By Inés San Martín
ROSARIO, Argentina (Crux) – Puerto Rico’s top prelate issued a challenge for the island territory to clean up its political system, warning that right now, corruption “haunts and drowns” its society.
In a pastoral letter published Monday, Archbishop Roberto Octavio González Nieves of San Juan reflects on the COVID-19 pandemic and the island’s upcoming elections, inviting his people to heal politics, the country’s social fabric, promote the culture of encounter and fight against falling victim to an economy that, as Pope Francis says, “kills.”
“I want to encourage you to commit yourselves to our present and our future; from the most humble and youngest person, to the old man and the old woman with their experience,” the archbishop wrote.
He said the coronavirus pandemic and other crises such as “hurricanes, earthquakes, storms, economic inequality, domestic and gender violence, our national destiny and above all, the virus of corruption that haunts and drowns us, are problems and responsibilities of all.”
Puerto Rico, a self-governing Caribbean territory of the United States, will hold gubernatorial elections on Nov. 3.
“Faced with these challenges and the crisis of political credibility in the last decades, it’s urgent and necessary here and now, to rehabilitate political life in Puerto Rico,” Archbishop González Nieves said.
The letter, titled “Puerto Rico: Pandemic and General Elections, a call for reflection and dialogue,” was issued on Monday, the feast of St. Augustine.
In the 28-page long missive, Archbishop González Nieves invites the people of the island territory to reflect on the consequences of the pandemic; above all, among the most vulnerable populations: The poor, the elderly, and the thousands of unemployed Puerto Ricans.
For the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, the prelate invited the island’s inhabitants to promote a culture of solidarity, as all are “responsible for overcoming the temptation of opportunism, selfishness and isolationism. For this reason, it’s urgent to take personal and collective awareness as a people and nation, and even more so, as Christians: What kind of civilization are we building for Puerto Rico?”
“And in the midst and after the environmental, social, political and faith crises, what do we do or are we going to do with our history?” he insists. “Where are we going? Where do we want to go? What kinds of political, economic, scientific, social and religious decisions should we as a people undertake? What kinds of leadership and decisions are missing? Do we really care about our future and that of our sons and daughters? Who will roll the stone of the tomb for us to get out and get away from it and allow us to see the horizon?”
“Do we have a plan to resurrect or are we going to let our hope and love die?” the archbishop wrote quoting a reflection Pope Francis wrote for Spanish magazine Vida Nueva titled “A plan to Resurrect.”
According to Archbishop González Nieves, the pandemic caused by the new coronavirus — which has led to the death of over 800,000 people around the world — has exposed the plight of the poor and the great inequality that reigns in the world. Even though the virus does not discriminate, he argued, it has encountered great inequalities and discrimination, increasing them and making them all the more visible.
Though much is still unknown about COVID-19, statistics so far show that the death-rate is higher not only among elderly people or those with pre-existing conditions, but also among the poor: Either because they don’t have proper access to health care, or because they have pre-existing conditions directly tied to their poverty, from malnutrition to chronic pulmonary diseases.
Puerto Rico has had 33,200 cases and at least 434 deaths.
Archbishop González Nieves’s reflection also spoke about other “viruses” afflicting society and the world in recent decades, such as the “pandemic of corruption, whose victims are the poorest. This is painful because it undermines the credibility and vitality of democracy, morality and the hope of all, especially impacting the humblest and poorest in our society.”
“Corruption is a social, political and economic scourge that rots and eats away at everything,” the archbishop wrote.
Ahead of the upcoming November elections, the prelate made a call to rehabilitate “partisan politics” in the territory, an effort which he said requires men and women “who love God and their neighbor as themselves.”
Puerto Rico needs to “rehabilitate” the way of exercising its political order, as ideological and partisan passions today don’t allow the people to see beyond what’s good for themselves, hence the need to “cure another great virus: That of social injustice, marginalization and lack of opportunities for the weakest.”
Voting, he said, is a “right and an obligation,” and also a pedagogical path that must educate towards freedom, for only those who are free become protagonists of their own history, capable of solving the problems that have marred their past, mark their present and could mark their future.
“We can be protagonists of our destiny, of caring for the human dignity of every human being: Both the one who lives in a mother’s womb and has yet to see the light of day, and those who live in a nursing home,” he wrote, before giving a long list of situations in which the people of Puerto Rico can “improve,” including the care for the environment, creating opportunities for the youth and protecting the most vulnerable.
After listing the many challenges the territory faces, Archbishop González Nieves asks, “Puerto Rico, do you have a future?”
“Yes, because God in his providential love, never abandons his people,” he answered. “The compass of the soul of a Christian people always heads towards God.”
“We cannot continue as we are, because the world after what we’re going through won’t be the same either,” he wrote. “Wanting to return to ‘normality’ has to be wanting to return to the normality of the good, not to injustices, environmental destruction, violence, deception, [and] unbridled materialism.”
[Related: Archbishop Seeks Refounding of Puerto Rico’s Identity]