Friday, April 24, 2009

Fernando Lugo: "Enough already, I said I'm sorry"

At least today we have a break from the Fernando Lugo paternity claims. The fourth woman, Raquel Torres, has no interest in coming to Paraguay from Spain to press a claim for her daughter, though a press interview with Raquel's mother provided a subplot to the telenovela. Apparently, Raquel also has a son who was fathered by another priest, Pedro Cabañas, who worked with Lugo. Cabañas has refused to acknowledge his son. For the record, Raquel's mother says that while everyone in San Pedro says Lugo is the father of her granddaughter, she doesn't believe it. "Somos medio parientes, yo soy Méndez también, y cómo le vamos a demandar si una de mis hijas, Gloria, trabaja en el Ministerio de Salud; otro hijo trabaja en otro ministerio, y él siempre se portó bien con nosotros” ("We are half related, I am a Méndez too, and why would we file a claim when one of my daughters, Gloria, works in the Ministry of Health; another son works in another ministry; and he [Lugo] has always been good to us").

Meanwhile, the third woman, Damiana, is so pissed off that Lugo's attorney called her a liar that she has changed her mind this afternoon and decided to file an official paternity claim as well.

President Lugo gave a press conference in which he offered an apology. The president said that he was only human, a product of his culture, and that he never wanted to hurt anyone. He reiterated that he would comply with the law and said that the country would see him as a father in every sense of the word. He emphasized that the work of government would continue and that he has no plans of resigning.

From Notre Dame to New Orleans...

Well, at least you can't accuse our Roman Catholic hierarchy of inconsistency. Catholic blogger David Gibson reports today that "Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans has said he will boycott graduation at Xavier University because they are giving an honorary degree to Donna Brazile, the veteran Democratic political strategist and Catholic and New Orleans native who supports abortion rights. Brazile is also African-American, and Xavier is of course the preeminent historically black Catholic university in the United States."

Brazile responded: "As a life long devoted Catholic, I am sorry the archbishop will boycott this celebration of the class of 2009. I will remain faithful to the Catholic Church and my Christian faith which keeps me grounded."

Ironically, three years ago Hughes was present when Xavier awarded an honorary degree to Barack Obama, before he was a household name.

Gibson's reflection on this latest incident echoes my own thoughts: "I wonder if the hierarchy realizes the collective damage that this application of principle--and the blistering rhetoric against Obama et al--is doing to the church's standing in the black community." Indeed, according to the most recent American Religious Identification Survey, the number of African Americans (non-Hispanic) who identify themselves as Catholic has declined by one third from 9% in 1990 to 6% in 2008 while the number identifying themselves as generic (nondenominational) Christian or of no religious affiliation has increased. Do we really want to continue to drive wedges between the Catholic Church and minority communities by our relentless, single-minded focus on the abortion issue?

Loverde on Obama at Notre Dame

Well, I suppose I'm not surprised. Our bishop, Paul Loverde, has added his name to the list of 46 bishops calling for Notre Dame to rescind its invitation to President Barack Obama to speak at Commencement. And, as with the others, the rhetoric is utterly over the top: "However, given the unique national prominence of Notre Dame among Catholic universities, the decision by a few administrators to give him a platform and honor on Commencement Day will be damaging to the Church, to the pro-life cause and, ultimately, to the university itself."

Wrong, Monseñor Obispo. What IS damaging to the Church and to Notre Dame is this excessive and often verbally violent campaign against academic freedom that is making many thinking Catholics want to find another religion and is making the Church a laughingstock in the public media. Not to mention the racially divisive dimension -- pitting minority student groups against the pro-life movement which is already viewed as basically a white, middle-class phenomenon with very little interest in the problems of the poor, the immigrant community, etc...The institutional Church turns out in droves for the National Right to Life March but when it comes time to march for immigrant rights, you can count the habits and Roman collars on the fingers of one hand.

On the positive side, 23 student groups at Notre Dame have united to send a letter to president John Jenkins, supporting his decision to remain firm on the invitation to President Obama and from the list, you can understand what I mean about the racial divisiveness of this campaign by the conservative wing of the Church. The groups are:

Africa Faith and Justice Network
African Student Association
Anthropology Club
Asian International Society
Black Cultural Arts Council
Brazil Club
Campus Labor Action Project
College Democrats
Feminist Voice
Human Rights- Notre Dame
Indian Association of Notre Dame
Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano De Azatlan de Notre Dame
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, ND
Native American Student Association of Notre Dame
ND for Animals
Notre Dame Peace Fellowship
Outreach ND
Progressive Student Alliance
Shades of Ebony
Spanish Club
Students for Environmental Action
Sustained Dialogue at Notre Dame
The Wabruda

Also, the AAUP has issued a statement of support for Jenkins, saying: "The American Association of University Professors applauds Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins for standing firm on the university’s decision to invite President Obama and for exemplifying by his actions the words of his predecessor, Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who stated unequivocally that “the Catholic university must have true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.” The opportunity to be confronted with diverse opinions is at the core of academic freedom, which is vital to a free society and a quality education. The AAUP will continue to work to ensure such academic freedom."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Immigration News Roundup - April 23, 2009

1. After Losing Freedom, Some Immigrants Face Loss of Custody of Their Children: A very sad story in today's New York Times talks about the plight of a Guatemalan woman, Encarnación Bail Romero, who was picked up during a raid in a poultry processing plant near Carthage, Missouri, and, while she was in jail awaiting deportation, her parental rights over her U.S-born son Carlos were terminated on grounds of "child abandonment" and the boy was given for adoption to an American couple. Encarnación is now fighting to regain custody of her boy. Carlos' case is symptomatic of the huge number of kids who find themselves in legal limbo as a result of deportations.

2. College Board Supports DREAM Act: The College Board is supporting legislation that would offer some undocumented youths a path to citizenship through college or the military. The association best known for the SAT and AP tests it administers is stepping into the contentious issue for the first time, just as President Obama is signaling that he may encourage lawmakers to overhaul immigration laws this year. The board's trustees have voted unanimously to support the legislation, known as the Dream Act.

3. "...Pinche gobierno, cuéntanos bien", mejor dicho, ¡no nos cuenta!: A nationwide group of Latino ministers has a message for illegal immigrants: Stand up, but refuse to be counted in the 2010 U.S. census. The National Coalition of Latino Clergy and Christian Leaders is urging undocumented immigrants to boycott the census — which is used to calculate everything from federal funding to congressional representation — unless Congress first passes immigration reform. "The same data that helps the Latino community to seek political empowerment, the same numbers that are used to show how strong we are and prove our growing numbers, that's the same data the anti-immigrant forces use against us," the Rev. Miguel Rivera, the head of the coalition, said Tuesday.

It should be noted that many other Hispanic groups such as NALEO have opposed this campaign as counterproductive but it is important to know that it is going on. El Rev. Miguel Rivera también tiene un articulo en español que explique el porque de esta campaña.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

La Verdadera Renovación Carismática

I have a lot of respect for Leonardo Boff. He is a friend and a joy to work with and he inspires me, but he has one blind spot. Leonardo, te quiero decir esto entre hermanos: en cuanto a los carismáticos, tu estás equivocado. To hear Leonardo, one would think that the Renovación is nothing but a bunch of pretty boy priests dancing around on TV with sexy contemporary Christian music starlets while conning gullible, over-emotional worshipers out of their last dollar and completely oblivious to the poor. Lo siento, Leonardo, but that stereotype -- like all stereotypes -- is dead wrong. If it were true, I certainly would not be in the Renovación.

I think first of my prayer group. I am the wealthiest member and I make below the median income for our geographical area. We get together, sing, pray, study the Bible and sometimes share a meal. We collect funds once a month to support seminarians in a poor Catholic diocese in El Salvador and we also help each other out when someone loses their job or apartment or has a family member in need of medical care. In a parish that is too small to support a full-time Spanish-speaking priest, we also provide counseling and pastoral care, especially when there is a serious illness or a death in the family. Don't tell me we don't care about the poor. We ARE the poor and we care for each other and for many who are worse off than we are. And we are acutely aware of injustice -- especially the discrimination against our immigrant community here in the United States.

I think of my friend, Fr. José Eugenio Hoyos. Yes, he enjoys his status as an internationally famous predicador with a gift for healing. Yes, he will happily dance to whatever Christian rock group is playing and he enjoys giving abrazos to everyone -- young or old, glamorous or plain. But he also recently delivered a petition for immigration reform with 25,000 signatures he gathered to President Obama. In his homilies and columns, he regularly hammers home the point that wide economic inequality is contrary to the gospel and the teachings of the Catholic Church, that as Christians we need to care for the Earth and be concerned about global warming, and he does this even as he comes under fire from the conservative wing of the Church for "being political". His MAPAVI Foundation has helped many people get life-saving medical procedures they otherwise couldn't afford. He is the spiritual director of the Renovación in Arlington and he is a carismático.

Ever since its inception in the 1960s, a false dichotomy has been posited and perpetuated between the Charismatic Renewal and social justice, as if somehow it were only possible for human beings to relate to God vertically or horizontally but not in both dimensions. Faith and works -- as St. James reminds us: both are necessary. Without the Holy Spirit, social action becomes tedious at best, at worst misguided. Without active concern for the world and its problems, our prayer is meaningless noise. As St. Paul puts it so beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13: "If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal." And he goes on to address the "social justice" set: "If I give away everything I own,...but do not have love, I gain nothing."

I think of Padre Chelo, the well-known Charismatic priest and predicador from the Dominican Republic. Padre Chelo is cute and hugely popular in charismatic circles. He also has a band, "Renacer en el Espíritu", but when he isn't preaching or giving retreats, he is spending time with the orphans in the Fundación Padre Fantino shelter he established. Don't tell me Padre Chelo doesn't know about poverty -- I have photos that prove otherwise.

Or maybe Leonardo could spend a day with Fr. Sergio Valverde, the spiritual advisor to the Renovación Carismática Católica in San José, Costa Rica. While Fr. Sergio is also an inspiring predicador and retreat leader, he barely has time for that anymore.

Fr. Sergio was born in the parish where he is now a priest -- Cristo Rey, in one of the poorest barrios of San José. It's where he served as an altar boy before being ordained nine years ago.

When Fr. Sergio came back to Cristo Rey after a stint at La Merced, he was determined to tackle the poverty and other social problems that plagued his old neighborhood. In 2001, he founded the Asociación Obras del Espíritu Santo, which provides everything from an annual toy drive and Christmas party for over 12,000 poor children to soup kitchens. The first soup kitchen moved with Fr. Sergio from La Merced to Cristo Rey and served about 200 people. It has since expanded to 12-13 locations, feeding over 12,000 people -- half of them children. The Asociación runs a "halfway house" -- a dozen youth who sleep in the parish hall while waiting for space in drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs to open up. Several hundred youth have already passed through this informal "halfway house" and Fr. Sergio is raising money to build a more stable full-time shelter on the church property. The Asociación provides many other services such as day care, after school care, outreach to street people, medical, legal and social services.

Fr. Sergio goes wherever people need him. He celebrates Mass in his parish but also in the "precarios" (the slum areas that are even poorer than Cristo Rey), and he goes into the jails to reach out to the delinquents and inspire them to change their lives. Fr. Sergio has said that many of his boyhood friends ended up in the criminal justice system -- such is the environment in which he lives and works.

Fr. Sergio calls himself an "esclavo por amor". He is a man who works daunting hours and has had to endure and respond to some criticism. He has been accused of running the Asociación in an authoritarian manner, of casual accounting and wasteful spending. He has answered all the charges openly and honestly. Most are the normal growing pains of a charitable organization that has had to grow too big too fast to keep up with the need.

One of the most criticized items, the security cameras that now dot the premises, have been essential in an area overrun by criminals so brazen that they have stolen truckloads of toys and clothing intended for poor children, forcing the priest to become not only a social worker but a watchman as well.

So, Leonardo, next time you want to diss the carismáticos, come up north and walk with Fr. Hoyos, Fr. Chelo or Fr. Sergio, or come and visit my grupo de oración. You will never see us in the same light again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fernando Lugo: The Eclipse of the Father

I don't understand how Leonardo Boff can continue to imply that Fernando Lugo is an "inspiring leader". Perhaps he is reluctant to appear ungrateful by calling Lugo to task for his behavior after having enjoyed Lugo's hospitality during the "Religious MERCOSUR". But there is a time and place to speak truth to power and my friend and brother Leonardo has never been shy before now.

Es facil hablar del Papa Benedicto XVI porque él no es parte de nuestra "familia" -- la familia de la teología de liberación. Es aun más importante que hablemos claro dentro de la "familia": que la explotación de mujeres pobres y vulnerables, que crear bebes y dejar las madres a criarlos solas y en pobreza no es como se debe comportar un verdadero hombre católico y cristiano. Que es tiempo para Lugo de arrepentirse y hacer todo lo posible y más que lo que la ley requiere para ayudar a esas mujeres y a sus hijos. My friend Felipe, who was deported earlier this year, made less than half of what Lugo makes as president of Paraguay, but yet he always contributed towards his children and he spent time with them.

Today we also have the depressing news that the Catholic Church has known about these children for a long time. The bishop of Ciudad del Este, Rogelio Livieres Plano, told a local radio station: "Esta es una cosa conocida ya desde hace años... es verdad que también se fueron destapando en el año 2002, 2003, 2004 y todos estos casos de Lugo lo llevaron a irse del episcopado." ("This is something that has been known for's also true that it was being uncovered in 2002, 2003, 2004 and all these cases of Lugo led him to leave the episcopate.") Livieres Plano revealed that several women denounced Lugo to the papal nuncio but then withdrew their statements. He said that he tried to talk to his colleagues about Lugo's case and how it was affecting the Church but was met with a wall of silence.

Benigna, the mother of Lugo's second known child, Lucas Fernando, is furious and is not settling for anything short of either a court-ordered DNA test or an admission of paternity. She says that while Lugo gave her limited financial help at the beginning, he never showed any interest in his son. "Ni estando en privado le alzó a mi hijo y nunca le dijo: vení mi hijo." ("Even in private he never lifted my son up and he never said to him: 'Come here, my son."). She says that she confessed her relationship with Lugo to another priest who told her that she was the guilty one and should repent until her death.

Thinking of all this mess this morning reminded me of an August 2004 column by Leonardo that I think is exactly what Lugo needs to read and think about. I'm going to reprint it here in Spanish but you can find it in English here:

El eclipse del padre
por Leonardo Boff

La compleja división social del trabajo, la participación de las mujeres en la vida pública y su dura crítica al patriarcalismo y al machismo vigentes, produjeron una crisis en la figura del padre. En cierta forma surgió una sociedad sin padre o con padre ausente.

El eclipse de la figura del padre, sin embargo, desestabilizó la familia tradicional. El aumento de los divorcios, hay que reconocerlo, acarreó consecuencias a veces dramáticas. Recientes estatísticas oficiales en Estados Unidos refieren que el 90% de los hijos huidos de casa o sin residencia fija pertenecía a familias sin padre, el 70% de la criminalidad juvenil provenía de familias en las que el padre estaba ausente, el 85% de los jóvenes encarcelados crecieron en familias sin padre y el 63% de suicidas jóvenes tenían padres ausentes.

La ausencia de la figura paterna desestructura hijos/as, los deja sin rumbo en la vida y les debilita el deseo de asumir un proyecto consistente de vida. Necesitamos hacer volver al padre.

Para recuperar la relevancia de la figura del padre es importante distinguir entre los modelos de padre y el principio antropológico de padre. Los modelos varían con los tiempos y las culturas: el padre patriarcal, tiránico, participante, compañero, amigo. El principio antropológico de padre es una estructura permanente, imprescindible para el complejo proceso de individuación humana. En todos los modelos actúa el principio antropológico de padre, pero sin agotarse en ninguno de ellos. La crisis de los modelos libera el principio paterno para otras expresiones.

La tradición psicoanalítica dejó claro la importancia insustituible del padre como principio antropológico. La figura del padre es responsable de la primera y necesaria ruptura de la intimidad madre-hijo/a y de la introducción del hijo/a en el mundo transpersonal, de los hermanos/as, de los parientes y de la sociedad.

En ese otro mundo existe orden, disciplina, autoridad y límites. Las personas tienen que que trabajar, realizar proyectos e inventar lo nuevo. En función de eso tienen que tener coraje, mostrar seguridad y disposición para hacer sacrificios.

Ahora bien, el padre es la personificación simbólica de estas actitudes. Es el puente hacia el mundo transpersonal y social. En esa travesía, el niño se orienta por el padre-héroe arquetípico que sabe, puede y hace. Si le falta esa referencia, se siente inseguro, perdido y sin iniciativa. Es propio de la figura del padre hacer comprender la diferencia entre el mundo de la familia y el mundo social, donde no sólo hay amparo, también hay trabajo; no sólo hay bondad, también hay conflicto; no sólo ganancias, también pérdidas. Si los programas televisivos de entretenimento exacerban el deseo haciendo creer que el único límite es el cielo, cabe al padre mostrar que en todo hay límite, que todos somos incompletos y mortales. Realizar esta verdadera pedagogía, incómoda pero vital, es atender la llamada del principio antropológico de padre, sin la cual estaría perjudicando a su hijo/a tal vez de forma permanente.

A partir de una figura de padre bien realizada, el niño puede elaborar una imagen positiva de Dios-Padre. A pesar de las dificultades, nunca faltan figuras concretas de padres que conocemos, que se inmunizaron contra la impregnación patriarcal y dentro de la compleja sociedad moderna viven dignamente, trabajan duro, cumplen sus deberes de padres, muestran responsabilidad y determinación. De esta forma cumplen la función arquetípica y simbólica con sus hijos/as, función indispensable para que ellos maduren su yo y, sin desconciertos ni traumatismos, ingresen en la vida autónoma, hasta ser padres y madres de sí mismos.

Es por eso que seguimos insistiendo en que el Presidente Lugo tiene que reconocer su paternidad y asumir TODAS sus responsabilidades de padre frente a sus criaturas.

And we already have rumors in the press about a third child, a girl of 6-7 years of age born to a young woman who was employed by the diocese at the time Fernando Lugo was bishop. Will this story ever end?

It's time to inject some humor into this depressing subject. First, I enjoyed the comment that someone added to one of the news accounts that while Lugo is rearranging the Paraguayan cabinet he should create a new ministry just to deal with his paternity cases. And then there's this video...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Leonardo Boff - Uncensored

In an interview with Jailson da Paz of Diario de Pernambuco, 4/18/2009, the theologian calls for the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and questions the actions of charismatic priests.

The theologian Leonardo Boff, 70, is a thinker with firm positions. Condemned by the Vatican to two years of silence for his theses on liberation theology in the 80s, he now believes that the Catholic Church would be better off if Benedict XVI were to resign. Boff does not hide the reasons for his conviction. For him, the pope is sectarian and is leading the Church to close itself off. It is at risk of becoming a Marian institution, valuing Mary more than Jesus.

Boff does not leave unanswered questions. The former Franciscan friar who left the religious life in the 90s because he was under the threat of a new condemnation by the Vatican, defends the Bolsa Familia [Brazil’s family allowance] program. He questions the actions of charismatics, like Marcelo Rossi, who value "aerobics" over social action. He condemns capitalism and its excesses, to which he attributes the current crisis.

The theologian granted the interview to Diario while participating in launching the book Leituras críticas sobre Leonardo Boff in Recife last Thursday.

Dom José

It is ridiculous to excommunicate anyone today. In announcing the excommunication of the doctors, responsible for legal abortion, and of the mother of the sexually abused pregnant girl, José Cardoso acted in opposition to the basic attitude of Jesus: welcoming the poor and oppressed. If the archbishop were a pastor, he would go and see the girl and the girl’s mother. But he preferred the law. He preferred to be a harsh and pitiless judge, speaking of excommunication. Thus, he was one milimeter from Canon Law and miles away from Jesus.

Liberation Theology

I would not change anything I have written. On the contrary, I would make it more radical. I would be more radical than I was. Poverty is increasing. Every four seconds, a person dies of hunger in the world. A world where, according to the UNDP (United Nations Program for Development), the richest 20% own 82.4% of the wealth and the poorest 20%, only 1.6%. The world situation has worsened. There are more hungry and more victims of injustice than when I wrote the books on liberation theology.


When I want to get really angry, I tune into the religious programs on television. They are in bad taste and poor. They are not up to the Christian message. They are closer to Xuxa than to the Gospel. There is a lack experience in dealing with the media and the Church is not preparing them for that. What they do is manipulate emotions. I have never seen Father Marcelo Rossi say that there are 1.1 million unemployed in Sao Paulo or ask God to guide the government in the path of justice and ethics. But I did see him do aerobic dancing.

Lula and Obama

The world lacks inspiring leaders. Leaders with charisma, able to lead people to believe in change and to provide focus and sense of direction. Lula and Barack Obama represent that. They refer to hope. They capture the profound anxieties of the moment. The rest, almost all, with rare exceptions, such as Fernando Lugo (president of Paraguay) and Evo Morales (president of Bolivia), are mere technicians, bureaucrats.


The current economic crisis is only one aspect of a crisis of civilization that we are going through. Of a model that can lead us to tragedy, with the effects of global warming. Paul Krugman, Nobel in economics in 2008, should be heard. According to him, we are seeing the “revenge of the glut”. And that the glut got us into this chaos.

Bolsa Familia

I was in the interior of Piauí and I saw a poor woman open her closet where there was rice, beans, sugar. They are things that we had not seen before and they are possible thanks to Bolsa Familia. For me, this is liberation. Ensuring the minimum to which families are entitled. But we must give and charge. You can not act only with paternalism. The government needs, increasingly, to ask for compensation. Charge for the registration and presence of children from families receiving benefits in schools, create alternatives and determine steps towards autonomy.

Benedict XVI

The pope is closer to the traditionalism of Marcel Lefebvre (the French Catholic bishop) than to the Second Vatican Council. We were very close. I was his friend, his disciple. Ratzinger helped to publish my thesis. But he has regressed. He has salvaged medieval values, such as the Latin Mass. If I were invited to celebrate in Latin, I would give the homily in Latin and ask the faithful questions in Latin. Who knows Latin today? Another point is that Pope Benedict XVI has no tact, and has created friction with Muslims and Jews. Since he is 82 years old, the Pope should acknowledge that he is tired. He would do well to resign.


The current pontiff screws the other churches by denying them the title of “church”. He states that there is only one path to salvation: the Catholic Church. For Benedict XVI, as he told me during my trial by the Vatican, the Catholic Church is the only home. The others stole a door, a window. And they will have to return. It is a fundamentalist vision, in which my belief is true and the other, wrong. And error is condemned. Suffice to say, religions are behind the major conflicts.


The church is not just the hierarchy. I will not leave it because of the Pope or the Roman Curia. The church is Pedro Casaldáliga (Bishop Emeritus of São Félix do Araguaia, Mato Grosso), Dom Kräutler Erwin (President of the Indigenous Missionary Council - Cimi), known for his strong defense of the poor. And Sister Dorothy Stang, murdered for fighting for the right to land, Sister Dulce, Dom Helder Camara, St. Francis of Assisi. The church is greater than the hierarchy. It is the people of God.


I am a worker with words. I spend 12 to 14 hours in my office. With words, I try to rebuild the world. It is a difficult job, because whoever writes is always late. I use Saturday and Sunday to catch up.

Priest not surprised by Susan Boyle

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- The audience snickered and the judges of "Britain's Got Talent" either rolled their eyes or allowed their blank expressions to betray their bemused skepticism as the awkward-looking middle-aged woman told them she wanted to be as famous as the popular British actress and singer Elaine Paige.

Then Susan Boyle began to sing, and they were spellbound and shocked by the beauty of her voice and rose to their feet in applause.

But Father Basil Clark, who watched the show on television at his home in Broxburn, Scotland, was not surprised.

He has seen the situation unfold many times before, having regularly accompanied Boyle, 47, on the annual Legion of Mary pilgrimage to the Marian shrine in Knock, Ireland.

"When I watched the judges' faces it reminded me of what I was like when I first saw Susan singing -- absolutely blown away by the quality of the singing and by that fantastic voice," said Father Clark, dean of West Lothian, the district that covers Boyle's home village of Blackburn.

"Anyone who sees her for the first time behaves the same way. I have never heard her sing badly, though she might lose the words if the stress gets too much," he told Catholic News Service in an April 16 telephone interview.

Boyle first appeared before judges Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Amanda Holden on the ITV1 sister show of "America's Got Talent"; it was broadcast April 11.

Her fame spread on the Internet, and in just five days she had attracted more than 15 million YouTube viewings of her rendition of "I Dreamed a Dream," from the musical "Les Miserables."

Part of Boyle's attraction is that she appears to be such an unlikely candidate for stardom. She said on TV that she has "never been kissed" and has lived alone with her cat since her mother died in 2007.

According to British media, she has learning disabilities as a result of being starved of oxygen at birth. She is unemployed and, as a churchgoing Catholic, her social life revolves around her family and her parish of Our Lady of Lourdes. She also enjoys karaoke in her local pub.

Father Clark said, "When she gets up to sing it can either be wonderful or you can get the unpredictable eccentric behavior, but it is to do with the fact that she has learning difficulties.

"In a sense, there is a beautiful voice trapped in this damaged body," he said. "It is an absolute contrast. There she was on television acting very peculiarly and the audience was expecting peculiar things to happen and then a voice of an angel comes out -- and that's Susan."

Father Clark said that local people who knew Boyle, the youngest of nine children of a family descended from Irish migrants, were "enormously proud of her and wish her the best but they are aware of the risks she is running," adding that her behavior has previously drawn cruel taunts from children.

"People are slightly worried about what might happen after this bout of fame," he explained.

"I am quite worried for her," he added. "I think it's great at one level. It might just be the thing that will make her, but she is a very vulnerable person and it could be quite difficult.

"It is a great opportunity for her and as far as I am concerned she should make the best of it, and if it lasts, it lasts, and if it doesn't, then it's still more than almost any one of us will ever achieve," he added. "It is important in sustaining her and making sure this is all a very, very beneficial experience."

He described Boyle as "a woman of great faith" who was often "very gentle and very caring" though she could also be "needy and demanding."

The world's media has camped outside Boyle's home where she grew up and where she still sleeps in the same room as when she was a child.

But Boyle has decided to temporarily escape the limelight to stay with friends as she prepares for the next round of the competition, in which she is expected to sing "Whistle Down the Wind," by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

She did give an interview to "The Early Show" on CBS News in which she said that her instant fame "hasn't really sunk in yet."

She said that she wanted to make her performance "a tribute to my mother" who had encouraged her to sing.

"I knew it was something I had to do," she said. "I had to get on with it. That's where the courage came from, my mother.

"The ones who made fun of me are now nice to me," she said. "So, I think I may have won them 'round."

From the Washington Post:

...As details of her life emerge, Boyle's story only becomes more unlikely. The youngest of nine children, she lives alone with her cat, Pebbles. She spent years taking care of her mother, who recently died, and she lives in a government-subsidized home.

She always wanted to sing in front of a large audience, but mostly she just sings in [Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic] church.

On Easter Sunday, the day after her television debut, Boyle -- dubbed "The Woman Who Shut Up Simon Cowell" in one headline -- received a standing ovation when she went to Mass.

"We let out a wee bit of a cheer for her. We are quite proud of her," Boyle's parish priest, the Rev. Ryszard Holuka, said in a telephone interview.

He added that Boyle is a "quiet soul."

"At gatherings and anniversary parties, she'd stand up and give a song," he said. "She never flaunted her voice; this is the first time it's been publicly recognized."

Susan Boyle sings "Cry Me a River" on a 1999 Charity CD

Susan Boyle made her first recording back in 1999, when she sang "Cry Me A River" for a charity CD.

Susan Boyle singing "Killing Me Softly" demo tape

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Win some, lose some...

Last night's "Buscando una Estrellita para Jesús 2009" had its "Susan Boyle" moment too, at least for me. It came in the second half of the program when Eric Terán from Our Lady of Good Counsel parish came onto the stage.

I had already not been feeling especially hopeful about his song selection. He had chosen "Estoy pensando en Dios" -- an overworked charismatic hymn of which I have heard entirely too many boring, dragging renditions over the years, so I was not particularly optimistic that a teenage boy with no professional singing experience could do anything with it. And the kid comes on stage looking more like someone who escaped from an advanced placement computer science program than like a budding Catholic charismatic singing star.

But when Eric got into the song, he breathed new life into it. He had a stage presence that blew the other contestants out of the water and an absolutely fearless rapport with the audience that many of the adults who participate in "Buscando una Estrella" (the grown up version of the contest) would do well to imitate...if they can. He had us all singing along in short order and every eye in the room was on him. Needless to say, Eric won first prize in the teenage category.

I also agreed that Joanna Lovo from Our Lady Queen of Peace earned her 2nd place in that category, no question. She reprised her performance of "Alma Misionera" today during the Offertory and had the whole church grooving, including Fr. Joe, who was trying hard to be contemplative prior to the Eucharist but got totally drawn into Joanna's singing. I think that when she was done, if someone had asked: "Who wants to go on a mission?", every hand in the place would have shot up! This is the true measure of a good Catholic charismatic singer, the ability to motivate with his or her voice.

However, in the 8-10 year old category, I have to respectfully disagree with my friend Fr. Hoyos and the judges. I believe that the winner should have been Diana Hidalgo from St. Francis of Assisi. Diana is a 9-year old Mexican girl. She wore a beautiful traditional dress with roses worked into it and her father accompanied her on the guitar as she sang "Eres tu, Jesús".

Diana impressed me by her total self-assurance, the smoothness of her gestures. She made great symbolic use of her star, sometimes holding it up to the heavens and looking at it, other times holding it in front of her in her two hands as a priest might hold the Host when consecrating it during the Eucharist. I was also impressed by her voice -- unusually even in tone and delivery for someone so young.

I don't know why she was not selected for any of the prizes (I have a couple of theories and none of them are pretty) but I hope -- and I KNOW -- that history will prove me right. Keep an eye on Diana Hidalgo, because that girl will be a leader in our Church, if not on stage.

Photos (top to bottom): Eric, Joanna, and Diana