By Sebastián Acha, Asunción, Paraguay, a life-long Schoenstatt member who has been a deputy in the Paraguayan Chamber for the last ten years – a contribution in the series: What does the Year of Mercy mean? •
In the 1920s José Ortega y Gasset wrote: “The information that best describes the uniqueness of a race is the profile of the models it elects, because nothing reveals the root condition of a man better than the type of woman that he can fall in love with. Through the choice of the beloved, we unknowingly make our truest confession.”
As a Christian in public life, my first desire was to take Fr. Kentenich’s ideas about everyday sanctity into political life. For ten years I held a seat in the Paraguayan Chamber of Deputies and — perhaps betrayed by my youth and those ideals of carrying the banner and giving my all — I worked hard to ensure that legal projects that upheld public policy projects of social inclusion, improvement of the quality of life and the reduction of poverty, and the standardization and excellence of public education could become a reality.
Not only did I not find support, but I also received criticism and insults, and suffered calumny for my efforts. The first five years showed me that everything I thought was “good” was not feasible. We only received 10 votes in a chamber of 80 deputies.
After these years of learning the hard way, I began to understand that everyone in the Chamber was the best life project that they could possibly be, were the best life project that they themselves. Many of them were the sons of humble farmers, others the heirs of the old generals of the dictatorship, and some well-intentioned citizens who made it one way or another, developed their leadership to the best of their potential for excellence.
Despite public opinion – or published opinion – that ridiculed them, described them as ignorant, primitive, cavemen, corrupt, and even drug dealers, they did not appear to be bothered by these accusations. They simply carried on voting against the “interests of the majority,” and in successive elections, they gained electoral success reaping victories from their movements in the cities and administrative departments. Something wasn’t right to me.
I began to feel intuitively what the Holy Father speaks about today with such clarity in the year of Mercy: “The Gospel of mercy, to be proclaimed and written in our daily lives, seeks people with patient and open hearts, “good Samaritans” who understand compassion and silence before the mystery of each brother and sister… Mercy desires to reach the wounds of all, to heal them. Being apostles of mercy means touching and soothing the wounds that today afflict the bodies and souls of many of our brothers and sisters. Curing these wounds, we profess Jesus.”
In 2004, a dear friend of mine who died far too soon, Gerard Le Chevlier wrote a wonderful article entitled: “Looking for honest politicians for corrupt societies.” In one of the more memorable passages in that short but important contribution, he said: “The success of an office bearer depends fundamentally on the criteria by which he is elected. For as long as society’s requirements for its politicians are lies, corruption, opportunism, clientelism, populism, and demagogy, we should not be surprised that its candidates are like this.”
Are all Christians really merciful towards politics and politicians?
Politics, understood as a legitimate struggle for power, not only is not bad but is absolutely necessary. The politician’s vocation is always fuelled by ambition. Ambition is not, in itself, a bad thing until we ask ourselves: Why do we want power? When two or more ambitions enter the playing field and confront each other, they bring out the worst and best in us, depending on the circumstances in which we live and the values that overlap each challenge.
In our evaluation of the politician and the public, we are unyielding: “So and so stole,” “This one lied,” “the minister abused his office,” “The president lied.” But perhaps we do the same thing in our homes? Are we truly faithful to the marriage vows we took before God on our wedding day? Are we really honest in the way we manage our companies? Do we pay social security for our employees? Do we not plot to get a raise? Do we take care of our children as our greatest treasure, educating them in Christian values? Do we not lie in our workplaces to hide greed or dodge taxes? Have we never paid a bribe to speed up a process, including in our children’s schools or universities?
My conclusion is that we have been wrong all along: the “good” politicians (and I say this because there is always good and bad in political decisions, irrespective of the reason but rather the beneficiaries or victims of our decisions), international cooperation mechanisms, multilateral credit institutions, our bishops’ conferences, our labour unions. Why? Because we keep making trips, holding receptions and costly banquets to fight poverty. And who do we invite? Those who “speak well,” who express themselves correctly, who have an “excellent image” and “acceptable” conduct, in other words, those who think like us. These are – in many countries, not only mine – a large minority.
We find these same people in Berlin, Madrid, Rome, London, Washington. The same people who we agree to undeniable truths that the most important studies on political matters point out to us. We applaud and return home contented because we have met people who “think like us.”
The Year of Mercy invites us to reach out to those who directly or indirectly dedicate themselves to politics to not remain in this comfort zone, where our ego is shaken by the publication of an interesting article in a prestigious magazine or the applause in an auditorium filled with social scientists who justify our arguments. It invites us to break out of this circle of misery. Misery of who we are – I have been – in these groups. The ones we should be inviting are the “others.” Yes. That is how it sounds. The one who plagiarised his doctoral thesis to become a minister, the one who financed his company with drug money, the one who benefitted his partner’s construction company or handed state trials to his lawyer. Why? Because politicians need to be found by “people with patient and open hearts, “good Samaritans” who understand compassion and silence before the mystery of each brother and sister.” Let us understand that for many politics has been a way of living and serving one’s self at the cost of the state because this is what learnt from childhood. Not all of us had the good fortune to grow up among Christian values and faith, and if we speak among ourselves, among those who think the same way, what value does this have in the end? I will tell you: none.
There are $136.000 million USD set aside for cooperation in developing countries. However, there are one billion dollars in illicit financial flows. Do we think that by holding meetings among those who support cooperation projects, we will be able to convince the corrupt who hide their money to leave it in their countries so that it can be used to help the poorest? This is an unforgiveable plot.
This political action is not just for politicians, but for all citizens, as Fernando Savata said: “This is why it is alarming to hear people speaking about how bad politicians are, of how corrupt they are, and one says: “What if you said this happens to all of us, because if politicians are corrupt, this is because we allow them to be, because we failed in our own political task of electing them, replacing them, controlling them, monitoring them, and ultimately putting ourselves forward as candidates, as a better alternative to them. If we are not doing this, then surely politicians will continue to be corrupt, and we will all be politicians inside a country, because in a democracy we are all politicians, and there is no medicine stronger than this.”
Attentive to the Holy Father’s call, let us open our hearts to politics, to politicians, understanding that they are not the only reflections of those we elected as a society, but who also wait for the good Samaritan to heal their wounds caused by the same misery that we all suffer everyday.
 JOSE ORTEGA Y GASSET. “Invertebrate Spain” 1922
 FERNANDO SAVATER. Spanish philosopher Taken from the University Simon Bolivar address, Caracas, Caracas, 1998.
Original: Spanish. Translation: Sarah-Leah Pimentel, Cape Town South Africa