frontier, through which an episode in the life of a man, just a few minutes of his time, came into our consciousness: agents of the Civil Guard attacked a migrant who was coming down from the fence in Spanish territory, beating him unconscious, and in that state, without taking any kind of health precautions, they moved him and returned him to Moroccan territory through an open passage in the fence.
The evidence of the damage unjustly caused, of the gratuitous violence exercised, of the humiliating treatment meted out, demands that I express, as bishop, the solidarity of this Church with that man - with all migrants - and our communion with him, and makes it urgent that this Church publicly recognises those migrants - baptised or not - as her children, and that to every person of good will, also to the public authorities and the forces of order, she asks for them in justice what is due to them, and out of solidarity what they need.
The word of God and the frontier:
The perversion of the frontier bursts forcefully into our sunday eucharist. The violence of reality makes the word of God proclaimed in the liturgy ring almost like sarcasm in the ears of the oppressed and like blasphemy in the ears of God: "I am the Lord and there is no other; apart from me there is no god"... "Hail the glory and the power of the Lord... for great is the Lord".
If we do not hear it in communion with the poor, God's word will be a word uttered only to flatter the ears of the great and not to wipe away the tears of the little ones.
And you, Church body of Christ, Church of the poor who risk themselves for a dream on the fences of a frontier, you seek with everyone a light so that the word of the Lord may resound true and consoling in the heart of each one of your children.
If you take the side of the oppressor, the word of God sounds only like sarcasm and blasphemy.
If you take the side of the oppressed, if you close ranks around them, if you walk helplessly with them into their future, if you make peace with them, then with them and with Christ you will recognise the words of prophecy to be true, and on your path the psalm of your prayer will resound mighty and consoling: "The Lord is great and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods. For the gods of the Gentiles - the gods of power, the gods of injustice and violence - are only apparent..
You do not advance with violence towards the violent; you overcome them with the weapons of your faith, your hope and your love; you make them mute with the strength of your song.
If you stand on the side of the poor, you will always be on the side of Christ Jesus, the slain and victorious Lamb.
Indifference and the frontier
In this fragment of the reality of the frontier that we have been able to see, there is one aspect that I consider necessary to point out as significant and disturbing.
A man was coming down the frontier fence and fell into the hands of some guards, who beat him half to death.
They, the frontier guards, were the first to see him collapse, but they did not attend to him, they simply ignored him and threw him across the frontier.
While he was being taken away, a medical vehicle passed by him, but did not stop; an ambulance did the same, but did not stop either; and some citizens who were doing their usual walk against cholesterol and kilos also passed by.
It is as if in that shred of frontier reality, the parable of the Good Samaritan had been left without the main character, without the compassionate Samaritan.
This absence is overwhelming. We have been allowed to see a parable of globalised indifference. Is it a parable of the reality in which we live?
Church and frontier
As the Church:
- We join our voice to those of institutions andindividuals who have called for the events of 15 October to be clarified, for responsibilities to be established, and for an end to the violation of people's fundamental rights, an ongoing violation that has so far been ignored, if not tolerated, by the public authorities.
- We call for the presence of independent observers to be authorised so they can report on the respect or violation of the rights of people at the frontiers.
- We regret that the authorities of the States pay more attention to the impermeability of frontiers than to the good of the people.
- We regret that a son of this Church, who was in obvious need, was treated at the Melilla frontier as no one in their right mind would have treated a wounded animal anywhere.
- And we denounce an information which, because it was misleading, self-serving and continued, has made possible, one might even say normal, this scene of gratuitous violence and collective indifference that we have seen depicted to the shame and astonishment of all at the Melilla frontier.
Church without frontiers:
To our confusion, we christians are too often found close to power and far from the poor. We do not even realise that, by doing so, we exclude ourselves from Jesus, we stay far away from his gospel.
In Jesus of Nazareth, God has revealed himself to us without frontiers. He only dreams that his house will be filled with children.
To you, Church body of Christ, he made you of the poor the same love that made you of Jesus: Church without frontiers, Church mother of all, Church that offers itself to all spacious and open like the heart of God.
When in the context of this Congress we refer to possible subjects for the verb to kill, we are not thinking of illnesses, nor of accidents, nor of natural calamities; we are thinking of personal choices.
My personal impression is that these options that kill have a common denominator, and that is the will to possess, the suggestion of power, the pretension of reaching heaven with our tower.
Death passes through the heart of man.
It is in the heart that we decide which lord to serve, which to love and which to despise, which to devote ourselves to and which to ignore.
Summed up by Jesus, the saying goes like this: "You cannot serve both God and money".
And we, I think without betraying it, can translate it like this: You cannot serve man and money.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)