Hundreds of people filled the traditional colonial town square of San Andres Larrainzar in the pine-clad highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.
Though well after 10 p.m., an hour when this small Tzotzil Maya and Mestizo community would normally have settled into a quiet slumber, the streets around the municipal buildings catty-corner from the old church remained intensely awake. World attention was focused on this town.
In 1996 peace talks in part brokered by the Bishop of the Diocese of San Cristobal de las Casas, Samuel Ruiz Garcia, had begun there between the Mexican governments representatives and the indigenous leadership of the Zapatistas.
Locally known as “Tata,” from Jtatik which means father in one of the local Mayan languages, Bishop Ruiz’s own efforts championing the cause of the poor and the indigenous of southern Mexico cast him in a unique role in the drama unfolding in San Andres Larrainzar.
The economic changes accelerated by globalization coupled with age-old discrimination had deepened the poverty and isolation of the Mayan peoples of Chiapas. Articulating the cry for justice the Zapatistas rose in a remarkably nonviolent rebellion on January 1, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect.
Bishop Ruiz managed to mediate a ceasefire by January 12th. His work and advocacy for the politically and economically disenfranchised intensified.
On that night in San Andres Larrainzar while waiting for a meeting with the Zapatista leadership with our Canadian delegation from the aid and solidarity organization, Development and Peace, I saw Don Samuel Ruiz for the first time. Later, both my son Liam and I would spend time as international human rights observers in communities in conflict zones in Chiapas for Fray Bartolome de las Casas Human Rights Centre, which he founded in 1989.
As he would say in an LA Times interview a couple of years later “Peace for a Christian is an ongoing task; but peace goes hand in hand with justice. There can be no peace if there is no justice. Justice means bringing down from their throne those who are privileged and elevating those who are humble to the same heights.”
Last Monday, word spread across the web that Bishop Ruiz had died in Mexico City at 86 years of age.
Eulogies came quickly.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said in a statement, “Samuel Ruiz strove to build a more just Mexico – egalitarian, dignified and without discrimination in it – so that indigenous communities have a voice and their rights and freedoms are respected by all,” Bishop Ruiz’s death “constitutes a great loss for Mexico.”
Half a world away, the world’s self-proclaimed political and economic movers and shakers are meeting at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The theme of their gathering this year is Shared Norms for a New Reality.
On their website they elaborate; “This theme reflects the foremost concern of many leaders today – namely, living in a world that is becoming increasingly complex and interconnected and, at the same time, experiencing an erosion of common values and principles that undermines public trust in leadership as well as future economic growth and political stability.
“With ‘trillions’ replacing ‘billions’ when discussing the fate of the global economy, there is rising unease that growth will be more exclusive than inclusive for future generations.”
When the conference breaks up on Sunday after the traditional farewell buffet lunch at the luxurious Hotel Schatzalp, perched high above Davos, will the powerful gathered there see, as Don Samuel did, that “we begin to see solidarity between the First World and the Third World in the understanding that this world can be changed, that we can build a better society if we work together and that another world is possible and necessary.”
What kind of world are they building? What kind of a world do we want?
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.