Letter of Eric. Our brother Mariano PUGA

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16 March 2020

“I shall see the Lord no more in the land of the living. No longer shall I behold my fellow men among those who dwell in the world. My dwelling, like a shepherd’s tent, is struck down and borne away from me; you have folded up my life, like a weaver who severs the last thread…” (Isaiah 38: 11-12).

“There is such a thing as a good death. We are responsible for the way we die. We have to choose between clinging to life in such a way that death becomes nothing but a failure, or letting go of life in freedom so that we can be given to others as a source of hope.” (Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved).

Beloved Brothers,

feeling deeply both gratitude for the gift and sadness for the loss, I announce to you the passing of our big brother, dear friend and a living icon in the fraternity, MARIANO PUGA CONCHA from Santiago, Chile. He passed away last 14 March 2020 at 88 years old. He died of lymphatic cancer.

Allow me to honor the soul brotherhood we had with Mariano with the following lines. My first encounter with Mariano was in Cairo General Assembly in 2000. Prior to his election as general responsible, his presence in the assembly was like a virus contaminating us with joy and laughter with his delightful singing accompanied by an accordion. Little did I know that these songs were from the slums of Santiago, very jovial and empowering and never depressing. He was like a troubadour singing with his lungs and heart the dreams and aspirations of his people in Santiago. His wild spirit and joy-filled music captivated me.

My second encounter was in the US in 2002. He was visiting US fraternity while I was in a sabbatical. The late Howard Caulkins, another dear friend proposed that if I would come with him to the country assembly in Minnesota then, he would drive me to Mepkin Abbey where I would spend my sabbath year as monastic guest. We did drive together and there, I met Mariano again. Very easily, we reconnected, soul to soul, in a deeply personal and intimate way. I was sharing with him my crisis with the Church, with my personal demons and with God and I never felt so listened to. He simply embraced me tightly like an elder brother comforting a younger brother, with tears in his eyes, feeling my pain. Then, he smiled at me with these soothing words, “It will be okay.” We parted ways with a promise to hold each other in prayer – I to the Abbey and him to Tammanraset. My more recent encounter with him was last year in Cebu during the General Assembly. At 88, travelling across the globe took a heavy toll on him. He was hospitalized twice, and in both times, I was with him. The sage in him was calling me to come out from the tomb of my pretense and share personal testimonies. We easily reconnected, brother to brother, valuing each of our stories, at the emergency room (where he stayed for 5 hours) then, inside his room (which he vehemently resisted for he wanted to stay at the ward with the poor people), until very late in the evening. Then, with a smile on his face, he whispered to me, “the assembly has just finished, I could now go home.” I went home that night, so humbled yet so enriched by this soul-full exchange, our review of life which for Mariano is at the heart of any assembly of brothers.

Allow me to share also some lines which Fernando Tapia wrote to me about Mariano. “Mariano was a passionate seeker of God and a lover of Jesus of Nazareth. The encounter with Him through the poor of a dump changed his life forever. He left everything and entered the seminary. Here he met Charles de Foucauld and followed his spirituality until the end of his life. He was a spiritual father and formator at the seminary of Santiago. Then he became a worker priest for more than 30 years of his life sharing in the lives of the poor. He always lived among them. He was their pastor, defender during the time of military dictatorship of Pinochet, suffered being imprisoned 7 times. He promoted a church committed to the poor. He preached many retreats in Chile and outside of Chile. He was a man of prayer, of joy, close to everyone, a friend of believers and non-believers, a missionary to the peripheries of the Chilean society, following in the footsteps of Bro Charles. The gospel was his guide which he wanted to cry with his own life.”

Mariano, brother, friend, thank you very much. Thank you for you wild witness of a wild God in Jesus of Nazareth. I share the gratitude and the grief of the poor people of Santiago whom you have touched by your witness. May Jesus, the Good Shepherd welcome you to your new abode for eternity which he prepared for those who are faithful.

Brothers, I pray with Mariano that in our meetings and assemblies, we continue to risk sharing our poverty and vulnerability to one another. It is our poverty that unites, qualifies and liberates us as brothers-in-fraternity. The same is our springboard for mission with the poor, as we said in Cebu. May it also be our humble yet firm resolve to share in the missionary life of Jesus of Nazareth with the poor in the footsteps of Bro Charles.

With my fraternal embrace,
Eric LOZADA

PDF: Letter of Eric. Our brother Mariano PUGA, engl

Letter of Christmas of the general responsible, 1 January 2020

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“A child is born for us, and a Son is given to us…” (Isaiah 9:5)

Beloved brothers,

I am so sorry that this Christmas letter comes to you as a new year’s message. It’s just that in our diocese at the moment, I am asked to do a couple of sensitive ministries that many at times, I lose my balance. Wresting with evil and all its complex shadows that damage persons, relationships and institutions like the church, I repeatedly struggled to fall into the hands of a loving God for light, inner peace and love. But at times, I feel sad, angry and helpless. And so, by the grace of God, I am here, better late than never. Allow me to embrace you with warm greetings of joy in your local fraternities, dioceses, country and continental fraternities. Though many of you are still without faces to me but I continue to whisper each of your names before the Beloved. (Thanks to our directory but it needs updating). Last year, I was privileged to have met brothers from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Southeast USA, South Korea and Myanmar. In a special way, the Haiti meeting of the Association of the Spiritual Family of Charles de Foucauld last April has both grounded and expanded my knowledge of the Spirituality and Tradition. Thank you, sisters and brothers for the hospitable welcome, brotherly exchanges and humble witness.

I would like to start with the first question that Yahweh asked Adam in Genesis: where are you? I ask this question periodically just to check how grounded am I with my reality. Reality is not really mine but God’s reality in me and in the world and how free or unfree am I in responding to it. Adam was unfree, afraid of his nakedness, hiding from God, guilty of his sin. Without his knowing it, he operated from a distortion that alienated him from God and from his truth. From Adam came forth a whole “cracked” humanity. Yet, the prophet Isaiah prophesied about the coming of the new Adam: “a shoot springs from the stump of Jesse, a scion thrusts from his roots: on him the spirit of the Lord rests…” (Isaiah 11:1). There is a new humanity that is born from a tree that is cut from its roots – a humanity not hostaged by evil but “divinized,” restored to its original goodness. The crack is still there not anymore as a block but as the only opening for the flow of God’s grace to come in. And so, we pray, “O God… grant that we may share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” (Christmas, Collect).

Pope Francis has enabled us to look again at the nativity scene with his apostolic letter, Admirabilis Signum. The most admirable sign is that a humble infant God entrusted himself into the hands of a broken humanity. While most of humanity was not ready, the shepherds, animals, the manger were ready. They represent humanity receiving God in its lowest poverty, brokenness, imperfection, filthiness and by this radical act of self-donation, we become what we receive. This is pure divine initiative. The “manger” of our hearts, hardened and torn by evil in all its forms, both structural and personal when held before God becomes a humble yet prophetic space for encounter, dialogue, healing and hospitality with the many disguised faces of the Emmanuel today.

Allow me to bring into the picture Bro Charles, his wild life, excessive behavior, restless energy, passionate letters. He spent all his life trying to ground himself on the Mystery of the Incarnation. “Lord, if you exist, let me know you.” His was a cry for an experiential knowledge of God. He wrestled with the Mystery. And in God’s gentle and patient ways, he led him into a liberated response to the forgiving love of God. “Now that I know that there is a God, I cannot but give my whole life to him.” A further growing down into the Mystery made him say these words, “my way is always to seek the lowest place, to be as little as my Master, to walk with him step by step as a faithful disciple. My life is to live with my God who lived this way all his life and who has given me such an example from his very birth.” Jesus did nothing other than to go down and this marked Bro Charles permanently. The radical littleness of God at the Incarnation bore fruit to a life of further growing down into the radical humility of God in Nazareth. From Bethlehem to Nazareth, two foundational mysteries of God revealed in the life of Jesus and when we get this right, in the footsteps of Bro Charles, our lives, our way of doing mission as diocesan priests and the way we see the world is changed forever.

Before the Mystery, may I invite you to hold the complex realities of our local, country, regional and international fraternities, our dioceses, our church and our world. We have already seen some of these in Cebu but there is a need to see them with new eyes and respond with new enthusiasm and hope. The unassuming humble God of Nazareth may have subtle invitations for us in these realities.
In the April gathering of some 20 members of the Association, we learned of Haiti as a poor country but rich in faith. Our Little Brothers and Little Sisters of the Incarnation have a very prophetic and concrete presence in the lives of the Haitians in agriculture, education, livelihood programs, social services. Yet, corruption in the political system is making the country still in a dark tunnel of poverty, uncertainty and unrest. (As of the moment, the situation is even getting worse). Frs. Jonas Cenor and Charles Louis Jean, former little brothers of the Incarnation started the fraternity with 3 brothers in 2015. Fr. Fernando Tapia has visited and invited them to the Pan-American Meeting in 2017. With occasional visits from Fr. Abraham Apolinario, they continue to look for possibilities to meet regularly. The problem is not only distance but more so, the political climate is making travel dangerous. Where is God inviting us?

Our membership in the Association is a gift. I am in awe at how Bro Charles has inspired so many charisms and missionary work in the Church and some are still coming in. We could not set aside, however the tensions that this diversity brings. But these tensions could be life-giving when they are seen in the bigger agenda of the Kingdom. We all are invited to drink again and again from the same Spirit so that we can all walk together in harmony. The Association, though is asking for our more active involvement in terms of correspondence and attending meetings. I am handicapped in the French language and so I have invited Fr. Matthias Keil to represent us.

The fraternity in Santo Domingo and Santiago is very alive yet getting older. Pioneer member and retired Bishop, Rafael Felipe, his presence and life-witness is like a lighthouse to both clergy and seminarians of the diocese of Beni. He has been introducing the fraternity to the seminarians and had preached a couple of priest retreats on the Fraternity. Fr. Lorenzo, a very dynamic priest of a small parish lives in a semi-monastic community of priests, sisters and seminarians. Fr. Angel Marcano, however, asks the question that still seeks for answers: why after 30 years, we have not grown? Where is God inviting us?

I was privileged to have attended the 40th anniversary of Fr. Jerry Reagan in Toybee Island, Georgia, USA in May. His rectory is a fraternity house where priests could come and spend the night. He drives for 2 hours every month to Augusta to meet with the brothers, including Fr. Peter Clarke who is already 91. Starting with adoration, then review of life and ending with an agape, their meeting has been very regular and intimate that when a brother decides to leave, it leaves the fraternity fragile. With no new member, the fraternity is even more vulnerable.

The fraternity in South Korea is young and vibrant. Fr. Paul, who has lived in Tamanrasset for some time, started the fraternity in 1994 with Fr. Philip Yoon and is joined in by mostly young pastors. Christianity in Korea is very unique because it is laid on the foundation of the blood of thousands of martyrs who are mostly lay people. The brothers contribute from their personal money in order to put up a house where they could meet for the monthly meeting. Just like many, they struggle with desert day, review of life and the English language.

Seeing Frs. Eugene and Matthew and how they live, the fraternity in Myanmar has an ascetic face. The majority Buddhist religion made prominent by the presence of pagodas everywhere and the wearing of slippers (not shoes) make living in Myanmar naturally simple. Asking a non-JC priest, however, about his perception of the fraternity, his answer has disturbed me, “I cannot be honest with my answer in front of them.” What is the underlying face of the fraternity? Where is God inviting us? The brothers, though, struggle with finding regular time for meeting, desert day and review of life.

Cardinal Benjamin Stella, the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy in Rome has written me a letter through Fr. Aurelio, expressing his deep closeness with us and that we may “live afresh and with joy our mission according to the guiding principles” of the Holy Father. He, however, spelled out some concrete challenges – that we may take seriously the Nazareth month; that our fidelity to the means of spiritual growth ad intra is a necessary requirement for authentic mission ad extra; that our going out to the peripheries needs to be accompanied by our on-going conversion in order to bear fruit. The international team is scheduled to meet with the Cardinal in Rome in July this year.

In our team meeting last October, we, your brothers in the international team have discerned a major path that we need to take. We train a team of itinerant priests who will introduce the Fraternity Week (modeled after Brazil) to 4th year-theology seminarians, young priests and even make it available as annual retreat for priests. We need to write to the local ordinaries and we are starting this venture in Asia.

Finally, my gratitude to the financial acumen and hard work of our two Matthiases – Fr. Matthias Keil of Austria, our general treasurer and Fr. Matthias Fobe of Germany, our financial consultant. We have now a new bank account under 2 signatories – Fr. Matthias Keil and myself. Speaking of finances, the international team has agreed that brothers who need assistance to attend the Month or meetings abroad they need to be first supported by the local and country fraternities and only then will the international fund be asked to help out after due consultation with continental responsible. This is to put a stop to a sub-culture of entitlement and using the fraternity as a passport to travel abroad.

Brothers, Christmas is the opportune time for us to give birth. We move forward to the new year by looking back at the Father who gave us Jesus. We too need to give birth to our simplicity of life, joy of being, humility, loving compassion to poor. Side by side, together as brothers and friends, we walk by faith not by sight for our on-going configuration into Jesus’ life and ministry as inspired by Brother Charles and for our life-giving mission work with God’s beloved people.

Kindly offer a prayer for me, your inefficient brother-responsible.

With my fraternal embrace,
Eric Lozada

PDF: Letter of Christmas of the general responsible, 1 January 2020

Roberto GUZMÁN’s, tribute to Mariano PUGA

Mariano is staying… because when a person like him dies, he stays definitively among us, in our hearts and in our history. Mariano, like all of us has many flaws, but his virtues are so rare, that they eclipse by far everything we might not like about him; the strength of his honest and consistent austerity stands out, as well as the humility of his kind manner, especially attentive to the poorest and most suffering. And we appreciate that his intelligence is not ironic… and that he can sing well and play the accordion.

I remember that one night my namesake, Fr. Roberto Mosher, going down Los Baqueanos street in Peñalolén, with the lights of Santiago at our feet and surrounded by the voices of the neighborhood said to me: “I do not know if we take care of the people or if it is they who take care of us.” And I believe that Mariano Puga has been a priest cared for by the people. The people have recognized in this outsider by birth a profound man truly in love with the way of the poor. The people have accompanied him in every neighborhood where he has been, and he has closely accompanied the lives and ways of all those he has seen in his life, regardless of whether they believe or not. His broad and generous heart has a very good memory. I heard speak of Mariano Puga in 1979 and met him in the winter of ’86, when Rufino invited me to afternoon tea in La Penélope, the hut where Mariano lived in the Digna Rosa quarter. Juan Barraza, The Ticho and two or three more were staying there at that time. They were the hard times of the dictatorship and they spoke of the repression in the area. Mariano was leading the Sebastián Acevedo Anti-Torture Movement, of which my grandmother Josefina was a member. I was impressed by Mariano. Because of the poverty of his style and the news my grandmother told me about him in the street actions; when, for example, he stood in front of a policeman and pointing to his truncheon, said, “you have come here to punish the people, hit me then, here I am, hit me”. My grandmother told me the policeman turned round and ran away.

I am the son of an outsider who became a Marxist and joined the Mir, and I know that falling in love with the way of the poor and giving one’s all to defend them against the unjust aggression of “Mr. Money”, is neither easy nor cost free. But for Mariano the ideal was not a social dynamic but a person: Jesus of Nazareth and his Gospel, when he tells us that God (God Himself!… the Creator of Creation!) was for the poor. It must be said that in the ’60s and ’70s there were many priests and nuns who clearly opted for the poor and became associates in friendship (Bishop Enrique Alvear, Alfonso Baeza, Bishop Fernando Ariztía, Roberto Bolton, Pablo Richard, Blanca Rengifo, Ronaldo Muñoz, Meche and Elena Chaín, Esteban Gumucio, Karoline Meyer, Pepe Aldunate, Anita Gossens, Ignacio Vergara…), Mariano was never a loner. Mariano was very motivated to follow Jesus in the style of the Frenchman Charles de Foucauld, a Viscount who became poor and “brother to all” in following Jesus. Puga became a worker with a team of painter decorators, working each morning until lunch to attend the communities in the afternoons. Once, going to my mom’s house on Lastarria Street I heard: “Robeeeertoooo…!!!” it was Mariano up above the scaffolding, with his paper cone and full of paint that gestured to greet me. Ever attentive to his surroundings. At this moment he is dying in La Minga, his home in Villa Francia, always surrounded by friends.

About the year ’90 or ’91 someone said: “Mariano Puga is present in the consciousness of all the priests of Chile”, and I believe that it is true and that irritates almost all the monsignors and many priests who serve with schedules and ‘respectable conditions’. And this cost him. Mariano sometimes told me about Nestor Paz Zamora and gave me his blog. Néstor Paz was a former Bolivian seminarist (brother of Jaime who was president of Bolivia), who joined the guerrillas leaving after his death a message of love and struggle for a better world. Mariano constantly yearns to be radical. He visited me in 2013 in Africa, months after Pierre Dubois’s funeral, following an interview in The Clinic he titled “The Bishops simply don’t get It.” This brought him problems with those alluded to (although it is now clear – and endorsed by the Pope – that the priest was absolutely right) and Mariano was downhearted. He doesn’t like to be anyone’s enemy. Although not betraying Gospel values, he is friendly even with those who think diametrically opposed to him. He was a cadet in the time of Lieutenant Augusto Pinochet at the Military School, but I doubt he would have given him communion at a Mass after the coup of ’73. He was imprisoned in Villa Grimaldi and told us that an agent of the Dina (Secret Police) approached him asking, “Father, how can I get my son baptized?” Years later Mariano presided over the Liturgy with which the Park for Peace was opened in the same place as the horrific Terranova barracks from where so many people disappeared. In this beloved priest any of us can find a welcome, especially in the troubles they suffer. That is why Mariano will be long in the memory of this Chile which vociferously needs to soothe so many wounds that greed leaves every day in the poor quarters and which violently plucks eyes out trying vainly to hide its sin.
Roberto Guzmán