Friday, May 8, 2009

And a Little Child Shall Lead Them...

Every once in a while you come across the story of a young person whose commitment to justice and sense of charity far exceed that of we their elders. I remember feeling that way about Trevor Ferrell, the 11-year-old Philadelphia boy who, on a cold winter's night in 1983, saw a TV newscast about people living on the streets. Those images stirred a compassion deep within Trevor and he pleaded with his parents to take him downtown so he could give his blanket and pillow to the first homeless person he met. In ensuing weeks, with the help of family, classmates and neighbors, Trevor made nightly trips into Philadelphia to distribute food, clothing and blankets to the needy. His small gesture of kindness grew into the nonprofit Trevor's Campaign for the Homeless.

Today we are hearing about another 11-year-old, Zach Bonner from Tampa, Florida, who is walking from Tampa to Washington, DC to raise money and awareness about homeless children.

Florida boy, 11, walking to D.C. for homeless kids
Associated Press
May 8, 2009 - 3:55pm

TAMPA, Fla. - At age 11, Zach Bonner has already walked farther and done more for charity than many grown-ups.

Now he's about to make good on his vow to walk more than 1,200 miles from Tampa to Washington to bring attention to the plight of homeless kids in the United States.

The boy with the spiky red hair came up with the idea in 2007, then hiked nearly 300 miles from his home near Tampa to the state capital, Tallahassee. Last year, he walked another 270 miles or so from Tallahassee to Atlanta.

On Monday he'll set out for the final and most demanding leg of the journey, well over 600 miles from Atlanta to Washington. He figures it'll take about two months.

Zach expects to cover around 11 miles a day. Along the way, he'll collect donations and letters from people urging President Barack Obama to take more action to alleviate homelessness among children. He's contacted the White House about meeting with Obama, but has yet to hear back.

"I just decided I wanted to do something big," the soft-spoken fifth-grader said earlier this week.

Zach became a local celebrity of sorts at age 7 when he pulled his red wagon around his neighborhood collecting bottled water and food for victims of Hurricane Charley, which hit Florida in August 2004. He ended up sending 27 pickup truck loads of stuff.

Once he started helping people, especially kids, he couldn't stop. He put together and distributed about 1,200 backpacks full of toiletries, food and other necessities for homeless kids. Now he even has his own registered nonprofit charity, the Little Red Wagon Foundation Inc.

"My plan is to help as many kids as I can, have fun and keep it simple," he says on the Web site,

President George W. Bush found out about Zach's work and gave him a Presidential Call to Service Award during a Tampa visit in 2006. Standing beside Air Force One, Bush shook the boy's hand and told him how proud he was.

Zach said he was inspired by a TV program about a peace activist named Mildred Norman, known as "The Peace Pilgrim," who walked back and forth across the country for 28 years. That's when the idea for the "My House to the White House" walk came to him.

"He told everybody before I had a chance to say no," said his mom, Laurie. "It's just him. It's who he is."

His long walk during summer vacation isn't expected to interfere with school.

A Tampa RV dealership is donating use of a motor home that Zach will sleep in and his mom will drive. His 21-year-old sister, Kelley, will be in a red Volkswagen Beetle decorated with the logo of his foundation. He'll try to get campground space and meals donated along the way. The trip is budgeted at $6,000.

The nonprofit Philanthropy Project has a film crew following Zach, too, and plans to make a movie about his life. British rock legend Elton John counts himself among Zach's fans and has pledged $25,000 to the boy's charity if he finishes the trek.

Staying away from the interstate highways, Zach's sojourn will take him through Greenville, S.C., Raleigh, N.C., and Richmond, Va. His progress will be charted on a Web site,

Once he gets to Washington around July 9, Zach will participate in activities at the Sasha Bruce House, an emergency shelter for homeless youth that Obama visited for a day of service before his inauguration in January. Some of the money Zach is raising will benefit the shelter.

"I'm excited," he said. "A little nervous, but pretty much excited."

Guatemala: Heroes and Martyrs

Guatemala is back in the news right now, and not just as the country of origin of Padre Alberto's novia, beautician Ruhama Buni Canellis.

1. In Dublin, Dr Yuri Melini of Guatemala was awarded the Front Line Protection of Human Rights Defenders Award because of his work to uphold the rights of indigenous people of Guatemala against the ruthless interests of the logging and mining companies who put the profits of their companies before the interests of the community. On 4 September, Yuri Melini was shot 7 times as he was leaving his home and as a result spent 22 days in intensive care. He was shot because his human rights work challenged the interests of powerful people.

Yuri Melini in the last two years has documented 128 attacks on environmental activists and has the led the campaign to bring the assassins of environmental campaigners lawyer Erwin Ochoa López and Julio Armando Vásquez (CONAP - Guatemalan National Council of Protected Areas - workers) to justice. They were murdered because of the work they were carrying out in relation to the legal defense of protected areas on Guatemala's Atlantic Coast.

The award was presented by actor and activist Martin Sheen. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Melini said “I accept this award on behalf of the people of Guatemala because the environment belongs to everyone, not just to one small group. In Guatemala there should be room for everyone irrespective of their point of view. This is why I dedicate myself to continue the struggle for human rights in Guatemala.”

2. The Washington Post reports that "since President Álvaro Colom took office in January 2008, Guatemala has stepped up payments to survivors of the estimated 200,000 people who died in the 36-year civil war. Begun in 2003, the program had compensated 3,000 survivors by 2007, according to its directors. But under Colom, whose family suffered a high-profile death during the war, the state has handed out 10,477 checks -- many for claims ignored for years, according to Cesar Davila, president of the National Compensation Program.

"Survivors also get a letter from Colom asking for forgiveness for the losses they suffered as a result of the abuses committed by the state during the war, which ended in 1996. "The fact that the president signs it is very important," said Orlando Blanco, Guatemala's secretary of peace. "It is an official document that says, 'Here is the truth: My son was not a subversive or a delinquent. It was the state that killed him.' "

Said Lucia Quila (photo), who lost her husband, elderly father and a sister in the war: "It meant a lot to hear that yes, the state accepted responsibility."

"Many of the compensated survivors are Mayan. A truth commission report said Mayans were victims of genocide by the army, which feared that their poverty and marginalization would make them potential allies of the rebels. Seventy percent of the recipients are women who lost husbands, parents and children, Blanco said. Some were raped, a violation that recently became grounds for reparation, he said.

"Officials say 64,000 requests are pending. The Colom government is trying to help the survivors most in need of the payments, which range from $1,500 to $2,500. The program has built more than 800 houses for war victims and plans thousands more."

3. Tragically, even as change is coming to the country, Guatemalan human rights activists are still being targeted with death threats. Amnesty International reports that nine activists working for two prominent human rights organizations in Guatemala have received dozens of death threats by SMS text messages.

"Between 30 April and 5 May, nine members of the Association for the Study and Promotion of Security under Democracy and the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit received over 40 SMS text messages containing abuse and death threats. The texts focused on their work to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes committed during Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. One of the messages, sent on 2 May read: “You’ve got one hour, this is the last warning. Stop messing with us, military declassified files. We’ll kill your kids first, then you.”

4. While we hope there will be no more martyrs, the latest issue of the Houston Catholic Worker reports on the efforts to canonize Father Stanley Rother, who was shot to death on the night of July 28, 1981 in the rectory of his church in Santiago Atitlan in Guatemala. Rother was a priest in the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City which was responsible for the mission there. Among his accomplishments, Fr. Rother learned the local indigenous Tzutuhil language and even translated the New Testament into that tongue to be able to communicate with his people. He chose to return to be with his community even though one of his catechists and more than 20 of his parishioners had already been murdered by the military and knowing that his own name was on a death list. You can read more about Fr. Rother's life on his canonization site.

Father Rother's best known legacy is the famous colorful Santiago Atitlan clerical stoles that are still being made by the weavers of that community in his memory. You can read the story and purchase the stoles through MayaWorks.

Heavenly Father,
source of all holiness,
in every generation you raise up
men and women heroic in love and service.

You have blessed your Church
with the life of Stanley Rother,
priest, missionary, and martyr.
Through his prayer, his preaching,
his presence, and his pastoral love,
you revealed Your love and Your presence
with us as Shepherd.

If it be your will,
may he be proclaimed
by the universal church
as martyr and saint,
living now in your presence
and interceding for us all.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.

Mothers Day Action: Help Enact the Pregnant Women Support Act

Word to all the pro-life activists gearing up to go to South Bend and get arrested for trying to stop President Obama from speaking at Notre Dame: Do you want to do something that will REALLY promote life and reduce abortions? Come to Washington and lobby your Congressional representatives to endorse the Pregnant Women Support Act (H.R. 2035 /S 270).

At the moment the bill has been introduced in the House by Rep. Lincoln Davis (TN-4) and is cosponsored by:

Rep Berry, Marion [AR-1] - 4/22/2009
Rep Blackburn, Marsha [TN-7] - 4/22/2009
Rep Bordallo, Madeleine Z. [GU] - 4/22/2009
Rep Cao, Anh "Joseph" [LA-2] - 4/22/2009
Rep Carter, John R. [TX-31] - 4/22/2009
Rep Costello, Jerry F. [IL-12] - 4/22/2009
Rep Dahlkemper, Kathleen A. [PA-3] - 4/22/2009
Rep Davis, Artur [AL-7] - 4/22/2009
Rep Donnelly, Joe [IN-2] - 4/22/2009
Rep Driehaus, Steve [OH-1] - 5/4/2009
Rep Franks, Trent [AZ-2] - 4/22/2009
Rep Gordon, Bart [TN-6] - 4/22/2009
Rep Holden, Tim [PA-17] - 4/22/2009
Rep Kaptur, Marcy [OH-9] - 4/22/2009
Rep Lamborn, Doug [CO-5] - 4/22/2009
Rep Lipinski, Daniel [IL-3] - 4/22/2009
Rep McIntyre, Mike [NC-7] - 4/22/2009
Rep Melancon, Charlie [LA-3] - 4/22/2009
Rep Mollohan, Alan B. [WV-1] - 4/22/2009
Rep Oberstar, James L. [MN-8] - 4/22/2009
Rep Ortiz, Solomon P. [TX-27] - 4/22/2009
Rep Peterson, Collin C. [MN-7] - 4/22/2009
Rep Platts, Todd Russell [PA-19] - 4/22/2009
Rep Ryan, Tim [OH-17] - 5/4/2009
Rep Shuler, Heath [NC-11] - 4/22/2009
Rep Smith, Christopher H. [NJ-4] - 4/22/2009
Rep Souder, Mark E. [IN-3] - 4/22/2009
Rep Taylor, Gene [MS-4] - 4/22/2009
Rep Wittman, Robert J. [VA-1] - 5/4/2009

In the Senate it was introduced by Robert P. Casey, Jr. (PA) and has been cosponsored by E. Benjamin Nelson (NE). Ironically, in spite of the fact that Cardinal Rigali, the chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has enthusiastically endorsed this bill and, I suppose, in the spirit of "no good deed goes unpunished", Bishop Joseph F. Martino of the Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is continuing to insist that he may eventually deny communion to Senator Casey unless he votes 100% as His Excellency wishes on "life issues" (defined so broadly that it includes the confirmation vote on Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius).

But I digress. Here is a summary of the provisions of this bill so you will understand why we should support it and encourage our representatives to do so as well. It's the best gift we can give to our mothers and mothers to be.


Authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services to make grants to increase public awareness of resources available to pregnant women to carry their pregnancy to term and new parents.

Amends the Public Health Service Act to allow the Secretary to make grants for the purchase of ultrasound equipment for examinations of pregnant women.

Prohibits a health insurance issuer offering individual coverage from imposing a preexisting condition exclusion or a waiting period or otherwise discriminating against a woman on the basis that she is pregnant.

Provides for continuation coverage for newborns.

Amends title XXI (State Children's Health Insurance Program) (SCHIP) of the Social Security Act to allow states to extend health care coverage to an unborn child.

Requires health facilities that perform abortions to obtain informed consent from a pregnant woman seeking an abortion.

Provides for the collection and dissemination of information on Down syndrome and other prenatally diagnosed conditions.

Directs the Secretary to provide for: (1) higher education pregnant and parenting student services offices; and (2) programs to work with pregnant or parenting teens to complete high school.

Authorizes grants for services to pregnant women who are victims of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. Requires states to require a pregnancy determination for homicide victims.

Requires the Secretary to provide for comprehensive and supportive services for pregnant women, mothers, and children.

Authorizes appropriations to carry out the special supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children (WIC program).

Amends the Food Stamp Act of 1977 to increase the eligibility threshold for food stamps.

Authorizes appropriations to carry out the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act of 1990.

Authorizes grants to provide to eligible mothers education on the health needs of their infants through visits to their homes by registered nurses.

Authorizes grants for collecting and reporting abortion surveillance data.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Padre Alberto Cutié: What's to Forgive?

Fr. Hoyos just added his thoughts about the Padre Alberto Cutié scandal in two columns entitled Perdonemos al Padre Alberto and El Padre Alberto Y Su Pecado, and I don't know where to begin in responding to this.

1. Forgiveness: I was listening to Jaime Bayly and María Antonieta Collins talk over the case and I think we need to stop and take a deep breath. Where's the sin? All Fr. Cutié did was kiss and fondle a woman in public. If he were just a regular single Catholic guy he would not even have to go to confession for what was caught on film.

So: Do we need to forgive Padre Alberto who was just acting like a normal healthy man in love? Do we need to forgive him for "violating" a vow that he should never have been required to take in the first place? Or do we have to forgive a Church that for the last several decades has refused to listen to its own priests, bishops and faithful, that has refused to change its outmoded practices, and that, as a result, may force the departure of a good priest who has helped and comforted many people?

2. "Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone": Great argument, Padre H. The only problem is that most people are not casting stones at Padre Alberto. In fact, most of the faithful, his parishioners and admirers understand and still love him. Calls into local radio talk shows are running largely in his favor, according to the news reports. The faithful correctly put the blame for Padre Alberto's temporary separation from the institution he has loved and served for many years directly where it belongs: on the Church's outdated mandatory celibacy policy. And online surveys taken by different news sources at the time of this incident reflect the same statistic taken in more formal surveys of the laity on this issue -- over 70% feel that the time for optional celibacy has come.

3. Biblical Error: In his second column, Fr. Hoyos perpetuates the erroneous notion that Mary Magdalene was the woman caught in adultery. There is NO EVIDENCE in the Bible that the woman being stoned was Mary Magdalene. The conflation of several different women into the figure of Mary Magdalene with absolutely no textual evidence to support it began with Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century and has largely been refuted by Biblical scholars ever since. It has been perpetuated in popular culture through films such as "The Last Temptation of Christ" and Mel Gibson's "The Passion of Christ". The Church itself corrected this conflation in its 1969 revision of the Roman Missal and Calendar (See Mary Magdalene was None of the Things a Pope Claimed, U.S. News and World Report, 1/25/2008).

4. Factual Error: I would be interested to know where Fr. Hoyos got the assertion he makes in the first article that only 5% of priests have difficulty fully living out their celibacy vow while 95% believe it to be a gift of God that is worthwhile. This simply doesn't compute with any survey of priests I have seen. To cite but a few:

In the Survey of American Catholic Priests, 2001, 1,279 priests were asked a variety questions about celibacy. 37% indicated that celibacy was a problem for them and 47% indicated that loneliness was a problem. 54.8% agreed that celibacy should be optional and an even greater majority (70.4%) thought that the subject of optional celibacy should be at least discussed. None of this necessarily indicates an immediate personal desire to get married since only 11.4% said that they would probably get married if allowed to do so. Slightly over 50% agreed that the Church should invite former priests -- whether married or single -- to come back into service.

75% of priests in Argentina want optional celibacy according to a survey by that country's Bishops' Conference.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, 53.7% of Polish priests said they favored optional celibacy, 12% admitted to already being in a relationship with a woman, and 30% said they had been in a relationship at some point since their ordination.

A 2007 survey of priests in Spain found that 52.7% thought celibacy should be optional.

Nearly 80% of the priests in Belgium's Flemish region support the admission of married men to the Catholic clergy, according to poll results appearing in the newspapers Gazet van Antwerpen and Het Belang van Limburg in 2006.

And we could go on.

Celibacy is also frequently not observed. Here are some citations from Richard Sipe, Celibacy Is A Problem for Priests—And Laity Too. Sipe is an expert on the issue of sexual activity among the clergy:

  • A study of Swiss priests published on May 12, 2003, revealed that 50% of that clergy had mistresses.
  • Father Victor Kotze, a South African sociologist conducted a survey of the priests in his country (1991) and found that 45% had been sexually active during the previous two year period.
  • Pepe Rodriguez published his book length study of the sexual life of clergy in Spain (La Vida sexual del Clero 1995). He concluded that among practicing priests ...60% have sexual relations...He further refined the figures of 354 priests who were having sexual relations: 53% of these were having sex with adult women, 21% with adult men, 14% were sexually active with minor boys and 12% with minor girls. "Although Rodriguez' book caused a monumental debate no one has challenged the reality of his numbers."
  • Sipe's own 25 year ethnographic study of celibacy published in 1990 had drawn comparable conclusions about the celibate/sexual activity of Catholic priests in America. "I stand by my findings that at any one time 50% of American clergy are sexually active. When in 1994 a BBC television reporter faced Cardinal Jose Sanchez, Prefect of the Congregation of the Clergy at the Vatican with those and other figures from the study, the Cardinal's response was, 'I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of those figures.'"

5. A priest forever: Fr. Hoyos ends his second article with a true statement: "Padre Alberto usted será sacerdote eterno según el rito de Melquisedec". It is the same theological concept that the married priests in CITI and other married priests' organizations use to argue that they can continue to serve in spite of their marital status. Padre Alberto, whether or not you stay in the Roman Catholic priesthood under the current conditions, that seal you received at your ordination is indelible and even if you stay with that hottie, you will still be a priest in the eyes of God...and of many of us!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Helping Pakistan one child at a time

I'm a little tired of the celibacy beat -- see spate of postings on Rentapriest blog -- and am wanting to focus attention on something more uplifting. Recently, I have had the opportunity to read about two different organizations that are helping the children of Pakistan. Most people in Pakistan are very poor. The total literacy rate is only 49.9% and the rate for women, an abysmal 36%. Life expectancy is only around 64 years, more than 10 years less than the United States. The infant mortality rate is 66.94 deaths/1,000 live births, or ten times greater than in the United States. The country has faced more than its share of war and natural disasters and, because it is not a predominantly Christian nation, it doesn't get the attention it needs or should receive.

1. Central Asia Institute

You may not know the name but you probably know the book: Three Cups of Tea, the story of the Institute's founder Greg Mortenson, has been on the bestseller list forever. I'm only just getting around to reading it and I can recommend it without any hesitation (plus the royalties go to Greg's charitable work).

Greg was a nurse and an avid mountain climber. While trying to scale K2 in the Karakoram region of the Himalayas, he failed to make it to the summit and got lost. He found his way, barely alive, to a small village in northern Pakistan, Korphe, and after the people nursed him back to health, he decided to repay them by helping them build a school for the village children. The entire course of Greg's life changed as he got to know the region, its languages and customs. He devoted himself entirely to his mission. "As of 2008, Mortenson has established over 78 schools in rural and often volatile regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, which provide education to over 28,000 children, including 18,000 girls, where few education opportunities existed before."

Anyway, Greg's story is inspirational and his project is a model of how foreign assistance should be delivered, with respect for the wishes of the people and their culture and, ultimately, turning over the management of the projects to them.

2. The Edhi Foundation

The April 2009 edition of Marie Claire had a marvellous article about the work of this foundation established by Abdul Sattar and Bilquis Edhi. Dr. Abdul Sattar Edhi was born in Gujarat province in India but migrated to Karachi, Pakistan after the Partition of India in 1847. In 1951 he used the money he saved up while he was looking after his mother to purchase a small shop. It was at this shop where he opened a tiny dispensary with the help of a doctor who taught him basic medical care. He also encouraged his friends to give literacy classes there. Edhi had spent his life a simple man, and would continue to do so, he would sleep on a concrete bench outside the dispensary so he was available at any time to help people.

In 1957 a major flu epidemic swept Karachi. Edhi was quick to react, setting up tents on the outskirts of the city to distribute free immunizations. Grateful residents donated generously to Edhi and so did the rest of Pakistan after hearing of his deeds. With all the donation money he bought the rest of the building his dispensary was located in. Edhi opened a free maternity centre and nursing school, and so Edhi Foundation was born.

Today,in Karachi alone, the Edhi Foundation runs 8 hospitals providing free medical care, eye hospitals, diabetic centres, surgical units, a 4- bed cancer hospital and mobile dispensaries. In addition to these the Foundation also manages two blood banks in Karachi. As with other Edhi services, employed professionals and volunteers run these. The foundation has a Legal aid department, which provides free services and has secured the release of countless innocent prisoners. Commissioned doctors visit jails on a regular basis and also supply food and other essentials to the inmates. There are 15 " Apna Ghar" ["Your Homes"] homes for the destitute children, runaways, and psychotics and the Edhi Foundation states that over the years 3 million children have been rehabilitated and reunited with their families thorough the Edhi network.

One of the most impressive aspects of the project are the "baby cradles" where parents who cannot cope with another child can leave a baby to be cared for by the Edhis. This has been vital in fighting female infanticide in Pakistan. The Edhi Foundation cares for the abandoned babies and tries to place them for adoption.

At the other end of life, the foundation buries unclaimed bodies. Edhi estimates that he has personally bathed 20,000 unclaimed dead bodies and for arranging their burial. All the dead are provided services according to their own religious rites.

Edhi’s wife Bilquis is a nurse who works in maternity center management. She runs 6 nursing training schools in Karachi. These centres have so far trained over 40,000 qualified nurses. Some 20,000 abandoned babies have been saved and about a million babies have been delivered in the Edhi maternity homes. Bilquis also supervises the food that is supplied to the Edhi hospitals in Karachi. The total number of orphans in Edhi housing at any given time is 50,000.

Disgracefully, Dr. Edhi, a 79-year old humanitarian, has been frequently detained and questioned by immigration authorities over the last few years as he travels abroad in search of funds for his work. It is my fondest hope that this will end and that as President Obama is formulating his policy towards Pakistan and Afghanistan, he will reach out to people like Greg Mortenson and the Edhis, read the books about them, and invite them to the White House to share their experiences and opinions on how the United States can better relate to that region.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Fernando Lugo: Comunicado de la CMP

1. Woman No. 3, Damiana, has withdrawn her paternity claim saying that she doesn't want it to be used by the opposition to destabilize the Lugo administration.

2. Woman No.2, Benigna, is pressing full steam ahead and Lugo has formally responded through an attorney that he did not had a love affair with Benigna (although the response says nothing about sex) and has agreed to a DNA test. Now they are disputing where to have the DNA test done. Lugo wants the lab work to be drawn at his home and the test to be processed in any lab in Paraguay. Benigna wants the DNA test done in a foreign lab.

Meanwhile, Coordinación de Mujeres de Paraguay, a federation of Paraguayan women's rights organizations, has issued a strong statement criticizing Lugo's behavior in this matter. The statement is in full in Spanish below, but here is the concluding paragraph in English: "In light of all of this, CMP repudiates the irresponsible and chauvinist behavior of President Fernando Lugo and calls on him to take responsibility for and correct his mistakes, not only with a speech and acting truthfully in the face of the accusations that concern him, but also promoting public policies on gender and reproductive rights, without discrimination or hypocrisy."


La Coordinación de Mujeres del Paraguay (CMP) red de organizaciones que lleva 22 años trabajando por los derechos de las mujeres, ante los sucesos relacionados con la paternidad del presidente Fernando Lugo, expresa ante la opinión pública sus reflexiones y posturas:

La paternidad responsable, un asunto de interés público: Los derechos de la infancia, así como los derechos de las mujeres, son un asunto público porque están reconocidos y deben ser garantizados, respetados, protegidos y promovidos por el Estado. Un lema feminista desde hace décadas es "lo personal es político": lo que aparentemente es una experiencia individual y sin transcendencia política, tiene carácter político porque es parte de un sistema general de dominio masculino y de subordinación femenina. La vigencia de derechos que rompen con este dominio es resultado de luchas ciudadanas, que deben ser conocidas y reconocidas por todas y todos.

-El poder de un hombre no está por encima de la ley: Como feministas, nos parece importante que el desarrollo de los hechos demuestre que existen mecanismos y herramientas para ejercer derechos, que deben ser cumplidos incluso por quienes tienen poder. El presidente, como ciudadano paraguayo, no está por encima de las leyes y debe cumplir con sus deberes de reconocimiento, cuidado y alimentación de quienes resulten ser sus hijos.

-La conducta del presidente Fernando Lugo refleja la persistencia del orden patriarcal: El presidente es parte de una cultura de dominio masculino con plena vigencia en la sociedad paraguaya. Mucho ya se ha hablado de las relaciones de poder de Lugo con algunas de las posibles madres de sus hijos, análisis que nos parece pertinente y que cuestiona el orden patriarcal. Al mismo tiempo nos preocupa que las referencias a estos casos refuercen otros estereotipos atribuidos a las mujeres: como pobres víctimas desprotegidas, como seres incompletos que precisan a un hombre que las proteja y como personas sujetas al dominio masculino en el marco de una heterosexualidad obligatoria. Es esta claudicación permanente de la autonomía la que perjudica a las mujeres frente a jefes, caudillos y diversos poderes de la cultura patriarcal.

-En un Estado laico no existen discriminaciones ni privilegios basados en la religión: Actualmente las hijas e hijos (de un presidente y de quien sea, nacidas/os en cualquier circunstancia) tienen iguales derechos ante las leyes. Antes existían clasificaciones basadas en el estado civil y la relación entre padres y madres. Por ejemplo, se consideraba como "hijos sacrílegos" a descendientes de curas, obispos y demás jerarcas de la iglesia católica. Era así porque el derecho canónico regía el pensamiento del derecho civil, influencia aún vigente aunque haya habido cambios. Por ello, es importante erradicar todo resto de derecho canónico de nuestras leyes, para que una religión no siga discriminando. Sólo un Estado laico puede garantizar los derechos de todas las personas, independientemente de su credo.

-La doble moral de la iglesia católica discrimina y perjudica a las mujeres: La presión cultural y política del catolicismo institucional sobre las leyes, las políticas y las costumbres de nuestro país es negativa para los derechos de las mujeres. La jerarquía católica ha protegido la doble moral reinante, usando el púlpito y su poder para recriminar y negar los derechos sexuales y reproductivos de las personas, protegiendo a la vez a sus propios miembros cuando éstos llevan una vida sexual irresponsable. Es tiempo de reconocer y cambiar esta situación.

-El modelo familiar nuclear y heterosexual no es el único válido para niñas y niños: Podemos obligar a través de leyes a que los hombres reconozcan a su descendencia y se hagan cargo económicamente de ella, y esto es necesario en un país de padres irresponsables como es el Paraguay. Sin embargo, no por ello debemos olvidar que el modelo tradicional de familia nuclear y heterosexual no es el único válido para la crianza de niñas y niños. Las leyes no resuelven la necesidad de afecto y cariño. Nos oponemos a que el reconocimiento paterno (más aún cuando fue inicialmente negado) vaya acompañado de un poder desproporcionado para hombres que, pese al reconocimiento, estarán ausentes frente a las demandas del cotidiano cuidado de hijas e hijos.

-El estupro, una burla penal a los derechos y la dignidad de las mujeres: Más allá de la posible prescripción de los hechos, nos preocupa que el presidente pudiera haber cometido hechos punibles contra la autonomía sexual de las personas. Pero ¿qué pasaría si Lugo fuera culpable? Según lo previsto por nuestro Código Penal machista y discriminatorio, tendría que pagar una multa y asunto terminado. Ésta es la seriedad con la que se toman nuestras leyes la dignidad de la vida de las mujeres. Nos molesta profundamente que personas y grupos políticos que desde sus cargos legislativos no atendieron nuestro reclamo sobre cambios a la ley penal (en éste y muchos otros aspectos), hoy hagan uso político de la supuesta falta presidencial.

-A las feministas se nos escucha cuando conviene: Nos llama la atención el reclamo generalizado de que las feministas nos pronunciemos frente al caso de las paternidades de Lugo, cuando en nuestra lucha cotidiana no se nos escucha y aunque de hecho varias organizaciones y mujeres feministas ya se han pronunciado, mostrando la diversidad de este movimiento social en Paraguay. No nos escucharon cuando hicimos sugerencias frente al proceso de modificación del Código Penal, cuando luchamos por la aprobación de una ley de protección a victimas de delitos contra la autonomía sexual, o por una ley de salud sexual y reproductiva. Las mismas personas que se opusieron a nuestras demandas, ahora denuncian y piden que hablemos para usar nuestra voz en contra del gobierno. La hipocresía, el oportunismo y la doble moral de gran parte de la clase política quedan patentes con estos hechos.

-Nos oponemos a la utilización política de la lucha de las mujeres: Como CMP rechazamos que los partidos políticos y los sectores dominantes y favorecidos a lo largo de la historia del país usen la victimización de las mujeres para sus propios intereses. Cuando estos sectores se comprometan realmente con nuestras luchas podrán hablar con credibilidad sobre estos temas. Mientras tanto, no busquen hacer de nuestras demandas "carne de cañón" para sus pretensiones políticas.

-Como feministas apoyamos la gestión de nuestras compañeras en el Estado: Las organizaciones que conformamos la CMP apoyamos la gestión y el esfuerzo que compañeras nuestras -Gloria Rubín y Liz Torres- desarrollan hoy al frente de la Secretaría de la Mujer y de la Secretaría de la Niñez y Adolescencia. La historia de lucha que poseen certifica su interés en mejorar la situación de mujeres y de la infancia, y no le deben nada a ningún poderoso por estar en el lugar que ocupan. Nos alegra que se queden allí para seguir trabajando, y no queremos que dejen esos espacios a quienes claman por su alejamiento de los mismos. Al contrario, creemos que es la oportunidad de posicionar con mayor firmeza la necesidad de cambios que coloquen en el centro de la gestión pública los derechos de las mujeres y de la niñez y adolescencia, en especial una fuerte campaña por la paternidad responsable.

Considerando todo esto, la CMP repudia la actitud irresponsable y machista del presidente Fernando Lugo y exige que asuma y repare sus errores, no sólo con un discurso y actuando con la verdad ante las denuncias que le atañen, sino además promoviendo políticas públicas sobre derechos sexuales y reproductivos, sin discriminaciones ni hipocresías.

Asunción, 26 de abril de 2009

[La Coordinación de Mujeres del Paraguay (CMP) es una articulación feminista integrada por diez organizaciones: Aireana - Grupo por los Derechos de las Lesbianas, Alter Vida - Centro de Formación y Estudios para el Ecodesarrollo, Asociación Trinidad, Base Educativa de Apoyo Comunitario (BECA), Centro de Documentación y Estudios (CDE), Círculo de Abogadas del Paraguay, Colectivo de Mujeres 25 de Noviembre, Grupo de Estudios de la Mujer Paraguaya (GEMPA), Kuña Róga y Mujeres por la Democracia].

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pete Seeger Turns 90!

Wow, how time flies! Yesterday, American folk music icon Pete Seeger celebrated his 90th birthday. Pete has been a constant in our family's musical life. I remember listening to him singing that Malvina Reynolds classic about suburban conformity, Little Boxes, when I was still in grade school. "Little Boxes" acquired two Spanish versions -- "Casitas" by Spanish songwriter Adolfo Celdrán and "Las Casitas del Barrio Alto" by the martyred Chilean singer Victor Jara.

Anyway, the grand birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York featured America's best known singers and songs Pete made famous. Among the performances:
Pete himself took the stage and demonstrated his vocal and cardiovascular strength by leading the audience in what has to be one of the slowest renditions of "Amazing Grace" on record. Pete himself called it "slow", so I am not making this up or being critical. I wish I could sustain notes like that and I'm a whole lot younger!

Pete's music followed through the Civil Rights movement, opposition to the Vietnam War and later the wars in the Gulf and Iraq, peace, antinuclear, environmental and labor struggles -- Pete's voice and banjo have been there, giving us hope and cheering us on. Along with the late Woody Guthrie and other folk singers and supporters, Pete founded People's Songs, Inc, which later became Sing Out! in order to promote folk music, especially of the political variety.

In addition to the Sing Out! Web site, other good places to find out more about Pete Seeger's life and works are:

There are hundreds of videos I could pick but I want to highlight an aspect of Pete's career that most of us don't know as much about. It took place before I was born. Like many American communists, Pete was a staunch supporter of the Republican cause during the Spanish Civil War and in 1943, he got together with Tom Glazer and Bess and Baldwin Hawes, and recorded an album called "Songs of the Lincoln Battalion" to honor the Abraham Lincoln Brigade -- the American volunteers who went over to fight against Franco. So here is Pete singing "Viva la Quince Brigada" in Barcelona in 1993:

Photos: Pete Seeger at 90; Pete Seeger, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others at the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee where civil rights activists were trained.

Swine Flu: Faith, Love and Fear

Most Catholics have grown up with tales of heroic missionary expeditions in far away lands, imagining that their faith would be challenged in some exotic place and manner. This weekend our faith was challenged right here at home by a small, mundane virus.

My weekend was spent, as it almost always is, within the Latino community. When I told a friend at work that I would be going to the May Day immigration reform march, he expressed doubts about the wisdom of being surrounded by Mexicans and other Central Americans at this time. I answered that I had a better chance of catching swine flu on the subway commuting to work with a bunch of self-centered North Americans who won't let "a little cold" keep them from sealing that all-important deal or putting in a few extra hours at the firm. I donned my old "Mexicanos Sin Fronteras" tee shirt and hit the streets with the compañeros.

Unfortunately, according to news accounts, many stayed away out of fear. I think of the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, of the members of the Salvadoran and Brazilian Christian base communities, of all of our antepasados who marched in the face of life-threatening persecution from military dictatorships and death squads and we are letting a little flu bug scare us into silence? Por favor, hermanos y hermanas,¿dónde está nuestra fe? ,¿Dónde nuestro valor?

Saturday night we gathered again for a wonderful concert by the D.C. Labor Chorus and the Sin Fronteras band. Again, the songs reminded me of the faith we should be showing in the face of danger -- the brave women in Nigeria fearlessly taking on the multinational oil companies, Harriet Tubman and the underground railroad. "No basta rezar" and we surely aren't going to "let no swine flu turn us around"!

Sunday. An hermana reads the Diocesan recommendations: no holding hands during the "Padre Nuestro", no shaking hands and certainly no abrazos during the "Kiss of Peace", etc...These measures were welcomed by those who want to go back to the old days of "just me, the priest, and God", those who think other parishioners are just an unnecessary distraction one must endure once a week. Those Catholics would like to see the "Kiss of Peace" eliminated completely from the Roman liturgy.

This is so contrary to Hispanic Catholicism. For us, the "Kiss of Peace" is a high point in the service when we welcome and greet each other and affirm our solidarity before joining at the Mesa del Señor. We take our time, shaking hands or hugging as many people as possible. And we sing about peace -- esta paz que no tiene fronteras -- something else that bothers conservative Catholics who believe the "Kiss" should be brief, formal and silent, if at all.

The first challenge was the "Padre Nuestro". Everyone started hesitantly, unsure of what to do. It's almost like we can't say the words without being linked to our neighbors. It feels wrong to pray the "Our Father" in isolation. Fr. Joe takes control, setting the tone by holding hands with the altar servers. This act of faith in the face of contagion spreads like a ripple through the congregation. At Reina de la Paz, Jesus rules, not swine flu and fear.

Then came the "Kiss of Peace." We have been instructed to bow to each other, but I am sitting next to Lydia and Osvaldo, two of my oldest and dearest friends who by some blessed coincidence are here at Queen of Peace instead of in their regular parish this morning. I can no more imagine not giving Lydia an abrazo than not hugging my sister. She was one of my first and best ESL students, a Peruvian hermana who went from virtually no English to passing her citizenship exam and going to community college. She, in turn, introduced me to El Señor de los Milagros. We worship a Lord who overcomes earthquakes, calms tempests, and touches and heals lepers. Surely this Lord of Miracles is not going to be undone by a little virus -- and neither should we. Again, Fr. Joe led the way, shaking hands up and down the sanctuary as usual.

We only capitulated when we came to the Eucharist. Fr. Joe announced that we would only be having El Cuerpo de Cristo "como los gringos" and added that someone had commented during the Kiss of Peace: "At least we will all die together!"

And isn't that really the essence of Christian community? "None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." (Romans 14:7-8). God is with us and His love is to be brought to perfection in us. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear." (1 John 4:18)