During a visit to Rome in November 2001, I was on the lookout for sites
and stories which would be of special interest and inspiration to contemporary
Christians who tend to express their faith and love by struggling for peace and
justice. I was not disappointed. The catacombs, St. Peter's basilica, and other
venerated places, as well as a demonstration against the bombing of Afghanistan,
gave testimony to people's faithfulness to conscience and commitment to justice
over the centuries.
After a meeting with a Church commission concerning the disappeared of
Honduras (including a priest friend of mine, Fr. Jim Carney, who disappeared in
1983), I walked across a bridge over the Tiber and was struck by the first of
many magnificent buildings I would see during my stay in Rome.
This‑‑the synagogue in what used to be the Jewish
ghetto‑‑is probably not the average tourist's first stop in this
capital of Catholicism.
Engraved on the front of the synagogue are the names of Italian Jews who were
taken away to be slaughtered by the Nazis. Inside, visitors are accompanied by a
guide as they view the building; security was tightened up after a terrorist
attack in 1982.
In her lecture the guide included a description of papal oppression of the
Roman Jews: mainly, the pontiffs' policy of forcing them to live in the ghetto
and to wear a mark of their Jewish identity.
The synagogue's museum offers visitors a leaflet summarizing local history.
"In 1215 the Church forced the Jews to wear distinctive insignia on their
clothing identifying them as Jews. In 1492 the Catholic monarchs of Spain,
Ferdinand and Isabella, expelled the Jews from Spain and the Kingdom of the Two
Sicilys (Sicily, Calabria and Sardinia). While the Borgia Pope Alexander VI
allowed these Jews to remain in the Papal States, in 1555 his successor, Paul
IV, established the Ghetto in Rome and required all Jews to live
"Rome was declared an 'Open City' during World War II due to the
presence of Pope Pius XII. As a result the Nazis did not destroy any monuments
in Rome, including the synagogue, which was sealed and reopened after the
The tour guide did not offer her opinion on the much‑debated question
of whether Pius XII did enough to prevent the holocaust; but later, as I looked
at his statue among those of many other popes in St. Peter's Basilica, my
perspective on the grandeur of the papacy was affected by what I had seen and
heard on my first tourist stop.
Basilica of St. Peter
Perhaps the most moving experience I had was at the Basilica of St. Peter,
viewing the body of Good Pope John XXIII, which was intact when exhumed some
time ago. I felt more devotion and inspiration, and it was clear that many
others sitting or kneeling in front of the body did too, there than in other
parts of the basilica, probably because of the love and care for people which
Pope John had and also because he unexpectedly opened the windows of the Church
to let in the fresh airs of the Second Vatican Council with its clearer
definition of the Christian commitment to justice and peace.
Michelangelo's Pietá has been behind protective glass ever since
someone damaged it with a hammer in 1972. The famous sculpture of Mary holding
the dead Jesus, to me, represents all the mothers whose children have given
their lives in the struggle for the Kingdom of justice and peace, as Jesus did.
I prayed that Mary and the martyrs would strengthen all people who are risking
their lives in working for a more human society.
Perhaps few pilgrims viewing the Pietá ask themselves: why, after all,
was Jesus (and later his followers) put to death? A modern‑day martyr had
dealt with this important question before confronting it in his own flesh.
Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría, one of the six Jesuits assassinated in El
Salvador in 1989, believed that Jesus, the Proto‑martyr, is being
crucified today in the poor and other victims of injustice, and that our task is
to bring this Jesus down from the cross alive. Ellacuría had written:
"The struggle on behalf of the Reign of God necessarily presupposes a
struggle in favor of the human unjustly oppressed; this struggle leads one into
confrontation with those responsible for this oppression. Because of this
(Jesus) died and, in this death, he conquered" ("por qué muere
Jesús y por qué le matan?" Mision Abierta, 1977).
The day before my arrival in Rome, I was in the university plaza in
Innsbruck, Austria, viewing a plaque commemorating Fathers Ellacuria and Segundo
Montes, who was also assassinated next to Ellacuría; both had studied in
The larger‑than‑life statues of pope after pope, sometimes seated
between two fierce lions, left me rather underwhelmed‑‑or rather,
overwhelmed by the contrast between all this symbolism of power and pomp on the
one hand, and the humble service and self‑sacrifice which the Founder of
all this embodied.
But shortly thereafter I was struck and inspired by a mosaic of Jesus Calming
the Waters. Here Peter, the Rock, as well as the other apostles, are shown in
all their weakness and fear and littleness, with their faith in Jesus waning;
but then they are saved from destruction by Jesus himself, not by their own
power or alliances or wealth.
In spite of all the material splendor and power represented by
the churches and museums of Rome, the bark of Peter is navigating treacherous
waters, with passengers bailing out right and left for various reasons. For
some, Christianity presented primarily as a way to obtain miraculous help is
hopelessly antiquated, and they are dismayed to see many pastors today promoting
the old religiosity and superstition without true evangelization. One could
trace in the gospels the theme of Jesus as the reluctant miracle worker,
frequently chagrined to find people enthused by a miracle but uninterested in
his message. (2)
Others get out because they see the Church, as represented by the grandeur of
the Vatican, in an alliance with the economic and political powers of the world
instead of really exercising that much‑touted "option for the
poor." Male dominance in the leadership structures of the Church, so
evident in Rome, represents a sinful injustice which many women can no longer
Some few leave the Church because some preachers are true prophets and
challenge the idolatry of money--these departures are a sign that the Church is
being true to its calling.
Inside and outside the Church, people and organizations working for a new
world are also feeling despair as they see their little barks of justice and
peace projects foundering on the rough waves of violence, racism, sexism and
greed. In all these situations, we must get beyond the basilicas and get back to
the basics of the gospel, coming to know Jesus personally and his ways and
dreams, and reaching out to him for strength and hope in our work for the
Kingdom. All the ornate tombs and trappings of power are not keeping us
Protesting the Bombing of Afghanistan
Walking in Rome in the late afternoon, I was encouraged to see a small but
lively demonstration against the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. (Two weeks
earlier, on Nov. 10, 2001, 100,000 people had demonstrated against the war and
an estimated 50,000 in favor.) People expressed condolences to me for the
terrorist attacks of September 11 but did not consider Afghan civilians any less
human or precious than those who had perished in the U.S. They were also
challenging the Italian prime minister's decision to send troops to
Sixteen months later the U.S. and England invaded Iraq, disregarding world
opinion, including John Paul II´s clear denunciaton of an invasion as
aggression. Rome was the scene of some of the most massive demonstrations
against the war.
The tour guide in the catacombs spoke with reverence of the early Christian
martyrs who were buried there (in the walls at different levels below ground).
The Catacomb of Domitilla contains a 4th‑century basilica celebrating Sts.
Achilleus and Nereus, Roman soldiers who had engaged in torture but who left the
military when they converted to Christ and were themselves martyred. There is
always hope for a change of heart!
Over a century later, the text of the Apostolic Tradition (217) would state:
"A soldier of the civil authority must be taught not to kill men and to
refuse to do so if commanded, and to refuse to take an oath; if he is unwilling
to comply, he must be rejected [as a candidate for baptism].... A military
commander or civic magistrate who wears the purple must resign or be
Said to have been baptized by Peter, Achilleus and Nereus were beheaded under
the emperor Trajan around 100 A.D. (3) Peter himself had been executed by
crucifixion, according to tradition, upside‑down, deeming himself unworthy
to die in the same position as Jesus.
His suffering for the gospel is commemorated in the Mamertine Prison, where
it is said that he was held along with St. Paul, the recovered persecutor of the
first Christians. Other enemies of the Roman state, such as Vercingetorix, the
hero of Gaul (executed in 46 B.C.), had been incarcerated here. The lower
chamber of the jail, believed to be the oldest building in Rome (300 B.C.),
reminded me of a "hole" below the floor of a jail at El Aguacate, a
military base run by the CIA for the Nicaraguan Contras in Honduras, where
Father James Carney may have been held.
A very early persecution of the Christians under the emperor Nero is
described by the Roman senator and historian, Tacitus. Around 115 AD he wrote in
his Annals that Nero persecuted the Christians in order to draw attention away
from himself for Rome's devastating fire of 64 AD. In that context, he mentions
Christus who was executed by Pontius Pilate: “Nero fastened the guilt and
inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations,
called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin,
suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of
our procurators, Pontius Pilatus; and a most mischievous superstition, thus
checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of
the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every
part of the world find their centre and become popular.
“Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then,
upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the
crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort
was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by
dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and
burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.”
The Catacomb of St. Callixtus displays a beautiful statue of the martyr St.
Cecilia, showing the slit on her throat, and also an inscription of the Greek
word, Eirene, which means "peace." A St. Irene was martyred in 304
A.D. at Thessalonica‑‑"one of those devoted Christians who at
the cost of their lives succeeded in concealing and preserving for posterity
copies of the Holy Scriptures and other Sacred Books" under Roman rulers
who sought to confiscate such literature. (4)
This transported me to El Salvador, where the bible has also been considered
a subversive document. Fr. Rutilio Grande, the Jesuit
pastor‑prophet‑martyr who was gunned down in 1977 and whose
assassination had a profound impact on Oscar Romero, the new archbishop of San
Salvador, had said: "It is practically illegal to be an authentic Christian
in our situation, because the world around us is rooted in an established
disorder; confronting that, the mere proclamation of the gospel is
"I am very much afraid that soon the bible and the gospel will not
be able to enter at our borders, because all its pages are subversive
‑‑ against sin, naturally. If Jesus of Nazareth returned, coming
down from Chalatenango to San Salvador, I dare say he would not arrive, with his
preaching and actions, even to Apopa; they would arrest him for being a
subversive and would crucify him again."
Rutilio gave this sermon during a Mass on the occasion of the deportation of
a Colombian priest from El Salvador; one month later Rutilio and two laymen were
St. Cecilia, St. Irene and other women martyrs were "seen in a christic
way as graphic icons of the love and courage so central to the Christian story
of salvation. Speaking about the torture of one Blandina, for example, Eusebius
recounts that as she hung suspended on a sort of cross, her prayer and courage
gave strength to her companions: ‘In this battle, they saw with their
bodily eyes, in the form of their sister, the One who had been crucified for
them.' Comments a French translator of this account: ‘Christians loved to
discover, in their martyrs, the image of the suffering Christ.'"(5)
Appian Way and Spartacus
When I first saw the Appian Way, I was not aware of its significance as the
scene of 6,000 crucifixions of rebellious slaves in 71 B.C. The cross as a
horrible instrument for inflicting the death penalty was the price Jesus, the
Christian martyrs, and armed strugglers paid for challenging authority in the
Roman empire; and the scene of rebels writhing in agony on the cross was meant
to discourage the masses from taking a similar path.
After my visit to Rome, I read Spartacus, the novel by Howard Fast which
later became a film. A bit of further research helped me to understand the
historical situation. Spartacus, a slave who had become a star gladiator in
Italy, escaped with others in 73 B.C. and organized a slave revolt which
challenged the security of Rome before it was defeated by the Roman army in 71
Appian of Alexandria wrote that Spartacus´ forces were slaughtered and
that the 6,000 survivors were all crucified along the Appian road from Rome to
Capua. Spartacus himself has remained forever in the ranks of the
The next time I go to Rome, I will walk along the Appian Way and remember
Howard Fast´s imaginative version of Spartacus´ message to the Roman
senate, delivered by the sole survivor of a massacre of a Roman cohort by the
slave army: “Go back to the Senate (said Spartacus)... and tell them that
they sent their cohorts against us, and that we destroyed their cohorts....
“We say that the world is tired of them, tired of your rotten Senate
and your rotten Rome. The world is tired of the wealth and splendor that you
have squeezed out of our blood and bone.... In the beginning, all men were alike
and they lived in peace and they shared among them what they had. But now
there are two kinds of men, the master and the slave. But there are more of us
than there are of you, many more. And we are stronger than you, better than you.
All that is good in mankind belongs to us.
“We cherish our women and stand next to them and fight beside them. But
you turn your women into whores and our women into cattle... You turn men into
dogs, and send them into the arena to tear themselves to pieces for your
pleasure, and as your noble Roman ladies watch us kill each other, they fondle
dogs in their laps and feed them precious tidbits. What a foul crew you are and
what a filthy mess you have made of life!” (6)
It seems likely that the spectacle of 6,000 crucifixions on the Appian Way
was broadcast effectively throughout the empire and was known to Jesus and his
contemporaries. A more recent mass execution by the Romans was even more vivid
in the people´s consciousness: 2,000 of those who rebelled after Herod
died in 4 B.C. were crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem by the Roman
pacifiers. These horrible images were called to mind when Jesus noted that, in
order to be his disciple, one must “deny his very self, take up his cross,
and begin to follow in my footsteps” (Mt 16:24).
After visiting the catacombs, I had a dream that night: Wearing my red cap
with a C on the front (Cincinnati Reds), I am surrounded by a bunch of
fascist‑like thugs who are calling me "communist" and moving in
on me. Then I awoke for some cappucino, good Italian bread, and another day of
looking for peace and justice themes on my first stay in Rome.
In the Church of the Gesú, next to the simple quarters where St.
Ignatius of Loyola lived and worked, I spent some time at the tomb of Fr. Pedro
Arrupe, former superior general of the Jesuits. I felt his presence, as I had
earlier that of John XXIII, and I gave thanks for his leadership in the Society
of Jesus and the Church. He was instrumental in formulating the Jesuit mission
as the service of faith which includes the promotion of justice as an integral
At the tomb of St. Ignatius, I felt grateful for his message that we should
be liberated from "inordinate attachments," especially attachments to
wealth, honor and pride, and that we should find God in all things.
Soldier Who Pierced the Side of Jesus
Returning to St. Peter's, I was interested in the statue of St. Longinus,
prominently positioned close to the tomb of St. Peter (as is the statue of St.
Andrew, Peter's brother, who is said to have been martyred for refusing to
sacrifice to the deities of the empire). The story of Longinus is another case
of a Roman soldier whose conversion meant that he gave up his military ways
(torture, execution) and was martyred as a Christian.
The piercing of Jesus´ side is found in John 19:34: "One of the
soldiers thrust a lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed
out." In John's gospel there is no clear indication that the soldier had a
change of heart regarding Jesus, although John cites Zechariah 12:10 as being
fulfilled in this scene: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced,
and they shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son, and they shall
grieve over him as one grieves over a firstborn." The executed one touches
the hearts of the witnesses. (See also Isaiah 53:5: "He was pierced for our
offenses, crushed for our sins.")
The first three gospels, on the other hand, explicitly describe a positive
response by the soldiers. According to Luke, the Roman centurion, after hearing
Jesus commend his spirit to the Father and seeing Jesus expire, "gave glory
to God by saying, ‘surely this was an innocent man.' When the crowd which
had assembled for this spectacle saw what had happened, they went home beating
In Mark, the centurion, "on seeing the manner of his death, declared
‘Clearly this man was the Son of God'" (15:39). In Matthew, the
centurion and his troops made the same declaration, after an assist to their
conscience by an earthquake (27:54).(Indeed, legend has it that Longinus was
also helped to his conversion by a dramatic event: being of poor eyesight, he
was cured when a drop of Jesus' blood touched his eyes.)
Perhaps the story of the conversion of "Longinus" was put together
from all four gospel traditions. Other members of the Roman imperial delegation
who were converted to Christ were the centurion Cornelius "of the Roman
cohort Italica" (Acts 10) and Pilate's wife Claudia, who told her husband:
"Do not interfere in the case of that holy man. I had a dream about him
today which has greatly upset me"(Mt 27:19). Claudia is revered as a saint
in the Greek Orthodox tradition. The astounding faith of the unnamed centurion
whose servant was cured by Jesus led Jesus to indicate that the centurion would
be one of many gentiles to find a place in the kingdom of God (Mt
John suggests that something was stirring in the hearts of the temple guards
who did not carry out orders to arrest Jesus: "No man ever spoke like that
before," they said (7:46). The ensuing argument leads the pharisee
Nicodemus, whose fear had led him to visit Jesus under the cover of night (3:1),
to summon up the courage to make a statement which qualifies him to be the
patron saint of human rights: "Since when does our law condemn any man
without first hearing him and knowing the facts?"(7:51). Nicodemus
subsequently grew in courage, as did Joseph of Arimathea who followed Jesus in
secret out of fear; they were bold enough to ask Pilate for Jesus'body for
Thus some of the religious authorities, as well as the security forces at
their command, were drawn to Jesus by his offer of new life and by his loving
sacrifice of himself for his cause. This dynamic of converting the opponent by
one´s own nonviolent suffering was at the heart of the liberation
strategies of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., among many others
who have spoken truth to power and have accepted the resultant persecution out
of love for all people.
One of many examples of Dr. King´s understanding of this method is
found in his speech at the University of California at Berkeley on June 4, 1957:
“The nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent
but to win his friendship and understanding. Our aim is not to defeat the white
community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of
all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past. The end of
violence or the aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of
nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community. A boycott
is never an end within itself. It is merely a means to awaken a sense of shame
within the oppressor but the end is reconciliation, the end is
The soldier who pierced the body of Jesus with his lance (longche in Greek),
named Longinus in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, "is said to have
destroyed idols with a nearby axe in the presence of the governor who was trying
He is also represented in the basilica's museum which displays a relic of
him. Martyred in his native Cappadocia, his body is venerated in Rome in the
Church of St. Augustine. (8)
The museum of the basilica, replete with gold chalices and monstrances, also
shows an ancient torture instrument used against Christian
prisoners‑‑a kind of large pair of pliers with sharp teeth to cut or
cut off any body part which it may entrap.
Just before exiting the museum, one notices a graceful sculpture of the Risen
Christ, as if to remind us that our faith is not centered in ancient or medieval
gold pieces but in Jesus who died as a tortured martyr and rose to be with us
today as we live the gospel of love and work for a future of greater
The necessity and magnitude of that task is underlined by the sight of
increased security measures around the basilica since September 11; visitors
line up to be frisked by police with electronic wands before entering. Beggars
at church doors throughout Rome also make it hard to shut out the real
Church as Museum or Body of the Risen Lord?
Europe has a rich past. Ancient, medieval, and Renaissance churches and other
buildings are evidence of artistic creativity and enormous work. Museums are
fascinating and inspiring.
But the challenge today is to incarnate the gospel in our world, as previous
generations did in theirs. The Christ who is celebrated in cathedrals, statues
and paintings can become our friend, teacher, and companion today as we come to
know him in Scripture, in the Christian community, in the poor, and in the
struggle for justice and peace. The martyrs and other saints inspire us to
follow Jesus in our own way today.
Fr. Mulligan, a Jesuit from Detroit, works in Nicaragua with the
Christian base communities. He is the author of The Nicaraguan Church and the
Revolution (1991) and The Jesuit Martyrs of El Salvador–Celebrating the
Anniversaries (1994). For more information about the case of Fr. James Carney,
who disappeared in Honduras in 1983, please contact Mulligan at email@example.com
(1) The leaflet continued: "The Ghetto area was very small, surrounded
by a wall with five gates, and living conditions were very unhealthy with
constant flooding in winter. The Jews were allowed to leave the Ghetto during
the daytime but were required to wear Jewish insignia. Only two professions were
permitted: money lending and selling used clothing.
"The Jews were emancipated and obtained full citizenship after 1870 when
Italy was unified. The Ghetto was abolished and the Jews remained full citizens
until 1938 when the anti‑Semitic and discriminatory Italian Racial Laws
were adopted. During the German occupation (September 1943 until June 1944),
2091 Jews were deported to extermination camps, mainly Auschwitz. Only 16
survived the camps. In 1944 in the caves outside of Rome (Fosse Ardeatine), the
Germans massacred 335 Italians, including 75 Jews."
(2) For instance, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, after teaching his
disciples the New Covenant way of life, Jesus severely rebukes those who
prophesied, exorcised, and performed “many miracles” in his name but
who did not put his Way into practice in their lives. “You can tell a tree
by its fruit. None of those who cry out `Lord, Lord,´ will enter the
kingdom of God but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven....
`Did we not do many miracles in your name?´ Then I will declare to them
solemnly, `I never knew you. Out of my sight, you evildoers!´ Anyone who
hears my words and puts them into practice is like the wise man who built his
house on rock....” (Mt 7:20-24)
Earlier, in the temptations in the desert, Jesus rejected the strategy of
using power and of resorting to spectacular shows of his divinity (Mt 4:1-11).
Rather, he would conquer people´s hearts by his gentle love and clear
message of life.
In driving the money-changers out of the temple, Jesus gave a dramatic sign
not of his divine power but of his zeal for his Father´s house, naturally
provoking the wrath of the temple authorities. When they asked him for a sign
showing his authority to do such things, he said that the temple (of his body)
would be raised up. Thus the resurrection, accepted in faith, is the vindication
of Jesus as God´s prophet (Jn 2:13-22).
As for minor miracles, Jesus put them in their place just after this
cleansing of the temple. “Many believed in his name, for they could see
the signs he was performing. For his part, Jesus would not trust himself to them
because he knew them all. He needed no one to give him testimony about human
nature. He was well aware of what was in man´s heart” (Jn
(3) The Book of Saints, by the Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine's Abbey,
Ramsgate (NY: Macmillan, 1942).
(4) Ibid. A more complete explanation is found in "Saints O' the
Day" on the webpage of St. Patrick's Church, Washington, D.C.:
In 303, Emperor Diocletian issued a decree making it an offense punishable by
death to possess any portion of sacred Christian writings. Irene and her
sisters, Agape and Chionia, daughters of pagan parents living in Salonika, owned
several volumes of Holy Scriptures, which they hid. This made the girls very
unhappy because they could not read them at all hours as was their wont.
The sisters were arrested on another charge‑‑that of refusing to
eat food that had been offered to the gods‑‑and taken before the
governor, Dulcetius (Dulcitius).
Thus, Chionia and Agape were condemned to be burned alive, but, because of
her youth, Irene was to be imprisoned. After the execution of her older sisters,
their house had been searched and the forbidden volumes discovered. Irene was
Dulcitius: "Notwithstanding your crime, you may find pardon and be freed
from punishment, if you will yet worship the gods. What say you then? Will you
obey the orders of the emperors? Are you ready to sacrifice to the gods, and eat
of the victims?"
Irene: "By no means: for those that renounce Jesus Christ, the Son of
God, are threatened with eternal fire."
Dulcitius: "Who persuaded you to conceal those books and papers so
Irene: "Almighty God, who has commanded us to love Him even unto death;
on which account we dare not betray Him, but rather choose to be burnt alive, or
suffer any thing whatsoever than discover such writings."
Dulcitius: "Who knew that those writings were in the house?"
Irene: "Nobody but the Almighty, from Whom nothing is hid: for we
concealed them even from our own domestics, lest they should accuse us."
During the questioning Irene told him that when the emperor's decree against
Christians was published, she and others fled to the mountains without her
father's knowledge. She avoided implicating those who had helped them, and
declared that nobody but themselves know they had the books.
So, after again refusing a last chance to conform, she was sentenced to
death. She died either by being forced to throw herself into flames or, more
likely, by being shot in the throat with an arrow. The books, including the
Sacred Scripture, were publicly burned.
(5) Elizabeth A. Johnson continues: "The historical form of Christ may
be male or female, christa or christus, but the underlying sacramentality
between crucified persons and Jesus Christ is identical. The form of the sister
is the form of Christ: in the free giving of their lives through participation
in the Spirit women are recognized to be christomorphic in the most profound
way." She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse (New
York: Crossroad, 1994). The author emphasizes that the risen Christ today is
made up of all the members, male and female.
And yet, just a few miles from the catacombs, men in power claim that women
cannot be priests because anatomically they cannot show forth the image of
(6) Fast´s Spartacus, giving voice to the novelist´s own vision of
anti-imperialist struggle, speaks of victory, of bringing the oppressors to
justice, and of the construction of a fraternal society. “... you kill for
the sake of killing, and your gentle amusement is to watch blood flow. You put
little children into your mines [to reach the smallest crevices] and work them
to death in a few months. And you have built your grandeur by being a thief to
the whole world. Well, it is finished. Tell your Senate that it is all
finished.... To the slaves of the world, we will cry out, Rise up and cast off
your chains! We will move through Italy, and wherever we go, the slaves
will join us–and then, one day, we will come against your eternal city. It
will not be eternal then.
“... then we will tear down the walls of Rome. Then we will come to the
house where your Senate sits, and we will drag them out of their high and mighty
seats and we will tear off their robes so that they may stand naked and be
judged as we have always been judged. But we will judge them fairly and we will
hand them a full measure of justice. Every crime they have committed will be
held against them, and they will make a full accounting....
“When justice has been done, we will build better cities, clean,
beautiful cities without walls–where mankind can live together in peace
and in happiness. There is the whole message for the Senate. Bear it to them.
Tell them it comes from a slave called Spartacus....”
Over a century and a half later, native resisters against the Roman empire
were still denouncing its avarice and arrogance. In AD 80 Gnaeus Julius
Agricola, the Governor of the Roman province of Britannia, decided to invade the
north of his territory and to subdue the tribes of Scotland. Around the year AD
84, the battle of Mons Graupius was fought. Calgacus, a local tribal leader, had
united the tribes against the Romans. The battle was described by Agricola's
son‑in‑law, the Roman senator and historian Tacitus, who imagined
the speech Calgacus made to his men as follows:
“Battles against Rome have been lost and won before, but hope was never
abandoned, since we were always here in reserve. We, the choicest flower of
Britain's manhood, were hidden away in her most secret places. Out of sight of
subject shores, we kept even our eyes free from the defilement of tyranny. We,
the most distant dwellers upon earth, the last of the free, have been shielded
till today by our very remoteness and by the obscurity in which it has shrouded
our name. Now, the farthest bounds of Britain lie open to our enemies; and what
men know nothing about they always assume to be a valuable prize....
“A rich enemy excites their cupidity; a poor one, their lust for power.
East and West alike have failed to satisfy them. They are the only people on
earth to whose covetousness both riches and poverty are equally tempting. To
robbery, butchery and rapine, they give the lying name of 'government'; they
create a desolation and call it peace.....” Or liberation?
Like Spartacus, Calgacus was defeated by Roman might, but the resistance
continued. See Scots For Independence at :
(7) "Saints O' the Day," on webpage of St. Patrick's Church,
(8) The Book of Saints.
Joe Mulligan is a Detroit Province Jesuit and a longtime missionary in Central
America. He has been on a personal crusade -- to find out what really happened
to Father James Carney, the American priest who disappeared in Honduras in 1983
after entering that country as a chaplain to a group of Honduran insurgents.