Saturday, March 21, 2009

No sex please; it's Friday!

I love my brothers and sisters in the Renovación dearly but, theologically, I sometimes think they want to take us back to the Middle Ages.

Last night a predicador reminded us yet again that Canon Law still says we should not eat meat ANY Friday -- not just during Lent. "Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday." (CIC 1251)

But, as with civil law, it is important to look at "case law" as well -- how the original Church mandates have been modified to fit the times and circumstances of modern Catholics. In this case, on February 17, 1966 in Paenitemini (Apostolic Constitution On Penance)
Pope Paul VI left the details of how Fridays other than those in Lent and Good Friday were to be observed up to the individual episcopal conferences. The United States bishops' conference then abolished the mandate to abstain from meat on Fridays in its Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence issued November 18, 1966. The bishops argued that the rule made sense when it was first established in the days when meat was actually a luxury but that for Americans, eating meat is so commonplace that giving it up is meaningless as an act of penance. Hola, predicadores de la Renovación: You are in the United States of America now and you should be teaching the Church requirements as they are in this country, not in your home diocese. You may long for the good old days of fish EVERY Friday but that is NOT current Church teaching.

But it gets worse. Not only last night's predicador, but the previous one who spoke to the subject suggested that married Catholics might be encouraged to abstain from sexual intercourse on Fridays and other days of fasting and abstinence. I have gone through both the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have yet to find anything that says married Catholics can't have sex on Friday. I suspect that some of the confusion may come from the Spanish version of CIC 1251 which talks about "la abstinencia de carne". Unlike the English word "meat" which is unambiguous (in its common, not vulgar, use), "carne" is variously used for both "meat" and "flesh" so giving it a sexual interpretation is possible, although the phrase that follows -- "o de otro alimento" -- makes that interpretation extremely unlikely.

The only other reliable reference I could find on the subject was from a Q & A on Lent issued by the Archdiocese of Chicago Young Adult Ministry. It says:

Many of our church rules change over the years because we as a people have changed. Also, our understanding of how we can best become the people God is calling us to be has grown more sophisticated. For example, common penances in the 7th century included abstinence from meat, alcohol, bathing, haircuts, shaving, sexual intercourse, and business transactions. We have learned a great deal about our own sinfulness, forgiveness, and the love and mercy of God since then. Rather than being ostracized from the community, we now seek ways to make amends to those we have offended, and, with the support of the community, enter more fully into communion. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, the priest, on behalf of the entire community, extends God’s forgiveness and love.

Now I'm waiting for our predicadores to show up without bathing or shaving and to stop conducting business on Fridays! This is the 21st century and we need to stop teaching 7th century Catholicism.

Others in the Renovación would have "good" Catholics stop dancing or drinking wine, even in moderation. Yes we are going up against the evangélicos in a lot of our countries of origin, especially in Central America, but we are still Catholic. We are not Baptists or Mormons for whom everything that could possibly be fun is a sin to be avoided. Jesus did not turn water into grape juice and I'm quite sure there was a lot of dancing at that wedding in Cana, as there is at Jewish wedding receptions today.

All of this makes me think of the issues the Early Church wrestled with when taking the gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles (Acts 15). Should the Gentiles have to comply with Jewish dietary regulations and circumcision? And the conclusion was "no" except to "abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage." These too have been changed to fit modern times. Catholics understand that it is perfectly OK to receive life-saving blood transfusions or eat a blood pudding every now and again. And we certainly don't worry about how the animals we eat were slaughtered. We do not buy only from kosher butchers like our Jewish brethren or from halal meat vendors like the Muslim faithful.

The spirit of the teachings in Acts is that the Church should not put any unnecessary and arbitrary burdens on the faithful beyond what is absolutely required to be a faithful Catholic. And the boundaries of these teachings are established by the Vatican and the individual episcopal conferences (and in some cases the diocese) according to local custom and circumstances.

We should be presenting these teachings accurately to the faithful, not trying to impose what we think the Church norms should be.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Liberation theology is spreading despite the veto of the Vatican

This is the English translation of an article by Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff, La teología de la liberación se propaga, pese al veto del Vaticano , published this month through IPS.

Since its inception in the late '60s, liberation theology has taken a global perspective, focusing on the plight of the poor and oppressed in the world, victims of a system that lives off the exploitation of labor and the depredation of nature.

This system exploits the working classes and the weaker nations. And it also suppresses those who oppress and therefore they deny their own humanitarian feelings. In short, all should be released from a system that has lasted for at least three centuries and has been imposed around the globe.

Liberation theology is the first modern theology that has taken on this overall objective: to think about the fate of humanity from the state of the victims. Accordingly, its first option is to be committed to the poor, life and freedom for all. It emerged at the periphery of the main Church, not in the metropolitan centers of sacred thought. Because of its origin, it has always been regarded with suspicion by academic theologians and especially by church bureaucracies and by the most important denomination, the Roman Catholic Church.

From its birthplace in Latin America, liberation theology came to Africa, and spread to Asia and also to sectors in the First World identified with human rights and solidarity with the dispossessed. Poverty understood as oppression reveals many faces: the indigenous people who from their ancestral wisdom devised a rich indigenous liberation theology, black liberation theology that felt the painful scars left from the slave nations, that of women who have been subjected to patriarchal domination since the Neolithic era, that of workers used as fuel for the production machine. Each has a specific oppression that corresponds to a specific liberation.

The basic theological question that so far we have not answered is: how to credibly proclaim a God who is a kind Father in a world filled with poor people? It makes sense only if it involves the transformation of this world, so that the poor no longer cry out. For such a change to take place they themselves have to become aware, organize and begin a political praxis of transformation and social liberation. As most of the poor in our countries were Christian, we tried to make faith a liberating factor. The churches that are heirs of Jesus who was poor and did not die of old age but on the Cross as a result of His commitment to God and His righteousness, would be the natural allies of this movement of poor Christians.

This support has been verified in many churches where there have been prophetic bishops and cardinals such as Helder Camara and Paulo Evaristo Arns in Brazil, Arnulfo Romero in El Salvador and many others, as well as many priests, religious and lay people who are politically engaged.

Because of its universal cause in the early 70s liberation theology was already a genuine international movement that brought together truly worldwide theological forums. An editorial board composed of more than a hundred Latin American theologians was established to compile a systematic theology from the perspective of liberation in 53 volumes. Thirteen volumes had already published when the Vatican intervened to abort the project. Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was harsh. He cut a promising work down at the roots, one that was beneficial for all the marginal churches and especially for the poor. He will go down in history as the Cardinal – and later the Pope – who was an enemy of the intelligence of the poor.

Liberation theology created a political culture. It helped form social organizations such as the Landless Movement,the Indigenous Pastoral Program, and the Black Movement and was instrumental in the creation of the Workers Party in Brazil, whose leader, President Lula, always identified with liberation theology.

Today this theology has transcended the boundaries of denominational churches and has become a political and social force. Besides Lula, President Rafael Correa of Ecuador, the former bishop and President of Paraguay Fernando Lugo, President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and the President of the UN General Assembly, Nicaraguan priest Miguel d’Escoto also publicly identify themselves with liberation theology. Its greatest strength lies not in the theology departments but in the innumerable base ecclesial communities (in Brazil alone there are hundreds of thousands), in thousands of study circles where the Bible is read in the context of social oppression and the so-called social pastorals.

Rome is deeply delusional if it believes that with its doctrinal documents issued by cold bureaucracies removed from the life of the faithful it will curb liberation theology. It was born hearing the cry of the poor and now is moved by the cry of the Earth. As long as the poor continue to lament and Earth is groaning under productivist and consumerist virulence, there a thousand reasons to feel the call of a liberating and revolutionary interpretation of the Gospels. Liberation theology is the answer to an unjust reality and saves the main church from its alienation and a certain cynicism.

Turning Tables in the Kingdom of God: Saint Lea

This Sunday, March 22nd, is the feast day of one of the little-known saints in the Church, Saint Lea. I was intrigued by Palabra, Vida y Fe’s little comment on her – that she was someone who participated in scripture study with St. Jerome (the patron saint of librarians!) and as a result of his prodding, changed from the life of a wealthy and somewhat dissolute slave-owning matron to one of prayer, abstinence and dedication to the affairs of God. I guess that’s what a little Bible study can do for us if we really take the Good Book to heart.

The life of St. Lea is known to us only through the writings of St. Jerome, who speaks of her in a letter to St. Marcella, leader of a quasi monastic women’s community in her residence on Aventino. Lea was from a noble family. Widowed at a young age, she entered Marcella’s community, where they studied the scriptures and prayed together, living in chastity and poverty. With this choice, Lea turned her way of life upside down. Marcella had total confidence in her -- so much so that she was entrusted with the task of training the young in the life of faith and the practice of quiet, secret charity. St. Lea eventually became the superior of the community.

St. Jerome wrote these words about St. Lea after her death in 384, comparing her to a wealthy consul who also died:

"Who will praise the blessed Lea as she deserves? She renounced painting her face and adorning her head with shining pearls. She exchanged her rich attire for sackcloth, and ceased to command others in order to obey all. She dwelt in a corner with a few bits of furniture; she spent her nights in prayer, and instructed her companions through her example rather than through protests and speeches. And she looked forward to her arrival in heaven in order to receive her recompense for the virtues which she practiced on earth.

"So it is that thence forth she enjoyed perfect happiness. From Abraham's bosom, where she resides with Lazarus, she sees our consul who was once decked out in purple, now vested in a shameful robe, vainly begging for a drop of water to quench his thirst. Although he went up to the capital to the plaudits of the people, and his death occasioned widespread grief, it is futile for the wife to assert that he has gone to heaven and possesses a great mansion there. The fact is that he is plunged into the darkness outside, whereas Lea who was willing to be considered a fool on earth, has been received into the house of the Father, at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

"Hence, I tearfully beg you to refrain from seeking the favors of the world and to renounce all that is carnal. It is impossible to follow both the world and Jesus. Let us live a life of renunciation, for our bodies will soon be dust and nothing else will last any longer."

A time to be silent...

The writer of Ecclesiastes instructs us that there is "a time to be silent, and a time to speak..." (Eccl. 3:7) I've been thinking about these words lately with respect to our Church leaders. They have yet to learn that you do not have to give a direct answer to every question a reporter puts to you and that some things are better left unsaid.

The Pope's trip to Africa, for example, will be defined and dominated by his unfortunate remark on AIDS and condom use. The moment the word "condom" escaped the Pontiff's lips, the press heard nothing else.

His Holiness could have talked about hunger, poverty and economic justice. He could have highlighted Africa as a place where the Catholic Church is growing significantly, a continent from which young Catholic men and women are coming to America and Europe to serve as priests and religious. I think of Uwem, the Nigerian seminarian who is planning to be ordained in Kentucky and who signed on to the Mexican American Catholic College's Hispanic mini pastoral program to learn how he could better serve the Latino community once he is a priest. I think of Sister Gemma, the young novice from Cameroon we met when we visited the Cordi-Marian Missionary Sisters community in San Antonio.

Africa has a lot to offer the worldwide Catholic Church but the Pope's thoughtless remark reduced the continent to an AIDS ward and his contention that condom use may contribute to the problem is about as absurd as saying that seat belt laws cause auto accidents because people will drive more recklessly knowing that they are protected. Whether or not the Church agrees on moral grounds, medical science has repeatedly demonstrated that the proper use of condoms is an effective way to limit the transmission of AIDS and other STDs. Denying this fact just makes the Church less credible and authoritative.

Furthermore, the Pope's remarks sound like a case of blaming the victim. Africa is trying to control the spread of AIDS and the Church is saying it's going about it the wrong way and making things worse. Meanwhile, over 1.5 million people die of AIDS every year in sub-Saharan Africa and their families could use a word of comfort from the Holy Father, an acknowledgment that lives have been tragically and needlessly lost.

On the other side of the world, in Brazil, a nine-year old girl is raped by her stepfather. As a result she becomes pregnant with twins. Her mother knows that a nine-year old body, even one that has gone through early menarche, is not capable of safely carrying a multiple pregnancy to term. She brings her daughter to get an abortion.

The Archbishop of Recife, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, excommunicated the girl's mother and the medical team that performed the abortion. When asked about his decision, he insisted that he was just upholding God's law, that anyone involved in an abortion who is of age is automatically excommunicated. The stepfather, whose sin caused this tragedy, is in jail...but not excommunicated. Canonically correct? Yes. Pastorally appropriate? No. The Archbishop's actions only added to the family's suffering and shame.

He could have and should have simply deplored the tragic situation, called for prayers for the little girl and her family, prayed for healing for them, and then given them the privacy they need and deserve. He did not have to address the abortion=excommunication question publicly at all.

A time to be silent. In describing Jesus, the Messiah who is to come, the prophet Isaiah says: "A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench." (Is. 42:3). Jesus never kicked a person when they were already down; He never added shame to pain. Our Church leaders could learn a lot from Him.

Photos: Uwem and Gemma, two gifts from Africa to the Catholic Church in America

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mary of Magdala

Fr. Hoyos wrote a column recently about Mary Magdalene. I almost didn't recognize her except that I am familiar with how she is usually portrayed (wrongly) by the traditional Church. Fr. Hoyos' Mary Magdalene is not the woman I know.

I first met Mary Magdalene as the unrequited lover of Jesus Christ, Superstar (1970). Her theme song, "I don't know how to love him", became the anthem of my shy teenage heart that gazed longingly from afar but never felt worthy enough to love and be loved. I banged out my frustration in its piano chords, sang out my heartache in Mary's words:

I don't know how to love him.
What to do, how to move him....

He's a man. He's just a man.
And I've had so many men before,
In very many ways,
He's just one more...

I later realized that this Mary Magdalene was a myth. Dr. Elaine Pagels gave me a very different picture of Mary a few years later. By then I had changed from a lovesick teenager to a budding feminist and was ready to meet Mariamene e Mara (Mary the Master) -- leader of the Gnostic faction after Jesus' death and a perfect counterpoint to the patriarchal Church of Peter. I eagerly read The Gnostic Gospels (1979) and then went straight to the source -- the Nag Hammadi texts.

Mary had her own gospel and was no longer the unrequited lover. From the Gospel of Philip I learned that ". . . the companion of the [Savior is] Mary Magdalene. [But Christ loved] her more than [all] the disciples, and used to kiss her [often] on her [mouth]." When The Da Vinci Code came out decades later, it neither shocked nor surprised me. It's really just fictional embroidery on a few scraps of ancient textual scholarship. Let's get a grip, folks! Were Jesus and Mary lovers? I don't know and, as Abbé Pierre wisely concluded, it doesn't matter.

Sr. Joan Chittister in her chapter on Mary in A Passion for Life: Fragments of the Face of God (Orbis, 2000) goes to great lengths to correct Mary's image while sticking to the canonical scriptures. She argues that Mary cannot possibly be the anonymous sinful woman who anoints Jesus' feet at the end of Luke 7 because she is introduced by name in Luke 8:2 as one of the Galilean women who follow Jesus and the only detail we are given is that she had seven demons cast out of her. These women defied the customs of their time by publicly following Jesus and supporting his ministry with their resources.

Mary is then found -- again by name -- at the foot of the Cross (Mk. 15:40). She assists at Jesus' burial (Mk. 15:47 - 16:1) and is the first person to whom the resurrected Christ appears (Mk. 16:9-11). In John's gospel, Mary Magdalene actually converses with Jesus at the empty tomb and He commissions her to "go to my brothers and tell them, 'I am going to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God." (John 20:17). Sr. Joan calls her "the apostle to the apostles." "She was not simply a passive listener, a hanger-on. She was a philanthropist of vision, an advocate of godly revolution, a creator of social change. She was part and parcel of the public life of Jesus."

Recently while researching Mary of Magdala's portrayal in Eastern and Orthodox iconography, I discovered another dimension to her. I wanted to know why she is often painted holding a red egg. According to tradition, following the death and resurrection of Jesus, Mary Magdalene used her position to gain an invitation to a banquet given by Emperor Tiberius. When she met him, she held a plain egg in her hand and exclaimed "Christ is risen!" Caesar laughed, and said that Christ rising from the dead was as likely as the egg in her hand turning red while she held it. Before he finished speaking, the egg in her hand turned a bright red, and she continued proclaiming the Gospel to the entire imperial house. So Mary was not only a model disciple but a fearless evangelizer in her own right.

Because of the earlier Church misunderstanding, Mary Magdalene became the patron saint of prostitutes and she is also a good role model. No woman can ever live up to that impossible Catholic ideal of "Virgin Mother" but I can try to be like a woman who overcame the demons of her past to join in the work of a man she came to love and preach the good news of His Resurrection to the world.

In Memoriam: Natasha Richardson

The Catholic peace movement and the AIDS community are mourning the untimely death of actress Natasha Richardson (45) as a result of head injuries suffered in a skiing accident. Natasha and her husband, actor Liam Neeson, were friends of Jesuit priest and peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan, SJ. He married them and they returned the favor by naming their son after him. When Fr. Dan turned 80 in 2001, Natasha and Liam supplied the beverages for the party.

Natasha's commitment to peace was well-known. In 2000, hers was one of the names on a full page ad in the New York Times protesting the economic sanctions that over the previous decade had killed over a million Iraqis, mostly children under the age of five.

She was the voice of St. Edith Stein in James Carroll's controversial documentary on religiously inspired violence and war, "Constantine's Sword" (2007). And, like her husband Liam who is best known for his magnificent portrayal of Nazi fighter Oskar Schindler in Schindler's List, Natasha also brought out the bravery of those who went out of their way to protect the Jews. In the mini-series Haven, Natasha played Ruth Gruber, the journalist who, in 1944, went on a mission ordered by President Roosevelt's Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to secretly escort a group of 1,000 Jewish refugees from Italy to America.

But Natasha was best known for her tireless support of AIDS research. After her father died of AIDS in 1992, she became an ardent AIDS activist. She was especially involved with amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. "When my father died of AIDS, I knew I had to do everything in my power to prevent others from going through what he endured. I support amfAR which provides funds for cutting edge AIDS research so we can find a vaccine and a cure," she said.

Today, amfAR paid tribute to their dedicated trustee: "Ms. Richardson generously contributed her time and resources to amfAR over more than 15 years. In 1999, she spearheaded Unforgettable: Fashion of the Oscars, an auction of Oscar dresses that raised more than $1.5 million for AIDS research.

"Ms. Richardson’s service to AIDS organizations in the United States included work with Bailey House, Elton John AIDS Foundation, God's Love We Deliver, and Mothers' Voices. In the United Kingdom, she was involved in the Aids Crisis Trust and National Aids Trust, for which she was an ambassador. In November 2000, she was honored with amfAR's Award of Courage.

Our hearts go out to Natasha’s family. This is a catastrophic loss for them, and it’s a terrible loss for amfAR and the fight against AIDS. She will be greatly missed by the HIV/AIDS community worldwide.”

French protest by reading Nicolas Sarkozy's least favourite book

The Telegraph

Mr Sarkozy, a man often ridiculed in France for preferring fitness to literature, has frequently expressed his disdain for "La Princesse de Clèves" (The Princess of Cleves), a novel by Madame de La Fayette which was published in 1678 and is taught in most French classrooms.

Now, French readers have adopted the book as a symbol of dissent: as Mr Sarkozy's popularity falls, sales of the book are rising.

At the Paris book fair this week, publishers reported selling all available copies of the novel, while badges emblazoned with the slogan "I am reading La Princesse de Clèves" were a must-have item that sold out within hours.

Mr Sarkozy's views on the novel are hardly new. As far back as 2006, before he became president, he made a comment that left no doubt that his school memories of it were not happy ones.

"A sadist or an idiot, up to you, included questions about 'La Princesse de Clèves' in an exam for people applying for public sector jobs," he said, adding that it would be "a spectacle" to see low-level staff speak on the challenging work.

Since then, Mr Sarkozy has repeatedly criticised the tale of duty versus love at the 16th century court of Henri II, suggesting that knowledge of it was not useful.

Over time, his attacks have bolstered the book's popularity, and even given it a new role as a symbol of dissent at a time when public anger over Sarkozy's economic policies is high.

Public readings of the work have proliferated at universities like the Sorbonne in Paris, hit by protests over government reform plans, and at theatres.

The cultural weekly Telerama this week published results of a survey asking 100 French writers to list their 10 favourite books. "La Princesse de Clèves" came third in the overall rankings, after masterpieces by Marcel Proust and James Joyce.

Telerama commented that it was unlikely Madame de La Fayette would have done so well before Sarkozy's jibes.

Photo: A public protest reading of "La Princesse de Clèves" at the Université François-Rabelais in Tanneurs, Tours, February 16, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Obama congratulates Funes, seeks to change U.S. approach to Latin America

Note: This has been compiled from my translations of a variety of Spanish language news sources.

United States President Barack Obama called Mauricio Funes, the newly-elected President of El Salvador, to offer his support. He congratulated Funes on his victory in an election that was "free, fair and democratic". He also expressed his desire to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Funes won the presidential election in El Salvador on Sunday, becoming the first president elected from the former guerrilla group Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN), ending 20 years of right-wing government.

The president-elect said that Obama told him he was worried about the impact that the world economic crisis, which originated in the United States, is having on Central America and El Salvador in particular, which is very dependent on the remittances sent by immigrants living in the U.S.

"He is worried about the impact that the international crisis will have and is already having, the crisis that the United States itself is suffering, on the regional economy and particularly on El Salvador," said Funes at a press conference.

The 2.3 million Salvadoran immigrants in the United States send home about $3.7 billion a year, which is the main source of income for the country.

Obama talked with Funes for 15 minutes and said he hoped to meet with him during the 5th Summit of the Americas which will take place on April 17-19 in Trinidad and Tobago. The White House has stated that Obama hopes that the Summit will be an opportunity for the United States to change the way in which it perceives the region. Spokesperson Robert Gibbs said that Obama will "travel to the Summit of the Americas to participate in that meeting and begin a renewed effort to change the way we view Latin America and do it in a way that is beneficial to Latin America as well as the United States."

Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America Thomas Shannon, asserted last week at a forum in Washington that the U.S. will come to the Summit in a "spirit of equality" and dialogue. Vice President Joseph Biden will travel to Chile and Costa Rica at the end of March to prepare for this meeting.

Shannon is in El Salvador today to meet with both the outgoing president Tony Saca and with president-elect Funes, to personally offer congratulations and address topics of mutual concern. President Obama will travel to Mexico to meet with Mexican President Felipe Calderón on April 16-17 and talk about bilateral issues such as trade and development, security, immigration, and how to deal with the economic crisis and the violence and drug trafficking that plague both sides of the border.

Obama Sings María José Quintanilla's "México Lindo y Querido" on "Piolín por la Mañana":

President Barack Obama promises to tackle immigration system

The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama renewed his campaign promise to tackle the immigration system in a meeting with Hispanic lawmakers Wednesday.

"The president made clear to us that he is a man of his word," said Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Obama also told the lawmakers that he will travel next month to Mexico to discuss escalating violence from drug cartels and immigration with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, White House officials said.

During the campaign, Obama supported a comprehensive overhaul of immigration policy, including creation of a possible path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are otherwise law-abiding.

Obama has yet to tackle the issue, as his administration has grappled with the economic crisis and an increasingly crowded agenda in his two months in office.

But immigration legislation is on the agenda and moving forward, said Hispanic lawmakers who attended the West Wing meeting, their first face-to-face meeting with the president. The caucus consists of all Democrats and one independent.

"The president said more than any of us expected him to say,” said Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill. “He was clear, eloquent and determined in letting us know that we're all together on the route to comprehensive immigration reform,"

Mr. Gutierrez, who is wrapping up a cross-country tour to highlight how families are affected by the immigration system, said the lawmakers “made it absolutely clear that this is a civil rights issue of our community.”

Obama told the group that he will work immigration system in a similar way that he has rolled out other major policy initiatives. There will be a public forum on immigration, possibly within the next two months.

At that forum, key principles of a legislative package would be unveiled, Gutierrez said.

Legislative efforts have died off since Congress has failed in 2007 to legalize some 11 to 12 million people who are in the country illegally.

While working towards legislation, the Obama administration is working on internal changes at the Department of Homeland Security, including a review of work-place raids.

How I learned Spanish – III: Immersion

Before beginning the final part of this series (see parts 1 and 2), I want to acknowledge my source of inspiration for this theme. It comes from a book I have been reading, edited by Tom Miller, “How I learned English: 55 accomplished Latinos recall lessons in language and life” (National Geographic Society, 2007). The essays reflect the love-hate relationship Hispanic immigrants have developed with the language they had to learn in order to survive. Some are literal, others anecdotal and poignant or funny. For example, Rep. José Serrano (D-NY) about whom we have been blogging recently because of his Child Citizen Protection Act, H.R. 182, describes learning English from Frank Sinatra records. I recommend this book for all who are teaching or studying a language.

People often ask how I learned Spanish. They imagine that I will tell them of an intensive summer in Cuernavaca or Cochabamba, or perhaps – as one critic of one of my early translations into Spanish once wrote – a stint in the Peace Corps (this was not a compliment, but I was ecstatic – I didn’t think my written Spanish was THAT good!) The quick answer is that I studied it in college and, while I did take Spanish up to the intermediate college level, that is not really how I became fluent.

I learned Spanish by teaching English. My students became my friends and it was easier to attend the Spanish Mass with them after class. I became a Hispanic Catholic the same way I became an Anglo Catholic – by osmosis. Repetition is built into Catholicism by design. Eventually even the most stubborn brain can remember the Creed without resorting to a missalette.

I also made an effort many years ago to create an “immersion” experience for myself. I determined that I would do something in Spanish every day. It might be talking to the cleaning staff at the health club, listening to music, or reading a news story in Spanish on the Internet. I examined daily activities and looked for ways I could integrate Spanish into my routine. Here are a few examples:

  • Reading the Bible and saying daily prayers in Spanish
  • Listening to Latino pop and alabanza music while working out
  • Scanning Google News in Spanish and reading the free Spanish language weekly newspapers
  • Speaking Spanish whenever I can to the few colleagues who are bilingual, the brothers and sisters in Church, janitors, waiters, and busboys, the young lady from El Salvador who fixes my morning bagel with cream cheese, lost tourists, etc...
I’m not a big TV watcher, though watching broadcasts in the language one is trying to learn is a good technique for those who enjoy it. I do read novels and I now try to buy and read contemporary works in Spanish. I am not talking about great works of literature but the Spanish equivalent of the pulp fiction I would otherwise be reading in English. What is trash in English seems virtuous when read in a foreign language.

My Spanish took a quantum leap when I joined the charismatic renewal. I was going to just sit quietly in the back and listen but my hermanos and hermanas wouldn’t let me. María, the coordinator, assigned me to lead prayers aloud. I was nervous. I said: “My Spanish isn’t good enough. I don’t know what to say.” “Don’t worry,” she replied. “Just start the prayer and the others will chime in.” So I started with the “oración de gracias” – perfect for beginners. Anyone can say “Gracias Padre” for something – por mi familia, mi casa, mi trabajo, etc…” I moved on and now I can even lead the “oración del Espíritu Santo” which is daunting for native Spanish speakers. Today, when I pray aloud for someone, I lapse into Spanish. English feels awkward for public prayer; I don’t have the words.

It was the same with leading a Bible study. I had led them in English but when Luis asked me to lead the group in Spanish, I demurred. He kept asking and then he tricked me. Leading the study himself one day, he used the Socratic method and showed me that in fact I did have enough vocabulary to talk about the Sacred Scriptures. It takes me longer to prepare than others and perhaps I’m less spontaneous, but today I can teach about the Bible and our Catholic faith in Spanish.

Immerse yourself long enough and your very soul changes; the boundaries of your cultural identity start to fade. I no longer feel like a “gringa” stranger in the Renovación and am actually taken aback when a newcomer expresses delight that a norteamericana would care enough to participate. Mostly I am what I always longed to be: just another hermana. Recently one hermano, Carlos, jokingly asked me after a Bible presentation in which I used too many nosotros los Hispanos…”: “Solo tengo una pregunta -- ¿Dónde aprendiste inglés?”

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Congressional Hispanics Caucus poised to meet with Obama

By Lynn Sweeton
Chicago Sun Times
March 17, 2009

WASHINGTON--The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has a much anticipated meeting coming up with President Obama, probably on Wednesday.

The CHC chairman is Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY). Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-Ill.) is also a member of the caucus. The CHC has a wide ranging agenda. Immigration is always a key issue for the group.

Meeting with a small group of reporters on March 12, Obama, asked about immigration, said he expected to have a comprehensive policy in place in a few months.

Q Thank you, Mr. President, for having us today. Since we're only going to get maybe one shot, I want to ask you a question that's of great concern to the people of my state of New Mexico. And as you're fully aware, Mexico is besieged by drug-related violence. In my state there's a very real concern that this violence will spill over to the border; in a few cases, it already has. What specifically does the administration plan to do to help contain this violence? And on a related note, if there's anything you could say about immigration reform and when we might see some sort of action on that front.

THE PRESIDENT: Well, as you know, the first meeting with a foreign leader that I had after my election was with President Calderón in Mexico, who I believe is really working hard and taking some extraordinary risks under extraordinary pressure to deal with the drug cartels and the corresponding violence that's erupted along the borders.

So this past week Admiral Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited with his counterparts in Mexico. Janet Napolitano, our director of Homeland Security, a border state governor, has been convening meetings with all the relevant agencies and consulted with the governors down there.

We expect to have a full -- a fully -- or a comprehensive approach to dealing with these issues of border security that will involve supporting Calderón and his efforts in a partnership; also making sure that we are dealing with the flow of drug money and the guns south, because it's really a two-way situation there. The drugs are coming north; we're sending funds and guns south -- and as a consequence, these cartels have gained extraordinary power.

And so, our expectation is to have a comprehensive policy in place in the next few months.

With respect to immigration reform, to some degree the collapse of housing construction in the country has slowed the flow of illegal immigrants coming into the country, but it remains a serious concern. And our approach is to do some things administratively to strengthen border security; to fix the legal immigration system, because a lot of the pressure -- or a lot of the impetus towards illegal immigration involves a broken legal system -- people want to reunify families and they don't want to wait 10 years.

I think we can make some progress on that front, and we've started to talk to all the parties involved and both parties here in Washington about the prospects of taking legislative steps. But obviously we've got a lot on our plate right now. And so what we can do administratively, that's where we're going to start.

Si yo no tengo amor...

The first lector, Doña N., made her entrance as the healing ministers were being seated. I was annoyed, having had to take time from my other tasks to prepare to substitute for her. I was set to say: “No, Doña N., not this time. You have forfeited your right to read today.” But Doña N. looks at me with her sorrowful eyes and says “I’m sorry, mi amor” and all resolve flies out the window. I quickly brief her on what the presider wants; she proceeds to do exactly the opposite.

In many parishes, Doña N. would no longer be reading, but I am patient. She is an elderly woman and she and her husband have both had major health problems. Because of the medical expenses, they had to sell their house near the church and now live in a small apartment much farther away. Despite being in her 70s, Doña N. has had to go back to work and she was working that day. She barely had time to go home, fix herself up, and get to Mass, but she came in looking like the reina that she is. Underneath the poverty, the aging body that betrays her, is a woman confidently claiming her essential dignity as a daughter of God, and she will not be denied.

When I got involved in Hispanic ministry in that parish, I vowed that we would be a community that always put love and compassion first. We took in people who had been turned away by other parishes and even allowed them to minister to the extent permitted by church law. This vision was not shared by other would be leaders and the hardness of their hearts finally drove me out along with many others. Maybe the liturgy wasn’t always pretty, it was almost never on time, but we would be a community where people felt welcomed, accepted, and at home – juntos en la casa de nuestro Padre común.

Whenever I have left a church, it has always been when form is prioritized over substance. I remember leaving Sacred Heart after a priest, who must have thought he was God’s gift to the Church, told a developmentally disabled man that he could no longer sing in our folk choir because he didn’t always start on cue with the rest of us. We had worked around M.’s disability, welcoming his presence and the obvious joy he felt at belonging and being able to serve God through his music. If M. could be accepted, we were all accepted. When M. was cast out in the name of liturgical perfection, the soul of the choir left with him and our music became a chore rather than a gift.

Later, at St. Joseph’s, I had a similar experience when our old priest left and was replaced by a new fellow who turned out to be very rigid. The children’s choir was singing that particular day. They are our pride and joy, those kids, and the couple who direct them have worked hard to get them to sing together, even in Latin, and to generally behave themselves.

This was not enough for Father H. Interrupting the Eucharistic prayer not once but twice, he reprimanded the children for not facing the altar. You could feel a glacial pall settle over the congregation. The choir director and her husband looked embarrassed, the kids ashamed and confused.

After Mass I could not contain my anger. I told Father H. that his actions were far more disruptive than anything the kids were doing and asked why he could not have waited and spoken to the director privately. He replied that the children were being “disrespectful” by facing their director rather than the altar. But these are “babies” – all of them in primary school. They haven’t read the bishops’ liturgical guidelines. For them, respect means not chewing gum, making faces or wriggling around too much. They had achieved that with their director’s coaching. Again, form had taken precedence over love and I had to move on.

People were shocked when the latest American Religious Identification Survey came out showing that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as Christian had declined from 86.2% in 1990 to 76% in 2008 while those who claimed “no religion” nearly doubled from 8.2% to 15%. Catholics fared somewhat better only due to the extensive immigration of Hispanics from south of the border.

It’s not that people don’t believe in God. Almost 70% still profess a belief in a personal deity and most have been baptized and married in the church. But sometimes the way we are treated makes us feel unwelcome by the institution and so we stay home, read our Bibles and pray directly to God in the silence of our rooms, where we will not be judged and perhaps rejected by fellow believers and those we are supposed to call “Father”.

Home is where the heart is and when love is driven out by obsession with perfection rather than compassion and forgiveness, the Church is no longer home to us. We do not find God there.

No a la construcción de cárcel privada para indocumentados

Mitzi Macias
Washington Hispanic
13 de marzo de 2009

Cerca de 200 personas llegaron al poblado de Farmville a tres horas y media de Manassas para protestar por la construcción de un centro de detención para inmigrantes indocumentados cuya administración estaría en manos privadas.

La marcha encabezada por la Coalición de Pueblos Inmigrantes de VA es parte de una campaña que pretende sensibilizar a las autoridades locales de Farmville para que anulen cuanto antes el acuerdo con la Oficina de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE, por sus siglas en inglés) y el sector privado.

“ La construcción de un centro de detención para inmigrantes indocumentados es una verdadera amenaza para nuestras comunidades porque al ser privada estará basada en el lucro. Lo que vende una cárcel son celdas y estás tendrán que ser ocupadas para generar ganancias, tan igual como opera un hotel”, expresó aWashington Hispanic, Ricardo Juárez, coordinador de Mexicanos sin Fronteras, una de las organizaciones miembros de la Coalición.
El nuevo centro de detención tendría capacidad para 1.200 reclusos y representará una inversión inicial de 21 millones de dólares. Las partes interesadas señalan que el proyecto establece que parte de las ganancias se destinarían al gobierno de Farmville y que generaría empleos para la administración del centro.

“ Actualmente los detenidos que entran a un proceso de deportación en el área metropolitana son trasladados a centros en Piedmont y Hampton y ahora serían trasladados a Farmville”, explica Juárez.

El gobierno federal es el que otorga los fondos para la construcción de nuevos centros y es el responsable de cubrir los gastos generados por cada inmigrante detenido. Se estima que el gobierno pagará entre 18 a 23 dólares diario a la empresa encargada de administrar el centro

“ Lo preocupante es que en los últimos años se le ha dado un enfoque industrial a las prisiones para inmigrantes por lo que los arrestos masivos y las redadas son considerados como fuentes de materias primas dejando a los centros de detención ganancias millonarias. El problema es que no sabemos si van a aumentar las redadas o no”, manifestó Juárez.

Se espera que empiecen los trabajos de construcción a mediados de este año, se esperaba que el centro estuviera listo para el mes de junio, pero debido a la situación financiera del país los fondos se retrasaron. El inversionista ICA-Farmville será el encargado de levantar lo que será un nuevo centro de detención regional de inmigrantes con la posibilidad de extender sus facilidades hasta 2.500 camas e incluso el proyecto contempla el establecimiento de cortes federales de inmigración.

Como parte de la campaña en contra de este proyecto la Coalición de Pueblos Inmigrantes de VA está realizando visitas a los domicilios de los residentes de Farmville y enviando cartas a las autoridades para llevar la voz de las comunidades inmigrantes y las consecuencias reales de esta medida.

“Lucrar con el dolor humano es inconcebible porque porque existen suficientes casos que ilustran que no sólo se ha detenido a criminals sino a personas cuyo único pecado ha sido estar indocumentado. Este centro mas que una cuestión de seguridad pública y control de inmigración es un negocio de tamaño industrial”, finalizó Juárez.

Visions of the Priesthood

Overshadowed by Pope Benedict XVI's trip to Africa, His Holiness' parting address to the Congregation for the Clergy might go unnoticed but, thanks to David Gibson's post on the Commonweal blog, it did not escape our attention. He put his spin on the Pope's remarks; I'm going to add mine.

The most trumpeted aspect of the address was the Pope's proclamation of a "Year of the Priest" which will run from June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010. It marks the 150th anniversary of the death of St. Jean Marie Vianney, the "Curé d'Ars" and the Pope's idea of a model pastor. However, this is not what makes this address interesting, but rather the fine print. Let's dissect it.

1. Se l’intera Chiesa è missionaria e se ogni cristiano, in forza del Battesimo e della Confermazione, quasi ex officio (cfr CCC, 1305) riceve il mandato di professare pubblicamente la fede, il sacerdozio ministeriale, anche da questo punto di vista, si distingue ontologicamente, e non solo per grado, dal sacerdozio battesimale, detto anche sacerdozio comune.

If you are a woman or a married man and think you should be able to become a priest in the Roman Catholic Church because as part of your baptism you were called to be priest, prophet and king (or queen), His Holiness is saying "Guess again". It is not the same priesthood and he wants to make that abundantly clear. The ordained are "special", a class set apart.

2. Certamente, la grande tradizione ecclesiale ha giustamente svincolato l’efficacia sacramentale dalla concreta situazione esistenziale del singolo sacerdote, e così le legittime attese dei fedeli sono adeguatamente salvaguardate. Ma questa giusta precisazione dottrinale nulla toglie alla necessaria, anzi indispensabile, tensione verso la perfezione morale, che deve abitare ogni cuore autenticamente sacerdotale.

According to the "great Church tradition", the efficacy of the sacraments doesn't depend on whether you boys keep your noses clean and your pants on (but we would still like you to strive for moral perfection)...This is leadership?? For the record: His Holiness is canonically correct but I question the appropriateness and wisdom of focusing on this aspect of Catholic doctrine at a time when the Church is experiencing scandal after scandal.

3.La missione del presbitero, come evidenzia il tema della plenaria, si svolge "nella Chiesa". Una tale dimensione ecclesiale, comunionale, gerarchica e dottrinale è assolutamente indispensabile ad ogni autentica missione e, sola, ne garantisce la spirituale efficacia...La missione è "comunionale", perché si svolge in un’unità e comunione che solo secondariamente ha anche aspetti rilevanti di visibilità sociale. ...Infine le dimensioni "gerarchica" e "dottrinale" suggeriscono di ribadire l’importanza della disciplina (il termine si collega con "discepolo") ecclesiastica e della formazione dottrinale, e non solo teologica, iniziale e permanente.

Here we are fighting the resurgence of liberation theology. To "worker priests" and others who want to take the priesthood out of the churches and into the streets, this Pope is saying: "No. You all belong "nella Chiesa" -- inside the Church. The social aspect of your mission is secondary and furthermore, if we had focused more on teaching you Church discipline and doctrine and less on theology, you wouldn't be getting ideas and forgetting your place."

4.La missione ha le sue radici in special modo in una buona formazione, sviluppata in comunione con l’ininterrotta Tradizione ecclesiale, senza cesure né tentazioni di discontinuità. In tal senso, è importante favorire nei sacerdoti, soprattutto nelle giovani generazioni, una corretta ricezione dei testi del Concilio Ecumenico Vaticano II, interpretati alla luce di tutto il bagaglio dottrinale della Chiesa.

Those young'uns can't be trusted to read Apostolicam Actuositatem and Presbyterorum Ordinis for themselves. We have to give them the "proper" interpretation. It's also why we want to go back to the Latin Mass so that those pesky lay people will stop meddling and whatever "Father says" will be law.

5. Urgente appare anche il recupero di quella consapevolezza che spinge i sacerdoti ad essere presenti, identificabili e riconoscibili sia per il giudizio di fede, sia per le virtù personali sia anche per l’abito, negli ambiti della cultura e della carità, da sempre al cuore della missione della Chiesa.

Better iron those cassocks and dust off those Roman collars, boys. Your days of wearing sweatshirts and jeans are numbered.

6. ...è necessario vigilare affinché le "nuove strutture" od organizzazioni pastorali non siano pensate per un tempo nel quale si dovrebbe "fare a meno" del ministero ordinato, partendo da un’erronea interpretazione della giusta promozione dei laici, perché in tal caso si porrebbero i presupposti per l’ulteriore diluizione del sacerdozio ministeriale e le eventuali presunte "soluzioni" verrebbero drammaticamente a coincidere con le reali cause delle problematiche contemporanee legate al ministero.

Excuse me? Let me get this straight, Your Holiness. Are you saying that the structures that have been put into place to cope with the priest shortage -- the use of lay parish administrators and training lay leaders to preside over Sunday celebrations in the absence of a priest -- will exacerbate the priest shortage? What exactly are the 3,141 United States parishes that were without a resident priest in 2008 expected to do? Close? And when there is no readily accessible Catholic parish, who is to blame when the faithful abandon the Church?

This is also a justice issue. It is easy to find priests who are willing to serve in wealthy, urban parishes. Poor and/or rural parishes are either closed down or left in the hands of catechists. We have seen many such parishes in Latin America. There are many in Africa. If you would move out of your comfort zone, you would see them, Your Holiness. Start listening to the faithful and begin the Year of the Priest with one simple act: Ask young people what it would take for them to decide to become priests. Then you will know how to reform the Church and solve the crisis.

Photos: Two different visions of the priesthood.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Migracorridos: La Migra's latest weapon

The Washington Post had an article this weekend called "Crossover Appeal" about the US Border Patrol's creative use of "migracorridos" -- traditional Mexican ballads with lyrics aimed at deterring illegal border crossing. The first 5-song CD was issued in 2006 and a new album is planned for this spring as well as a similar advertising offensive geared to other Central American countries. The songs have been played on radio stations throughout northern Mexico and even the station owners have no idea that "La Migra" is behind the ballads.

BBC Mundo reporter Carlos Ceresole also wrote an excellent piece last month about the initiative, Operación "migracorridos", and we have translated it here below. Unlike the Post, BBC offers the complete audio for four of the five songs on the first album.

Is this good? Is this bad? I don't know, but I think that if it prevents deaths by weeding out those who are not prepared for the physically arduous task of crossing the border without authorization, then it is helpful, no matter who is financing the campaign. I would rather see an hermano or hermana deterred and alive in Mexico than dead, robbed or assaulted by a coyote who double-crossed them or a Border Patrol agent who shot first and asked questions later.


The new secret weapon of the U.S. Border Patrol: a musical offensive with ranchera rhythms and lyrics that evoke the dangers of illegally crossing the border.

In "Respeto”, a young man who decided to emigrate to the North "to become someone" talks about his own death and that of his fellow travelers, suffocated when the "pollero" – human smuggler – leaves them trapped in the vehicle that carried them.

"Para cruzar la frontera / Me puso en la caja de un trailer / Allí compartí mis penas / Con otros cuarenta inmigrantes / A mi nunca me dijeron / Que esto era un viaje al infierno".

In "El Más Gran Enemigo", over a guitar and accordion background, the Michoacan Abelardo tells of the moment he woke in the middle of the desert to find his cousin Raphael dead at his side.

"Pensó en buscar el regreso / Y hacer un sepelio en el pueblo / Y a manera de juramento / Dijo a su primo difunto / Si Dios me ha de quitar la vida / Que sea en mi tierra querida".

And on the same tragic note, the other three themes that complete this first musical release of the "No More Crosses on the Border” campaign -- a play on words that at the same time refers to the illegal entrances and those who die in the attempt -- tell stories of abuse, killing and rape.

Another star is born

The increased activity of the drug cartels in Mexico led a while ago to a musical variant, the "narcocorridos", in which the lyrics recount the exploits of drug dealers and their often violent end.

But what nobody expected was that the U.S. government would resort to the same resources to spread its ads, giving birth to another appendix to the traditional Mexican corridos.

Moreover, the name of the CD - "Migracorridos" - also seems to show that the Border Patrol has assumed the nickname "la Migra", as U.S. immigration agents are usually called, almost always in a derogatory manner, without any complex.

"The important thing is that we get the message across and save as many lives as possible," Eugenio Rodriguez, Jr., spokesman for the Border Patrol in Laredo, Texas, told BBC World.

"Many of those arriving at the border to attempt the crossing have been cheated. They do not know what they face."

"For the 'coyotes' -- another name by which the people-smugglers are known – they are only objects of profit ... they take their money, they exploit them, they abandon them in the desert…We are trying to warn them that it is not worth the effort, to think of their families,” Rodriguez said.

Secret Weapon

The CD was produced by Elevación, a Hispanic advertising agency based in Washington, which gave it freely to dozens of radio stations in northern Mexico.

Jimmy Learned, president of the company, told BBC World that the songs have had very good public acceptance.

"People started calling the radio stations to request the songs ... interested in who was the singer or group. I think that some of the songs were even nominated for an award in Mexico," he said.

What listeners do not know is that "migracorridos" are part of an advertising campaign paid for by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Both Learned and Rodriguez admitted that it was decided not to publicize this detail to avoid rejections and maximize the impact of the campaign.

José Luis Gasca, chief operating officer of La Zeta, a radio station in Morelia, Michoacan, told BBC World that he was not aware of the origin of these songs that are regularly on the air on his station, but that they seemed "suitable material".

"Although it is in a sui generis manner, they are inviting people to be aware that this adventure that is part of the culture of Mexico, is a practice that often leads to misfortune," Gasca said.

The measure of success

Official figures provided by the Border Patrol show that in fiscal year 2007, which runs from October 1 to September 30 -- a total of 876,704 arrests, 398 deaths and 1,847 rescues took place along the Mexican-American border.

The numbers for fiscal year 2008 are 723,825 prisoners, 390 dead and 1,263 rescued.

The decline in all categories appear to be symptomatic of a change, but it is very likely due to the impact of a number of factors: an economy in recession, more border agents, better infrastructure and deterrent technology, and – why not? -- maybe the contribution of the "migracorridos”.

It is difficult to measure the impact because "we are not selling anything, just trying to save lives," said Learned.

For now, he says that they are about to put out two new songs in April and that they are thinking about expanding the campaign to the rest of Mexico and Central America.

For the public "what is important is that the campaign has positioned itself in the community."

"If we can at least make people think twice before taking off, he said, that's a success."



El Más Grande Enemigo

En la Raya

Veinte Años