St Alberto Hurtado SJ
INFANCY AND YOUTH
Alberto was born in Viña del Mar, Chile, in 1901 and spent his childhood with his parents and his only brother. The death of his father in 1905 (he was four years old) brought serious economic difficulties to the family and later forced them to sell less valuable lands that were part of the family inheritance. They moved to the capital, Santiago, and not having a home of their own, began to live with different relatives. In 1909 Alberto entered St. Ignatius Academy where he made his first Holy Communion and Confirmation.
In August 1923, after finishing his studies of Law, where he distinguished and received the highest evaluation, he entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Chillan, south of Chile. Later Alberto was sent to Argentina to complete his novitiate and take the religious vows on August of 1925. (His availability and willingness to serve were reflected in his habit of asking for humble kitchen jobs). Between the years 1927 and 1931, he studied philosophy and began his theological studies in Sarria, Barcelona. Because of social turbulence in Spain, he was forced to continue his studies at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium. On August 1933 he was ordained a priest.
APOSTOLATE WITH YOUTH
He returned to Chile in 1936, and initiated his apostolate with youth, particularly at St. Ignatius Academy and the Catholic University. In 1940, he was appointed the diocesan director of the Catholic Action youth movement and the very next year, its national director (1941–1944). In 1941, he published the book Is Chile a Catholic Country?, in which he criticised the increasing mediocrity of Chilean Catholic life. In the book, Alberto argued against materialism and its toxic effects on the youth and shortage of priestly vocations, and especially how its cultural impact aggravated the plight of the poor.
HOGAR DE CRISTO
In 1944, on a particularly rainy night he had an experience which himself relates: “A poor man, in shirt sleeves, suffering from acute tonsillitis and shivering from cold, approached me saying he had nowhere to find shelter”. The man’s misery left Fr. Hurtado shaken. A few days later, while giving a retreat to a group of women, he began to speak about the misery that existed in Santiago and the need to respond to it. “Christ roams through our streets in the person of so many suffering poor, sick, dispossessed and people thrown out of their miserable slums: Christ huddled under bridges, in the person of so many children who lack someone to call father, who have been deprived for many years from a mother’s kiss upon their foreheads...Christ is without a home!”. After the retreat, he received the first donations of money and land to create the “Hogar de Cristo” (Home of Christ), shelters for poor and abandoned young people. The shelters quickly spread throughout the country and served thousands of vulnerable young children. He also purchased a 1946 green pickup truck and monitored the streets at night to help those in need that he could reach.
Nowadays, Hogar de Cristo is the biggest charity in Chile.
TRADE UNION ASSOCIATION
Father Hurtado advocated for the rights of the workers. He demanded a decent and fair salary for them. He wanted them to "save something for old age or to rest some day after his work life." He raised his voice in favour of justice. He said: "But man, the worker in particular, does not want benevolence, but justice, recognition of his rights, and his equality of person. No other substitute can satisfy."
Even before becoming a Jesuit, he completed his studies of law with theses which dealt with the regulation of children's and domestic work.
Inspired by the social teaching of the Church, Alberto founded the Chilean Trade Union Association as a means of searching for a “way to make the Church present in the area of organised labour”.
He published three volumes on the labour movement.
In 1952, Hurtado was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died soon afterwards. His death was national news. Before dying, he expressed his biggest wish, “the development of a climate of true love and respect for the poor, because the poor are Christ".
Alberto Hurtado was beatified in 1994 and canonised by Pope Benedict XVI on 2005. He remains very popular in Chile to this day. He is remembered for his social mysticism, for being an apostle of justice and father of the poor.
• SOCIAL MYSTICISM: Father Hurtado is known for his "social mysticism”, which means his own work with the poor, but above all this social mysticism is his search for a Christian Social Order, through conversion to Christ and the reform of society and its unjust structures. That is the novelty that he introduced into the Chile of his time.
• APOSTLE OF JUSTICE: Alberto Hurtado realised the great dangers of his time. In opposition to exploitative capitalism and communist revolution under way in various countries of the world, he, inspired by the social teaching of the Church, promoted a different path: a Christian Social Order, based on the two great virtues of love and justice. But he did not want charity without justice. He said: "Many works of charity can bear our society, but all this immense effort of generosity, much to praise, fails to repair the ravages of injustice. Injustice causes far more evils than can be repaired by charity. " "We must be righteous before we are generous."
Hurtado advocated for human relations that were governed by law and justice. He proclaimed the right of all "to live, to be educated, to live a dignified existence." In times of communism, Alberto Hurtado proclaimed the natural right to private property, but at the same time he rejected the "abuse of private property."
In 1948 the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At that time Fr. Hurtado already taught: "all attempts made by ... the creation of an international order to protect human rights must find in the Catholics their most ardent supporters." Alberto Hurtado did not see the appalling human rights violations committed in Chile in the 70’ and 80’, but we can imagine that, like the Church in those years, he would have denounced them strongly, at the risk of even his own life.
• FATHER OF THE POOR: Father Hurtado was a Christian in the way of Christ. He went out into the streets, entered the most miserable slums, saw, asked, heard and met in person the immense suffering of his countrymen. He regretted that his Church had forgotten the poor. He went on to say: "The great bitterness that our age brings to the Church is the alienation of the poor, whom Christ came to preach." Towards the end of his life, Alberto Hurtado believed that Christianity played in its proximity to the poor. He commented: "I hope to write this summer (or begin?) Something about the poor's sense, I believe that there is the core of Christianity and every day there is more resistance and incomprehension to everything that says poverty." Thirty years later the Latin American bishops proclaimed the "preferential option for the poor".