Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Catholic Press Awards 2009 -- a Pleasant Surprise

Rebel Girl is happy to report that her friends and acquaintances have been richly rewarded in the Catholic Press Association 2009 Book Awards. Books by Pax Christi and Catholic Worker related authors that took home prizes include:

Also, a couple of titles related to Hispanic ministry:

  • Ken Davis' Misa, Mesa Y Musa: Liturgy in the U.S. Hispanic Church Volume 2 won an honorable mention in the Professional Books category. This was a title that was frequently mentioned during the class on Hispanic ministry I took at the Mexican American Catholic College back in January.
  • Oregon Catholic Press's devotional book, Palabra, Vida y Fe, written and edited by Miguel Arias, won second place in the Spanish books category. I don't think I've mentioned this resource yet on this blog but at $16/year for 2 volumes, it is a worthwhile investment for anyone doing pastoral work in the Hispanic community. It contains the daily readings (full text of gospel only on weekdays; full text of all readings on Sundays and major feasts), a brief reflection and prayer written by Mr. Arias that are often refreshingly and surprisingly progressive in tone. It also contains brief catechetical articles on different subjects such as the Sacraments, and the most common prayers of the Church. Subscribe to this series, never throw out the old volumes (a lesson I learned the hard way -- the articles are different each year), and you can easily teach basic catechism or lead a prayer group. It is one of the most useful tools I have found. Indeed, the only glaring omission that I have noted to date is the Holy Spirit prayer that we always use in the Renovación. With that addition, the book would be perfect!

Ven Espíritu Santo

Ven, Espíritu Santo,
Llena los corazones de tus fieles
y enciende en ellos
el fuego de tu amor.
Envía, Señor, tu Espíritu.
Que renueve la faz de la Tierra.

O Dios,
que llenaste los corazones de tus
fieles con la luz del Espíritu
Santo; concédenos que,
guiados por el mismo Espíritu,
sintamos con rectitud y
gocemos siempre de tu consuelo.
Por Jesucristo Nuestro Señor.


Picking Battles, Choosing Love

The amount of vitriol being heaped on Padre Alberto Cutié and his novia Ruhama in blogosphere has been stunning and disheartening. I read my fellow bloggers and find myself wondering whether they are reacting out of real concern about Cutié or out of dissatisfaction with their own lives and choices or just to get attention.

Unfortunately I also find myself getting caught, standing up for the couple who seem happy with their choice even though the way to it was not exactly smooth. I look, I listen, and I believe Alberto and Ruhama are sincere so I end up springing to their defense.

But they do not need me to defend them and the battles in blogosphere have caused friction with my local clerical friends. Some battles are not worth fighting and this is one of them. Alberto and Ruhama are in Miami, presumably happily embracing their new life together. Fr. Hoyos, Fr. Alex and I are in Arlington and there is a needy immigrant community that is starving for pastoral care. A community that has real problems that are a whole lot bigger than just a sexy photo exposé in a tabloid magazine.

The little drama in Miami is not about us. It is a flash in the long history of the Church. Contrary to what one of my readers wrote, I don't believe it will have any impact on Church policy (for those who want to point to the change announced today in the laicization process, it should be noted that Cardinal Hummes' directive pre-dates the Cutié scandal). Rome is fairly impenetrable and it doesn't bend to the prevailing winds until they hit hurricane strength and some serious structural damage is being done.

However, it has caused damage in my feelings about some of the people I work with. I need to start backing away from the conflicts, examining what lies behind them rather than just reacting to the words, and taking steps to rebuild the relationships that are worth rebuilding, pruning away those that impede my ability to keep my eyes on the prize.

One of the most important lessons in life is picking the battles that are worth fighting and learning how to stay out of the rest. It is one that I am constantly re-learning.

When I told Fr. Hoyos that I was starting Iglesia Descalza because I was tired of catching flak from his conservative readership, he said he always figured I did battle with them because I wanted to. He said he didn't bother to respond, that he had better things to do with his life.

I do too. I would rather spend my time helping and supporting Fr. Hoyos than fighting with him. If he wants to be the best 100% celibate priest in the whole Western hemisphere, I got his back.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Being Letters of Christ

You are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by all, shown to be a letter of Christ administered by us, written not in ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. (2 Cor 3:2-3)

I remember hearing the statement "You may be the only Bible some people will ever read" long before converting to the Catholic Church and, in a way, I've prayed that I could live up to its demands and must confess that I have not always succeeded. The Spanish charismatics have a different way of putting it: "Que se te nota que tienes a Jesús" (may the fact that you have Jesus be noticed).

The idea of being a "letter of Christ" is a regular theme for Honduran Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodíguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa and current president of Caritas International. He reiterated it last week in a moving address to the Union of Superiors General who were meeting in Rome around the theme "Geographical and cultural changes in the life of the Church: challenges and perspectives". I would love to get my hands on the full text of his speech, but until then, here is a synopsis of what was picked up by Zenit in Spanish.

Maradiaga called on men and women religious to be "letters of Christ" to a globalized world. After recalling the Church's missionary history, starting with the early Church's expansion to the Gentiles, he took on the challenges today. He described Africa as a continent that has been forgotten but where Catholicism is enjoying unprecedented growth, while Europe "suffers from a demographic winter with a consequent shortage of vocations to the priesthood and religious life." Asia is a challenge for mission work and America's "huge inequalities" endanger its status as the "continent of hope".

Although he started out saying that Rome was the historical center of Christianity, Maradiaga noted that "for a long time we Christians have lived with a certain image of geography. That image has changed in the sense that the center of gravity of the Church is no longer the North, but the South now that 75% of Christians live in Asia, Africa and America."

He said that because of the changes wrought by globalization and multiculturalism, men and women religious should help us become "living witnesses, capable of announcing and proclaiming the gospel on the border and in new environments and forums."

He encouraged his audience to live out their vocations with joy, "united in heart, sharing life with neighbors, generous devotion to mission and freedom from any temptation to power." "Ours is not just to work with the weakest, but live with them, belong to them...because the path of "empequeñecimiento" (growing smaller) is a testimony for our generation."

Maradiaga said that men and women religious should be "letters of Christ", that through their vocations "Christ continues to write to those who do not yet believe in Him through the testimony [we] give." "How beautiful it would be if all those who were touched by a religious would be able to read the letters from the South to the North with the eyes of the heart and could answer with solidarity."

He concluded by exhorting those present to turn their lives into "an authentic communion" and added: "Nothing is impossible for one who loves."

Photo: Cardinal Maradiaga arriving to celebrate Mass at the Centro Femenino de Rehabilitación Cecilia Chiari de Orillac, a women's rehabilitation center, with the social ministry staff of Caritas Panama.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Theology from and for the Poor: Some Resources You Should Get To Know

As I have sometimes said, North Americans are frequently clueless about what is going on theologically south of the Rio Grande, or, for that matter, in any language other than the "classical" theological ones (German, French, Italian, and occasionally English). There are a number of gems out here on the Web that can help us fill in the gaps and I find these resources by accident while looking for other things.

For example, a story I have been tracking recently involves the bishop of Neuquén, Argentina, Msgr. Marcelo Melani, who was advised in March by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, to resign. Melani stood accused of "liturgical abuses" and "theological imprecision." The articles about this are remarkably vague as to the nature of these charges but they seem to center around the prelate's occasionally celebrating Mass without being properly attired and blurring the line between hierarchy, clergy and laity. Melani refused to step down and the case has come to a screeching halt since Re has no authority to force the matter. Only the Pope can actually terminate a bishop and Melani is only 70 years old so he has not reached the Church's mandatory retirement age (75).

Meanwhile, Msgr. Melani continues to receive statements of support from various groups and individuals -- including those who work under and with him -- who share his concern for the social apostolate, economic and environmental justice, and ministry to indigenous people. This story led me to the Web site of the Encuentro Nacional de Curas en la Opción Preferencial por los Pobres, who issued a statement in support of Melani late last month.

The Web site does not include any specific information about the organization, which seems to be a loose knit group of around 100-200 Argentinian priests who have committed themselves to the preferential option for the poor. They have been meeting annually since at least 1987 and issue a statement each year reflecting their current concerns. The Web site also features an interesting collection of articles by Latin American theologians from a liberation theology perspective, organized by author. It also contains the group's reflections on the latest Latin American Bishops' Conference at Aparecida, and documentary videos on a number of prominent Argentinian priests involved with the poor and/or the struggle for human rights including Jaime de Nevares, Enrique Ángel Angelelli, Carlos Mugica, and Bishop Jorge Novak.

Another Web site that I was looking at today, because of the previous post of the Frei Betto article, is Comunidades Eclesiales de Base Continental which seems to be a way for the Base Ecclesial Communities across Latin America to share resources and information about their events. It also has a wonderful audio Cancionero, for those of you whose liberation liturgical musical repertoire has been confined to the better-known Nicaraguan and Salvadoran Misas populares. There is a Martyrs page, of course. The base community of Neiva, Colombia has contributed Cartilla La Biblia y los pobres for basic Bible study, and there are other resources for specific feast days and subjects. Last, but by all means not least, if you enjoyed the little Pentecost prayer I posted by Fr. José Antonio Pagola and are looking for more progressive Christology, you might want to check out a book of his that is available in PDF format on this site, Jesús: Aproximación Histórica.

I have already mentioned Servicios Koinonia. If I could have only one Web resource for my ministry, this would be it. This is where I get Maximino Cerezo Barredo's marvellous drawings to illustrate flyers and the blogs (above is his Holy Spirit dove from the Cathedral of São Félix de Araigua). You can also find a color-coded liturgical calendar with the daily readings and hyperlinked to both extensive commentary about the readings and to Monseñor Oscar Romero's homilies on the Sunday readings. There are separate full pages for the writings of Msgr. Romero, Leonardo Boff, and Pedro Casaldáliga.

Moving on to theology, Servicios Koinonia provides a huge online liberation theology library browsable by subject or author, as well as RELaT: Revista Electrónica Latinoamericana de Teología. And there are other resources on this Web site that I haven't even begun to explore...

Finally, those who want to engage in current theological debate can turn to a Spanish Web site, Atrio. These folks are more often from Spain but the variety of articles, organized by topic, is incredible, and you would be astonished at who is posting there.

This post is getting a bit long so I think I'll stop now but I would welcome any additional resources in the same vein people want to offer. I'm not really looking for sites devoted to individual thinkers but those that are generally putting out pro-pueblo theological resources.

Photo: A Base Ecclesial Community at prayer in Ecuador

Into the Beautiful North

One of my favorite writers, Luis Alberto Urrea, has a new novel out called Into the Beautiful North. Urrea is a writer with an interesting past. He was born in Tijuana to a Mexican father and an American mother but now lives in the United States and teaches creative writing at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

From 1978 to 1982, Urrea worked for a Protestant aid group ministering in his hometown. That encounter with grinding poverty became the basis of his non-fiction memoir, Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border . Says Urrea: "Poverty is personal: it smells and it shocks and it invades your space."

It has also informed the writer's ongoing engagement in the problems of the immigrant community and the poor along both sides of the frontera. And it gave him the background for novels like Into the Beautiful North. The dialogue is authentic and often amusing. The novel tells the story of Nayeli, a young woman who works at a taco shop in her Mexican village and dreams about her father, who journeyed to the US to find work. She realizes that he isn't the only man who has left town. In fact, there are almost no men in the village--they've all gone north. While watching "The Magnificent Seven," Nayeli decides to go north herself and recruit seven men--her own "Siete Magníficos"--to repopulate her hometown and protect it from the bandidos who plan on taking it over.

Urrea does not shy away from delivering a political message with his fiction. In the following brief scene, Tía Irma is dismayed at the price of beans in the local market and argues with the vendor:
"We are Mexicans," Irma informed the fruit seller -- needlessly, he felt. "Mexicans eat corn and beans. Did you notice? The Aztec culture gave corn to the world, you little man. We invented it! Mexicans grow beans. How is it, then, that Mexicans cannot afford to buy and eat the corn and beans they grow?"

Hw would have kicked her out of his stall, but he had manners -- his mother would have been deeply offended if he had tossed out this old battle-ax.

He smiled falsely.

"Look here," he said, pointing to the burlap sacks full of 100 pounds each of pinto beans. "These beans come from California."


He actually flinched away from her.

La Osa [Tía Irma's nickname] took her reading glasses out of her voluminous black purse, and the girls crowded around her. They read the fine print. California, all right. Right there on the bag.

"¡Chinga'o!" she said.

"These beans are grown here in Sinaloa," he said proudly. "The best frijoles in the world! Right near Culiacán. Then they're sold to the United States. Then they sell them back to us." He shrugged at the mysterious ways of the world. "It gets expensive."

Tía Irma took a long time to replace the glasses in the purse.

"That," she finally proclaimed, "is the stupidest thing anyone has ever said to me."

He smiled, hoping she would not strike him with that purse.

"NAFTA," he said.
La novela está también disponible en español bajo el título Rumbo al Hermoso Norte.

The Marketplace of Faith

Somehow, when I read this article, Mercado de la Fe, by Frei Betto on Adital (5/28/2009), it seemed oddly appropriate given what has happened with Padre Cutié and the demonizing responses his decision to switch to the Episcopal Church have elicited from so many people.

Last night at the Pentecost healing Mass, we were led in the improbable -- and inappropriate for the occasion -- chant: "El celibato: sí se puede!" Aside from whatever nausea we feel at this misappropriation of the UFW slogan, the chant begs the question: "Se puede...pero se debe?" Should the Church continue to mandate a discipline that even most of its clergy believe should be optional and that is the primary factor in the lack of vocations and in resignations from the priesthood? We already know that five priests in Puerto Rico plan to follow Cutié (and they are only the first post-Cutié wave and the ones we know about through the media) and yet our Church's leaders find it easier to continue to pretend that this is just a problem of one or two uncommitted individuals rather than take a serious look at the institution. Now I'll turn the blog space over to Frei Betto:

Like supermarkets, churches vie for customers. The difference is that they offer cheaper products and they promise relief for suffering, spiritual peace, prosperity and salvation.

However, there is no clash in this competition. Instead there are explicit prejudices in regard to other religious traditions, especially to those with African roots, such as Candomblé or Macumba, and spiritism.

If we are not careful now, this demonization of religious expressions other than our own can end up as fundamentalist attitudes in the future, such as the "crusade syndrome," or the belief that, in the name of God, the other should be demoralized and destroyed.

The Catholic Church is the one that feels most uncomfortable with the new geography of faith. She who was queen never loses her majesty ... In recent years the number of Catholics in Brazil has fallen by 20%. We are 73.8% of the population today. And nothing indicates that we will regain any ground in the near future.

Like an elephant on a highway, the Catholic Church failed to modernize. Its pyramidal structure makes everything revolve around the bishops and priests. The rest are helpers. The laity are not given any more training than children’s catechism. Compare the Catholic catechism with the Sunday school of the historic Protestant denominations and you will see the difference in quality.

Catholic children and youth generally have almost no biblical and theological training. This is why it is not uncommon to find adults who have a childish concept of faith. Their connection to God is influenced more by guilt than by a loving relationship.

Consider the predominant structure in the Catholic Church: the parish. Finding a priest available at three in the afternoon is almost a miracle. Meanwhile there are evangelical churches where the pastors and servers are present throughout the night.

I am not suggesting that priests should be bothered further. The question is a different one: Why does the Catholic Church have so few pastors? We all know the reason: unlike other denominations, it requires heroic virtues of its pastors, such as celibacy. And it excludes women from access to the priesthood. Such clericalism hinders the evangelizing spirit.

The argument that it should continue this way because that is what the Gospel requires is not supported in the light of the biblical text itself. The main apostle of Jesus, Peter, was married (Mark 1:29-31), and the first apostle was a woman, a Samaritan (John 4:28-29).

Until we put an end to the deconstruction of Vatican II, which took place to renew the Catholic Church, the lay faithful will remain second-class citizens. Many have a vocation to the priesthood but not to celibacy, as in the Anglican and Lutheran churches.

Although Rome insists on strengthening clericalism and celibacy (despite frequent scandals), does anyone know of a vibrant parish? There are some, but they are rare, unfortunately. In general, Catholic churches remain closed from Monday to Friday (why not use the space for classes or community activities?) The Masses are not attractive, and the sermons are empty. Where are the Bible courses, youth groups, training of lay adults, meditation practice, volunteer work?

In what middle-class neighborhood parish do the poor feel at home? This is not the case in evangelical churches -- just go into one of them, even in wealthy neighborhoods, and see how many poor people are there.

Moreover, evangelical churches know how to use the media, including broadcast television. We can argue about the content of the programming and methods of attracting the faithful, but they know how to speak a language the people understand and that’s how they reach such a large audience.

The Catholic Church tries to run behind them with their show Masses, aerobics performing priests and singers, spiritual movements imported from Europe. It is making a spectacle out of the sacred; it speaks to feeling, to emotion, not reason. It is the seed sown in stony ground (Matthew 13:20-21).

I do not want to risk being harsh with my own church. It is not true that it has not found new ways. It has found them, such as the Base Ecclesial Communities. But unfortunately they are not sufficiently valued because they threaten clericalism.

In addition, the CEBs will have their 12th interfaith meeting July 21-25 of this year in Porto Velho (RO). Topic: "Ecology and mission." The slogan: "From the womb of the Earth to the cry that comes from the Amazon." More than three thousand representatives of the CEBs throughout Brazil are expected.

How good it would be if the Pope were to participate in this profoundly Pentecostal meeting!

Sunday, May 31, 2009


I don't remember what you said when you grabbed my hand last night, only that your hand was very cold. I tried not to look at you or respond. Everything is so complicated now.

I remember when your hands were warm -- when you held my hand aloft on the Mall as we waved that little flag, when we held hands surreptitiously in the parking lot one summer night.

I remember writing that the hardest part of this scene is the "hot and cold" -- ardent proclamations of love one day, the next the cold shoulder of fear. I wrote that a woman must have the patience to wait for the tide to turn, or else turn away from this kind of man.

It's hard when you can't tell the truth even to yourself. It's hard when you are not allowed to grieve for someone you were never supposed to love.

Now, a light has been shed and we scatter like roaches, cursing that light that has stripped away our protective cloak of darkness. How much longer do you plan to hide from yourself and from God?