Some good friends of mine live in Castelldefels, they have a house on the sea front and I go and visit them from time to time. Nothing fancy, just a dip in the sea and a good chat while we share food and friendship. On one of these visits they told me they would soon be receiving a visit from a priest from Chiapas (Mexico). They didn’t actually know him but a mutual friend had asked if they could put him up whilst he was looking for more permanent accommodation for the time he would spend here doing a course at the Catalonia Theology Department.
A few days later I got a phone call from Marcos and Virpy to say father Gabriel had arrived and was staying in their house. I spoke to him over the phone and we agreed to meet in Barcelona. He struck me as quite shy but very polite and good mannered. On the appointed day we met up in Catalonia Square and after a visit round the cathedral and the gothic quarter we went and had lunch in a restaurant in the old town.
Having told him about the country’s typical dishes, we had a long conversation. After a while he began to talk more whilst I listened. I was fascinated by all the things he told me about his communities and the conditions they lived in the forest. They were hard and dramatic situations. His eyes lit up when he talked about them. He started to tell me about his concerns over a group of who had come to his town hoping to set up an adult education initiative. Everyone thought it was a good idea and he himself gave up part of the space in the church for the sessions. But when he heard what the so-called teachers were teaching he became more concerned. These were history classes that focused on all the suffering their ancestors had experienced, the injustices that had happened and the consequences of this. He noticed that as time went on people were becoming more disorientated; he even said they were being hostile towards neighbouring communities and people from other countries. Gabriel talked to the organisers and explained how he felt. They answered frankly, saying that they couldn’t start a revolution by handing out guns, first they had to tell history as it had happened.
I couldn’t believe it: History was being used as a tool to plant resentments! I had heard about it many times but no one had ever explained it so clearly. History is an amazing source of experiences, a great maestro that helps us learn about the mistakes of our ancestors so that we can avoid repeating them. But we cannot turn it into a tool to shovel the weight of all the glory and blame of the past onto people’s shoulders. It cannot be an instrument used to create enemies and turn ourselves into victims or slaves of circumstance. Things that have happened in the past can be taught so that we learn from them but not so we inherit past victories and injustices. History should help us be friends, because through friendship we can build a fairer society and a better world. We must free ourselves from all glory and blame and start to work from here for the sake of others. History should be at the service of man to be used to develop human brotherhood.
Gabriel went back to Chiapas some time ago and he continues to work within the communities. My friends in Castelldefels have told me that he is very happy and the situation has calmed down.