Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
August 31, 2009
Hebert embraces Latin American leaders
Edmonton priest now feels he is not alone in battling the pervasive poverty that handcuffs the desperate lives of the marginalized peoples
Fr. Denis Hebert
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
After 40 years serving the poor of Latin America, Father Denis Hebert has come to appreciate the wave of change engulfing the region and loves the fact many countries now have leaders that care about the poor.
The 79-year-old Edmonton priest praises the likes of presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Evo Morales of Bolivia for their efforts to eliminate poverty.
"People (in Latin America) have begun to realize that the current international economic system is not working in their favour and are demanding change," he says. "They have elected presidents that are very concerned about the future of their people and are attempting to put the natural resources of their country at the service of the people."
Hebert, who has lived in Nicaragua for the past 19 years, was in Edmonton recently on a working holiday.
He lives and works in Edgard Lang, a barrio of about 2,000 people in the capital city of Managua, where he has helped establish cooperatives, child and youth programs, and health clinics among other projects.
Hebert has also introduced high school and university scholarship programs as an incentive to keep children in school.
Originally from Villeneuve, Hebert celebrated his 50th anniversary as a priest last year. He is not planning to retire any time soon.
"I like Chavez very much," he said with a smile during a recent interview. "You see, there is a new type of leader in Latin America who has a vision (for their people). They have a lot of opposition inside and out and that's okay.
BREATH OF FRESH AIR
"But they are like a breath of fresh air because they have a new vocabulary and they have a new way of governing and they are willing to take chances to make things work."
Hebert no longer feels alone in his fight again poverty. In a way, he feels the new rulers of Latin America are on his side - trying to redistribute the wealth and restore dignity to the marginalized.
"It's very encouraging. And the Church of Latin America is in that line of work also. The Church of Latin America is contributing a lot to the moral welfare of the people and a sense of faith in God and in the future."
Here is the reason he likes Chavez. "(Before him) the people of Venezuela did not benefit from the revenue of the oil because it was all privately owned and all the riches from the oil left the country.
"He nationalized all the oil resources and with that he is building schools, he is building roads, he is building clinics in the far reaches of the country where they never had anything like that before. That's a major national improvement.
"We should be praising God for that. But the rich and powerful don't like it because it takes away from them and takes their power."
Hebert began his Latin American journey in the late 1960s, inspired by Pope John VI's 1968 encyclical On the Development of Peoples, which called on the Church to be on the side "of those peoples who are trying to escape the ravages of hunger, poverty, endemic disease and ignorance."
"I wanted to help the poor of Latin America discover how they could improve their life conditions and how they could be part of that change that takes place," he said in the interview.
Hebert moved to Peru in 1969 to help operate a parish that the Edmonton Archdiocese had opened in Lima three years earlier. He stayed there until 1976. He later served in Panama and St. Vincent & the Grenadines before moving to Nicaragua in 1990.
"I fell in love with the people," he says of his stint in Latin America. "I found the people so welcoming and so full of faith and love that they won my heart."
MINISTRY OF HOPE
In his ministry of hope the priest learned that the only form of development that works is one that's accepted by the people. "True development has to be as free as the gift of faith and people have to want it and have to be willing to struggle to make the changes," he explains.
The bottom line is to help the marginalized improve their life conditions so they can "become masters of their own destiny," stressed Hebert.
"We offer them alternatives, we advise them on what would be better for them but we don't impose our decisions and we let then try one and the other until they find something that is acceptable to them."
In his work, Hebert doesn't offer courses on democracy or workshops on development per se. He lives among the people and makes his pitch every time people gather.
In Nicaragua, things are better than they have been in a long time, according to the priest. While past rulers have made rules to their own benefit leaving the poor with no rights and no voice, Ortega has made improvements that help the marginalized and give them "a sense of belonging to the country."
A PASTORAL AGENT
He lauds Ortega for his vision and feels that his own work as a pastoral agent contributes to that vision and offers an opportunity to the people to deepen their faith in the Church and in God.
Nicaragua needs to be rebuilt and the government has taken a few steps in that direction.
"For instance in Nicaragua they have free health care and free education," noted Hebert.
People also have better water and electric services and there are national programs to eliminate poverty. Small industry is encouraged and farmers are given loans to buy cattle and chicken.
Despite the efforts, poverty is still widespread and help is needed. "The people of Nicaragua are so poor they need financial assistance all the time," lamented Hebert. "The national education and health programs don't cover everything and people need money for prescriptions and school supplies."
Canadians can help through the Edmonton-based Roots of Change Foundation, a non-profit charitable society established two years ago to ensure that the legacy of Hebert's work in Nicaragua continues after he retires.
Roots of Change is trying to raise $235,000 this year to support Hebert's mission in Nicaragua. Donations can be sent to Roots of Change Foundation, PO Box 92, St. Albert. T8N 1N2.
Letter to the Editor - 09/21/09
Letter to the Editor - 09/21/09