Saturday, July 25, 2009

Time out in the whale's belly

Sometimes the charismatic prayer group is a joy, like last week when we heard from an accomplished predicador who gave a simple but inspiring message on how to pray with more power, based on the story of the withered fig tree (Mark 11:20-25). Two ingredients: faith and forgiveness. You have to really believe God can and does answer prayers and you cannot be holding grudges that interfere with the flow of the Holy Spirit.

Other times it's just a drag. After last night's complete misreading of the book of Jonah, I was praying for a whale to come and swallow me up so I could get the h--- out of there! The predicador, who said he has been unhappy with how things are going in the prayer group, used Jonah 4 to lecture us on our lack of commitment and willingness to do the will of God. According to the predicador, Jonah got angry and said it was better to die because he didn't want to do God's will.

Problem is that by the time we get to chapter 4, Jonah, having had his "time out" for reflection in the whale's belly, has done God's will and gone out to prophesy against Nineveh. So why is Jonah angry? Because he lost face. He put his spin on what God sent him to do, telling the Ninevites precisely: "Forty days more and Nineveh shall be destroyed." But the Ninevites repent and God spares them. So Jonah is mad at God for putting him through all this grief and then making him a laughingstock ("But God, you said...") God sends a gourd plant to provide some shade to Jonah and then a worm to destroy the gourd plant to teach Jonah two lessons:

1. I am God and I can do as I please.

2. If you, Jonah, care so much about this measly gourd plant that you get upset when it is destroyed, why should I, God, not care that much more about a big city like Nineveh and its thousand of inhabitants and animals? Judgement goes hand in hand with compassion and redemption.

But all this was lost last night because the predicador had his little lecture he wanted to give us and he also wanted to talk about Jonah, so he tried -- unsuccessfully -- to cobble the two together.

Nobody felt inspired at the end of this scolding. It certainly didn't move anyone to embrace the coordinators' idea of a separate night each week to study the Bible (something we should be doing as part of the regular prayer group instead of listening to a constant stream of outside predicadores). Those who are interested in more Bible study can enroll in Padre Alex's classes and get a reliable interpretation from him instead of listening to a lay preacher with an ax to grind. I think I'll sit this one out, even if it means a divine "time out" in a whale's belly.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Immigration News Roundup - 7/24/2009

1. Police chiefs press for immigration reform: Some of the nation's top cops on Wednesday called upon Congress to promptly adopt an immigration reform measure, saying local law enforcement agencies across America are struggling to deal with crime and confusion caused by a broken system. About 100 police chiefs and administrators from Framingham, Mass., to San Diego joined Department of Homeland Security officials in Phoenix for a National Summit on Local Immigration Policies sponsored by the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit law enforcement educational organization. During closed discussions, the participants agreed that America needs a comprehensive new law containing guest-worker programs, a means for immigrants to become permanent residents and federal enforcement of the prohibition against hiring illegal immigrants, according to Chuck Wexler, the forum's executive director.

2. Mexican immigration to U.S. off 40 percent, study finds: Mexican immigration to the United States has dropped sharply since 2005, but the flow of migrants returning to Mexico remains steady, according to a study released Wednesday by the Pew Hispanic Center. Immigration from Mexico to the United States slowed at least 40 percent between mid-decade and 2008, according to the analysis, based on national population surveys in the United States and Mexico, as well as Border Patrol apprehension figures. The Mexican survey estimated that 1 million Mexicans left for the United States in a 12-month period beginning in 2006. Three years later, that number decreased to 636,000. "The size of the drop has been quite remarkable in such a small span of time," Jeffrey Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center and author of the study, told CNN.

3. Hispanic worker deaths up 76% since 1992: The number of Hispanic workers who die on the job has risen, even as the overall number of workplace deaths has declined, according to federal statistics. Hispanic worker deaths increased from 533 in 1992 to 937 in 2007 — a 76% jump. In the same period, total fatalities in all jobs nationwide fell from 6,217 to 5,657, according to the data. The 2007 tally, the latest available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, followed a record 990 Hispanic deaths in 2006..."I am particularly concerned about our Hispanic workforce, as Latinos often work low-wage jobs and are more susceptible to injuries in the workplace than other workers," U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told USA Today. "There can be no excuses for negligence in protecting workers, not even a language barrier."..."Workers without legal documentation to be in the U.S. are less inclined to join a union, which helps protect workers, or protest when conditions seem dangerous," said Raj Nayak of the California-based National Employment Law Project. "They're doing the most dangerous work for longer hours," Nayak said.

4. Hispanic Voter Surge Imperils Republicans: This week the Census Bureau released voting and voter registration statistics for last year's election...The Census estimates that there were 9.745 million Hispanic voters in 2008, compared to 7.587 million in 2004 -- an increase of 28.4%. Overall, an estimated 131.114 million Americans voted in 2008, compared to 125.736 million in 2004, an increase of just 4.3%. Another way of looking at it: there were 5.4 million additional votes cast in 2008 compared to 2004 and about 2.2 million of them were cast by Hispanics. Obama took 67% of the vote from Latinos according to exit polling. That's a problem for Republicans, especially because the Hispanic voter growth is not limited to just a few states. Click on Governing magazine's blog entry to see a table showing the percentage increase in Hispanic voters from 2004 to 2008 in each state where Hispanics were at least 2% of voters in 2008.

5. Council on Foreign Relations Says Broken U.S. Immigration System Threatens National Security: "The continued failure to devise and implement a sound and sustainable immigration policy threatens to weaken America’s economy, to jeopardize its diplomacy, and to imperil its national security," concludes a new Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Independent Task Force co-chaired by former Florida governor Jeb Bush and former White House chief of staff Thomas "Mack" McLarty. "The stakes are too high to fail," says the report (1.2 MB PDF). "If the United States continues to mishandle its immigration policy, it will damage one of the vital underpinnings of American prosperity and security, and could condemn the country to a long, slow decline in its status in the world." For this reason, the report urges: "The United States needs a fundamental overhaul of its immigration laws." The group calls on the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that:
  • Reforms the legal immigration system so that it operates more efficiently, responds more accurately to labor market needs, and enhances U.S. competitiveness;
  • Restores the integrity of immigration laws through an enforcement regime that strongly discourages employers and employees from operating outside that legal system, secures America’s borders, and levies significant penalties against those who violate the rules;
  • Offers a fair, humane, and orderly way to allow many of the roughly twelve million migrants currently living illegally in the United States to earn the right to remain legally.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Caritatis in Veritate": View(s) from the Left

It is interesting to note the differences between Frei Betto's largely positive view of the Pope's new encyclical and Leonardo Boff's more critical perspective. Interesting, because those two are usually on the same page with respect to their analyses of the world situation and our Church's role -- or lack thereof -- in it. Not this time. English translations of Frei Betto by Rebel Girl and of Leonardo Boff by Refugio del Rio Grande with a number of modifications by Rebel Girl.

FREI BETTO: The Pope and the World Crisis

"Love in Truth" is the title of Benedict XVI's recent encyclical, published on June 29th. In it, the Pope emphasizes the social dimension of love: "To desire the common good" -- all quotes are from the original text -- "and strive towards it is a requirement of justice and charity. To take a stand for the common good is on the one hand to be solicitous for, and on the other hand to avail oneself of, that complex of institutions that give structure to the life of society, juridically, civilly, politically and culturally, making it the pólis, or 'city'. The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them." (n. 7)

The document pays homage to Paul VI by echoing Populorum progresio (1967), one of the mosst progressive encyclicals in the last two centuries. Benedict XVI states that "underdevelopment [is] not due to chance or historical necessity, but... attributable to human responsibility. This is why 'the peoples in hunger are making a dramatic appeal to the peoples blessed with abundance'...Paul VI had a keen sense of the importance of economic structures and institutions, but he had an equally clear sense of their nature as instruments of human freedom." (n. 17)

Since in Brazil we talk about "gorwth", the Pope recalls that "Paul VI had an articulated vision of development. He understood the term to indicate the goal of rescuing peoples, first and foremost, from hunger, deprivation, endemic diseases and illiteracy. From the economic point of view, this meant their active participation, on equal terms, in the international economic process; from the social point of view, it meant their evolution into educated societies marked by solidarity; from the political point of view, it meant the consolidation of democratic regimes capable of ensuring freedom and peace." (n. 21)

Benedict XVI then criticizes neoliberalism: "Once profit becomes the exclusive goal, if it is produced by improper means and without the common good as its ultimate end, it risks destroying wealth and creating poverty...Yet it must be acknowledged that this same economic growth has been and continues to be weighed down by malfunctions and dramatic problems, highlighted even further by the current crisis. This presents us with choices that cannot be postponed concerning nothing less than the destiny of man, who, moreover, cannot prescind from his nature. The technical forces in play, the global interrelations, the damaging effects on the real economy of badly managed and largely speculative financial dealing, large-scale migration of peoples, often provoked by some particular circumstance and then given insufficient attention, the unregulated exploitation of the earth's resources: all this leads us today to reflect on the measures that would be necessary to provide a solution to problems that are not only new in comparison to those addressed by Pope Paul VI, but also, and above all, of decisive impact upon the present and future good of humanity...The current crisis obliges us to re-plan our journey, to set ourselves new rules and to discover new forms of commitment, to build on positive experiences and to reject negative ones. The crisis thus becomes an opportunity for discernment, in which to shape a new vision for the future. In this spirit, with confidence rather than resignation, it is appropriate to address the difficulties of the present time." (n. 21)

The encyclical reports that "[t]he world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of 'superdevelopment' of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation. 'The scandal of glaring inequalities' continues. Corruption and illegality are unfortunately evident in the conduct of the economic and political class in rich countries, both old and new, as well as in poor ones. Among those who sometimes fail to respect the human rights of workers are large multinational companies as well as local producers. International aid has often been diverted from its proper ends, through irresponsible actions both within the chain of donors and within that of the beneficiaries." (n. 22)

And some people think that liberation theology is dead...Not only is it still alive but now it can even be found in papal documents.

LEONARDO BOFF: The Pope Lacks a Bit of Marxism

In Pope Benedict XVI's new July 7th encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the Church sets forth her position on the present crisis. A prophetic text charged with urgency is called for, given all the crises that affect humanity and severely threaten the life system and its future.

But that is not what we received. Instead, we got a long and detailed reflection on most of our present problems, ranging from the economic crisis to tourism, from biotechnology to the environmental crisis, and projections about a globalized world government.

The genre is not prophetic which "would presuppose a concrete analysis of a concrete situation" and would make it possible to pass judgment on the problems in view, in a denunciation-announcement form. But it is not in the nature of this Pope to prophesize.

He is a doctor and a teacher. He elaborates the official position of the Magisterium, whose perspective comes not from below, from the real and conflictive life, but from above, from an orthodox doctrine that softens the contradictions and minimizes conflicts. The dominant tone is not of analysis, but of ethics, of what should be.

Since it does not analyze the extremely complex, present reality, the magisterial statement sticks to principles, to balancing, and defines itself by what it does not define. The subtext of the text, that which is not said in what is said, betrays a theoretic innocence that unconsciously assumes the functional ideology of the dominant society.

It is already noticeable in the central topic — development — the subject of so much criticism now for not taking into account the ecological limits of the Earth. The encyclical says nothing about this. Its view is that the world system is fundamentally right. What exists are dysfunctions, not contradictions.

The diagnosis suggests the following cure, similar to that of the G-20: rectifications but not changes, improvements but not a change of paradigm, reforms but not liberations. It is the imperative of the teacher: "correct"; not the imperative of the prophet: "convert".

Reading the text, long and heavy, we end up thinking: How good a dose of Marxism would be for the current Pope! Marxism, starting from the oppressed, has the merit of unmasking the contradictions present in the system today, bringing to light the conflicts of power, and denouncing the uncontrolled voracity of the market society: competitive, consumerist, non-cooperative and unjust.

It represents a social and structural sin that sacrifices millions on the altar of production for unlimited consumption. This should be prophetically denounced by the Pope. But he does not do that.

The text of the Magisterium, blithely out of and above the present conflictive situation, is not as ideologically "neutral" as it claims to be. It is a text that propagates the prevailing system, one that makes everyone suffer, especially the poor. It is not a question of whether or not this is what Benedict XVI wants, but it is the structural logic of his magisterial discourse. By renouncing a serious critical analysis, he pays a high price in theoretical and practical inefficacy. He does not innovate, he repeats.

And thus he misses an enormous opportunity to address humanity at a dramatic moment in history, from the symbolic capital of transformation and hope that is contained in the Christian message.

This Pope does not value the new heaven and the new Earth that could be brought forward through human efforts; he only knows this decadent life, unsustainable in itself (his cultural pessimism), and the eternal life and the heaven that will come. He thus distances himself from the great biblical message that has revolutionary political consequences, when it affirms that the final utopia of the Kingdom of justice, love and liberty will only be achieved to the degree those virtues are built up and brought forward among us, within the limits of historical space and time.

Curiously, though making abstractions out of recurrent theological notions ("only through Christian charity is integral development possible"), when he "forgets" the magisterial tone in the final part of the encyclical, he talks of sensible things, such as the reform of the UN, the new international economic-financial architecture, the concept of World Common Good and the inclusive relationship of the human family.

To paraphrase Nietzsche: "How much critical analysis is the Magisterium of the Church capable of incorporating?"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A message from Adolfo Pérez Esquivel to the Church in Honduras and Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez

The following message was published today (7/22/2009) on Adital from Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, the writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner. I have translated it into English.

The coup d'état in Honduras, unleashed by the military dictatorship and its accomplices, has brought death, hundreds of detainees, and journalists persecuted and imprisoned, their equipment confiscated and their human rights violated.

This situation leads to asking Cardinal Rodríguez, the dictator Micheletti and their minions: Is this what you were hoping for? To assassinate defenseless people, suspend the constitutional guaranties of the people, imprison and repress those who are demanding their rights and the restitution of President Zelaya to his role?

Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez: The road you have chosen of being an accomplice to the military dictatorship is not the way of the Gospel. You cannot be against your people and allow the violence and repression that, in the name of so-called security and law, precisely commits serious violations of human rights.

The shepherd who abandons his sheep and allows atrocities and supports dictatorship to defend his economic and political interests, is not worthy of being acknowledged as a Pastor of Christ and for His people.

In Latin America we have a long and painful history of military dictatorships and complicity from church hierarchies, who were at the service of oppression and were accomplices to the death and disappearance of people, of torture, in order to impose state terrorism.

Unfortunately this attitude continues in various countries, such as the behavior of Cardinal Terrazas in Bolivia, who allied with and supported the coup plotters to try to overthrow President Evo Morales.

In Venezuela the Church hierarchy supported the military coup against President Hugo Chávez.

I have listened to your statements against the Venezuelan president. You have the right to dissent, but not to slander. I have never heard your statements condemning the intervention of the United States, in your country or in the continent, or on the atrocities committed in Colombia and the armed incursion against the neighboring people of Ecuador.

Thanks be to God, there are signs of hope and prospects of life and dignity, from brothers and sisters who, faithful to the Gospel and their people, are committing themselves and fighting for a more just and humane world and many of them have given their lives in order to give Life; they are the martyrs of the Church who teach us to follow the way of Christ. Do you remember our brother Monsignor Romero in El Salvador?

You know very well that Honduras is a country with a long history of intervention from the United States supported by economic, political and church groups. Today those same power groups, with the complicity of the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, who admits that he met with the coup leaders, are opposing the reforms that President Zelaya proposed and decided to make the coup d'état to deny the "Consulta Popular" ("popular consultation").

What are you afraid of, brother Rodríguez? Your own fears? The "Consulta Popular" so that the people can decide what road to follow? Are you afraid of the poor, who participate in and want to join ALBA [Spanish acronym for the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas] and not submit to the TLC [Spanish acronym for the Free Trade Agreement] that means greater dependency on the US and that this decision affects the economic interests of those who have always oppressed the Honduran people?

Remember that 70% of the population of Honduras lives in poverty and 58% below the poverty level, a situation which has been caused by social and structural injustice. By resorting to violence against the people to sustain the situation of structural and social injustice, the situation has become uncontrollable. They are like the "sorcerer's apprentice", they don't know how to stop it now.

The international community is demanding the immediate return of President Zelaya. The OAS, the UN, the social, political and religious sectors, such as the bishops of Brazil-- Don Pedro Casaldáliga and Demetrio Valentín -- are demanding a return to legality and respect for the will of the people.

Listen to the voice of the bishop of Copán, of your land, the thousands of voices throughout the continent and the world, that reject the dictatorship.

If President Zelaya committed a crime, or some error, the country has a National Constitution and existing laws to determine his responsibility. But you have impeded the application of the law and resorted to a coup d'état. And you try to mask your crimes with empty words.

You talk about the Law and the Constitution, human dignity and you violate and contaminate them, and you respond by reprimanding the people, provoking injury and deaths.

Why so many contradictions and such lack of values? What do these atrocities have to do with the message of Christ? I hope that in your prayers God guides and enlightens you, because you are lost in the thicket of uncertainty. How long do you think you will go on as an inquisitor, supporting the tyrants who sowed terror and took power in your land?

Aren't you aware that the coup d'état in Honduras is a threat to democracy in the continent? The people have a right to resist against injustice, to not cooperate with the oppressors, to disavow those who usurped the power. And the Latin American governments and people have the responsibility to disavow an illegitimate and repressive government.

Many years of struggle and suffering sown by dictatorships throughout the continent have taught us painfully that it is preferable to die as free men and women than to live as slaves. Because hope always shows us a new dawn for the life and dignity of our people.

You have to resist in hope, brother Rodríguez, and that hope comes from walking with the people and never in the path of the oppressors. You must choose, as a man and as a pastor: to serve God and your people, or to serve the oppressors and the powers-that-be. There are many questions. You have the answer.

"Only the Truth will make us free." May the God of Life in His peace and goodness guide and enlighten you.

Our Lady Queen of Peace: A Home Away from Home

I'm going to turn the blog space over to my pastor, Father Joe Nangle, today because I think his article in the Summer 2009 issue of our parish newsletter, The Advocate, gives a true picture of what ministering to the Hispanic community really means. It is not for those who are sticklers for punctuality or excruciatingly correct liturgy. You have to go with the flow or, as a mutual friend of ours Sally is fond of saying, "have a lot of ambiguity tolerance." Gracias, Padre José por su servicio a nuestra comunidad y feliz cumpleaños (we just celebrated Father Joe's birthday with him).

Some months ago a visitor to the 1:00 p.m. Community at Our Lady Queen of Peace commented on the hispanic congregation that gathers there each Sunday, saying that they find with us a place of safety, welcome, and "at-homeness." This person was himself from Latin America, and obviously very familiar with the United States, so I judged that he knew whereof he spoke. His observation gratified me enormously.

The Catholic Church in the United States distinguished itself for most of a century as a harbor for immigrant populations. The local parish for Irish, German, and Italian newcomers to these shores became their principal geographical identity. "I’m from St. Boniface's", "I'm from Sacred Heart," or "I'm from St. Patrick's" located the recent arrivals, and eventually their children, grandchildren, and extended families, far more precisely than other neighborhood designations or street addresses.

Once again it seems that a similar phenomenon is taking place at Queen of Peace. We have in our 1:00 p.m. Community people with roots in El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico. In the new and sometimes frightening reality that is our country they connect with the parish, identify with it, and clearly love it. This situation, I believe, continues the wonderful tradition of the strong parish life that has blessed the Church in our country. Once again the parish, our parish, stands as a place where the stranger is welcomed, the alien feels at home, and the at-risk foreigner finds safe haven. With reason, the Cardinal of Los Angeles, Roger Mahony, declared some years ago that he would break the law and go to jail if legislation in our country were to prohibit attention and service to this latest wave of immigrants to our country.

Perhaps two anecdotes will highlight the importance of what goes on Sunday after Sunday at 1:00 p.m. at Our Lady Queen of Peace.

Everyone knows that the Mass in Spanish generally begins anywhere from 1:10 to 1:25. This is cultural, if somewhat inefficient. But most of the Community understands, accepts, and indeed plays into our traditional late start.

One Sunday about 1:15 we seemed about ready to begin Mass. The people had greeted each other, I had journeyed up and down the aisle saying hello to folks, and the folk group had warmed up. So I signaled them from the back to begin the opening song. At that moment a small and somewhat elderly woman tugged at my sleeve and asked if she could go to confession.

My immediate reaction was to tell her that we had spent enough time with the preliminaries and that we needed to begin Mass, so she should come back afterwards for her confession. However, something inside me made me wave off the folk group and take the woman into the confessional room at the back of the church. It turned out that she really did not want to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation; she wanted to tell me that her son had been killed that day in Mexico because of a drug deal gone bad. She wanted to cry with the "Padre" and tell me that her son was a good boy and ask that I pray for him by name during the Mass. She had "come home" that day to Queen of Peace with her terrible burden of sorrow, and I breathed a heartfelt prayer of thanks to God that I had not told her what she and so many of our immigrant sisters and brothers hear constantly: "Come back later."

In a second incident, two twenty-something brothers from Bolivia approached me to ask if some Sunday I would celebrate the 1:00 p.m. Mass for their father who had died recently in La Paz. We agreed on a particular Sunday and when the Mass started that day, I found the two young men up at the altar with a handheld camera filming the liturgy. Again, my instinct was to send them back to the pews and to have them shut off the video camera. But again, something (or Someone) made me hold my peace and put up with the annoyance of having the taping going on in front of me.

When we finished the Mass, the brothers came to thank me and to tell me that they were going to send the tape home to their mother and she would know that her sons had arranged a Mass for their father in the United States of America. Once more, a sincere prayer left my heart thanking God for not allowing me to frustrate this act of love on the part of these young guys.

Those stories encapsulate for me what the 1:00 Community at Our Lady Queen of Peace is all about. These hispanic women, men, and children are truly our sisters and brothers, and children in the household of the Catholic faith. Their expression of that faith, like their language, may differ from ours but it is nonetheless authentic and sincere. Furthermore, as a Franciscan brother of mine said some time ago with reference to the large and growing hispanic population in this country, "they are ours to lose”. I am so grateful that Our Lady Queen of Peace fosters and cultivates and celebrates the real treasure that they represent in our Church and our country.

For those who want to hear more from Father Joe, Pax Christi has published an interview with him in the Spring 2009 edition of Catholic Peace Voice:

Monday, July 20, 2009

Todo con los pobres: Msgr. Nicolás Castellanos

One of the wonderful aspects of this blog is finding articles that highlight people in the Church whose lives are an inspiration to others. Today yields an interview in El Norte de Castilla with Msgr. Nicolás Castellanos. The brief bio of Msgr. Castellanos on the Web site of his nonprofit Fundación Hombres Nuevos (motto: "Nada para los pobres; todo con los pobres" -- "Nothing for the poor; everything with the poor") tells us most of what we need to know about this remarkable man: "In 1976, Monsignor Nicolás Castellanos was named bishop of Palencia (Spain). In 1991, he tendered his resignation to the Pope to devote himself to the poorest. Now he lives like them and with them in the poorest neighborhood of Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. And he preaches the gospel daily through his efforts to help his new neighbors have a decent life. For him, that is the real doctrine of Jesus, the true Church."

But, it's not quite enough. Msgr. Castellanos didn't just wake up one day and decide he would be a selfless missionary in Bolivia. This Augustinian priest
always lived with and for the people and even when he was named bishop of Palencia, he chose to live in a simple rental apartment rather than in the formal bishop's residence. When he went to Bolivia, he brought a cadre of laity and worker priests with him. His work has earned him a number of prestigious awards including the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de la Concordia which he received in 1998, the same year as Vicente Ferrer, whose work we covered in an earlier post. And now for the interview with Msgr. Castellanos by Sara Baranda, English translation by Rebel Girl:

Nicolás Castellanos, who was bishop of Palencia for 13 years, left everything to be a missionary in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, where he is president of the Hombres Nuevos foundation. Recently he was the victim of a robbery in his own Bolivian home.

I have to ask: How did the robbery affect you?

They are always unpleasant things, and under those circumstances I remained very calm. We who are believers always have a religious motivation, and I put myself in God's hands. Let it be as You wish!

Does the situation of poverty lead to these kinds of delinquent acts?

Of course. The situation there is extreme poverty. Bolivia has marginal neighborhoods where 60% are poor and the remaining 40% live in destitution. Bolivia is a country in which there is a certain amount of security -- in fact we had been living 17 years in the Plan 3000 [neighborhood] and we had not had the least bit of trouble and no extortion. It's a country where you can go out at any hour of the day or night without anything happening.

How has the crisis affected your mission in Bolivia?

Now, there are fewer donations, but it hasn't lessened at the institutional level, because I realize that Castilla y León, Castilla la Mancha, the Comunidad Valenciana and the Principado de Asturias, which are those who most support us, are continuing to do so.

So the crisis is threatening your...

Yes, it is having greater repercussions on us, especially at the individual level because we are now receiving less money than we were before.

And do you think that the support from the institutions is enough?

I am very grateful for all the institutions in Spain. Everything we have done in Bolivia has been thanks to them. Thanks to all those collaborations, our project has built 60 schools.

Is your fundraising work turning you more into a manager than a missionary?

I am not a financial manager. I am a person who has an option and a passion for the poor and I try to find every means to give these people back their dignity and power. What is clear is that our inspiration is Jesus of Nazareth and our mission is to bring the good news of the Gospel.

Since you went to Bolivia, how has the voluntary service in Palencia evolved?

In the beginning we only had volunteers from Palencia. Now they are coming from other countries: three Germans, an Italian...and some twenty Bolivian volunteers are involved in
Hombres Nuevos. There is also someone from Seville and a girl from León, and the latest have been ones from Palencia, Valladolid and Tenerife. But there have always been many young people from Palencia working as volunteers during the vacation period.

You recently started a project of creating micro-enterprises. How many businesses have you now created?

They have varied between 15 and 20. We also have two volunteer consultants from Palencia who are collaborating. It is very important work, now that with the schools and universities, trained people are coming out, and the next step is to create jobs so that the Bolivians can have a more decent life.

What is Nicolás Castellanos calling for?

Let us continue to be open to any kind of solidarity. When we talk about the poor, it is not for fun -- it is very hard to see a child starving for bread. So we cannot tell them in a banal or frivolous way to bring us money. The children are not to blame in any way and yet even though they have needs -- that is true -- they never lose their joy. Solidarity should rule in spite of all the crises there are today, and there is always a call for this solidarity so that the poor can live as people, as we do.

What are the next projects that you have in mind?

We are now finishing a home for the children of the sugar-cane cutters, who used to work as servants. Another project is the construction of a cultural center, but not like the ones here -- over there it is for literacy, teaching information science, crafts. And also to rediscover folk art in El Puente, another community in the Santa Cruz department, thanks to the city and county councils of Palencia. We are also going to build another child care center.

The Spanish bishops believe that the government is harassing the Church. Do you think that's true?

I can't speak much about Spain because I'm not here. I don't have the elements to judge or offer an opinion because I really don't know.

What is the role of the Church in this crisis?

Where I am, in Bolivia, the Church is the institution with the greatest credibility. Over there it's the common voice of all the citizens and it is very much respected. Where I live the people say that the only one who is with them and builds hospitals is the Church.

How do you view the new abortion law?

We believers always talk about defending life, before and after birth. Where there is a life, I believe it must be respected, but just as I say it should be respected before [birth], it should also be defended after birth. It is very easy to say that I am against abortion, but what do I do afterwards about those thousands of children who die of hunger, or because they don't have medicine or support?

Is liberation theology still in force?

Certainly it's still in force and moreover, it's necessary. What liberation theology tries to do is reflect on how to present God to the poor. It is a theological reflexion on God, but just as in the rich countries we would talk about how to present God to a well-off society in crisis, in the poorest ones, we raise the issue of how to present God to the poor, and for this you have to show them how the Lord is behind them.

Do you think that the economic crisis has called into question the financial model that gave the most value to liberation theology?

Yes, it has called it into question. A few days ago Benedict XVI issued his third encyclical, "Charity in Truth", in which he talks about how the UN has to change the economic system. And definitely, it is siding with this liberation theory, that God is behind the poor and that every living being, whether a believer or not, has to be behind the poor because it isn't right that I can have three meals a day and the poor can only have one meal.