Lugo Has Heart

Posted by Censor Librorum on Apr 24, 2008 | Categories: Politics

“From today on, my cathedral will be the country,” Fernando Lugo declared when he resigned from the priesthood in December 2006. The Vatican, irritated by the public gesture, says Lugo remains a priest and is barred by canon law from seeking public office.bishop-lugo.jpg

But this former bishop ran for the office of president of Paraguay. And won. His slogan: “Lugo has heart.” His personal warmth and religious background stirred hope in many Paraguayans seeking change.

The election last Sunday was only the 4th time that Paraguayans have gone to the polls to elect a president since the fall of the dictator Alfredo Stroessner in 1989. Stroessner ruled Paraguay, a country of seven million people, for almost 35 years, leaving a legacy of corruption and one of the worst human rights records in the hemisphere.

The Colorado Party, which supported Stroessner and ran a woman candidate against Lugo, had been in power longer than any other political party in the world – almost 60 years.

The 56-year-old Lugo has never held elective office, but he comes from a middle-class family of political activists. Three of his brothers were tortured during the Stroessner dictatorship for being political activists.

Supporters say Lugo radiates a priest-like sense of honesty. He vows to fight corruption, impose long-delayed agrarian reform to benefit the landless and renegotiate hydroelectric deals with neighboring Brazil and Argentina to fund education and other neglected social needs.

Lugo refused to be characterized as a leftist or anything other than a deeply religious crusader who fights for the little guy.   He takes inspiration from liberation theology, a movement championing the downtrodden but assailed by the Vatican for Marxist influences.

“I have taken a preferential option for the poor, and many interpret that as meaning I am a leftist,” Lugo said. “But I believe I am in the center. My beliefs are against confrontation and violence.”

Lugo did stints as a schoolteacher and missionary before becoming a rural bishop known for both his political activism and conciliatory skills. He says he opted to seek office after more than 100,000 people signed a petition urging him to run. On the campaign trail, he still sports his priestly sandals.

Lugo says he remains a devout Catholic who takes Communion each  Sunday and finds succor in  his faith. “The church has shown me how the poor live in this  country. That inspires me to work on behalf of this class that is so demeaned, so abandoned, so forgotten.”

I’m happy  for Paraguay, but I wish he was running for president in the U.S.   He has the right stuff – priorities and humanity.  

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