Saturday, February 28, 2009

Collared: Williamson, Couto and Bourgeois

Warning: This column may shock those who have not seen the traditional side of Rebel Girl.

Fr. Richard Williamson, Fr. Luiz Couto, and Fr. Roy Bourgeois are three Catholic priests who would probably not be found in the same room, but find themselves in the same corner now, as far as the Vatican is concerned.

Fr. Williamson: He has publicly expressed a number of positions with which the Church disagrees -- the denial of the Holocaust (on Swedish TV), the inferiority of women in all spheres except motherhood (on his blog), etc...He was excommunicated by Pope John Paul II for being schismatic and recently had that excommunication lifted by Pope Benedict XVI. In order to keep his clerical faculties, he was ordered to apologize and recant. He managed an "apology" but he is a proud man. He has not, nor do I think he will ever, publicly recant. Moreover, his blog in which he expresses most of his heretical beliefs is still online for public viewing. The Vatican has stated that the "apology" is not enough.

Fr. Williamson, through your ill-chosen words you have forfeited the right to be a representative of the Roman Catholic Church. You should be formally removed as a bishop and suspended a divinis. Then you can become what you already are -- one more Catholic with unconventional, extremist views.

Fr. Couto: He is a Brazilian priest and lawmaker who was suspended a divinis by his archbishop following an interview he gave to a local newspaper in which he expressed a number of positions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. He is opposed to the celibacy requirement -- OK, this is not particularly actionable. Most Catholics and even most priests are with him on that one and, in any case, it's a matter of discipline, not doctrine.

But Fr. Couto also supports the use of condoms for public health reasons. Again, he is not the first priest to support this, but he is also an elected representative of a political party that has made condom use and distribution part of its platform, while continuing to wear the title and the collar of an institution that opposes artificial contraception for any reason. His public positions on homosexual unions and the availability of legal, safe abortions also fly in the face of long and deeply held Church doctrine. They might be acceptable for a Catholic politician; they are not appropriate for someone who wants to continue to call himself a priest.

Fr. Couto has stated that his priesthood is important to him and he is shocked, shocked at the suspension. In fact, the only thing shocking about this suspension is that it did not occur back in 1995 when Fr. Couto was first elected to public office. And I question how important his priesthood really is to him. When I look at his resume on his official Web site, I see his political achievements listed first, followed by his academic positions (he is also a university professor). Buried at the bottom are his pastoral positions -- and most of those are in the social apostolate, not in parishes -- and his ordination date.

Fr. Couto, face the truth: you are a Catholic politician and not a priest at heart. Have the decency to do what Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo did and ask to be laicized. There is no shame in that. Accept your suspension graciously. You cannot serve two masters.

Fr. Bourgeois: This activist priest has been threatened with excommunication for publicly supporting women priests and participating in a women's ordination ceremony while wearing his clerical attire. He has been told to recant, has refused to do so, and so far the sentence has yet to be executed.

Assuming for the sake of argument that Fr. Bourgeois' involvement in the ceremony could be considered schismatic -- and I'm not sure his amount of participation rises to that level -- how can the Vatican justify excommunicating him while reinstating the SSPX bishops?

This being said, I think a suspension a divinis might be appropriate, but only if Fr. Bourgeois had been told in no uncertain terms that public participation in a women's ordination ceremony could result in suspension, i.e. if he was given the opportunity to make an informed choice.

Fr. Bourgeois, it's just like crossing the line at Ft. Benning as part of SOA Watch. You know that when you cross that line you are going to get arrested. If you aren't going to toe the Church's party line as a Roman Catholic priest, eventually you are going to be suspended. Punto final.

All three cases come down to the same question: Do you have the right to enjoy the title and the perks of the Roman Catholic priesthood while very publicly expounding positions that are contrary to the Church's teachings? I work for a private employer and I am reasonably sure that if I were to make a public statement contrary to the views of my employer while identifying myself as an employee of that entity, there would be disciplinary consequences. Why should priests be treated any differently?

Friday, February 27, 2009


The Old Testament reading today, Isaiah 58 ("Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke?" -- NASB) has been a favorite as long as I can remember.

Seeing these words again made me pick up the first Bible I ever received as a gift. It's a Protestant translation but the person who gave it to me back in 1975 pasted a postcard of Rodin's "The Cathedral" (see photo) and added a poem by M. Charles Rebert, a humble high school English teacher from Littlestown, Pennsylvania:

Two hands upstretched -- one yours, one mine --
Touch gently in the air,
And when we touch, I lose all fear
just knowing you are there.
Two hands entwined -- one God's, one mine--
We share a moment there.
His hand and mine become His Church;
our touching is a prayer.

Today, I'm still fascinated by hands. I take lots of photos during the Misas de Sanación and I'm always drawn to the hands of the healing ministers. Sometimes I think that if I take enough photos of Fr. Hoyos' hands, I will capture whatever it is that makes the healing happen. They say the Holy Spirit is at work but I am a "doubting Thomas". I want to SEE...sparks flying, a blinding light emanating from his palms, anything! What is this energy that knocks people to the floor?

Touch itself is healing. My mother has dementia. Now her speech is starting to disappear. When we visit she can no longer converse but she loves for us to sit together and hold hands. She smiles and becomes peaceful. I can't turn back the tide of dementia in my mother but our touch can be a temporary life raft.

There are many beautiful songs about hands. I especially like "One Hand, One Heart" from Leonard Bernstein's "West Side Story". It's a wedding duet but it could just as easily -- and should -- be the duet between a committed Christian and God. As St. Paul reminds us, even death cannot separate us from God's love. (Romans 8:38-39).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Honoring the 70th anniversary of Antonio Machado's death

Last week Paco Ibáñez came to Collioure, France, to help celebrate the 70th anniversary of the death of poet Antonio Machado who died on 22 February 1939 after fleeing into exile with his elderly mother and uncle as Franco closed in on the Republicans. With one foot on Machado's tomb, Paco sang the poet's famous "Proverbios y Cantares" with its famous verse "Hay un español que quiere / vivir y a vivir empieza / entre una España que muere / y otra España que bosteza." This reference to the two Spains -- one that dies, the other that yawns -- is thought to refer to left/right political divisions that led to the civil war.

Atfer Machado's death, the following poem was found in his pocket, evocative, perhaps, of happier times:

Estos días azules y este sol de infancia

déjenme solo con el día, pido permiso para nacer
nacer con la agonía de un cálido olor
cálido olor bucal que provoca rechazo, ya lo sé
rechazo, que no es tal, cada vez que meto un gol

estos días azules y este sol de infancia
me recuerdan la mañana en un parque de Madrid
en que tu dominio del balón, tu elegancia,
junto con el pestazo de tu aliento, sorprendido descubrí

caminando voy desafiando con el fétido aliento
toco el balón cuando toca y cuando no, espero
con la cabeza entre los hombros soñando con besos

deseas con pasión mil mujeres, mil copas
ser aclamado por multitudes exaltadas, mas
con tu aliento, amigo, de estas cosa tendrás pocas

El recuerdo de Machado moviliza a los hijos de los republicanos
Agustí Fancelli
El Pais

Los versos del poeta sonaron en Collioure a los 70 años de su muerte

Paco Ibáñez pedía ayer permiso a Antonio Machado para apoyar su pie sobre la lápida del cementerio de Collioure (sur de Francia) y dar así sustento a la guitarra. Luego se arrancó con "Ya hay un español que quiere / vivir y a vivir empieza...", de Proverbios y cantares. Apenas se le oía, la tramontana soplaba con fuerza y sacaba brillo al cielo. Pero cuando llegó a la estrofa de "Españolito que vienes/ al mundo, te guarde Dios. / Una de las dos Españas / ha de helarte el corazón", la consigna se extendió como reguero de pólvora entre las 300 personas reunidas y fue un canto unánime y entrañable para recordar al poeta muerto hace 70 años y a los ideales republicanos a los que fue fiel hasta el último día.

El cantante cerró su recital con un emotivo '¡Ay, Carmela!'

Ha sido un fin de semana muy activo para la memoria histórica en la zona del Rosellón francés. El sábado por la mañana hubo una marcha desde la alcaldía de Argelès hasta la entrada norte de lo que fue el campo de refugiados -a 2,5 kilómetros- en la que tomaron parte unas 1.500 personas, convocadas por la modesta -350 afiliados- pero muy activa asociación FFRREEE, siglas francesas de Hijos e Hijas de Republicanos Españoles y Niños del Éxodo. Al frente la teniente de alcalde de París, Anne Hidalgo, hija ella misma de refugiados españoles, la marcha ganaba la playa y colocaba un mojón para marcar el acceso más septentrional del campo, abierto a mediados de febrero de 1939. La apertura de fronteras el día 5 de ese mes propició que entraran en el departamento de los Pirineos Orientales más de 350.000 personas, entre civiles y militares, de los cuales se calcula que unos 100.000 pasaron por Argelès. Un drama humanitario de dimensiones colosales.

Josep Umbert, 85 años, lo vivió en directo. Tenía 17 años y trabajaba en la fábrica Hispano-Suiza de Barcelona. Los fascistas tiraban ya desde el Tibidabo cuando a él le dieron orden de cargar maquinaria en el camión y salir hacia Francia. Pasó la frontera a pie, por Espolla, y caminó hasta Argelès, a unos 35 kilómetros al norte. Llegó cuando el campo aún no estaba montado, si campo puede llamarse a una playa peinada por el frío viento y cercada por alambradas, sin barracones ni letrinas. "Los que más suerte tuvieron fueron los paracaidistas, que pudieron hacerse tiendas de fortuna. Los demás nos juntábamos para compartir las mantas. Echábamos a suerte los que dormían en los extremos, que eran los que pasaban más frío". Los gendarmes senegaleses les trataban a patadas. La frase que más repetían era "Allez, allez!". Umbert recordaba toda esta epopeya ante un camión quemado y dos barracones de attrezzo, montados por TV-3 para un reportaje que ha acabado de grabar y que emitirá el próximo mayo.

Pero no todo habían de ser malos tratos. Está por ejemplo la edificante historia de la maestra suiza Elisabeth Eidenbenz, la cual montó en un casón modernista de las afueras de Elne una maternidad para las refugiadas en la que nacieron cerca de 600 niños. La historia, publicada en 2006 por Assumpta Montellà, ha dado pie a un montaje teatral y a una película que se rodará próximamente, dirigida por Manuel Huerga.

El corazón de este intenso final de semana dedicado al recuerdo había de ponerlo Paco Ibáñez en un recital celebrado la noche del sábado en Argelès. Que la memoria republicana está muy viva en la zona volvió a demostrarlo el hecho de que se movilizaran cerca de 1.300 almas, por encima del aforo previsto. Paco, acompañado en algunas canciones por el guitarrista Mario Mas y en algunas otras por su hija Alicia, fue desgranando, en medio de un silencio conmovedor, el repertorio habitual de sus exilios poéticos, de Alberti a Goytisolo, pasando por León Felipe, Góngora, Neruda, García Lorca, Blas de Otero y Gabriel Celaya (canturreado tímidamente por el público cuando llegó al mítico "estamos tocando el fondo"). Ya en los bises le pidieron que cantara A galopar y él dijo que la cantaría, aunque le sonaba un poco a "florero", pero al final cambió de idea y en su lugar colocó un ¡Ay, Carmela! que, esa sí, fue coreada por el auditorio puesto en pie. "Es que este sí es de verdad su himno", razonaba el cantante mientras daba cuenta tras el concierto de un buen plato de cus-cus, montado allí mismo por los infatigables hijos de los republicanos.

Ayer por la mañana, sin afeitar, pero con el espíritu de servicio a la memoria intacto, ahí volvía a estar Paco Ibáñez en el pequeño cementerio de Collioure, junto al alcalde de Soria, Carlos Martínez, y la consejera de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía, Rosa Torres, escuchando poemas recitados, antes de intervenir él. Un equipo de Canal Sur le preguntó si le parecía bien que los restos del poeta, que yacen junto a los de su madre, muerta cuatro días después, permanecieran en Francia. "No sé, pregúntenselo a él", fue su cáustica respuesta.

Trasladar esos restos sería sin duda hacerle un flaco favor a la memoria de Francisco Ortiz, que se alistó el 24 de julio de 1936 en contra del parecer de su padre -"más vale morir de pie, con las armas en la mano", le dijo-, luchó en Brunete y Guadalajara y pasó la frontera por el Caningó, el imponente macizo blanco que señorea el llano. Ortiz pasó por Argelès, más tarde los alemanes le deportaron a Mauthausen, donde fue liberado por los soviéticos casi tres años después y aún encontró fuerzas para unirse a la división del general Leclerc y liberar París en junio de 1944, la primera victoria que podía contar en muchos años de vida militar. Hoy es un anciano bien trajeado que vive en Perpiñán, con la familia de su hijo. Esa memoria nadie está autorizado a arrebatársela. Las movilizaciones para que perdure son numerosas, a uno y otro lado de la frontera y eso le da paz, tras tanta, tanta guerra.

Paco Ibáñez sings "Proverbios y Cantares" by Antonio Machado:

Joan Manuel Serrat sings a song based on Antonio Machado's most famous line "Caminante, no hay camino":

How I learned Spanish – II: Trial and Error

As a veteran ESL teacher, I am frequently asked what it takes to be a good language learner. I’ve thought about it a lot and, for me, it comes down to three things: an “ear”, the ability to perceive and follow patterns and, most important, a willingness to make mistakes.

1. “Ear”: You have to be able to hear subtle distinctions in sounds to pronounce well. Spanish speakers have great difficulty with English vowels which are more nuanced. “Bed” and “bad” sound alike to them and so are pronounced the same. As for me, I struggled mightily with “r” vs. “rr” and initially pronounced “pero” (but) and “perro” (dog) the same way. I was frustrated and when my teacher would correct me, I would drag the “rr” out exaggeratedly, impatient with my inability to produce the sound he wanted. Now, I’m told, I confuse “r” and “j”. My hermana and self-appointed pronunciation coach Vilma says I pronounce “pareja” (couple) as “pajera” (straw loft). I don’t believe her, but -- just in case she’s right -- I’m trying to speak more clearly (repeat after me: “La pareja vive en la pajera”…)

This being said, we have to let go of excruciatingly correct pronunciation at the beginning unless the learner is committing a gigantic linguistic faux pas. “I am folding ze sheet” gets a pass while “I am folding the shit” gets flagged.

Context can help. I remember a norteamericano priest offering up a prayer for what sounded like “vAcaciones” and thinking “I could use a vacation too!”…until he added “sacerdotales”. Oh. The father was praying for “vOcaciones”! Those vowels will get us every time. Another Jesuit friend unintentionally uses inclusive language, talking about a “Dios todopoderosA”. I smile quietly when I hear it.

2. Patterns: It may seem that in English there are 1,000 exceptions to every rule but there is a pattern in every language. This helps, especially for learning verb conjugation. If you can catch the pattern and replicate it, you will fare better than those learners for whom each sentence is a new discrete entity.

Then, just as we get into a comfortable routine, the exceptions come along to trip us up. One of my fondest memories is of an excellent student who, wanting to prove that she had taken my repeated admonitions that “in English the modifier goes BEFORE the noun” to heart, proudly announced: “Today is my off day!” We shared a laugh as I explained the difference between “day off” and “off day”.

3. Mistakes: We make them…again and again and again. If you are not willing to make mistakes, you cannot learn a language. It’s like ice-skating. Beginning skaters lose their balance and fall a lot, but the pros do too. How many times have we watched champion figure skaters attempt a difficult move only to end up sprawled out on the ice? They are champions because they TRY the difficult moves even when the probability of failure is greater AND because they don’t let those falls discourage them from skating.

I know I have made a lot of mistakes while learning Spanish. Mercifully most have been forgotten although I do recall telling a college professor that I had eaten “pizza de hombros” for dinner. He laughed loudly and then told me I had confused “hombro” (shoulder) with “hongo” (mushroom). We teachers laugh – hopefully WITH our students rather than AT them. How can you not laugh when a student tells you she works as a “baby sister” or a Spanish learner earnestly asks “¿Cómo te lamas?” – “How do you lick yourself?” – instead of “¿Cómo te llamas?”?

You can’t let the mistakes stop you from speaking. One of my most frustrating students was a Bolivian professional woman – a legal assistant in her country – who was absolutely phobic about saving face. Her written English was quite good but she would not speak. I asked questions in English and she would answer them correctly…in Spanish. She wasn’t stupid, but she could not learn to speak English because her fear of making mistakes blocked her.

I still make mistakes. “Por” and “para”, “ser” and “estar” still get mixed up when I’m tired. I muddle up subjunctives and reflexives and completely throw in the towel when having to form complex conditional phrases in Spanish. Pero no me doy por vencida. I keep talking and stumbling.

Recently, “Coach Vilma” informed me that I was pronouncing the “h” aloud which should be silent in Spanish. After enduring this fault for almost a year, she exploded in frustration: “You say you work with Padre Hoyos. It’s time for you to start pronouncing his name right!” ¡Que vergüenza! God bless Padrecito, who never said anything about that audible “h”. Gracias, Padre “’oyos” por tu paciencia conmigo y gracias, hermana Vilma, por haber corregido mis errores.

Photo: Olympic figure skating champion Sarah Hughes falls.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How I learned Spanish – I: Paco Ibáñez

After abandoning the universal girlhood dream of ballet, my most frequent answer to the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?” was “an interpreter for the United Nations.” Seeing my fascination with languages, my father made a point of showing me the interpreters’ booths at his workplace, UNESCO, as well as at the United Nations whenever we happened to be in New York. As a child, I imagined myself sitting up there overlooking the General Assembly, my voice making the difference between harmony or discord among nations. The dream died with the realization that my language skills, though superior to my peers’, did not meet the criteria for a United Nations interpreter.

I was completely bilingual French/English before leaving elementary school, and in middle school I began to study Spanish. When I came back to the United States for high school, my chameleon tongue – as the Peruvian columnist Álvaro Vargas Llosa might call it – shed its “vosotros” for “ustedes” and learned to “hacer frases” without a lisp. By the time we got to Advanced Spanish, the class had dwindled to four stalwarts with different language learning goals and our teacher gave us the option of self-initiated independent study. I can’t remember what my colleagues chose but I embraced this opportunity to put my “translating skills” into high gear.

Several years earlier in 1969, my mother – also a student of Spanish – had the good fortune to attend Spanish singer Paco Ibáñez’s landmark concert at the Olympia in Paris. A recording was made of that concert which my mother promptly purchased and I promptly purloined, having fallen in love with Paco’s smoldering good looks, his flamenco guitar style, and the beauty of the Spanish poetry he put to music (his radical commentary between the songs didn’t hurt either!).

Adolescence is a blessed time of fearlessness so, blithely ignoring Paco’s warning that poets like García Lorca are “intraducible”, I told my teacher I would transcribe the poems on the album (the liner notes had long become separated from the disc) and translate them into English, aiming whenever possible for lyrics that would fit into Paco’s marvelous melodies. My teacher, after a stunned silence, respectfully suggested that I limit my ambition to the first of the two records in the set.

And so I spent a semester with Paco and a dictionary – writing down what I thought I heard, trying to make sense of it, and rendering it into English. To this day I can still sing many of the songs by heart like Miguel Hernández’s lovely paean to agricultural workers’ rights “Andaluces de Jaén" and can recognize other classics such as Jorge Manrique’s “Coplas por la muerte de su padre”.

The project was not a complete fiasco though my poor teacher did have to borrow the record to figure out what I was talking about in some cases. Later, when I had access to Vanderbilt University’s more ample library, I looked up a lot of those poems and used Paco’s anthology as a jumping off point for further exploration into Spanish poetry. I found out who the Arcipreste de Hita was, read some of his Libro de Buen Amor, and discovered that my translation of that fragment – “Lo que puede el dinero” – and some of the other works compared favorably with published translations.

Paco later introduced me to the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda through a recording he made with Cuarteto Cedrón. I heard lines like “Inclinado en las tardes tiro mis tristes redes a tus ojos océanicos…” and those melodious words inspired me to read Neruda’s Veinte poemas de amor y una canción desesperada.

They say knowledge is more easily absorbed when put to music and I can certainly thank Paco’s dedication to promoting the works of the great Spanish poets through his songs for the love and respect I gained for that language and culture.

Finally, to prove that almost 40 years later Paco still has that fast and furious guitar style that drew me in the first place, here he is performing his signature song “A Galopar” by the poet Rafael Alberti in front of the U.S. embassy in Madrid at a protest rally on the anniversary of the 2003 death of Spanish TV cameraman José Couso who was killed when U.S. army tanks fired on a Baghdad hotel where he was staying. It’s not technically the best video but it shows the man’s fire for justice.

Gracias hermano compañero Paco!

When death is too expensive, choose life

In today's New York Times comes the interesting news that the state fiscal crises are helping to accomplish what the Catholic Church has long sought for ethical reasons: an end to the death penalty. Even die-hard Catholic death penalty proponents like New Mexico's governor Bill Richardson, while unpersuaded by moral arguments, are yielding to economic pressure. Richardson has said he may sign a bill repealing capital punishment that passed the House last week and is pending in a Senate committee.

Other Catholic lawmakers such as Maryland's governor Martin O'Malley are taking advantage of the economic argument to sell a policy position that they already support on religious grounds. Lawmakers in Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and New Hampshire have also introduced legislation seeking to repeal the death penalty.

An Urban Institute study on the cost of the death penalty in Maryland found that non-capital homicide cases cost about $1,103,000 to prosecute while successful death penalty cases cost $3,017,000 -- these figures include trial, penalty phase, state appeal, federal appeal, and cost of detention.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Church risks becoming a cult: An interview with Hans Küng

The following interview with noted theologian Hans Küng was published today (2/24/09) in French in Le Monde. We bring it to you in English -- translation by Rebel Girl.

A long silhouette with glabrous face and unruly hair, Hans Küng, considered to be the greatest living rebel Catholic theologian, received us at his home in Tübingen, Germany, in his elegant property with walls covered with books. His own -- numerous and translated into all languages -- have a place of honor in his personal office. Here, he comes back to the storm triggered by the hand Pope Benedict XVI stretched out to Catholic fundamentalists.

How do you analyze the decision of Benedict XVI to lift the excommunication of the four bishops from the fundamentalist branch of Archbishop Lefebvre, one of whom, Richard Williamson, is an alleged Holocaust denier?

I was not surprised. Back in 1977, in an interview with an Italian newspaper, Archbishop Lefebvre stated that "some cardinals support (his) branch" and that "the new Cardinal Ratzinger has promised to intercede with the Pope to find a solution for (them)." This shows that this case is neither new nor a surprise. Benedict XVI has always talked a lot with these people. Today, he has lifted their excommunication, because he believes the time has come. He thought he could find a formula to reintegrate the schismatics, who, while maintaining their beliefs, could give the impression that they are in agreement with Vatican II. He was very wrong.

How do you explain why the pope did not measure the uproar that his decision would create, even beyond the negationist words of Richard Williamson?

The lifting of the excommunications was not a communication or tactical failure, but it was a mistake by the Vatican government. Even if the Pope did not know about the negationist statements of Bishop Williamson and even if he is not anti-Semitic himself, everyone knows that the four bishops in question are anti-Semitic. In this case, the fundamental problem is the opposition to Vatican II, and notably the refusal to have a new relationship with Judaism. A German pope should have considered this to be a central point and shown no ambiguity about the Holocaust. He failed to understand the danger. Unlike Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has reacted strongly.

Benedict XVI has always lived in a church. He has traveled very little. He has remained locked in the Vatican - which is like the Kremlin of the past - where he is protected from criticism. So he was not able to realize the impact of such a decision in the world. Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone, who could been a counterforce, was his subordinate at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but he is a doctrinal man, absolutely submitted to Benedict XVI. We are dealing with a problem of structure. There is no democratic element in this system, no correction. The pope was elected by conservatives, and now he appoints conservatives.

To what extent can we say that the pope is still faithful to the teachings of Vatican II?

He is faithful to the council, in his own way. He still insists, as John Paul II did, on the continuity with "tradition". For him, this tradition goes back to the Hellenistic and medieval period. He especially doesn’t want to admit that Vatican II caused a breakthrough, for example, in the recognition of religious liberty, which had been opposed by all the popes before the Council.

The basic concept of Benedict XVI is that one must welcome the Council, but that it should be interpreted, perhaps not in the manner of Lefebvre, but always with respect for tradition and restrictively. For example, he has always been critical of the liturgy of Vatican II.

In essence, Benedict XVI has an ambiguous position on the texts of the council, because he is not comfortable with modernity and reform. Whereas Vatican II represented the paradigm of integration of reform and modernity in the Catholic Church. Archbishop Lefebvre has never accepted it, neither have his friends in the Curia. On this point Benedict XVI has a certain sympathy for Archbishop Lefebvre.

Furthermore, I find it outrageous that on the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of the Council by Pope John XXIII (January 1959), the pope has not praised his predecessor, but has chosen to lift the excommunication of persons opposed to this Council.

What kind of Church is Pope Benedict XVI bequeathing to his successors?

I think he supports the idea of the "little flock". It's somewhat in line with the fundamentalists, who believe that even if the Church is losing many of its faithful, there will in the end be an elitist Church, composed of "real" Catholics. It is an illusion to think that we can continue like that, without priests, without vocations. This development is clearly a movement of restoration. That is manifested in the liturgy, but also by acts or gestures, for example, when he tells the Protestants that the Catholic Church is the only true Church.

Is the Catholic Church in danger?

The Church is in danger of becoming a cult. Many Catholics expect nothing from this pope anymore. And it's very painful.

You once wrote: "How could such a talented, friendly and open theoretician as Joseph Ratzinger change at this point and become the Grand Inquisitor of Rome?" Well then, how?

I think the shock of the protest movements of 1968 resurrected his past. Ratzinger was a conservative. During the council, he opened up, even though he was already skeptical. In ‘68, he returned to very conservative positions, ones he has kept up to today.

Can the current Pope still correct this course?

When he received me in 2005, he made a courageous gesture and I really thought he would find the path to reform, even if slowly. But in four years, he has proven otherwise. Today, I wonder if he is able to do anything courageous. Already, he would have to recognize that the Catholic Church is undergoing a deep crisis. Then, he could very easily make a gesture towards the divorced and say that under certain conditions they can be admitted to communion. He could correct the encyclical Humanae Vitae (which condemned all forms of contraception in 1968) by saying that in some cases the pill is possible. He could correct his theology, which dates from the Council of Nicaea (in 325). He could say tomorrow: "I abolish the celibacy requirement for priests." He is much more powerful than the president of the United States! He does not have to report to a Supreme Court! He could also convene a new council.

A Vatican III?

That might help. Such a meeting could address the questions that Vatican II did not answer, such as the celibacy of priests or birth control. There should also be a new method of electing bishops, one in which the people would have more say. The current crisis has sparked a resistance movement. Many faithful refuse to return to the old system. Even bishops were forced to criticize the policy of the Vatican. The hierarchy cannot ignore this.

Your rehabilitation could be part of these strong gestures?

In any case, it would be easier than the reinstatement of schismatics! But I do not believe it will happen, because Benedict XVI feels closer to the fundamentalists than to people like me who have worked and accepted the council.

Interview by Nicolas Bourcier and Stéphanie Le Bars

Welcoming the stranger among us?

Welcoming the stranger among us is the title of a pastoral document on immigrants issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2000. I’m using it ironically here, following an unpleasant e-mail exchange yesterday that left me feeling quite UNwelcome.

The process began with a routine inquiry that came in to the Renovación Web site: María Lis from Paraguay wanted to know about Spanish-speaking charismatic prayer groups or priests in a certain mid-size Midwestern city.

We try to answer these questions when we can. I start by looking for a Web site for the Spanish charismatic renewal in the geographical area and, failing that, for the diocesan Web site. If I can’t find information about Spanish charismatic groups, I at least try to provide the inquirer with a list of parishes that have Spanish Mass. This can usually be found on the diocesan Web sites, although sometimes it’s buried pretty deep.

In the case of this particular archdiocese, the most I could find was the name and e-mail address for the priest who was designated coordinator for Hispanic ministry. So I did what any well-trained librarian does: I reached out to this priest – the person who would “need to know” the factual information I was seeking. I expected either a) no response at all (this is depressingly common) or, b) a list of parishes that offer Mass in Spanish. I was floored when I got this curt reply: “I would like to know who the sister is and where she is from before releasing the information.” I had not initially provided any identifying information about the person making the request but I responded with María Lis’ complete e-mail message. This was the response from the good father: “I am a little cautious because we have had some problems with uninvited guests come to confuse the people here in the Archdiocese. Please pass on my e-mail to her and I will be happy to talk with her directly.”

Excuse me, Father, but this is America in the 21st century, not the early Christian church dodging Roman soldiers and hiding out in the catacombs. Our Hispanic ministry should be publicly available and well publicized – not squirreled away as if it were some private “buried treasure”. If we live and share our faith fully, openly, and lovingly, that is the best defense against the evangélicos who would “confuse” people and poach from our flock. I can guarantee you that if I had written to the Adventistas, the Mormones, or the Testigos, I would have received an immediate welcoming response and my biggest problem would have been getting them to REMOVE me from their e-mail lists!

Word to Fr. Allan Deck, SJ (preaching to choir, but I know the man – he listens and gets things done) and to mis queridos obispos de la Iglesia Católica en Estados Unidos: Here are two things you can do right now to be more welcoming to us:

1. Understand how Spanish-only speakers navigate the “Anglo” Web: We look for “en español” or “Spanish” and we cliq there. Even my diocese with its huge Hispanic population doesn’t get it when it comes to Web design. Put that “en español” button on the home page and let it lead the viewer to an area where they can get the information they need in the language they speak, as translated by a real human being not a computer (this aside is necessary because I just clicked on my diocese’s “en español” button and was informed of the death of a certain “Obispo Thomas J Galés” – that would be Monsignor Thomas Welsh). English may be the language for daily business, but español is the language of my soul. Es el idioma que uso para comunicar con Papa Dios, mi Madre Santísima, y la Santa Iglesia Católica.

Now some people are going to protest that this goes against the “universality” of the Church. “Why should we cater to Spanish speakers in particular?,” they ask. Because Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. Catholic Church. Because they are already the majority in some areas and well on their way to becoming so in others. Because there is something we can learn from Coca Cola, McDonalds, and the major political parties: when you target the Hispanic market and speak to us in our language, we buy. So this is one thing the Catholic Church can do to beat the evangélico competition.

2. Talk to the person you have designated to do Hispanic outreach for your diocese. What are they putting out there? Are they responding to polite, factual requests in a friendly or alienating manner? Are they welcoming the stranger or sending them into the arms of the evangélicos with their negative attitudes?

If you, mis queridos obispos, show that you care about Hispanic ministry, the priests under you will follow – if not out of personal conviction, out of mere obedience. And when the Catholic Church genuinely welcomes, listens, and responds to the Spanish-speaking faithful, they will not be tempted to stray.

Photo: What a welcoming church looks like -- Most Precious Blood Catholic Church in Oviedo, FL

Monday, February 23, 2009

“Oración al Cristo del Calvario”: Pitfalls and Perils of Internet research

I just started out in a simple attempt to corroborate Chilean poet and 1945 Nobel laureate in literature Gabriela Mistral’s authorship of this song that the Jesuit singer/songwriter Crístobal Fones performs (see video below). I never found the exact text or anything by that title in any of the numerous academic sites devoted to Ms. Mistral’s poetry. But, more disturbing, I found a number of sites that attributed the prayer poem not to Ms. Mistral, but to a Cuban poet named Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda – not on her official site, but any number of informal poetry anthology sites such as Vivir Poesia, Poemas de and Poemas.

I’m a librarian and so for me this is a cautionary tale. If it is this difficult for me, a professional information specialist, how much more difficult must it be for a student trying to sort fact from fiction online. Es importante no fijarnos en las apariencias.

After considerable digging -- and considering the fact that Avellaneda (1814-1873) lived before Mistral (1889-1957) and there is no way a great intellectual like Mistral would have needed to plagiarize another woman's work -- I finally came to the conclusion that the prayer is a derivative work of unknown authorship based on Ms. Mistral’s “Nocturno del Descendimiento”, which is a subsection of “Muerte de Mi Madre” in her Tala collection. The poem is dedicated to the Argentinian writer Victoria Ocampo

Both the original poem and its derivative prayer/lyrics are worth reading and reflecting upon. Sometimes we dwell too much in our petty problems and so to truly focus our attention on the crucified Christ and how much He suffered can put our personal suffering into perspective. The Franciscans pair this prayer with Diego Velázquez's painting of the Crucifixion and so we have too.

Nocturno del Descendimiento
Author: Gabriela Mistral

A Victoria Ocampo.

Cristo del campo, "Cristo de Calvario"
vine a rogarte por mi carne enferma;
pero al verte mis ojos van y vienen
de tu cuerpo a mi cuerpo con vergüenza.
Mi sangre aún es agua de regato;
la tuya se paró como agua en presa.
Yo tengo arrimo en hombro que me vale,
a ti los cuatro clavos ya te sueltan,
y el encuentro se vuelve un recogerte
la sangre como lengua que contesta,
pasar mis manos por mi pecho enjuto,
coger tus pies en peces que gotean.

Ahora ya no me acuerdo de nada,
de viaje, de fatiga, de dolencia.
El ímpetu del ruego que traía
se me sume en la boca pedigüeña,
de hallarme en este pobre anochecer
con tu bulto vencido en una cuesta
que cae y cae y cae sin parar
en un trance que nadie me dijera.
Desde tu vertical cae tu carne
en cáscara de fruta que golpean:
el pecho cae y caen las rodillas
y en cogollo abatido, la cabeza.

Acaba de llegar, Cristo, a mis brazos,
peso divino, dolor que me entregan,
ya que estoy sola en esta luz sesgada
y lo que veo no hay otro que vea
y lo que pasa tal vez cada noche
no hay nadie que lo atine o que lo sepa,
y esta caída, los que son tus hijos,
como no te la ven no la sujetan,
y tu culpa de sangre no reciben,
¡de ser el cerro soledad entera
y de ser la luz poca y tan sesgada
en un cerro sin nombre de la Tierra!

Oración al Cristo del Calvario
Author unknown

En esta tarde, Cristo del Calvario,
vine a rogarte por mi carne enferma;
pero, al verte, mis ojos van y vienen
de tu cuerpo a mi cuerpo con vergüenza.

¿Cómo quejarme de mis pies cansados,
cuando veo los tuyos destrozados?
¿Cómo mostrarte mis manos vacías,
cuando las tuyas están llenas de heridas?

¿Cómo explicarte a ti mi soledad,
cuando en la cruz alzado y solo estás?
¿Cómo explicarte que no tengo amor,
cuando tienes rasgado el corazón?

Ahora ya no me acuerdo de nada,
huyeron de mí todas mis dolencias.
El ímpetu del ruego que traía
se me ahoga en la boca pedigüeña.

Y sólo pido no pedirte nada,
estar aquí, junto a tu imagen muerta,
ir aprendiendo que el dolor es sólo
la llave santa de tu santa puerta.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Santo Toribio Romo: El Santo Pollero

This Wednesday, February 25th, is Ash Wednesday but almost as important for Catholic indocumentados, it is the feast day of their patron saint Toribio Romo González-- the "santo pollero" whose intercessions help them cross the frontera safely and shield them from the watchful eyes of the Border Patrol.

Saint Toribio Romo González was a Mexican martyr who died in the Cristero War. He was born April 16, 1900, in Santa Ana de Guadalupe, Mexico. In 1912 he entered the Auxiliary Seminary in San Juan de los Lagos. In 1922 he was ordained as a priest. He was one of the youngest priests ever ordained but he underwent severe trials, however, as he was ordered by the government when the religious persecutions began in 1927 to confine himself to his residence and was not allowed to pray the Rosary in public or to say Mass.

In 1927 he was transferred to Tequila for his safety. He set up residence in a factory, and his sister , María, and brother, Román, (also a priest) came to live with him. At 4:00 a.m. on February 25th, 2008, he had just finished a monumental job of setting up the parish registry alone, having sent his brother away for safety two days earlier, and decided to sleep a little. An hour later the government troops arrived and broke into the bedroom where Fr. Toribio was sleeping. One soldier shouted: “Here is the priest, kill him!” He said, “Here I am, but do not kill me.”

One soldier fired, and Fr. Toribio rose from his bed and took a few steps until a second bullet caused him to fall into the arms of his sister, who cried in a loud voice: “Courage, Father Toribio...merciful Christ, receive him! Long live Christ the King!” He was canonized in May of 2000 by Pope John Paul II. His official shrine is in Santa Ana de Guadalupe.

Nobody knows quite when he became the favorite saint of immigrants but the consensus seems to be that it started in the 1970s when more and more border crossers attributed miracles to Saint Toribio and his fame spread. Alfredo Corchado wrote a detailed article about this in 2006 in the Dallas Morning News, "The migrant's saint:Toribio Romo is a favorite of Mexicans crossing the border."

Renée de la Torre, an anthropologist at CIESAS Occidente also offers some interesting insights into this saint's role in popular Hispanic religiosity in her article "La religiosidad peregrina de los jaliscienses: vírgenes viajeras, apariciones en los no lugares y santos polleros":

...Un caso paradójico sobre el impacto migratorio en los lugares de origen ha sido el de Santo Toribio Romo, quien fue canonizado por la institución católica, reconocido como mártir de la guerra cristera, pero que ha sido resemantizado por los devotos como un santo “pollero”, que se aparece en el transcurso del paso a los Estados Unidos, y que intercede milagrosamente para que los migrantes lleguen ilesos hasta el otro lado. El santuario de San Toribio, donde reposan sus reliquias, está situado en Santa Ana de Guadalupe, un pequeño poblado de Jalostotitlán, Jalisco, que a principios del Siglo XX fue cuna de combatientes cristeros y sacerdotes que murieron en martirio durante la guerra cristera (1926-1929), pero que actualmente ha sufrido fuertes transformaciones socioculturales debido a los intensos flujos migratorios hacia los Estados Unidos (López Cortés 1999).

Santo Toribio Romo ha sido apropiado popularmente como un santo que intercede por los migrantes, logrando que su santuario sea actualmente uno de los lugares más visitados, principalmente por los mexicanos que viven en Estados Unidos.(6) Actualmente, las estampitas e imágenes de Santo Toribio se venden y se encuentran por donde quiera, y esta veloz propagación de su culto en gran parte se debe a que los migrantes lo han hecho suyo, mediante la generación y transmisión del mito de sus apariciones milagrosas. Cuentan que Santo Toribio intercede para ayudar a los mexicanos a cruzar exitosamente la frontera, les ayuda a conseguir trabajo en Estados Unidos, les brinda protección en su residencia en los Estados Unidos, e incluso hay quienes dicen que, por la intersección del Santo, han podido conseguir la visa, para pasar legalmente a los Estados Unidos (Guzmán 2002, y de la Torre y Guzmán 2005).

La toribiomanía se ha reproducido en miles de estampitas que se venden en los mercados para ofrecer protección a los migrantes y a los enfermos. Hoy en día, su imagen comparte espacio en los mercados y en los altares domésticos con la Virgen de Guadalupe, la de Zapopan y la de San Juan de los Lagos. También, como santo de los migrantes, compite con santos seculares como Juan Soldado (a quien, igual que santo Toribio, se le pide protección para evitar ser detenido por la Patrulla Fronteriza, protección de los asaltos al cruzar la frontera o para conseguir trabajo “del otro lado”). Santo Toribio también compite en los mercados populares con la Santa Muerte (patrona de presos y prostitutas), y con Malverde (patrón de narcotraficantes). Toribio se ha convertido en uno de los santos más buscados, porque sus seguidores han oído y creen que ayuda a sanar a los enfermos, a pasar exitosamente la frontera, y que protege a los chóferes en las carreteras, e incluso que es patrón del fútbol, tanto de los aficionados a las Chivas como de la Selección Nacional.(7)

La imagen de Santo Toribio se ve por todas partes: en forma de disco colgando de los espejos de camiones, taxis y autobuses; en forma de estampita en las carteras de los emigrantes; como calcomanía que anuncia que ese “es un hogar católico” y que no acepta propaganda protestante en las ventanas de las casas; como medalla, colgando de los cuellos de sus feligreses; y en forma de estatuilla colocada en altares domésticos en casas y negocios que pululan en distintos poblados, no sólo de Jalisco. Santo Toribio es un símbolo ambivalente, con diferentes sentidos para los pobladores de la región “alteña”, los peregrinos que visitan su santuario, y para los migrantes a Estados Unidos.

El caso de Santo Toribio expresa algunas tendencias de las nuevas formas de la religiosidad: la movilidad, la reinvención de los mitos, la comercialización como proceso de autentificación de lo sagrado -que cada vez genera su propia analogía con el fenómeno de las reliquias- y la apropiación popular que rescribe la hagiografía de los santos y que los apropia funcionalmente a sus problemas cotidianos...

Saint Toribio has also inspired many corridos (ballads) and we'd like to share a couple of them here. The first is "Santo Toribio Romo" by Originales de San Juan, which focuses in particular on his role as protector of migrants:

The second, "El Corrido del Padre Toribio" by Los Cristeros de Arandas Jalisco is longer and tells the story of his life:

Finally, a prayer to Santo Toribio:

Suplica del Emigrante

Te ruego que intercedas ante Jesús
hijo de Dios hoy que tengo
que partir a tierras extrañas
para trabajar
Te pido que guies mis pasos
ilumines mis senderos y acompañes a
mis familiares mientras
estoy ausente. Amen.

I pray for your intercession with Christ
the Son of God today
as I must leave for foreign lands
to work
I ask you to guide my steps
light my way and accompany
my loved ones while
I am away. Amen

Saint Toribio Romo, pray for us.