Anti-government demonstrators protest against Peruvian President Dina Boluarte in Juliaca, February 9, 2023 (OSV News photo/Pilar Olivares, Reuters).

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.”

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.

On January 9, only a few days after I left Juliaca, almost twenty people were murdered at the hands of the Peruvian National Police. I could not help but shed a tear as I sat back in South Bend, Indiana in my study carrel. While I was there, I saw Edwin and Lucho and the parish they ran together. Not only was it a model of lay-cleric cooperation, but also they were true to the radical option for the poor that liberation theology claims as a core tenet. At the New Year’s Day Mass, with a large portrait of Saint Oscar Romero behind him, Lucho preached to the newly inaugurated mayor of the city, condemning the corruption of the local government as a root of the people’s ailments. The ministries of the parish were all oriented towards sustainable ways of eliminating poverty and its ills, from micro-loan banks to formation classes for men aimed at reducing domestic violence. I came to admire their work; getting to witness it was a moment of re-evangelization for me.

In today’s Gospel, Martha and Mary each say to Jesus,“Lord, if you had been there, my brother would not have died.” Jesus answers the first time to this, “Your brother will rise.” The second time, when Martha says it, he responds, “Where have you laid him?” and as they lead him to the tomb where he lay, we get what I consider one of the most beautiful verses of the Bible: “And Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Jesus is so moved by their grief that, in praying to his Father, he beckons Lazarus from the tomb where he lay. Although the Incarnation is more appropriately contemplated in the time of Advent and Lent is a time to contemplate the Passion and Resurrection, today’s Gospel reminds us that the two are inextricably linked. That the God who resurrected is the God who incarnated. The God who defeated death is the God who wept for the death of his friend Lazarus.

It is a paradoxical existence to spend so much time alone in a carrell studying theologies that prioritize praxis and ministry over theological reflection. This Lent, however, I pray that, like Jesus was for Lazarus, I am brought to tears, and that that affects my theology. I have prayed continuously that I might be converted to follow the example set by Jesus of a righteous passion, an orthopathos, that moves us to act in the face of death. I also am choosing to think about the ways that I doubt Jesus’s presence and the times where, through people like Lucho and Edwin and the others who resist death, Jesus reminds me that he is the resurrection. As we enter into the final Sundays of Lent, we might remember that life is to be found in mortal bodies because during Lent, we await the Resurrection of the God who weeps.

Amirah Orozco is a PhD Student in Systematic Theology at the University of Notre Dame and received her MTS from Boston College School of Theology and Ministry and a Bachelor’s in Philosophy from Boston College as well. 

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