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from issue no. 06 - 2003

POLITICS. After the election of Nestor Kirchner as President of the Republic

Return to reality

An interview with Eduardo Vicente Mirás, Archbishop of Rosario and President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference: “After ten years in which the new free-market model enthralled everybody with its fake salvation, there was a need for this comeback. Now what we’d like is for the Mercosur project to be really implemented with the other countries of Latin America”

by Gianni Valente

Kirchner with the Brazilian President Lula in Brasilia

Kirchner with the Brazilian President Lula in Brasilia

The inauguration of the new Argentine President Nestor Kirchner, last 25 May, coincided with the national holiday celebrating the May Revolution against the Spanish. On the following day the eighty fifth plenary assembly of the Argentine bishops opened in San Miguel which closed with an appeal to the entire nation to make a “new start”, beginning with the Eucharist.
The Bishops’ call was connected to the celebration of the tenth national Eucharistic Congress, to take place in the capital of the province of Corrientes from 2 to 5 September 2004. “In those days”, the Bishops write, “we want to worship Jesus Christ publicly in his presence in the sacrament of the Eucharist. It is our proposal to show him our love, acknowledge him solemnly as the Lord of history and to pray to him for the necessities of the world and of our people”. But the new initiative to which the Bishops refer is also bound up with the new political phase which is opening up for the country after devastating economic crisis at the end of 2001 resulting from the blinkered free-market thinking followed during the ’nineties. “It remains inexplicable”, write the Bishops, in their document “that a land as blessed by God as ours should accommodate such poverty and emargination”.
To learn about the prospects opening up for Argentina 30Days asked some questions of Eduardo Vicente Miràs. Seventy three years old, Archbishop of Rosario since November 1993, Miràs was nominated President of the Argentine Episcopal Conference in November of last year, succeeding Estanislao Esteban Karlic, Archbishop Emeritus of Paranà.

Argentina is still suffering the effects of the crisis, and the Bishops are talking of the prospect of a new direction. Aren’t you in danger of being taken for naive “professionals of enthusiasm”?
EDUARDO VICENTE MIRÁS: I don’t think so. Beginning all over again now seems more than ever an opportunity. Last year, the people were shouting in the squares: “Que se vayan todos”, go to the devil all of you. Now, with the change of government, certain groups used to a certain way of governing are gone. With the change of government, one also perceives a certain expectation that policies will be implemented according to a different vision, aiming at realistically obtainable results. One hopes that by following this criterion of possible goals we can gradually come out of from the trouble.
In your communiqué you invited the Argentinians to live this time seeking solace in the sacrament of the Eucharist, not least in view of the national Eucharistic Congress ....
MIRÁS: Next year we hold a national Eucharistic congress, as happens every ten years. If we have this opportunity of entrusting all our problems and spiritual and material expectations to the hands of the Lord, and if we are accompanied by the strength that the Eucharist bestows on us, Christian life will without doubt easier be and full of hope. It will be easier to go ahead and try to emerge from our problems.
All the sober statements from the Argentine Episcopate on the crisis kept clear of sociological terminology and used simple words of Christian comfort. But isn’t there the danger of sliding into a “spiritualist” escape from reality?
MIRÁS: The gifts which God offers through the Church are not alien things apart from the real expectations and sufferings of people, such as the fact that there’s nothing to eat, or a man is desperate because he doesn’t know how to maintain his children. It was the economic model imposed on us in the ’nineties, with its aura of exact science, that was sodden with messianic-salvific ideology. They promised riches and well-being to everyone ....
They say that the crisis has reawakened popular traditional devotion ....
MIRÁS: Yes, perhaps material necessity led many to ask help of God, to pray. Seeing that there was no possibility of escape by following purely human or political directives, they asked help of God, because that which man can not do, God can. But it doesn’t seem to me a spiritualist escape. I see it as an aspect of that return to reality, for which there was a need after ten years in which the new free-market model enthralled everybody with its fake salvation.
The Argentine collapse showed the whole world the failure of a certain economic model, social and cultural.
MIRÁS: Jesus says: “By their fruits you shall know them”. And we, from the fruits have recognized that the free market model brought us to ruin. Their infallible macro-economic plans forgot only one particular: concrete humanity, in flesh and blood, that finished crushed in the mechanism.
Bishop Hesayne said that those kind of policies were campaigns for the abortion of the already born. And yet, Catholic circles and figures, here in Argentina, were much sought after references for the model. Some presented it as the concrete implementation of the social doctrine of the Church.
MIRÁS: Unfortunately, even in Catholic circles, especially at the beginning, there were enthusiastic supporters of those economic programs. They believed those who promised well-being for everyone. Thus it was awarded ethical license. I don’t believe that there was bad faith in that, but certainly naivety.
As a pastor, how do you judge the roles played in the Argentine crisis by international economic bodies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund?
MIRÁS: We were grateful for all the help that came to us from outside, but we can’t say that we were always happy. The international bodies severely conditioned the way in which the resources were to be employed. They backed the loans but they decided in advance what goods had to be bought, and where they were to be bought, imposing their own economic vision. They could have done more. And if you think of the appalling waste involved in waging futile and devastating wars, like the last one in Iraq ....
The gifts which God offers through the Church are not alien things apart from the real expectations and sufferings of people, such as the fact that there’s nothing to eat, or a man is desperate because he doesn’t know how to maintain his children. It was the economic model imposed on us in the ’nineties, with its aura of exact science, that was sodden with messianic-salvific ideology. They promised riches and well-being to everyone
In any case, the Argentine Church is still now continuing its impressive and silent work of charity.
MIRÁS: Through Caritas, an extensive network of food canteens and housing services has been set up to help those who have neither food nor a roof to live under, and there is an incredible number of them. In our diocese of Rosario alone, thirteen thousand children are fed every day, as are thousands of old people and entire groups who have migrated to the city so as not to die of starvation. And when the city of Santa Fe was struck by floods, an impressive campaign of solidarity stirred up the whole of Argentina.
You said that the feeling of a new start is also linked to the change of government. Do you know the new President Kirchner?
MIRÁS. Not personally. He was, for a long time, Governor of the Province of Santa Cruz, in the South, and distances in Argentina are so enormous ....
Do you know any details of his relationship with the Church?
MIRÁS: I don’t think that with him there will be problems of that kind, otherwise the Bishops of the South would have said so. We haven’t received any negative information.
What impression has he made on you, at the beginning of his presidency?
MIRÁS: It’s early to make judgments. Up to now, he’s done what was necessary in terms of political action: he ‘s presented a plan of government activity, and we hope that he can go through with it. And keep it up. The only thing required is for promises to be kept, because our people can’t take it any more, especially false promises.
In his first speeches, Kirchner stressed the development away from the free-market ideology of the “decade of folly”....
MIRÁS: Everything that aims at distancing us from the free-market model, which took us where it took us, we all look on favorably, as a possibility to try, an attempt to make.
Among his first moves to pension off a large part of the military leadership....
MIRÁS: It’s such a technical and specific issue that I’d prefer not to talk about it.
During the electoral campaign the critics said that Kirchner was low-profile, without charisma ....
MIRÁS: Unfortunately we Argentines have often had to do with politicians who adopted the pose of charismatic leaders. And it has been seen with what effects. Kirchner it seems to me tends to confront single problems gradually, trying to carry out programs with realism and always setting himself attainable goals.
Were there contacts with the Church, before and after the election?
MIRÁS: He asked nothing of us, nor did we ask anything particular of him. And this discretion in relationships seems to me an opportune thing. The direct involvement of the Church at the table of national dialogue was requested by the Duhalde government, in a moment of particular emergency, until dialogue could start up and the parties begin talking and not fighting with each other. Now again the negotiating table of dialogue continues its work, but at this point the social interests are involved, more than the government.
Kirchner’s election confirms a phase of development which seems to be prevalent in all of Latin America, a common retreat from the free market model.
MIRÁS: Certainly. And it would please us if the Mercosur project were concretely implemented. We’re in contact with the other Epicopates of the Mercosur Countries, with the ad hoc commissions, and we are studying the implications that the development of this project could have from the pastoral point of view. The next meeting of these Episcopal commissions will take place between August and September.
How is that the Church is also involved in this development?
MIRÁS: Without making grand theological analyses, if one stays with the facts, the problems of hunger and of the poor are devastating in all these Countries. It’s a proof of Christian realism that in the face of the problems left behind by the years of the free-market model there’s an attempt at a common response, from the pastoral point of view. And perhaps in the political sphere something similar is happening, as the recent changes in government have shown.

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