Friday, June 19, 2009

1.02 Billion Hungry, Says FAO

There are some milestones we wish the world would never reach. This is one of them...

World hunger is projected to reach a historic high in 2009 with 1,020 million people going hungry every day, according to new estimates published by FAO today.

The most recent increase in hunger is not the consequence of poor global harvests but is caused by the world economic crisis that has resulted in lower incomes and increased unemployment. This has reduced access to food by the poor, the UN agency said.

"A dangerous mix of the global economic slowdown combined with stubbornly high food prices in many countries has pushed some 100 million more people than last year into chronic hunger and poverty," said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf. "The silent hunger crisis — affecting one sixth of all of humanity — poses a serious risk for world peace and security. We urgently need to forge a broad consensus on the total and rapid eradication of hunger in the world and to take the necessary actions."

"The present situation of world food insecurity cannot leave us indifferent," he added.

Poor countries, Diouf stressed, "must be given the development, economic and policy tools required to boost their agricultural production and productivity. Investment in agriculture must be increased because for the majority of poor countries a healthy agricultural sector is essential to overcome poverty and hunger and is a pre-requisite for overall economic growth."

"Many of the world's poor and hungry are smallholder farmers in developing countries. Yet they have the potential not only to meet their own needs but to boost food security and catalyse broader economic growth. To unleash this potential and reduce the number of hungry people in the world, governments, supported by the international community, need to protect core investments in agriculture so that smallholder farmers have access not only to seeds and fertilisers but to tailored technologies, infrastructure, rural finance, and markets," said Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

"For most developing countries there is little doubt that investing in smallholder agriculture is the most sustainable safety net, particularly during a time of global economic crisis," Nwanze added.

"The rapid march of urgent hunger continues to unleash an enormous humanitarian crisis. The world must pull together to ensure emergency needs are met as long term solutions are advanced," said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme.

Hunger on the rise

Whereas good progress was made in reducing chronic hunger in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s, hunger has been slowly but steadily on the rise for the past decade, FAO said. The number of hungry people increased between 1995-97 and 2004-06 in all regions except Latin America and the Caribbean. But even in this region, gains in hunger reduction have been reversed as a result of high food prices and the current global economic downturn (see background note).

This year, mainly due to the shocks of the economic crisis combined with often high national food prices, the number of hungry people is expected to grow overall by about 11 percent, FAO projects, drawing on analysis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Almost all of the world's undernourished live in developing countries. In Asia and the Pacific, an estimated 642 million people are suffering from chronic hunger; in Sub-Saharan Africa 265 million; in Latin America and the Caribbean 53 million; in the Near East and North Africa 42 million; and in developed countries 15 million in total.

In the grip of the crisis

The urban poor will probably face the most severe problems in coping with the global recession, because lower export demand and reduced foreign direct investment are more likely to hit urban jobs harder. But rural areas will not be spared. Millions of urban migrants will have to return to the countryside, forcing the rural poor to share the burden in many cases.

Some developing countries are also struggling with the fact that money transfers (remittances) sent from migrants back home have declined substantially this year, causing the loss of foreign exchange and household income. Reduced remittances and a projected decline in official development assistance will further limit the ability of countries to access capital for sustaining production and creating safety nets and social protection schemes for the poor.

Unlike previous crises, developing countries have less room to adjust to the deteriorating economic conditions, because the turmoil is affecting practically all parts of the world more or less simultaneously. The scope for remedial mechanisms, including exchange-rate depreciation and borrowing from international capital markets for example, to adjust to macroeconomic shocks, is more limited in a global crisis.

The economic crisis also comes on the heel of the food and fuel crisis of 2006-08. While food prices in world markets declined over the past months, domestic prices in developing countries came down more slowly. They remained on average 24 percent higher in real terms by the end of 2008 compared to 2006. For poor consumers, who spend up to 60 percent of their incomes on staple foods, this means a strong reduction in their effective purchasing power. It should also be noted that while they declined, international food commodity prices are still 24 percent higher than in 2006 and 33 percent higher than in 2005.

The 2009 hunger report (The State of Food Insecurity in the World, SOFI) will be presented in October.

In Memoriam: Vicente Ferrer

Vicente Ferrer, the ex-Jesuit , beloved Spanish philanthropist, and winner of the 1998 Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Concordia, passed away today at 89 years of age. In his honor, we are publishing a brief biography of him with supplemental information from other news articles and his foundation's Web site. For those who are interested in the "married priest" angle of this story, there is a wonderful interview with Anne Perry in El Mundo which talks about their romance. Perry has also written a book about the couple and their work titled Un pacto de amor. Mi vida junto a Vicente Ferrer (Editorial Espasa, 2009).

From Barcelona to India

Vicente Ferrer was born in Barcelona, Spain, on April 9, 1920. During his youth, he entered the Company of Jesus (Jesuits) with the dream of fulfilling his greatest wish and vocation: to help others.

In 1952, he arrived in Mumbai as a Jesuit missionary to complete his spiritual formation, and there he had his first contact with India. From that moment on, he would dedicate his life to working to eradicate the suffering of the poorest in that country.

Unfortunately, his work generated suspicion among the ruling sectors, who saw him as a threat to their interests and got an order expelling him from the country. Over 30,000 peasants, supported by intellectual, political and religious leaders, mobilized in a 250 km march to protest the expulsion decree.

In an interview with Ferrer, then prime minister Indira Gandhi acknowledged his great work, committed herself to help find a solution and sent this telegram: “Father Vicente Ferrer will leave the country for a short vacation and then will be well-received again in India.”

In 1968, Vicente left the country and returned to Spain.


In 1969, he returned to India and settled in Anantapur, one of the poorest areas of the country, to continue his struggle for the least fortunate. That same year he left the Company of Jesus and in 1970 he married British journalist Anne Perry, whom he met when she interviewed him for the British magazine “Current” and with whom he would go on to have three children. The couple established the Vicente Ferrer Foundation in Anantapur.

Nonetheless, the harassment continued during the 1970s, this time from regional authorities who were suspicious of the Foundation’s work and even tried to imprison Ferrer. After denouncing the abuse of power to which he was being subjected, Ferrer was able to obtain a favorable judicial ruling.

Years later, in 1996, he established an offshoot of the Vicente Ferrer Foundation in Spain to ensure the economic continuity of the projects in India. From that moment on until his death today (June 19, 2009), he led a project that continues thanks to a team of 1,900 people and the support of over 139,000 contributors.

The Foundation’s achievements are detailed on its Web site and include 1,696 schools, 3 hospitals (275 beds), 14 clinics, and over 26,000 housing units. It has also done substantial work in ecology and the rights of women and persons with disabilities.

Father Hoyos to President Obama: Immigration Reform Now

Father José Eugenio Hoyos delivered a powerful and prayerful message this morning to President Barack Obama, Secretary for Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and other guests gathered for the annual Esperanza National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC. I have translated the text of his remarks, which were delivered mostly in Spanish, into English. President Obama's remarks to the interdenominational gathering can be found here.

The urgency of Fr. Hoyos' message was underscored yesterday by a rally in Miami of US-born children whose undocumented parents have been deported. The children offered insight into the suffering that current U.S. immigration policies have brought to these families. Ronald Soza (10), whose mother was deported earlier this year to her native Nicaragua, testified that: "My grades went from A's to C's when my mom had to leave." Five year-old Sara Bedoya Sanchez, who was born in South Florida, but whose mother came into the country illegally from Medellin, Colombia nearly a decade ago, stated simply: "I came today because I want to stay with my mommy here." They are just two among the hundreds of American born children of undocumented immigrant parents whose families have or will be broken up by our country's policies.

And the US Catholic bishops, who have been meeting this week in San Antonio, issued a call to the president for comprehensive immigration reform. Speaking for the USCCB, the president of the Conference Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said: "Now is the time to address this pressing humanitarian issue which affects so many lives and undermines basic human dignity. Our society should no longer tolerate a status quo that perpetuates a permanent underclass of persons and benefits from their labor without offering them legal protections. As a moral matter, we must resolve the legal status of those who are here without proper documentation so that they can fully contribute their talents to our nation’s economic, social and spiritual well being. Only through comprehensive reform can we restore the rule of law to our nation’s immigration system."


"Lord Jesus, Father and Protector of all, thanks to your generosity we live in this blessed and prosperous nation, the United States of America. Have mercy and compassion on our immigrant families that for many generations have come from afar seeking a decent and dignified life.

Jesus the Nazarene, you who were also an immigrant, do not allow the law to persecute us mercilessly. You know that our demand for a moral and just immigration reform is a right for all citizens who live on and love this American soil. You know how many families continue to be persecuted, are sad, disoriented, lonely and without hope. O God, protect our immigrant families from all the racist attacks and persecution that do not let us live peacefully.

Our families are frightened by the raids, deportations, at disappearing without leaving a trace by which our families can find them. God, free us from all this oppression of our immigrant families, all the racial hatred, the sterile bureaucracy that allows and conditions us to live in the shadows. Lord, we know that no human being is illegal and that your Heavenly Kingdom has no borders.

God Almighty, may we never forget that every time a daddy or a mommy is deported, they leave many helpless boys and girls. All powerful God, help us to see you in the eyes of the migrant and recognize your presence amid the oppressed.

I ask you with all my heart to enlighten the mind and give much wisdom to our beloved President Barack Obama so that very soon we will have the best news of all: a just and moral immigration reform for all.

Dear President Barack Obama and Janet Napolitano, deportation breaks up families and this is contrary to the will of God. We pray that our government leaders will stop breaking up our homes. We want immigration reform now, not tomorrow.

Amen, Amen, God Bless you all!”

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Deportation breaks up families

Fr. Hoyos will be offering a prayer at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast tomorrow morning. If the prayer needs a central message, it should be this: Deportation breaks up families and this is contrary to the will of God. We need to pray for our government leaders to stop breaking up our homes. Now. It is no coincidence that 53% of Latinas get pregnant before the age of 20. That is what happens when parents are not in the home, whether due to deportation or due to having to work so many jobs to survive that they cannot be with their children. Public prayer needs to connect the dots and not act like public policy has nothing to do with private morality. I know Fr. Hoyos and I trust the Holy Spirit will put the words into his mouth and heart that President Obama needs to hear.

In that spirit, I would like to share the following article from today's Miami Herald:

Sweetwater rally seeks to halt deportation of parents/ Immigration advocates rallied in support of the U.S.-born children of illegal immigrants

By Brittany Levine
Miami Herald
June 18, 2009

Ronald Soza, of Margate, went on a hunger strike in January in hopes that it would bring home his mother -- an illegal immigrant who was deported to Nicaragua last year.

On Wednesday he wished for the same thing, this time as he cut his 10th birthday cake at an immigration rally in Sweetwater.

Ronald and about 60 children wearing green signs that said "Don't leave me alone" called on President Barack Obama to halt the deportation of illegal immigrants who have U.S.-born children.

"I think it's really unfair," said Ronald, whose father may also be deported. "They take our parents away like they're criminals."

Ronald now lives in Margate with his aunt and older sister.

The rally, sponsored by the immigration advocacy group American Fraternity, focused on a lawsuit filed against Obama in January on behalf of about 150 children of deported parents.

The suit, set to go to trial in August, was originally brought against the Bush administration but was dismissed.

Alfonso Olviedo, the children's attorney, said the case would most likely be dismissed again, with the court citing that it is an inappropriate forum.

Even if it is dismissed, Nora Sandigo, chief executive officer of American Fraternity, said her group will continue to fight.

Children with deported parents suffer emotional consequences often leading to bad grades, drug abuse and teen pregnancy, she said.

The parents illegally came to the U.S. before 1996 immigration changes made it more difficult for them to become legal residents, Olviedo said. Prior to changes, parents could become residents if they had been here for seven years, had good moral character, and proved their children would suffer hardship.

Cecia, 13, Ronald's sister, said she has been attending rallies since her mother was deported because she doesn't want other children to lose their mothers.

Many at the rally said they think the case has a chance because Obama has been vocal about immigration policy changes.

So far, the only White House correspondence has been a standard thank you letter.

PHOTOS: Ronald and Cecia Soza during the January hunger strike; Back in Nicaragua, their deported mother, Marisela Vallejos de Soza, shows her children's photos, and grieves her separation from them on the shoulder of her sister Yamileth.

Tantas promesas nunca cumplidas

The list of 2009 Clergy Appointments just came out. I scanned it casually, looking for my old parish. Nothing. There never is. I'm not surprised, no longer really angry, just decepcionada. Tantas promesas nunca cumplidas. I gave up believing years ago. The Lord may hear the cry of the poor but the diocese turns a deaf ear.

It's not my problem now; I've moved on. When the hermana calls to ask my opinion on the latest conflict between the remaining lay leaders and the párroco: "It's not my problem." When the hermano tells me the parish is unraveling because the only lay leader who really knew how to get things done and was never willing to share that knowledge is in the hospital: "It's not my problem." The choir is being decimated by infighting? "Not my problem." Not enough cancioneros? "Not my problem." "Will you ever come back?" No. There is nothing more I can do. Nothing changed, so I had to leave. The decision to become a minister of communion in my new parish set fire to the bridge. There is no going back, at least not in the next few years.

You called our name during the "roll call" at St. John Neumann but heard only a smattering of "Amen"s. Yet we were there -- almost all of us -- on the margins, some of us not even in the sanctuary...Serving silently, keeping our promise, invisible...Waiting...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Being gay in the Church today

This article is directly related to yesterday’s column on “Celibacy and Integrity” and is dedicated to a fellow blogger who is trying to discern if he wants to remain in the Catholic priesthood. It is controversial and I would especially like to invite any gay members of the clergy who want to provide a more positive perspective on this issue to share their comments.

It is hard to be a gay man in the Roman Catholic priesthood today. The Church used to be the perfect refuge for gay men from traditional Catholic families, a haven from the pressure to find a wife and start a family. You could live comfortably among your own gender and be respected and never suspected, for your choice. Not anymore. In recent years, in addition to the tired and hurtful catechetical teaching that homosexuality is “gravely disordered”, we have:

  • the “witch hunt” against gays in the seminaries, reinforcing the feeling that the Church does not want men of your sexual orientation in its ranks. Gay prospective seminarians have to offer much more proof than straights that they are able to meet the demands of celibacy, because, unfortunately and erroneously, homosexuality has been equated in the popular mind with pedophilia.

  • the increasing conflict between the Church and the gay community over civil marriage and unions, domestic partnership, adoption of children by gay couples, and other public policy questions. It must be hard to wear the collar of an institution that is working steadily against the interests of those who share your sexual orientation. You have to keep silent to keep your job and those in the gay community who know the “real” you are calling on you to “out” yourself and stand in solidarity with them. Maybe you are one of those few remaining gays who believe that marriage should be a “straights only” proposition but it’s hard for a caring person (and you became a priest because you ARE a caring person) to deny other people the right to form stable homes and families. The time has come to get off the fence and answer the question: “Which side are you on?”

  • the historic persecution of ministries such as New Ways and Dignity USA that are designed to provide positive pastoral help and comfort to gay individuals within the Church.

I could tell from your blog that you love the traditional Mass, the vestments, the music and pageantry that so characterize the “high” Catholic Church. However, your gift of language placed you in a community that is far removed from all of that. Church was no longer about glorious Masses but about the suffering "masses yearning to breathe free" – suffering masses who, at the same time, are more prejudiced against people like you than the majority community. You have had to silently endure their anti-homosexual comments or try to formulate an answer sufficiently calm and vague so as not to blow your cover. And as long as you have the gift and they have the need, that is where you will be called to serve for the foreseeable future.

You care for these immigrant people of God and it must be hard to watch our Catholic leaders refuse to support a bill that would help them bring their families together because that bill grants the same reunification privileges to same-sex partners. The Church would rather slam the door on people like you than embrace and help the people you care for and serve. How can anyone live with that?

This is not about sex or romantic relationships. It’s about whether or not any gay person with integrity can continue to serve in an institution that is causing so much pain to the brothers and sisters who share your sexual orientation and who are also made in the image and likeness of God.

People are angry at Padre Alberto because he showed another way. By leaving, getting married, and joining the Episcopalians, he made a statement: “I refuse to go on living a double life. I want to be free to live openly and with integrity before my God, to be who I am.” He left the closet and the world did not come to an end. In that brief flash of daylight from the open door, other men saw a way out and a world beyond.

I don’t know where you will come out, brother. I miss your blog, which is now closed to the general public. All I can do is pray for you, that you will find a path that allows you to live as a Catholic gay man with integrity, at peace with yourself and with God.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Celibacy and Integrity

With Padre Alberto now married to his beloved Ruhama, the debate about celibacy will surely grow even hotter. As someone who has been blogging steadily on this issue on CITI's Rentapriest blog for the last several years, I would like to clarify my personal thoughts on the issue:

1. I believe that the mandatory celibacy requirement should be lifted for all diocesan priests -- current and future -- and that the religious orders should be free to set their own policies in the matter. I believe that the Church should admit married Catholic men into the priesthood and develop a way for those who have left the priesthood to get married to return to active service if they wish to do so. There is a place for celibacy. It is a wonderful gift, but only if freely chosen.

2. I believe that anyone who is currently under a vow of celibacy should strive to be faithful to that vow, if possible.

3. I believe that if it is no longer possible for someone to be faithful to their celibacy vow then they should do the honorable thing and resign rather than live a double life, have an affair or cause a scandal. Padre Alberto did the right thing in the end, after a brief ethical lapse.

Mandatory celibacy is not defensible Biblically (many apostles including St. Peter were married), historically (the Roman Catholic Church has had married priests and even Popes), or practically (the Church has managed to accommodate the Pastoral Provision and Eastern rite married priests). It is the single greatest reason why men leave the priesthood or don't enter seminary or go on to ordination in the first place. And it can be easily addressed if the Vatican wishes to do so. It is possible under Canon Law to change this policy.

On the other hand, we already have an unofficial "married priesthood". These men are in the closet, together with their partners and children. It's time to throw open the closet doors and let these couples live openly and with the security and integrity that real matrimony brings.

Making the Celibate Choice

But, given the current circumstances, how should priests and women deal with their romantic feelings? To make it clear: I am talking about mutual attraction between equals, not about priests who abuse their professional positions to seduce women -- another matter entirely. Here are a few insights gained from years of blogging, reflecting and talking about this issue:


Writing about the Padre Alberto case, Fr. Hoyos asked of Ruhama: "Why, if she was so spiritual, did she not look at the priest as a representative of Christ on earth rather than as a man of flesh and bone?"

Because, Fr. Hoyos, that technique doesn't work. It really doesn't work for any woman who enjoys the kind of proximity to a cleric that leads to these relationships in the first place. You hear about all his aches and pains, his illnesses, his dreams and anxieties, etc. and then you are supposed to see this vulnerable human being whom you have come to love as some remote, impersonal "Christ"? I don't think that is emotionally possible. I once heard a woman who is in love with a priest say that when she looks at him it is as if she is seeing Christ up there at the altar. It was so out of sync with everything else she said about the man and her way of acting around him that I wanted to reply: "Yeah, right. Get real."

Instead, it is better to say: "I see the man I love doing the job he loves." Why? Because this statement implies many things. If he is a priest, then "the job he loves" entails being faithful to a vow of celibacy. If he is "the man I love", I should want him to be able to continue to do the job he loves. And that means I support him in his chastity by not putting us into compromising situations, engaging in inappropriate touching, etc...THAT is love; anything else is just selfishness. And if we do not wish to be selfish, we also have to consider the devastating impact that any breach of vows -- whether marital or clerical -- can have on the broader community of believers.

A corollary problem that arises is that a woman who is not able to view her priest as Christ needs to find another confessor, and a priest who is emotionally involved with a woman should not be hearing her confession. I wrote in an earlier article about the priest who reacted jealously to a woman who spoke about other men she was seeing during confession. He "absolved" her but then treated her coldly. He was not detached enough to help her really achieve reconciliation. Also, the privacy and intimacy of the confessional space can, and have, turned it into a compromising situation when there is attraction between priest and penitent.


Priests spend an inordinate amount of time denying their feelings, both to themselves and to others. We are inculturated to believe that if you say "I love you" to someone, you automatically have to act on that statement and that leads to sex, marriage, etc... That is a myth.

One frequently suggested line for priests to use is: "I'm not available. You deserve to be with someone who is free to love you", i.e. "I'm rejecting you for your own good." It is silly and ineffective because neither party really believes it, even though it contains some truth. And did I forget to add "patronizing"? Most women who get involved with priests know perfectly well what they are doing and do not need to be protected, thank you very much.

The truth is far more effective: "I love you but I love being a priest and therefore I can't and I won't violate my vows with you." You don't have a choice about your feelings, but God gave you a choice about whether or not to act on them. Don't blame or shun the woman because you feel attracted to her. Just say "no" and don't put yourself in compromising situations or give out mixed messages through inappropriate words or gestures.

And if you can't or don't want to follow the rules, then the correct choice under the current circumstances, is to resign from the Roman Catholic priesthood because what matters most to God is our personal integrity. A priest with a divided spirit and a double life is useless both to the woman he loves and to the Lord he serves.

Immigration News Roundup - June 16, 2009

1. Hate Crimes Rise as Immigration Debate Heats Up: A new report from the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund indicates that an increase in hate crimes committed against Hispanics and people perceived to be immigrants in recent years "correlates closely" to the nation's increasingly contentious debate over immigration, faulting anti-immigrant rhetoric in the media and extremist group mobilization on the Internet. Hate crimes targeted against Hispanic Americans increased 40 percent between 2003 and 2007, the most recent year in which FBI statistics are available, from 426 to 595 incidents, marking the fourth consecutive year of increases.

Among the recommendations contained in Confronting the New Faces of Hate: Hate Crimes in America 2009:

  • Set The Tone For A Civil National Discourse On Comprehensive Immigration Reform: "Civil rights organizations have become increasingly concerned about the virulent anti-immigrant and anti-Latino rhetoric employed by a handful of groups and coalitions that have positioned themselves as legitimate, mainstream advocates against illegal immigration in America. Leaders from every sector — including government, media, business, labor, religion, and education — have an essential role in shaping attitudes in opposition to all forms of bigotry. These leaders must moderate the rhetoric in the immigration debate. It is vital that civic leaders and law enforcement officials speak out against efforts to demonize immigrants — and use their bully pulpits to promote better intergroup relations. They must use their power of persuasion and political clout to condemn scapegoating, bias crimes, racism, and other hate speech and hate crimes, and to press for fair and workable immigration reform."

2. For immigrants, living the dream is getting tougher: An article in yesterday's USA Today offers case studies of how the current recession is affecting small immigrant entrepreneurs. About 1.5 million immigrants own U.S. businesses, according to a study for the Small Business Administration by Rob Fairlie, an economics professor at the University of California-Santa Cruz. He found that immigrants are 30% more likely to start a business than non-immigrants. They account for 11.6% of all U.S. business income....Because immigrant business owners — particularly those who operate stores or restaurants — often depend on their own communities, they can be "more vulnerable in these downturns," says Gregory DeFreitas, an economist at Hofstra University. For the same reason, recovery will come more slowly to immigrant businesses, he says...

3. Wenski's Word: In a column titled My Word: Moment of truth on immigration in yesterday's Orlando Sentinel, Mons. Thomas Wenski, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando and a consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration, tells the Obama administration that it needs to produce "a substantive plan that shows that the administration intends to win this battle, even if it might take longer than expected."

Says the prelate: "Such a plan should include legislative and administrative actions that increase public confidence that immigrants are integrating into U.S. society systematically and that the government would be able to efficiently implement and enforce a new immigration system...I am not talking about more border enforcement. I am speaking of initiatives to show that, if we do intend to require 12 million people to earn citizenship, the infrastructure is in place to ensure that they are processed and able to learn English and civics in a reasonable time period. In short, the administration must prove that these new immigrants, now in the shadows, can emerge and become good Americans."

4. In Virginia, Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics: The anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform has come out with a new study titled The Costs of Illegal Immigration to Virginians which purportedly shows that "providing education and health care to illegal aliens and their families, and incarcerating criminal illegal aliens, costs state taxpayers nearly $1.7 billion annually." FAIR bolstered their findings with a new Zogby poll that shows "56% of Virginia voters say illegal immigration has a negative impact on the state."

Immigration Impact blog promptly counterattacked with a column refuting FAIR's findings and dissecting the group's rather biased methodology. The Immigration Policy Center also retaliated with their own fact sheet New Americans in the Old Dominion State that demonstrates the growing political and economic power of the immigrant community in Virginia, and documenting the economic impact of both documented and undocumented immigrants on the state. Among the statistics: "Undocumented immigrants in Virginia paid between $260 million and $311 million in taxes in 2007" and "The state’s undocumented population, which earned between $2.6 billion and $3.1 billion in 2007, even after accounting for remittances sent back to their home countries, uses their income to purchase Virginia’s goods and services." Sic semper tyrannis...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Leonardo Boff at 70 - Pt. 2: The Theological Journey

On the occasion of his 70th birthday in December 2008, Brazilian liberation theologian Leonardo Boff gave two major addresses -- one about his life and the other about his theological perspective as they have evolved over the years. These talks are available in their original language in the Portuguese section of Leonardo's Web site (click on "Balanço aos 70"). We are pleased to bring them to you in English for the first time, translated by Rebel Girl. With his typical wit, Leonardo signs the two addresses "theologus et peregrinus peccator".

Thank you for the tribute from human rights entities in Petropolis.

On this day, December 16th, 2008, I am marking my life as a theologian and as a human and ecological rights activist from the perspective of social oppression and natural devastation. In my adopted city, Petropolis, Rio, I am receiving this homage from those with whom I have walked the last 30 years, mostly poor people, from communities on the periphery of the city, but people who feel like they are citizens with rights, dignity, and in harmony with nature.

I appreciate the moving words of Maristela Barenco, one of the best students of theology I ever had, an educator, a psychologist and currently coordinator of the Center for Human Rights. The words of confrere Frei Alamiro da Silva linked me to our common journey as Franciscans with the landless, the homeless, in the commitment for the rights of the oppressed and the commitment to the justice, peace and integrity of creation project that the Franciscan Order adopted years ago.

The words of the Jesuit theologian Father John Baptist Libânio of Belo Horizonte, especially moved me because he traced the steps of a journey we made together from the long years of the 70s in the last century to the present. More than a friend, he became a faithful brother and witness with the same expression of faith at the service of life and the suffering people of this world. Endowed with vast humanistic culture, he always managed to combine intellectual rigor with a sense of humor and levity in his expositions.

For those who are present, I have made a brief review of my theological journey in an improvised form that I will transcribe here, noticing too that every turn in my thought, within a basic continuum, is linked to an existential crisis. As we live in times of systemic crisis, a journey of so many years under the arc of the phenomenon of crisis is not incomprehensible. since each crisis serves as a crucible that refines the essence of the options and thus enables a new leap in personal history.

1. The meaning of old age and work

First of all, I acknowledge the rapid passing of time and unexpected irruption of old age. It is more than a biological inevitability. It is an opportunity that God and life offer me to conclude what started one day: the shaping of my own life so that it reaches a certain fullness like a fruit that must ripen to be gathered for the feast of the Lord. I have always tried to lead my life in light of the mystery of God, without ever knowing exactly what His designs for my path would be. And also without understanding the life that is surging more and more like a mystery within me, as is life in general and the evolving universe.

I am aware of the truth of the psalmist: "We are like a morning dream, transient as the grass" (90:5). Aches and pains are showing up now like "the silver thread that snaps, or the golden bowl that is cracked, or the pitcher shattered at the fountain, or the pulley broken at the well-head" (Eccl. 12:6). But, even under these twilight conditions, I am not walking towards the end but towards the Fountain of perennial divine youth.

Secondly, I feel like a worker at hard labor. And this unites me to all workers in the world. As a child I labored with a hoe. Then I struggled with quill and writing, day and night, on weekends, on holidays and feast days, year after year. I worked hard to compose my writings, whether in researching them or in giving them literary form. Unconsciously I fulfilled the purpose of the Creator: "investigating and exploring is the thankless task God imposes on human beings" (Eccl 1:13). Thankless task because it is never finished and ready. It must always be resumed anew so that it brings us new windows through which we see reality differently.

But I testify from personal experience to that of which the wise man warns: "Of the making of many books there is no end, and in much study there is weariness for the flesh" (Eccl. 12:12).

2. Landmarks of a journey

a) Franciscanism

My first universe was Franciscanism. It is one of the most humane spiritual traditions in history. All my life and vision of the world were marked by long years of life within the Franciscan Order. Being a Franciscan was a way of inhabiting the world, seeking fraternization with nature and living joyfully the dimension of kindness in the world. I read the classics of philosophy and medieval theology which produced the Order, from Alexander of Hales to William of Ockham. I was very influenced by St. Bonaventure’s thought on the Sacraments and Duns Scotus for the rigor of his conceptual universe and the genius of his vision which are still not sufficiently appreciated by the Church. But the fact that Martin Heidegger did his doctoral thesis on him and Protestant theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg is one of the specialists in his writings show the richness of his thought. But Franciscanism was a kind of ecclesiola, a little church that is sufficient unto itself, with its saints, doctors, and its own liturgy that came to it from the archetypal figure of St. Francis.

b) The church as sacrament of salvation and liberation

Vatican II (1962-1965) and my studies in Munich in Bavaria (1965-1970) awakened me to a world that went beyond Franciscanism. It was the Church in aggiornamento, it is worth saying, that was bringing itself up to date through a vigorous dialogue with the modern world, with science, with work, the new humanism and the process of emancipation—what the Conciliar Fathers called the "legitimate autonomy of earthly realities”. It was a time of enthusiasm and experiencing liberation from a spiritual suffocation that had turned freedom of thought into a risky venture and suspicion of infidelity. The institutional Church had waged a long and inglorious battle against modernity and its intellectual and political achievements. Now a kind of peace would finally be established between the Church and the world at the service of what is good and true for humanity, since such values have their ultimate origin in God. Perhaps the most significant document of the Council is the one titled: "The Church in the Modern World." It is no longer the world that is brought into the Church. It is the Church that finds itself in the world, a greater and more challenging reality. The Church presented itself as the sacrament of salvation for the world, it should be said, a sign and instrument of salvation already accomplished by Christ and offered to all humanity. This was also the subject of my thesis in German, published later under the auspices of the then Professor Joseph Ratzinger. I was living in a moment of spring and great optimism.

Upon returning to Brazil, along with many others, I realized that the biggest challenge for us was not "the church in the modern world," but “the church in the modern underworld." That modern world with its science and technology and emancipatory processes meant weapons to which we submitted or were incorporated in its plans. The first formulation represented the view of the first world, rich and well-situated within the dominant culture. The second focused on the rupture, denouncing the existence of an underworld and a sub-humanity produced by modernity. What does it mean to be sign and instrument of salvation in the context of underdevelopment understood as dependence, as aggregation to the plan of the opulent nations? If this situation produced oppression, then the mission of the Church was to present itself as a sacrament of liberation. How to turn these “non-persons” into people with autonomy and rights?

That is what I was able to understand and articulate in a more organic way in my books Church, Charism and Power and Ecclesiogenesis: The Base Communities Reinvent the Church.

Today we are witnessing a significant retreat from the central government of the Church in Rome. It seeks to read Vatican II from the Vatican I perspective, that is to say, read the pastoral in the light of Canon Law. This choice is making the whole Church mediocre and encouraging a weak fundamentalism in the new lay movements and the pronouncements of the central authorities of the Church. It turns around the fear of everything that is modern, demoted to relativism. Fear is the opposite of faith. My basic attitude has always been this: Christ did not call us to stay in the safe harbor. He called us to set out on the high seas and confront the dangerous waves. We do not pray, "Lord, Lord, free us from the threatening waves” but rather “Give us strength to overcome them." Christianity is for great and generous things and not to comfort pusillanimous spirits.

c) The poor question and judge us

The awareness that the developed and underdeveloped worlds make up an unequal and interdependent whole with a clear process of domination of one part over the other, made me discover the universe of the poor. The poor form a painful landscape and a visibly bleeding wound in our society. The scandal of this anti-reality hurt the Christian and human sensibilities of theologians in various Latin American countries. I soon realized that the poor person is really an impoverished person – someone who has been oppressed by economic, political and cultural mechanisms. He is demanding liberation. The Church, with the new consciousness awakened by Vatican II, placed itself on their side. It made the option for the poor and against poverty. Perhaps that has been the most important pastoral and prophetic gesture in its history in Latin America. To opt for the poor was to opt for their historical force, for their ability to make faith a factor of resistance, protest, and liberation. It isn’t the Church that frees the poor. It forms an active alliance with them and thus participates in the blessing of the poor.

Theologians who adopt the cause of the poor become liberation theologians by association because they are not poor nor do they come from the world of the poor. They all come from the school of Pharaoh. But we can attend the school of the poor and become their allies and thus, by affiliation, liberation theologians.

Theologians became slowly aware of the various faces of the poor – the economically poor, indigenous people, people of color, women, anyone who faces discrimination. Each kind of oppression is specific and demands a specific kind of liberation – unique ones for the person of color, the indigenous person, the woman, the leper or just the economically poor person. Through them we are granted the ability to see the face of the crucified Jesus who continues to cry out in His Passion, waiting for someone to take Him down from the Cross. This experience of meeting (encuentro) conferred a uniqueness to liberation theology. To destroy it out of zeal for purity of faith or out of desire for rigorous method, putting the Crucified One on one side and the crucified people on the other – something that one theologian dared to do – is to understand nothing of the origins of Christianity, to forget what the revealed Word tells us: “if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) Therefore such a theology “is nothing” (just what the devil likes!) because it is useless at the supreme moment in history when we face the Judge of time and eternity. Our commitment to the poor will determine the truth or cynicism of our theology, done in the Brazilian and Latin American context.

I raised all sorts of issues and invaded many areas of knowledge, but I never forgot the poor – our masters and doctors and our mediators at the Last Judgment.

d) Our Sister and Mother Earth and Gaia

The poor cry out because they are oppressed. Liberation theology was born trying to respond with justice to their cries. But it is not just the poor and the oppressed that cry out. The forests, water, and animals cry, nature cries, and the Earth moans. All are undergoing a systematic process of oppression and devastation. Not just the poor, but all are prisoners of a paradigm that for more than 300 years now has aimed to limitlessly exploit the resources and services of the Earth. It is a paradigm of wanting power for domination. Hence we are all oppressed and needing to be freed. How can we make the desire for life be valued?

Since the 1980s, it has become clear to me that this is the quaestio magna. If liberation theology want to be complete as it has always wanted to be, it should include the liberation of nature and of the Earth whom St. Francis called sister and mother and modern people call Gaia. It should listen to and articulate both cries – of the poor and of the Earth. There should be a whole ecotheology of liberation.

Because of this, my work for ecology in the broadest sense – environmental, social, mental, whole, I dedicated myself to studying and acquiring the most solid facts from new cosmology, quantum physics, new biology and anthropology. It was an arduous task, years of uninterrupted work. For this reason I was invited to belong to the small group that inspired the whole world and finally drafted the Earth Charter. This document, now adopted by UNESCO, starts with the threats that weigh upon the Earth and, from a perspective of hope and of a new beginning, offers values and principles that could save us. I participated actively in drafting the text along with M. Gorbachev, S. Rockefeller and others.

Today I feel it is more and more urgent for theology to dialogue with this new knowledge so as to better know our history that has been going on at least 13.7 billion years and to be able to speak about God in a contemporary way and be aware of His unfathomable wisdom and design.

d) God: Mystery and Tenderness

At this time of life my mind is more and more occupied with, and my heart embraces, the question of God. All of the questions mentioned above are important. They do not take precedent over each other. They co-exist and are complementary. But, relative to God, they are ultimately a passing flame.

Who is God? What human experience underlies faith and unconditional surrender to God? As much as I study the sacred texts of the religious traditions of humanity and what has been revealed by the tradition of the sons and daughters of Abraham, God is a mystery to me. Christianity shows us that He is not a solitary One but a community of Three. The mystery of the Holy Trinity has always challenged me intellectually and also – if I can put it this way – mystically. I countered with the best of my ability to think. I believe I contributed with something that wasn’t clearly present in tradition.

For me, God revealed Himself, in fact, to human beings and to the universe. To reveal Himself is to commit Himself is to communicate Himself just as He is. If He is Trinity, then He meets us as Trinity. There is no theological reason whatsoever that obliges us to stop at the incarnation of the Son. I support the thesis that the Father became personified in St. Joseph, the Son incarnated in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit spiritualized in Mary. Hence we have the divine family entirely present in the human family.

In front of my house, I planted three conifers to represent the human and divine Trinity. Whenever I come and go from my house, I pass through this human-divine Trinity. And I feel included in the eternal communion. And at night, when I remember to do so, I talk and pray reverently with this representation of the Trinity.

In spite of this concretization, the Triune God remains an unfathomable mystery to me. I always end in noble silence. But it is a mystery of tenderness, of embracing, and of inexpressible communion. When I fall like a tree, I hope to fall into His arms and be nestled in His maternal and paternal womb.

e) Light lives with shadows

Up until now I have been referring to the light dimension of my already long journey. But there was also and is a shadow dimension. Painfully, I am part of the human condition where a sym-bolic portion coexists with a dia-bolic portion. I am a theologian but I am also a sinner. A pilgrim who is also torn apart. Therefore I also owe apologies and beg forgiveness.

I had strong confrontations as a theologian. I never accepted the world I inherited. I always thought that the Church could be better and more of a sacrament of Christ and the Spirit. That is why my criticisms were seen as a challenge to be confronted. I had to submit to the highest doctrinal offices of the Church. I was punished. But I never held a grudge. My suffering was nothing compared to the daily passion of the poor. Finally, everything has to do with the sacred cause of the oppressed, the beloved of the Father. On this point, without being presumptuous, I confess that I was always resistant, resilient, and persistent. I never took my hands off the plow and never looked back. (cf. Luke 9:62) Instead, I looked up ahead, finding a thousand reasons to continue in the same struggle, albeit in another trench.

3. Conclusion: I have lost almost everything but the seed has been sown

What remains? Faith, hope, and love remain. Life, some experience, and mainly seeds remain. I hope that this journey has brought me wisdom worthy of an elder and that it has helped me get ready for the great Encounter, the much anticipated Encounter.

On my slog I have met the fate of the tree. It has lost its top and thus the dialogue with the world became more difficult. I lost the trunk and therefore had to strengthen myself a lot to keep myself sustainable. I lost roots and began much work to continually renew myself. I lost sap and had to learn to live with loneliness and detraction. But the seed remained. I am now only seed. And, as seed, I feel whole. Because in the seed are hidden the freshness of the top, the strength of the trunk, the secret of the roots, and the vitality of the sap. In the seed is all the promise of life, the flowers and the fruit. From it, everything can be reborn. But it is only reborn if, in the spirit of the Beatitudes, I accept the darkness of earth and the fate of every seed – if it does not die, it will not give fruit.

Becoming only seed, I think I have been true to myself and to the calling I have received. The seed keeps the purpose of the universe and the design of the Creator beyond my now tired existence. I anxiously await His revelation that will be in the life beyond this life.

Sueño Latino

As I told some of the hermanos Saturday night, I do a lot of work for Padre Hoyos and occasionally get my reward on earth rather than having to wait for Heaven (if I even get there). Padrecito is just back from Colombia where he helped to launch a new CD which he commissioned from a vallenato singer, Rafael "El Ñeko" Gutiérrez, who hails from Atanquez where Padrecito used to work as a pastor. So on Saturday night, I ended up with a T-shirt and a copy of this marvellous CD, which is dedicated to the immigrant Latino community. Here are a couple of photos from the CD launch and audio and lyrics for the title track.

Sueño Latino

"Sueñ lejanas tierras
Destinos aprisionados por la distancia
Vagan las aves viajeras
Que van siguiendo las rutas de la esperanza
La travesía del desierto se vuelve amarga
Ese rió crecido juega con sus ilusiones
Pero los viajeros viven por sus pasiones
Y con decisión soportan pesadas cargas
Atrás se quedó la angustia de sus amores
Con fortaleza y con fe librando batallas.
Y el alma de los recuerdos que no desmaya
Aunque se llene la vida de sinsabores
Inmigrante de sangre latina
Nunca, nunca debes renunciar
Si tu norte es luchar en la vida
Tu consigna es llegar al final
Inmigrante de sangre latina
Tú historia termina siempre en un cantar
Inmigrante de sangre latina
Victoria termina siempre en un cantar
Hombre… de triste mirada
Que encuentra en la soledad el mejor sustento
Lejos… de la patria amada
El inmigrante latino sufre en silencio
Sobre el camino su huella se va extinguiendo
La suerte incierta navega sobre la nada
En su vida la verdad está encadenada
Y solo un sueño lo impulsa ha nuevos intentos
La nostalgia por su tierra es todo un tormento
Siente miedo de una sombra que lo acompaña
Duerme en la noche esperando un feliz mañana
Y despierta con la fe de seguir viviendo"