My Dinner with Bishop Ruiz
Dennis Woerter, O.P.

November 8, 1999        


Greetings. What follows are some reflections I have from a dinner I had last night with Bishop Samuel Ruiz, the recently retired bishop of San Cristobal de las Casas. I also attended the talk he gave last night here in Madison.

The sisters at Edgewood College hosted a small dinner for Bp. Ruiz Sunday night after he arrived in Madison. I was invited to this gathering and joing the twenty-five or so others at this meal. My first impressions of the bishop were very positive. I introduced myself as a Dominican and he beamed. The focus of my conversation with him was not on that or on any of my work. He just wanted to know where our church was here and, after finding out that I was requiring the Confirmation class to attend his talk that evening, he wanted to know all about that program and the sorts of things we do. One of the most moving portions of the evening was when a testimony was read to him by one of the staff members at one of our neighboring parishes. The bishop seemed overwhelmed when this woman said, "Chiapas is a very small part of the world. But so was Galilee."

Nothing we talked about was related to him.

His talk was at the First Congregational Church here in Madison (not too far from Blessed Sacrament). The church was filled. The bishop focused on the church's authority in preaching and doing justice. His talk was a call to action, stemming from the mandate of Pope John XXIII as he opened Vatican II, saying that we must look through the eyes of the poor--for they are the church. This alone, he said, gives us the authority to do justice. Even though he was speaking to an ecumenical crowd (one person sitting right in front of me was wearing a yarmulke) he insisted that the church's call to action on behalf of justice is a universal call that must be taken up by all people.

The struggle for justice and human rights is a universal struggle and we cannot survive if any of our brothers and sisters are in any way denied their fundemental right to exist.

The question and answer session that followed brought out his reflections on the issue of racism. What is being dealt with now in Mexico is what the United States dealt with (and is still dealing with) in the pre-Civil Rights era. There is a section of the Mexican Constitution that says Indigenous people must have permission to even exist (!!) Conversion is a process that must be gone through by everyone. The struggle for justice is personal, yet communal -- in that we all must struggle with our own issues, but we must also reflect on how our attitudes and actions affect others.

I was honored to have been invited to share a meal with this wonderful man. I fear that my synopsis of our conversation and his talk is not enough to convey his entire message or the power of his presence.

Feel free to share your own thoughts with me personally, or through this avenue.


Dennis Woerter, O.P.
Promoter of Social Justice