Saturday, August 15, 2009

Generation Islam

Just finished watching this amazing CNN Special "Generation Islam" with veteran Middle East affairs reporter, Christiane Amanpour. I really hope Pres. Barack Obama watched this too. It lays it out so clearly: the way to fight Islamic fundamentalism, jihadists, and suicide bombers is through books, not bombs. By building schools so that these children have alternatives, rather than dropping missiles on their homes and killing their relatives which only drives them into the arms of extremist recruiters. The program covers Greg "Three Cups of Tea" Mortenson, whose work we have already profiled on this blog, but also many others who are trying to win the hearts and minds of the younger generations in Afghanistan and Gaza through education and other peaceful means. It is an excellent production and a worthwhile way to spend a couple of hours.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Excellent Court Victory For Abused Immigrant Domestic Workers

A work colleague forwarded Jennifer Hill's initial plea: Did anyone know of an attorney in Peru who could take depositions there in connection with a lawsuit being filed on behalf of two Peruvian domestic workers who were being abused by their employer? Well, there is nothing that gets me riled up more than rich people exploiting their household help and, while I didn't personally know any Peruvian lawyers, my friend Padre Miguel has a lot of connections in the human rights community. We made some contacts and then I heard nothing more about the case until now. Here is the outcome as told by Susana Barciela of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami, Florida. Bendito sea nuestro Dios que siempre hace justicia para los desamparados.

(Miami, August 10, 2009) – Two women brought to the United States to work as nannies won a moral and financial victory in court last Friday when a jury awarded them $125,000 in back wages and other damages. The couple that hired them lost on five counts, including violations of federal labor and trafficking laws.

Alejandra Ramos and Maria Onelia Maco Castro were recruited in Peru by Javier Hoyle, an IBM executive, and his wife, Patricia Perales. The couple hired them to care for children. Once they were brought to the United States, the promised $7 per hour for 8 hours a day of work and benefits did not materialize. Not only were the women paid less than minimum wage, but their duties so substantially expanded that they were cooking and cleaning in addition to childcare. They ended up working at the employers' beck and call from 15 to 19 hours a day, six or seven days per week.

The Hoyles had the women sleep in a converted closet next to a smelly trash chute in the Key Biscayne residence. They withheld the women’s passports and visas and constantly threatened each with deportation, denunciation and arrest if they tried to escape. Ms. Ramos, who has diabetes, was not paid for five months before she left, sick and distraught, never having received the medical insurance the Hoyles had promised. The jury found that the couple engaged in trafficking, acting with “malice or reckless indifference.”

Altogether the jury found violations on five counts: 1) Fair Labor Standards Act wage provisions; 2) Florida Minimum Wage Act; 3) Breach of Contract; 4) Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act; and 5) Fair Labor Standards Act retaliation provisions.

Ms. Ramos and Ms. Maco were represented in the civil lawsuit by the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC) and Erika Deutsch Rotbart of Deutsch Rotbart & Associates, P.A., in Boca Raton, Florida.

“Domestic workers often are subjected to false promises and threats of deportation if they object to exploitive work conditions. That’s why it is rare to see these types of cases in court,” said Jennifer Hill, of FIAC’s Workplace Justice Project. “We have our clients to thank for their bravery and persistence in bringing these issues to light.’’

Ms. Rotbart added, “Too often we see situations where immigrants and employees are taken advantage of by employers. It is about time that a domestic worker’s voice is heard. This is a victory for two women who truly deserved their fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.”

Cheryl Little, FIAC executive director, concluded: “Immigrant domestic workers are very vulnerable. They live in other people’s homes, and it’s easy for employers to take advantage of them. We believe this is the tip of the iceberg. There are many like Onelia and Alejandra out there who are invisible.”

Catholic Coalition for Church Reform

Last month we reported on a new Catholic Church reform organization called The American Catholic Council. Now the Catholic News Agency, God bless 'em, has alerted us to another group, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, which plans to hold its first synod somewhere in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocesan area in 2010.

CCCR, which describes its vision as "a church fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love," is composed of a mixture of national and Minnesota-based groups including the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church, Call to Action – Minnesota, Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, Corpus, Dignity Twin Cities, Minnesota St Joan’s Community, The Progressive Catholic Voice, and Roman Catholic Women Priests.

The Coalition already has functional working groups in the following areas: Bishop Selection, Clericalism in the Church, Catholic Spirituality, Church Authority and Governance, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Catholic Identity/Christian Identity, Social Justice, and The Church, Children and Youth. Groups on other topics are being planned.

As for the group's 2010 Synod, they have already identified Dr. Paul Lakeland, a profesor of Religious Studies at Fairfield University, as the prospective keynote speaker. Lakeland is the author of numerous books on church reform and the role of the laity in the Catholic Church. The synod is to be preceded by a fundraising dinner featuring Fr. Roy Bourgeois of SOA Watch. Catholic News Agency took the trouble to contact Bourgeois' former (I guess) order, Maryknoll, to find out whether or not he was excommunicated. They report that Maryknoll informed them that Bourgeois "had been excommunicated automatically after he did not recant his statements regarding the ordination of women."

Actually, this seems to be a matter of debate since as recently as August 8th, Bourgeois told a reporter from The Journal News that he has not heard from the Vatican since he received the initial "recant or else" threat last fall. "I have not gotten anything saying I am defrocked," Bourgeois, who continues to celebrate Mass and baptize babies, told The Journal News. "I continue to be a Catholic priest in good standing." According to the newspaper, Maryknoll's superior general, the Rev. Edward M. Dougherty, issued the statement a couple of months ago saying that Bourgeois had been "automatically excommunicated" after refusing to recant. [Translation: "If you want to excommunicate me, have the guts to do it yourselves formally and directly instead of hiding behind this latae sententiae stuff, because I'm not about to excommunicate myself."]

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has taken great pains to issue a statement disassociating itself from the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform:

The Archdiocese wishes it to be known that the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, the 2010 synod, and individuals endorsing the same, are not agents or entities of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis or the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, the Archdiocese wishes to lovingly caution those members of the faithful participating in the ‘work/study groups’ and intending to attend the synod of the potential that the issues on which CCCR will seek reform are magisterial teachings of the Church, and are therefore to be believed by divine and catholic faith. The Archdiocese also wishes to remind the faithful of its need to shun any contrary doctrines, and instead to embrace and retain, to safeguard reverently and expound faithfully, the doctrine of faith and morals proposed definitively by the magisterium of the Church.

Consider yourself warned...;-)

The Holy Trinity Mass: A Matter of Perspective

The article about the Holy Trinity Mass came from his secretary with one of Padrecito’s terse orders. He wants photos that show a completely full church, she wrote. I rolled my eyes. As if after all these years I don’t know what Padrecito likes…

But he never really gets it because he is asking the impossible. He wants my camera to see what he sees, as the celebrant standing at the altar apart from and above the congregation, the vast throngs gathered at his feet. But I too am at his feet, in the congregation, and from my place I can capture only a fraction of the panorama his eyes take in. So by insisting on photos taken from his perspective, he doesn’t get the best of what my camera has to offer.

Partly, I understand him. One of the privileges of being a layperson is being able to find and unite with someone who will share your perspective on the world, at least most of the time. It’s lonely up there at the altar in more ways than one. The first of the Holy Trinity photos captures that loneliness. Padrecito is a vey social creature and it was painful to see him up there all by his lonesome. He likes the crowds; I love it when I can see many priests and deacons in a healing Mass because I know Padrecito has the company of people who can share his perspective. This church is glorious and ornate but I would have traded all the rich woodwork and golden angels for one more pair of consecrated hands…

Hands. For some reason, at Holy Trinity I was very focused on Padrecito’s hands. They are big and beautiful and they flow from the sleeves of his vestments in expansive, majestic gestures that express the man’s generous spirit and God’s grandeur. I never tire of looking at them.

I usually snap a shot of the elevation of the Host or the Cup. This is what most church photographers do because those moments are iconic. However, they can get stale. This time I chose the consecration itself and, again, was entranced by the spirit you can almost see emanating from Padrecito’s hands. That is my impossible dream: to capture the power I feel on film.

But the healing Mass is not just about Padre Hoyos. I admire the healing ministers and love to catch them when they are praying with intensity and concentrated compassion, oblivious to all the chaos around them. Here, one of the experienced ministers has been asked to give special attention to a woman who was very distraught.

And drama. When I started in this gig, I struggled to capture the moment of resting in the Spirit. It can happen so fast that unless you are on some psychic wavelength and can anticipate it and have your camera pointed and ready, it’s gone. And it constantly amazes me how unfazed our people are. Bodies can be falling all around them but they are enrapt in their own conversations with God, completely unperturbed.

In the end, it’s the quiet, intimate moments that most capture my attention and lens: Padrecito’s calm and recollected pause before reading the Gospel, a woman and her baby resting in the Spirit, a child at prayer…

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Cardinal of the Honduran poor claims the right to insurrection

My fellow blogger, Hermano Juancito, has already picked up on this story which I had gathered from Adital about the march and open air Mass celebrated on August 11th in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, by Fr. Fausto Milla. Hermano Juancito adds an important footnote to his blog post: "It is not clear that the Tegucigalpa march [referred to in this article] turned violent. It seems that a few persons - after the demonstration and apart from it - were responsible for the limited violence. This is not to condone any violence but to avoid castigating the thousands of peaceful marchers with the deeds of a few."

Fr. Fausto Milla is an interesting guy and Spanish speakers can read more about his life in this 2007 article from Vida Laboral. For English speakers, Hermano Juancito has a translation on his blog.

Daniel Valencia (translation by Rebel Girl)
El Faro Digital
August 12, 2009

In the central park of San Pedro Sula nobody in the crowd could sing "La marcha de la unidad" ("The march of unity") completely because they did not know the lyrics. So, dissimulating, this Tuesday the 11th they hummed in anticipation of the excitement that would thunder out seconds later in the most famous line of that song. And when it came time to sing, many showed that they were not very able at left-wing paraphernalia and wrongly raised the right fist instead of the left one.

At that rally, on the dais, without raising his fists, but forcefully holding a microphone with both hands, an old man of 81, a Honduran with Spanish roots, tall, white skin tanned by the sun and wearing a white cassock with a pink stole, screamed out the chorus at the top of his lungs without any complex: "The people united will never be defeated!"

Coming from a priest and not a real politician, it becomes more important. At least that's what more than 10,000 demonstrators believed, those who accompanied Father Fausto Milla - "the shepherd of the poor", as his followers call him here -- in taking over the center of the second largest city in Honduras, San Pedro Sula. The gathering took place in the park, opposite the cathedral in that city.

That type of behavior is what his followers appreciate, and they let it be known. "Here is our archbishop, the archbishop of the poor and not the rich. Out with Rodríguez Maradiaga, out with the coup leaders!," shouted a man from the center of 3rd Avenue, the road that separates the central park from cathedral, which was guarded by about 100 "chepos" (riot police) who trembled at the sight of that wall of people in front of them.

The man contrasted Milla and Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, who almost immediately after the coup was branded as a coup backer by supporters of deposed president Manuel Zelaya.

Then, before the inflamed crowd, to calm the situation -- the crowd was already receiving the first news of the disturbances in Tegucigalpa, where supporters of the Resistance had set fire to a Popeyes restaurant and a bus on Avenida Juan Pablo Segundo -- Milla raised his voice and said: "Brothers, let us make peace and not violence. Repression can only be fought and and overcome through peace. Here we do not have to face the oppressive families, we do not have any famous last names. The police are our brothers, they are López, they are Ramos, they are Pérez," he told them, prior to an outdoor Mass, since the cathedral was closed and guarded by police.

Milla, along with a large group of people appeared marching along 3rd Avenue at 4 pm. The priest had walked from Santa Rosa de Copán, where he is pastor, and along the way he joined the marches that came to the city from the villages of Yoro, Colón, Atlántida, Ocotepeque, Lempira, Santa Bárbara and Cortez.

Before their arrival, San Pedro residents allied with the Resistance had come to the central plaza of the city, and they waited with a meal, water and food for the demonstrators who also marched from Progreso, Lima and Ceiba.

The revolutionary priest

Fausto Milla has been in hiding, according to some supporters of the Resistance. The priest, however, though he confesses that he has received many threats, has always been where you can find him: in his church, in his territory rich in indigenous, peasant culture.

Since the coup, Milla has been one of the main Catholic religious leaders who has criticized -- and condemned -- the "abuses" in the interior regions of the country, and who has publicly opposed the position of the highest leader of the Catholic Church, Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga.

And Milla's position was not born at this juncture. During the seventies and eighties, while defending the rights of indigenous peasants, Milla endured persecution from the Honduran army in his Corquín parish in Santa Rosa de Copán.

In his curriculum vitae prepared by the NGO Comunicación Comunitaria it is written that he was among the first priests to publicly denounce the Río Sumpul Massacre, which occurred in El Salvador on May 14, 1980. According to Milla, both the Honduran and Salvadoran armies participated in that massacre.

As he did then, today Milla insists that the true Church is in the people, not in churches or cathedrals, and so, he says, he defends the people. A people that deserves to have their stolen sovereignty returned to them. "I have been a Honduran for 81 years. And I have lived and seen many things, but never anything comparable to what we are all seeing this day," said Milla, at the beginning of his message.

"When there is inequality there is no freedom," he added. "And this people is no longer fighting a civil war between supporters of two political parties. This people is in a fight to achieve this equality, generated by those oppressors who have robbed us now of what we have the most right to: sovereignty. They are criminals, and I am not the one who says it, Articles 2 and 3 of the Constitution say it: the people are sovereign, whoever steals that sovereignty is a traitor to the motherland, he is a criminal!"

Then, raising his voice even louder, the priest threw out the message that received ovations from the protesters: "Some of those who participated in the drafting of the Constitution have told me that they now regret having written Article 3, because Article 3 calls for insurrection, brothers, for returning this sovereignty to the people of Honduras from whom it has been stolen! "

The action lasted about 30 minutes more, because a torrential rain fell on the city. And as the city has no drainage, right in the center, around the plaza, the river of people in San Pedro Sula had to face a river of water.

Miami's Physician to the Poor Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom

Last night, President Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to 16 worthy individuals covering a spectrum of professions, age, race and ethnicity, but the one we want to focus on is Dr. Pedro José Greer, Jr., a Cuban-American physician who has devoted his career to caring for poor, homeless and often undocumented patients in Miami. Greer is currently Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Chair of the Department of Humanities, Health and Society at the Florida International University School of Medicine. He is founder of the Camillus Health Concern, a Catholic charity sponsored by the Little Brothers of the Good Shepherd that provides services to 10,000 poor and homeless patients a year in Miami-Dade County, and the St. John Bosco Clinic, which provides basic primary medical care to disadvantaged adults and children and gets 7,000 visits a year first in Little Havana and now in the Wynwood area.

The Medal of Freedom is the latest of many honors Greer has received over his professional lifetime, including a McArthur "genius grant" (1993) and three Papal Medals from the Vatican. Dr. Greer is also the author of a 1999 autobiography called Waking Up in America: How One Doctor Brings Hope to Those Who Need It Most.

U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, applauded the award. "Dr. Greer's compassion is boundless. His life mission is dedicated to the service of others, and without Dr. Greer, thousands of individuals in my district would be left without medical care and basic services," Meek said in a statement.

As our country's leaders debate the future of health care in America, perhaps it would be helpful for them to reflect on this dedicated healer's perspective as expressed in PBS's program "Who Cares: Chronic Illness in America":

To be a physician, to heal the sick, to serve the infirmed, it all seemed so simple and straightforward. A son of a physician, I knew about the emergencies, the days we couldn't be with Dad because he was tending to the ill, the Christmas mornings that were cut short by a phone call from the hospital, the long days and nights; that was all OK, for those sacrifices were for the benefit of the patient. I entered medical school with those memories in tow and the simple desire to save the world. To treat the sick, to serve all kind would be an honor; the world was mine to make better.

I trained to become an Internist, Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist. I worked with the poor, homeless and undocumented in Miami, setting up clinics in the heart of the city. I left the university and went to work in private practice with my mentor, my father. It would be easy, I thought. Treat all people, rich or poor, insured or not.

BAM!!! Healthcare reform explodes on America with hope and possibly a way to a healthier nation. Well, it brought change, just in the wrong direction -- 33 million uninsured in 1992, 44 million in 2001, and those with insurance today have less coverage than before. From a policy perspective, the wrong question was asked: "How do we make healthcare cheaper?" The question should have been "How do we make those living in our great nation healthier?" America's elderly really suffered, as evidenced by current debate on prescription drug coverage and the inability of the health system to effectively address the challenges of chronic illnesses. Paradoxically, as our population grows older, requiring more time and support from health care providers, the elderly are being dropped by both large and small HMO programs.

The job of a physician in the new millennium is not simply to battle the illnesses of patients but also to navigate a system that makes it difficult to diagnose or treat the patient. The lack of support systems for patients, the hassle of diagnostic testing for the patient, the referrals, the authorizations, and the denials that so often follow are the simplest examples of America's medical system today.

As a physician, I see and feel the problems our insured patients have; we hire more staff, one for referrals and authorizations, another to deal with all the different formularies HMOs have, and install more phone lines to deal with all the patients' hassles. To top it off, we have less time to spend with our patients - time that is invaluable for making diagnoses and building relationships with patients and their families, time for explaining, consoling, or just reassuring. These problems are multiplied ten fold for the uninsured, the majority of whom are employed and still without health insurance. Something is wrong and we need to right it.

Well, I took an oath and will honor it, for it is a privilege to treat the sick and an honor to work with the poor. My undergraduate education, medical school, post-doctoral training and fellowships should be applied to patient care and healing, not to traversing the obstacles presented by our health care system. Let us fight for the patients, be smart enough to prepare for the onslaught of chronic illnesses that this country has to deal with, and treat all our patients with dignity - let's just do it right.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

An Open Response to Archbishop Gomez on Hispanic Ministry

San Antonio Archbishop José Gomez invited participants at the "Camino a Emaús" conference at Notre Dame two weeks ago to offer their suggestions on how to improve Hispanic ministry in the United States. At the time the lines at the microphones were so long and the time was so short that I did not get up. This is my 2-cents worth:

1. Acompañamiento in Immigration Reform: Our bishops have been good about issuing collective statements on immigration reform but too often we don't see them in person at the major rallies or testifying on our behalf at Congressional hearings or in the state legislatures. It is beautiful to see all the clergy who turn out for the National Right to Life March. Where are they when it comes to protecting our people?

This is a missed opportunity for evangelization because, believe me, the evangelico pastors are there y predican bien bonito and their followers are in the crowd passing out cards and pamphlets. And our people are saying, as one hermana did to me after a big local immigration march: "¿Dónde está nuestro obispo?" "Why doesn't he march with us like Cardinal Mahony?" Good question, and one that can be asked of too many of our bishops.

2. Importing Priests: Given the Hispanic vocations crisis, which will not be eased until the Vatican lifts the mandatory celibacy requirement on Catholic clergy (I know we disagree on this point, but es la pura verdad y hay que decirlo), most of us are solving our staffing problem in part by importing foreign priests. According to Padre Hoyos, who has become somewhat of an expert at this process, the tightening of immigration under the previous administration has made bringing in foreign religious workers increasingly difficult. Would it be possible for the Bishops' Conference, as well as prominent Hispanic Catholic leaders who have the Obama administration's ear such as Dr. Arturo Chávez and Dr. Miguel Diaz, to suggest to the President that he explore ways to cut the red tape and make it easier for us to bring in the priests we need?

3. Permanent Deacons: We could also significantly improve our pastoral care of Hispanics by accepting reality and figuring out alternative staffing patterns rather than waiting for a miracle. Every diocese with a significant Hispanic Catholic population should be:

a) promoting Hispanic vocations to the permanent diaconate;

b) providing deacon training programs in Spanish that are accessible pedagogically to those with less than a college education and logistically to those with full-time jobs;

c) setting a goal of placing at least one part-time Spanish-speaking deacon in every parish that has a Hispanic congregation but not a Spanish-speaking priest in residence.

I am aiming for deacons rather than pastoral associates, even though women are excluded from this role, because under canon law deacons can perform more functions, and if we don't have time to wait for the Vatican to approve a married priesthood, we sure don't have time to wait for women deacons. Our people need pastoral care NOW and if they don't get it, they WILL go over to the evangelicos.

4. More Masses in Spanish: It is disgraceful that in a large diocese like Arlington, Virginia, there is not one single Mass in Spanish offered before noon on Sunday. In fact, most are clustered around 1 p.m., even in geographically adjacent parishes. So Hispanics who want to -- or have to -- attend a morning Mass must settle for one in English which they may or may not understand.

Also, you spoke of the importance of daily Mass in encouraging your vocation, yet daily Mass in Spanish is not available to most Hispanic Catholics in this country due to the priest shortage. Part of my objective in suggesting a broader permanent deacon program would be to at least make daily "Liturgy of the Word" with distribution of pre-consecrated hosts available for our people.

5. Cultural Diversity within the Hispanic Church: We need to do a whole lot more research and training on the pastoral aspects of ministering to culturally-diverse communities within our own Hispanic Catholic population. I enjoyed MACC's Hispanic pastoral training program but if there is one area it does not adequately address, this is it. Now, as they say, they are the "Mexican-American Catholic College", not Bolivian-American or Peruvian-American or Salvadoran-American, but they are one of the premiere institutions dealing with Hispanic ministry, they are no longer just a Southwest phenomenon, and our Hispanic parishes are no longer just Mexican, even in the Southwest. It's time to rise to the challenge.

Also, our seminaries need to be preparing priests on how to manage communities that may be monolingual but still culturally diverse rather than viewing Hispanic Catholics as one undifferentiated bloc. If we don't prepare our priests, they will be in for a rude awakening when they get into the real world and have to figure out what to do when the Virgen de Copacabana and El Salvador del Mundo fall on the same feast day.

These are a few of my insights based on years of worshipping in a culturally-diverse Hispanic community without a full-time priest. Anything you can do to help us get the level of pastoral care we need before more Hispanic Catholics defect to the Protestant churches or simply to no religious observance whatsoever, will be greatly appreciated.

You're still the one...

I know a lot of you are thinking: when is Rebel Girl going to get back to the good stuff? Well, Honduras is on hold because Zelaya is touring Latin America while his supporters are still marching and demonstrating, so nothing major to report there.

There's a lot of interesting stuff happening in Peru, including another progressive priest, Fr. Marco Arana from Cajamarca, who is thinking about a possible run for president in 2011, which has provoked a call for his resignation from the priesthood by the conservative Archbishop of Lima, Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani. Fr. Arana's "Tierra y Libertad" movement supporters have two separate blogs you can check out to get more information, as well as a blow by blow of the Arana-Cipriani feud: and

But it's summer, I need a break, and some things that happened this week reminded me of a song from my youth by Françoise Hardy who, at 65, is still gorgeous and still has a very active singing career. Sometimes we have our differences and so we go off with other people but, the song says, it's not the same and so we come back to the one we really love. That's all, voilà. I like this song for its simplicity; it is sung straight from and to the heart with no artifice.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Contemptible Foreigners?

I found this on Adital. Supposedly this photo is a poster that has appeared in Spain in support of Portuguese-speaking immigrants in that country. It could just as well apply to how immigrants are received in many parts of the United States. Here are the words in English:

Your Christ is Jewish
Your writing is Latin
Your numbers are Arabic
Your democracy is Greek
Your sound system is Japanese
Your soccer ball is Korean
Your DVD is from Hong Kong
Your shirt is from Thailand
Your best soccer players are Brazilian
Your watch is Swiss
Your pizza is Italian

And yet you still see the immigrant worker as a contemptible foreigner?