There was a tremendous increase in ambition among the Indian youth. We gradually built a pastoral center for our work with the Cakchiquel Indians in Chimaltenango. The last year before I left there were weekly leadership conferences of 125 young people, Indian boys and girls, the leaders of their groups.
We took advantage of the work of the Wycliffe bible translators, using their bible translations to promote the use and heritage of the Indian languages. Part of our training classes included courses in Mayan culture in their own language, as well as writing and the grammar of the Cakchiquel language.
We developed translations for most of the hymns that were used in the liturgies, which included many that had to do with liberation and social transformation — “We Shall Overcome” type things in Spanish — coming out of a slightly different tradition than the Negro spirituals, but more or less in that same vein. So all of these things were translated into Cakchiquel and choirs were springing up all over the place. Every one of our basic ecclesial communities had its own choir with its own instruments. They were very poor with the guitar; given time I am sure they would have mastered all that. All of this, of course, has since then been systematically destroyed by the Guatemalan government.
We would talk about not just knowing theology but doing theology, learning how to use the scriptures to deal with life’s problems, which is part of liberation theology — taking the liberation aspects of the history of Israel and applying that to today’s reality. For example, the exodus from Egypt: from the liberation point of view, the coming out of slavery into the promised land symbolizes the internal freeing up of a person from guilt, and on a social level, equipping a people to move as a group from the death experience of injustice to a resurrection experience, to new hope and life and creativity. All of that is spelled out in the scriptures and is part of what we celebrate in Christian liturgy, especially during holy week. The death and resurrection of Jesus says something about our own death and resurrection experience, our own exodus story, whether individually or communally. And that is fundamentally the basis of liberation theology. Jesus refers to that when he quotes Isaiah in Nazareth, when he is announcing his message: “The spirit of the Lord is upon me; the Lord has anointed me.”
So you just read these passages and say, “Is there any similarity between what we have read and what you are living?” It doesn’t need any translation; in Central America people are living their exodus experience. The parallels are endless: the killing of baby boys in Egypt and Moses being saved from death with the Guatemalan policy of the involuntary sterilization of Indian women and the imposition of the American-sponsored birth control programs, like it or not, on the Indian women — getting paid by the head for the numbers of people they can talk into getting sterilized.
Why, you can go through the whole gospel. Jesus and the Gerasenes, for example, his recognition of the priority of human dignity over every other value including capital, especially capital. Jesus fouled up the entire economy of the Gerasenes to restore the human dignity of one person. Jesus allowing one person