By his death in Bolivia in March 1980, Luis Espinal, a Spanish Jesuit, became another martyr for our time. His prayer "The glorified Christ" is here translated by an Irish confrere, who recalls the facts of his brief life.
Born in Manresa, Spain, where St Ignatius of Loyola had his vision of the Society of Jesus, Luis Espinal began his path to martyrdom in 1949 by joining the Jesuits at 17. After making his religious vows in 1951, he studied Greek literature and other humanistic disciplines (1951-53); he obtained an ecclesiastical licentiate in philosophy (1953-56), his thesis topic being "The problem of evil," and a civil licentiate in 1959 with a thesis, "The anthropology of Lucretius," whom he regarded as an existentialist before the existentialists; he taught Greek literature and Latin poetry for a time to Jesuit students, and throughout the 1950s translated and commented on the poetry of an English Jesuit then unknown in Spain, Gerard Manley Hop kins! He worked with and wrote for a number of reviews, and during his study of theology (1959-63) he helped to found an international review committed to spreading the thought of Vatican II theologians. He obtained his licentiate in theology in 1963 with a thesis on "Theology and symbolism." After his ordination he specialised in the study of the mass media before making programmes for Spanish television. It was the time of Franco, and Luis' programmes on pressing social problems were frequently censored. He resigned his post in December 1967 when his programme on Spanish slums was not screened.
He arrived in Bolivia in August 1968. His activities there were manifold. They included teaching at the university, writing film criticism for Presencia, the Bolivian national daily, broadcasting for Radio Fides, making television programmes, and journalism. His numerous writings from 1968-1980 included twelve books on the cinema. All of his work reflected a deep social conscience and a wonderful faith, and took place against a background of strife and struggle endemic to a society that has averaged one coup a year since its independence.
Because of his prophetic style he was often in conflict with the State, and sometimes, too, with the Church. But although he suffered the anguish of being misunderstood, he never compromised his convictions or softened in his courage. a prudence that is not yours, that we search for in vain in your Gospel.
Jesus Christ, we give you thanks because you did not stay silent so as to avoid the cross; because you lashed out at the powerful knowing that you were gambling with your life.
Those who killed you, they were the prudent. We do not want a prudence that leads us to omission and that makes imprisonment impossible for us. The terrible prudence of stilling the shouts of the hungry and the oppressed.
Almost as soon as he arrived in Bolivia Luis moved into a simple residence in a densely populated part of La Paz. With him went a few other Jesuits. Their house was open to all, and the local people called it after a popular song of the time, "House of Affection." Their style of community life and involvement was new in Bolivia. but in time, it influenced other religious.
In 1975 he helped to found the Permanent Assembly of Human Rights, and linked it with similar organisations of other countries, including the United Nations. In 1977, he played a leading role in a hunger strike that at first seemed hopeless but, in the end, brought down the Banzer dictatorship; he had lived his own words and seen them vindicated: "Train us Lord, to throw ourselves into the impossible because behind the impossible is your grace and your presence; we cannot fall into a vacuum." In 1979 he founded a newspaper Aqui. Its purpose: "to be the voice of those who have no voice --to be the voice shouting forth that which others keep silent; to be the courageous voice of the people." Aqui denounced hypocrisy, corruption, and the atrocities of the military. Luis received many death threats and the offices of Aqui were bombed. But Aqui continued to be published.
Midnight, 21 March 1980, Luis was kidnapped by four men in a jeep. They drove out of town to an unknown destination in the night. There, for over four hours, they brutalised his body, before shooting him twelve times in the back as he lay dying. Luis Espinal was just 48 years old.