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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

249: The more millionaires, the more poor people are needed to balance the boat.

(Father Peter Hinde: 1923 - 2020. Photo from his simple home in Juarez Mexico)

We heard yesterday that our friend and mentor Carmelite Father Peter Hinde recently died in Juarez Mexico. He was a man who saw the world through the eyes of the poor whom he loved and served. He saw the injustice of the corporate trade system that condemned so many to lives of extremely hard work and a barely living wage. He fought for the poor with every gift he had.

(Our 2019 group of volunteers to El Paso with Father Peter and Sister Betty (in pink blouse)

Throughout his life he got into “good trouble” whether in the highlands of Peru, in Washington DC during the Civil Rights movement or the border between El Paso and Juarez.

We were lucky enough to share a day with Peter and his partner Sister Betty Campbell RSM as part of our volunteer work in El Paso last year. Our fearless leader Sister of Mercy Mary Waskowiak made all the arrangements.

He explained to us “Christ challenged the authorities of his day, and that’s what I'm doing here.”

(Father Peter's creche from Peru - a prized possession)

Peter loved to walk, to get close to the people he served, to share simple meals and lots of laughter. He was a happy warrior for peace. On Sundays, he walked a mile up and down steep, unpaved streets in the western outskirts of Juárez, past loose dogs and kids playing soccer outside cinder-block shacks.

Then he celebrated Mass in a sweltering chapel on a hill. After Mass he would hike back, stopping repeatedly to hug parishioners, many of them maquiladora (assembly plant) workers.

When we visited Peter and Betty, Peter used a cane and we rode into the center of Juarez in a converted school bus down crooked, bumpy streets to a restaurant near the cathedral. It was exhilarating to be in their presence and to realize that these two people had spent their whole lives working for justice.

Sister Betty, our leader Sister Mary Waskowiak and Father Peter at the restaurant

Father Peter started life a long way from Juarez. He was born in 1923 in Elyria, Ohio, and grew up in Chicago. He attended a Catholic High School run by the Order of Carmelites and vaguely thought of becoming a priest. But he pursued a more worldly profession when he started college at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He wanted to become an engineer but war broke out, and in 1942 he volunteered for the Army Air Corps. On one of his last flights he flew over the remains of Nagasaki -- an image that stuck with him his whole life.

Father Peter was placed in charge of 60 seminary students in Washington, DC, between 1960 and 1965 — the height of the civil-rights struggle. He encouraged students to go into the urban areas and to work with young black activists. Hinde formed a close friendship with activist Stokely Carmichael that lasted until Carmichael’s death in 1998.

“We learned how racism is structural.” Speaking of the DC police he said “the system conditions people who go through it.”

In 1966 Father Peter went to work in a new Carmelite community in Peru. The Peruvian government was embroiled in a fight with Standard Oil of New Jersey, over oil leases that vastly underpaid Peru, Hinde said. The United States government was threatening to cut foreign aid if Peru interfered with the leases.

(Peruvians protest land grab by Standard Oil)

In July 1968, Peter heard Gustavo Gutiérrez give a speech in which he articulated the idea of liberation theology — that Christians have a responsibility to see life through the eyes of the poor and ask how social institutions help or hurt them. In his words; “God is speaking to us through Latin Americans struggling for a fair wage,”

For the past 25 years Peter lived among the poorest people in Juárez, celebrating Mass at whichever chapel the archdiocese asked him to. He had no television, and didn’t have a car since 1978. Just about all the families he preaches to have at least one member working in the maquiladoras (assembly plants), making $50 to $55 a week.

Father Peter often likened the economy to a boat in which millionaires upset the balance. The more millionaires, he said, the more poor people are needed to balance the boat.

“I’ve watched as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) has impoverished the great majority of Mexicans,” he said later of the trade agreement that has helped foster the maquiladora (assembly) industry.

Just before he died Peter and his longtime partner Sister Betty Campbell, RSM were honored with the CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador) Peace Award.

Here’s the description of Peter and Betty from the CRISPAZ award:

Peter served as a missionary in Peru (South Sierra) from 1965-73, was a co-founder of the Tabor House Community in 1973, and was a co-founder of CRISPAZ, continuing to serve as a board member. Peter currently resides in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where he has lived since 1995.

In answer to Archbishop Romero’s call to accompany his people in El Salvador. Sr. Betty arrived in San Salvador in August of 1980, to a parish church basement where 200 displaced people were being sheltered. She set up a clinic to serve the people and train health promoters. Since 1996, Sr. Betty has lived at Tabor House in Juarez, Mexico, where she continues her work of solidarity with the marginalized of Latin America.


Fr Peter Hinde Fighter Pilot - Missionary Priest - Anti-war Activist

Fr. Peter Hinde, O. Carm.

Comment from Clifford Gieseke of San Antonio Texas:

I have known Fr. Peter Hinde and Sr. Betty Campbell since the 1989s when they lived in San Antonio,l TX and visited them once in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. We consider them living saints.


Song of the Shirt

Thomas Hood (1799 - 1845)

With fingers weary and worn,

With eyelids heavy and red,

A woman sat in unwomanly rags,

Plying her needle and thread—

Stitch! stitch! stitch!

In poverty, hunger, and dirt,

And still with a voice of dolorous pitch

She sang the "Song of the Shirt."

"Work! work! work!

While the cock is crowing aloof!

And work—work—work,

Till the stars shine through the roof!

It's O! to be a slave

Along with the barbarous Turk,

Where woman has never a soul to save,

If this is Christian work!


Till the brain begins to swim;


Till the eyes are heavy and dim!

Seam, and gusset, and band,

Band, and gusset, and seam,

Till over the buttons I fall asleep,

And sew them on in a dream!

"O, men, with sisters dear!

O, men, with mothers and wives!

It is not linen you're wearing out,

But human creatures' lives!


In poverty, hunger and dirt,

Sewing at once, with a double thread,

A Shroud as well as a Shirt.

"But why do I talk of death?

That phantom of grisly bone,

I hardly fear his terrible shape,

It seems so like my own—

It seems so like my own,

Because of the fasts I keep;

Oh, God! that bread should be so dear.

And flesh and blood so cheap!


My labour never flags;

And what are its wages? A bed of straw,

A crust of bread—and rags.

That shattered roof—this naked floor—

A table—a broken chair—

And a wall so blank, my shadow I thank

For sometimes falling there!


From weary chime to chime,


As prisoners work for crime!

Band, and gusset, and seam,

Seam, and gusset, and band,

Till the heart is sick, and the brain benumbed,

As well as the weary hand.


In the dull December light,

And work—work—work,

When the weather is warm and bright—

While underneath the eaves

The brooding swallows cling

As if to show me their sunny backs

And twit me with the spring.

"O! but to breathe the breath

Of the cowslip and primrose sweet—

With the sky above my head,

And the grass beneath my feet;

For only one short hour

To feel as I used to feel,

Before I knew the woes of want

And the walk that costs a meal!

"O! but for one short hour!

A respite however brief!

No blessed leisure for Love or hope,

But only time for grief!

A little weeping would ease my heart,

But in their briny bed

My tears must stop, for every drop

Hinders needle and thread!"

With fingers weary and worn,

With eyelids heavy and red,

A woman sat in unwomanly rags,

Plying her needle and thread—

Stitch! stitch! stitch!

In poverty, hunger, and dirt,

And still with a voice of dolorous pitch,—

Would that its tone could reach the Rich!—

She sang this "Song of the Shirt!"

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