As I noted earlier, this month we celebrate the centenary of the birth on 16 January 1924 of Argentinian theologian, Lucio Gera, a chaplain/theologian of the JOC, who later became a major source of inspiration for Pope Francis when he was archbishop of Buenos Aires.
I’ve written about Gera’s influence on Pope Francis before, citing German theologian Walter Kasper. See below.
Today, however, I would like to present a few extracts from an interview Lucio Gera did with Virginia R. Azcuy, Jorge Bender and Marcelo González on 12 March 1999.
In this interview, Gera acknowledges the influence of the JOC and explains how it became the seedbed for a revitalisation of theology and indeed the development of a pastorally-oriented theology in Argentina that characterises Pope Francis’ approach today.
Significantly, Gera cites the Argentine JOC chaplains’ magazine, Notas de Pastoral Jocista, which is an exact translation of the name of the Belgian JOC chaplains’ magazine, Notes de Pastoral Jociste (Jocist Pastoral Notes), founded by Cardijn himself in 1931.
Seeds of Vatican II
Here are a few extracts regarding the influence of the JOC:
1. Marcelo González: As we explained, we are trying to take up the broad lines of the national theological tradition and reread them from the present context. Can the reception of the Second Vatican Council be regarded as marking the birth of theology from the Argentine perspective or must we look first at earlier history?
Lucio Gera: Of course I believe that the Council is what practically determined the birth and emergence of theology in all of Latin America, not just in Argentina. That is undoubtedly so.
However, I would say that the movement perhaps began earlier, after the war, around 1950, with the appearance of Latin American magazines that already began to raise problems.
2. This interest in theology and pastoral work began earlier in a very rudimentary, homely fashion, a bit like the altar boys who criticised the priest. Looking back from a distance, that is how we can view some of the things that were written in the Notas de Pastoral Jocista magazine. They were not criticisms of the Church as an institution, but rather questions that arose from common pastoral praxis.
3. The curious thing is that the Notas de Pastoral Jocista was produced by a group of chaplains of the Juventud Obrera Católica (JOC), not by theology professors. This is the sphere in which the questions arose. A new phenomenon was thus born: theology that sprang from pastoral work. It seems to me that it developed in us from our pastoral work and preaching. The questions that drive theology are how to preach, what to preach, how to deal with pastoral questions.
4. I must confess that the first thing I wrote in theology was about the sacrament of marriage, although I never published it. This was because couples came to raise the problems of courtship and I was confronted with the issue of how to grasp marriage.
I had studied theology for four years. I wasn’t a theology graduate or anything. I began to write, to read, to review the councils on marriage, to help me think about the pastoral issue from a theological perspective and not just practical pragmatism. In short, I observe that my theology sprang from pastoral care.
5. On the other hand, questions arose within the chaplains’ group. There is something very suggestive: why does a group that works with workers begin to call on those who were more intellectual such as (the philosopher) Hector Mandrioni and myself, even though we were very young?
It is true that there was a certain friendship with us, but it was not just that, since there were others who were friends and were not invited to the group.
In fact, the JOC and the Catholic Action movement identified issues in the subsoil that were theological in nature or pointed to theology.
6. Moreover, it wasn’t that we read a great deal about the French or Belgian JOC – although Cardjin did visit us.
We didn’t know a lot about all that, but we immediately appropriated it to Latin America. So much so that, in the midst of the anti-Peronist period, the JOC defended Perón and Peronist unionism.
Here, it is important to clarify that there was also another root: those of us who were there had a nationalist tendency and, therefore, we wanted to think as part of the nation.
7. MG: …so there were “seeds” before the Council…
LG: Yes, all this has to do with the resurgence of theology in Argentina: although this comes with the Council, before there were certain seeds, germs, that were fueled by pastoral concern. Moreover, the Council itself was pastoral and that is why we entered it and that that also led us to meditate more strongly on theology.
8. We also need to ask ourselves where the majority of Argentine theological reflection was born and where it developed, namely in the context of CELAM, which was a pastoral context, pastoral above all. It was CELAM that felt the need to create a Reflection Team and chose, precisely, the name “Theological-Pastoral Team,” which was not used before.
9. This leads me to think about what my formation experience was like – in the early part of the 20th century – and not just mine, but that of my entire generation. It came from a dissociation between pastoral practice and theology, between action and reflection. That was the great issue that we experienced.
I believe that our path to theology was as priests: we really liked pastoral care and pastoral treatment, how could we associate this with reflection and theology? This involved great tensions.
10. And this explains many things about us, such as the fact that we have not written very much… In reality, we were not writers. Our reflection was not: “Let’s write an article and look where to publish it.”
The point was not to publish, but how to respond – to ourselves and to the group – to the questions and problems that the pastoral ministry posed for us.
Reading this, it is not difficult to see that this jocist experience was a very important source of Pope Francis’ pastoral approach. Indeed, the recent document from the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Fiducia Supplicans, on blessings is perhaps the latest fruit of this experience.
No wonder Archbishop Bergoglio chose to have Lucio Gera buried in the cathedral of Buenos Aires following his death on 7 August 2012.
Virginia R. Azcuy, La teología y la Iglesia en la Argentina. Entrevista a Lucio Gera? Revista Teología • Tomo LII • Nº 116 • Abril 2015: 157-187 (Academia.edu)
Lucio Gera (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)
Hector Mandrioni (Konex)
Stefan Gigacz, Sources of Pope Francis’ praxis (Cardijn Research)