Lent IV ~ GSC, 22 March 2020
As I am preparing and writing this sermon the Archbishops have decided that no public services are to be held in churches, following the invasion of the Corona Virus, until further notice. We have never been in this situation before but it may help us, more readily, to stand beside and pray for our Christian brothers and sisters who are persecuted for their faith and have no freedom to worship in so many parts of the world.
We have been looking at Christianity in different parts of the world and our task today is to look at South America an area which is well-known in our own time , like parts of Africa, is showing great signs of growth among Christians and has produced some important Christians for our own age. We are reminded too that God often chooses people to serve him who we might least expect. However, there has always been good precedent, even from the Old Testament, as we would have read in todays reading from chapter 16 of the First Book of Samuel where the prophet Samuel is sent by God to Jesse of Bethlehem, armed with the oil of anointing, because God had chosen one of Jesse`s sons to be King. Samuel obediently follows God`s command and Jesse produces seven sons only for Samuel to refuse each one in turn though, finally, he asks, `Are these all the sons you have ?` Jesse tells him there is one more, the youngest, his son David who happens to be out looking after the sheep. Samuel tells Jesse to send for him and seeing him, receives word from God, saying `Come, anoint him, for this is the one.` We are told that Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him there and then in front of Jesse and his brothers. We read, `…the spirit of the Lord seized on David and stayed with him from that day on.` We are reminded too, when we read the life of King David that he not only did a remarkable work but he had a dark side as both a murderer and an adulterer!
Well that does not tell us anything about Christianity in South America but I use it as an illustration of how our God is a God of surprises in our perception of those whom he chooses to follow him.
We have a statue here at The Good Shepherd. It is of St. Martin de Porres, the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed local Indian slave. He grew up in poverty in Lima but desired to enter the Dominical Order but was prevented from doing so because he was of mixed race. However, he was accepted initially as a servant but, because of his study and faithfulness was eventually allowed to profess his vows in the Third Order of St. Dominic. He was known for his humility and gentle holiness and for his constant care of the poorest in society.
Isabel Flores de Oliva, was born to a noble family in Lima in the 16th C and became patroness of Peru known as St. Rose of Lima. Rose was initially her nickname, so called because one of the family servants saw her face transformed into a rose when she was an infant. She decided to take the name Rose when she was confirmed by the Bishop Turribio. Early in life Rose committed herself to a life of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in spite of suffering through ill health. Her parents did not allow her to become a religious so she remained in their home as a professed member of the Third Order of the Sisters of St. Dominic. She united her many suffering to those of her Saviour Jesus Christ, experienced many mystical visions, she died at the tender age of just 31. Rose knew St. Martin of Porres who was also confirmed by Bishop Turibio of Lima – a third Peruvian Saint who was known as a trailblazer for the faith, walked miles on foot to minister to his people, braving harsh elements and fierce tribes. He established churches, schools, hospitals and convents and his holiness was revered by all. He was canonized at St. Turibio of Mongrovejo – the Spanish town where he was born.
As you can imagine Catholic Christianity, in the main, came to South America from the Spanish and Portuguese colonists bringing their chaplains with them as well as a number of Religious so establishing the faith among the native tribes. Many of the priests and religious were very kind but the colonists of both Portugal and Spain were often very oppressive to the point of encouraging slavery and stealing tribal lands and properties as they established colonies for the Kings of Spain and Portugal. Catholicism is still the principal Christian Group in South America and each country has its own saints. Early on there were a number of tensions in some of the South American countries because of the influx of Dutch Calvinists who were set on killing a number of the catholic Christians which, I suppose, is not surprising when we consider the religious intolerance and persecution that was going on in Europe at the same time as South America was being both colonized and evangelized in the 16th C.
Protestants on the form of Pentecostals became a growing denomination in the 1970s and 1980s in South America and mainly in Brazil where they now account for 20% of the population. Methodist too had spread elsewhere in Venezuela and Colombia. Sadly, two Christian Heresies have become very strong in South America – a product of the US of A, the Mormons and the Jehovah`s Witnesses. We need to pray for their conversion.
Of course, a great surprise has come out of Argentina, the former superior of the Jesuits, one Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the son of an Italian immigrant railway worker, in Argentina and who became Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina was elected Pope and bishop of Rome following the abdication of Pope Benedict 16th. He appears to be a man of simplicity of life, pastoral wisdom, humour, a love of football, and a keenness for evangelization and an obvious love for Jesus and His Blessed Mother.
Our church family is certainly a Family of mixed races and so it is proper that many have a special love for St. Martin de Porres.
South America is a large continent which has much to teach us in its faithfulness and variety but we Christians need somehow need to teach its rich landowners something about the holiness and Christian duty of conservation.