The Subversive Spirituality of
By Father Luis Barrios
New York City
Translated from it's original post on claridadpuertorico.com
Frank dawned in Santurce, on August 24, 1949, and he died in New York City, in the Bronx, the County of Salsa, on August 25, 2022.
From this reflection I start from the postulate that there is no person more dead than the forgotten. Therefore, if I keep alive the memory of that person then that person is not dead. This is my reality with my friend, brother, companion and comrade Frank Velgara, who was freed from his sick body and because of this I can say: Frank lives and the fight goes on!
While other people will be talking or writing about Frank's political trajectory with all the movements of that decolonization and independence for Puerto Rico, I am interested today in being able to reflect on that decolonization and independence from another reality that is not talked about; his subversive spirituality. This is without detracting from the fact that he was and continues to be a great pro-independence and socialist. Let it be clear, there is no contradiction between being a good independentista-socialist and having a subversive spirituality. Nor much less between being an atheist and having spirituality. So today I want to reflect with you on the subversive spirituality of Frank, an active atheist member of our Holy Cross Church in New York City.
Let me make something clear at the outset, Frank was not religious, and I thank God he was not. I am very afraid of religious people. He was very spiritual.
The main foundation of Frank's subversive spirituality was always the human condition. Like Jesus he cared about people and their situation. Hence his great work to eliminate all kinds of political, economic, religious, social, cultural oppression and we can go on and on. I met him in the 1980's in protests in New York City against police brutality, landlord abuse, domestic violence, environmental pollution, abuse against immigrants, poor quality education, and lack of adequate medical services for the people. And we can go on adding. But also, that spirituality of the human condition was demonstrated in the struggle for independence and decolonization for Puerto Rico, but with a socialist project. In that way we did not move from a foreign capitalism to a national one.
His subversive spirituality was always against the narcotic effect of religion that, instead of awakening the conscience of the people, organizing them and mobilizing them towards their liberation, what it does is to subjugate them. From this I immediately learned that in his subversive spirituality, Frank was always concerned about what kind of future we are going to build. Let it be clear, he was also against the narcotic effect of some political groups that do not advance the struggle for the decolonization of Puerto Rico.
Where I could feel Frank's subversive spirituality most deeply was in the struggle to get the U.S. Navy out of Vieques. Because that spirituality was characterized by demonstrating the interdependence between socio-political transformations and spirituality. For Frank, subversive spirituality has to do with the here and now, not the hereafter.
In our theological reflections on subversive spirituality, we agreed on the one hand to define God as holistic justice (political, economic, social, sexual, cultural, etc.) and on the other hand to go beyond trying to define God because God is not defined, but rather practiced through actions of radical love. This is why we loved the phrase of our brother and comrade Che Guevara: "Let me tell you, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love. It is impossible to think of an authentic revolutionary without this quality..." Frank lived and freed himself from his body as a true revolutionary because he understood in the flesh what our prophet Don Pedro keeps telling us: the law of love and the law of sacrifice do not admit of separation."
I remember once he approached me after a Mass in support of the Cuban Revolution. I had said that I belonged to the PCD (Communist Party of God) and this moved him. When he approached me I gave him a smile and asked him what he wanted to know and with another smile he replied: I believe that I also belong to that party. We hugged and that day we found out that we both had memberships. Life gives you surprises!
On another occasion he asked me about my opinion on Marxism and almost fell on his butt when I told him that the main foundation of Marxism is not atheism but rather the humanism of a subversive spirituality. That day we agreed that I also did not believe in the God he did not believe in. And all this reflection took place inside a church when we were talking about women's reproductive rights and the rights of LGBTQ communities. Because in Frank's subversive spirituality there have always been three dimensions: solidarity, commitment, and hope.
In other words, Frank Velgara's subversive spirituality was and is always characterized as a militant spirituality which solidifies and validates itself from the community to combat human suffering. It was here with his actions of loving solidarity that he turned New York City into his trench of liberation. In that militancy he demonstrated with actions that a better world is possible, we just must build it, even if it hurts. Here Frank resurrected the eternal words of our prophetess Lolita Lebrón: there is no victory without pain! Thank you, Frank!
And let us remember, there is no person more dead than the forgotten; it is forbidden to forget.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)