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25. The Church in the coffeelands

On the Liturgical Calendar, we celebrate today the joyous Easter resurrection of Jesus.  On this blog, I want to take a moment to celebrate the ways that the Gospel values that Jesus preached in his earthly ministry have been taken up by courageous members of the clergy in the coffeelands, including Bishop Rosolino Bianchetti Boffelli of the Diocese of Zacapa in Guatemala.

A coffee activist lives here.

I met Father Rosolino last month for the first time during a meeting to discuss his hopes to organize small-scale coffee farmers in Zacapa and Chiquimula in what Anacafé calls the “New Oriente” region of Guatemala.  By way of an introduction, he offered me a brief and remarkably modest summary of his background working in coffee.  It was a kind gesture but an unnecessary one, as he is widely known here in Guatemala for his role in helping to establish the Chajulense Association in the late 1980s when he was the parish priest in Chajul.  The organization was the result of his accompaniment of a community ravaged by violence and targeted by the military’s counter-insurgency campaign during the country’s civil war.

Today, Chajulense is one of the oldest and strongest community-based farmer organizations in Guatemala.  It exports roughly 40 containers of sustainable and specialty coffees and is widely regarded as a model for cooperative development in Guatemala.  In summarizing the experience, Father Rosolino said humbly: “Un pueblo se dignificó”, which roughly translates into: “A community asserted its dignity.”  Notable in everything about the Bishop — his casual dress, his warm personal engagement, his clear commitment — was the absence of self-reference.

Bishop Rosolino is a remarkable and inspiring person.  But he is not alone.

All over the coffeelands, courageous members of the clergy working to live out the Gospel values of Jesus in local contexts have accompanied processes of community organization and “assertion of dignity.”  In more than a few cases, these processes have led to the creation of cooperatives that today are selling certified and specialty coffees.  In fact, Father Rosolino explains that the inspiration for the organizing around coffee in Chajul came from the legendary Dutch priest, Father Frans Van der hoff, who helped create UCIRI in Oaxaca, Mexico.

We implement the CAFE Livelihoods project with 17 farmer organizations and NGOs in Mexico and Central America.  Only one of these is a Church organization.  But many of them have their origins in the work of the Church, and the courage of people like Fr. Rosolino and “Fr. Francisco” — priests who answered Jesus’ call to radical discipleship by accompanying processes of change in the coffeelands, often at no small risk to themselves. I will be profiling each of our partners here in the coming weeks, and will be sure to reflect on the ways that the Church and its work to exalt the Gospel values of Jesus played a role in the creation of so many of them.

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