Today in Latin America, Saint Rose of Lima and Régis Debray

saint-rose-of-limaToday, 422 years ago, in 1586, the Saint Rose of Lima was born. She was born Isabel in Lima (but called Rose because she was so beautiful), in the Viceroyalty of Peru and rose to become the first Catholic saint of the Americas.

She was eccentric by our standards, but pious in the eyes of the Church. She was receiving visions, revelations, messages from God as early as childhood. Because of this, she fought her parent’s from the beginning. She spent hours contemplating the Blessed Sacrament and wished to take a vow of virginity – her parent’s wanted her to marry. She would often disfigure herself whenever admired by men, upset with her beauty. Because her heart was given to Jesus, she would place a wreath onto her clothes, piercing the pin deep into her skin. She fasted quite often and, when not devoting herself to charity, stayed in a modest grotto in Lima. She lived, what we would see, as a lonely life – for often, like most saints admit, God seems far away.

She would pray: “Lord, increase my sufferings, and with them increase Your love in my heart.”

Her self-martyrdom lasted from her confirmation in 1597 until her death in 1617 at the age of 31, the date which she prophesied from afar. It was not hard to see her future canonization; her death prompted the entire city of Lima to mourn her death and celebrate her life.

Saint Rose was beatified by Pope Clement IX on April 15, 1667, and canonized on April 12, 1671, by Pope Clement X. She became the first Catholic saint of the Americas. She is memorialized on August 23 by Catholics outside Latin America. In Peru, August 30 is public holiday.

At camp in Bolivia: Debray on far left, Che second from right

At camp in Bolivia: Debray on far left, Che second from right

Before I knew who Régis Debray was, I checked out a book when I was eighteen called Empire 2.0: A Modest Proposal for a United States of West by Xavier de C***. I was, in an upper-level English class, suggested Critique de la raison politique (Critique of Pure Reason) by my professor, but never got around to looking into it. Yet Empire 2.0 was really good, as I remember at the time, and it was only when I got more interested in Latin America that I came to see his name associated with Ernesto Guevara. Turns out, he was in Bolivia which Che in 1967 – today marks the 42nd anniversary.

Debray is a French intellectual who was teaching at the University of Havana, in Cuba, in 1960 following the Cuban Revolution. He may be best remembered for Revolution in the Revolution? that examined the strategies of his era’s militant social movements and acted as a handbook for guerrilla warfare – for those interested beyond Guevara’s classic work on the subject. Guevara would be bound and murdered in Bolivia, Debray received a 30 year prison sentence (he would have gotten out in 1997, the year Guevara’s remains were found).

Guevara relied on Debray and Carlos Bustos for information from Cuba and Argentina. Che almost lost both, and the imprisonment today in 1967, was a huge set back. Che wrote in his journal, “[Debray] and [Bustos] fell victim to their own haste, their near desperation to leave. And to my own lack of energy to stop them.” Che was then alone, in the jungles of Bolivia, and we know what happens next.

To add to this, Debray, according to Jon Anderson, was the one who provided the final confirmation that Che Guevara was in Bolivia. Che wrote, “It appears [Debray] said more than was necessary, although we cannot know the implications this may have, nor the circumstances in which he said what he did.” Anderson presumes that Debray didn’t have to say much, as Revolution in the Revolution? was widely known and his ties to Cuba were documented. Thus, when Bolivia had confirmation that Che was in the country, the CIA-backed anticommunist paramilitaries swung into action, Green Beret-style, to end Guevara’s life and avoid his gaining a foothold in the country.

Che would die. Debray would be released in 1970 with the help of Jean-Paul Sartre, André Malraux, Charles De Gaulle and even Pope Paul VI. He went to Chile and experienced the CIA-backed coup against Salvador Allende in 1973. From there, he finally left for France.

He now is advancing his theory of “mediology” – which is, according to Wired, “how it is that abstract ideas can end up as world-changing ideologies. Today, he is developing a new theory of the transmission of ideas through history, to grasp how words become flesh, ideas ideologies.” He has an autobiography that I have not read, although I do wonder what he thought about Bolivia and the events that transpired.


~ by Daniel on April 20, 2009.

4 Responses to “Today in Latin America, Saint Rose of Lima and Régis Debray”

  1. Ugh, I read a very graphic account of Santa Rosa’s life once and could barely stomach it. The idea that someone starving and mutilating themselves could be held up as an example to follow just blows my mind.

    Clearly I’m not Catholic and have little empathy in this regard…

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  3. Thank god some bloggers can still write. My thanks for this blog.

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