Archive for the ‘Saints of 2020-2029’ Category

Feast of Joseph Lowery (October 5)   Leave a comment

Above:  Joseph and Evelyn Lowery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1994

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-47972

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JOSEPH ECHOLS LOWERY, SR. (OCTOBER 6, 1921-MARCH 27, 2020)

African-American United Methodist Minister and Civil Rights Leader

Joseph Lowery comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via civil rights activism.

The struggle to gain and retain civil rights, which should be automatic because one has a pulse, never ends.  At any given time, some person, group, or political party seeks to deny or curtail the civil rights of certain people based on an arbitrary characteristic.  These evildoers frequently cloak these efforts in the language of righteousness.  The life and legacy of Joseph Lowery contains lessons that, sadly, remain current and relevant.

Lowery, born in Huntsville, Alabama, on October 6, 1921, grew up in the (old) Jim Crow South.  His mother, Dora Lowery, was a teacher.  His father, Leroy Lowery, Jr., was a small businessman.  The 14-year-old Lowery once refused to get off a sidewalk as a white man approached and passed.  For this alleged offense, a white police officer punched our young saint.  The youth rushed home to get a gun, but his father dissuaded him.  The family sent Lowery to live with relatives in Chicago, Illinois, for a few years.  Our saint returned to Huntsville in 1936.  After graduating from William Cooper Council High School in 1939, he went to college.  He matriculated at Knoxville College, transferred to Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College, then studied at Paine College, Augusta, Georgia (Class of 1943).

Lowery became a minister in The Methodist Church (1939-1968).  He matriculated at Payne Theological Seminary (of the African Methodist Episcopal Church), Wilberforce, Ohio, 1944.  In the early 1940s, he had married Agnes Moore.  The couple had two children, Joseph Lowery, Jr.; and Leroy Lowery, III.  That marriage ended in divorce in the middle 1940s.  Our saint completed his Doctor of Divinity degree from the Chicago Ecumenical Institute, Chicago, Illinois (1950).  That year, he also married civil rights activist Evelyn Gibson, a member of The Methodist Church.  The couple had three children:  Yvonne, Karen, and Cheryl.

Lowery served as the pastor of Warren Street Methodist Church, Mobile, Alabama (1952-1961).  During those years, he became a leader in the Civil Rights Movement.  He helped to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  Lowery also led the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, dedicated to the desegregation of buses and public places.  In 1957, Lowery; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and others founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).  He held various positions in the SCLC before serving as the President (1977-1997).  The State of Alabama harassed Lowery and certain other civil rights leaders in 1959.  The state seized their cars and other property to pay damages resulting from a libel suit.  The United States Supreme Court, in New York Times Company v. Sullivan (1964), ruled that Alabama’s libel law violated the First Amendment’s protections of freedom of speech and press.  The State of Alabama, therefore, had acted unconstitutionally.

From 1961 to 1964, Lowery worked in the office of Methodist Bishop Michael Golden, in Nashville, Tennessee.  Our saint continued to participate in protests for civil rights during these years.

Lowery was pastor of St. Paul Methodist Church, Birmingham, Alabama, from 1964 to 1968.  He also marched with Dr. King at Selma in 1965.

Lowery was the senior pastor of Central United Methodist Church, Atlanta, Georgia (1968-1986).  Almost immediately, he continued his tradition of getting arrested from a righteous cause, but in Georgia.  Our saint’s participation in a sanitation workers’ strike (1968) led to jail time.  This was neither his first nor last time to go to jail for protesting peacefully.  He, active in the anti-Apartheid movement, went to jail in the District of Columbia for participating in a protest there outside the South African embassy in 1984, for example.

Lower was the senior pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church, Atlanta, Georgia (1986-1992).  He built up his congregation, community, city, and society.  Our saint worked to ensure that Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) lines ran through African-American communities.  He also helped to initiate a gun buyback program.  Evelyn initiated an HIV/AIDS program from African-American communities.  Lowery retired in 1992.

Lowery remained socially conscious, active, and controversial (as all proper social activists are) in retirement.  He served as the President of the SCLC until 1997.  Clark Atlanta University opened the Joseph E. Lowery Center for Justice and Human Rights in 2001.  At the funeral of Coretta Scott King, in 2006, in the presence of President George W. Bush, Lowery aroused much conservative ire by condemning the federal government for fighting a war in Iraq yet not a war on domestic poverty.  (One gets to denounce a U.S. President peacefully in the presence of that President in the United States of America, of course.  It is a grand American tradition.)  Later in life, our saint openly advocated for equal rights for homosexuals.  He initially spoke out in favor of civil unions, then, in 2012, same-sex marriage.

Evelyn Lowery died on September 26, 2013.

Our saint, aged 99 years, died in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 27, 2020.

Perhaps the best way to conclude this post is with Lowery’s benediction at the first inauguration of President Barack Obama, on January 20, 2009:

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest,

and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work

for that day when black will not be asked to get in back; 

when brown can stick around;

when yellow will be mellow;

when the red man can get ahead, man;

and when white will embrace what is right.

Let all those who do justice and love mercy say,

Amen!  Say Amen!  And Amen!

That vision remains in the future tense, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 13, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BARBER LIGHTFOOT, BISHOP OF DURHAM

THE FEAST OF HENRI PERRIN, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC WORKER PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GLOUCESTER, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARTIN I, BISHOP OF ROME, AND MARTYR, 655; AND SAINT MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR, EASTERN ORTHODOX MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR, 662

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROLANDO RIVI, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR, 1945

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant, Joseph Echols Lowery, Sr.] to use our freedom

to bring justice among peoples and nations, to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

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Feast of Dianna Ortiz (September 2)   3 comments

Above:  Map of Central America

Image in the Public Domain

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DIANNA MAE ORTIZ (SEPTEMBER 2, 1958-FEBRUARY 19, 2021)

U.S. Roman Catholic Nun and Anti-Torture Activist

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In spite of the memories of humiliation, I stand with the people of Guatemala.  I demand the right to heal and to know the truth.  I demand the right to a resurrection.

–Sister Dianna Ortiz, Lafayette Park, Washington, D.C., Palm Sunday, March 31, 1996; quoted in Jim Wallis and Joyce Hollyday, eds., Cloud of Witnesses, 2nd. ed. (2005), 42

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From the brokenness and pain of her torture and its aftermath, beauty and joy emerged.  She modeled the gentle strength of non-violence and the deep compassion for others reflected in Catholic Social Teaching.

–Jane Deren on Sister Dianna Ortiz, 2021

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My policy here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS is almost always to cap content at a PG rating.  This post exceeds that rating.  Certain details are both essential and extremely disturbing.  At least as disturbing are the human capacities for cruelty and subsequent obfuscation.

Sister Dianna Ortiz comes to this, A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, via Wallis and Hollyday, eds., Cloud of Witnesses, 2nd. ed. (2005).

Ortiz dedicated her life to serving God, present in the vulnerable, powerless, and voiceless.  She, born to Ambroshia “Amby” Ortiz and Pilar Ortiz, Sr., on September 2, 1958, was one of eight children.  Our saint, born in Colorado Springs, grew up in Grants, New Mexico.  Ortiz became a postulant (1977) then a full member (1978) of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph.  She taught at Immaculate Conception High School, Hawesville, Kentucky (1983-1985), then at Blessed Mother School (1985-1987).

Above:  The Flag of Guatemala

Image in the Public Domain

Then Ortiz went to Guatemala in 1987.  There she taught Mayan children in the highlands.  The Guatemalan government placed our saint under surveillance for allegedly meeting with subversives.  She received many threats and moved around, out of caution.  The Guatemalan government, with the backing of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.), tortured alleged subversives.  The Cold War made for morally unsavory bedfellows and the betrayal of American high principles in the name of fighting communists, real or imagined.

On November 2, 1989, Guatemalan security forces abducted our saint, whom they had mistaken for Veronica Ortiz Hernandez, allegedly a subversive.  In the presence of an American, “Alejandro,” these Guatemalans burned Ortiz’s chest and back hundreds of times with cigarettes and repeatedly gang-raped her.  They broke the nun, impregnated her, and forced her to kill another female prisoner with a machete.  Then “Alejandro,” citing the fight against communism, tried to blackmail Ortiz into forgiving her attackers.  If she did not, he said, he or they would release the photographic evidence (which they had) of the nun killing the other prisoner.  These attackers also threw the nun into a pit full of bloody corpses, some of them decapitated.  “Alejandro,” who realized that the Guatemalan security forces had abducted the wrong Ortiz and swore when he first understood this, wore dark glasses and a wig.  He had an American accent and spoke, broken Spanish yet fluent American English.

Ortiz, detained for a day, visited a Guatemalan doctor before immediately returning to the United States of America.  She was so traumatized that she did not remember her life prior to November 2.  Guatemalan and U.S. officials minimized what had happened to our saint.  After a doctor in the United States counted 111 cigarette burns on Ortiz’s back alone, our saint’s story received more factual support.  In January 1990, the Guatemalan defense and interior ministers, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, played the homophobic card.  They tried to defame Ortiz by calling her a lesbian, as if that would make the torture less egregious.

Ortiz spent years rebuilding her life and recovering memories of her life pre-November 2, 1989.  She never recovered all of these memories.  Ortiz, realizing that she was pregnant, had an abortion.  Later, she wrote that she felt she had no choice and was not proud of that decision. Official U.S. denial of involvement in the rape and torture did not help Ortiz recover.  Repeated Freedom of Information Act requests led to various results, from refusal to pages full mostly blacked-out text.  The most honest response Ortiz received face-to-face came from First Lady Hillary Clinton, who admitted that a U.S. agent was probably involved.  Ortiz’s international legal case resulted in the verdict that the government used torture.  Yet nobody directly involved faced any legal consequences.

Ortiz became an activist against torture and for victims of torture, as well as against human trafficking and for victims thereof.  She was a grassroots organizer for the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission (1994-2000).  In 1998, she founded the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition.  She, with Patricia Davis, wrote The Blindfold’s Eyes:  My Journey from Torture to Truth (2002).  Our saint also testified before Congress and opposed the post-9/11 use of “enhanced interrogation.”  Ortiz worked for Pax Christi (2010-2012), first as the Interim Director then as the Deputy Director.  After serving at the Education for Justice project at the Center for Concern (2012-2018), our saint returned to Pax Christi as the Deputy Director in March 2020.

Telling her story was extremely difficult for Ortiz.  Yet she did so out of the conviction that she should be a voice for the voiceless.  After each lecture, Ortiz could not sleep for several nights.  Furthermore, she suffered flashbacks and had to spend a week in bed.

Ortiz contracted COVID-19 in 2020.  She never fully recovered from the virus.  What she initially thought to be lingering effects of COVID-19 turned out to be inoperable cancer.  Our saint, knowing that she had a few months left to live, put her affairs in order, said her goodbyes, and spoke of reuniting with her beloved father in Heaven.  Ortiz’s mother and siblings were with her in Washington, D.C., when she died on February 19, 2021.  Our saint was 62 years old.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 5, 2021 COMMON ERA

MONDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF ANDRÉ, MAGDA, AND DANIEL TROCMÉ, RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF EMILY AYCKBOWM, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF THE CHURCH

THE FEAST OF MARIANO DE LA MATA APARICIO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN BRAZIL

THE FEAST OF PAULINE SPERRY, U.S. MATHEMATICIAN, PHILANTHROPIST, AND ACTIVIST; AND HER BROTHER, WILLARD LEAROYD SPERRY, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, ETHICIST, THEOLOGIAN, AND DEAN OF HARVARD LAW SCHOOL

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM DERHAM, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCIENTIST

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.

Help us [like your servant Sister Dianna Ortiz]

to use our freedom to bring justice among people and nations,

to the glory of your name;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-14

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 37

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