Rorate Caeli

Panama Bleeds: A Story of Tradition Persecuted and Restored

A traditional Catholic activist in Panama sent me the following report on what is happening in his country. It was first published at my Substack, Tradition & Sanity, on December 11, 2023. It’s important for those of us who live in countries where the Latin Mass is more plentifully available to learn about the hardships of our brethren who are suffering under bishops even more cruel and heterodox than our own, and to pray for them.—PAK

December 13, 2020: First Holy Mass with the SSPX, in an apartment into which more than 100 people tried to fit.

There is a famous movie for children where one of the characters says “Look beyond what you see.” This brings the audience to reflect on what it might mean to see further than what is in plain sight or obvious within our surroundings. This advice can be applied to any part of our lives, but specifically it has a Counter-Revolutionary meaning, since the Catholic is obligated to see further than the false panorama the Revolution has implanted as our usual, typical, and constant environment.

It is a known occurrence that within traditional Catholic groups, circles, or congregations (be they laity or clergy), there is a “keeping up to date” with the news that touches upon the usual topics of interest for them that happen in familiar places of the world. Just to give a few examples: many know about what happened recently in Tyler, Texas, with the brave and holy Bishop Strickland; photos of the event in Spain, the Covadonga pilgrimage a few months ago, attracted the attention of many; the Catholic Identity Conference in Pittsburgh instructed many listeners from all around the world; and no one can fail to take note of the late-October Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage, where representatives from across the Christian world come together in Rome, with much presence on social media.

All of this is truly great and astounding: the Counter-Revolution is surging ahead! But this sort of “attention monopoly” of certain places, events, and individuals could be said to be accidentally damaging to other places in Christendom. I know that this damage is not intentional; certain big events and news stories and platforms simply command more attention and spread more quickly through familiar channels. Many traditionalists can easily find out “how Tradition is going” in the US, UK, Europe (in general), and certain other countries; however, does anyone have any idea what is happening in Latin America, Africa, or Asia? I mean, do traditionalists have anything more than a vague idea of the situation of the Church in these regions? On another occasion, we could expand on this topic of “unintentional ignorance” of the advance of the Counter-Revolution in other regions, but right now I will focus only on the country of Panama.

An entire book could (and hopefully will) be written about the epic of the Counter-Revolution in the country where I live. We will summarize it in the following paragraphs. Panama is a small country in Latin America and is famous for the Panama Canal. This country may be small, insignificant, and not all that important in the advance of the Counter-Revolution around the world, yet the situation here is rather significant—arguably a microcosm of the whole—and traditionalists can learn much from it.
April 16, 2021: Holy Mass in the attic of a jewelry shop, due to lack of a location. We were kicked out from the apartment because of COVID rules.

Panama as laboratory for the New Church

Since the time of the Second Vatican Council, this country has suffered a silent, nefarious, and willing suicide of the faith. Not many traditionalist authors know about the laboratories of the New Mass around the world where a few places were meticulously selected in which parishes were to be built for the exclusive purpose of experimenting in a new liturgy and documenting the reactions among the faithful. A “new Mass” was in fact tested in Panama before the general assembly of the Council Fathers knew there were going to be the radical changes that would take over the world in a matter of years. The change was so drastic in Panama that many here jokingly say: “One day we were singing Credo in unum Deum, then next day we had guitars and Pentecostal hymns.” Nobody said a thing. A sort of sudden amnesia took over every one of the priests, seminarians, and lay folks, to the point where the Latin Mass vanished with no complaints or hesitation from the entire country from one day to the next.

Modern Churches were built to fit the blazing Charismatic movement that popped out from the ground and took over; traditional churches destroyed their high altars and brought in Cranmer tables; and the New Theology (such as it existed here) yelled “out with the old, in with the new!” No priest, no bishop, no seminary mounted the slightest resistance to the terrible “fruits” of Vatican II; they bowed, supported, and taught all of this as if acting from the same script. Their unanimity can be largely attributed to the signing by Panamanian bishops of the sinister “Pact of the Catacombs,” and their firmness in upholding its ideals. The transition from a solid practice of traditional Catholicism to a modernist reinvention of it was so incredibly swift that there is no easy way to explain it. The only explanation is this: Modernism, Pentecostalism, and nouvelle théologie were always in Panama; their proponents were just waiting for the perfect moment to emerge, take control, and consign the past to oblivion. And everyone was expected to clap joyfully at this “peaceful takeover.”

Starting in the 1970s, we see in this nation the arrival of Liberation Theology, the inexorable decline of vocations, the hemorrhage of Catholics leaving the Church together with a spike in the Charismatic Movement, the slow but steady growth of Protestant sects (usually assimilating fallen-away Catholics), and the solidification of Liberalism (in the sense of the ideas of the French Revolution). These phenomena are institutionalized in the sense that they are accepted as normal and are never questioned. In short, Tradition was completely forgotten and abandoned in Panama, and the newly empowered heresy of Modernism made this country a masterpiece of its work.
September 6, 2022: Holy Mass in a hotel conference hall. The jewelry shop closed. We were in this hotel for a while. Very humble setting.

Counter-Revolutionary initiatives and setbacks

The first sparks of a revived Counter-Revolutionary fight were lit when TFP came to Panama in 2015 to give conferences about Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Buen Suceso from Quito, Ecuador, and to preach about the Counter-Revolution as the Catholic response to modernity. A few years later came the extremely disturbing World Youth Day (Panama City, 2019)—which, in God’s Providence, also brought the Latin Mass with it. Thanks to divine intervention, this was like a flare shot in the middle of a foggy and dreadful night that brought together a new generation of Catholics who desperately wanted something healthy, who wanted what the Saints lived and died for. Our concrete efforts to recover the Mass of the Ages came to fruition early in 2019 (if my memory doesn’t fail me), thanks to Father Michael Rodriguez from El Paso, Texas: our first, yet tiny, victory. There is a lot more I can say about what happened after—nothing short of an adventure to be told to our grandchildren.

Dear readers, look beyond what you see in your daily intake of the usual “Trad-news,” and catch a glimpse of the current situation in Panama. Right now, it can be described as unspeakable, dreadful, and even diabolical. Since we started this fight (“we” being the Counter-Revolutionaries in Panama), we have faced opposition that has few parallels anywhere on earth. Imagine having the Latin Mass banned from border to border, even during the days of Summorum Pontificum. Priest could not even mention that they wished to publicly celebrate the Latin Mass, because they would suffer one of three consequences: they would be moved to a remote part of the country, an inaccessible mountainside; they would be exiled from the country (this happened with the only priest who had been brave enough to celebrate in public; third, they would receive threats of suspension, removal from public ministry, and/or the shut-down of any apostolate in which they were involved. This was the unanimous will of the Conference of Bishops of Panama: the eight diocesan bishops who control the eight dioceses in this country all made it clear that the Latin Mass and any sort of traditional doctrine was and is prohibited in Panama, period. They made it bureaucratically impossible even to submit a request to have the Mass in a parish, to the point that several letters, proposals, and petitions with many signatures were completely ignored. There are credible witnesses of the moment when the Archbishop of the Metropolitan Diocese of Panama City said, verbatim: “The Latin Mass will come to Panama over my dead body.”

Since 2015, we have been trying to achieve this primary (but not exclusive) goal of having the Latin Mass regularly in Panama; we have tried every possible strategy. Let me entertain you a bit with the ideas we put to the test. We tried contacting three Ecclesia Dei communities for them to come: the Fraternity of St. Peter, the Institute of Christ the King, and the Institute of the Good Shepherd, but they could not honor our requests or were flat out not permitted even to set foot in Panama. We tried with a few supportive priests within the national territory, but they were scared, or unwilling to celebrate in secret. Furthermore, we tried to create a group with an emphasis on rural missionary work called PAX that was going to have, as a tiny detail in the “fine print,” the use of the Latin Mass; the Archbishop immediately gave a firm and strong “no”: better no missionary work than that! Finally, we had to find an independent priest from abroad to celebrate the Mass. The landscape could not have been worse in those days, which caused many who had initially been interested to become lax and give up the good fight that Saint Paul speaks about; they shrugged their shoulders and went back to the Novus Ordo celebrated in the worst way possible, and accompanied with the usual preaching of liberalism and revolutionary thinking.
August 6, 2022: One-day pilgrimage to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. After praying peacefully for 10 minutes, we were kicked out from the church and called “non-Catholics.”

A solution arrives at last

God doesn’t leave his faithful and obedient children abandoned from what is rightfully theirs. With the intercession of Our Lady, we now have a monthly ten-day visit of the Society of Saint Pius X. I know there will be some readers who are tempted at this moment to close the tab and stop reading, but I beg you not to do so, and to read till the end.

This was the only option we had to be able to live the traditional Catholic Faith, as it is meant to be, in this dire situation—the depressing dereliction of the postconciliar Church in this country. In the entire region of Latin America, there are only a handful of tiny apostolates of Ecclesia Dei communities, and due to the sheer opposition to tradition that rages there, the tradition-loving faithful in these vast regions are served primarily by the SSPX. When bishops refuse even to negotiate about the Latin Mass in Panama, the SSPX becomes a beacon of hope, providing for the spiritual needs of the people. We have been so severely persecuted that we have had to celebrate the true Mass in places like (but not limited to) apartments with more than a hundred faithful crammed in; rural estates; shut-down hotels; even the attic of a shop. It is truly incredible to see the hatred towards Tradition in Panama and the grotesque way the clergy in general talk about it. I cannot repeat the hideous statements that have been blurted out from pulpits concerning the Holy Faith. The brainwashing is so constant that in every parish, it is worse than a swear word to mention that one is “traditional” or even “conservative.”

Recently, our bishops issued a letter condemning the Latin Mass, the SSPX, and Tradition in general to serve as a lesson to us and to any person who would dare question the status quo of the Panamanian Church. A public response was made that exposed the modernists for exactly what they are, and gladly, the response received the underground approval of a surprising number of Catholics. By the grace of God, we have an Oratory that is constantly at maximum capacity and is growing with each visit of the SSPX.
Recent photo of the altar inside our Stella Maris Oratory, soon to celebrate its second anniversary. Deo gratias!

“Judge righteous judgment” (Jn 7:24)

What is the main lesson that I draw from our experience and would like to share with you? It is this: many “trads” are not in solidarity with the situation of suffering Catholics around the world. The majority of traditionalists live in countries that have at least certain bishops who are tolerant of tradition, and some who are favorable. They have weekly or daily Mass in grand churches with spectacular ornaments, with beautiful sacred music provided by experienced singers, a steady flow of supportive priests who give one orthodox homily after another, and listen to endless hours of confessions. “Trads” in such a comfortable position, where little to no fighting has to be done, can easily judge and harshly condemn their fellow Catholics who have to make tough decisions in order to keep the Faith.

Here in Panama, we wish to have all the natural and supernatural expressions of our holy Catholic faith; but we have been refused them over and over again by our “shepherds.” What are we supposed to do? Give up? Submit and bow down to the Pachamama? Comply with any and all heresies that are preached in our liberation-theology-saturated parishes? The scandals here are unrelenting; last year there was a five-day event organized by the Conference of Bishops and the regional Conference of Bishops of Latin America (“CELAM”), at which the attendees invoked “the spirit of mother earth” and asked “the blessing of the Pachamama.” Let me tell you that we will have none of this and none of that; we will stay with Christ to the end, with the aid of Our Lady Star of the Sea.

Someone from a “trad ghetto” could say: “Try to find an alternative… don’t go that way… write again to the bishop… negotiate… or just give up and be obedient.” No, no, and no. We have done everything canon law has asked us to do, and for bread we are given stones, for fish, serpents; for eggs, scorpions. It is thanks to the SSPX that we are able to worship as our forefathers did, kneeling at the shrine of Catholic truth and tradition. There is nowhere to go for an “alternative.” The hoax of the “reverent Novus Ordo” does not exist in Panama (it, too, is officially banned, if you wanted to know). We have witnessed the sad results of giving up in the fight or insisting on phony obedience: individuals stop defending the truths of the faith, become silent, stop caring if we have solid doctrine and Mass. Once you stop preaching the truth, the spirit of conformity and sloth can set in, which extinguishes the Counter-Revolutionary resolve. If you came to Panama for a month, you could be a witness of all that I say.

That is the situation in Panama, my friends. Please pray for us and for the expansion of the Catholic Church in its full splendor and in continuity with its centuries-spanning tradition. If you happen to be living in comfortable surroundings (as far as access to traditional Catholicism is concerned), do not stay within them; take up some apostolate, push outward the boundaries of Christendom, pray the rosary or the breviary for the suffering brethren in places like mine. The Catholic Faith thrives on bravery. Its purpose is to set the world ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit, to place on its weary shoulders the sweet yoke of Christ. Rejoice, for everywhere Our Lord is raising up souls with a truly Catholic sense, a burning love for the Church, and a filial devotion to Our Lady. This is the spirit of of the Counter-Revolution, which seeks to “restore all things in Christ.”