Friday, May 1, 2009

May Day 2009 March for Immigrants Rights - DC - Part 1

We had a good turnout for a Friday afternoon with intermittent rain and given the scare over swine flu. One of the beautiful moments was the brothers and sisters from LIUNA who handed out oranges to everyone, a lifesaver given the heat and humidity.

May Day 2009 March for Immigrants Rights - DC - Part 2

At the end of the regular program, two unscheduled speakers moved the crowd to tears. A teenage boy from Mexico via Minnesota told us about his mother's deportation back in November 2008 and the impact it had had on him, his father and his siblings. He asked Michelle Obama to put herself in the position of his mother and imagine what it would be like to be separated from her children. He was followed by another woman from the area and her young children. She has also been served with a deportation order which, when it is enforced, will divide her family. These speakers made the need for immigration reform so real that the principal organizer, Gustavo Torres of Casa de Maryland, was moved to ask an evangelical pastor to come up and lead everyone in prayer for the two families.

Obama at Notre Dame update - 5/1/2009

Regardless of what some bishops think (57 of them at latest count), most Catholics think that it is right for President Obama to address the 2009 graduating class at Notre Dame. In a poll released yesterday, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that 50% of Catholics surveyed thought the university was right to invite Obama and 28% thought it was wrong. Only in the case of weekly mass attenders did the percentage who thought it was wrong exceed the percentage who thought it was right. Among Catholics who had heard about the controversy, the percentage of those supporting Obama's invitation was even greater -- 54%.

In presenting the survey results, the Pew Forum also highlighted that 67% Catholics approve of President Obama's job performance, 47% believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (42% say illegal in all/most cases), and 49% support stem cell research.

With regard to the abortion figures, some undoubtedly will make much of the fact that Catholics supporting legal abortion decreased from 49% in August 2008 to 47% in April 2009. However, the same Pew Forum survey shows that the percentage of Catholics who say abortion should be illegal in all/most cases also decreased by an even greater margin -- 47% in August 2008 to 42% in April 2009. Are we easing our way into a middle ground on this hot button issue?

President Obama himself seemed to have adopted a milder, more conciliatory position on the issue than his rhetoric during the presidential campaign which many conservative Catholics seized upon as an excuse not to vote for him. In response to a reporter's question on the Freedom of Choice Act at a press conference marking his 100th day in office, the President stated:

The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that...that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day. And I think they are in a better position to make these decisions ultimately than members of Congress or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy. that has been my consistent position. The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion, or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.

And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp, to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose. But I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's...that's where I'm going to focus.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame has found an ingenious solution to the vacuum left by Mary Ann Glendon when she declined the Laetare Medal. They plan not to award a Laetare this year and the speech that would have been given by Glendon will now be given by Judge John T. Noonan, a previous Laetare recipient with unimpeachable pro-life credentials. He has served as director of the National Right to Life Committee. However, the Catholic right is now squawking because of Noonan's support for artificial contraception...

Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Nothing but the truth

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” is the aphorism of consumer protection. A corollary for Internet stories might be: “If it sounds too far-fetched to be true, it probably is an urban legend, or its cousin, the glurge”. These false accounts that circulate via e-mail, blogs, and occasionally even an unwary “legitimate” news source go by many names and proliferate.

They are on my mind today because I received two from different sources yesterday. The first case was a purported “Cancer Update from Johns Hopkins Hospital” that the person who sent it wanted me to print out because she has e-mail but no printer. Because the forwarded e-mail was of poor quality, I set out to find the original source by cutting and pasting a phrase from the e-mail into Google. Voila! An urban legend unmasked. So I printed out the entry and sent that instead.

The second story – also unmasked via – involved a supposed foundation set up by Placido Domingo to help José Carreras when he had leukemia. I tried to find a URL or more information on the putative foundation. There was none. “¡Que raro!”, I thought, but a little more digging uncovered a notice from Carreras’ own foundation debunking this fictitious tale. This story had even been published in at least one regular newspaper.

So now my plea: Hermanos y hermanas, please don’t send me these anecdotes without engaging in some rudimentary fact-checking. Uncovering these two myths took me less than 5 minutes each. It’s not rocket science.

This being said, I want to point out that there are three ethically distinct categories:

1. Legitimate mistakes: We all make them sometimes in the news/blogging business. Even regular news sources get it wrong occasionally and the best fact-checker in the world won’t catch every error.

2. Apocryphal stories: These are tales that may or may not have happened but serve to illustrate a moral lesson. A recent example might be the story of the flight attendant who reseated the indigenous passenger to first class that appeared on the San Juan Diego Project blog. The main difference is that these stories, unlike urban legends, do not claim to be true and they don’t include specific real individuals or institutions that could easily be verified. They are essentially harmless.

3. Urban legends: These are disinformation and we need to stop passing them on. They range from manufactured outrage and associated action appeals (the non-existent “upcoming” movie depicting Jesus as a homosexual) to scare tactics (the HIV contaminated ketchup in fast food restaurants) to the libelous (the Domingo/Carreras story which also alleges a bitter animosity between the two tenors) to bad science (sugar does a lot of things but I’m reasonably certain it doesn’t “feed cancer cells”).

Three of the four urban legends I just cited were sent to me by people who are viewed as credible because of their positions in our community. Por favor, hermanos y hermanas, tomemos nuestras posiciones en serio. Que estas cadenas de correo electrónico con sus falsas promesas o amenazas y desinformación se terminen con nosotros. If you really want to be a believable leader, the chain letters, urban legends, and PowerPoints of Nuestra Madre Santísima -- She may have been Immaculate, but her PowerPoints are often laden with viruses, trojans, and other computer nasties -- should go no further than your recycle bin. In that way we can best honor the 8th Commandment and pass nothing along except the truth.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

100 Days: Closing the "God Gap" but not shaking the world

A Gallup poll taken on this the 100th day of his presidency shows Barack Obama with a 65% approval rate on average -- higher among African Americans (96%) and Hispanics (85%).

What is most extraordinary, however, is that Obama is making major strides in closing the so-called "God Gap", winning over faith voters. "According to Gallup Daily tracking right before the election, 61% of infrequent church attenders supported Obama, compared with only 41% of weekly attenders. However, since Obama became president, a solid majority of weekly church attenders have said they approve of the job he is doing. At the 100-day mark, that figure is 57%, compared with 69% of infrequent churchgoers."

And some in the Catholic Church are even concluding that President Obama might not be as extreme as the Church had feared. Below is a translation I have made of an assessment of Obama's first 100 days from today's L'Osservatore Romano:

One hundred days that did not shake the world
by Giuseppe Fiorentino
L’Osservatore Romano
April 29, 2009

Barack Obama is 1,361 days away from the expiration of his term. It is not known, nor can be imagined, what will happen in this time. Many analysts in fact describe the "job" of president as reactive. Planned political strategy cedes to choices dictated by events - and the case of the Bush presidency after Spetember 11, 2001 proves it.

From another perspective, this April 29th marks the one hundred days of the first African American president in the White House, a traditionally much-awaited date for an initial, but inevitably partial, assessment. Rivers of ink have already been spilled, however, on these weeks that, according to many comments, have marked a decisive break from the past and redefined the image of the United States in the world.

Maybe the ability to communicate is one of the great talents of the President, which recalls that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Like the creator of the New Deal, Obama uses modern media - the radio then, the Internet today - to spread the message of hope that the nation needs. You can not compare the great crisis of 1929 to the present. And yet the imprint seems to be the same. So is the ability to focus the attention of the public in a pragmatic and functional way.

In recent months Obama has seen his popularity grow for even voicing his decisions to break with the past: he has proposed direct talks with Iran to resolve the issue of Tehran's nuclear program and has called on Russia to begin new talks on reducing strategic arsenals. Above all, he has suggested a different role for the United States in the Americas, even initiating a new relationship with Cuba.

But in other, more concrete international scenarios, the continuity with the past is not compromised -- like in Iraq, where the Administration is implementing the strategy of withdrawal initiated by Bush, and Afghanistan. Here – Obama has said - is the new frontier in the fight against terrorism -- new only up to a point, since the first U.S. military intervention after September 11 took place in Afghanistan. And there is not that much desire for discontinuity, as can be seen from the confirmation of Robert Gates as the head of the Pentagon.

Even though he has broken a taboo in opening up to Cuba, Obama has not deviated much from his predecessors in the request for tangible signs by Havana.

Similar assessments can be made of the economic stimulus action initiated by the President. While he has been accused by some of excessive statism, he has not really made the country slide toward socialism. Through a calmer analysis, however, one notices that Obama has moved with caution: very reluctant to face the idea of nationalizing of banking institutions, he has supported a private rescue plan for credit institutions. According to the International Herald Tribune, he is showing an unexpected resemblance to Ronald Reagan, the president who waved a flag of retreat for the state before the private sector. And the Bush-Paulson combination was revealed to be much more statist in recent months with the partial nationalization of the real estate mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac,

Also on ethical issues - which have been the major concern of the Catholic episcopate since the election campaign - Obama does not seem to have gone through with the radical innovations he voiced. The new guidelines regarding research on embryonic stem cells do not in fact follow the change of course planned months ago. They do not allow the creation of new embryos for research purposes or therapeutic cloning for reproductive purposes, and federal funds may only be used for experimentation with redundant embryos. This does not remove the grounds for criticism in the face of unacceptable forms of bioengineering that run counter to the very human identity of the embryo, but the new regulation is not so very permissive.

Another cause for surprise in recent days has been the introduction of a bill by the Democratic Party, the Pregnant Women Support Act, aimed at restricting the number of abortions in the United States through initiatives to help pregnant women. It is not a denial of the doctrine so far expressed by Obama in regard to abortion, but the draft legislation could be a shift in support of motherhood.

Signs of the new from Obama are undeniable, especially in the field of environmental protection and in particular the partnership that seems to have been born with Beijing. But it would probably be too early to talk about revolution or to commit oneself to judgments, positive or negative. These were not one hundred days that shook the world. Better to wait for the next 1,361.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Faith in Flux

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has come out with a new survey on how many Americans change their religion affiliation and why. It contains some interesting data for Catholics to think about:

1. While 15% of Catholics leave to become Protestants (primarily Evangelicals), only 3% of Protestants leave their faiths to join the Catholic Church. An additional 14% of Catholics leave and remain unaffiliated to any religion.

2. There is a net outflow of Catholics. "Overall, one-in-ten American adults (10.1%) have left the Catholic Church after having been raised Catholic, while only 2.6% of adults have become Catholic after having been raised something other than Catholic."

3. There are fundamental differences between the Catholics who leave for the Protestant denominations and those who leave organized religion completely. For those who become unaffiliated, their primary reasons for leaving center on unahppiness with the Church's moral teachings: on abortion/homosexuality (56% -- and, for the record, I wish Pew had not lumped those two issues together), on birth control (48% -- and the vast majority of those are people who are convinced the Church's teachings are too restrictive), on the way women are treated (39%) and on divorce/remarriage (33%).

For those going over to a Protestant denomination, the issues are unhappiness with the teachings about the Bible (43% - a majority believing that Catholics do not take the Bible literally enough) and disatisfaction with the worship atmosphere (32%). In both cases these differences are magnified for those who change to evangelical Protestant churches.

All other issues were not significant reasons for faith change. 21% (now Protestant) -27% (now unaffiliated) cited the Church sex abuse scandals. The celibacy requirement was cited by 21-24% of respondents. Only around 8-11% of Catholics left because they felt the Church had drifted too far from traditional practices such as the Latin Mass.

5. Rather than an abrupt rupture, unaffiliated former Catholics are tending to drift away from their faith (71%) whereas Catholics who have gone over to Protestant denominations say that their spiritual needs were not being met. It should be noted that in both cases, former Catholics have stopped believing in aspects of the teachings of the Church, not stopped believing in God or Jesus.

Why is this relevant?

The main conclusion we can draw from this survey is that the way to grow the Catholic Church is not to return to the past. People are not leaving because they are pining for the Tridentine Mass, a Sunday dress code, communion in the mouth rather than in the hand, or more Gregorian chanting.

Bringing in a warmer, more charismatic worship style may help retain some of the Catholics who are going over to the evangelical Protestant churches -- those who have not left for doctrinal reasons.

More entrenched conservative moral teachings are definitely alienating American Catholics in droves. In some cases, such as the Church's teachings on birth control, communion and confession, the majority of American Catholics no longer adhere to the Catechism. Many stay and "disobey", others get tired of the Sunday morning pretense and just leave. I don't know how we should deal with this as a Church, but I think we have to start thinking about it.

Obama at Notre Dame: News Update - 4/27/2009

1. Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon sent a letter to Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins declining her nomination for the university's prestigious Laetare Medal and expressing her opposition to Pres. Obama's presence at the university's commencement. She said: "[A]s a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. ...It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony." (full text of Glendon's letter).

The White House responded to Glendon's decision, saying: "President Obama is disappointed by former Ambassador Mary Glendon’s decision, but he looks forward to delivering an inclusive and respectful speech at the Notre Dame graduation, a school with a rich history of fostering the exchange of ideas. While he is honored to have the support of millions of people of all faiths, he does not govern with the expectation that everyone sees eye to eye with him on every position, and the spirit of debate and healthy disagreement on important issues is part of what he loves about this country.”

2. Meanwhile, the Notre Dame Faculty Senate issued a statement of support for Pres. Jenkins: "The Faculty Senate affirms that the invitation to deliver the Commencement address and to receive an honorary degree reflects the University's tradition of honoring our nation's leaders and encouraging dialogue with them on issues important to the extended University community and to the nation...The Faculty Senate recognizes that President Obama holds positions that are consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church and positions that are inconsistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church and respects both those in the University community who support and those who oppose President Obama’s visit for reasons of faith or conscience...A number of outside groups have suggested that they would use the Commencement ceremonies to advance their positions...The Faculty Senate respectfully asks those groups to find other venues to convey their opinions to President Obama or to the University of Notre Dame." All but one of the approximately 45 members of the Faculty Senate voted for the resolution.

3. Around 53 Notre Dame faculty members signed a statement by The Indiana Conference of the AAUP: "The Indiana Conference of the American Association of University Professors expresses its support for University of Notre Dame President the Rev. John Jenkins in standing by the university's decision to invite President Barack Obama to speak at its May 17 commencement. We are concerned by the efforts of external groups to prevent President Obama or any other invited guest from speaking on campus..." (full text here)

4. LifeNews is reporting that Notre Dame alumni are withholding $8.2 million in donations to protest Obama's address and I suppose some might say that this validates Bishop Loverde's statement that the Obama invitation will be damaging to the university. I say that Rev. John Jenkins has something worth far more than $8.2 million: integrity and courage are priceless.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

St. Zita: Patron Saint of the Renovación?

If the Renovación Católica Carismática de la Diócesis de Arlington is ever looking for a patron saint, I would like to nominate St. Zita, whose feast day we celebrate on April 27th.

St. Zita, the patron saint of domestic workers, reminds me of so many of our hermanas in the Renovación who work quietly at humble service jobs, are devoted to the Church and to prayer, and are always generous to others even when they are barely making ends meet themselves. And by the way, Padre Hoyos, St. Zita is also the patron of lost keys -- something to remember next time that tabernacle key goes missing!

St. Zita was born into a poor Catholic family in the village of Monte Sagrati in the Tuscany region of Italy in 1218. Her older sister was a Cistercian nun and one of her uncles was a holy hermit whom locals regarded as a saint. As a child, St. Zita received basic religious instruction from her mother who simply classified her actions as pleasing or displeasing to God. The child quickly picked up the path of Divine will and followed it until her death.

At age 12, St. Zita went to work as a servant in the home of the Fatinelli family who were wealthy wool dealers in nearby Lucca. She was a hard worker because she believed that work was given to her by God to make her holy. The other servants were jealous of St. Zita and frequently spoke abusively to her. The saint, however, never returned their ill treatment and would even plead for mercy for her co-workers when they would make mistakes.

St. Zita was very devout, rising early to have time for prayer and daily Mass before needing to attend to her chores. She engaged in ecstatic prayer and eventually achieved that state sought after by mystics of "being in almost continual mental prayer...her soul constantly attentive to the Divine presence."

As St. Zita got more established in the Fatinelli household, her employers allowed her to set her own schedule and she used her free time to visit the sick and those in prison. One story about St. Zita tells of the saint leaving her baking chores to tend to someone in need. Some of her fellow servants told on her and when her employers went to the kitchen to investigate, they found an angel baking bread in St. Zita's stead.

St. Zita's generosity was also legendary. Having almost nothing herself, she gave away her food and clothing (and occasionally those of her employers) to help the needy. She remained in the Fatinelli household until her death on April 27th, 1272, becoming a trusted counselor to the family and eventually was put in charge of her fellow servants.

A star is said to have appeared above the attic where St. Zita slept at the moment of her death and the people proclaimed her a saint almost immediately. One hundred and fifty miracles and many, many years later she was officially canonized by Pope Innocent XII in 1696.

St. Zita's uncorrupted body was found in 1580 and she is enshrined in the Basilica di San Frediano in Lucca where her face and hands are exposed to view through a crystal glass. Many families still honor St. Zita by baking a loaf of bread on her feast day.



  • 1-1/2 cups boiling water
  • 6 Tablespoons soft shortening
  • 1-1/2 cup honey
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105-115°)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup wheat germ
  • 5-1/2 cups all-purpose flour


Combine boiling water, shortening, honey, and salt; stir until shortening melts. Cool to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add yeast, eggs, wheat germ, and half the flour to lukewarm mixture. Beat 2 minutes on medium speed with electric mixer or 300 vigorous strokes with a spoon. Blend in remaining flour with a spoon. Dough will be sticky. Spread dough evenly in 2 well-greased loaf pans, 9 x 5 x 3 inches. Smooth tops by flouring hand and patting into shape. Let rise in warm place until 1 inch from top of pans. Bake at 375° for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Crust will be dark brown. Remove from pans at once; brush tops with melted butter or margarine; cool on racks before cutting. Makes 2 loaves.

Recipe Source: The Cook's Blessings, by Demetria Taylor, Random House, New York, 1965

Eyes to see

I have often prayed to God to see less clearly. Some days I'm just tired of seeing. I would like the serenity and obliviousness of some of my colleagues whose lives and conversation seem to revolve around "American Idol" or the latest sports event. It would be easier not to see, not to hear, not to know. But God always answers: "No. You have to look squarely into the eye of the storm. Know the truth and the truth will set you free."

Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow. Fr. Jack used to tell me: "Don't trust in men; they have feet of clay." But we are human so we go on with our Cinderella fantasies that maybe this one or that one will be different. The real challenge of faith is not to walk away after being burned again and again and again. I don't mistrust the Catholic Church because of Lugo's mistakes. I don't even think Lugo should step down as president of Paraguay. It's more like the frustration we feel with a family member whom we love but who is being "cabezón". We want to shake that person and ask them "why?" and "how could you?"

Not only can I not close my eyes to the truth but I get behind a camera that pitilessly shows me the things I would prefer not to see. The naked eye can refuse to register certain things but the camera conceals nothing.

And we have ears to hear stories and cries that break our hearts: the hermana who tearfully tells of spending most of her life outside the Church after a priest molested her as a teenager, another hermana who plaintively asks why our bishop doesn't march with us like Bishop X does, the brother who felt spiritually crushed after he shared his joy at President Obama's election with a Catholic lay leader only to be slammed down because that person could not see beyond Obama's position on abortion. I have learned to defend my faith but I refuse to defend what is indefensible in my Church. All I can do is listen compassionately and later try to deal with the anger I feel when I hear these stories. As one veteran healing minister said once, when I found her crying in a pew after a particularly difficult Misa de Sanación, sometimes the pain is overwhelming. You have to believe in a God that is bigger than the institutional Church to survive in this ministry.

After the camera came the blog because, in the end, it is not enough to see and hear the truth. You have to share the truth with others. One commentator sarcastically accused me of trying to "instruct the American episcopate." No. I am trying to show what the actions of the institutional Church look like from the perspective of those of us who walk with and listen to the poor, people of color, and immigrants day after day. The view from the street is very different than the view from the chancery offices.

This week I went for training as a minister of communion. This week the bishop once again said something that was problematic. The ministers of communion serve at the pleasure of the bishop. I thought of letting the bishop's remarks go unchallenged. It would be easy, perhaps even prudent, to remain silent, to "go along to get along". But then I thought of my comadre Letitia. She is a poor Guatemalan janitorial worker who has lost job after job for speaking up: "I'm legal and I want to be paid with a real check with taxes deducted, not in cash under the table", "You should give us masks and gloves when we are using these strong cleaning chemicals and, by the way, what's in them?", "This hermana has a legal right to wear a skirt instead of pants on the job because that is what her Pentecostal faith requires", etc., etc. Letitia is always standing up for her own dignity and that of her fellow employees. Sometimes I want to tell Letitia that she can't afford to keep losing these jobs, that maybe she should just shut up and let it go. But she can't, she won't and ultimately she shouldn't be silent in the face of injustice.

I want to be more like Letitia. A supervisor once told me that I would never get anywhere at my workplace because I was always speaking out. There is a cost to speaking the truth and sometimes I have chosen to remain silent. These are the sins I most regret. If we pray for anything at all it should be to see more clearly, to hear more deeply, and to have the courage to face and tell the truth again and again, whatever the personal cost. If we stop living in a dream world of denial, we can no longer become disillusioned.