Saturday, August 8, 2009

Vatican Scrutiny Makes U.S. Sisters Uneasy

By Eric Gorski
Associated Press
Saturday, August 8, 2009

A Vatican-ordered investigation into Roman Catholic sisters in the United States, shrouded in mystery when it was announced seven months ago, is shaping up to be a tough examination of whether women's religious communities have strayed too far from church teaching.

The review "is intended as a constructive assessment and an expression of genuine concern for the quality of the life" of about 59,000 U.S. Catholic religious sisters, according to a Vatican working paper delivered in the past few days to leaders of 341 religious congregations.

But parts of the document seem to validate concerns expressed privately by some sisters that they're about to be dressed down or accused of being unfaithful to the church. The report, for example, asks religious communities to describe "the process for responding to sisters who dissent publicly or privately from the authoritative teaching of the Church."

The investigation is focused on members of women's religious communities, or sisters. These are women who do social work, teach, work in hospitals and do other humanitarian work of the church. The investigation is not looking at cloistered communities, or nuns.

The report confirms suspicions that the Vatican is concerned about a drift to the left on doctrine, seeking answers about "the soundness of doctrine held and taught" by the women.

Other questions explore whether sisters take part in Mass daily and whether they follow the church's rules when they take part in liturgies. Church officials expect consistency in how rites and services are performed, with approved translations and Masses presided over by a priest.

The study, called an apostolic visitation, goes beyond fidelity to church teaching, with questions about efforts to promote vocations and management of finances.

Francine Cardman, associate professor of historical theology and church history at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry, said it isn't clear why these questions are being asked now in the United States.

She said the inquiry should be seen "as part of a much older tradition of misogyny in the church and especially distrust of women who are not directly and submissively under male, ecclesiastical control."

Conservative Catholics have long complained that the majority of sisters in the United States have grown too liberal and flout church teaching. Some have taken provocative stands, advocating for female priests or challenging church teaching against abortion rights or same-sex marriage.

After Vatican II, many sisters embraced Catholic teaching against war and nuclear weapons and for workers' rights, shed their habits and traditional roles as teachers or hospital workers and took up social activism.

More recently, a group of more tradition-minded women's religious orders have emerged, with members who dress in habits, emphasize fidelity to Rome and focus on education, health care and social work.

The Vatican is concerned about sisters' shrinking and aging ranks. The number in the United States declined from 173,865 in 1965 to 79,876 in 2000, according to Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. The average age of a member of a women's religious community was between 65 and 70 in 1999.

The inquiry is being directed by Mother Mary Clare Millea, superior general of the Apostles of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a relatively conservative order whose members wear habits, unlike many U.S. sisters.

Millea has held meetings with heads of religious communities. Next, the superiors will be given detailed questionnaires to be completed in the fall.

The questionnaires will be followed by visits to selected congregations starting next year, and the process will conclude with a confidential report from Millea to the Vatican.

A spokeswoman for the apostolic visitation's Connecticut-based office said that Millea was not available for an interview and that the group's letter to the religious orders would stand as its statement.

See also:

A tribute to Maricel

I keep waiting for Eugenio to write this story. After all, I only got to know Maricel for three days last year while he knew her for years. I know that she was a devout Catholic woman, mother of three children of whom two are still living (a third son drowned in a freak swimming accident), that she has helped Eugenio with his projects in El Salvador and provided a home for him when he visited that country. I know that she was a gracious hostess to me when I stayed in her home, that she was always kind and generous to her cook and companion, María Delia, who could not praise her enough. She had a zest for life and a heart full of love for her family and friends.

I asked her about Eugenio and she told me what she wanted me to believe in words. The rest was communicated through looks, gestures, tones, an anecdote here, a photo there. Eugenio had helped her through difficult times, she said. She was grateful to him. She saw Christ in him. Maricel is no longer with us and so we will let her words stand.

Perhaps Eugenio will yet share some thoughts about Maricel. A good writer must eventually speak about what is closest to his heart. Until he does so, his words will be hollow and superficial. It is better to write from the depths of your soul even when it is painful.

This story did not have a triumphant, happy ending. We hear testimonies over and over again in the healing Masses but Maricel's testimony in April about her remission from cancer turned out to be ephemeral. We prayed and prayed and the miracle we most wanted to witness didn't happen. Why? Was God not listening? How could He let such a good woman -- the mother of a seminarian! -- die? The death of our loved ones challenges our faith to its core. It is easy to take refuge in busyness, to keep writing the "light" stuff that we think others want to hear...but that is not what they really need.

At the conference at Notre Dame, I was especially struck by a phrase that Rev. Arturo Pérez-Rodriguez used during his workshop on Las Posadas, the Via Crucis and other expressions of Hispanic popular Catholicism: "the vulnerability of God." "Somos carnales del Cristo vulnerable", he said. We feel a kinship with this suffering Christ, an empathy with His grieving Mother, Mary, to whom we offer our pésame.

There are times when we need our clergy to be strong. There are other times when they can help us best by showing their human side, by not trying to "tough it out", by being that Cristo vulnerable so we can join together in acknowledging our common need for comfort from a God who is bigger than all of us, a God for whom physical death is not the final word.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Immigration News Roundup - 8/7/2009

Well, not just immigration news, but also a few other stories worth reporting...

1. Sonia María Sotomayor: Judge Sotomayor was confirmed by a 68-31 vote in the United States Senate as the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice. She will be sworn in tomorrow. Now the whole nation will be able to find out what a "wise Latina" can do! And there is one more thing you can do: Check out the roll call on this vote and commit it to memory so that when your Senators come up for re-election, you can register and vote accordingly.

2. "A Broken System: Confidential Reports Reveal Failures in U.S. Detention Centers": Denied access to loved ones, lawyers and basic necessities, men and women within the nation’s immigration detention system find their fundamental rights routinely and systematically violated. Information not available to the public until now reveals substantial and pervasive violations of the government's own minimum standards for conditions at facilities holding detained immigrants, according to a 170-page report released last week by National Immigration Law Center, the ACLU of Southern California, and the law firm of Holland & Knight. The report is based on an analysis of hundreds of ICE, ABA and UNHCR detention facility review reports from 2001 through 2005.

3. Obama aims to overhaul immigration jail system: Pledging more oversight and accountability, the Obama administration announced plans Thursday to transform the nation's immigration detention system from one reliant on a scattered network of local jails and private prisons to a centralized one designed specifically for civil detainees. The reforms are aimed at establishing greater control over a system that houses about 33,000 detainees a day and that has been sharply criticized as having unsafe and inhumane conditions and as lacking the medical care that may have prevented many of the 90 deaths that have occurred since 2003. For details of the proposed changes, see ICE's Fact Sheet: 2009 Immigration Detention Reforms.

4. Living in U.S. Raises Cancer Risk for Hispanics: On the other hand, maybe immigrating to the United States isn't such a great deal. The risk of cancer for Hispanics increases by 40% when they move to the U.S., according to a new study. The risks of specific cancers, however, differ widely among the Hispanic subgroups of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans, the researchers also found. On the positive side, U.S. Hispanics generally have lower cancer incidence than non-Hispanic U.S. whites, says Paulo Pinheiro, MD, PhD, a researcher in the department of epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida, who led the study. "On the negative side, they increase their risk when they come here for the majority of the analyzed [in his study] cancers," Pinheiro tells WebMD. The study is published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Pinheiro says that Latino immigrants' cancer risk increases after they come to the U.S., presumably as they adopt unhealthy U.S. lifestyle habits such as eating fast food too frequently.

5. Meetings:

  • Inspired by the remarks this weekend of Salvadoran Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas, a new group is forming within the Arlington (VA) Diocese to push for immigration reform. The group will hold its first meeting on Wednesday, September 29th, at 7:30pm at St. Anthony of Padua (San Antonio) Catholic Church, 3305 Glen Carlyn Road, Falls Church, VA 22041. Spanish speakers can check out the Padre Hoyos blog for details.

  • Meanwhile in the "other" San Antonio (Texas), the 3rd Annual Bilingual Symposium on Immigration will be held at the Mexican American Catholic College on October 9-10, 2009. Caritas International President Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga will give the keynote address. Click on the link to download the brochure and registration form.

Caritas in Veritate: Fr. Tissa Balasuriya's analysis

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI offers his critical analysis of Pope Benedict XVI's latest encyclical. Balasuriya is a Sri Lankan theologian and priest who helped found the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. The author of Planetary Theology, Mary and Human Liberation, and Eucharist and Human Liberation, he is the former rector of Aquinas University College in Columbo, Sri Lanka. Balasuriya was investigated and excommunicated by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1997 and the excommunication was lifted in 1998. He is founder and chairman of the Centre for Society and Religion in Colombo.

Note: A similar, though slightly longer, Spanish version of this analysis titled "Acompañando la encìclica 'Caritas in Veritate'" appears on the Proconcil blog.

By Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, OMI
National Catholic Reporter
August 3, 2009

“Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), the third encyclical of Benedict XVI’s papacy, the pope deals with the present challenges to humanity and the church and updates Catholic social teaching with references to them. He studies issues such as the ethics of business, globalization, the role of technology, the right to life, sexuality and family life, abortion, euthanasia, migration, labour unions, outsourcing of production, consumerism, mass media and communications, climate change and dangers to the environment and the future of humanity on planet earth .

Reflecting on the present economic crisis, the encyclical offers some guidelines for the ethical conduct of business and prevention of abuses such as speculative use of financial resources for short term profits. Stressing that economic life has been detached from ethical considerations, he calls for a new way of understanding business enterprise.

Noting the great increase in wealth in the world alongside the increasing inequality among countries and within countries, Pope Benedict urges “a reform of the United Nations and likewise of economic institutions and of international finance. So that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.”

On all these issues he recalls the teachings of the church since 1891 and reflects on the lessons of contemporary challenges. He points out the dangers of attachment to ideologies, the evils of corruption in political and economic life, of relativism and totalitarianism, of the need of religious freedom and inter-religious dialogue, and of action together for the common good of all, universal fraternity.

Analysing the positive and negative potentialities of modern developments like science, technology, globalization, modernity, in these issues the pope tends towards a middle path away from ideologies, and fundamentalisms. The crises humanity faces are challenges and opportunities for us “to re-plan our journey,” with a positive vision for the future with confidence in the God of love.

Caritas – love – is more than law and justice, the pope writes, while . seeing justice as a primary requirement of charity. “I cannot give what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.”

This encyclical is a valuable document, but has some missing dimensions. It does not analyse the way the modern world has been set up as an association of Christians with governments and colonial powers, especially from 1492 to 1945. The pope seems to overlook the inadequacies of the church in the course of history.

The Catholic church, it needs to be recalled, was closely associated with the invasion of the lands of the indigenous peoples of the Americas and Oceania. In addition to plundering the riches of these lands, the Western invaders virtually exterminated almost the whole of these people in North America. It is estimated that there were 80 million Native Americans in these lands in 1492, but by 1600 their numbers had been reduced to one million due to wars and diseases brought by the invaders.

The map of the modern world was made mainly by European (colonial) expansion which was by invasion and capture of weaker peoples territories, by expelling the natives further into the interior, by their murder and virtual extermination, by wars among colonial powers, and even by purchase of vast areas of land from colonisers, usually after their conflicts.

Thus the purchase of a portion of the United States from France in 1803, of an area covering 2,144,000 sq km / 828,000 sq mi, including the present-day states of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oklahoma. The price paid was $15 million, or roughly 4 cents an acre. The purchase doubled the size of the US and has been called the “greatest land deal in history.”

Texas was bought from Mexico in 1848 for $15,000,000. Mexico ceded to the United States nearly all the territory now included in the states of New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, and western Colorado.

Alaska was bought for $ 7,200,000 from Russia in 1867. Thus, the US was bought and formed in large measure for $37 million. Is this legal according to international law, or even rational reasoning? Are these not sales of territory conquered or stolen from previous occupiers such as the native Americans? Is the US to control such amount of territory for all time or even during the rest of the 21st century, whatever the demand for land and food may be in the rest of the world as in Asia and Africa?

Similar histories could be written concerning the formation of many other colonial enterprises such as the states of Canada, of Latin America, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. Africa was carved out into European colonial possessions at the Council of Berlin in 1885.

This is what passes for the present world order, legitimized by the United Nations, set up with their national borders as inviolable. It consolidates centuries of European victories, pillage, colonization, exploitation, and marginalization of other peoples. The structural adjustment policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank do not call for structural improvements in relation to population and land. Only factors such as capital, resources and technology are considered mobile in the so called "free market" and "free world". The present distribution of land among the peoples is taken as legal and unchangeable, except with their consent.

The encyclical refers to migration of peoples but does not consider how the world map, as it is, was formed by European migration in the past few centuries to the rest of the world which were their colonies. “Between 1800 and 1930 the White proportion of the world’s population expanded from 22 to 35 percent” [p 209, Times History of the World ]

Fifty-five million people migrated from Europe between 1846 and 1924. Is this not the greatest migration and settlement in human history? In this period Chinese, Indians and Japanese also moved, but much less and often as laborers. It would be good for present peoples of European origin to reflect on how they were able to migrate in the 19th century when their population was increasing and they had problems like the Irish potato famine.

How have Christian peoples and countries treated problems of global migration? Have they practiced genuine love and openness towards others in need? The new encyclical does not deal with this major issue that will be crucial in the 21st century with foreseeable demographic trends.

Reform of the United Nations proposed by the pope is a necessary agenda for the world to meet current problems. To it can be added considerations of how the present nations were formed. How much are they the fruit of (in)justice, not to mention lack of love. Do not the colonial powers owe a debt of reparation to the exploited indigenous peoples? The historical record of Christianity would be much worse if the encyclical took into account the crusades, the inquisition, the intolerance of theological dissent, denial of religious freedom, and the wars of religion.

The church needs to analyse how the message of love of God and neighbor revealed by Jesus Christ seems to have been gravely distorted during many centuries until the Second Vatican Council in 1962-1965. Further, has not the truth of history been so overlooked by Christians and the church to forget the harm they have done to other peoples, other religions and nature itself during nearly a millennium? We can all profit by reflecting on the hundred and more apologies of the Pope John Paul II to the groups thus offended.

Pope John Paul did not, however, take these apologies to their practical consequences of a good and integral confession and penance including: to assess the extent of the damage, reparation, compensation, firm purpose of amendment, avoiding occasions of sin. The tone of the encyclical would be less self justifying and more self purifying if it would undertake a good analysis of these historical realities, seeing also the neo-colonial re-domination of the world by the super powers and their multinationals. Can not the universities, seminaries and research institutes of Christians and civil society help us all in seeking the truth and action of justice and charity to build a better world as the pope desires?

The church would have much to learn and gain from a serious dialogue on these issues with activists and scholars of other faiths and cultures, who have a not so pleasant experience and memory of powerful Christian powers during the past five centuries. As the pope mentions, the human community can get together to build a civilization of love and truth in this century, which commenced with a “war against terror” since March 2003.

In his inauguration homily, Pope Benedict XVI said: “My real program of governance is not to do my own will, not to pursue my own ideas, but to listen with the whole church, to the word and the will of the Lord, to be guided by Him, so that He himself will lead the church at this hour of our history.”

This reflection shows that the Catholic church has had to correct herself on several issues during the course of the centuries. Some issues include the claim that the Catholic church is the sole possessor of the truth about God, ignoring that the Spirit of God is present to all persons, cultures and historical events and processes and unique and necessary path to human salvation.

The church has shown it could:

  • marginalize women in church and society and exclude them from decision making.
  • violence as a means of spreading the faith,
  • adopt authoritarian ways to suppress dissent on doctrines.
  • tolerate and even encourage colonial imperialist policies and profit from them.
  • teach that the way to human salvation depends on amends made to God the Father for the sins of humanity by Jesus Christ by his death on the cross.
This view has overlooked the social mission of Jesus in working for the liberation of the poor and oppressed. The church accordingly stressed works of charity but neglected action for social justice and the reform of the social structures within countries and the world at large.

On this basis Christian spirituality encouraged humble acceptance of domination by others, as a way of discipleship of Jesus who accepted suffering even unto death on the cross. This is said, to make amends to the Father for the sins of humanity. Due to this perspective, the spiritual life was interpreted more as a flight from the world rather than as a commitment to realise the kingdom of God on earth.

During 15 centuries, until recently, the accent in Christian spirituality was more on charity and works of mercy rather than social justice. There was no insistence on the need of reforming the unjust world order which Christians helped to set up. Thus, even at the beginning of the 21st century, Euro-Americans, controling most of the land and resources of the world, forgetful of the core teaching of Jesus on sharing with the needy.

In the process the Catholic liturgy was made more a ritual than an expression and experience of the love of God and neighbor. Thousands of Holy Masses can be celebrated in a country without much serious reflection on and impact on social justice in a world of great inequalities and armed conflicts. Prayer and meditation can be, de facto, indifferent to unjust social realities and to gross violations of human rights.

It would be beneficial if pluralist groups would dialogue on these issues for our common good.

Saving souls and homes

This article hit home with me since three families in my prayer group have lost their homes this year due to the economic crisis. It also highlights the plus side of older, "second career" vocations...This hermano sacerdote has also used his legal background to oppose the death penalty and support immigration rights so when we are praying for our priests during their special year, let's offer a big "gracias" to the Lord for this brother.

LA priest's mission: Saving flock from foreclosure

By Christina Hoag
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 6, 2009 3:49 AM

LOS ANGELES -- A priest's typical mission is saving souls, but the Rev. John Lasseigne has a more down-to-earth goal - saving homes.

That's like trying to work a miracle in Lasseigne's Roman Catholic parish of Pacoima, a blue-collar corner of the San Fernando Valley where bank sale signs sprout faster than weeds. One in nine homes is in default, making it one of the nation's hardest hit towns in the foreclosure crisis.

"We're talking thousands of foreclosures," said the 44-year-old priest at Mary Immaculate Church. "I was stunned."

Lasseigne has gone from praying for parishioners to lobbying politicians and negotiating with lenders on their behalf. His daily discourse is as likely to include talk of balloon payments and negative amortization as Hail Marys and The Lord's Prayer. Meetings with banks rather than bishops fill his agenda.

Churches of many faiths have responded to the recession by offering credit counseling and job training alongside Sunday school and soup kitchens, and people of the cloth have a long tradition of social activism on many issues.

Still, delving into the fine print of mortgage finance may seem highly unusual for someone who will probably never have to worry about buying his own house. Lasseigne, however, is well qualified. Before entering the seminary, he graduated from law school and knew how to read contracts.

That knowledge, a passion for social justice and a priest's role - in a parish so devout that two Masses are said daily and nine on Sunday, all but one in Spanish - have made him the foreclosure-fighting father.

"Works of justice are an integral part of the priesthood," the lanky priest said. "We have to take stands in aiding the needy and denouncing the injustices of society. The financial entrapment that was part of this was unbelievable."

Lasseigne arrived a year ago in Pacoima, a gritty Los Angeles community where 90 percent of the 60,000 residents are Latino. Several families squeeze into shoebox bungalows, gangs roam the streets, and roosters crow in backyards.

Lasseigne learned Spanish in San Antonio, Texas, where he joined the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate who work worldwide with the poor. He had debating joining the priesthood through college and law school.

He had heard only vaguely about the foreclosure crisis when a parish family asked him to pray for them because they were losing their home. Soon, the story was repeating itself: The dream of homeownership had led his flock, mostly Mexican and Central American immigrants with little money savvy and limited English skills, into murky subprime loans and overpriced real estate.

"These are hard working people from humble backgrounds. They weren't used to dealing with officials. There was a language problem," said Lasseigne, one of three priests at the 5,000-family church. "They had a very poor understanding of what they were getting into."

Hundreds of homeowners signed up for help after Lasseigne announced from the pulpit that he had united with nonprofit groups and three other area churches to hold financial workshops. One session packed 1,500 people into the San Fernando High School auditorium.

Lasseigne began working with some 100 families, forming a database with details of their cases, attending homeowners' meetings and offering counsel. He listened to their dilemmas and sought to allay their fears when they thought they had lost everything.

"I never heard of a priest doing so much to help people," said Juana Rodriguez, a single mother of four who almost lost her home. "He's always out there in front of us, leading us. I don't get frightened anymore."

At the urging of a broker acquaintance, Rodriguez borrowed the downpayment and principal with adjustable interest for a $272,000 three-bedroom townhouse. Her initial excitement turned to dread when the interest shot up to 10.56 percent and the monthly payment rose from $1,300 to $1,990. Then she lost her job.

With help from the church workshops, she renegotiated her mortgage to a 30-year loan fixed at 5 percent - and landed a new job as a home health-care aide. Now she advises other homeowners.

For every rescued homeowner, however, numerous others were spiraling into distress. The pain of seeing families lose everything they had worked for spurred Lasseigne to find a solution.

Teaming up with One LA-Industrial Areas Foundation and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, Lasseigne has lobbied congressmen, councilmen and corporate executives for laws, funds and loan reductions.

He makes sure he wears his clerical collar to meetings. "I don't mean to strike divine guilt in their hearts, but it adds moral weight to the campaign," he said. "I would like to think that they see standing behind me the thousands of homeowners at risk."

Still, it's an uphill battle to get banks to reduce homeowner's loans, Lasseigne's main goal. Under a plan developed by One LA, homeowners would receive a loan of $25,000 to $75,000 to be paid to the bank, which would reduce the loan principal in line with the home's current worth, and slash interest to about 5 percent.

It's designed to help people like stone worker Angel de la Torre, who owes far more on his three-bedroom house than it's worth and is stuck paying 10 percent interest.

"If I understood, I would never have signed," said the father of four. "My dream turned into a nightmare."

He and One LA organizer Tom Holler were successful in lobbying City Hall to ante up $1 million in community redevelopment funds, but banks have been reluctant to reduce the principal.

Lasseigne remains faithful that banks will cede. He and Holler have also lobbied U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., for legislation outlawing predatory lending, and are starting to work in another ravaged area, South Los Angeles.

Homeowners are grateful that even if they can't get immediate relief, someone is looking out for them.

Jose Hernandez is working with Lasseigne to get his parents out of a financial quagmire. Their purchase of a $488,000 townhouse has resulted in negative amortization - the loan balance is increasing because the monthly interest exceeds the principal payment.

Now, with the priest's help, Hernandez is trying to get the loan modified. "He's willing to help and a lot of people aren't," Hernandez said.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Por el Camino de Emaús

As so often happens in conferences, the unscripted moments at “Camino a Emaús: The Word of God and Latino Catholics” were almost as memorable – if not more so – than the formal presentations.

First, it must be said that we were blessed with the presence of several of our Hispanic bishops and auxilliary bishops who didn’t just give speeches and leave, but participated in the whole conference. They made themselves available for photo ops and informal conversations with the faithful. One unscripted memorable moment for me occurred when one of the more whimsical bishops stopped me and a sister outside the conference hall to demonstrate the bird calls he had recorded on his cellphone, with which he was able to summon a cardinal (of the avian kind) that flew around us vainly searching for its phantom mate. One seldom sees the playful side of our shepherds. It is refreshing.

On a more serious note, I was impressed by Archbishop José Gomez (San Antonio, TX) who shortened his final remarks and asked conference participants for their suggestions on how to improve Hispanic ministry in the United States. Wow! Someone in the hierarchy wants our opinion? The microphones lit up. Suggestions ranged from extremely concrete (“Hispanics would be more inclined to attend daily Mass if it were offered at night, which meets our cultural expectations and doesn’t interfere with our work schedules”) to broader concerns of Church governance (“Use lay people for administrative tasks to free up our limited number of Hispanic priests to focus on pastoral and sacramental activities”. This idea was welcomed by the Archbishop even though he addressed the canonical restrictions that might make its implementation difficult). I hope that future conferences will allow for more of these exchanges.

The value we place on acompañamiento from our bishops cannot be understated. The idea was articulated very directly by Mons. Faustino Armendáriz Jiménez (Matamoros, Mexico) in his presentation on “La Pastoral Bíblica”. Jiménez, who for some reason reminded me a lot of Padre Alex (scholarship, wit, style of presentation, personality,…), stressed the importance of mission, of taking the Bible out of the “templo” and into the street and, he said, the bishops should be going door to door with the faithful. This is especially significant coming from someone from Matamoros where street missionary activity is a far more risky proposition than in the United States at the moment. El pastor tiene que estar con su rebaño en los buenos y en los malos.

But we didn’t just wait on our leaders. Lay participants took the intiative to organize themselves in some cases to provide continuity to the conference. One of our former Arlington Latinos Unidos organizers who is now living in Richmond, gathered contact information on other young adult leaders with the intent of developing a network on how to best minister to that cohort.

The music was also excellent. Throughout the conference and especially during the liturgies, we were led by two of the country’s great liturgical musicians: Pedro Rubalcava and Santiago Fernández. And, of course, we were thrilled to be able to hear from the famous Chilean nun and singer-songwriter, Hermana Glenda. Her performance at the conference banquet provoked a surge of cameras and clapping and waving from her many fans. She reprised her “Nada Es Imposible” after Communion the next day during the Mass with Cardinal Theodore McCarrick at the Basilica of Notre Dame. McCarrick, also an Hermana Glenda fan, expressed his approval before giving us the final benediction and even encouraged folks to buy the sister’s CDs.

Another lovely, extemporaneous moment occurred after the Friday morning outdoor Mass at the Grotto. In one of the conference’s few faux pas, the liturgy at this Marian shrine included no hymns to our Blessed Mother. Two participants spontaneously came forward with their guitars after the formal liturgy and led us in singing the Mañanitas and other Marian songs as people milled around, taking pictures, lighting candles and engaging in their private devotions. Totally unscripted; 100% Latino.

And, yes, there were workshops offered by some of our best Biblical scholars. We heard about everything from current and upcoming Spanish translations of the Bible, to how to read the Good Book “Latinamente”, to how to set up training programs in Bible study and interpretation. A lot of time was spent on the 2008 Synod on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church and it was especially useful to be able to hear from General Secretary and Archbishop Nikola Eterović (Vatican City) who offered insight into Pope Benedict XVI’s views on the role of Sacred Scripture in the Church and how His Holiness believes Catholics should approach the Word of God.

Over and over again, presenters stressed that the Church does not endorse a fundamentalist reading of the Bible. On the other hand, as Ricardo Grzona pointed out during his presentation on Lectio Divino, we should not err on the side of “Espiritualismo”, an exclusively other wordly reading of Scripture.

For Hispanic Catholics in particular, the Bible is to be read in context and in community. While the historical context must be understood, it is more important that the Bible be presented in a way that makes it relevant to the present reality of our people and that leads them to a personal and life-changing encounter with the living Christ. Its interpretation, while happening within the framework of Church tradition, must not be confined to a handful of “experts”. We need to form the laity in their ability to read and interpret Scripture so that we can all be enriched by a communal experience in which everyone’s voice can be heard.