A brief story about the founding of ACHTUS
Revised by Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ
In order to understand how it is that ACHTUS came into being, one must know a little bit of the history of the Catholic Church in the United States after 1492, and a good deal about the presence of the Hispanic / Latin@ community in North America towards the end the 2oth Century. As far back as 1945 Catholic leaders like Archbishop Robert Lucey of San Antonio had promoted a national awareness regarding the significant presence of Hispanic/Latin@s in both the Catholic Church and in U.S. society. Archbishop Lucey encouraged a local Mexican American priest of San Antonio by the name of Virgilio Elizondo to pursue catechetical studies and later theology for the purpose of forming the Hispanic/Latino communities in faith as well as in ecclesial and public leadership. To this end, Elizondo’s seminal book The Galilean Journey is required reading since this text critically reflects on the historical events that generated the first and second waves of mestizaje in the U.S., while also emphasizing the profound significance of Our Lady of Guadalupe for North American Catholic identity in the postmodern era.
In the wake of the Second Vatican Council which ended in 1965 and then after the Second Conference of Latin American Bishops in Medellin, Colombia in 1968 a new aggiornamento took root in the consciousness of the Latin American Church which gave rise to two new themes: first, the centrality of context—socioeconomic, political, and cultural– as starting point for theological reflection, and second, the theme of justice and the option for the poor as a hermeneutical lens for doing theology. By the late 70’s Gustavo Gutiérrez’s Teología de la Liberación sowed the seeds for a praxis-based theology that impacted all of Latin America and the Caribbean by awakening a commitment to the inherent dignity, subjectivity and agency of the marginalized through an emphasis on God’s preferential option for the poor.
On U.S. soil, however, the needs, gifts and daily realities of Hispanic/Latin@ Catholics were often overlooked. The encuentro processes sponsored by the U.S. bishops, nevertheless, provided a context and opportunities for pastoral renewal among U.S. Hispanic/Latin@s for which Latin American developments like Medellín and an emerging group of U.S. Hispanic/Latin@ theologians provided important resources and encouragement.
Inspired by these new theological waves and capable of doing “feet on the ground theology” from a U.S. context, Allan Figueroa Deck and Arturo Bañuelas serendipitously met in Rome in 1985 while engaged in doctoral studies and conceived the notion of a professional academy capable of addressing the pastoral and ecclesial needs of Catholic Hispanics/Latin@s in the U.S. Two and a half years later, in January of 1988, at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley CA., Deck and Bañuelas met with other theologians who shared their vision and passion: Maria Pilar Aquino, Roger Luna, Roberto Goizueta, C. Gilbert Romero, Virgilio Elizondo, and Orlando Espín. This founding group began to draw up by-laws and statutes for the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States. By November of 1988 the first board of directors had been elected, the first annual meeting had been planned and the decision to inaugurate the Virgilio Elizondo award by awarding this honor to Virgilio himself had been made. In June of 1989, at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley this illustrious group hosted the first ACHTUS colloquium, and by the end of that meeting a serious commitment to be inclusive of women and to recruit U.S. Hispanics/Latin@s of all national origins completing doctoral degrees was underway. Other key issues included an appropriation of the distinct circumstances of U.S. Hispanic/Latin@ theology that originated in the southern flank of the United States, Spanish borderlands from Georgia to California, during the first evangelization in the 1500’s. In addition, a concerted, successful effort was undertaken in the promotion of Christian unity and respect for diversity among Hispanic/Latin@ Protestants. The Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI) is, at least in part, a result of this outreach.
It is on the basis of this history that we gather for this 28th annual ACHTUS colloquium, for the first meeting outside of the Continental United States, for our first bilingual colloquium with a predominantly Catholic, but ecumenical group of theologians from the United States, Puerto Rico, Peru, El Salvador, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba (via Germany), Canada, Australia. We gather to explore the background and meaning for us and our Hispanic/Latin@s communities of Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do ustedes say that I am?”
In March of 2016, ACHTUS lost one of its founding members, Father Virgilio Elizondo. As the coordinator for the 2016 colloquium I invite us all, as a community of saints and sinners, “friends of God and prophets”, to dedicate our time and work together to Virgilio’s memory and to the peaceful repose of his soul.
Gracias hermano por tu fidelidad a la Iglesia, a La Lupita, y a esta comunidad de justos y pecadores. Gracias por tu amistad, tu humanidad y por animar en nosotros el rostro de Cristo vivo en su mestizaje. Que Dios te tenga en su santa gloria.
Allan Figueroa Deck, SJ, Frontiers of Hispanic Theology in the U.S.
, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992.