Friday, February 13, 2009

Immigration Reform Now!

Those who listened to Fr. José Eugenio Hoyos' radio show last weekend or attended Mass at San José, know that he has sent a letter to President Obama asking him to put a just and comprehensive immigration reform back on the national agenda. Sixty-six percent of Hispanics voted for President Obama. We turned out for him; now he needs to turn out for us and we know that many of our families include at least one indocumentado or someone who has been waiting for years to get a visa and be reunited with them.

I would like to invite readers of this blog to take several easy steps to help raise awareness about this issue from a Catholic perspective with our elected officials:


  1. Congress: Click here to send an e-mail message prepared by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Justice for Immigrants Campaign to your Congressional representative and senators.

  2. President Obama: Download and print the following letter (PDF format) and use it as a model to write your own message, or just add your signature, name, and mailing address and the date to the sample letter and mail it to the address at the top of the letter.

  3. Tell your friends: Now that you have acted, e-mail your friends and tell them how they can join this campaign for immigration reform. Refer them to this blog entry. If you are a blogger, you are welcome to copy this to your own blog.

“Are you registered in the parish?”

One of the frequent frustrations for both priests and parish workers, including even those who are of Hispanic descent themselves, is the tendency of Hispanic Catholics to answer the question “Are you registered in the parish?” with “Sí, Padre” when the correct answer clearly is “No, Padre.” So frequent that Sr. Rosa María Icaza, who taught our MACC Mini Pastoral Group unit on cultural and communication differences in Hispanic ministry, made a point of mentioning it specifically.

The question itself reflects our peculiar (to Hispanics) norteamericana obsession with making sure we are only attending to “our own”, not someone who ought to be the responsibility of some other parish. The priest shortage in this country has changed the psychological perception of the priesthood from a 24-7 vocation to a 9-5 job. Rather than an “entrega completa”, the typical North American priest seeks every means to protect his precious free time. This is incomprehensible to both priests and faithful from south of the border where it would not be unusual to stop your local priest in the supermercado or the taquería to ask for a prayer or blessing. The business of the soul is not confined within the physical parameters of church and day planner.

So what’s going on here?

1. A difference in understanding: Sr. Rosa María says that Hispanics interpret the question to mean: “Are you registered in the Catholic Church somewhere in the world?” So the answer “Sí” is truthful…from the Hispanic point of view, but the fact is that the person is registered in El Rosario, San Salvador, not San Felipe, Falls Church, Virginia. The solution? Let me rephrase the question: “¿Está usted registrado (o “inscrito”) en ESTA parroquia (o “en la parroquia de San Felipe”)?” Specific question, specific answer.

2. Telling authority figures, including priests, what they think you want to hear: This was also mentioned as a trait to watch out for and it has probably been my single greatest frustration in working with the Hispanic community. Again and again I fall into the trampa of believing that “Sí” means “Sí” and “No” means “No”. Perhaps it comes from my Quaker background with its emphasis on the importance of literal truthful speech. When working with Hispanic people, “yes” is not “yes” but rather “I will try to be there” (“…si Dios quiere” or, as we say in the South, “…Lord willin’ and the crick don’t rise”). It is not an intentional lie but a situation where Hispanics are expressing a sincere intent and Norteamericanos are hearing a firm commitment.

Getting back to the parish registration issue, the best solution is not to ask a yes/no question so that there is no “right” answer. Be prepared with a copy of the parish registration form and ask: “¿Está inscrita en esta parroquia o quiere inscribirse ahora mismo?” Assure the person that it is quick and not complicated, que “no es una molestia” and always be alert that literacy may be an unspoken issue and offer assistance readily.

3. Fear of authority: In these days of redadas and deportaciones, many immigrants may be scared away by the prospect of having to fill out a form. We need to be extra sensitive to this in pastoral care. Explain gently why the parish needs this information, that it will not be shared with local government, police and immigration agencies. If the person is still reluctant, back off and just provide the pastoral services requested. Is it really that essential to have the form filled out?

Also, in the case of sacraments, the person may be willing to fill out a form because they understand why the church needs to have a record of their marriage or baptism. You can later use that data to initiate a parish registration form which can be completed once you have gained the immigrant’s trust.

Other times, a negative experience such as the denial of a request for hospital visitation or a burial Mass will impel the immigrant family to register. This is not pretty and I am not endorsing it because I do not believe that a Church that professes to be “universal” should be denying any type of pastoral care to a Catholic simply because they haven’t jumped through some bureaucratic hoop. “Service now; paperwork later” should be our motto.

Deportations: Desaparecidos en America

When we hear the term “disappeared” we think of something that happened to people in the bad old days of military dictatorships in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, etc… But my friend Felipe is “desaparecido” in the United States of America. He was seized over a week ago by ICE and we have not been able to find out where he is, except that he is NOT in the Arlington County Detention Center, the closest facility to his home.

Last year, I saw the movie “The Visitor” several times (it’s a great film dealing with the deportation process), never imagining that I would be living that frustrating reality of not knowing where an immigrant friend is. I tried calling the ICE Deportation Office for Virginia (703-285-6200) but never got a human being on the line. The automated phone system offers no option for finding out where a detainee might be, or for speaking with a customer representative. I called ICE’s 1-866-341-3858 number, ostensibly set up for families and friends of detainees, and that automated message informed me that this line was not regularly staffed, that notices would appear in the media when it is staffed and, in any case, the electronic voice said brightly, I should not worry because the detainee would be provided with access to a phone to call family and friends. But when? We have heard this can take weeks.

Meanwhile Felipe is disappeared. We don’t even know for sure if he still has an attorney at this point and, if so, does that person know where he is? The reality is that often the lawyers are just as clueless about the detainee’s whereabouts as the family.

María doesn’t know what to do. Felipe’s room is still there, just as it was the day he was led away in handcuffs. She has been reluctant to enter, but at this point she needs to know: Is he coming back, or not? Should she box up his stuff? Where should she send it? Can she clean the room and rent it out to someone else? She can’t afford to go too long without that extra income, but she can’t bear closing the door on Felipe.

The children have called, María says. They are frantic but they do not have the knowledge or the resources to find their father and María’s babysitting job does not give her a lot of free time to help them look.

Señor Presidente Barack Obama, Señora Secretaría Janet Napolitano, we know that comprehensive immigration reform may take some time, but is it too much to ask that ICE provide an easy way for families, friends, and lawyers to locate their detainees? Because nobody should be “disappeared” in America.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Never too late to say "I'm sorry"

This month we have a beautiful reminder -- what a Catholic colleague of mine calls a "redemption story" -- that it is never too late to ask for and receive forgiveness for wrongs we have committed against a fellow human being.

Rock Hill man apologizes on TV for 1961 attack on congressman



By Andrew Dys
The Herald - Rock Hill, SC
February 4, 2009

WASHINGTON -- All U.S. Rep. John Lewis knew for almost 48 years is that at Rock Hill's bus station, somebody with white fists beat him to the ground.

Some tall, rangy bruiser in a "group of young men" busted his lip open, bloodied his black face -- just for trying to enter the waiting room marked "Whites."

The fists knocking him senseless May 9, 1961, had stayed fresh in his memory, even after the blows vanished into the history of the holy cause for black men and white men to be equal.

"I knew someone attacked me on May 9, but I wouldn't have recognized him," said Lewis of 1961.

Tuesday, those same white fists came back into his life. The hands were inches from Lewis' black face again. This time, not clenched. This time, trembling, hoping. That long-ago white face of hate sat in a chair next to him.

"I am ashamed of it," said the man behind the fists. "I hate to admit it."

The right fist came to Lewis on Tuesday in the form of an outstretched hand hoping to be shaken. And then the open arms of Elwin Wilson, who lamented that he wished he'd had the valor to offer a handshake so long ago, when he admittedly hated almost all black people and used his fists to show he meant business.

Then, without pause by either man, an embrace by two men who met so briefly so long ago with the crush of punches to the face.

"I am sorry," Wilson said to Lewis.

Lewis, 68, who had been a 21-year-old seminary student in 1961, said without pause, to the only man to ever admit being one of the mob who beat him and another civil rights protester: "I forgive you."

Important for the country

Wilson's in-person apology -- which followed an apology he made in a Jan. 24 article in The Herald -- is not only important to Rock Hill and South Carolina, but "all around the country," Lewis said.

The spirit of the cause for civil rights always was love and redemption, Lewis said, never malice or hate. Even after beatings. The cause for equality has taken years to take root in people such as Wilson, but it has turned from a seed into a majestic canopy of human togetherness. It happened Tuesday in Lewis' office on Capitol Hill, with the Capitol building looming through a window.

It happened in a room filled with civil rights memorabilia, photos, history of a changed America. It happened with a black president, just two weeks into office, less than a mile down a busy Pennsylvania Avenue, in the capital of America.

It came as buzzers sounded to call a black congressman to vote.

Lewis described this in-person apology as "amazing, unreal, unbelievable."

But it was real, offered by the man with the fists.

"For Mr. Wilson to come here and offer an apology, it is many, many miles down a long road," Lewis said. He talked about the "power of reconciliation." The "capacity to change."

Then he said again: "I forgive you."

Others over the years had told Lewis "they were sorry for what happened to me" when Lewis was a member of the "Freedom Riders" who protested segregation. Others had told him what had happened then was wrong.

But here, on this cold and windy Tuesday, sat a 72-year-old man named Elwin Wilson who had the courage to say, "It was me."

"I never had any idea this would occur, never thought it could happen," Lewis said. "This shows the power of love. Of grace. Of people being able to say I am sorry. I deeply appreciate it. This is meaningful."

Wilson has dealt with his hatred for blacks all his adult life. It was not inherited, he told Lewis, not taught by family. But he hung around the wrong crowd, he told Lewis, and he can't even recall who else was in that mob that day that met the Freedom Riders' bus at the downtown Rock Hill station just a few days into the ride through the South.

"I didn't know who he was," Wilson said of Lewis in 1961.

Face to face

But because Wilson read in the Jan. 21 edition of The Herald, a day after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, about other protesters he had heckled and wanted to beat up in 1961 -- he wanted to apologize.

He knew he had done wrong, and he wanted to tell anybody who would listen that he was sorry. He told those Rock Hill protesters in person a few days later and now he told John Lewis -- man to man, face to face.

"I should have been shaking his hand instead of beating him up with my fists," Wilson said Tuesday.

After the beating in 1961, Lewis and the other protester, a white man named Al Bigelow, declined to press charges because the protest was rooted in non-violence.

"We were all victims of the system," Lewis said of segregation. "I had no ill feeling toward Mr. Wilson. What we wanted to do was change customs, change laws."

During the meeting that lasted the better part of an hour under the glare of "Good Morning America" TV lights for a segment that might air later in the week, Lewis and Wilson sat side-by-side. The show brought Wilson to Washington after The Herald article ran, and Wilson was nervous. But he followed through.

"I had to," Wilson said. "It was time to meet the man and apologize."

When Wilson spoke, Lewis turned to face Wilson and listened. His gaze never wavered from the face of the man who had beaten him so badly that day.

John Lewis never did anything but love that man back, and forgive.

"I hold no grudge," Lewis said. "Hate is too heavy a burden to bear."

Lewis spoke plainly, like the preacher he is, of the fellowship of human beings.

"We are all in the family of humankind," he said.

Proud of his father

Lewis listened, rapt, as Wilson's son, Chris -- an infant in May 1961 -- spoke of the shame of having a racist father. Lewis listened to Chris Wilson speak of his pride in his father for having the guts to change.

"He was a hard person, growing up," Chris Wilson told Lewis of his racist father. "He embarrassed me. I am proud he has come here today and done this."

Elwin Wilson pulled no punches in 1961, and he pulled none Tuesday.

He told Lewis that in the 1980s when his parents died, and they were buried in a cemetery that allowed black graves, he wanted to have the bodies moved. He told Lewis of tying a rope around a black doll's neck and hanging it from a tree in his front yard. But Wilson asked Lewis, as he already has asked so many blacks, to give him the chance to admit he was wrong.

"I walked forward, but I couldn't walk backwards," Wilson said of the racist acts that characterized his life. "That's what I am doing now."

Tuesday's apology can be a start to halting the burden of hate and race in America, Lewis said.

"We are one people, one family," Lewis told Wilson. "We are all children of God."

King would be proud

Lewis told Wilson that not only would Wilson's late parents be proud of him, but so would the late Martin Luther King Jr.

Lewis worked with King throughout the 1960s before a white racist shot and killed him on a Memphis motel balcony in 1968 during the fight for equality.

"Dr. King taught us to love and forgive, and a lot of people are proud of you," Lewis told Wilson. "You are leading the way for a lot of people."

Lewis, a congressman since 1987 representing much of greater Atlanta, gave Wilson a copy of his memoirs, "Walking With the Wind." Inscribed in it were the words: "To Elwin Wilson: With faith and hope. Keep your eyes on the prize."

That phrase from the civil rights movement always meant don't fight back with fists, don't hate who hates you, but remember that equality was what mattered.

Not vengeance.

Wilson said Tuesday, so long from May 9, 1961, was a different day. Different week, month, year.

"A different life," Wilson said.

"It was wrong for people to be like I was," Wilson said. "But I am not that man anymore."

Then Lewis said with a smile: "A different road."

Hope is Elwin Wilson's middle name, and the middle name of his son, Chris. Chris had lived with his father's hate all his life. In Washington after an hour of forgiveness, Chris Wilson told John Lewis of his father, "I've been hoping for him for 48 years."

Then the men shook hands again and hugged. Not a fist in sight anywhere. No blood on a bus station floor.

John Lewis, inches from Elwin Wilson's face, the men so long separated by color and time, said: "It is good to see you, my friend."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Sacraments -- Theory vs. Reality Pt. 1: Baptism

The following headline just crossed my desktop: La Iglesia excluirá del bautismo a niños con padres poco creyentes (“Church will exclude from baptism children of parents with little faith”). According to this news article, the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela has issued a bulletin in which it provides standard guidelines for baptism including the following canonically correct but seldomly applied caution:

Reflecting on the case of "padres poco creyentes o practicantes solamente ocasionales, o personas que viven en una situación canónica irregular, o que incluso se manifiestan o declaran no creyentes" (“parents of little faith or who are only occasionally practising, or persons who are living in ‘an irregular canonical situation’ [whatever that means] and even those who are obviously or declare themselves to be nonbelievers”), the bulletin argues that "la Iglesia debe tener esperanza fundada de que el niño va a ser educado en la religión católica; si falta por completo esa circunstancia, debe diferirse el bautismo, conforme a las disposiciones del derecho particular, haciéndoles saber la razón a los padres”, i.e. that the Church should have some reason to hope that the child will be educated in the Catholic faith and that, failing that, the baptism should be deferred while letting the parents know the reason for this deferral.

As we said, this reading IS canonically correct, but is it charitable? Let’s put it to the reality test. I bring my baby in to be baptized. The priest asks: “¿Ustedes los padres, están casados por la Iglesia?” “Pues, no, Padre. Es que no podemos casarnos porque mi esposo estaba casado anteriormente y no puede obtener un anulación.” Does the baby get baptized or not?

Then the priest says: “Well, I haven’t seen you at Mass every Sunday.” “Pues, Padre, no tengo un empleo regular. Trabajo en un restaurante y cuando me piden trabajar, tengo que ir y a veces me toca trabajar sábado y domingo.” (Anyway, how many times can I skip Mass before my baby is not eligible for baptism?)

“Well, you wrote a column where you supported women’s ordination. You are aware that this is against the teachings of the Catholic Church, are you not? And what do you think about the Immaculate Conception? Do you really believe in it or not? Do you and your husband use artificial contraception?, etc…” At this point, I suppose the priest is expected to quiz the parents about their knowledge of the Catholic faith and how much of it they REALLY believe and then based on some sort of self-formulated litmus test (hey, why don’t we just give polygraphs too?), determine if the poor baby can be baptized or not.

And then what happens if the priest tells me we’re going to defer the baptism because he doesn’t think my faith is strong enough? I know what I’d do. If Fr. Eugenio won’t baptize my kid because he’s very traditional and I’m too liberal, I’d go looking for Fr. Alex who I JUST KNOW will help me and not give me any problems. Because my faith is at least that strong.

But if Fr. Eugenio is correct and my faith is not really very strong, I most likely would say “forget about it” and go over to the evangelicos who will welcome me and my kid with open arms and give the kid a “Biblically correct” full immersion baptism. Or, as many Spanish youth have done, I will just drop out of the Catholic Church. According to the Juventud en España 2008 survey, only 1 in 9 Spaniards between ages 15 and 29 defines themselves as a practising Catholic, and that, by the way, includes a not especially rigorous self-definition of “practising” as someone who goes to Mass at least once a month. And these same youth do not subscribe to traditional Church teachings in a number of key areas such as gay marriage (76.5% in favor) and euthanasia (75% in favor). Is this the kind of climate in which you want to set a litmus test for a sacrament that even the least fervent Catholic regards as a fundamental right?

We have not even addressed the question of godparents – another “red herring” in Hispanic ministry where a gentle but firm catechism often needs to be conveyed about who qualifies to be a godparent. It may not be your compadre from work who has been your best friend since you were kids back in Chalatenango, who has always given you a little “apoyo” when you were hurting, but who, desgraciadamente, is not “casado por la Iglesia” with la comadre. Probably a really cool guy, but not a padrino. By the way, the best way to approach this is simply to be specific about the requirements, explain why the Church has them, encourage the parents that you really want the baptism to proceed, and listen to them work through some ideas of alternative godparents. Unlike the situation with the parents, there is not as much room for negotiation here, no going from Fr. Eugenio to Fr. Alex and thinking you will get a different answer.

Now some people will argue with this, saying that the Church has loosened the standards for baptism too much and it is high time they were tightened up because all we are doing right now, in the words of one Spanish priest I know, is creating a generation of “paganos bautizados” – splashed with a little holy water but utterly ignorant about their faith.

But if we shut people completely out of even the first sacrament of initiation, are we not running the risk of creating a “theologically pure” Church…but one on the verge of extinction?

El amor es más fuerte

Just in time for Valentine's Day comes a tender love story out of the wildfires raging in Australia. It starts when a firefighter named David Tree comes upon a badly burned female koala bear. In a generous act of what Leonardo Boff would call interspecies solidarity, Tree offers the koala his bottled water to drink. The act is captured on film and video by the accompanying media.



But the story doesn't end there. The firefighter arranges for the koala -- who has since been baptized "Sam" -- to be transported to the Southern Ash Wildlife Shelter for rehabilitation. At the shelter, "Sam" not only finds healing but also love in the form of "Bob" -- another koala burn victim at the shelter. Shelter worker Colleen Wood comments on the budding relationship: "They keep putting their arms around each other and giving each other hugs. They really have made friends and it is quite beautiful to see after all this...Sam is probably aged between two to four going by her teeth and Bob is about four so they have a muchness [a lot in common] with each other."



Tree is also delighted that the "lady" he rescued has found love. "They've really taken a shine to each other as they are both burned and share the same burned smell," he says.

Monday, February 9, 2009

¿Frontera? ¿Que Frontera?

Tom Miller, author of On the Border: Portraits of America’s Southwestern Frontier, has an interesting piece in yesterday’s Washington Post called Twilight Zone. A self-described “border rat”, he laments that the frontera has become “pancaked between a collapsed economy to the north and brutal drug thugs to the south” and “there’s that ugly wall scarring our beautiful borderland, whose repulsiveness will surely outlast its short-term usefulness.” He reminisces about a time when Mexicans and Americans freely moved back and forth, knowing “where the tortillas are thinnest, where the music is jazziest, where the cops are friendliest and where the crossings are easiest.”



Last month, our mini pastoral group from the Mexican American Catholic College went down to the frontera and crossed back and forth between Brownsville and Matamoros, McAllen and Reynosa. We saw that ugly muro, but what sticks with me is how artificial and arbitrary that wall really is. Without it, it would be hard to tell where the United States ends and Mexico begins. We visited shrines and taquerias in southern Texas that were Mexican in every aspect save for their zip codes.



For a spiritually and linguistically bilingual soul such as myself, the frontera is paradise. It is a place where I no longer have to choose half of my persona at the expense of the other. The days flowed comfortably in a mixture of English and Spanish. I embraced that “Hola, ya’ll!” life wholeheartedly.

I love frontera culture, its literature and music. During the three years between the time I decided to go to MACC and the day I actually made the trek, I devoured the words of Luis Alberto Urrea and Fr. Virgilio Elizondo – a fascinating experience of observing the same mestizaje space through the lenses of fiction and theology.



I listened to Manu Chao who, though European, is mestizaje incarnate. He sings in Spanish, French, English, Italian, Portuguese and even occasionally in Arabic, among other languages, and he often sings about the immigrant experience. “Welcome to Tijuana. Tequila, sex, or marijuana?”, he greets the newly arrived in a sinister voice. “Con el coyote, no hay aduana.” And:

El viento viene
El viento se va
Por la frontera
El viento viene
El viento se va
El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Sin más razón
El hambre viene
El hombre se va
Ruta Babylon...
Por la carretera...


And at the end of the song, you can hear that wind freely crossing the border as the people can no longer do…

MACC President Appointed to Obama Faith Council

As a Catholic and recent "graduate" from the mini pastoral program at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, it is thrilling to hear that MACC's president, Dr. Arturo Chávez has been appointed by President Obama to his advisory council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This is excellent news for all of us who are involved in ministry to Hispanics and especially to immigrants. Here is the full story from Abe Levy of the San Antonio Express-News (2/6/2009):

Arturo Chavez, who grew up on the city’s South Side and is head of the Mexican American Catholic College, is the lone Texan chosen this week to serve on the president’s 25-member advisory council to the newly revamped White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

His one-year term will be spent recommending grass-roots needs for the office and President Barack Obama to consider in their plan of sending millions of dollars in social service aid to churches and nonprofits.

On Thursday, Obama restored and expanded this office created initially by President George W. Bush. Chavez traveled to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, where he and other appointees met Obama in the Oval Office for a briefing.

Chavez said the president told the gathering their feedback was critical for funding local organizations engaged in community issues, including reducing poverty, teen pregnancy, abortion and absentee fathers.

Chavez, 47, is one of two Catholics to serve on the president’s council. The other one is the Rev. Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA. A majority of Catholics voted for Obama, but not without debate about the president’s compatibility with Catholic teachings.

Chavez, who cited his Catholic faith for opposing abortion, said he realizes others on the council and Obama himself don’t agree with him on the issue. But the Catholic faith also calls him to be engaged in “the marketplace.”

“I think it’s important as Catholics to uphold what we believe, but the president told us we don’t expect everyone to agree with everything we say,” he said. “They want a diversity of perspectives along with a mutual respect.”

Known for his work with disadvantaged youth, the poor and immigrants, Chavez said he hopes to contribute a grass-roots perspective to the advisory council set to meet four times a year.

“I know the best solutions to the issues that face our communities are best dealt with at the lowest possible level,” Chavez said. “Mostly churches are at the hub of community life in neighborhoods that are experiencing all these social issues.”

Chavez has worked in community development and nonprofit ministries for 28 years. He contributed to the founding and fundraising for local organizations such as the PeaceCenter and Merced Housing, along with the Austin-based Center for Public Policy Priorities.

He began his work as a chaplain at the Bexar County Detention Center and then as executive director of the defunct Benedictine Resource Center. Eight years ago, he came as an instructor at MACC, a department of the Archdiocese of San Antonio and formerly called the Mexican American Cultural Center. In 2007, he was named its president and chief executive officer.

Among his most notable accomplishments was the 1992 founding of JOVEN, a youth services organization. It started in a remodeled tire shop across the street from St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, just south of downtown. Most days, he picked up teens in South Side neighborhoods and drove them to the shop, where they were matched with mentors, social services and other help.

Mentors came from St. Leo parish and nearby in a program funded by the Texas governor’s office, he said.

“The idea was to work with resources already in the community so we worked with schools and social service agencies,” Chavez said, “but mostly we worked with churches of every denomination.”

Click here to see full list of members of the advisory council.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dom Helder - O Pastor Da Paz

Padre José Freitas Campos of Natal, Brazil has composed the following song in honor of Dom Helder Camara's centenary. Click on the audio controls below to hear it.


1. Entoemos o canto dos pobres.
Elevemos ao céu, mais e mais,
A figura de um homem de Deus.
Quanto exemplo de vida nos traz.

Refrão:

Um nordestino, um profeta audaz,
Dom Helder Camara, o pastor da paz!

2. Fortaleza serviu-lhe de berço
A missão o guiou por demais…
Por favelas, por campos e mangues,
Junto aos pobre; esquece-lo, jamais!

3. Jovem Bispo no Rio de Janeiro
Coordenou feitos eclesiais.
O Congresso Eucarístico e a Cruzada...
Muita ação, Bom-Pastor, foi capaz.

4. No Concílio e também no CELAM,
São registros imemoriais.
Conferência dos Bispos inspirou.
Comunhão, que presença eficaz!

5. Em Olinda e Recife chegando,
Viu a dor e o clamor tão voraz.
Uma voz ecoou no universo:
“Construamos o mundo de iguais”.

6. Vozes mil entoando este huno.
Quanto bem nosso Deus fez e faz.
Há cem anos o Senhor nos doou
Este irmão, um amigo e um pai.

7. Sinfonia dos Mundos unidos,
Vários tons, muitos sons eternais,
Aplaudindo o Pastor dos sofridos,
Preces, dons, expressões cordiais.

Remembering Dom Hélder Câmara

Yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dom Hélder Câmara, the late archbishop of Olinda and Recife in Brazil, and a great friend of the poor among whom he chose to live. When he was elevated to archbishop, he chose not to live in the palace that went with his position but in a small room in a nearby church. I think of this often as I walk past our bishop's luxurious residence -- a home that must be worth at least $1 million* in the local housing market, owned by a diocese that pays its administrative assistants substantially below the prevailing wage rate, when my parish cannot afford cancioneros for its Hispanic congregation, and "...mi pueblo deambula sin comida y sin trabajo..."

But, getting back to Dom Hélder: There are many stories about him, some real, some apocryphal. My favorite, and one that I hope will always inspire my ministry, tells of Dom Hélder walking with his aides and a poor laborer, dirty from a long day at work, approaches him, wanting to shake his hand. His aides discourage this, arguing that he will get dirty too. Dom Hélder replies that he can always wash his hands but that if he refuses to shake hands with the laborer, that man will never be able to recover his lost dignity. Jesus did not see the sweaty bodies and dirty clothes, only sons and daughters of God, and so should we.

Frei Betto, the Brazilian theologian, has written a special column about Dom Hélder in honor of his centenary. It was written in Portuguese; we bring it to you in English. In the column, Betto imagines Dom Hélder writing an e-mail from Heaven to those of us still struggling on Earth.

4/2/2009
Message from Dom Hélder Câmara

From: HelderCamara@heaven.com
To: Friends

Beloved: Had I been among you on February 7th, I would have commemorated 100 years of age. However the good God wished to bring me early to the glory of sharing His beatific vision. Moreover, Heaven is nothing like the idyllic image we make of it on Earth. No angelic harpists or pink clouds, though the music of Bach is heard a lot.

To enter the intimacy of the three divine Persons is to live in a permanent state of passion. Surrounded by so much love, the heart experiences an indescribable happiness.

Incidentally, the other day, Buddha, who is a neighbor of mine, told me this parable that reflects the path of happiness well: At a fair in India, among the remains of fruits and vegetables, a woman was staring at the floor a long time. They saw she was looking for something. One after another they asked her what she was looking for. "A needle." They did not give it much importance. But when she added that it was a gold needle, the number of those helping in the search multiplied.

Suddenly, one of them asked: "Does the lady have any idea on which side of the fair she lost it?" "It wasn't here at the fair", the woman answered. "I lost it in my house." They all became indignant when they heard this. "In the house? And you went looking for it outside?" The woman looked at them and replied: "Yes, just as you look for happiness in external things, even knowing that it is in the inner life."

Heaven is sweet, but that does not prevent us from experiencing indignation. Did Jesus not make hungering and thirsting for justice one of the Beatitudes? When I look out from here on the Catholic Church I confess that I feel, not frustration, but a touch of sadness. Pope Benedict XVI does not transmit joy and hope. He lacks the prophetic nature of John XXIII and the empathy of John Paul II.

Singing priests attract more disciples than those who are dedicated to the poor, to the landless farmers, the street children, the drug addicts. The "show Masses" in the churches are overcrowded, while in the seminaries the teaching of philosophy and theology tends to be superficial.

Prayer life is never stimulated; many seek the priesthood to gain social prestige and sometimes moralism predominates over tolerance, triumphalism wins out over the ecumenical spirit. How long will homosexuals be discriminated against by those who consider themselves diciples of Jesus?

I am pleased, however, to know that the Basic Ecclesial Communities are alive and are preparing to hold their 12th inter-church meeting in Rondônia next July. I thank God to see that CEBI -- the Center for Biblical Studies -- has more than 100 thousand centers throughout Brazil, formed by poor people interested in reading the Bible from a liberation perspective.

I am concerned, however, about the disagreement between the Boff brothers. Both Leonardo and Clodovis are theologians with solid training. I do not believe that Clodovis' accusation that liberation theology has prioritized the poor over Christ is justified. The Gospel shows us that Christ himself identified with the poor, as in the metaphor of salvation in Matthew 25:31-46.

Francis of Assisi, with whom I have enjoyed some good chats, reminds us that without any reference to the poor -- the living sacrament of God -- Christ is in danger of becoming a merely devotional concept legitimizing a clericalism that has nothing evangelical or prophetic about it.

I said to Peter that I dream of a Church where celibacy is optional for priests and women can celebrate Mass. A Church free from the moorings of capitalism, in which the oppressed feel at home, encouraged in the search for justice and peace.

As for the world, I regret that hunger, the eradication of which I fought for so hard, still continues, threatening the lives of 950 million people and causing the death of about 23 thousand people per day, mostly children.

Why so much money spent on ways to mow down lives, such as weapons, and investments that degrade the environment such as pesticides, irresponsible deforestation and transgenic crops? Why so few resources to make food -- the gift of God -- accessible on the tables of all people?

In celebrating my centennial, remember the principles and objectives that have guided my life. Despite slander and persecution, I lived 91 happy years, because I never forgot what my father told me when I informed him of my choice of the priestly life: "Son, priesthood and selfishness cannot go together."

Frei Betto is a writer and adviser to the social movement, co-author with Leonardo Boff of "Mysticism and Spirituality", among other books.

* Actually the bishop's house is currently assessed at $1,644,200.