October 25, 2002

Former Bishop of Chiapas Humanitarian, Defender of the Poor to Lecture October 28 at UCSD

A Catholic Bishop who championed the rights of the poor in the impoverished Mexican state of Chiapas and rose above rampant adversity from the state’s political factions and military powers will speak Oct. 28 at the University of California, San Diego.

Bishop Samuel Ruiz, retired bishop of the Chiapas city of San Cristóbal de las Casas and internationally respected humanitarian, will speak on The Pursuit of Justice from the Perspective of the Poor at 8 p.m. in the Hojel Hall Auditorium of UCSD’s Institute of the Americas. The event is free and open to the public. Ruiz will lecture in Spanish and there will be an English translator. “Bishop Ruiz is admired throughout the world and has won many awards for his courage and determination in advancing the causes of the poor in Chiapas,” said Fred Randel, UCSD literature professor and Chair of UCSD’s Burke Lectureship in Religion and Society which is sponsoring the bishop’s visit. “He defended the culture of the indigenous people of Chiapas against forces in Mexico, the Catholic Church, and the global economy that did not appreciate its value.”

The bishop’s colorful career includes being dubbed “the red bishop” by critics who accused him of favoring radical groups, inciting rebellion and politicizing local indigenous people in Mexico’s poorest state, according to World News. “In his four decades at the head of the diocese,” writes the Central America/Mexico Report, “Ruiz outlasted seven presidents and 13 governors ...and survived at least four assassination attempts.”

Ruiz, 78, retired from his duties in 1999 when he reached mandatory church retirement age. His retirement ceremony was described as a year-long farewell in the 42 jungle and highland parishes of the San Cristóbal Diocese “to a beloved and beleaguered bishop,” one of the last beacons of liberation theology, which promoted the church of the poor, in Latin America. Among Ruiz’s many awards is the Martin Ennals Award. “This international award is given for defending human rights and for courage,” said Randel. Ruiz also was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times.

Very different from the crusader was the young priest Ruiz when he assumed duties in San Cristóbal de las Casas in 1960, fresh from Rome and naïve about the culture of Chiapas and the plight of the downtrodden. After his eyes were thoroughly opened to the tragic inhumanity and indignity the poor suffered at the hands of the government and the military, he grew into the role of their much heralded champion, likened to Bartolomé de las Casas, the first bishop of Chiapas and defender of the people.

Randel said he had invited Bishop Ruiz to UCSD the first time five years ago, and again a year and a half ago, but Ruiz was unable to come. In mid-summer, the bishop contacted Randel, saying he would be lecturing in Chicago and St. Paul in October and would be happy to add UCSD to his visits. This is his only lecture on the West Coast.

The Burke Lectureship program has been active since 1985, inviting distinguished speakers in religion and society from throughout the world to lecture at UCSD. This year’s lecture is co-sponsored by the UCSD Center for the Humanities, Dean of the Division of Arts & Humanities, Center for Iberian and Latin American Studies, Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, the departments of Literature and History, the Wesley Foundation, and the Western Dominican Province.

For further information on Ruiz’s Oct. 28 lecture, which is free and open to the public, call Marg McKnight at  (858) 534-2252.

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