In his memory 125 years after his birth
“Do not let yourselves be crushed by the world or its advance, march with it, but always turning your gaze to the past to listen to the ancient voice of the earth, which nourishes us with the sap of the dormant roots in the depths of our region. Do not forget to rescue what is ours to be able to project ourselves in the future with a solid and firm face”.
Mario Briceno-Iragorry. Letter to the youth of Valerana. 1958
Just as the heart of Don Mario Briceño-Iragorry is in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace in Trujillo, we can affirm that the heart of his thought is in a message: a people cannot build a good present and a promising future without nurturing from the strengths of its past and without saving its weaknesses.
Because of this conviction, he becomes a historian, in order to find the balance that can serve as an endorsement of the virtues that must feed development strategies. The nutritional sources that will give strength and security to the present and the future. In the indigenous past and, above all, in the Hispanic past, it finds sufficient bases for us to find the values to successfully build a project for the future.
It also digs into past weaknesses. How we Venezuelans neglect the human and patrimonial testimonies that should have been preserved as treasures to nurture a mature identity full of self-esteem. And that carelessness, that indolence, and above all the ignorance of those strengths and weaknesses, he called “people’s crisis.”
Our illustrious intellectual coincides with the majority of experts in economic and social development processes. A strategy that seeks to overcome today’s problems, to build a better society, cannot be successful if it is not based on the culture of that society, which is the result of its collective evolution within the framework of the complexity of its multiple relationships. and in a concrete geographical reality.
Many citations can be brought to corroborate these affirmations, but it is enough with that of Cardinal Bergoglio, the current Pope Francis, when in a scientific article published in number 47 of the prestigious magazine humanites of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in May 2007 entitled: “Searching for the path to the future, carrying with it the memory of the roots”. There the author of that portent that is the Encyclical Letter “Praised be you”, raises various problems to face when it comes to planning the comprehensive development of any society. One is the dimension of memory discontinuity, related to time and history. “We are part of a fragmented society that has severed its community ties. This reality is due to a deficit of memory, conceived as the integrating power of our history, and a deficit of tradition, conceived as the richness of the path walked by our elders”.
The other problem is the dimension of uprooting. “We can locate it in three areas: spatial, existential and spiritual. The relationship between man and his vital space has been broken, as a result of the current dynamics of fragmentation and segmentation of human groups. The identity dimension of man with his environment, his land, his community is lost. The city is populating itself with ‘non-places’, empty spaces subject exclusively to instrumental logic, deprived of symbols and references that contribute to the construction of community identities”.
These realities were already denounced firmly and boldly by Briceño-Iragorry. Without identity, without a sense of belonging, without social bases, without relationships between people who feel that they are part of the same process, without institutions that have been the result of the collective forge in historical time, without that collective mortar, there is not even a present no future. There will be spectacle, riot and improvisation, but they will be private events of the utopia generated by collective action with a shared purpose. There will only be the disorderly and improvised march of day to day with no sense of a shared project. They will be events, but not processes that build a destination in the midst of diversity.
For that culture of encounter, Don Mario sees great strengths, in history, in geography, in language, in Christian spirituality, in traditions, in family values. Also in a human economy that was capable of generating good work and adequate satisfaction of human needs. Production processes based on people’s own abilities, on the availability of their natural and environmental resources, and on their orientation towards a healthy life.
He carefully dedicated himself to highlighting that collective heritage that Trujillo and Venezuela should have, in order to have solid foundations for the great shared project. Trujillo as part of the great great national unity, which is the synergistic sum of the various federal and local regions.
As in any complex system, there are multiple interrelated elements. And elements and relationships coexist that illuminate and generate value, and others that obscure and spoil the system. There are “angels and demons” in human systems, who incarnate in specific people who are enlightened spirits and also in evil individuals. Also processes that by small actions stimulate systemic “loops” that trigger virtuous processes, or that also release toxic processes of unprecedented consequences.
Mario Briceño-Iragorry puts his magnifying glass on both, and with his “reckless sincerity” puts his finger on virtue or on the wound, pointing to characters such as, in the national case, the regent José Francisco Heredia for virtue, and the Marquis Antonio Fernández of Casa León for evil.
In the case of Trujillo, he also launches his messages of reckless sincerity, stepping on distinguished and consecrated calluses, as when he denounces the indolence of his countrymen by neglecting the remains of the two very illustrious bishops Fray Alonso de Briceño and Fray Antonio González de Acuña, the first one of the most illustrious intellectuals of all Hispanic America who was bishop of Caracas dispatching from Trujillo without ever having known the host city; and the second his successor in that mitre, also an intellectual of singular merits and founder of the Colegio Seminario Santa Rosa de Lima, antecedent of the Central University of Venezuela.
Or by highlighting the virtues of the great Trujillo intellectual Rafael María Urrecheaga and how, when he died, “his work had no one to take care of it. None of the great men of Trujillo at that time worried about the conservation of his manuscripts and his famous library. I saw selling in baskets, as in Trujillo the mass is sold, the volumes of its bookstore”. Or how the headquarters of the Colegio Federal de Varones, the first university in Trujillo, was lost, converted into a barracks, until it disappeared. How not to link these realities with those recently experienced with the assault on the History Center, the Ateneo de Trujillo and the Ateneo de Valera? And with his own legacies to his native land?
Mario Briceño-Iragorry did not write The Joy of the Earth as a hymn to current food agriculture, but rather an apology, as its subtitle says, to old agriculture, that is, the abandoned one, which was replaced by port agriculture bringing processed foods that are harmful to health. “We forget the small, the urgent, the ordinary of each day. We forget the land. These notes of mine do not constitute but a weak chime among the many that sound in the towers warned of patriotism: they are just messages, memories, memories of the joy that flows from our sweet homeland.
All this and much more is the heart of Don Mario. In this much more, his Christian spirituality, humanism and the social doctrine of the Church and his definition of charity as “God himself in a social function”, as quoted by Wagner Suárez in his documented work on the theological thought of the. That spirituality in many cases, as in Trujillo and Venezuela, can be perfectly articulated to the identity and in the case of the homeland to be the land of the Holy Mary and her dedication to the Virgin of Peace.
Marian dedication is linked to matrix values such as solidarity, trust and care, as opposed to patriarchal values based on hierarchy, obedience, competition and others close to militarism, which he criticized so much. Don Mario’s Catholicism is authentic and the fruit not only of his cultural heritage, but also of his studies and reflections, because having been an atheist in his youth, he found in Christ many of the answers he was looking for.
His faith in God, and in Christ as his incarnation, constitutes a fundamental reference against a corrupt and soft society, as well as the strength to face the challenges of building a healthy and decent society, solid against the threats of the dictatorship of the banal. For this great task, he demands the necessary spiritual renewal of the Venezuelan.
It is affirmed in the social thought of the Church, in the Encyclical Letter rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII in 1891, and in some of his modern philosophers such as Jacques Maritain (Paris, 1882 – Toulouse, 1973) whom he accompanies in his ideas that ethics should be based, in addition to reason, on the consideration of the human person as part of a higher order. Likewise in the approach of an integral humanism, far from capitalist liberalism and totalitarian societies such as communism and Nazism, which have in common a materialistic vision of man.
Hence his disagreement with the “table and pot” or “table and mass” church, as he described the church as close to luxury and sumptuousness and far from social commitment, or as it would now be called “to the preferential option for the poor” that demands, in addition to that popular closeness, greater austerity in its forms, even when it severely criticizes the substitution of works, images and even ecclesial practices of heritage value, to be replaced by modern forms for reasons of fashion or simple ignorance.
Don Mario Briceño-Iragorry dreamed of a Venezuela of well-being, where everyone would find a place to display their human capacities. He was convinced that he had the strengths to achieve it, which were basically in his roots, in his identity, in his values that started from the indigenous and the Hispanic, including Christian values; and in the generous geography of it. It was also necessary for him to exorcise the old and the new demons, almost all the fruits of greed and materialism.
He dreamed of a diverse and heterogeneous Venezuela, whose identity would be the fruitful synthesis of the identities of its peoples and regions. Open to innovations and unapologetic modernity, sure as it was of the strength of its formation as a people, which is the group of people who live together in a territory and share an identity, common interests and even a project for the future.
He did a good job of identifying them and highlighting them in his prolific literary work, admirably well written, in his own unmistakable language. And beginning with his place, with his land and his people, with Trujillo, about whom he wrote numerous pages, full of filial love, but not exempt from severe claims.
It proposes education as the main vehicle to solve the crisis of the people, from the home and the community, to the university. Similarly, the modeling of the most visible people in society, many of whom are just an example of the opposite as a complaint in The Betrayal of the Best. The University requires a stellar role in this task, and fundamentally in training people, training in values, what it calls the “first floor”, the bases, the foundations of identity. It is useless to have skilled professionals if they are not accompanied by virtues, which provide axiological training, philosophy, logic, language and everything that has to do with humanistic training.
Venezuelans, in order to resolve our destiny favorably, we must meet again with Don Mario Briceño-Iragorry, and in a gesture of deserved reparation, put him at the center of our reflections, our proposals and, above all, our daily actions. Let us heed his call to young people: “Do not forget to rescue what is ours so that we can project ourselves into the future with a solid and firm face.”