Friday, March 6, 2009

March 8: International Women's Day

Living in the United States of America where women are represented at all levels of society, well protected by laws, and where discrimination, though still very much present, is not as readily apparent, it is important for us to sit back and take stock of the real situation of women in the world.

I found the following statistics from a commercial Web site about International Women's Day sobering:

  • Women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income
  • Women in developing countries on average carry 20 litres of water per day over 6 km
  • Of 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women
  • 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women
  • Women own around only 1% of the world's land
  • Women are 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults who have no access to basic education
  • Although women make up 51 percent of the world’s population, they hold only 16 percent of parliamentary and congressional seats worldwide.
  • Only 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or whom the news is about) are female

However, as bad as the economic violence against women is, it is not the theme of this year's International Women's Day. Instead, the United Nations is calling us to focus on physical violence and abuse of women. Their 2009 International Women's Day site offers a wealth of resources and fact sheets to educate about this problem. It is estimated that one in every three women will be the victim of violence from a person she knows at some point in her lifetime.

If you are a person living in the United States who is in a situation of domestic violence, you can get immediate help by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Si usted vive en Estados Unidos y estás una víctima de la violencia doméstica, puedes conseguir ayuda llamando a la Línea Nacional sobre la Violencia Doméstica al 1-800-799-7233. Si estás indocumentada, no tengas miedo de denunciar el abuso. Según el Violence Against Women Act, no te pueden pedir si estás en el país legalmente ó no. Además si el esposo abusador estaba un ciudadano americano o tenía residencia, tu puedes pedir una visa para tí y para tus hijos. Hable con un abogado.

Yes, this is for Catholic women too -- para las mujeres católicas también. I remember almost twenty years ago, going to Mass, and a Cuban priest whom we had always thought to be a bit conservative stood up and told us that women do not have to stay with men who abuse them. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop and then this wave of relief among immigrant women who had always thought that the Church expected them to stay with their husband no matter what.

From the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops "When I Call for Help: A Pastoral Response to Domestic Violence Against Women" (2002):

As pastors of the Catholic Church in the United States, we state as clearly and strongly as we can that violence against women, inside or outside the home, is never justified. Violence in any form"—physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal"—is sinful; often, it is a crime as well. We have called for a moral revolution to replace a culture of violence. We acknowledge that violence has many forms, many causes, and many victims—men as well as women....

...We emphasize that no person is expected to stay in an abusive marriage. Some abused women believe that church teaching on the permanence of marriage requires them to stay in an abusive relationship. They may hesitate to seek a separation or divorce. They may fear that they cannot re-marry in the Church. Violence and abuse, not divorce, break up a marriage. We encourage abused persons who have divorced to investigate the possibility of seeking an annulment. An annulment, which determines that the marriage bond is not valid, can frequently open the door to healing.

De la Conferencia Espicopal de Estados Unidos:

Como pastores de la Iglesia Católica en Estados Unidos, declaramos con la mayor claridad y firmeza posible que la violencia contra las mujeres, dentro o fuera del hogar, nunca está justificada. La violencia en cualquier forma — física, sexual, psicológica o verbal — es pecado; a menudo, también es un crimen. Hemos llamado a una revolución moral que reemplace una cultura de violencia. Reconocemos que la violencia tiene muchas formas, muchas causas y muchas víctimas, tanto hombres como mujeres.

...enfatizamos que no se debe esperar que ninguna persona se quede en un matrimonio abusivo. Algunas mujeres maltratadas creen que la enseñanza de la Iglesia sobre la permanencia del matrimonio les exige quedarse en una relación abusiva. Pueden dudar en buscar una separación o divorcio. Pueden temer que no puedan volver a casarse en la Iglesia. La violencia y el abuso, no el divorcio, rompen un matrimonio. Exhortamos a las personas maltratadas que se han divorciado a investigar la posibilidad de buscar una anulación. Una anulación, que determina que el vínculo matrimonial no es válido, puede frecuentemente abrir las puertas a la curación.

Mejor andar sola que mal acompañada, hermanas!

Groups object to immigration detention in Va. town

Associated Press
March 6, 2009 - 12:49pm

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Nearly 60 years after young black students took historic steps toward desegregation by walking out of their Farmville school to protest its deplorable conditions, the small town is once again at the center of a social movement.

On Saturday, groups from across Virginia plan to protest a detention center being built there to hold illegal immigrants until they can be deported. The say the center and others like it across the U.S. are an extension of failed immigration policy. Some liken for-profit detention centers to modern-day slavery.

Ricardo Juarez, leader of the Washington-based immigrant advocacy group Mexicanos Sin Fronteras (Mexicans Without Borders), said it is fitting to call for justice for immigrants not far from where Moton High School students walked out in 1951. Their protest sparked a lawsuit that joined with others and led to the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling that struck down school segregation.

"Today we are living here, we are working here. We have many positive contributions to the social life, so at some point the immigrants' struggle is part of the entire civil rights struggle," Juarez said.

Farmville signed a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in September to house illegal immigrants. The town subcontracted with private investors, Immigration Centers of America-Farmville, who are putting up the $21 million to build the center. ICA will get about $60 per day per detainee from the federal government, while the town will keep $2 each.

Plans call for a 1,040-bed facility that could be expanded to house about 2,500 detainees.

The project's principal investors did not return several messages seeking comment.

Town Manager Gerald Spates said Farmville sought the contract because it would bring jobs and tax revenue, plus it would allow a central location for immigrants now scattered throughout the region in jails. The immigrants are detained even though many have committed no offense other than being in the U.S. illegally.

"These illegal immigrants that were picked up are being put in prisons and they've committed no crime," Spates said. "We thought it would be a good idea to build a facility that was like dormitory-style housing where it wasn't a prison setting and these people were treated humanely."

The facility was expected to be up and running by the end of June, but the deepening recession hindered the financing, Spates said. The investors now have secured the funding, and the center likely will open in September.

Opponents believe it's not too late to stop it.

ICE will not commit to housing detainees there until the facility is finished, and construction has yet to progress very far.

Opponents also hope the change in administrations may work in their favor.

Under former President Bush, the average daily total of ICE detainees in custody grew from 21,000 in 2005 to more than 31,000 in 2008. President Obama has promised a shift away from workplace raids and toward more comprehensive immigration reform.

"The prospect of actually shutting down the building of the prison certainly has some promise to it at this moment," said Les Schmidt, a Catholic priest from Big Stone Gap who has worked to block the center.

Like some other churches, Catholic bishops oppose those for-profit detention centers. Schmidt likened making money off detaining people to slavery.

"In no way do we want to go down that slippery slope where we're even appearing to be buying and selling people, especially to make a profit off them," he said.

But Spates said he sees the project as a win-win for the town of about 7,000. It will create about 200 jobs where the per capital income is $13,552, and it will do it with no financial obligation or risk to the town.

"We're not involved in the political part," he said. "That's up to the federal government. We're looking at it from a standpoint of humanitarian efforts plus the tax base and jobs."

If they can't pull the plug on the detention center, opponents at least want to send the message to Farmville officials, business owners and detention center officials that they will keep close tabs on them.

"We're going to reach out and establish contact with detainees and we're going to be here watching what happens on the inside," said Jeff Winder, an organizer with The People United, a social justice networking group. "We're committed to this."

¡Feliz cumpleaños, Gabriel García Márquez!

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

"El secreto de una buena vejez no es otra cosa que un pacto honrado con la soledad."

Today is the 82nd birthday of Colombia's greatest author and Nobel prize winner Gabriel García Márquez. The man, who survived a bout of lymphatic cancer in 1999 (that resulted in one of the great Internet literary hoaxes, the infamous and still widely circulated "Carta de Despedida" or "La Marioneta" poem which Márquez most assuredly DID NOT write), is still with us and, according to The Guardian, is working on another novel -- a love story! According to his friend and fellow writer Plinio Apuleyo Mendoza, the author of Cien Años de Soledad, Love in the Time of Cholera, and other great works, is struggling to come up with a version that satisfies him. "He has four versions of it," Apuleyo says. "He told me that he was now trying to get the best from each of them."

Entonces esperamos que Dios le concede a nuestro hermano colombiano muchos años más para que puede terminar su nueva obra, por que el mundo necesita hablar más del amor y menos de la guerra y de la violencia.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Australian archbishop takes in the homeless

As much as I like to report when Catholic politicians do the right thing, it gives me even greater joy when I can report on members of the Catholic Church hierarchy who are "walking the walk" instead of just "talking the talk". If all of our bishops were like Archbishop Barry Hickey of Perth, Australia, we might not have so many disaffected Catholics because they would see their leaders living the faith they profess.

Father’s house a haven for the homeless
By Dawn Gibson
The West Australian
28th February, 2009

For Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey, the plight of Perth’s homeless is literally on his doorstep.

Every evening, a constant stream of people who have nowhere else to go turn up at his modest home in the heart of the city, just across the road from St Mary’s Cathedral, in search of a place to kip.

The Eucharist urges us to look beyond our own spiritual nourishment to the plight of people who are in need. Christians, strengthened by the Eucharist, need to be in the front line in serving the poor, the homeless, the addicts, the persecuted and the rejected people of the world...They are not simply to be the objects of charity but are to be offered the joys of knowing Christ and finding him in our Christian communities where no one will be hungry or rejected. This must be our response to Christ's call that all be one. -- Archbishop B. J. Hickey

The man they call “Father” usually gives them a sandwich or a few dollars before they bed down at the back of his house, safe in the knowledge it is one of few places where police cannot move them on.

Two young men were the first arrivals on the night The West Australian visited. Gavin, a man in his 20s with a solvent sniffing habit, said he had been living on the streets since he was 16. “I had a nice girlfriend then,” he said. “My kids are in welfare and I have got to get them out. I need to go to detox.”

Anna, who arrived with her boyfriend about an hour later, was even more desperate. She is pregnant with her fifth child, a baby likely to be taken from her at birth. She raised her youngest daughter on the streets until child welfare authorities intervened and her other children were scattered around the State. Her eldest son is in prison.

She said she was on the priority list for public housing but faced a wait of about a year.

Archbishop Hickey said Anna and Gavin were typical of his nocturnal visitors, most of whom were Aboriginal. While he tried to help them in practical ways, he felt frustrated that his efforts could make no difference to their long-term rehabilitation.

While he acknowledged there was no quick fix to the problem, there was an urgent need for emergency short-term accommodation and after-hours support services in the city. He also believed there should be a rehabilitation centre specifically for indigenous people and a “mothercraft” or parenting service.

“Housing is not the top priority for the chronically homeless,” he said. “For people who are addicts, who have mental health problems, whose lives are a mess, there is a need for a lot more help before they can manage a house.”

And from the Perth diocesan newspaper, The Record, 2/11/2009:

Hickey launches resource for homeless

By Anthony Barich

His house in Victoria Square in Perth’s central business district, across the road from St Mary’s Cathedral, is just next to the central operational hub of the Catholic Church locally.

But around 9pm, it changes. Many of the homeless – mostly Aboriginal – who have hung around sheltering in various spots around the city during the day, gather at the Archbishop’s front patio for somewhere to sleep.

They call him “Father Hickey”. They love him. But he knows he can’t do much except be their friend and give them a private property to sleep on.

“I’m not a social welfare agency, but they’ve got nowhere else to go,” he says.

Over the many years that the Archbishop has resided there, it has become a home for many - likely hundreds - of displaced people. Some – like one young woman last week - arrive with their blankets in tow and announce ‘I’m staying here tonight’.

Some sleep on his front porch, some he takes around to the secure back area, but they need to clear out in the morning as Catholic Church employees come and park their cars there.

If it were an open space, the police would most likely move them on. But as it is private property, it is a haven from officialdom and the elements.

And the Archbishop often finds himself interceding on their behalf.

Sometimes they cause a ruckus, as they are usually high on “the sniff” (glue), as the Archbishop calls it, drugs, or their senses have been deadened by alcohol. These elements keep them homeless, in some cases mentally disadvantaged, which prevents them from finding work and accommodation to escape their plight.

This is what keeps the Archbishop awake at night. He doesn’t mind. He sees Christ in them and does what he can. He’s completed a Masters in Social Work from the University of WA, and many times he has attempted to negotiate with local councils and the State government to do more for their accommodation needs.

Catholic Church agencies like Shopfront, staffed by up to 80 volunteers, have been nothing less than a God-send, offering assistance, friendship, support and referrals to the marginalised since 2001.

Shopfront recently has put on ‘night-owl’ staff to organise emergency accommodation for those who arrive at their doorstep wanting somewhere to sleep. At the moment, Shopfront usually refers them to places like 55 Central Avenue in Maylands or St Bartholomew’s House in East Perth. But they have limited beds and demand far exceeds supply.

On February 6 at Queen of Martyrs parish hall in Maylands, the Archbishop launched a ‘basic resource’ for inner-city Perth where the homeless and marginalsed can go for a bed, meal, doctor and a shower.

This resource, which includes contacts for day support, detox centres, accommodation and crisis helplines, was a joint initiative between Julie Williams, Shopfront manager, and Chris Harkness, who as part of his studies for a Self Expression Leadership Program, needed a community project to work on. The resultant resource was part of an exercise to “bring people together in the spirit of friendship”.

It was at this launch where the Archbishop revealed his sleeping issues, and was visibly moved when recounting the plight of the homeless who seek him out at night.

Most of them are young Aboriginal women, some are escaping defacto relationships or men who ‘seek sexual favours’. But he wants more to be done. As he scanned the brochure at the launch, he said he knows of many other agencies – Christian and secular alike – who should be on this list. It will be updated. But his biggest concern is emergency accommodation. That is, people rock up and need accommodation.

Now. There just doesn’t seem to be a major source for it at the moment, he says. So Julie Williams, on behalf of the Archdiocese, is working with the City of Perth to establish a one stop shop, where the homeless can find a bed, meal, doctor and a shower, and refer them to somewhere where rehabilitation can be found.

“I’m not very good at rehabilitation of people,” the Archbishop revealed at the launch at Queen of Martyrs. “But I am their friend not matter what happens, and that seems to matter to them, especially the women who are frightened.

“They are so young, yet appear to be simply going nowhere. We need more accommodation for the ‘chronically homeless’. That is priority number one.”

The ‘chronically homeless’, he says, is something which ‘the studies’ that keep coming out on homelessness by private and government agencies always seem to neglect. These people are ‘at the bottom’ of the list, under the influence of one or more of a range of things, and are too often put in the ‘too hard’ basket.

“We must befriend them, love them, help them, respect, them. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said at the launch.

Christian Brother Peter Negus, who works at Shopfront, says the agency paid for accommodation for 160 people this year so far already, and had 8170 come through their doors seeking help in 2008. He expects 10,000 minimum this year, as over 2000 have already sought help from Shopfront so far in 2009.

Photo: Archbishop Hickey with guests

No texting, Internet, or MP3 players for Lent?

I always give up video games for Lent, but blogging, Web surfing, and my MP3 player? No way! I gotta know what the Pope, the bishop, and Padre Hoyos are up to...

But all kidding aside, the Italian bishops have a point: for us lay Catholics for whom prayer is a leisure activity and not a required part of our jobs (as it is for priests and religious), blogging, Web surfing, and other forms of high tech communication can, and do, cut into the time we spend directly with God. I seriously thought of stopping this blog for Lent for precisely that reason but abandoning it just as it's getting some traction did not seem wise.

There are many days when the only time and way God speaks to me is through the alabanza music I listen to on my MP3 player to drown out the sound of other commuters' cellphone calls on Metro. The blogs and the Internet have gobbled up the rest of my spiritual practice. Are they a form of evangelización? Yes, but at a steep price...

Catholics are urged to give up texting for Lent
Associated Press

ROME (AP) — Roman Catholic bishops in Italy are urging the faithful to go on a high-tech fast for Lent, switching off modern appliances from cars to iPods and abstaining from surfing the Web or text messaging until Easter.

The suggestion goes far beyond no-meat Fridays, giving a modern twist to traditional forms of abstinence in the five-week period Christians set aside for fasting and prayer ahead of Easter.

And it shows the Church's increasing focus on technology's uses — with many of the Lenten appeals posted on various dioceses' Web sites.

Dioceses and Catholic groups in Modena, southern Bari and other cities have called for a ban on text messaging every Friday in Lent, which began last week with Ash Wednesday.

"It's a small way to remember the importance of concrete and not virtual relationships," the Modena diocese said in a statement. "It's an instrument to remind us that our actions and lifestyles have consequences in distant countries."

The diocese said the "no SMS day" seeks to draw attention to years of conflict in Congo fueled in part by the struggle for control of coltan mines. The mineral is an essential material in cell phones.

The Turin diocese is suggesting the faithful not watch television during Lent. In the northeastern city of Trento, the church has created a "new lifestyles" calendar with proposals for each week of Lent.

Some ideas: Leave cars at home and hop on a bike or a bus; stop throwing chewing gum on the street and start recycling waste; enjoy the silence of a week without the Internet and iPods. ...

...The Church is trying to balance an increasing appreciation of modern communication with a wariness of new media.

In January, the Vatican launched its own YouTube channel, with Pope Benedict XVI welcoming viewers to this "great family that knows no borders." ...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

100,000-plus Citizen Children Find Parents Deported

I like to highlight when our elected representatives do the right thing. Representative José Serrano (D-NY-16) has taken up the cause of U.S. born children (American citizens!) whose undocumented parents are facing deportation. From his Web site:

Congressman José E. Serrano released a study showing that the Department of Homeland Security has deported more than 100,000 parents of children who are U.S. citizens. The report, which Serrano asked DHS to produce, also showed that this number could be higher if records were more complete.

“I am saddened, but not surprised to learn that our government, in its harsh anti-immigrant stance, has split hundreds of thousands of families apart over the past decade,” Serrano said. “Over the years, I have said many times that our current deportation regime is inhumane and un-American. Now we have direct proof that this is the case.”

Serrano has introduced the Child Citizen Protection Act, H.R. 182, which would untie the hands of immigration judges to take family situations into account during deportation proceedings. Currently, an immigration judge cannot balance family unity against deportation requirements. In many cases, this has led to one or both parents of child citizens being deported; forcing them to either leave the child behind or take the child to a country he or she never knew.

The DHS report said that between 1998 and 2007, the United States conducted 2,199,138 alien removals, and according to the data, 108,434 of those aliens were parents of U.S. citizen children. DHS was unable to produce all the data Serrano asked for, because it does not have adequate data. Serrano asked for information on when both parents were removed, length of time the immigrant parent had been in the country before removal, and how many of the citizen children stayed behind when one or both parents were deported.

“This report is the first step towards putting a stop to the inhumane deportation practices of our government,” Serrano added. “I have trouble believing that any American would support their government breaking up families, or orphaning children. In essence, we know that this has happened at least 108,434 times. The citizens in those cases, the children, deserved better than to have their government send their parents away without regard to their welfare. America can do better.”

“As we move towards comprehensive immigration reform, I will be working to ensure that this data is not overlooked, and these stories are not lost. We must bring our government’s policies in line with our values, which do not include breaking families apart.”

I would like to add that to date Congressman Serrano's bill has the following cosponsors:

Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] - 2/26/2009
Rep Gonzalez, Charles A. [TX-20] - 2/10/2009
Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] - 2/10/2009
Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] - 1/28/2009
Rep Honda, Michael M. [CA-15] - 2/10/2009
Rep Kucinich, Dennis J. [OH-10] - 2/11/2009
Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9] - 2/10/2009
Rep Nadler, Jerrold [NY-8] - 2/10/2009
Rep Payne, Donald M. [NJ-10] - 2/11/2009
Rep Rothman, Steven R. [NJ-9] - 2/26/2009

Gracias Hermano Congresista Serrano por su apoyo a nuestras familias and I hope everyone will contact their Congressional representatives and get them to sign on to this bill.

"Sin Nombre"...pero con mucho poder!

Last night I went to the pre-release screening of the movie Sin Nombre and had the opportunity to meet its writer and director, Cary Joji Fukunaga. The title, according to Fukunaga, comes from the myriad simple white crosses dotting the Mexican countryside that mark where nameless immigrants have died on the journey to el norte.

The film intertwines the stories of a young Mexican, Willy a.k.a "El Casper" (Edgar Flores), who is escaping from the Mara Salvatrucha gang, and a Honduran girl, Sayra (Paulina Gaytan) who is traveling north in search of the economic and social opportunities she has been denied in her impoverished homeland.

It is not an easy film to watch because it is a true-to-life portrayal of both the violence of the gangs and the appalling squalor of the immigrant squatter camps in the rail yards of Mexico. It is almost relentlessly brutal, even cruel, and the few simple acts of kindness (a gang leader cradling his baby daughter, the gift of a taco or a piece of fruit) shine like tiny jewels in an otherwise dark and desolate landscape.

Although the movie is a work of fiction, Fukunaga has invested a lot of effort and research to keep it real. He rode the tops of the trains, visited the shelters, camped out with the squatters, and befriended gang members. The gang members were enlisted to proof those dialogues and scenes to ensure that they sounded realistic.

Fukunaga made similar efforts with his actors, trying as much as possible to cast people of the same nationality as the characters they would be portraying to achieve authentic accents. I'm sure he has succeeded because, while I consider myself a fairly fluent Spanish speaker, the combination of accents and regional slang forced me to follow this film through the English subtitles like any other gringa.

The film brought to mind two experiences. The first was reading Enrique's Journey, the Pulitzer prize winning account of a young Honduran boy's quest to be reunited with his immigrant mother. Fukunaga says that he read that book but then tried to distance himself from it so he could make sure that he was telling his own story, but the basic elements of the train trip are similar in both accounts.

The second was the visit our MACC Mini Pastoral class made to a shelter in Reynosa, Mexico, in January. We talked with the predominantly Honduran guests at the shelter and heard similar harrowing tales. The shelter we visited was the Albergue Guadalupana. The fictionalized Reynosa shelter in Fukunaga's film is the Albergue de la Divina Providencia.

"Sin Nombre" is going to make a name for itself. It is a powerful, authentic, and moving story of what our immigrant brothers and sisters will go through to find a better life. Because of the violence, I cannot recommend this film for anyone under 16. The mind shudders at the thought of teenagers leaving the cinema and mindlessly flashing the MS gang signals they have picked up from this movie. For everyone else: Do go, but be prepared to have your hearts broken by a film that will stay with you long after the credits have finished scrolling.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Praying for...and promoting...women

March is Women's History Month and it is entirely fitting that our Holy Father's general intention for this month is: "That the role of women may be more appreciated and used to good advantage in every country in the world."

Already I can hear the chorus: "So why don't you allow women to be priests, huh? Don't charity and justice begin at home?" Those who know me, know that I am a firm supporter of women's ordination and not a great fan of this particular Pope but we have to give credit where credit is due. I believe this Pope is sincere. While his conservative adherence to tradition does not allow him to consider ordaining women, he has certainly been as open as any Pope in recent history to allowing women to reach positions of responsibility in the Vatican. And he said as much in an interview he gave in August 2006 with Bayerische Rundfunk (ARD), ZDF, Deutsche Welle and Vatican Radio:

Question: Holy Father, women are very active in many different areas of the Catholic Church. Shouldn’t their contribution become more clearly visible, even in positions of higher responsibility in the Church?

Benedict XVI: We reflect a lot about this subject, of course. As you know, we believe that our faith and the constitution of the college of the Apostles, obliges us and doesn’t allow us to confer priestly ordination on women. But we shouldn’t think either that the only role one can have in the Church is that of being a priest. There are lots of tasks and functions in the history of the Church. Starting with the sisters of the Fathers of the Church , up to the middle ages when great women played fundamental roles, up until modern times. Think about Hildegard of Bingen who protested strongly before the Bishops and the Pope, of Catherine of Siena and Brigit of Sweden. In our own time too women, and we with them, must look for their right place, so to speak. Today they are very present in the departments of the Holy See. But there’s a juridical problem: according to Canon Law the power to take legally binding decisions is limited to Sacred Orders. So there are limitations from this point of view but I believe that women themselves, with their energy and strength, with their superiority, with what I’d call their “spiritual power”, will know how to make their own space. And we will have to try and listen to God so as not to stand in their way but, on the contrary, to rejoice when the female element achieves the fully effective place in the Church best suited to her, starting with the Mother of God and with Mary Magdalen.

Whispers in the Loggia has mentioned a number of influential women in Pope Benedict's inner circle and, of course, who could forget Sister Judith Zoebelein, the Franciscan nun who heads the Vatican's Internet team? In 2007, the Pope indicated that he wished to promote more women within the Vatican, though in 2008, Cherie Blair, wife of former British prime minister Tony Blair and a Catholic human rights advocate, publicly took the Pope to task for not doing enough in this regard.

In his remarks last month to a conference organized by the Pontifical Council on the Laity on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's "Mulieris Dignitatem", this Pope showed insight into the discrimination that women still face and the fact that religion is too often misused to justify that inequality:

"Opening the work of the 5th General Conference of the Latin American and Caribbean Episcopate last May in Brazil, I recalled how there still persists a macho mentality that ignores the novelty of Christianity, which recognizes and proclaims the equal dignity and responsibility of women with respect to men. There are certain places and cultures where women are discriminated against and undervalued just for the fact that they are women, where recourse is even had to religious arguments and family, social and cultural pressures to support the disparity between the sexes, where there is consumption of acts of violence against women, making them into objects of abuse and exploitation in advertising and in the consumer and entertainment industries. In the face of such grave and persistent phenomena the commitment of Christians appears all the more urgent, so that they become everywhere the promoters of a culture that recognizes the dignity that belongs to women in law and in reality."

And, as he shows below in a catechetical talk he gave in 2007, Pope Benedict XVI is very aware of the role of women in building the early church:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today, we have come to the end of our journey among the witnesses of early Christianity mentioned in the New Testament writings. And we use the last step of this first journey to dedicate our attention to the many female figures who played an effective and precious role in spreading the Gospel.

In conformity with what Jesus himself said of the woman who anointed his head shortly before the Passion: "Truly, I say to you, wherever this Gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Mt 26:13; Mk 14:9), their testimony cannot be forgotten.

The Lord wants these Gospel witnesses, these figures who have made a contribution so that faith in him would grow, to be known, and their memory kept alive in the Church. We can historically distinguish the role of the first women in early Christianity, during Jesus' earthly life and in the events of the first Christian generation.

Jesus, as we know, certainly chose from among his disciples 12 men as Fathers of the new Israel and appointed them "to be with him, and to be sent out to preach" (Mk 3:14-15).

This fact is obvious; but, in addition to the Twelve, pillars of the Church and fathers of the new People of God, many women were also chosen to number among the disciples. I can only mention very briefly those who followed Jesus himself, beginning with the Prophetess Anna (cf. Lk 2:36-38), to the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:1-39), the Syro-Phoenician woman (cf. Mk 7:24-30), the woman with the haemorrhage (cf. Mt 9:2022) and the sinful woman whose sins were forgiven (cf. Lk 7:36-50).

I will not even refer to the protagonists of some of his effective parables, for example, the housewife who made bread (cf. Mt 13:33), the woman who lost the drachma (cf. Lk 15:8-10), the widow who pestered the judge (cf. Lk 18:1-8). More important for our topic are the women who played an active role in the context of Jesus' mission.

In the first place, we think spontaneously of the Virgin Mary, who with her faith and maternal labours collaborated in a unique way in our Redemption to the point that Elizabeth proclaimed her "Blessed... among women" (Lk 1:42), adding: "Blessed is she who believed..." (Lk 1:45).
Having become a disciple of her Son, Mary manifested total trust in him at Cana (cf. Jn 2:5), and followed him to the foot of the Cross where she received from him a maternal mission for all his disciples of all times, represented by John (cf. Jn 19:25-27).

Then there are various women with roles of responsibility who gravitated in their different capacities around the figure of Jesus. The women who followed Jesus to assist him with their own means, some of whose names Luke has passed down to us, are an eloquent example: Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna and "many others" (cf. Lk 8:2-3).

The Gospels then tell us that the women, unlike the Twelve, did not abandon Jesus in the hour of his Passion (cf. Mt 27:56, 61; Mk 15:40). Among them, Mary Magdalene stands out in particular. Not only was she present at the Passion, but she was also the first witness and herald of the Risen One (cf. Jn 20:1, 11-18).

It was precisely to Mary Magdalene that St. Thomas Aquinas reserved the special title, "Apostle of the Apostles" (apostolorum apostola), dedicating to her this beautiful comment: "Just as a woman had announced the words of death to the first man, so also a woman was the first to announce to the Apostles the words of life" (Super Ioannem, ed. Cai, § 2519).

Nor was the female presence in the sphere of the primitive Church in any way secondary. We will not insist on the four unnamed daughters of Philip the "Deacon" who lived at Caesarea; they were all endowed with the "gift of prophecy", as St Luke tells us, that is, the faculty of intervening publicly under the action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 21:9). The brevity of information does not permit more precise deductions.

It is rather to St. Paul that we are indebted for a more ample documentation on the dignity and ecclesial role of women. He begins with the fundamental principle according to which for the baptized: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28), that is, all are united in the same basic dignity, although each with specific functions (cf. I Cor 12:27:30).

The Apostle accepts as normal the fact that a woman can "prophesy" in the Christian community (I Cor 11:5), that is, speak openly under the influence of the Spirit, as long as it is for the edification of the community and done in a dignified manner.

Thus, the following well-known exhortation: "Women should keep silence in the Churches" (I Cor 14:34) is instead to be considered relative. Let us leave to the exegetes the consequent, much discussed problem of the relationship between the first phrase — women can prophesy in Churches — and the other — they are not permitted to speak; that is, the relationship between these two apparently contradictory instructions. This is not for discussion here.

Last Wednesday we already came across the figure of Prisca or Priscilla, Aquila's wife, who surprisingly is mentioned before her husband in two cases (cf. Acts 18:18; Rom 16:3): In any case, both are explicitly described by Paul as his sun-ergoús, "collaborators" (Rom 16:3).

There are several other important points that cannot be ignored. It should be noted, for example, that Paul's short Letter to Philemon is actually also addressed to a woman called "Apphia" (cf. PhIm 2). The Latin and Syriac translations of the Greek text add to this name "Apphia", the appellative "soror carissima" (ibid.), and it must be said that she must have held an important position in the community at Colossae. In any case, she is the only woman mentioned by Paul among those to whom he addressed a Letter.

Elsewhere, the Apostle mentions a certain "Phoebe", described as "a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae", the port town east of Corinth (Rom 16:1-2). Although at that time the title had not yet acquired a specific ministerial value of a hierarchical kind, it expresses a true and proper exercise of responsibility on the part of this woman for this Christian community. Paul recommends that she be received cordially and assisted "in whatever she may require". Then he adds: "for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well".

In the same epistolary context the Apostle outlines with delicate touches the names of other women: a certain Mary, then Tryphaena, Tryphosa and "the beloved" Persis, as well as Julia, of whom he writes openly that they have "worked hard among you" or "worked hard in the Lord" (Rom 16:6, 12a, 12b, 15), thereby emphasizing their strong ecclesial commitment.

Furthermore, in the Church at Philippi two women were to distinguish themselves, Euodia and Syntyche (cf. Phil 4:2). Paul's entreaty to mutual agreement suggests that these two women played an important role in that community.

In short, without the generous contribution of many women, the history of Christianity would have developed very differently.

This is why, as my venerable and dear Predecessor John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem: "The Church gives thanks for each and every woman.... The Church gives thanks for all the manifestations of the feminine 'genius' which have appeared in the course of history, in the midst of all peoples and nations; she gives thanks for all the charisms which the Holy Spirit distributes to women in the history of the People of God, for all the victories which she owes to their faith, hope and charity: she gives thanks for all the fruits of feminine holiness" (n. 31).

As we can see, the praise refers to women in the course of the Church's history and was expressed on behalf of the entire Ecclesial Community. Let us also join in this appreciation, thanking the Lord because he leads his Church, generation after generation, availing himself equally of men and women who are able to make their faith and Baptism fruitful for the good of the entire Ecclesial Body and for the greater glory of God.

This is clearly a Pope who, though imperfect, understands that women can help build the Kingdom of God in more ways than just as wives and mothers and for this we should all give thanks.
Photo: Women rejoicing at election of Pope Benedict XVI

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Theological Mercosur: Building the Kingdom from the Bottom Up

We are often not aware of what is going on theologically south of the Rio Grande so I found this article from the Argentinian newspaper La Gaceta very interesting and have translated it into English to share with others.

Organizing a religious Mercosur
by Guillermo Villareal
La Gaceta (Argentina)
February 28, 2009

BUENOS AIRES.- Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo's idea of forming a religious roundtable of Mercosur member countries is taking shape, despite the fact that the financial crisis is shaking the global and regional economies and forcing them to extend social safety nets. The initiative aims to introduce religion into the political, social and economic debate in order to give a human and populist face to the trading bloc formed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, and which also includes Chile and Bolivia as partners and a pending application from Venezuela that is awaiting a response.

"Because of the examples of bad financial management that we see at the summit of the world it would be very good for people from the south to find a human face for Mercosur, because it is less important to find a common currency than a decent place to live, seeking to overcome the asymmetries in the social sphere," Lugo explained in launching the proposal in late January in Belém, Brazil, during the World Social Forum. A government spokesman explained that the Guaraní former prelate personally invited religious representatives in the region for an ecumenical meeting in Asunción on March 12 and 13. Among others, invitations were extended to the Brazilian theologians Leonardo Boff, who Lugo considers to be his spiritual father, and Carlos Alberto Libanio Christo, also known as "Frei Betto", both liberation theology ideologues.

Sociologist Mallimaci Fortunato was summoned from Argentina, and he described the Paraguayan president's proposal as "very important for changing, from the religious perspective, the prevailing system of injustice in the region." "It is not easy, but it is a challenge," the investigator for CONICET confided. As it transpired, the Argentinian Nobel Peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel was also invited. However, it drew attention in religious circles that Bishop Emeritus Joaquín Piña of Puerto Iguazú, who is close to Lugo, was not asked. "I am praying for him, that it will go well," said Piña, who ventured into politics in 2006 to defend democracy and offered in Misiones the first defeat to an ally of kirchnerismo .

The two days in March will serve as an initial discussion on four themes: "Laws on worship: relationship with the State", "Religious citizenship: the role of religion in the social and political framework", "Social differences: wealth and poverty" and "The defense of the environment from the perspective of faith." Topics that will later be debated in each country, under the coordination of the regional secretariat of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI), whose director is Pastor Juan Gattinoni.

The next step will be to bring the agreed-upon religious proposals to the summit of heads of state scheduled for next June in Asunción, because it is the presidents and chancellors who should implement them institutionally, Mallimaci clarified.

Thus Lugo is trying to raise the banner of a renewed liberation theology, the same one he was able to fly during his years as priest and bishop in the impoverished areas of Paraguay.

This theological current had its culmination in the 70s, when its followers were confronting the military dictatorships and taking the side of the oppressed of the continent. In spite of this, it earned the condemnation of the Vatican and the bishops for its Marxist ideological deviation.

This group of theologians, with Lugo and Mercosur at the helm, will attempt -- as Boff and Frei Betto imagine -- policy-making in capital letters in favor of the oppressed, because, taking Jesus as a model, they believe that "now more than ever it is necessary to build the kingdom from the bottom up."

Photos: Leonardo Boff and Fernando Lugo

God said WHAT???

My obsession with languages and translation carries over into the Biblical sphere and occasionally a phrase will arise that sends this sensibility into red alert. Today, that passage was the Old Testament reading from Leviticus.

Monolingual North American Catholics are probably just reading their New American Bible -- the official English translation approved by the USCCB, except for a few scholarly types who might break open the Jerusalem Bible. It's OK, but a little one dimensional. In the Hispanic community, we read many different translations and this is what makes leading a Bible study in a grupo de oración so much fun. What did God REALLY say? Is it what we read in the Biblia Latinoamérica? Or the Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo? Or the Biblia de Jerusalén or any of the other myriad translations that an hermano might bring? So, as a precaution, I keep a lot of English and Spanish translations around.

Today, the passage that caught my eye was the Biblia Latinoamérica's version of Leviticus 19:16: "No calumniarás a los de tu pueblo; tratándose de tu prójimo, no pedirás la pena capital." Wow! There it is in black and white: "You will not ask for the death penalty." Pretty straightforward...or is it? Let's see what some of the other translations say:

Biblia de Jerusalén: " demandes contra la vida de tu prójimo" ("don't ask for your neighbor's life") -- similar but less specific, less political.

Biblia de Nuestro Pueblo: " declararás en falso contra la vida de tu prójimo." "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor's life." We have already drifted away from asking that the neighbor be put to death, to a different sin -- bearing false witness. The Biblia de América contains similar language.

And what are English-speaking Catholics getting?

New American Bible: "...nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake." Nothing about the death penalty or bearing false witness. Instead we have a sin of omission, not of commission...and a very broad one at that.

And the Protestants?

King James Bible: "...neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour."

New American Standard Bible: "You are not to act against the life of your neighbor."

New International Version: "Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life."

We have moved beyond the judicial system to an admonition that covers everything from renting out a mold-infested house to plying your obese friend with chocolate cake.

We often come up against Bible-toting evangélicos who claim to know the literal word of God. All they really know is what it says in the Bible they happen to be toting...which may not be what "my" Bible says. What did God really prohibit in Leviticus 19:16?

a) asking for the death penalty?
b) bearing false witness?
c) failing to intervene when your neighbor's life is in danger?
d) endangering your neighbor's life?
e) all of the above?
f) none of the above?

Maybe an expert Bible translator like my friend Padre Juan Alfaro knows, but I don't and neither do the Bible-thumping evangélicos, and if they claim otherwise, that brings us to Leviticus 19:11: "You shall not lie or speak falsely to one another", which is unambiguous....I think....

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Happy Birthday, Padrecito!

March 2nd is my friend Padre Hoyos' birthday and to keep up a tradition we started a couple of years ago on the Padre Hoyos Blog, here are your Mañanitas, Padrecito...sung by Nat King Cole!

Now, we usually think of Nat King Cole as an African-American jazz and big band pianist and singer, best known for his signature song "Unforgettable". Cole was also an ardent fighter against racism, refusing to perform in the segregated venues so common in his time. He was a friend of the late President John F. Kennedy, frequently advising him on civil rights.

What is less well-known is that Nat King Cole also had a musical career in Spanish. In 1958, Cole recorded his first Spanish language album, "Cole Español" in studios in Havana and in Mexico with Cuban jazz musician Armando Romeu Jr.'s orchestra and a mariachi band. This was to be followed by "A Mis Amigos" (1959) and "More Cole Español" (1962). "A Mis Amigos" contains the famous Venezuelan waltz Ansiedad which Cole, who didn't really speak Spanish, learned patiently phrase by phrase.