This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

August 18 -- Feast of Saint Alberto Hurtado

Saint Alberto, a happy guy
Chile has produced two canonized saints so far -- Teresa of the Andes, a Carmelite nun, and Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga, a Jesuit priest.  Given the tremendously conservative hierarchies (political and religious) that have dominated the country, it is not surprising that canonizations have been slow.  The truth is, the Vatican looks pretty liberal for most of the twentieth century when compared to the Chilean government.

Luis Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga was born in1901, a descendant of Basques.  His dad died when he was four, leaving the family in financial decline.  Fortunately, he was awarded a scholarship to a Jesuit school, which was followed by the Pontifica Universidad Catolica de Chile, where he studied law.  Yet he decided not to pursue a legal career, opting instead to become a Jesuit priest.  He started his training in Barcelona, but was expelled in 1932 by the anti-clerical left-wing Republicans.  He was ordained in 1933, but stuck around Belgium to earn his doctorate in psychology and pedagogy.  Fortunately, he returned to Chile well ahead of the rolling Reich's Belgian blitz.

Working with the wee ones -- Hogar de Cristo
The Roman Catholic Church in Europe had been increasingly vocal about the plight of the poor.  This started with reformers within the Church who evangelized the proletariat that had been socially and religiously dislocated by urbanization, but the spirit worked its way into the highest levels of the Church.  Not so, however, in Latin America.  There the upper clergy were tightly tied to the ruling elite and the rural poor were shamefully under-served by clergy.  While archbishops lived large, country priests rode circuit through the towns and villages, offering sacraments on a monthly basis, more or less.  Small wonder that the campesinos turned more toward devotion to the BVM and saints than toward the sacramental forms of worship.

Father Hurtado wrote critically of the Church's priorities in Chile.  He not only noted the imbalance in the priests' assignments, but also observed that rural priests were frequently under-educated in the catechism, offering little formal instruction to their congregations. Naturally, his complaints were dismissed as exaggerations.  He continuous advocacy of the poor led his critics to eventually complain that he was a communist, a charge they surely would have stuck on Jesus himself had they met him.

Nationally celebrated
In the forties, he founded Hogar de Cristo (Home of Christ), a Chilean version of Boys Town.  The movement caught on, and soon there were shelters opening all over the country. In his green pick-up truck, he drove through the slums at night, looking for abandoned and needy children to bring to the shelters.

and canonized
Recognizing that inequalities in society had many heads, he labored to launch the Chilean Trade Union Association.  While this did nothing to stop the rumors that he was a communist, it did exert a Christian influence into the labor movement, which may well have prevented it from taking a Marxist turn.  Say what you want about liberation theology and the useful idiots (at the time, I said plenty), it was good to have a few priests in the Movement to remind everyone else that Bolsheviks tended to ruin the party with their purges.

I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that Father Hurtado had been found dead in a ditch or assassinated on the steps of a church.  It was not his critics, but his pancreas that did him in.  Stricken with pain in 1952, he was diagnosed with cancer and suffered a rapid, painful descent into death.  He lived long enough to become the focus of the national media, propelling him from controversial activist to national hero.  His example wasn't enough to prevent the coup in 1973 that killed tens of thousands of activists, but at least it provided a third path between the Marxists and the Nationalists.

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