As the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2023, I was in Juliaca, Puno, in the southern Andean region of Peru. I was hosted at the Pueblo de Dios parish by the priest Fr. Luis “Lucho” Zambrano and a lay leader named Edwin Poire. I had been put in touch with Fr. Lucho through a contact at the University of Notre Dame, and he had invited me to explore a potential dissertation project with an ethnographic component in the region.
It was not my intention to be there starting the new year, but in early December, while I was visiting a friend in Lima, protests broke out across southern Peru in response to government instability and a failed coup attempt by Pedro Castillo. The new government of President Dina Boluarte launched an intense military response against protestors, particularly Indigenous Quechua and Aymara speakers, who called for her resignation and a new constitution. Because the protests had emerged spontaneously, the movement’s leaders decided to pause for the holidays and use the time to reorganize and come back with more clearly articulated demands. On December 28, Lucho called me: The protests were going to start back up on January 4, but for now, it was safe to come. I booked a flight from December 30 to January 4. “You all will be the last flight out. You will flee the region,” Lucho joked.
Lucho and those he introduced me to are, by my account, among the last holdouts of the original movement of liberation theology that was all but eliminated in the 1980s by the Vatican. Although most academics today study liberation theology as a school of thought, its true origins are in the impoverished people of Latin America, their organizing against oppressive states, and the theologians who had the gifts necessary to write about them in ways that spoke with and to them. Jon Sobrino, a Salvadoran liberation theologian, talks about the “orthopathos” (right feeling) of the Christian life. The way we feel in the face of suffering is as much a part of the Christian life as what we do and what our teachings say. Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, identifies the incorrect way of feeling in the face of the climate crisis as the “sin of indifference.”