Raúl Vera laughs when asked if he considers himself a revolutionary or a rebellious member of the Church, as many define him.
But listening to him passionately review his 75 years of life makes it clear that the work of the renowned Mexican bishop has not been that of just any religious.
His speech and action has always been on the side of the most vulnerable. He has actively supported migrants, farmers, and the LGBTI community. He has fiercely criticized the abuses of power and the violence of the drug traffickers, which has earned him many threats.
He also received calls from the Vatican. In the 1990s, he raised blisters among some cardinals in Rome for his tireless struggle so that the indigenous people of Chiapas had better living conditions in the midst of the uprising of the Zapatista movement.
At the end of last January, Vera said goodbye to the diocese of Saltillo, in the state of Coahuila on the border with the United States.
“Don Raúl” offered his last mass as bishop with his unique style: in front of photos of missing persons and of the 65 miners who died trapped in a state mine in 2006 and whose bodies were never recovered.
The already emeritus bishop symbolically hung up the habits but, alert in conversation with BBC Mundo, he does not intend to cease his work in defense of human rights (this interview has been edited for brevity and clarity).
What is your assessment of all these decades of struggle for human rights?
The work on which I focused the most was to generate a Church with a liberating spirit, which would remove the causes of forced disappearance, poverty, submission and abandonment of peasants, migrants, and miners of the Coal…
I was concerned about organizing a mature, well-organized Church, which thus begins to bear fruit and has the capacity to remove causes.
Do you understand that you are in the news for your strong activism, or rather the news should be the religious who do not do the same thing as you?
What should I tell him? It is to be hoped that the Church is very strong. The Church is a people that walks with the world. She gives to the world and also receives teachings from the world.
The structure of the State is to generate the good of all. But when corruption, ambition and selfishness enter public policy, that spreads in a terrible way. And there, our silence as a Church of course hurts.
More than 20 years ago he left San Cristóbal de las Casas, in Chiapas, where he played an important role in the peace process after the Zapatista uprising. His diocese did not condemn the movement and supported the indigenous population in the fight for their rights, which was not understood by all …
At that time, we had to help lift so many people out of poverty and oppression on the Latin American continent… and the Church had to make an option for justice.
And that, seen in the light of the Cold War between capitalism and communism at that time, because they took flight to say that the bishops were leaving the focus of the gospels.
To Pope John Paul II, who came behind the “iron curtain” to govern the Church, the Latin American cardinals in Rome began to tell him that the bishops in the region had gotten into socialism, communism, Marxism … things like that .
And what similarities do you find between the situation you saw in Chiapas and the current one in Mexico?
In terms of human rights, it is evident that Mexico has regressed.
What we saw in the indigenous people, all Mexicans live today: the same segregation and the same oppression that the Chiapas had at that time, now all the Mexican people have. Today, all of Mexico is Chiapas.
The neoliberal economic system has generated inequity. The abysmal differences between wealth and poverty have been enlarged by the model throughout the world, and in Mexico we are no different. And this is evident because the voracity of those who have power does not end.
What is the great tragedy for Mexico today?
The great tragedy we are living today is the tragedy of corruption.
Our tragedy is that injustice has settled in our congresses, and some deputies and senators have become merchants in recent years.
You do a tireless job defending the rights of migrants trying to get from Mexico to the US Do you expect changes with the new president Joe Biden? What do you think of what the Mexican government has done in this regard?
Not only because of Donald Trump, migrants have always suffered from this complicity of Mexico with the United States so that they cannot reach the north.
If any part of Mexico suffered human rights violations with impunity, it was the routes of migrants that passed through Mexico from Central America. There they have been able to do whatever they want.
That is, for me, a humanitarian tragedy that opens terrible wounds in this generation that we are living and for which we are going to be judged very severely.
How many times did they call your attention from the Vatican?
They got my attention a couple of times, especially because of my work with gays.
The first time, they made me derail my work with an LGBTI community group that was helping me get into the wider community.
Later, for a conference that I gave and that was published on YouTube, in which I said: “You are that by nature and that you should help us in the Church to do pastoral work with yourselves.”
His harsh criticism of organized crime and his support for the families of the disappeared have made him receive a multitude of threats. Never thought of throwing in the towel?
Never. Of course it is not pleasant and, above all what weighs more on me, is when the threats are for the people who work with me on my team.
Well, if they kill me … let them kill me. But it hurts the people who work with me. But give in? To give in to evil is to betray the Gospel.
In view of all your work, don’t you see yourself as a “revolutionary” or rebel of the Church, as many people classify him?
No, I don’t look like that (laughs). I don’t look like that because I don’t feel that way. It would be crazy. I do everything from the Gospel, from the responsibility of caring for my sheep and for them I stand in front.
A chief of the Armed Forces sent me to say through a brother bishop that they were losing confidence in me, what a shame, etc … Well, I don’t work for them, I work for the Gospel and while they are killing the indigenous people I will I will defend. I’ve always done it.
If the shepherd does not defend the sheep, then what shepherd is he?
Now that he has left his post as bishop of Saltillo, what will Raúl Vera dedicate himself to?
I still have moral obligations here with projects such as that of migrants, which is something that worries me a lot, and also with the Center for Human Rights accompanying the relatives.
I will continue to be there to answer some questions as long as the diocese does not stop offering a service.
I will continue to pay attention to all the people with whom I got engaged and to whom I cannot say: “I’m done, let’s see what they do.” I have obligations to them.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.