Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stop, Look, Listen: A Personal Encounter with Christ

An hermano recently wrote in to the Renovación Website saying that he must be dense because even though he knows a lot about the Bible and his Catholic faith, he has never had a personal encounter with Jesus. I have been spending a few days in (mostly) solitary retreat at Holy Cross Abbey and have jotted down a few reflections in response to the man's implicit question:

1. The Soil: Read the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) and honestly ask yourself: What type of soil am I? Is my soil shallow and lacking in nutrients because I have not nourished it through private prayer, communal faith experience, and the sacraments? Is it choked with weeds -- worldly concerns and anxieties that blind and deafen me to God's presence? If I have not adequately prepared the ground that is my heart to receive Him, it will be very hard to have a personal encounter with Christ.

2. Expectations: Sometimes we have an unrealistic image of what a personal encounter with Christ looks like. Read and meditate on the prophet Elijah's encounter with God in 1 Kings 19:9ff. We think that a personal encounter is going to be something like Moses' burning bush but, in this case, the Lord was not in the dramatic hurricane or earthquake or fire. He came to Elijah in a "tiny whispering sound" (other translations say "in the murmur of a gentle breeze"). If we are looking for earth-shattering experiences, we may miss the times when Christ is speaking to us gently. We may not hear or see Him because we are looking for something else. Many people in Jesus' time missed a personal encounter with Him because they had an image of a Messiah who would be a powerful conqueror and ruler, not a tiny babe born to a poor couple who took refuge in a stable. They did not recognize Him.

This expectation of a dramatic encounter with Christ is also fostered by some of the testimonios in the prayer groups. The hermano used to be an alcoholic, wife beating, adulterous SOB until he met Jesus and now -- gloria, aleluia -- he is as saintly as Mons. Oscar Romero! ...The vast majority of us were never that bad, and few of us will ever be that good. Instead of wishing that we had a powerful conversion story to tell, we should be thanking God that our lives did not sink so low that a divine 911 was required.

For most of us, the encounter with Christ is not a sudden and complete makeover but the beginning of a slow and gradual transformation that brings our lives more into conformity with His. We start to hear what He hears, to see the world as He sees it and react accordingly. We will still stumble along the path but if we have really encountered Christ, we know that when we fall, we have only to reach out and He will take our hands and help us up again.

When I took the Life in the Spirit seminar many moons ago, we did an exercise that seemed a little trite to me at the time but can be quite useful. We took turns telling about our week from the perspective of how we had seen Christ acting in our lives over the past seven days. You learn to recognize the miracles in ordinary life -- things you used to take for granted or attribute to "luck" -- and give God the honor and the glory for them. Today, in our grupos de oración, the prayers we offer aloud, especially the oración de gracias, serve a similar purpose if performed sincerely and thoughtfully.

3. The Gifts of the Spirit: If there is one thing I would criticize in the Charismatic Renewal, it is the excessive emphasis that is given to the gift of tongues. We start to think: Well, if I'm not speaking in tongues, I must not have really been baptized in the Holy Spirit. If I really had a personal encounter with Christ, I would be able to [insert your charism of choice here]. Who said everyone has to speak in tongues? Read 1 Corinthians 12:4ff on the spiritual gifts. In fact, tongues and the interpretation thereof are the last two gifts listed. Of the first, "the expression of wisdom", we hear almost no discussion in charismatic circles but yet it is every bit as necessary, if not more so, to building the Christian community.

Interestingly, the commentary in the New American Bible I was using as I wrote this posting says: "The Corinthians seem to have developed a disproportionate esteem for certain phenomena, especially tongues, to the detriment of order in the liturgy. Paul's response to this development provides us with the fullest exposition we have of his theology of the charisms." This is still true in the Charismatic Renewal today. The ranking of the spiritual gifts (tongues are last) is repeated at the end of the chapter (1 Cor 12:28ff) and St. Paul concludes: "Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts." That's "greatest", not "flashiest". It is useful to take time and meditate on our lives and role in the Christian community, to recognize what gifts we bring to the table and cultivate them.

4. Sit down and shut up: How can you have a personal encounter with Christ if you are never at home, if you are always on the run? How can He speak to you if you are always talking? But, we say, we are praying. We are talking to God. Yeah...and God can't get a word in edgewise! If we treated our friends the way we treat God, we would soon have no friends at all. A lot of us never think to spend time with God or talk to Him unless we want something, and then we don't listen to Him unless He is telling us exactly what we want to hear.

An encounter with Christ has to be a two-way street. Christ wants to speak to us but we need to listen. We need to make time to speak with Christ through prayer, to get to know Him through His Word, and listen to Him in silent meditation. That is why so many people say that they have never had a personal encounter with Christ even though they are super active in their parishes or religious communities. We need to be less like Martha and more like Mary (Luke 10:38-42). Some feminists see Mary as subservient, sitting at Jesus' feet but, in fact, she was quite radical for her time because in those days only men were allowed to sit at the feet of a rabbi or teacher. Martha, on the other hand, was not a bad woman either, but her constant preoccupation with chores was turning her into rocky, weed-infested soil.

To have a personal encounter with Christ, we don't need to go to some special seminar, or buy the latest Bible with the most elaborate commentary, or join another committee in our church. We only have to do what our parents taught us to do when crossing a street: Stop, Look, and Listen.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sr. Teresa Forcades: Some Words of Support from the Abbot

Abbot Josep Maria Soler of the Monastery of Montserrat granted a far-ranging interview to Enric Juliana of La Vanguardia/InfoCatólica. The reporter engaged the holy man on everything from bullfighting to Barcelona's soccer team to current matters of controversy in the Spanish Catholic Church. In response to a rather bizarrely phrased question about Sr. Teresa Forcades, Abad Josep had kind words for his fellow religious sister:

Teresa Forcades, monja del monasterio de Sant Benet, en Montserrat, ha adquirido gran notoriedad en Babilonia por sus opiniones y su sugerente personalidad. ¿La aprueba?

"Una de las características primigenias del monaquismo era el de salir a la plaza pública cuando había debates importantes. Quizá se podría considerar que ha actuado en línea con esta tradición. Fíjese que volvemos a hablar de la tradición. Probablemente ha llamado la atención por ser monja y poseer una brillante formación. No entro a valorar algunas de sus opiniones médicas sobre la gripe A, puesto que es un tema que no conozco bien y me consta que hay discrepancias entre los profesionales..."

Teresa Forcades, a nun of the monastery of Sant Benet, Montserrat, has acquired a wide reputation in Babylon for her views and suggestive personality. Do you approve of her?

"One of the primordial characteristics of monasticism was to go out into the public square when there were important debates. Perhaps it could be considered that she has acted in line with this tradition. Note that we return to speaking of tradition. Probably she has attracted attention for being a nun and having a brilliant training. I'm not going to enter into an appraisal of some of her medical opinions on influenza A, as it is an issue that I don't know well and I know that there are discrepancies between the professionals ... "

Whereupon the interviewer changes the subject to futbol.....

Speaking from experience...

Prince William and I finally have something in common: we have both spent a bitterly cold night on the street in support of the homeless. As I read about the prince's sacrifice on behalf of the British charity Centrepoint, I was reminded of the night when a couple of Congressional representatives and celebrities and some of us homeless activists joined the late Mitch Snyder in an overnight sleepover on the streets of DC. Unlike the real homeless, we (and I assume Prince William as well) had police protection. I do remember that the celebrities got first dibs on the "first class accommodations" -- the steam grates! The prince also went over to Centrepoint to help prepare breakfast for the homeless young people and cut a special 40th anniversary cake.

Commenting on his experience, Prince William said: "I cannot, after one night, even begin to imagine what it must be like to sleep rough on London's streets night after night. Poverty, mental illness, drug and alcohol dependancy and family breakdown cause people to become and then stay homeless. Centrepoint's work - along with many other organisations' - in tackling these fundamental causes is desperately important if we are ever to end homelessness in this country. I hope that by deepening my understanding of the issue, I can help do my bit to help the most vulnerable on our streets."

There really is no substitute for an actual experience of homelessness or poverty. To be so cold and the pavement so hard that sleep is impossible and you lie awake wondering what happens when you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. A nearby church opened its doors to us as a special favor but the real homeless have nothing. The experience stays with me, largely in the form of a recurring muscle spasm in my back which first occured after that night on the street.

A similar kind of experience informed the presentation on Luke's account of the birth of Jesus in our prayer group last night. The predicador and several other men from El Salvador who had worked in stables shared graphic descriptions of the sights and smells to exclamations of "Ew, gross!" from their urban US-born offspring. Suddenly we all had a much clearer picture of what Mary and Joseph went through.

The predicador also spoke of an experience of being temporarily homeless and having to call different relatives and being turned down several times before finding someone who would take in his family of five for a few days. In a small way, he said, it gave him a sense of what Joseph must have felt as door after door was closed on him and his pregnant wife.

The feeling in the prayer group was radically different than in the sanctuary the previous night. Everyone was included and made to feel welcome. Somehow there was enough food for all even though there were many guests who brought nothing. We all ate. There were little presents for all the children. The leftovers went home with those who needed them the most. I was invited to lead one of the prayers and to read a passage from Isaiah. Christ was born last night in that room in the church basement. Perhaps next year He will move up and into the sanctuary...

Photo: Prince William and Centrepoint CEO Seyi Obakin prepare for a night in freezing temperatures

Friday, December 25, 2009

"No room at the inn" takes many forms

Last night I went back to St. Ann’s for midnight Mass. The attendance was sparse and dominated by our prayer group. Without the charismatics, there would have been about as many people as were probably present that first night in the little stable to witness the Child’s birth. Our new soon-to-be full-time priest, Fr. Jorge, presided.

Seeing so few people and only the dueño and his wife from among the lectors, I came up and offered to do one of the readings (not unusual given that I used to be lector coordinator there). The dueño declined, indicating that he and his wife had it under control. “We” turned out to be the dueño reading everything AND leading all the singing. Not even his wife was allowed a role as we watched him soldier valiantly along, alone, his voice hoarse from advanced COPD.

I was wearing a nice skirt and sweater so it must have been my cheap Payless snow boots. Or maybe the dueño never wanted to hear a gringa reading in Spanish again after I changed parishes. Or perhaps he just wanted to show everyone that no matter who the bishop assigned to the parish, he was still boss. Your guess is as good as mine. I went back to sit with some friends, a charismatic couple who are faithful servants of the Church but cannot receive communion because of their marital status – the marginados and the marginalizada sticking together.

In the days since Fr. Jorge’s appointment many friends have asked if I will come back to St. Ann’s. Sadly, after last night, the answer must still be “no, not yet.” Nothing has really changed. There is still no room for me in this inn, no seat at this table. Too many of us are still excluded, as Mary, Joseph and the newborn Jesus were on that first Christmas.

Christ is not present when we cannot share with others, when we cannot accept and welcome the gifts that others bring, when pride, arrogance, discrimination and exclusion still have dominion. Last night, regardless of the beautiful seasonal decorations and the Gospel that was proclaimed, I left the church not feeling that the Savior had been born, but that we are still waiting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent Reflection 6: Today the King of Kings is born in a poor crib in Bethlehem...

Here is my friend Padre Alex Diaz's beautiful Christmas reflection, translated from the Spanish version on his blog...

Every year we celebrate the feast of Christmas, a time of joy, rejoicing and brotherhood, but we can not rule out that for many it is just a commercial holiday where what matters are the expensive gifts and meals and the cacophony of empty dinners and feasts, which to some extent are meaningless.

Why do I say this? I say it because the only center and purpose of Christmas is Jesus who comes to meet us, to show us with His life the great meaning of being a child of God. A Christmas without Jesus is not Christmas. I have always been impressed by the surprising form in which God made his son human. I think we have never thought about it seriously. Imagine:

He was born in a cave with animals. Many call it a crib, but in fact it was not even that. It was a stable in a cave in an insignificant and poor town called Bethlehem, where there was no wine, no champagne, no table set with delicious foods, nor fine clothes and good music that day, only poor shepherds tending sheep that perhaps belonged to others, with lined faces and foul-smelling from the fatigue of the day's labor -- that is where He was born, of a simple, poor and humble woman, married to a craftsman who worked a thousand jobs to earn their bread, but with an iron faith. This is where the Child of the Creator was born, King of Kings, Truth incarnate. He was so poor that He did not choose to be born among the "haves", but among animals, and when He died, they buried Him in a borrowed grave.

He was born in a manger that night, and it was "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7), and also because He wanted to settle on the lowest rung of the human ladder. He did this so that nobody would feel excluded, not even the poorest person, and so that the way of salvation would be open to everyone. To all, as to the shepherds, He announced, "Today is born to you a Savior." That is why the great challenge of Christmas is to receive in faith the Christ Child who is born.

The Child lying in the poverty of a manger is the sign of God. The God who always acts simply. Centuries and millennia pass, but the sign remains, and also applies to us men and women of this century. It's a sign of hope for the whole human family: a sign of peace for all who suffer from all kinds of conflicts, violence and wars. A sign of mercy and compassion for the poor and oppressed. A sign of liberation through reconciliation for whoever is a slave to sin and for the immigrant living in exile and solitude. A sign of love and consolation for those who feel alone and abandoned. A small and fragile sign, humble and quiet, but filled with the strength of God who, out of love, became man.

Brothers and sisters, the Savior is born today: "Today is born the life which comes to destroy the fear of death and give us the hope of a blessed eternity" (St. Leo the Great). This Christmas our hope is renewed, because sin, death, disease, poverty, and suffering do not have the last word. The last word belongs to the Lord Jesus, the Reconciler, the only Savior of the World, yesterday, today and forever.

Therefore, "let no one feel excluded from this happiness, since the cause of this joy is common to all. Our Lord, triumphant indeed over sin and death, since He found no one blameless, thus came to save us ALL. Then let the just one rejoice, because his reward is coming; let the sinner be glad because forgiveness is offered him; let the pagan take heart because he is called to life."(St. Leo the Great)

At Christmas, we open ourselves to hope, contemplating the divine glory hidden in the poverty of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying by His mother in a humble manger. To accept this paradox, the paradox of Christmas, is to discover the Truth that sets us free and the Love that fills and changes lives.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with blessings of the Lord.

Immigration News Roundup - 12/23/2009

1. Immigration Enforcement Fuels Rise in U.S. Cases: Federal prosecutions reached a record high in the 2009 fiscal year, with the surge driven by a sharp increase in cases filed against immigration violators. The 169,612 federal prosecutions were a jump of nearly 9 percent from the previous year, according to Department of Justice data analyzed by a research center at Syracuse University in a new report. Immigration prosecutions were up nearly 16 percent, and made up more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government, the report said.

In a related development, Arizona will transfer illegal immigrants who have been convicted of nonviolent crimes to federal custody for the last three months of their sentences, saving the state the cost of housing them. Under the new plan, which begins Jan. 1, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will take custody of the illegal immigrants pending deportation. The Arizona Department of Corrections said that a total of more than 1,200 prisoners would be moved this fiscal year and next, saving about $5.7 million.

And in another related development, The Nation has come out with an article titled America's Secret ICE Castles which states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is "confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants--nary a sign, a marked car or even a US flag...Designed for confining individuals in transit, with no beds or showers, subfield offices are not subject to ICE Detention Standards... ICE says temporary facilities in field or subfield offices are used for 84 percent of all book-ins." The descriptions the author provides of conditions in some of these facilities such as B-18 in Los Angeles are disgraceful. After he closes Guantanamo, perhaps President Obama should also consider taking a look at these ICE facilities if the inhumane treatment of prisoners and violations of basic human rights really have no place in the American judicial system.

2. Obama naming Hispanics to top posts at record pace: The Associated Press reports that President Barack Obama is on track to name more Hispanics to top posts than any of his predecessors, drawing appointees from a wide range of the nation's Latino communities, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Colombians. The president has nominated 49 Hispanics to positions senior enough to require Senate confirmation. So far, 35 have been approved. That compares with a total of 30 approved under Bill Clinton and 34 under George W. Bush during their first 20 months in office, according to U.S. Office of Personnel Management data.

3. CAP Sets "Principles for Immigration Reform": A new report by the Center for American Progress argues that our broken immigration system undermines core national interests and must be reformed. The report identifies five principle goals of immigration reform and makes policy recommendations aimed at achieving them:

1. Establish smart enforcement policies and safeguards.
2. Resolve the status of those illegally present in the United States.
3. Create legal channels that are flexible, serve the U.S. interest, and curtail illegal immigration.
4. Protect U.S. workers from globalization’s destabilizing effects.
5. Foster an inclusive American identity.

4. Latino Leaders Use Churches in Census Bid: The New York Times reports that Latino leaders are mobilizing a nationwide drive to urge Hispanics to participate in the 2010 Census, including an intense push this week in evangelical Christian churches. Latino groups contend that there was an undercount of nearly one million Latinos in the 2000 census, affecting the drawing of Congressional districts and the distribution of federal money. Hispanic organizations are far better organized for next year’s census, but they say that if illegal immigrants — an estimated eight million of whom are Latino — are not included, the undercount could be much greater. One study suggests that Congressional delegations in eight states with large Hispanic populations could grow if all Latinos — the nation’s largest minority at some 47 million — are counted.

5. Trail of Dreams: On Jan. 1, four young people will lace up their sneakers and head north from Miami toward the nation's capital along U.S. 1. The group hopes that each step will bring more attention to the fact that thousands of undocumented individuals, many who have lived in the U.S. since they were small children, are barred each year from continuing their education in the U.S. They're calling it the Trail of Dreams, and the youth -- associated with Students Working for Equal Rights and supported by the Florida Immigrant Coalition and Reform Immigration for America -- plan to complete their trek to the National Mall by May 1.
The travelers would like to be joined in Washington by 100,000 supporters who will rally for the passage of the Development, Relief and Education Act for Alien Minors, or the DREAM Act. For more information or to donate to the marchers, please visit the Students Working For Equal Rights Web site.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Reflection 5: Always This

By Roger Ludwig

Always this seeing,
always this light—
faces, modest, beautiful—
not just-us-and-ours,
and more and more,
not white—
children, women, men,
the future on the way,
the past getting out of the way
of the rainbow mix of humanity,
the Great Commonwealth beyond
the poverty of bigotry,
the Circle of Belonging and Beloving
that excludes no one.

Advent Reflection 4: Two feet (of snow) closer to God

The frantic last minute rush of Christmas shopping came to a screeching halt in my area this weekend as God imposed His will, dropping a blanket of almost two feet of snow on the madness and forcing most of us into (relative) stillness.

Not a creature was stirring that I could see, save one lone squirrel who skittered frantically across the back fence in search of food, shelter, and dry ground. Every form of transportation from roads to airports to Metro was brought to its knees.

So we meditated, read the Bible at an unhurried pace, ate a real home-cooked breakfast for a change, and finally got the Christmas tree decorated and cards written. My friend Roger and I spent quality time together -- lots of it -- instead of each running our separate ways or being caught up in the pre-holiday chaos of the shopping malls and stores.

Less consumption, fewer exhaust-spewing vehicles on the road, a pause in the rat race of ordinary human existence. Mother Earth is getting a much needed rest in the northeastern United States this weekend.

And so this divinely imposed time-out has brought a few hours to reflect on life, how too often I become trapped in roles, do not have the time or discipline to seek a deeper relationship with God.

I think again about four years of photos and while it is a gift, what other gifts have gone uncultivated as I relentlessly pursue the perfect shot? My brothers and sisters in the Renovación love these images but I long to put the camera and its associated outsider perspective away and join the ranks of the black and white clad ministerio as an intercedora or a levantadora, to have the discipline to get my lazy self out of bed and off to the required escuela two Sundays a month.

Two feet of snow is an invitation to stop and take stock of one's life. It is the perfect natual backdrop to the Advent season of waiting and preparing if we view and use it rightly. It forces us to slow down, reach out to others, stop and look out for our most vulnerable neighbors -- the poor and the elderly. It brings us closer to God and, in the end, what more do we need?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mary: Exalted Virgin or Suffering Servant?

Going back to the infamous billboard of Mary and Joseph (see yesterday's post), today we have the reading from St. Matthew about Mary and Joseph and the virgin birth (Matt 1:18-24). The lectionary text stops just short of the 25th verse at the end of the chapter, the one that supports the Roman Catholic dogma: "He [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus."

Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, the well-known Hispanic theologian, uses this text as one example of how he learned to interpret the Bible "from below" (as the liberation theologians say), from the perspective of the people. From his A God of Incredible Surprises:

...As we were studying this text, I extolled the virtues of Joseph, who went against social tradition and took her in as his wife, One of the groups [of people from the barrio] had a different reading of this text. "Yes, to a point Joseph was a hero, but he was equally cruel and insensitive. How terrible and lonely it must have been for Mary, the young and inexperienced girl, to just be taken into his home but for him not to have relations with her, not to have anything to do with her, it must have made her feel dirty and at best merely tolerated."...

...I [Elizondo] do not question this permanent virginity, but I wonder if this was not part of the ongoing suffering of Mary: the suffering of being rejected, of not receiving the loving and tender gestures and touches that are supposed to be there in marriage...

...So once again, Mary enters into solidarity with women who are taken in as wives only to cook, clean, do the dishes, clean house, bear children, and maintain the family without any trace of loving relationships between her and her husband...

Fr. Elizondo affirms his belief in Mary's permanent virginity but I suspect that for many Hispanic Catholic women this dogma is psychologically incomprehensible, especially the assertion of Mary's virginity after Jesus' birth. We want for our Blessed Mother what we would want for ourselves: a good and loving husband in both the physical and spiritual sense of the word, and a family, defined as more than just one child. The absence of abrazos, besos, and other signs of cariño -- this exalted loneliness of permanent virginity -- does not seem to us to be a blessing unless lived out in a context that fits our paradigm, e.g. a monastic community.

I draw this conclusion because I am also an anomaly. I am an older, single, childless woman, yet I am not a nun. In my work in Hispanic ministry, people frequently assume that I am an hermana. When they find out that I am not part of any religious congregation, they take pity on me and try to fix me up with someone, either seriously or in jest. At first, this concern about my marital status used to bother me, but now I recognize the generous spirit behind it.

With all due respect to the institutional Church and its dogmas developed by celibate men, I think that if Mary were to come into a Hispanic community today, the ladies would wonder why she did not have any more children after Jesus and would be quietly beseeching God for her womb to open and for her to be blessed anew with the gift of life.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

International Migrants Day: No More Deaths!

UPDATE 12/22/2009: Walt Staton will not be serving a jail term. According to today's Green Valley News & Sun, Staton backed away from his vow not to comply with a sentence for leaving water jugs on a wildlife preserve last year, and told a judge he would complete 300 hours of community service. The theology student has one year to complete the hours and must submit a plan to the court next month.

Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights issued the following statement to commemorate International Migrants Day to be celebrated on December 18th (English translation by Rebel Girl).

Ironically the communique comes only days after an article in the San Diego Union Tribune reported that a young theology student, Walt Staton, may be facing a 25-day jail term for a littering conviction in Arizona after leaving water jugs along trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge for border crossers.

The National Commission for Human Rights believes, on the occasion of International Migrants Day commemorated tomorrow -- December 18th, that the rights and dignity of migrants is a commitment for all. The rights of individuals should not be violated inside or outside the country; any type of abuse is inexcusable.

The framework of this commemoration should serve not only to remember and mourn the shame, it is imperative that the Mexican government promote development and sustained economic growth so that fellow nationals are not forced to search in another country for the opportunities that their land should offer.

For the NHRC it is also necessary for countries to reach a genuine understanding about the phenomenon of migration and promote mechanisms to prevent deaths and abuse at borders.

The National Commission believes that it is the responsibility of governments to play a decisive role in seeking changes to ensure respect for migrants' human rights, without prejudice to the sovereignty of any nation in the world.

It is known that in the Mexican situation, migrants leave their country as a result of not having the conditions that make their quality of life secure. On the way to that search, they are hit upon by the common criminal, the organized mafia, non-immigration authorities who abuse them, threaten, rob and deprive them of their freedom.

The journey in which they are immersed is dramatic. They are subjected to harassment by the people smugglers who motivated them to undertake the adventure, or deceive them by offering "services" of relocation and shelter that they then do not meet; they sell what little they have to pay them or go into debt for years.

Therefore, it is unacceptable to the NHRC that there is still indolence and irresponsibility for accommodating migrants. Lack of political will and commitment to addressing the inexcusable abuses they suffer.

The application of the law is essential, as well as the respect and safeguarding of human rights.

Humane treatment of migrants must be assured.

In search of a new situation, from 1994 to date, more than 5,000 Mexican migrants have died in the desert, rivers and mountains on the northern border.

During 2007 and 2008, the average number of Mexicans killed at the border was 3 every 2 days.

The migratory phenomenon requires more attention. Migrants should not be criminalized or treated as criminals.

Photo: Walt Staton

Mary and Joseph in Bed: The billboard that's shaking up New Zealand

UPDATE 12/18/2009: The billboard was attacked a 3rd time by an elderly woman who slashed it with a knife and this time, the church says, it will not be replaced. Glynn Cardy, vicar at the church, told Ekklesia:

"I regret to say that tonight our billboard was attacked by a knife wielding Christian fanatic who was then apprehended by a group of homeless people who care about our church. Later in the evening another group of fanatics ripped it down.

"When knives are wielded in the name of God I have two responses. One is to act to ensure the safety of the public and parishioners. We will therefore not be replacing the vandalised billboard with an identical one.

"My second response is one of deep sadness at those in the Christian Church who don’t want to offend any faith position, even the most literalistic view of a male god. By having unity as their priority they inadvertently feed fanaticism.

"We have no regrets about bringing this discussion about Jesus’ origins and the nature of the Christian God into the public sphere – into homes, workplaces, universities and the internet. We are glad that discussion about Santa, food, and present buying was momentarily usurped by a discussion about Jesus.

Auckland, New Zealand is buzzing about the following billboard that the self-described "progressive Anglican" church St. Matthew-in-the-City has erected twice. The first time the billboard was defaced with brown paint; the second time it was stolen.

Before we continue, we know perfectly well that this billboard goes against the Catholic Church teaching that Mary was a virgin before and after Jesus' birth. A spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Auckland reaffirmed this position and called the poster "inappropriate and disrespectful".

So why are we reporting this controversy here? Because we actually went to the church Web site and read what their vicar, Rev. Glynn Cardy, wrote about the church's reason for putting up such a provocative poster. And what he says is not so bad, although we personally disagree with calling the Christmas narratives "fictitious". Some excerpts:

...Many in society mistakenly think that to challenge literalism is to challenge the norms of Christianity. What progressive interpretations try to do however is remove the supernatural obfuscation and delve into the deeper spiritual truth of this festival...

...The Christmas billboard outside St Matthew-in-the-City lampoons literalism and invites people to think again about what a miracle is. Is the miracle a male God sending forth his divine sperm, or is the miracle that God is and always has been among the poor? ...

...Progressive Christianity believes the Christmas stories are fictitious accounts designed to introduce the radical nature of the adult Jesus. They contrast the Lord and Saviour Caesar with the anomaly of a new ‘lord’ and ‘saviour’ born illegitimate in a squalid barn. At Bethlehem low-life shepherds and heathen travelers are welcome while the powerful and the priests aren’t. The stories introduce the topsy-turvy way of God, where the outsiders are invited in and the insiders ushered out...

...Progressive Christianity doesn’t overlook Jesus’ life and rush to his death. Rather it sees the radical hospitality he offered to the poor, the despised, women, children, and the sick, and says: ‘this is the essence of God’. His death was a consequence of the offensive nature of that hospitality and his resurrection a symbolic vindication...

...One billboard that expresses middle mush reads, “I miss hearing you say ‘Merry Christmas’, and its signed ‘Jesus’. No one can take offense because no one is being asked to do or think anything particularly different, except say ‘Merry Christmas’.

No doubt on Christmas Eve when papers print the messages of Church leaders most of them will serve up this middle mush. Jesus will be born in a palatial sanitized barn and every king and crook, religious and irreligious, will be surrounding him saying ‘Merry Christmas my friends!’ No reader will be asked to do or think anything risky, no reader will be offended, and no reader will write a critical response. They’ll just yawn and turn the page.

So maybe this billboard will get people talking and thinking about the theological concepts that we often swallow without really understanding what they mean.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Initiative to Improve Access to Catholic Schools for Latino Children

Bishop Thomas J. Curry, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Catholic Education and auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, praised (en español) an initiative to improve access to Catholic schools for Latino children.

The initiative was designed by the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools. The report "To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity" ("Para alentar el espiritu de una nación: familias latinas, escuelas catolicas y oportunidades educativas") was made public December 12.

"The study highlights two items in particular: Hispanic students who attend Catholic schools do better than their counterparts who do not; and Catholic schools are not attracting enough Hispanic students,” said Bishop Curry. “The study is a challenge to the Church to get the word out and spread the good news in the Hispanic community.”

Latino students in the U.S. suffer from an educational achievement gap:
  • Only 53 percent of Latinos graduate from high school in four years.
  • Only 16 percent of Latino 18-year-olds are considered “college-ready.”
Catholic schools serve Latino students well, offering a “Catholic school advantage.” Latinos who attend Catholic school are:
  • 42 percent more likely to graduate HS and
  • two-and-a-half times more likely to graduate college
Despite the Catholic school advantage, only 3% of Latinos send their children to Catholic schools. This represents an opportunity to more fully serve Latino children through Catholic schools. In response, the Notre Dame task force has set a goal of enrolling one million Hispanic children in Catholic schools by 2020, doubling the percentage of Latinos in Catholic school from 3 percent to 6 percent.

In Memoriam: Fr. Ronaldo Muñoz

Chilean priest and liberation theologian Fr. Ronaldo Muñoz, SSCC has died of cancer at 76. Muñoz received his doctorate in theology at the University of Regensburg in Germany in 1972 with a thesis on the new consciousness in the Church in Latin America. He sought to bring together his training in systematic theology with his experience living and working with the Christian base communities in Santiago. Fr. Muñoz was a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

From 1965 to 1980, Muñoz was a member of the theological team of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Men and Women Religious which edited the "Theology and Liberation" series and he was an advisor to the bishops during the conferences at Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida. One of his more interesting articles after Aparecida analyzes the key differences between the document that the bishops approved and the final version as revised by the Vatican. Muñoz offers a point by point comparison showing how the original document was watered down. Example:

Versión original
191. La Eucaristía, signo de la unidad (…) misterio del Hijo de Dios hecho pobre, nos plantea…

Versión oficial
176. La Eucaristía, signo de la unidad (…) misterio del Hijo de Dios hecho hombre (cf. Fil 2,6-8), nos plantea…
Among his publications are "Nueva Conciencia de la Iglesia en América Latina" ("New Consciousness in the Church in Latin America"); "La Iglesia en el Pueblo: Hacia una Eclesiología Latinoamericana" ("The Church in the People: Towards a Latin American Ecclesiology"); "Pueblo, Comunidad, Evangelio. Escritos Eclesiológicos" ("People, Community, Gospel. Ecclesiological Writings"); "Nueva Conciencia Cristiana en un mundo globalizado" ("New Christian Consciousness in a Globalized World". His most widely published work was "Dios de los Cristianos" ("The God of Christians") which has been translated into Portuguese, English, French, Italian and German.

As a tribute to Fr. Muñoz, we would like to share a poem he wrote. I would not presume to translate it and take away from its original eloquence but, to summarize, he says that the Church he loves is one of small mud chapels, of the poor and witnesses to truth, of service. He calls for a Church of fewer blessings of weapons, banks and governments and more marches for peace, justice and which we can only add a grateful and heartfelt "Amen!":

LA IGLESIA QUE AMO (Padre Ronaldo Muñoz, Teólogo)

Pocas catedrales de canto y oro,
muchas capillas de barro y tabla.

Pocos ricos adiestrados a la indiferencia,
muchos pobres expertos en pasión compartida.

Pocos letrados calculadores y prudentes,
muchos sencillos que saben de fe y de esperanza.

Pocos doctores muy seguros de su doctrina,
muchos testigos que escuchan de verdad.

Poco poder de fariseos y sacerdotes de carrera,
mucho servicio humilde a los hermanos más pequeños.

Pocos proyectos de dólares y marcos,
muchas mingas de sudor y canto.

Pocas ceremonias en palacios y cuarteles,
muchas fiestas en aldeas y barrios marginales.

Pocas bendiciones de armas, bancos y gobiernos,
muchas marchas de paz, justicia y libertad.

Poco temor al Dios del castigo y de la muerte,
mucho respeto al Dios del amor y de la vida.

Poco culto de espaldas al pueblo
a Cristo rey eterno en las alturas.

Mucho amor y seguimiento a Jesús el de María,
Compañero, Profeta, Hijo del Padre.

Poco, cada vez menos,
mucho, cada vez más.


Ask and Ye Shall Receive: A full-time Spanish speaking priest for St. Ann's

UPDATE 10/2014: This update would be better titled "Be careful what you ask for." Fr. Acho returned to Peru shortly after his appointment, ostensibly to tend to his dying mother. So, imagine our surprise when we read the following notice recently on the website of the Old Roman Catholic Church Latin Rite (an independent Catholic denomination, not under the Pope): "Padre Alcides Jorge Acho, is appointed to be the Bishop of the new Diocese of Peru. Padre Acho comes to the Old Roman Catholic Church, Latin Rite, from the Papal Roman Catholic Church. Father Acho left active ministry with the Novus Ordo Church in order to enter into the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, and all was done in accordance with Canon Law. Padre Acho has been with this Church for seven years. Father Acho is married to Cynthia and they have two beautiful Children. We have journeyed with them through the transition period from the Novus Ordo Church to the Old Roman Catholic Church." Interesting...because if this announcement is correct and you do the math, then Fr. Acho was actually already considered a member of his new denomination at the time he was serving in Arlington. 'Nuf said...

God and the Diocese of Arlington have finally answered a long time prayer of mine. For over 15 years, St. Ann's Hispanic community has been served by visiting priests and while these priests have been wonderful, very faithful men of God (and, in the case of the Jesuits, A+ homilists), the lack of a regular full time person to attend to the spiritual needs of the Spanish speaking faithful has made pastoral care difficult and sometimes spotty.

This week we have received the news that Fr. Jorge Acho will move from being priest-in-residence at St. Anthony's to St. Ann's. This move and the associated transfer of Fr. Alex Diaz to St. Anthony's is arguably the best human resource allocation decision for Hispanic ministry that the diocese has made since it moved Fr. Tuck Grinnell and Fr. Hoyos together to St. Anthony's many, many years ago.

St. Ann's has traditionally been a predominantly Peruvian community. Many parishioners are members of the Hermandad del Señor de los Milagros. Fr. Jorge came here from the Diocese of Abancay in Peru and he knows his people's traditions. Over the years he has frequently helped out at St. Ann's, celebrating Mass and assisting with other sacramental activities. He is known and well liked by all segments of that community.

Moving Fr. Alex to St. Anthony's is also a stroke of genius. St. Anthony's, with its two huge prayer groups and alabanza choir, is the "heart" of the Hispanic charismatic renewal in the diocese. It also has the largest Salvadoran population. Fr. Alex, who came here from the Diocese of Zacatecoluca in El Salvador, entered the priesthood from the charismatic renewal and has been one of the spiritual advisors to the renewal here in Arlington, along with Fr. Hoyos. Fr. Tuck, who continues as pastor at St. Anthony's, is very involved with the English speaking healing ministry.

I believe this move can only strengthen Hispanic ministry in our diocese by putting these two men in situations that best showcase their respective gifts. It is the best Christmas present we could receive and I want to salute our bishop: Grazie, Monsignor Loverde, e Buon Natale!
Photos: 1. Fr. Jorge Acho; 2. Fr. Alex Diaz

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rep. Luis Gutierrez introduces comprehensive immigration reform bill

UPDATE - 12/16/2009: The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009 (H.R. 4321) now has 91 co-sponsors and I'm proud to report that my Congressional representative Jim Moran (VA-8) is one of them!. Click here to download a PDF copy of the immigration reform bill courtesy of

How marvellous to be able to be present as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) and a huge cast of fellow Congressional representatives, backed up by members of the clergy and immigrant families from CASA de Maryland who came to the Hill to support the measure, introduced his Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009. A summary of the legislation was circulated and a copy has already been posted online by Reform Immigration for America.

The room in the Rayburn House Office Building was hot and overly crowded with the many constituencies who have been waiting for this moment. The energy and enthusiasm were palpable and the speeches were punctuated by choruses of "Si, se puede" and "Yes, we can". And we did not have to wait for proof that "yes, we can": between the beginning of the press conference and when it ended more than two hours later, two additional co-sponsors had added their names to the bill bringing the total up to 89. Rep. Gutierrez said that this gives him hope. The last time the House of Representatives debated a comprehensive immigration reform package, the bill started with slightly more than 20 co-sponsors. Beaming at his multiethnic group of colleagues, he repeated with satisfaction: "Es que tenemos el equipo." We have the team now to do the job. He added that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been "a wonderful and consistent ally."

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-12), who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, when asked if President Obama would honor the commitment he has made to the immigrant community on this issue, reaffirmed her faith in the president. "I believe President Obama is a man of his word and I take him at his word." In her remarks, she said that she has never been so proud in her 18 years in Congress and reflected on two immigrant men from Ecuador, José Sucuzhañay and Marcello Lucero, both victims of racially-motivated hate crimes, adding: "We cannot wait for one more person to be killed because of a broken system."

Several of the representatives who spoke reflected on their own immigrant experiences. Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, mentioned that there are 1.5 million undocumented Asians in this country. "Some of us came on slave boats, some of us came in refugee boats, but we are all in the same boat and if there is a hole at one end of the boat, we are all affected," the congressman said. It was later mentioned that Rep. Honda has authored most of the sections of the bill dealing with family reunification, a critical issue in the Asian Pacific American community. Another Asian American representative, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32) talked about her grandparents who came over from China with nothing and opened a Chinese restaurant.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-7) reminisced about his Irish ancestors and how often people are forced to leave their countries out of economic necessity whether they want to or not. He mentioned that one of his cousins had been killed on 9/11 and said that was why he was supporting legalization as a way for us to know who is in the country and thus become more secure. He emphasized the importance of remembering the human dignity of immigrants that is so often exploited.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18) mentioned that her grandparents were Jamaican and learned Spanish as they worked building the Panama Canal. She spoke of mentoring a young Haitian woman who went to college and became a teacher. The young woman is now being threatened with deportation and the congresswoman is helping her fight the deportation. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (NY-11), Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, also said that she is a second generation American and vowed to bring busloads of people from Brooklyn to lobby for this bill if required.

Other Congressional representatives who spoke were Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15), Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2), Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-9), and Rep. Sam Farr (CA-17). The honor of introducing the bill in the House, however, went to the first person to speak after Rep. Gutierrez. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (TX-27) who has served in Congress for over 30 years and was the original head of the Hispanic Caucus will put this bill before his colleagues. Ortiz said he is confident that the legislation will "end the exploitation and abuse in the current system."

Rep. Gutierrez, for his part, deplored the "immigrant blame game" that has characterized public debate up until now but also praised his fellow immigrants who "rose above the immigrant blame game with patience, tolerance and dignity". He quoted Scripture on turning the other cheek and added "our immigrant community has turned so many cheeks that our heads are spinning." He characterized his bill as "pro family, pro jobs, and pro security" and said that it "should be our nation's immigration policy."

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: Some Good News About Maribel Pérez Vargas

We have been praying for and contributing to the fund for a young Peruvian mother, Maribel Pérez Vargas, who needs a lung transplant.

Yesterday, the Peruanista blog which has also been following this case, posted an update from the Peruvian consul general Fernando Quirós who has been working tirelessly on Maribel's behalf with some good news:

An agreement has been signed between Maribel's medical insurance, Kaiser Permanente and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where she will be evaluated and, if approved and if a lung becomes available, God willing, will eventually be operated. Fr. Hoyos' charitable foundation MAPAVI and the Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation of Boston also signed the agreement committing to help cover the deductibles and co-payments for these procedures.

Because of this agreement, Maribel and her husband Lorenzo went up to Pittsburgh this week where she will undergo a week of tests to determine whether she is a suitable candidate for a lung transplant. If she is approved, she will be placed on the list of people waiting for a donated lung.

Please keep your prayers and donations coming for Maribel and her family (husband Lorenzo and children Diana and Jason). As the consul general says: "Maribel is an exemplary woman, with impressive physical and spiritual fortitude. In the last 12 months she has taught us how to find strength even in the darkest hour and how to continue to fight under the most adverse circumstances. Maribel is the living example of the energy and enormous strength of Peruvian and Latin American women...Many thanks Maribel. God is and will always be with you."

Donations can be sent to Maribel through MAPAVI or via her Web site:

In this video, Maribel explains her situation:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta at St. James

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Padrecito's current parish, St. James in Falls Church, VA. I took a few photos, some of which are on his blog. We started out with a special rosary to Our Lady led by a parishioner wearing a lovely typical Mexican dress. Then, as it was also the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday, hence the pink vestments), a family came up to light the Advent wreath.

We had not only "Juan Diego" who came up preceded by a group of indigenous to present the roses and the miracle of Mary's image imprinted on his tilma to "bishop" Padre Hoyos, but also a Mexican dance group from All Saints in Manassas who were wearing elaborate costumes and performed a dance symbolizing the submission of all Mexican peoples and also all forces of evil to Mary.

They danced again during the social following Mass and a quick procession from the church to the school. Roses were distributed to all and many people took the opportunity of having their pictures taken with La Morenita. Maybe we weren't as big as New York or San Antonio and certainly not Mexico City, but we had every bit as much fun with our celebration. ¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe y que con su intercesión logramos una reforma migratoria en 2010!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Reflection 3: 'Another Christmas Is Possible'

by Arnaldo Zenteno S.J., from the Equipo de Servicios CNP. Comunidades Eclesiales de Base de Nicaragua (English translation by Rebel Girl)

"For today in the city of David a Savior has been born unto you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a newborn babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:11-12)

Outraged by the total manipulation of Christmas nowdays, we would like to state that the real Christmas has been stolen from us. The folly of the ads and Christmas decorations that fill the streets have little or nothing to do with what the birth of Jesus means. We are tired of the constant bombardment of advertising to which we are subjected that encourages us to consume and buy what we don't need and and spend what we don't have, using Christmas as simply a means to increase sales and profits.

We realize how this savage neoliberalism in which we are immersed produces values contrary to Christmas and the message of Jesus, and are strongly calling for recovering of the true values that Christmas implies and denouncing the hypocrisy of this system that uses God to promote business profits while forgetting the poor who are the favorites of the Father. Today, there would be no room for poor Joseph, poor Mary and poor Jesus in the malls or supermarkets, or in luxury hotels.

We denounce this neo-liberal system under which we live that excludes the majority and benefits the wealthiest and the large national and multinational companies. Nothing is further from the message of love, solidarity and fraternity that the birth of the Christ Child brings us.

We imagine "another possible Christmas", closer to this Infant Jesus humbly born in a manger ... and still being born today in the poorest and most excluded. We don't want this commercial Santa Claus, only interested in promoting this exacerbated consumerism. We want to open hearts and doors to the saving coming of the Christ Child. Solidarity and tenderness will open a way against individualism, selfishness and consumerism.

We imagine a Christmas where we take the opportunity to make a journey into our spirit, there where the God of life dwells, and ask Him to help us recognize Him today among the poorest and most excluded and fight together with them for a decent life, such as He wants for His daughters and sons.

We imagine a simple, caring, happy Christmas ... one without frills, where we make present in our heart all people who suffer and who are preferred by God the Father and Mother: children of the streets, exploited workers in the maquilas, the unemployed, the sick without access to health care, peasants in the interior and villagers of many districts who will spend another day hungry, our brother migrant workers who will spend Christmas far from their families, the battered and abused women in so many homes, the Samaritans, etc ...

But we also imagine that our hearts can not remain impassive in the face so much pain and injustice and that it will move us to get going to find ways so that this whole situation, which is scandalous in the eyes of God, will cease once and for all.

And at the level of our Communities we want a Missionary Christmas. We do not want to celebrate Christmas locked up in ourselves, nor reduce it to just our families. From them and from our Communities we want to go further and bring the Good News of Jesus and celebrate it at least with other neighbors, in other parts of our neighborhoods and also with those who are excluded in any way.

We imagine and we want another possible world, another possible America, another possible Nicaragua ... just, fraternal, and in solidarity like the birth of Jesus.

In the following video, Fr. Arnaldo reads a poem he wrote about the birth of Jesus and the street children.

Photo: This poster from Argentina reminds us that there was no room at the inn for the Holy Family in Bethlehem and calls for a Christmas without evictions.

How Catholic Charities could live with gay marriage

I was very pleased to see this opinion piece in today's Washington Post from Nancy Polikoff, a law professor at American University. In other words, to the Archdiocese of Washington: If you are uncomfortable with the new gay marriage law for moral reasons, say so. But don't pretend that it will make it impossible for you to continue to contract with the District to provide social services in any practical, legal sense. If not entering into a business relationship with a government that doesn't share all of your values is more important than the services you have been providing through such a relationship to God's poor, say so. It may not look or sound pretty but it's better than lying, adding that sin to the sin of discrimination. - RG

Catholic Charities is misleading the public about the impact of the D.C. bill authorizing same-sex marriage. It can maintain its city contracts while extending the most important benefits only to the different-sex spouses of its employees, and it does not need an exemption in the legislation to do so. It just needs to follow in the footsteps of Catholic Charities of Maine.

In 2001, Portland passed a law requiring city contractors to give equal benefits to heterosexual spouses and same-sex domestic partners. Catholic Charities refused to sign a contract including such a provision, sued the city and won. Here’s why:

The health and pension benefits offered by private employers are regulated only by federal law, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Federal law does not require employers to recognize same-sex domestic partners or spouses, and therefore private employers cannot be compelled to treat same-sex and different-sex couples equally. Nor can non-9discrimination in employee benefits be a condition of receiving a government contract.

Churches are permitted to “opt out” of ERISA. If they do so, they are subject to local law. I do not know whether Catholic Charities of D.C. has opted out, but if it has, it can opt right back in. That’s what Catholic Charities of Maine did. It’s wrong that private employers in states recognizing same-sex couples are allowed to discriminate in their employee benefits programs. But that’s a problem with the federal law, and it has nothing to do with religion.

On a recent radio program, I confronted D.C. Catholic Charities President Edward Orzechowski with the fact that ERISA gives his agency a way out of providing benefits to same-sex spouses. He responded by saying, “We want to abide by all the laws. ..... We don’t want to come under the guise of another law and still believe as others might that we are in violation of local law.” This is nonsense. Private employers can choose whether to grant employee benefits to same-sex couples. That’s the law, and it means that Catholic Charities has no basis for demanding a special religious exemption.

Given the ease with which Catholic Charities can achieve its stated goals — maintaining its city contracts and extending benefits only to different-sex spouses — I have to wonder why it insists that there is an irreconcilable conflict. Two explanations seem plausible. The church may want the most prominent platform possible for both opposing same-sex marriage and urging an overbroad religious exemption; it gets this by threatening to cut social services. Alternatively, Catholic Charities might be planning to cut its programs anyway because they cost the archdiocese so much money, in which case the same-sex marriage bill provides a convenient scapegoat.

Catholic Charities’ other objection — that marriage equality would require it to place adoptive and foster children with same-sex couples — is truly a red herring. D.C. law already outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. The city apparently has looked the other way at Catholic Charities’ discrimination in adoption and might have kept doing so had the agency kept quiet. But the church seems to have gambled that it could get a provision in the current bill exempting it from laws it already violates. It lost. Fortunately, other agencies that don’t discriminate can step in; Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) determined that last year Catholic Charities handled only six adoptions in conjunction with its city contracts.

I am proud that my city council is standing firm. Now it’s time for widespread acknowledgment that marriage equality in the District creates no justification for Catholic Charities to sever its contractual relationship with the city. Just look at Portland.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Antorcha Guadalupana arrives in New York

by Angélica Peña (English translation by Rebel Girl)

NEW YORK -- After 70 days and a 5,000 kilometer journey the pilgrimage of the Antorcha Guadalupana which left the Basilica of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City arrived in St. Patrick's Cathedral in this city.

The "light of hope" left Mexico on October 3rd and went through dozens of towns before arriving in downtown Manhattan, gathering about 700 runners who joined in the relay that went from the state of New Jersey over the Washington Bridge into New York State.

The runners reached Central Park where they were received by local authorities and representatives of the Mexican government in New York.

Later, the torch was carried with groups of Mexican folk dancers through the streets of downtown Manhattan in low temperatures.

The fervor of faith was reflected in the expressions of those who surrounded the images of the Virgin of Guadalupe and Juan Diego.

After the arrival of the torch and the images, a more than two hour long Mass began in which some 6,000 people participated, according to the coordinators of the event.

"Millions of Mexicans and devotees of the brown virgin are celebrating Her feast today, thousand of pilgrims have come to Her shrine in homage to Her, and millions of Catholics and non-Catholics are hearing about the miracles of the Mother," said Josu Iriando, bishop for the Bronx, who presided at the Mass.

Among the prayers offered during the ceremony, one stood out that was for immigrants who have lost their work and are going through difficult times because of the recession so that their faith will strengthen them to resist and overcome their situation.

The "Amen" in the church was unanimous after one of the petitions to the Virgin that referred to legislators in this country approving immigration reform soon.

Cristina Robinson, who lives in Houston and accompanied the entire journey of the torch, said that for seven years she has been part of the pilgrimage and that her motive is the struggle for immigration reform.

"We are seeking reform and for the families to be united. If our countrymen cannot go to see the Virgin, we bring Her to them," said Robinson.

Sandra Silva, the 20-year old captain of the relay, said that the hardest part was watching the people cry every time the Virgin left to continue Her trek, "I am sad too after being with Her for 40 days. I have a lot of faith in Her," she added.

The Tepeyac Association began the torch relay at a local level in 1998 and in 2002 decided to involve the communities of devotees both in Mexico and in the United States to create a pilgrimage that unites the two countries of the north.

"I am praying for us to have work and fair wages. I am sure that the Virgin will give us Her protection and help us to accomplish our goals," said Raul Parra who came from the town of Laguna Seca, in the Mexican state of Guerrero four years ago.

In the middle of the ceremony, dozens of children, mostly dressed as Juan Diego or the Virgin Mary, were blessed by the bishops.

After the Mass, the images and dancers walked several blocks to the front of the United Nations Headquarters where they danced in honor of the Virgin and from which dozens of lights of hope from the torch departed to different parishes in the city.

María de Guadalupe

This article is by Manuel Gómez Granados of the Instituto Mexicano de Doctrina Social Cristiana (12/12/2009). English translation by Rebel Girl.

We know little about Mary. The gospels don't tell us who her parents were, where she was born, how old she has been the artists, novelists, filmmakers, popular religion, the apocryphal gospels and the Church itself which have forged the image of Mary as a quiet, submissive and selfless woman.

The gospels, however, say something else. When the Angel announces to her that she will conceive a son, she shows herself to be mouthy: "How can this be since I have not known man?" (Luke 1:34)

Mary studied liberation theology, or at least it would appear so considering her option for the poor: "He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty handed. (Luke 1:52-53)

Mary, always according to the gospel, was a woman of service and solidarity. In today's terms she would be a volunteer. When she realized her cousin Elizabeth was going to be a mother, she left everything and went to help her. (Luke 1:39-40)

Later, when Jesus was lost in the temple, Mary and Joseph "thinking that he was in the caravan, journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him." (Luke 2:44-45). Mary scolds her Son, while Joseph remains quiet and like a spectator, which shows that Mary was the leader of her household. Just like many Mexican mothers!

And what can we say about the wedding at Cana (John 2). She and Jesus were at a feast in which there was dancing, singing, drinking...they were happy! They sang, they danced! And Mary who was attentive to the needs of others says to Her Son: their wine has run out, help them.

Mary was brave. When they killed her Son because they considered Him to be dangerous to society and the government, She stayed near the Cross accompanied by the women and John (John 19). The other disciples were in hiding.

Mary revealed Herself to Mexicans as Guadalupe -- "She has not done anything similar with any other nation" -- our loving Mother, but with a firm, prayerful, hardworking, supportive character and with complete confidence in God. As She says to Juan Diego: "Am I not here who am your Mother? Do you need anything else?" She doesn't call Juan Diego to mere contemplation much less to laziness, but rather invites him to trust in God and do everything he is supposed to do: “a Dios rogando y con el mazo dando” ("praying to God and striking with the stick").

Today we celebrate Mary of Guadalupe, and beyond any arguments about whether She appeared or not, whether the cloak is painted or not, whether Juan Diego existed or not...the miracle of Mary of Guadalupe is that She continues to be a source of unity for all Mexicans and the base on which our hope rests. We can only celebrate Guadalupe by loving Her Son Jesus Christ and being in solidarity with the poor, but let us not fool ourselves -- solidarity is measured by reaching into our pockets.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Videos 12: Mañanitas a la Virgen

I'm imagining what it must be like today at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I've never been there (it's one dream that has yet to be fulfilled) and so my impressions come from this video of the 2007 celebration. What I like about this video is that you see priests, celebrities and just regular folks lucky enough to get inside the packed sanctuary all singing Las Mañanitas to our Mother on her feast day, the only distinction being that the professional singers get the microphones. Some day, I'll be among them...ojalá!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Sr. Teresa Forcades and the H1N1 flu vaccine: The Comic Version

TV3's "Polónia" comedy show has produced a very funny skit about the arguments between Sr. Teresa and the Minister of Health over the safety of the H1N1 flu vaccine. I almost didn't post this video out of respect, but then I decided that you haven't really arrived as a cultural icon until people start lampooning you. And the actress who plays Sr. Teresa Forcades has clearly been studying videos of her because she has her hand gestures down pat.

Here is the official description of the video: "The Minister for Health, Marina Geli, holds a debate with the doctor and Benedictine nun Teresa Forcades about the safety of the Influenza A vaccine. Josep Cuní must make peace between them both." Enjoy!

Virgin of Guadalupe Videos 11: Maria de Guadalupe

The 11th song comes from the famous Chilean folk group Los Huasos de Algarrobal. The song says that through our baptism, we are all brothers and sisters and together are the Temple of God. It says that the promises of God for the poor and the hungry will be fulfilled.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pray for the Church in Colombia

At this time when we should be celebrating the coming of the Prince of Peace and when the Church is busier than ever with preparations for Christmas, we have received the sad news that the auxilliary bishop of Medellin Víctor Manuel Ochoa Cadavid (photo) has been forced to go into hiding as a result of having received a death threat. The threat came in the form of a "Christmas present" that included a picture of the bishop, bullets, and a threatening note that made reference to the assassination of another Colombian prelate, Archbishop Isaias Duarte Cancino of Cali back in 2002.

Mons. Alberto Giraldo Jaramillo, the Archbishop of Medellin, asked for prayers for Bishop Ochoa and his family and said that "we reject these acts and call on the authors of this threat to correct their way of thinking and change their way of acting." He added that "we continue to pray that we might experience a peaceful Christmas, with a true sense of respect for the life of every one of the inhabitants of this area of Colombia."

Another article in Milenio about the case reports that in the last 25 years, 68 priests and two bishops have been assassinated by various parties in the ongoing armed conflict in that country.