And, as so often happens in Catholic school and horror movies, a figure materialized on the teacher’s platform. No one saw or heard him walk in. A little unsettled, one by one we, the students, we turned in our seats to face the apparition. He was a towering man in a dull black cassock and crisp white priests’ collar. His giant hands clasped a bedraggled Bible against the front of his body. He was completely bald. He was ancient, and his old cassock hung thinly over his broad, bony shoulders, the sleeves not long enough to cover his arms or hide his powerful hands. Though two meters of height, he stood straight as a redwood. A priest that tall had to be North American, I thought, but his leathery skin was more olive than pink, and his features were almost indian, his eyes almost black.
He studied us with great concern, and remained silent until the last student had turned around.
“I am Father Bartolome,” he said in a voice that crumbled like old wood. “I am here to teach you social justice.”
This passage was inspired by a real priest who taught one of our classes at Colegio Santa Maria. I’ve since forgotten his name, but he challenged us. O did he challenge us! Relentlessly. He didn’t use the term, but he was challenging what today is referred to as our privilege. We were as reluctant to accept that label back then as we are today.
I chose Father Bartolome as his namesake because the real Father Bartolome de las Casas fought, unsuccessfully, for an end to the slavery and oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Plus, he was a soldier before he was a priest, which I really dig.