Thursday, September 18, 2014

Not detracting from the goodness of God

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 21, 2014

Matthew 20:1-16

Throughout his prophetic career, Jesus stressed again and again his experience of God as "an unfathomable mystery of goodness" that smashes all our precalculations. His message is so revolutionary that, after twenty centuries, there are still Christians who dare not take it seriously.

To spread his experience of this good God to everyone, Jesus compares His actions to the surprising behavior of the lord of a vineyard. Up to five times he goes in person to hire laborers for his vineyard. He doesn't seem too concerned about their work output. What he wants is that no laborer be without work one more day.

For that very reason at the end of the day, he doesn't pay them according to the work done by each group. Although their work has been very uneven, he gives them all "one denarius" -- simply, what a peasant family from Galilee needed each day to be able to live.

When the spokesman for the first group protests because he has treated the last the same as them, that they worked more than anyone else, the lord of the vineyard answers with these admirable words: "Are you envious because I am good?". Are you going to stop me with your petty calculations from being good to those who need their bread to eat?

What is Jesus suggesting? Is it that God doesn't act according to the justice and equality criteria that we use? Might it be true that God, rather than measuring individual merit as we would do, always seeks to respond from his unfathomable Goodness to our radical need for salvation?

I confess that I feel immense sorrow when I meet good people who imagine a God devoted to carefully noting the sins and merits of human beings, to someday give back to each one exactly according to what he deserves. Is it possible to imagine a more inhumane being than someone who has dedicated themselves to that for all eternity?

Believing in a God who is an unconditional Friend could be the most liberating experience one could imagine, the most vigorous strength to live or die. In contrast, living facing a vigilante and menacing God could become a person's most dangerous and destructive neurosis.

We must learn not to confuse God with our narrow petty schemes. We must not detract from His unfathomable Goodness by mixing the authentic traits that come from Jesus with features of an avenging God taken from the Old Testament. Before the good God revealed in Jesus, there is only room for trust.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Liberation Theology in Salvador Allende's Chile

By Reflexión y Liberación (English translation by Rebel Girl)
September 14, 2014

The Great Hall of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile was the solemn surroundings where the long awaited book by Yves Carrier, Teología práctica de liberación en el Chile de Salvador Allende ["Practical liberation theology in Salvador Allende's Chile"], Ceibo Ediciones, was presented.

In a room overflowing with more than 400 attendees, FEUC president Naschla Aburman acted as emcee and moderator, expressing thanks for the crowded audience and particularly the presence of Mrs. Ángela Jeria, mother of President Michelle Bachelet, as well as the rector of the University of Chile, Don Ennio Vivaldi.

The event began with the distinguished human rights advocate, attorney Fabiola Letelier del Solar who, in the name of the editorial board of the journal Reflexión y Liberación, expressed joy at seeing concluded this cherished initiative which had been suggested to us by missionary Guy Boulanger, OMI and follows the editorial line our publication has had for 25 years, based on the Gospel, social justice, Vatican II and liberation theology.

Mónica Echeverría and priests José Aldunate and Mariano Puga were in charge of the book's presentation.

Writer, professor, actress and playwright Mónica Echeverría began by indicating that her husband, Fernando Castillo Velasco, should have been in her place, since, as the former rector of the Catholic university, he was a leader and ideologue in university reform in the late 1970s, someone who embraced the cause and consequences of liberation theology in his life.

In her presentation, she went back to the 1970s, recalling that the Church was beginning to experience a deep crisis as a result of its lack of openness to the world. She indicated the origins of that crisis in the assimilation of imperial power which was the sad heritage of Constantine's conversion to the Church. She pointed out the pageantry and the distorted image of a punishing God as "means of manipulation to make the poor submit." She stressed that there were historical voices who denounced such abuses, until the appearance of Marx eventually snatched the poor from the Church, who, she said, became agents of history. She highlighted significant Christians figures like Yves Congar, Teilhard de Chardin, Jacques Maritain, Manuel Larraín, Saint Alberto Hurtado and Clotario Blest, stressing that "they were beacons of hope for the poor." Following the historical tour, she continued with the good Pope John XXIII, highlighting his refusal to be bourgeois.

In that context, she presented Yves Carrier's book as a testimony to that liberating Church that seeks to serve the poor, noting that Chile was chosen to live out that experiment, specifically in Chuquicamata. She recalled a phrase of the late Dutch priest [Jan] Caminada that contains the spirit of this initiative: "We must not be divided in the struggle but walk together."

She criticized the silence and persecution imposed by Pope John Paul II on liberation theology and ended by highlighting the figure of Pope Francis as a great sign of hope for the Church and all humankind.

She was followed by José Aldunate who was applauded repeatedly. It was surprising to note his clarity and firmness, that at 97, he is testimony to evangelical passion. He gave his entire address standing.

Pepe spoke as a leader in Caminada's experiment, indicating that the goal of that adventure was seeking answers to basic questions such as: "What will become of the human race? What is the Church doing about the situation of the poor? How can the Church be modernized? How do we get it out of its buildings and worship services? How do we get it out into the street?"

Anecdotally, he said that Caminada was strict, severe, and that only Mariano Puga, with a joke or a gesture, was able to master him. He shared that Caminada, upon returning from a long mission in Indochina, came to his country, Holland, and found it tied to the past and found a Church trapped in a doctrinairism that wasn't attune to the present and was suspicious of all Socialism. He became persuaded that the way was praxis, since reality was above doctrine. He devised a strategy and came to Chile to test his hypothesis. That was how "we formed a group of Chileans and foreigners, among them Mariano, Rafael Maroto, and myself. It was a group that relinquished its bourgeois status."

The method had several steps: getting away from doctrinalism, insertion into the real world, acting out a new basic praxis, and dialoging with the bishops. He shared freely that "that was the most difficult. That dialogue had serious problems. Many bishops were afraid. We told them the Church had to make policy. We wanted to make God's dream come true: a united, egalitarian and fraternal community. That calls for policy, praxis aimed at the reality of the country." He serenely shared private details such as when "the bishops told us they didn't want us in Chile. The bishops rejected us." And he talked about how "the bishop of Calama, Don Juan Luis Ysern stood up for us until, finally, it was Pinochet with the coup who settled everything, throwing Caminada and his whole gang out. Only us five Chileans remained: Rafael Maroto, José Correa, Mariano, Chavo Fuster and me." And he said: "A branch could blossom. We five Chileans Got organized and formed a little group named EMO ("equipo misionero obrero" -- "worker missionary team"). Then we were 40 and then, 70. We continued to practice Caminada's method. We were able to fulfill Caminada's dream. Maroto was a shopkeeper, Pepe Correa a carpenter, Mariano a painter, and I worked in construction. We managed to open the Church to the left. So the distance between us and the Communists and Socialists came to an end, and there were no longer mutual insults but fraternal collaboration."

Pepe acknowledged joyfully, "We achieved something, moved forward. There was still fire under the ashes so that a Church committed to change in the world could emerge, committed to God's dream -- being a united, solidary and fraternal society."

With those words, Pepe ended his presentation, followed by a lengthy and warm ovation.

When Mariano Puga's turn came, he began by sharing his feelings: "I am coming to a unique point in my life, my history, my Church, my people." He read two Gospel passages -- with Luke, he proclaimed the text where Jesus makes the book of Isaiah his own: "...he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor..." (Lk 4:18-21) and the text from the Book of Acts where Luke describes the life of the early Christian communities: "...[they] were united, shared what they had, sold their goods and property and then distributed the money among all according to their needs...and they were esteemed by all..." (Acts 2:42-47).

With the reading of the Gospel, the assembly welcomed with respect and sanctity the emotion of Mariano, who took the floor again with the force of a prophet saying, "this is letter of introduction of the people's Church," and he added, "the greatest scandal is that the poor, the excluded, the marginalized don't feel at home in their Church. They don't feel that their hopes, their martyrdom resonates. There's an estrangement between the Church of Jesus and the Catholic Church." And, with emotion, he added: "This is our challenge, for those of us who think we are faithful to Jesus of Nazareth. That is impossible without being faithful to the poor, to their struggles and hopes." He shared that "what was most valuable about Calama was this: creating a new humanity in God's style, inseparable from the poor and the excluded."

Coming back to the present, he stated that "we are in a historic moment, with Pope Francis who says 'I want a poor Church for the poor' and invites Gustavo Gutierrez to dinner" -- and spontaneous applause broke out that filled the Great Hall of the PUC.

Then Mariano stated sorrowfully that "admiring without imitating is hypocrisy." And he added, "calling myself a disciple of Jesus, being a member of a Church that makes the hopes and anguish of the people its own -- which is its dogmatic constitution. We belonged to that mafia of the Holy Spirit that works in the heart of humanity. In that experiment there was room for priests, colleagues and workers."

Then Mariano returned to the story, saying that on August 15, 1973, the bishop of Calama told that group that the bishops didn't want them and he asked them to stop and leave. Mariano went to Santiago, and he said that on September 11, 1973 he got together with Cardinal Raúl Silva Henríquez, Sergio Contreras Navia, José Manuel Santos Ascarza and Carlos González Cruchaga, who expressed their support for the Calama experiment, at which statement the assembly erupted in applause full of gratitude that inundated the Great Hall of the Pontifical Catholic University, a testimony of gratitude towards those dear bishops and this beloved Church.

So the presentations concluded. Then there was an opportunity to share testimonies, beginning with that of Karina Delfino, president of Socialist youth. Don Ennio Vivaldi, rector of the University of Chile, followed, and in brief words, called for spiritual revival and recovering the great ideals, recalling times when citizens were mobilized for big social projects. He did this by highlighting the political figure of Salvador Allende. The last testimony was given by Jacques Chonchol, former minister of agriculture under Salvador Allende, who masterfully gave a synthesis of the history and evolution of the Mapuche conflict.

The presentation ended with a song to pay tribute to Pepe Aldunate and Mónica Echeverría's birthdays, followed by a simple reception where there was a chance to socialize with the numerous attendees, as well as with many men and women committed to the many liberating causes of the Chilean and Latin American people.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Women's presence in the Church: rhetoric without significant changes

By Patricia Fachin (English translation by Rebel Girl)
IHU-Unisinos/Adital (Português/Español)
September 10, 2014

"The achievements of feminism are manifested daily in public policies in favor of women, political fruits of their own struggles, and in a thousand and one activities in which respect for women is guaranteed," the theologian says.

The feminist theology adopted by Ivone Gebara comes from approaching "people's suffering and questions without having a tidy doctrinal response" and "the real life situations where people find themselves." This is how the Catholic theologian, from the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady (Canoneses of St. Augustine), in the interview below, talks about her approach to feminism and how she "came to notice" how her "way of doing theology did not include the sufferings and dreams of women. " Therefore, it was necessary to conceive a feminist theology.

For Ivone, "there's a big difference between doing feminist theology and doing the traditional theology affirmed as the current theology of the Church." According to her, despite the "common statement" "God is God", reflecting the "thought of many people", there are "multiple meanings of the word 'God'." She explains: "Even when we say there is only one God, that statement is experienced in different ways. In the different Christian traditions and in the lives of common people, the word 'God', even though everyone uses it, doesn't mean the same thing for everybody because each person experiences this Great Mystery in his or her way. In that sense one could say that each one does his own theology even though we belong to the same Church. We all want to experience love but each one experiences it in his own way and according to his history and interpretation." Likewise, the Catholic theologian points out a distinction between feminist theology and the official theology of the Church. "Feminist theology stems from observing the complicity of a certain kind of Christianity with the oppression and domination of women, even within the Church...Therefore the God of feminist women who are seeking to liberate themselves from many forms of historical oppression doesn't have the same legalistic and controlling image as in other theologies," she explains.

In the interview below, granted to IHU On-Line via e-mail, the theologian also comments on the situation of the North American religious sisters who belong to LCWR and who are being evaluated by the Vatican. For her, "the situation of the North American women religious is an example of the current conflict between a part of the Catholic hierarchy and intelligent women, with excellent educational backgrounds and performance in various social environments."

Along the same line, she asserts that "existing feminist theologians were never the focus of Pope Francis' interest or that of others." In that sense, she mentions, the fact that Pope Francis doesn't allude "to the feminist movement that has had and has one of the most significant expressions in Latin America in Argentina" is seen as strange.

"In this stance, the pope has created some confusion in the news reports, especially when he states the need to rethink women's presence in the Church, their vocation and things of that sort, which is more rhetoric than positions that reveal significant changes. Clearly the omnipresent patriarchal tradition and bureaucratic machine of the Vatican as well as the local churches don't facilitate institutional changes for women. But they're moving ahead in spite of everything, claiming their freedom to exist and express their needs and their dreams," she concludes.

Ivone Gebara will be honored with the title of Doctor Honoris Causa by Faculdades EST for her contribution to the theological debate and training in the Brazilian and Latin American context, during Faculdades EST's 2nd International Congress, which will take place September 8 to 12. The title will be awarded on Wednesday, September 10th,at 19h, in São Leopoldo, RS [see video below].

Ivone Gebara holds a PhD in Philosophy from the Catholic University of São Paulo and in Religious Studies from the Université Catholique du Louvain, Belgium. She taught for 17 years at the Theological Institute of Recife - ITER, until its dissolution, decreed by the Vatican in 1989.

Check out the interview.

IHU On-Line: How did your career in the Church begin and when did you start to be interested in feminist ideas and advocate for a feminist position in the Church?

Ivone Gebara: It isn't the first time you've asked me this question. Probably, I'll repeat myself in the answer on the one hand, but on the other hand, each answer is a response given in a different time.

I like to say that several events contributed to my embracing feminism. In the late 1970s, because of work in alternative training in which I took part with other professors at the Institute of Theology of Recife, I came to realize how much my way of doing theology did not include the sufferings and dreams of women. Painfully, a woman awoke me to the fact that my examples always referred to the lives of men, and even though I'm a woman, I was unaware of the real lives of women, especially the poor. I say 'painfully' because I was used to doing situation analyses and had difficulty accepting the fact that I was not including the lives of women workers, peasants, and domestics in a special way in my approach. I managed to enter a conversion process and become open to a world that was mine, but that I hadn't seen or prioritized. I began to recover my personal history, that of women in my family, my coworkers, and to realize that my analytic tools were based on male keys, especially since they portrayed situations of male protagonism. Often they were also abstract and theoretical analyses.

Another path was the reading of books by Western European and American women theologians. I was impressed by their denunciation of the patriarchal world and its violent consequences for women's lives. I didn't used to use the expression "patriarchal world" or any of the others ones common to the feminism of that era. I gradually learned a new language that really was more of a new analytic tool for understanding physical and symbolic violence towards women. I began to sense and reflect on the differences, on what is public and private, on the use of images of God, on symbolism in religion. A new world was unfolding.

Latin American interaction

In those days, other women in Latin America also agreed about the complex problem of oppression of women in the churches, and we were able to get organized and participate in international meetings where we shared ideas and perceptions. This greatly expanded my feminist horizons.

I think that a decisive event in my life was meeting "Catholics for the Right to Choose" in Uruguay. That happened in early 1980. Their approach to the sexual oppression of women and their struggle for the decriminalization and legalization of abortion opened another window in my mind.

I remember a secular feminist who once asked me what I, as a theologian, had to say about the sexual violence experienced by women. What did I have to say about rape and abortion? How did my theology modify the misogynistic and sexist thinking of the Catholic Church? I confess that at the time I felt confused and didn't know what to answer. I realized immediately that once again the theology I had learned and taught lacked a radical transformation, an anthropological revolution, other references. Liberation theology had already taught me a lot. But a new step needed to be taken.

Challenges such as these were growing throughout my life and teaching me to approach people's suffering and questions without having a tidy doctrinal response. This is one theological method I call feminist, though not exclusively, since it starts from the real situations in which people find themselves, considers individuals more important than laws, rules or doctrine. We are invited to experience life before thinking about it. We are invited to listen without giving immediate answers. We are invited to seek together the way out for many difficult and complex life situations.

This methodology based on our lives becomes critical of predetermined hierarchical positions and therefore is not well accepted by the leadership of the churches. The fact of affirming the need for women to choose and decide their lives despite our limitations, generates inevitable conflicts up to the present day.

IHU On-Line: Are you following the situation of the North American nuns in LCWR who are being evaluated by the Vatican for not following Church doctrine? If so, how do you view their actions in the US?

Ivone Gebara: The situation of American women religious is an example of the current conflict between the Catholic hierarchy and intelligent women, with excellent educational backgrounds and performance in various social environments. It is these women who make up LCWR . The Catholic hierarchy has a hard time accepting the self-determination of these women religious who are aware, really, that they don't need the approval of a priest or bishop to live out the love and justice to which they feel called. They don't need to ask permission to read, study, help groups or invite people to their meetings according to the will of a bishop. They dared assume their right to be citizens and are being punished for it. In the Roman Catholic Church, women -- and nuns in particular -- don't have full citizenship. I have followed, to the extent possible, the complex process that these women religious are going through and they have my full support.

I'm struck by the fact that Pope Francis has not taken a more open position towards them. Two years ago, Cardinal Müller criticized them and accused them of promoting radical feminist issues. This accusation continues today, even if different words are being used. The Church leadership fears being accused of misogyny and they defend themselves, but their behavior is more than misogynist. Unfortunately they cling to an incredible biologism and the concept of anatomy as destiny. They've deduced from the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was male, arguments for the exclusion of women. And along this line, they give more importance to the priestly role which Jesus wasn't part of, at the expense of a more ethical understanding of Christianity where many inclusive aspects could be accentuated. Jesus was not of the priestly elite of Israel. Rather, he criticized it and distanced himself from it. Jesus lived a life close to men, women, children, Jews and strangers. With them, he preached the kingdom of God throughout his life through concrete actions that change people's lives. That earned him misunderstanding, abuse and crucifixion.

IHU On-Line: What differentiates feminist theology from theology, or what aspects does feminist theology add to theology, since God is God and this isn't an argument about gender even though we refer to God the Father?

Ivone Gebara: There's a big difference between doing feminist theology and doing the traditional theology affirmed as the current theology of the Church. The first thing I want to comment on is the common statement "God is God" that is present in this question and that reflects the thinking of many people. I would call attention to the fact of the multiple meanings of the word "God." Even when we say there is only one God, that statement is experienced in different ways. In the different Christian traditions and the lives of ordinary people, the word "God," although everyone uses it, doesn't mean the same thing to everyone because each person experiences the Great Mystery in their own way. In that sense, one can say each one does his own theology, though we belong to the same Church. We all want to experience love, but each one experiences it in his own way and according to his history and interpretation. To take examples from the Gospels, the theology of a woman suffering from an issue of blood is not the same as that of the Pharisee who enters the Temple and affirms that he is righteous. The theology of the Inquisition is not the same as the Human Rights one advocated today by many people.

Traditional theology vs. feminist theology

Along these lines, I want to distinguish feminist theology from the official theology of the Church. Feminist theology stems from observing the complicity of a certain kind of Christianity with the oppression and domination of women, including within the Church. It stems from the awareness that women are only formally "subjects with rights." It is born of the realization that oppression means thinking of women as having been created subordinate to men, and even when we're talking about "being complementary", it often means subordinate. We can't forget the myth of Adam and Eve created from one of his ribs. This all leads to the formulation of doctrines and interpretations that reinforce certain stereotypes that give men decision-making power even over our lives.

All feminist theologies stemming from patriarchal structures that are still very present among us are trying to propose personal and collective changes that can actually have an impact on the collective or life in society. The changes are slow, but in each situation it's necessary to review what we're wanting. Therefore, the God of feminist women seeking to liberate themselves from many forms of historical oppression doesn't have the same legalistic and controlling image as in other theologies. The very struggle of many women's groups justifies the existence of feminist theologies and their relevance, albeit as a minority, these days.

IHU On-Line: How do you assess the progress in debate about gender, considering that the initial discussions dealt particularly with women, but later moved to the defense of LGBT rights, also talking about transgender and even, more recently, a third gender? Moreover, Germany has created a third gender category for parents to register their children as "male", "female" or "undefined." Where is this discussion is taking us?

Ivone Gebara: This isn't the place to explain how the gender concept became an analytic tool of feminism. It's a long story. In general, when you used to talk about gender, you were thinking of the existence of only two genders: male and female. Other human experiences such as those of bisexuals, transgendered people and those of undetermined gender didn't come up. Some European and American physicians faced the reality of babies born with undetermined biological gender. You needed to wait a while until the parents, or even the child, would choose the gender through surgery or other treatments. Families and also birth records were affected by this unexpected reality. That's why countries like Germany introduced the "undetermined" sex option to allow the necessary time for an eventual decision.

Clearly, we are making progress on the issue as we discover new aspects of complex human sexuality that can't be reduced to a binary -- "either/or" -- scheme. But with the advances come new identity problems, new situations, new challenges. It's all part of the human condition and life in society that invites us every day to try to understand each other anew. And in this understanding, to adjust our language, our feelings, our political stances, and social laws.

IHU On-Line - Does feminism still have something to say these days?

Ivone Gebara: From what I've discussed above, my answer is yes, although I must agree that the form and the challenges of feminism are different nowadays. Often feminist struggles do not appear related to the early tradition of feminism. I'm referring especially to the new generations of women who are fighting for their rights. We saw, for example, the reaction of women to the serial rapes by a famous doctor in São Paulo, now in prison. Those who denounced him didn't actually call themselves feminists but they were aware of the dignity of their lives as women. In many universities, groups have been denouncing rape which, before, was considered something common that always ended with impunity. Today, at various universities, women are more clear-headed and are coming forward to denounce the perpetrators.

Today too, the trafficking in women and the exploitation of girls by national and international groups have received an alert response from NGOs, universities, governments and churches. This isn't called feminism but actually it has to do with feminist struggles past and present that helped raise awareness about various issues and affirmed the dignity of women. The achievements of feminism are manifested daily in public policies in favor of women, political fruits of their own struggles, and in a thousand and one activities in which respect for women is guaranteed

IHU On-Line: In general, how would you rate Francis' pontificate? Is there room for feminist theology in this pontificate?

Ivone Gebara: Generally and very quickly, it can be said that feminism and existing feminist theologies were never the focus of Pope Francis' interest, nor that of others. Of course my judgment is based on their public positions. It's strange that he has never alluded to the feminist movement that has had one of its most significant expressions in Latin America in Argentina. Likewise, he doesn't mention the existence of feminist theologians, either from Latin America or from other continents, when we know how much they have written, taught, and even been persecuted by the Catholic Church in the 20th and 21st centuries.

I don't think this silence is real ignorance of the facts, but a politico-ecclesiastical posture. Not speaking of someone or a worldwide movement, trying to ignore them, is not allowing them to appear in their historical strength. It's not giving them importance and not thinking of them as something that could bring any contribution to the Church. In this stance, the pope has created some confusion in the news reports, especially when he states the need to rethink women's presence in the Church, their vocation and things of that sort, which is more rhetoric than positions that reveal significant changes. Clearly the omnipresent patriarchal tradition and bureaucratic machine of the Vatican as well as the local churches don't facilitate institutional changes for women. But they're moving ahead in spite of everything, claiming their freedom to exist and express their needs and their dreams.

Ivone Gebara receiving her honorary doctorate (video)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Looking with faith on the Crucified One

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 14, 2014

John 3:13-17

The feast we Christians celebrate today is incomprehensible and even absurd for those who do not know the meaning of the Christian faith in the Crucified One. What meaning could a feast called "Exaltation of the Cross" have in a society that passionately seeks "comfort," convenience, and maximum well-being?

Many may wonder how it is possible to still continue exalting the cross today. Hasn't that morbid way of living, exalting pain and seeking suffering, been superseded forever? Must we go on nurturing a Christianity focused on the agony of Calvary and the wounds of the Crucified One?

Undoubtedly, those are very reasonable questions that need a clarifying response. When we Christians look on the Crucified One, we aren't exalting pain, torture and death but the love, closeness, and solidarity of God who wants to share our life and our death to the end.

It isn't suffering that saves us but the love of God that stands in solidarity with the sorrowful history of human beings. It isn't the blood that cleanses us of our sins, really, but the unfathomable love of God who welcomes us as His children. The crucifixion is the event in which His love is best revealed to us.

Discovering the grandeur of the Cross isn't attributing some sort of mysterious power or virtue to pain but confessing the saving power of God's love when, incarnated in Jesus, He goes forth to reconcile the world to Himself.

In those outstretched arms that can no longer embrace children and in those hands that can no longer caress lepers or bless the sick, we Christians "contemplate" God with His arms open to receive, embrace, and sustain our poor lives, broken by so much suffering.

In that face dimmed by death, in those eyes that can no longer look tenderly upon prostitutes, in that mouth that can no longer scream its outrage about the victims of so much abuse and injustice, in those lips that can no longer express His forgiveness to sinners, God is revealing His unfathomable love for humankind to us as in no other gesture.

Therefore, being faithful to the Crucified One is not seeking crosses and suffering but living like him with an attitude of devotion and solidarity, accepting, if necessary, crucifixion and the evils that might befall us as a result. This faithfulness to the Crucified One isn't a glorification of suffering [dolorista] but is hopeful. For a "crucified" life, lived in the same spirit of love with which Jesus lived, only resurrection awaits.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Democracy and human rights in the Church

By José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Teología Sin Censura blog
September 10, 2014

To raise, from the outset, the issue I am trying to explain, I will start by asking a question: What moral authority or what credibility can an institution (the Church) have to the people of our time that, as it is conceived and organized, can't be governed as a democracy, or subscribe to human rights and put them into practice? This question is more fascinating for us and makes us even more uncomfortable when we think (at least for a moment) that the Church claims to "evangelize", that is, "to convey the Gospel." But how is it going to attempt to convey "the most sublime" (the Gospel of Jesus) if it can't accomplish "the most elemental" (democracy and basic rights)?

Given the question I just asked, the starting point of my thinking is this: democracy in the governance of the Church, as well as the implementation of human rights in it are two very vital issues and so urgent that whether or not the Church can or cannot be true to its origins (i.e. the gospel) depends on the right solution being given to these two problems. Likewise, whether or not the Church regains much needed credibility and can fulfill its assigned mission in the world also depends on its faithfulness to democracy and human rights. I also think that the Church (as a whole) has not realized at all the paramount importance of what I have just pointed out.

And yet another observation that to me is crucial: In this speech, I'm going to say (I've already pointed them out) things that will be unpleasant for some. If I speak this way, it isn't out of resentment or alienation from the Church. Quite the opposite. I'm saying these things because the Church matters to me a lot and my affection for the Church is very strong. The Church we have, not the one I might have in my mind. Because I was born in that Church. I live in her. And in her I want to die. I owe my knowledge of Jesus and his Gospel to the Church. What happens is that I often see the gap and even the contradiction that so many people feel between the Church and the Gospel. In the face of this, I can't be silent. Therein lies the content and intent of what I'm going to say here.

1. Starting point

The big problem we face here isn't the problem of specifying whether the Church can or can't be democratic, should or shouldn't be democratic. Of course. But there's a previous problem we haven't sunk our teeth into. I'm referring to the problem of the structure itself of religion. If we talk about the relationship between Church and democracy, between Church and rights, we get to a dead end if we haven't previously faced the problem of the relationship between the Church and religion. Why? Because religion -- as the religious event is known to us and apart from very few exceptions -- isn't just about the "relationship with God", but besides that, it is also a "mediated relationship." That is, religion is a relationship with God that takes place via (a "mediated" relationship) mediators associated with hierarchies involving a system of rituals, ranks and sacred powers, which involve dependence, obedience, submission and subordination to invisible superiors (cf. Walter Burkert, La creación de lo sagrado ["Creation of the Sacred"], Barcelona, Acantilado, 2009, 146). Hence "religious sentiment" is specifically the "feeling of reverence" and therefore "submission" (Jean Bottéro, La religión más antigua: Mesopotamia ["The oldest religion: Mesopotamia"], Madrid, Trotta, 2001, 59-65). Submission not only to God but also submission to the mediators, who act as "bridges" ["puentes"] ("pontiffs" - ["pontífices"]) between human beings and the Transcendent. Between "immanence" and "transcendence".

Now, to the extent that religion is accepted that way, lived and kept that way, it is simply contradictory and therefore impossible to establish a relationship that can be justified and implemented between religion and democracy, between religion and human rights. And so too, it is impossible to have a normal relationship between Church and democracy or Church and human rights. This contradiction is not usually "argued rationally" or discursively. But it is usually "experienced emotionally" by significant sectors of the population, especially in the more developed countries. Hence the frequent conflict that tends to occur between citizens and the religious hierarchies. Often, these conflicts tend to be explained, in the case of the hierarchs, by resorting to a loss of faith, moral relativism, the decline of morals ... And, in the case of citizens, the religious hierarchies are rejected for cultural, social, political and ethical reasons. In all that there may be, undoubtedly, some or a lot of truth. But none of that is the real reason for the eternal conflict between hierarchy and faithful, priests and laity.

And, when we dwell on these quarrels, inevitably we begin to lash out in the dark. Because, if we dwell on these discussions and those clashes, we're really all blind. Therefore, the strikes we give are striking out blind. Because the blind person, whether bishop, theologian, or lay person, if he stays on the superficial level and doesn't get to the heart of the matter, has no choice but to go through life blindly. At least, this is precisely what has occurred to me many times.

2. Freedom and equality

To speak properly about democracy and human rights one must start, logically, where the Universal Declaration begins: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." (Art. 1) Therefore, freedom and equality are the two basic foundations of democracy and the fundamental rights of human beings. So, where there is no equality and no freedom, there is no - nor can there be - democracy. Precisely because democracy is the system of government and coexistence that ends inequality and subjugation. Where there is inequality and subjugation, there can be no democracy.

Now, what is most opposite, radically contrary to the two principles I've just noted (freedom and equality) is religion. Because religion is hierarchy and obedience. Hierarchy and obedience to God, of course. But not just to God. Rather, hierarchy and obedience to God through the "mediators" who are essential in religion. And who are the ones who make up the constituent hierarchies of religion. Well now, hierarchy is the same as inequality (rank, honors, powers, categories...). And hierarchy is the same as submission of some (those who obey) to others (those who rule). Submission on dogmas, rituals, norms, traditions... Therefore, where there is religion there cannot be freedom, nor can there be equality. Which is not to say that where there is a relationship with God, there cannot be freedom, nor can there be equality. Relationship with God is one thing. Relationship with the religion of the sacred, with its hierarchies and resulting inequality and submission, is something else.

I will talk about this shortly. But first we need to clarify another important issue.

3. Equality and difference

Inequality is one thing and difference is something else. Difference is a fact. Equality is a right. It's a fact that men are different from women, white people are different from black people, etc. But that doesn't mean that men have rights women can't have. Or that white people have rights that black people can't have, etc. "Difference is a descriptive term." While "equality is a normative term" (Luigi Ferrajoli, Derechos y garantías. La ley del más débil ["Rights and Guarantees: the Law of the Weakest"], Madrid, Trotta, 2001, 79). Differences can never be "inequality factors" (op.cit., 79-80). Because when differences are set up as inequality, one moves from the scope of "facts" to the realm of "rights". Which leads to that, when one is different (for whatever reason), that "fact" becomes a "right" or a source of rights that are not available to others.

This shift from facts to rights is much more common than we think. It happens in politics, in the world of business and labor, in the field of science and knowledge, in society in general .... And a very special way it occurs -- and plays out -- in religion, particularly in the Church: men have rights that women don't, clergy have rights that lay people can't have, etc, etc. Which, for large sections of the population, is simply irritating. Especially in two areas of life to which we are almost all very sensitive. I mean everything to do with money and sex. That the Church is seen as a religion, is a fact. That this fact has become a source of rights, which are de facto privileges, is something that is visible to all. This is already, in itself, outrageous. But if the opacity of what is hidden is added to this, what the public is not informed about ... then the "outrageous" comes to be "irritating". No one knows exactly how much money the Church takes in. No one knows where that money comes from. No one knows what so much money is invested in. Nor how it is invested. It's true that there are bishops, priests, men and women religious who are exemplary and even heroic. But it's also true that, for example, the tax privileges of the Church are important. But, what does that mean? What consequences does it have? It's known that those benefits were -- at least in the years of the Zapatero government -- greater than the privileges the Church had during the time of Franco (Cf. Julio Jiménez Escobar, Los beneficios fiscales de la Iglesia Católica ["The tax benefits of the Catholic Church"], Bilbao, Desclée, 2002, 371). And as for the field of sex, suffice it to say that until the pontificate of John Paul II, the Vatican severely forbade anything related to child abuse from being known. From the time of Pius XII, I had heard of such abuses. As I also knew of the strict prohibitions imposed by Rome in this matter.

4. Jesus and religion

Because of everything I just said, the originality, genius and currency of the Gospel is even more striking. Because -- and I say it now -- the Gospel is not a religion (in the sense I just explained), nor can the Church be an institution that represents a religion.

I'll explain. We know that Jesus was persecuted, insulted, threatened, judged, condemned and executed by the hierarchical representatives and rulers of the temple religion, the religion of the sacred, the religion of the law and rites, the religion that threatened with punishments and condemnations. The men of religion, in Jesus' time, realized that what they represented and what Jesus represented were two incompatible things.

All this explains why Jesus took the side of "the last." And he confronted "the first". As he took the side of "the little ones" (the children) and confronted "the big ones" (the high priests). Just like he had conflicts with "the powerful" and befriended "the weak" (cf. Lk. 1:51-53). In other words, Jesus took sides with the victims of the politico-religious system that is based and remains on the foundation of holy hierarchies, sacred powers, honors that come from above, privileges that "God's" dignitaries are entitled to... Here we're getting to the bottom of it. Because, ultimately, we're touching on the only foundation that squares with the only one who can reasonably be called "God," the Father of goodness. That is, the Father who is good to all, to both the righteous and sinners, the "lost" and the "observant" (Lk. 15:11-32), and who - if He puts someone first - favors the Samaritan while proposing the priest as an example of what not to do (Lk. 10:30-35).

Hence, if we're talking about the Church, starting at the beginning, we have to say that Jesus did not found the Church. We know that the Church has its origin in Jesus (“... Ecclesiae... initium fecit”. Vat. II: LG 5). Nobody doubts that Jesus was a deeply religious man. But Jesus didn't found a religion. Jesus lives in such a way that his relationship with the temple, with the priests, the scribes and the Pharisees was such that the religious hierarchies realized that what they represented and what Jesus represented were two incompatible things. That's why the religious hierarchs condemned him to death (cf. Jn. 11:47-53). Now, the death on a cross of a criminal, executed as a subversive, wasn't nor could have been a religious ritual in those days. It was an act radically opposed to everything religion represented then. Moreover, according to the gospels, at his death, Jesus felt abandoned even by God (Mt. 27:45, Mk. 15:34, cf. Ps. 22:2). Of course, Jesus' death was a sacrifice. But it wasn't a "ritual" sacrifice. It was an "existential" sacrifice. On the cross, Jesus didn't offer a "religious ritual" (Heb. 9:12,25) but he offered "himself" (Heb. 7:27, 9:9-14), that is, he offered his own existence.

Decidedly, Jesus did not found a religion. Rather, what we can say is that he moved religion -- he took it out of "the sacred" and put it in "life", in correct ethical relationships with one another. So the only time the N.T. uses the word "religion" (threskeia) is to say that religion is "to care for orphans and widows in their affliction" (James 1:27). Just as when the N.T. urges Christians to implement the central act of religion, the "sacrifice" (thysia), it states that the sacrifices that "please God" are "to do good and to share what you have" (Heb. 13:16). The N.T. shifts religion in that it moves it from "the sacred" to "the secular", from rites to social relationships.

5. The Church and religion

It's a fact that in the great community of believers in Jesus, with the passing of time, two phenomena have occured which, viewed together, are very worrisome. Because both are very serious really. It's these two facts: 1) The Gospel, as a way of life and organizing principle for the Church, has been marginalized to the extent that exactly the opposite of what Jesus commanded or prohibited is being done quite naturally; 2) To the same extent that the Gospel is being marginalized, Religion -- the sacred, the rituals, the temples, the priests -- has been growing more powerful until coming to the situation we're in now: the Church is an institution that is more religious than evangelical. So people know that, when we're talking about Christianity and the Church, we're talking about "religion", we're not talking about the "Gospel." Because, for many citizens, the Church is as clearly religious as it is strictly anti-evangelical.

Now, as long as this state of affairs endures, confusion about the the Church, the Gospel, and religion will be constant. Moreover, while things continue this way, the Church will feel incapable of keeping alive the memory of Jesus. And what Jesus represents in the history of mankind.

Moreover, the Church, being not just a religion but also a state -- its relations with the other states, and the consequent presence of the Church in every country, will be subject to endless complications, ambiguous situations, countless contradictions, etc. Above all, the contradiction that the Church presents itself as the spokesperson of the Gospel of the poor, the weak, the same time as it presents itself as the bearer of a power that is above all the powers of this world. And it presents itself as a bearer of human rights, while having a theology and law that dare not speak of real effective equality between men and women, clergy and laity, etc, etc.

Let's say, clearly and fearlessly, that if the Church wants to exist in our time and not in pre-modernity, it must modify its theology and canon law. The Church, if it wishes to preach the Gospel, has to modify church law. As it has to modify the theology underlying such law.

6. Concluding proposals

1. Keep the papacy as the current bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, is trying to make it -- being basically the bishop of Rome. And acting as an appellate body for matters that cannot be resolved at the local level.

2. Regain the synodical government that was in effect in the Church of the first millennium. Such that it would be the synods (national and regional) that would appoint the government positions, look out for the faithfulness of the churches to the Gospel, and make decisions for the better government of the dioceses, parishes, and specific communities.

3. Renew and update the praxis of the sacraments. It's important to know that the canons of Session 7 of the Council of Trent on the sacraments are not dogmas of faith (José M. Castillo, Símbolos de libertad. Teología de los sacramentos ["Symbols of Freedom: Theology of the Sacraments"], Salamanca, Sígueme, 1981, 320-341). As such they can, and should, be modified to bring them up to date. That would be the task above all of the local synods, in which lay men and women ought to have a voice and decision-making capacity. Perhaps one the most crucial things would be "inculturating" the sacraments so that our "religious rituals" could be practices and experienced as "symbols of faith."

4. Finally, the Church must emphasize not only the duties of the faithful but also the rights of all citizens. Not just out of respect for those citizens, since respecting someone is defending that person's rights. But also because if it exaggerates duties over rights, that generates an "impoverished moral system" (J. Feinberg, “The Social Importance of Moral Rights”, in J.R. Tomberlin (ed.), Philosophical Perspectives 6. Ethics, 1992, p. 179). The Church has stressed too much, for example, the duty to silently and patiently bear the intemperate behavior and even the abuse that we men have often committed against women. And that, repeated for centuries, has been a determining factor in the forbearance and fear with which women have endured the violence of patriarchal and sexist society. Even resulting in many murders by "respectable" elders who suddenly kill their wives before committing suicide themselves. The moral sermonizing that women have endured during their tireless church attendance has fostered a culture of fear and silence, with the consequences we all know.

Translator's Note: This appears to be the prepared text of José María Castillo's remarks to the 34th Congreso de Teología given September 5, 2014 in Madrid. Castillo is vice-president of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII which sponsors this annual conference.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Two more honors for Gustavo Gutierrez

He's probably one of the most honored Catholic theologians already but Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP is adding two more trophies to his shelf this month.

Premio Capri San Michele

On September 27th, the Italian edition of a book Gutierrez co-authored with Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith prefect Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Dalla parte dei poveri. Teologia della Liberazione, teologia della Chiesa, will receive the 31st Premio Capri San Michele, one of Italy's most prestigious non-fiction awards. Last year, a book by Pope Francis, Guarire dalla corruzione, received this honor.

Gittler Prize

Fr. Gutierrez has also been named the recipient of the 2014 Gittler Prize from Brandeis University. The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize was created "to recognize outstanding and lasting scholarly contributions to racial, ethnic and/or religious relations" and includes a cash prize of $25,000 and a medal. In announcing the Peruvian liberation theologian's nomination, Brandeis University president Frederick Lawrence said that "Gustavo Gutiérrez has dedicated his life to advocating for the poor in Latin America and worked tirelessly to establish a place for social justice within his faith. He is an excellent example of what the Gittler Prize represents." The prize will be formally presented to Gutiérrez in a ceremony and talk on Sunday, October 5th at the university.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Pope Francis and the Theology of the People

by Juan Carlos Scannone, S.J. (English translation by Rebel Girl) Mensaje
August 2014

When, at the 2013 Rimini Festival, the Argentine priest "Pepe" DiPaola alluded to the ministry then Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio promoted in the slums of Buenos Aires, he acknowledged himself and his companions as "sons of the Theology of the People" and he added, "In Argentina, we have two very important individuals with whom we were trained in that theology -- Fathers Lucio Gera and Rafael Tello." Thus, his statements were a reflection of how the link between that theology and the ministry and preferential option for the poor of the one who is Pope Francis today is acknowledged in this country.

In fact, when Gera died in 2012, Cardinal Bergoglio had him buried in the Buenos Aires Cathedral, in consideration of his role as expert at the Second Vatican Council and the Latin American Bishops' Conference (CELAM) meetings in Medellin (1968) and Puebla (1979). Another piece of background information is that, the same year, when Father Enrique Bianchi published a book about Tello, the archbishop himself presented it to the public.1

The antecedents to this theme relate to the story of how the Theology of the People emerged.2 Upon its return from the Second Vatican Council, the Argentine Episcopal Conference created the Comisión Episcopal de Pastoral ("Bishops Commission for Pastoral Ministry" - COEPAL)  in 1966. It was made up of bishops, theologians, and religious, among whom were the aforementioned Gera and Tello, who were diocesan priests and professors at the Faculty of Theology in Buenos Aires then. COEPAL ceased to exist in 1973, but several of its members continued to meet as a theological reflection group under Gera's leadership. The latter served as an expert at Medellin and Puebla, was a member of the CELAM theological-pastoral team, and later served on the International Theological Commission.

In a political context marked by the dictatorship of Juan Carlos Onganía, the proscription of Peronism and the emergence of social protest at the University of Buenos Aires, the so-called National Professorships in Sociology were born. Distancing themselves from both liberalism and Marxism, these professorships and COEPAL found their conceptualization in Latin American and Argentine history with categories such as "people" and "anti-people", "peoples" as opposed to "empires", "popular culture", "popular religiosity", etc. In the case of Gera and COEPAL, this involved mainly considering the People of God -- a biblical label preferred by the Council to designate the Church and its relationship with the people, especially of Argentina. It is noteworthy that one of Bergoglio's characteristic expressions is "a faithful people", whose popular faith and piety he values highly.

Likewise, what was at stake for COEPAL was not only "the emergence of the laity within the Church, but also the Church's insertion in the historical course of the peoples" inasmuch as the latter are subjects of history and culture, both recipients and agents of evangelization, thanks to their inculturated faith.

Dependency theory -- as well as the rest of Latin American theology of that time -- influenced the members of that commission. They understood it mainly based on political and also economic domination, framing both in integral liberation from sin.


COEPAL understood the category "people", first of all, as a people -- a nation, thinking of the diverse entity of a common culture rooted in a common history, and projected towards a shared common good. The historical dimension is fundamental to this conception of "people", and also involves careful discernment -- from pastors and politicians -- of the "signs of the times" in the life of the people and peoples which -- for believers -- are also indices of God's provident will.

In Latin America it is the poor who, at least in practice, preserve the culture of their people as the organizing principle of their lives and coexistence (Puebla Document 414), just as their historical memory and their interests coincide with a common historical project of justice and peace, being that they are oppressed by structural injustice. Thus, in Latin America, at least de facto, the option for the poor and for the culture coincide.

I once asked Jesuit Fernando Boasso why COEPAL, of which he was a member, had given priority to the issue of culture. He answered that it had taken it from paragraph 53 of the Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes (1965). It should be noted that the wording of paragraph 386 of the Declaration of Puebla (one of those mainly responsible for it was Gera) shows how the just mentioned conciliar Constitution was interpreted from a Latin American perspective: the more humanistic conciliar meaning of culture from the Gaudium et Spes document is shifted towards the meaning that the Council then related to its "historical and social aspect" and called "sociological and ethnological meaning." Puebla reinterpreted that constitution and changed the angle of approach of its understanding of culture.

Theology of the People does not ignore the pressing social conflicts in Latin America, although, in its understanding of "people", it favors unity over conflict (a priority, then, repeatedly affirmed by Bergoglio). It doesn't take class struggle as a "determining hermeneutic principle" for understanding society and history 3 but gives historical place to conflict -- even class conflict, conceiving it based on the prior unity of the people. Thus, institutional and structural injustice is understood as a betrayal of the latter by a part of it, which thus becomes anti-people.


What has been said up to this point affects the consideration of popular piety. Religion (or the negative attitude towards the religious) -- following Paul Tillich -- is assumed as the nucleus of a people's culture whereas, on the other hand, reference is made with Paul VI to the piety "of the poor and simple" (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 1975, 48). However, any opposition is only apparent if we consider that, at least in practice in Latin America, it is the latter who better preserve the common culture, its values and symbols (even religious ones), those that by their very nature tend to be shared widely, being able to form in our countries the germ of conversion -- in the non-poor -- to achieve the liberation of all.

Thus, the religion of the people, if they have been authentically evangelized, far from being an opiate, not only has evangelizing potential but also of human liberation as the popular reading of the Bible has demonstrated in practice. Hence, let the bishops' meeting at Puebla be considered an authentic continuation of the one held in Medellin, although it took new contributions about the evangelization of culture and popular piety from the exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (1975). It can be proved that the Synod of 1974 addressed the issue of evangelization both under the influence of the Theology of the People and thanks to Latin American bishops such as the one who later would become Cardinal Eduardo Pironio. That is how Paul VI recorded these contributions in the just mentioned exhortation which, in turn, was applied by Puebla to Latin America and enriched by new contributions, e.g. Gera's in "Evangelización de la cultura" ["The evangelization of culture"] and the Chilean Joaquín Alliende in "Religiosidad popular" ["Popular Religiosity"].4 Thus a virtuous spiral between Latin America and Rome was generated. Well, having begun in Argentina, it was brought to the center by the Synod. There, Paul VI deepened it, and it was taken up again at Puebla where it was newly enriched, as it also was at Aparecida. Now it returns to Rome with Pope Francis who is bringing it to fruition and offering it to the universal Church again.

An important novelty is the importance that Puebla gives -- along the lines of theology of the people -- to "folk wisdom" in the two sections of the document mentioned above (numbers 413 and 448, respectively). It relates the religion of the people with wisdom knowledge, which does not replace the scientific one, but places it existentially, complements and confirms it. Theology of the People considers religion to be key as a mediation between people's faith and an inculturated theology. 5 And Pope Francis recognizes its importance when he speaks of connatural knowledge, following Thomas Aquinas and, likewise, the Puebla Document and Gera.

Later, the CELAM meeting at Aparecida (2007) discerned in Latin American popular piety, popular moments of real spirituality and mysticism (Aparecida Document 258-265, especially 262). Jorge Seibold, a theology of the people pastoral worker, already pointed this out when he introduced the "popular mysticism" category.6 As we shall see, the pope refers to that twice in Evangelii Gaudium. Taking it into account is a new challenge today in and outside of Latin America.


In 1982, I distinguished four currents in Latin American liberation theology. 7 Among them, I placed theology of the people, a name Juan Luis Segundo gave it when criticizing it, but that Sebastián Politi also adopted when championing it. Gutiérrez characterizes it as "a current with its own traits within liberation theology" and Roberto Oliveros as an aspect of the latter, pejoratively calling it "populist theology." Then the aforementioned label -- which certainly isn't the only possible one -- was accepted by liberation theologians like Joáo Batista Libánio, and by its critics, such as Methol and Antonio Quarracino, when presenting the instruction Libertatis Nuntius (1984). 8

Among the "traits" mentioned by Gutiérrez, in addition to those of a thematic nature pointed out by me in the first part of this article, there are others of a methodological sort related to the first ones: the use of historical and cultural analysis, favoring it above the socio-structural one (which is not discarded); the use -- as a means to know reality and transform it --  of more synthetic and hermeneutical sciences such as history, culture and religion, thus completing the spectrum of analytical and structural sciences; the aforementioned rooting of said scientific means in wisdom knowledge and discernment by "the affective connaturality born of love" (Evangelii Gaudium 125) which, in turn, confirms them, a critical distancing from the Marxist method of social analysis and categories of understanding and corresponding action strategies.

The two Instructions by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1984 and 1986 helped prevent extreme positions. For his part, John Paul II in his April 9, 1986 message to the bishops of Brazil, gave church recognition to liberation theology not just as "timely, but [as] useful and necessary," and as "a new phase" in the Church's theological and social reflection, provided that it is in continuity with the latter.9

Years later, in September 1996, the leadership of CELAM, with the participation of the authorities of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (among them, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone), brought together in Schönstatt (Germany) a relatively small group of Latin American theologians and experts to reflect on "the future of theology in Latin America." They were asked to elaborate on four themes, to my knowledge -- liberation theology, the social doctrine of the Church, communitarianism and the theology of culture.

These were deemed the most relevent subjects for Latin American theology in the third millenium. The first of these was entrusted to Gustavo Gutiérrez and the fourth to Carlos Galli, with the order to present the theology of Gera, his teacher. That is, a decisive role for the theological future of Latin America was acknowledged both for the main stem of liberation theology and for the Argentine current.10 After Gutiérrez's brilliant statement, Ratzinger explicitely praised his Christocentrism and sense of gratitude.


Since his exit onto the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica after his election, Pope Francis has made symbolic gestures, given interviews, spoken as head of the Church and issued a sort of "roadmap" of his pontificate in the post-synodal exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, which, in many features, recalls the Argentine theology of the people. Hence the question about the likely points of convergence between his pastoral perspective and that theology.

In this third part I will consider, among said points of convergence, first, his understanding of the faithful people of God. Then, that of the peoples of the earth in their relationship to this faithful people in their historical-cultural construction as peoples. Third, I will address the pastoral and theological evaluation of popular piety, and finally, the relationship of the latter to the poor.


The Pope's gesture of having himself blessed by the people almost immediately after presenting himself to them was striking. Those of us who knew his theological appreciation for the "faithful people of God" -- an appreciation which involves, at the same time, a specific way of conceiving the Church and the recognition of the "sense of faith" of the people and of the role of the laity in it -- were not astonished. Hence his preference for the term "faithful people", which is also repeated in Evangelii Gaudium (EG 95, 96) and which he explicitly recognizes as "a mystery rooted in the Trinity, yet she exists concretely in history as a people of pilgrims and evangelizers, transcending any institutional expression, however necessary."(EG 111; cf 95) It is that people as a whole who proclaim the Gospel. God "has chosen -- he says -- calls [us] together as a people and not as isolated individuals...[He] attracts us by taking into account the complex interweaving of personal relationships entailed in the life of a human community."(EG 113)

In these texts one hears echoes of Scripture and of Vatican II, but also of the theology of the people, especially in respect to the peoples, their cultures and their history: "The People of God is incarnate in the peoples of the earth, each of which has its own culture...It has to do with the lifestyle of a given society, the specific way in which its members relate to one another, to other creatures and to God...Grace supposes culture, and God’s gift becomes flesh in the culture of those who receive it." (EG 115) I note that Francis has adopted the reinterpretation of Gaudium et Spes 53 that the Puebla Document makes, following the theology of the people. I also remember that when Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio was rector of the Facultad de San Miguel, he organized the first congress of the evangelization of culture and the inculturation of the Gospel that took place in Latin America (1985). He programmed it with the presence of theologians from North and South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, and, in the opening speech, he talked about inculturation, quoting Father Pedro Arrupe, a pioneer in the use of that neologism.

Therefore, Pope Francis, when he is talking about the People of God, is referring to its "varied face" (Evangelii Gaudium 116) and its "multifaceted harmony" (ibid. 117) thanks to the diversity of cultures that enrich it. When he alludes to the peoples, he uses the image of the polyhedron as an analogy to mark the plural unity of the irreducible differences within it.

Also, along the same line as the theology of the people, he accentuates traditional doctrine when he acknowledges that "God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith – sensus fidei – which helps them to discern what is truly of God. The presence of the Spirit gives Christians a certain connaturality with divine realities, and a wisdom which enables them to grasp those realities intuitively, even when they lack the wherewithal to give them precise expression" (Evangelii Gaudium 119) -- moreover, "the flock itself has a nose for finding new ways" (ibid. 31) of evangelization.


The Argentine bishops -- including Cardinal Bergoglio -- following the approaches of Theology of the People and enriching them, adopted the Argentine Justice and Peace Commission's proposal on moving from "inhabitants to citizens." This illustrates what Pope Francis, in even greater depth, writes about people-nation in Evangelii Gaudium 220: "People in every nation enhance the social dimension of their lives by acting as committed and responsible citizens, not as a mob swayed by the powers that be...Yet becoming a people demands something more. It is an ongoing process in which every new generation must take part: a slow and arduous effort calling for a desire for integration and a willingness to achieve this through the growth of a peaceful and multifaceted culture of encounter." Let us note that typical expression of his: "culture of encounter".

Already as Provincial of the Jesuits, Bergoglio stated, and then as Archbishop of Buenos Aires explained in more detail, government priorities leading to the common good12, namely: 1) the superiority of the whole over the parts (being more than a mere sum of the parts), 2) that of reality over ideas, 3) unity over conflict, 4) time over space. Reportedly, they are taken from the letter of Juan Manuel de Rosas (Governor of Buenos Aires) to Facundo Quiroga (Governor of La Rioja, Argentina) about the national organization, written from the Figueroa estate in San Antonio de Areco (December 20, 1834). Rosas doesn't make these options explicit, although he takes them into account. Later -- now as Pope -- Francis introduced the last two priorities in the encyclical Lumen Fidei (55 and 57). Finally he develops and articulates them in Evangelii Gaudium 217-237, presenting them as a contribution based on Christian social thought "for building a people" (first, the peoples of the world, but also the People of God).


The Exhortation begins with the priority of time over space, since it's about initiating "processes of people-building" in history (Evangelii Gaudium 224; 223) rather than occupying spaces of power and/or possession (lands or wealth).

In my opinion, the spiritual sense of the proper time for the right decision, be it existential, interpersonal, pastoral, social, or political, is part of the Ignatian charisma and is intimately connected with the discernment of spirits. In his theology, Gera recognizes its importance for prophets, pastors, and politicians. And Methol is known for his geopolitical analyses and Christian interpretation of the current signs of the times and the Latin American Church as already turned into a source Church. For his part, Bergoglio, as a Jesuit, participates in that charisma of discernment, and probably knew the previously mentioned theoretical contributions of these thinkers. Nevertheless, he doesn't leave space out but considers it based on time, since he crowns his thoughts by saying, "Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return." (ibid., 223)


Theology of the People recognizes the reality of anti-people, conflict, and the fight for justice. Also on this point there is in the Pope's thought not just intelligently received influx, but also deep evangelical and theological study. So he states that one cannot ignore conflicts, or let oneself be trapped in them or make them the key to progress. On the contrary, it's about "the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process.'Blessed are the peacemakers!' (Mt 5:9)" (EG, 227), not the peace of the graveyards but of "communion amid disagreement", "a life setting where conflicts, tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity" (ibid., 228), "a cultural covenant", a "reconciled diversity" (ibid., 230). So "this is not to opt for a kind of syncretism, or for the absorption of one into the other, but rather for a resolution which takes place on a higher plane and preserves what is valid and useful on both sides" (ibid., 228). I remember that Bergoglio wanted to do his doctoral thesis on Romano Guardini, consulted his archives, and it was devoted to his understanding of the dialectical dynamics (not in the Hegelian or Marxist sense!) of opposites13 to apply it to praxis and history, since their union happens fully in Christ (ibid., 229). The ultimate foundation of his promoted "culture of encounter" is there, in non-ignorance of the reality of conflict.


There is also a bipolar tension between realities and ideas (cf. Evangelii Nuntiandi 231) since the latter are based on the former, not separate from them, otherwise the danger of manipulating them exists. "Formal nominalism has to give way to harmonious objectivity," the Pope says (ibid., 232). According to him, "this principle has to do with incarnation of the word and its being put into practice" since -- he adds -- "not to put the word into practice, not to make it reality, is to build on sand, to remain in the realm of pure ideas and to end up in a lifeless and unfruitful self-centredness and gnosticism." (ibid., 233)

I don't see an immediate connection between this priority and Theology of the People -- like in the previous cases, unless it's in the latter's critique of ideologies, of both liberal and Marxist stamp, and in its seach for hermeneutical categories based on the Latin American historical reality, especially of the poor.


The Pope connects this principle with the tension between globalization and localization (cf Evangelii Gaudium 234). Regarding the latter, it converges with the historical and cultural roots of the Theology of the People, socially and hermeneutically situated in Latin America and Argentina, and with its emphasis on the incarnation of the Gospel -- transcultural in itself -- by inculturating it in popular Catholicism.

As for globalization, COEPAL did not explicitly take it into account when it was still just an emerging phenomenon. Then its successors did, like Alberto Methol Ferré and Gerardo Farrell, and the interdisciplinary work of the Grupo de Pensamiento Social de la Iglesia ["Group on the Social Thought of the Church"] which took the name of the latter, after his death.

Here again Bergoglio moves towards a higher synthesis that does not erase the tensions, but understands them, gives them life, makes them fruitful and open to the future. Since, as I've said, for him "the model is not the sphere, which is no greater than its parts, where every point is equidistant from the centre, and there are no differences between them. The model is the polyhedron, which reflects the convergence of all its parts, each of which preserves its distinctiveness." And almost immediately, he adds: "t is the convergence of peoples who, within the universal order, maintain their own individuality; it is the sum total of persons within a society which pursues the common good, which truly has a place for everyone."(Evangelii Gaudium 236) Without using the word, the Pope is pointing to multiculturalism.

Previously, Pope Francis had offered the Trinitarian foundation for this: "The same Spirit is that harmony, just as he is the bond of love between the Father and the Son. It is he who brings forth a rich variety of gifts, while at the same time creating a unity which is never uniformity but a multifaceted and inviting harmony."(ibid., 117) The attraction of beauty -- it's another characteristic of the approach of the Pope that never ceases to converge with Methol's approaches.


A distinctive feature of the Theology of the People is its theological and pastoral revaluation of the religion of the people, so that it comes to recognize a "people's mysticism," as is also done in the Aparecida Document 262. Evangelii Gaudium refers to this twice, for example, when it exemplifies the superiority of the whole over the parts, stating that "people's mysticism receives in its own way the entire Gospel and embodies it in expressions of prayer, fraternity, justice, struggle and celebration." (ibid., 124, 237)

Evangelii Gaudium also converges with the Theology of the People when it relates popular piety with other key themes for both such as the inculturation of the Gospel (ibid., 68,69, 70) and "the neediest" and their "social advancement" (ibid.,70). Both distinguish it clearly from "Christianity made up of devotions reflecting an individual and sentimental faith life" (ibid.), without denying, nonetheless, the need for an ulterior "purification and growth" of that religiosity, for which "popular piety is precisely the best starting point" (ibid.,69), as the exhortation itself proposes.

When the latter refers to "the new relationships brought by Christ", it connects them spontaneously with popular religiosity, recognizing that its "genuine forms...are incarnate, since they are born of the incarnation of Christian faith in popular culture. For this reason they entail a personal relationship, not with harmonizing energies, but with God, with Christ, with Mary, with a saint. They have flesh, they have a face. They are capable of fostering relationships and not just enabling selfish flights."(ibid., 90).

One of Pope Francis'  richest and most profound insights on the religion of the people took place in Rio de Janeiro before CELAM, when he presented it as an expression of lay creativity, healthy autonomy and freedom, in the context of his criticism of the temptation to clericalism in the Church. Well, he acknowledged it as a manifestation of "Catholics as a people", in their communal and adult character in the faith, just as he commended bodies then characteristic of Latin America, such as Bible study groups and base church communities.14

An obvious example of convergence with the Theology of the People is offered in Evangelii Gaudium when, citing Puebla Document 450 (and 264), he concludes that, through its popular piety, "the people continuously evangelizes itself", if it comes to peoples "among whom the Gospel has been inculturated" (Evangelii Gaudium 122; cf. 68). For each of them "is the creator of their own culture and the protagonist of their own history. Culture is a dynamic reality which a people constantly recreates; each generation passes on a whole series of ways of approaching different existential situations to the next generation, which must in turn reformulate it as it confronts its own challenges."(ibid.) Then, "in their process of transmitting their culture they also transmit the faith in ever new forms; hence the importance of understanding evangelization as inculturation. Each portion of the people of God, by translating the gift of God into its own life and in accordance with its own genius, bears witness to the faith it has received and enriches it with new and eloquent expressions."(ibid.) Let it be noted that he is not talking about a mere external cultural transmission, but a living collective witness. Therefore he adds, "This is an ongoing and developing process, of which the Holy Spirit is the principal agent." (ibid.)

I'm not going to quote at length these important paragraphs of Evangelii Gaudium, but only note that it then returns to speak a second time of "people's mysticism" as "a spirituality incarnated in the culture of the lowly", and that although it "in the act of faith places a greater accent on credere in Deum than on credere Deum" -- this reminds me of Tello's expressions -- however, "it is not devoid of content; rather it discovers and expresses that content more by way of symbols than by instrumental reasoning." Moreover, "it brings with itself the grace of being a missionary, of coming out of oneself and setting out on pilgrimage." (ibid., 124)

A little later, almost tracing Lucio Gera and the Puebla Document, he teaches that "only from the affective connaturality born of love can we appreciate the theological life present in the piety of Christian peoples, especially among their poor." (ibid., 125).

Moreover, the exhortation culminates the treatment of popular religiosity by accepting, with the Theology of the People, not only its pastoral but its strictly theological relevance, as it concludes by saying, "The expressions of popular piety...for those who are capable of reading them, are a locus theologicus to which we should pay attention, especially when we are thinking about the new evangelization."(ibid., 126).

The Spirit blows when and where it wills. Well, I think that today in secular spaces of the North, where "God shines by His absence" 15, from the South, the living and heartfelt witness of the piety "of the poor and lowly" and their "people's mysticism" is offered as a contribution to the new evangelization. (cf. Ibid., 126)

But the Pope is not naive and he doesn't ignore that "in recent decades there has been a breakdown in the generational transmission of the Christian faith among the Catholic people," to which he referred in Evangelii Gaudium 122. He had already warned about it as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. So he not only auscultates its causes (ibid., 70), but advocates for urban ministry (ibid., 71-75) since "God lives in the city" (Aparecida Document, 514), although His presence must be "found, uncovered" (Evangelii Gaudium 71) not lastly in the "'non-citizens', 'half citizens' and 'urban remnants'" (ibid., 74), that is, the poor and excluded, and their "struggle for survival" which "contains within it a profound understanding of life which often includes a deep religious sense." (ibid., 72)


I emphasized the close connection between the preferential option for the poor and popular piety as lived out in Latin America, especially in the poor areas. Well, although the whole Church including the popes have assumed this option, there is no doubt that LIBERATION THEOLOGY in all its currents, in Argentina too, is characterized by making that option its starting point and hermeneutic locus.

The new Pope, from the choice of his name, has shown his emphasis on preferential love for the poor, the marginalized, the excluded, the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, the "rejected", the "remnants" -- so much that some have said that his first visits outside of Rome to Lampedusa and Sardinia, and his meeting there with the migrant refugees and the unemployed, functioned symbolically as true encyclicals.

He doesn't just declare that "solidarity is a spontaneous reaction by those who recognize that the social function of property and the universal destination of goods are realities which come before private property" (Evangelii Gaudium 189) according to Catholic doctrine, but then he states, "For the Church, the option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a cultural, sociological, political or philosophical one." (ibid., 198) Hence he again expresses what he has already said on other occasions: "This is why I want a Church which is poor and for the poor. They have much to teach us. Not only do they share in the sensus fidei, but in their difficulties they know the suffering Christ. We need to let ourselves be evangelized by them." (ibid.)

But Francis also doesn't stop seeing the other side of the coin. Hence he criticizes "an economy [that] kills" (ibid., 53), the "fetishism of money" (ibid., 55) and a "social and economic system ... unjust at its root" (ibid., 59), due to "ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation." (ibid., 56, 202) He states that "God, in Christ, redeems not only the individual person, but also the social relations existing between men" (ibid., 178), so that we Christians have to fight, without violence but with historical efficacy, for "the social inclusion of the poor" (ibid., 185) and against "an economy of exclusion and inequality" (ibid., 53) and "evil crystallized in unjust social structures." (ibid., 59)

I do not intend to develop the subject of the poor according to Pope Francis here because it's too obvious and known but, in the present context, at least I should mention it as an essential point of convergence between his teaching, the social teaching of the Church, and the theology of the people. In all three cases it is more than a mere theory; it was its embodiment in existential social practices (even structural ones) that made the "incarnation of the Gospel" and the "revolution of tenderness" (ibid., 88) a reality.


Karl Rahner, although he didn't know Latin America personally, had a fine sense of the current theological scene. Therefore he perceived even then as important contributions of the Latin American Church and theology to the universal Church and theology, two characteristic areas of life and reflection that the Church on that continent made -- liberation theology and the religion of the people -- and so he compiled and edited a book on each of them. 16 Well, both are characteristic of the theology of the people and -- in my opinion -- are also part of the fresh air from the south that burst into the Church through the Pope who came "from the ends of the world."

Since reality is superior to ideas I think that, in addition to the new ideas that Francis brought to the papacy -- about which I've spoken in this article -- there is something even more important brought by the reality of his persona and his charisma, namely a radical transformation of temperament in the Church and outside it too.

I agree with Ricoeur that history, including that of the Church and its relationship with the world in the last year, can be interpreted like a text.17 Well, according to him, not just what is said in it but also the pragmatic point of how it is said -- with what existential attitude and spiritual temper, what emotional tone and experience go along with it -- is part of the meaning of the text. One finds objective indices of it in the style of the text and the repetition of words.

Well then, the last year of his pontificate, taken as a text, and the Evangelii Gaudium text itself seem to me to reflect a new temperament in the Church, both in the Pope's speeches and in the creative response of the faithful People. Such temperament becomes clear in the reiterated textual, gestural and experiential leitmotifs like "joy of the Gospel", "revolution of tenderness", "culture of encounter", etc. They are the opposite of attitudes of acedia, disappointment and individualistic isolation; and, above all, they bear witness to and make obvious the joy of evangelizing and being missionary-disciples, joyful divestment, preferential love for the poor, the mercy of Jesus, the hope of the Kingdom and "a different possible world". But these are not separate tonalities but elements that form a harmonic "system of attitudes" (ibid., 122) that reveal and spread the joy of the Gospel. MSJ


* This text is a synthesized version, prepared for Mensaje, of the article with the same title published by the author in La Civilta Catlolica (issue no. 3930, March 15, 2014).

1. See Enrique C. Bianchi, Pobres en este mundo, ricos en la fe: La fe de los pobres en América Latina según Rafael Tello, Buenos Aires, Ágape, 2012.

2. In the first two parts of the present work, I pick up paragraphs from my article "Aportaciones de la teología argentina del pueblo a la teología latinoamericana" in Sergio Torres G. - Carlos Abrigo O. (eds.), Actualidad y vigencia de la teología latinoamericana. Renovación y proyección, Santiago, Chile, U. Católica Silva Henríquez, 2012, pp. 203-225.

[Translator's note: There is no footnote no.3 in original printed text.]

4. Alliende refers glowingly to what he calls "the Argentina school of popular pastoral ministry" in “Diez tesis sobre pastoral popular”, Religiosidad popular, Salamanca, Sigúeme, 1976, p. 119.

5. About that mediation, see my book Evangelización, cultura y teología, Buenos Aires, Guadalupe, 1990 (2nd edition, with Introduction: ibid., Docencia, 2012). 6. See Jorge R. Seibold, La mística popular, Mexico, Buena Prensa, 2006. 7. I'm referring to my article "La teología de la liberación. Características, corrientes, etapas", Stromata 48 (1982), pp. 3-40. It was written for the book: Karl Neufeld (ed.), Problemi e prospettive di teologia dogmatica, Brescia, Queriniana, 1983.

8. I'm speaking, respectively, of: J.B. Libánio, Teologia da libertaçao. Roteiro didático para um estudo, Sao Paulo, Loyola, pp. 258 ff.; A. Methol Ferré, “De Rio de Janeiro a Puebla: 25 anni di storia”, Incontri 4 (1982), p. 4, y A.

9. See that message in: OR no. 904 (1986), paragraph 5.

10. G. Gutiérrez, "Una teología de la liberación en el contexto del Tercer Milenio", and C.M. Galli, "La teología latinoamericana de la cultura en las vísperas del Tercer Milenio" in Mons. Luciano Mendes de Almeida (et al), El futuro de la reflexión teológica en América Latina, Bogotá, CELAM, 1996, pp. 97-165 and 245-362 respectively. I was asked to write on the subject “El comunitarismo como alternativa viable”, ibid., pp. 195-241.

11. Bergoglio himself traces back to his theology studies his admiration for the fact that "the faithful people is infallible 'in credendo' -- in believing -- "and he expressed it thus for his own memory -- "when you want to know what the Church believes, go to the Magisterium, but when you want to know how the Church believes, go to the faithful people" -- see Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Meditaciones para religiosos, San Miguel, Ed. Diego de Torres, pp. 46 f. (see EG 124).

12. At the 14th provincial congregation (of the Jesuit Province of Argentina, February 18, 1974), he spoke as provincial about three of those criteria, without talking explicitely about the superiority of reality over ideas. See the work cited: Meditaciones para religiosos, pp. 49-50; he offered the presentation and development of the four in his speech as Archbishop of Buenos Aires at the XIII Jornada Arquidiocesana de Pastoral Social (2010): “Hacia un bicentenario en justicia y solidaridad 2010-2016. Nosotros como ciudadanos, nosotros como pueblo”. See

13. Cf. R. Guardini, Der Gegensatz: Versuche zu einer Philosophie des Lebendig-Konkreten, Mainz, Mathias Grünewald, 1955.

14. See the Pope's address during his meeting with CELAM (July 28, 2013), in Mons. Víctor M. Fernández (et al), De la Misión Continental (Aparecida, 2007) a la Misión Universal (JMJ, Río, 2013), Buenos Aires, Docencia, 2013, p. 287.

15. I am referring to the convergent expressions of European phenomenologists of religion like Bernhard Welte (cf. his book Das Licht des Nichts. Von der Móglichkeit neuer religiósen Erfahrung, Dusseldorf, Patmos, 1980, pp. 54 ff.) and Jean-Luc Marion ("Métaphysique et Phénoménologie: une relève pour la théologie", Bulletin de Littérature Ecclesiastique 94 (1993), pp. 189-206, especially p. 203).

16. See K. Rahner et al. (eds.) Befreiende Theologie. Der Beitrag Lateinamerikaszur Theologie der Gegenwart, Stuttgart-Berlin-Koln-Mainz, Kohlhammer, 1977; Idid., Volksreligion — Religion des Volkes, ibid, 1979. Rahner himself wrote the prologue of the first work, and “Einleitende Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von Theologie und Volksreligion” (pp. 9-16) for the second one. I had the honor to participate in both.

17. Cf. Paul Ricoeur, “Le modèle du texte: l’action sensée considérée comme un texte” and “Expliquer et comprendre. Sur quelques connexions remarquables entre la théorie du texte, la théorie de l’action et la théorie de l’histoire”, in id., Du texte à l’action. Essais d’herméneutique II, Paris, Seuil, 1986, respectively pp. 183-211 and 161-182.

Translator's note: This article quotes extensively from the exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. In some cases, the official English translation of that exhortation does not accurately convey the original Spanish text and therefore doesn't make sense in the context of this article. In those instances, I have taken the liberty of re-translating the applicable passages for greater clarity.