Sunday, August 2, 2009

Por el Camino de Emaús

As so often happens in conferences, the unscripted moments at “Camino a Emaús: The Word of God and Latino Catholics” were almost as memorable – if not more so – than the formal presentations.

First, it must be said that we were blessed with the presence of several of our Hispanic bishops and auxilliary bishops who didn’t just give speeches and leave, but participated in the whole conference. They made themselves available for photo ops and informal conversations with the faithful. One unscripted memorable moment for me occurred when one of the more whimsical bishops stopped me and a sister outside the conference hall to demonstrate the bird calls he had recorded on his cellphone, with which he was able to summon a cardinal (of the avian kind) that flew around us vainly searching for its phantom mate. One seldom sees the playful side of our shepherds. It is refreshing.

On a more serious note, I was impressed by Archbishop José Gomez (San Antonio, TX) who shortened his final remarks and asked conference participants for their suggestions on how to improve Hispanic ministry in the United States. Wow! Someone in the hierarchy wants our opinion? The microphones lit up. Suggestions ranged from extremely concrete (“Hispanics would be more inclined to attend daily Mass if it were offered at night, which meets our cultural expectations and doesn’t interfere with our work schedules”) to broader concerns of Church governance (“Use lay people for administrative tasks to free up our limited number of Hispanic priests to focus on pastoral and sacramental activities”. This idea was welcomed by the Archbishop even though he addressed the canonical restrictions that might make its implementation difficult). I hope that future conferences will allow for more of these exchanges.

The value we place on acompañamiento from our bishops cannot be understated. The idea was articulated very directly by Mons. Faustino Armendáriz Jiménez (Matamoros, Mexico) in his presentation on “La Pastoral Bíblica”. Jiménez, who for some reason reminded me a lot of Padre Alex (scholarship, wit, style of presentation, personality,…), stressed the importance of mission, of taking the Bible out of the “templo” and into the street and, he said, the bishops should be going door to door with the faithful. This is especially significant coming from someone from Matamoros where street missionary activity is a far more risky proposition than in the United States at the moment. El pastor tiene que estar con su rebaño en los buenos y en los malos.

But we didn’t just wait on our leaders. Lay participants took the intiative to organize themselves in some cases to provide continuity to the conference. One of our former Arlington Latinos Unidos organizers who is now living in Richmond, gathered contact information on other young adult leaders with the intent of developing a network on how to best minister to that cohort.

The music was also excellent. Throughout the conference and especially during the liturgies, we were led by two of the country’s great liturgical musicians: Pedro Rubalcava and Santiago Fernández. And, of course, we were thrilled to be able to hear from the famous Chilean nun and singer-songwriter, Hermana Glenda. Her performance at the conference banquet provoked a surge of cameras and clapping and waving from her many fans. She reprised her “Nada Es Imposible” after Communion the next day during the Mass with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the Basilica of Notre Dame. McCarrick, also an Hermana Glenda fan, expressed his approval before giving us the final benediction and even encouraged folks to buy the sister’s CDs.

Another lovely, extemporaneous moment occurred after the Friday morning outdoor Mass at the Grotto. In one of the conference’s few faux pas, the liturgy at this Marian shrine included no hymns to our Blessed Mother. Two participants spontaneously came forward with their guitars after the formal liturgy and led us in singing the Mañanitas and other Marian songs as people milled around, taking pictures, lighting candles and engaging in their private devotions. Totally unscripted; 100% Latino.

And, yes, there were workshops offered by some of our best Biblical scholars. We heard about everything from current and upcoming Spanish translations of the Bible, to how to read the Good Book “Latinamente”, to how to set up training programs in Bible study and interpretation. A lot of time was spent on the 2008 Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church and it was especially useful to be able to hear from General Secretary and Archbishop Nikola Eterović (Vatican City) who offered insight into Pope Benedict XVI’s views on the role of Sacred Scripture in the Church and how His Holiness believes Catholics should approach the Word of God.

Over and over again, presenters stressed that the Church does not endorse a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. On the other hand, as Ricardo Grzona pointed out during his presentation on Lectio Divino, we should not err on the side of “Espiritualismo”, an exclusively other wordly reading of Scripture.

For Hispanic Catholics in particular, the Bible is to be read in context and in community. While the historical context must be understood, it is more important that the Bible be presented in a way that makes it relevant to the present reality of our people and that leads them to a personal and life-changing encounter with the living Christ. Its interpretation, while happening within the framework of Church tradition, must not be confined to a handful of “experts”. We need to form the laity in their ability to read and interpret Scripture so that we can all be enriched by a communal experience in which everyone’s voice can be heard.

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