Friday, September 11, 2009

Bittersweet Harvest

A new exhibit began this week at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. "Bittersweet Harvest" offers photos and oral histories from the Bracero Program that began in 1942 as a temporary war measure to address labor needs in agriculture and the railroads, and eventually became the largest guest worker program in U.S. history. Small farmers, large growers, and farm associations in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, and 23 other states hired Mexican braceros to provide manpower during peak harvest and cultivation times. By the time the program was canceled in 1964, an estimated 4.6 million contracts had been awarded.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, herself the daughter of a bracero, opened the exhibit and teared up a bit as she recalled the hardships her father endured. Said Solis: "We all have the responsibility to educate ourselves and to know the reality of these workers so that there will be no more abuses."

The exhibit will be in Washington until January 3, 2010 when it hits the road. Heads up to my hermanos/as in San Antonio: "Bittersweet Harvest" comes to the Museo Alameda on 5/22/2010.

Sweet Land of Bigotry

I was still reeling from hearing Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) yell "You lie!" at President Obama during the president's address on health care to a joint session of Congress after the president denied that his health care reform plan would insure people who are in the country illegally. analyzed the exchange and the facts and pronounced Wilson's accusation "False". The site explains that the health care reform package does not give undocumented people any new government funded benefits beyond those to which they are currently legally entitled -- namely life-saving emergency treatment.

One cannot help but think, as many are thinking right now, that the congressman would not have dared to commit this outrageous "spontaneous" breach of protocol and common manners had the president been a white man.

Then my friends at the San Juan Diego Project posted an article including the following video from a health care town hall meeting in Norwalk, Connecticut. Bishop Emilio Alvarez, an evangelical pastor of Puerto Rican descent, approaches the microphone to ask a question of Representative Jim Himes (CT-04). Rev. Alvarez chooses to ask his question in Spanish after respectfully asking the congressman's permission. Rep. Himes was born in Peru and has lived extensively in Latin America and is completely bilingual. The predominantly white crowd start to boo and demand that Alvarez speak English and they continue their disruptive and disrespectful behavior throughout the pastor's question and into the congressman's answer. When I watch the video, it makes me ashamed of my fellow citizens.

I suppose these hecklers are just "mal educado". We do not say "rude"; we say "badly brought up." I don't know about you, but I was taught that it is rude to shout accusations at people during a speech, or to insult someone because they don't speak my language, or continue to heckle so loudly and continuously that a speaker is drowned out...but maybe it's because I was brought up in France...

The whole thing breaks my heart. I would like to share President Obama's vision that we are moving beyond race but when I see scenes like these I realize that we are far from Dr. Martin Luther King's dream of the day when people will be judged only by the content of their character and when all of us will live together as brothers and sisters, children of the same God.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

New Voices in the Church: Dr. Gemma Tulud Cruz

An article in Union of Catholic Asian News about a recent conference in Thailand, "Practicing Peace: Toward an Asian Feminist Theology of Liberation", introduced me to this new voice -- Dr. Gemma Tulud Cruz. This conference, sponsored by Ecclesia of Women in Asia, a group of Asian Catholic women theologians, brought together 28 theologians from 11 countries, including Dr. Cruz, 39, who is currently a visiting assistant professor in the Catholic Studies program at DePaul University in Chicago. The papers presented at the conference ranged from the idea of peacemaking in the Bible and the role of the feminine, interculturality, everyday acts of resistance, narratives, and rituals of liberation in practicing peace.

Dr. Cruz is a feminist theologian from the Philippines whose work focuses on liberation ethics in migration theology. In 2005 she won the Best Academic Essay Award to New Scholars granted by the Catholic Theological Society of America. She has been a regular contributor to the National Catholic Reporter’s Global Perspective column. Gemma has a BA in Religious Education (St. Columban, Philippines), MA in Religious Studies (Maryhill School of Theology, Philippines), and Ph.D. in Intercultural Theology (University of Nijmegen). Her doctoral dissertation was on "A Different Cartography: Mapping the God-Talk of a Feminist Theology of Struggle of Filipino Women Domestic Workers in the Context of Migration". In addition to DePaul University, she has been on the theology faculty of St. Ambrose University, Iowa.

Here are some of her writings that are available on the Internet:

Other publications include “Between Identity and Security: Theological Implications of Migration in the Context of Globalization,” in Theological Studies 69 (2008), "Faith on the Edge: Religion and Women in the Context of Migration," in Feminist Theology, Vol. 15, No. 1, 9-25 (2006), "Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land: Religious Identity in the Context of Migration" in Forum Mission Yearbook Vol.4 (2008) and “Asian Women and Dialogue” published in Prophetic Witness: Catholic Women's Strategies for Reform, edited by Colleen Griffith, Crossroad Publishing Company, 2009.

School of the Americas Watch

It's that time of year again. November 20-22 will be the Annual Mass Mobilization to Shut Down the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Go to the SOA Watch Web site for details. At the moment, the Web site also has a lot of information about the military coup in Honduras and efforts to mobilize against it and also a report on the SOA Watch delegation's trip to the region.

Vigil with SOA Watch in DC - September and October

This September and October SOA Watch will Vigil every Wednesday, in front of Congress and spend the day urging members of Congress to co-sponsor HR 2567, the bill to stop and investigate the School of the Americas/WHINSEC. The bill was introduced in May by Rep. James McGovern (MA-3) and currently has 61 co-sponsors. If your representative has not already co-sponsored this legislation, please ask him/her to do so.

WE NEED YOU TO COME AND JOIN US FOR ONE OF THESE WEDNESDAYS. We will Vigil from 7:30 AM to 9:30 AM In front of the House of Representatives. After vigiling, we will lobby congressional offices, distribute materials and spread the word on Capitol Hill. Those who come will have the opportunity to hold a closing Vigil from 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM as members and aides leave the House buildings.

Immigration concert and march in DC - September 12

Saturday, September 12th , 3:30 to 6:30 pm – Immigration Concert, Lafayette Park, across from the White House. This will be followed by a march by religious leaders from 6:30 to 7:30 pm. Sponsored by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and is focused on ending the raids conducted by ICE on immigrant communities, breaking up families and violating civil rights. All are welcome.

UN rapporteur offers support to Colombian human rights NGOs

by Adriaan Alsema
Colombia Reports

Margaret Sekaggya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed her support for Colombian Human Rights NGOs Wednesday.

The UN rapporteur attended the start in Bogota of the For the right to defend human rights in Colombia campaign, an initiative of 73 NGOs active in Colombia with the support of 209 NGOs in 23 countries in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

"Colombia ... has suffered a lot," Sekaggya said, stressing that in her short visit she saw "all kinds of human rights violations."

"There is intimidation, violations of the freedom of expression (and) we see children involved in the armed conflict," the rapporteur said.

According to the UN rapporteur, without human rights workers "democracy can not exist."

"Without your fight, without your work, peace will never obtained. Without you human rights in Colombia and the rest of the world will be forgotten," Sekaggya told the human rights workers.

"The promise I can make is that you can count on my support, because your work promotes and defends the legitimacy [of human rights]. It is a legitimate and necessary job," the UN official added.

Sekaggya will be in Colombia until September 18 to investigate the current situation of human rights workers in the country. NGOs in Colombia on a regular basis denounce intimidation or persecution by the government and violence committed by one of the country's illegal armed groups.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Year For Priests: But what kind of priest?

by Juan Cejudo Caldelas *

It is noteworthy that the current pope declared June 19, 2009 to June 19, 2010 the Year for Priests and offers us a priest who has been declared a saint as a model to imitate: St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, born in 1786, famous for the hours he spent at the Sacrament of Confession, something that today has fallen into virtual disuse by most of the faithful.

The problem of the lack of priests and religious in the Church is terrifying. In Europe, the average age of priests is about 68 and in Spain, 65. The same problem occurs among men and women religious who are forced to bring in "reinforcements" from African and Asian countries to fill the necessary vacancies.

Please tell me what would happen if in any other professional group — teachers, police, medical personnel, firefighters, etc. — the average age was around 65-68. They would be doomed to failure and the profession would end.

But in the Church no one seems to be self-critical about this problem. Nobody asks why this is happening. No one is proposing ways to correct this disastrous trend.

The consequences in many countries, especially in Latin America (but also in Europe), are tremendous. Many communities are deprived of the Sunday Eucharist and have to replace it with liturgies led by lay people. In many parts, Christians can only participate in the Eucharist 4 or 5 times a year because of the lack of priests. Many parishes and religious residences have closed their doors.

There is contrasting data on this that could be presented such as a report by the Dutch Dominicans or the book by Fritz Lobinger, a German bishop living in South Africa, titled Priests for Tomorrow, which strongly embraces the ordination of married priests belonging to the same communities.

The Church must have the courage and the valor to understand that the model of the "traditional priest" taken from the time of the Council of Trent is already long outdated and that we must offer very different models of "priests", ones that are much more suitable to modern life and today's culture, as Lobinger points out so well.

They would be priests who have their professions, their families, who live their faith in their Community and it would be the Community as a whole that would take ownership and not just the priest. It would be the entire community that would organize and distribute the different services that are necessary for all, attentive to the qualities of the individual members.

There doesn't have to be just the parish priest, although this model still has to exist for a while.

We need new ways of being a priest that should coexist with the traditional model. The worker priests are a good example that it is possible to be a priest in a different way than the traditional one. Today the parish structures are obsolete for many people. Doesn't anybody in the Church wonder why young people are bored with Church Masses and drift away?

Other frameworks are required in which they can express their faith with the Community.

"Our meeting places are not the churches, they are our homes that are open and inviting for the whole Community, the open field, where we can all feel more at home, or spacious rooms for civil use which we use for our religious celebrations."

They should therefore be Christian communities that are very involved in the specific problems of the people, sharing their struggles, their demands, supporting the demonstrations in the street and all the just causes of the disadvantaged sectors of society.

("Las Comunidades de los discípulos de Jesús de Nazareth…" ["The Communities of the Disciples of Jesus of Nazareth..."] by Juan Cejudo (Cádiz) y Gabriel Sánchez (Montevideo-Uruguay))

The new model of priest will have much to do with his concern about social and environmental issues, his commitment to the disenfranchised and to those who have the least in this society, his interest in the problems of the Third World, his active membership in the world of the Internet where you can do much good for so many people in so many ways ...

It doesn't seem that the solution today is to give us St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney as an example, a lover of the sacrament of confession that almost nobody uses.

Rather, the example today should be a bishop like Casaldáliga who has so much to offer those who want to become priests, by living a spirituality of liberation and total commitment to the most excluded of this world, even unto death. Or the [late] Jesuit Vicente Ferrer, married with children, with his commitment to liberation for the poorest of the poor of India.

Cádiz, Spain, September 1, 2009

* Member of MOCEOP and Comunidades Cristianas

Dying of Hunger in Guatemala

BBC Mundo

Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom, declared a state of "public disaster" as a measure to address the food and nutrition crisis affecting 54,000 families that has killed some 25 children.

The declaration will allow the Guatemalan government to access international aid earmarked for these cases and mobilize resources from the national budget more quickly, as the president said in his formal message to the nation.

"I have decided to use the Public Order Act and declare a state of public calamity throughout the national territory, since the consequences of inadequate food and nutrition affect not only the departments in the Corredor Seco, but the entire country," said Colom.

In Corredor Seco, which includes seven provinces, cases of malnutrition due to drought and the economic crisis have soared.

Some 54,000 families are suffering from hunger according to Guatemalan authorities, and it is feared that another 400,000 may be affected by the end of the year.

According to AFP, a study by the Secretaría de Seguridad Alimentaria y Nutricional (Sesan), submitted on August 16, "indicates that the number of communities at risk of hunger rose by 113% over the past three months due to drought." According to the agency, 462 people died from this cause between January and July this year.

For its part, the World Food Program (WFP) began on Tuesday to distribute 20 tons of nutritional biscuits in 164 communities in the hardest hit areas.

Historic Tragedy

The president described the situation as a tragedy of historic proportions because of the extent of the population it affects.

Colom said in his message that, in addition to the effects of the drought and the economic crisis, a long history of inequality has led to shamefully high rates of poverty, abject poverty and malnutrition in Guatemala for a long time.

"Insufficient food and nutrition, malnutrition in its various manifestations, is a historical and structural problem of the country."

"So I make a fervent appeal to all sectors of national life to contribute to addressing this serious problem and its various manifestations, both in regard to emergency action and to those deeper issues we have to resolve," said the president.

In April 2009, UNICEF issued a report warning that one in two Guatemalan children suffered from chronic malnutrition and 80% of indigenous children under 5 have serious nutritional problems.

Despite being far from the economic situation of Haiti (the poorest country in Latin America), Guatemala has twice the number of malnutrition cases as that Caribbean country.

Of the 13.3 million Guatemalans, more than half live in poverty and their main livelihood is agriculture, affected each year by droughts and floods that cause crop losses of maize and beans, their main livelihood.

Emergency Aid

U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland said it was necessary for Guatemala to declare a state of calamity to activate the emergency assistance programs, and that's what the Guatemalan president did.

For its part, the government has devoted U.S. $ 7.5 million so far to assist the families in worst condition.

But the government budget to combat malnutrition had to be reduced as a result of the international financial crisis since the country received less and less tax revenues and remittances.

So for now Guatemala is dependent on emergency aid and its own ability to mobilize in order to alleviate the crisis and avert famine.


Many relief agencies have a strong presence in Guatemala already but American Catholics can help by making a donation through Catholic Relief Services which has a significant existing program in the country.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Central American migrants face growing threat of kidnapping by Mexican gangs

El Diario de Hoy (El Salvador) with additional material from AFP and other sources

The Catholic Church of Mexico has asked the government to intervene to protect the railroads that run from Arriaga, Chiapas to Ixtepec, Oaxaca, as they have learned that in the next few hours there could be a violent mass kidnapping of Central American immigrants by members of the criminal organization "Los Zetas". Los Zetas, the military wing of the Gulf Cartel that was formed in the 90s by military deserters, act very savagely and in recent years have added kidnapping and extorsion to their criminal activities, in addition to drug trafficking.

The coordinator of Movilidad de la Pastoral Humana of the Catholic Church, Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, said in a telephone interview that they would seek the intervention of state and federal police and the Centro de Investigación de Seguridad Nacional (CISEN) to thwart any attempt by criminal gangs.

Meanwhile in Chiapas, members of the Policía Sectorial del Estado beefed up enforcement at the station and railway shunting yards in Arriaga and escorted the train to the exit of the entity to avoid possible attacks against the over 500 traveling immigrants.

The coordinator of Casa del Migrante Hogar de la Misericordia de Arriaga, Fr. Heyman Vasquez Medina, revealed that some passengers complained that a group of men traveling in a pickup truck with tinted windows and AK-47s and nine-millimeter pistols, offered to transport the migrants to the southern border, otherwise they would force them off the train and kidnap them.

Vazquez Medina said that in the face of the threat of any attack, all the houses of migrants had organized themselves to prevent violent incidents, so he called for the support of all organizations and institutions to stop the assaults and kidnappings by criminal organizations that have intensified throughout the Mexican Republic.

According to a report from the National Human Rights Commission in six months, about 10,000 immigrants were kidnapped in Mexico by Zetas cells or gangs, and were ransomed at an average of $ 2,500 per person, giving the criminals a profit of about $25 million. "There have always been kidnappings of migrants, but they have increased over the last two years. Kidnappings are now done on a massive scale, it is something that has become a daily occurence. What is happening is very worrisome," Vazquez Medina told AFP.

Father Vazquez-Medina also condemned the kidnapping and murder of the director of the Oficina de Atención al Migrante, Raul Mandujano Gutierrez, whom he called an honest and professional man with integrity, who also joined the fight for the welfare of immigrants. Mandujano Gutierrez's body was found in a rural area of Mazatan, near the border, at the beginning of September. He had been missing since he was kidnapped on April 2nd by a group of armed men.

"Today we are grieving, we mourn for the way he was killed, we condemn violence and aggression against any human being, so this unfortunate event should be investigated to its logical conclusion," he said.

As part of the 95th World Migration Day, held on Sunday, dozens of migrants conducted a march through the shunting yards and railway tracks to demand respect for their human rights, an investigation into the kidnapping and murder of Mandujano Gutierrez, and an end to the violence, kidnapping, murder, and rape to which they are subjected during their travels through Mexico. During the march, the flags of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala waved against the Mexican sky.

Finally, Mexico being Mexico has its own unofficial patron saint of kidnapping victims. El Santo Niño Cautivo is becoming an increasingly popular object of popular Catholic devotion. The diminutive image -- a Christ child who bears a pair of handcuffs in his hand -- can be found at the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City.

Tweeting the 25th - More reflections

So much is going through my mind — thoughts and vignettes from past and present...

  • the fundraising dinner at Tutto Bene that began this journey — feeling like Cinderella transported rags and all into the kingdom of the rich. But the reality of Cinderellas never really changes. After the ball is over, we go back to our fireplaces and ashes, brooms and raggedy clothes. The stagecoach becomes a pumpkin and the horses, mice. The prince charming is not ours and the glass slippers do no fit our tired, swollen feet.

  • Maribel Pérez — I visit her fundraising Web site for a status update. As of mid-July she still lacked about $50,000 of the $80,000 she needs for her lung transplant. How much did we spend on flowers and catering while Maribel spends another day on a respirator?

  • "Only 25 years? That's nothing!," my friend, a retired Polish Catholic librarian says. "Hah! When I hit 25 at the public library, they didn't do anything for me." "Yeah," I say, "all I got for 25 years was a $250 gift certificate and a round of applause from my colleagues. Five minutes and then back to work." We both shake our heads.

  • Desmond Tutu — My mind goes back to the little party the anti-apartheid community in London threw for him and Leah and their children when he was to return to South Africa to become the first African Dean of St. Mary's Cathedral in Johannesburg. It was nothing much — just sitting in a circle and sharing tea and cake. We had no money so, in African tradition, we took turns offering the Tutus prayers, well wishes, and advice. And now the little girl (Mpho) I remember sitting quietly at her mother's side is a priest just like her dad, and her dad is a Nobel laureate.

  • The Family — I look at the pictures I have taken of the clan. They don't smile mostly, not even the children. Do they ever smile? I've never seen a family so uptight and driven. They are too formal. Are they having fun? According to my camera, it would not appear so. Maybe they too would prefer to just sit around in jeans, drinking coffee, eating arepas, and telling stories...

Why do I participate in all this when I am so uncomfortable with it both ethically and psychologically? Good question.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Getting the Church out of the catacombs: an interview with Fr. Eduardo de la Serna

In light of the Pope's remarks today to a group of Brazilian bishops about why he thinks the faithful are abandoning the Church and the "self-secularization of Christian communities" after Vatican II, I thought I would translate and post this interview with Fr. Eduardo de la Serna, the spokesperson for the Argentinean group Curas en la Opción Preferencial por los Pobres, a group of priests who have made the preferential option for the poor central to their life and work and who meet regularly to discuss the practical pastoral implications of that choice. To put it mildly, Fr. de la Serna has a slightly different perspective on the problem.

by Wendy Selene Pérez

Buenos Aires, Argentina

In a conversation with, Father Eduardo de la Serna warns of the risk of having a Catholic Church so attached to the power of government and in the case of Argentina, so "popolatrous" (idolatrous of the Pope). "The church hierarchy does not know how to detach itself freely from governments with much presence. That to me is very serious."

A priest from Quilmes, De la Serna is one of the most critical voices within Catholicism in Latin America and leads a group of priests who call themselves “tercermundistas” ("Third World" supporters), because their option is for the poorest.

"The church, in general, cares more about gay marriage than hunger, a problem that has to do with life and death. I think the world does need God, that the church is dedicated to talking about God: but if the church speaks about divorce more than about religion, we have a problem. I did not become a priest to regulate anyone's marriage life or tell anyone who to share a bed with or not, I became a priest to try to get people to know and love Jesus," he says. Why is the Catholic Church losing faithful?

De la Serna: In general, the Church is losing a lot of people because that is what the Vatican wants. The Vatican and the Vatican curia are afraid of, or panicked by, modern society, and so they choose to live in the catacombs until the storm passes. And therefore there are fewer people in the catacombs: it is full of dead people. Others of us realize that we prefer to live outdoors, and that it is a good thing: it is very cold, the rain catches you, all you want, but I think that gives us an attitude of respect and dialogue. I, for one, do not let anyone disrespect me for having faith, but I would not let myself disrespect anyone who does not. I think in that sense there is a typical question, sometimes outside the church, people who look at you as if to say: "Look, what a shame, poor guy, such a nice fellow like you being Catholic. And others also from within the church will look at you the same way." And among other things, people leave for that reason...

De la Serna: Losing the monopoly is healthy. At this point it is good that the church is playing on the road, and we played venues and now we have to give answers to people, that's the big challenge. To answer the questions being raised, or pretend that they say 'amen' to everything we have to say because we are the priest, the pope, the bishops or whoever. There is no consistency with what is being preached. We should be like in the movie "The Mission", be happy. If people see you happy, they ask: What is required for me to be like that? If I do not try to help people find what they want, and if people are looking for God and don't find God in the church, it's not their fault, it's my fault as a priest. The issue is growing in freedom, growing in power, in training, in prayer, but not in accusing and pointing a finger at other religious groups.

Is there self-criticism?

No, no. The Catholic Church realizes it is losing faithful and blames the sects or the faithful, but never itself. There are many who say that people need more training so as not to go with the sects, let's be clear about this. I think so, that the church is losing many of the faithful, but how much of all that has to do with the changing times in which we live? How much of that has to do with the fact that people are not finding answers to fundamental questions either in the Church or anywhere else?

What is the greatest challenge for the Church?

It is to be alive, to show and explain that we have good news that is good for people today. First, by example, because this is not spread through words. If I tell you: I have good news, but I tell you with a face that looks like I'm eating a lemon, nobody will believe me. "Oh, good!" they will say. You can see it in the face. Like a 15-year old girl who is in love.

We are not in love with the message we are sending out; those are the words of Benedict XVI.

Do not be afraid of bioethics, fear is human, fear paralyzes. Freedom can make you make mistakes, yes. The church, in general, cares more about gay marriage than hunger, a problem that has to do with life and death. I think the world does need God, that the church is dedicated to talking about God: but if the church speaks about divorce more than about religion, we have a problem. I did not become a priest to regulate anyone's marriage life or tell anyone who to share a bed with or not, I became a priest to try to get people to know and love Jesus.

And what about the binomial Church-Power?

In general, the church has not learned to become detached from power. Or when those in power want to break away from the church, as when they want to enact things that are not among the things that the bishops want to enact, they see it as persecution. And I do not think it's so. The church hierarchy does not know how to detach itself freely from governments with much presence. That to me is very serious.

What do you think of Pope Ratzinger?

It's a personal opinion. For me I'm 10 times more with Ratzinger that John Paul, because I think he is more conservative than John Paul, but that has advantages: he has no charisma, that means you can not say no. If you said no to John Paul, he turned on the charisma and moved ahead like a bulldozer. This one gives the impression that in every respect he is more humble but more conservative. He is a type of person who is used to theological dialogue, and logically, even though he is not going to agree, he is capable of listening and therefore of saying something different ...

Second, I think this guy doesn't have a lot of experience; he is a guy with whom you can raise a disagreement, not only because he is more humble, but because he has no past history, nothing to lean on, previous experience. In that sense, we have a more conservative pope, but a Pope that gives a place to dissent. For example, when the Doctrine of the Faith condemned Leonardo Boff, there were no public voices supporting Boff, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith condemned Jon Sobrino, bishops lined up and endorsed Jon Sobrino, a liberation theologian.

What are the main changes in the Catholic Church?

In the case of Argentina, the church, on the one hand, is too hierarchical. I see the church as God's people who walk here and walk through the streets; I see a different attitude in many of the laity who were prepared by the priests, who are sometimes worse than the priests, there is nothing more clerical than many lay people who have been (de)formed by many priests who turned them into mini-priests and who are terrible.

More papist than the Pope...

Why can't I say that the Pope is wrong? Is the Pope more important than the Bible? We are lost. If I believe that the Pope is more important than the Bible, I am lost. A Chilean laywoman at Aparecida said that the Pope was the fifth Gospel and more canonical than the others.

Even with these qualities, people speak of a return to the past with this Pope ...

Yes, obviously there is a retreat, especially in liturgy, especially when he allows a return to the pre-conciliar liturgy. Of course Jews must be annoyed, but that's not what the people of God will receive every day. When you go to Mass on Good Friday you'll hear the usual. They used to say: "the perfidious Jews." I think Ratzinger is a nostalgic.

In Buenos Aires there is a parish where Mass is celebrated in Latin. It isn't anything that is worrying for the people, but within the Church, yes. Then there is some nostalgic priest celebrating Mass in Latin and that's not what he can do. The conditions, a certain schedule, there are people who request it and who know Latin. But no doubt there is a return to the past.

It's not that there's more freedom, just, thank God, they left it for dead like liberation theology, so we can breathe easily.

Is liberation theology alive?

Yes, since we were given up for dead, we can breathe easily around here. In Argentina, liberation theology has always been looked upon badly, except in its very earliest beginnings. And when liberation theology was born in 1969, 70, 71, there were in fact some Argentinean theologians who supported and promoted it. The issue was, I think it has to do with this: obviously liberation implies oppression. The oppression of the indigenous and black oppression are not emblematic of Argentina, as they are of Guatemala, Bolivia or Ecuador, because the Indians and black people were massacred; I'm not saying that it is a pure, clean and pristine country. Here oppression is more urban than rural, and then the issue is in what we call the barrios. I think, in general, the oppression in Argentina has Peronism as a liberation experience, that it obviously has an experience that other Latin American countries don't have.

Any liberation theology should not ignore the reality of Peronism, though I'm not saying it has to be Peronist or anything like that. So in theology in Argentina, this was not well looked upon.

Argentinean theologians are accused of being conservative, and that conflict erupted at Puebla. On the Argentinean side many priests disappeared and new people emerged.

How is the curia in Argentina?

I believe that a church that is so popolatrous, where if the Pope sneezes the bishops get a cold; a church that does not dare to question, to inquire or even to disagree with the Vatican, does not transform us into adversaries, does not turn us into enemies or change us into a heretical church or anything like that, to be with some things in the Vatican.

Right from Menemismo you could see that clearly in the church in Argentina. When there were bishops in the Argentinean church who wanted to speak out against neoliberalism, menemista bishops appeared who along with some menemista staff member managed to get the Pope's blessing for Menem, and the bishops were not inclined to say anything so as not to appear to be breaking communion, and the truth is that I find it pathetic.

There was an old cardinal in Madrid who used to say that the Spanish bishops had stiff necks from looking to Rome so much. I think the same thing happens in many of the churches in Latin America.

It's true that the Argentinean, Mexican and Colombian churches are the ones that are always fighting over first place as the most conservative church in Latin America, but the Vatican set the lowest common denominator in that sense.

29th Congress of John XXIII Theologians calls current economic system "blasphemous"

by Juan G. Bedoya (Eng. trans. Rebel Girl)
El País

"The great blasphemy of our time." Under the weight of this definition of the current social and economic system, the 29th congress of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII unfolded in Madrid. Its theme? Christianity in the face of the economic crisis. "We denounce the apathy and lack of social commitment of the religious denominations that are more concerned with issues of power and privilege than in denouncing the injustices of a system that is striking out at the most needy," reads the concluding message from the meeting in the Comisiones Obreras union auditorium in Madrid.

The theologians are asking the government for a change of direction in fiscal and social policy. Arcadi Oliveres, professor of economics at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, opened the congress with a presentation that left no doubt about the general feeling about the crisis. According to the Catalan economist and president of Justice and Peace, the dream of "shameless capitalism is the privatization of profits and socialization of losses". He gave examples of companies such as Seat, which has used the crisis to put that theory into practice with modifications in its workforce, without any impediment from the authorities.

A so-called "informal dinner" with the President at Moncloa Palace on Friday foiled the speeches in Congress, agreed upon months ago, by the secretaries general of the UGT and CC OO, which angered many attendees.

The attitude of the theologians towards the crisis is revolutionary compared to that in other ecclesiastical and even leftist spheres. "The economic crisis is not originally technical, but ethical, economic and political. In the beginning we had the current neoliberal economic and social system — "the great blasphemy of our time" according to Bishop Casaldaliga — which legitimized and led to the spread of corruption in its various forms: embezzlement, fraud, extortion, waste, greed, abuse of power and deception of the citizenry," denounced Juan José Tamayo, general secretary of the association which has organized the congress since 1981.

"All these practices are supported by the majority of nations and their governments, including Spain, through policies of economic liberalization, which lead to the impoverishment of most of the population and represent a setback in the defense of the common good and human rights, reducing them to property rights. Neoliberalism is inherently immoral, since it generates economic, cultural, ethnic, and sex-based discrimination, structural injustice and institutional violence," he added.

There has been repeated criticism of the hierarchy for its behavior in the face of the crisis. In some diocese, many priests have devoted a bit of their salary to solidarity with the most vulnerable sectors of the population. There have also been "very laudable pronouncements" by some prelates. But "at the institutional level, it has not been sensitive enough." This was the lament: "The attitude of the hierarchy is closer to the priest and the Levite in the Gospel parable, who were more concerned about attending worship services than serving the badly injured person, than the Good Samaritan, who was in solidarity with the suffering brother. The hierarchy should have been mobilized as an institution and held an awareness campaign among Christians, and even among the citizenry, as this is a problem that goes beyond the denominations and religious groups."

"What is responsible for the crisis is the capitalist system, which allows a few to become rich at the expense of the impoverishment of the majority population, but the best traditions of justice, equality and solidarity of all religions and spiritual movements need to be activated," concludes the final statement.

The government is also picked apart, and the theologians call for "an urgent reversal of economic policies that benefit the powerful and the implementation of fiscal and social policies favorable to the disadvantaged."

On Sunday there was also a closing Mass celebrated at the headquarters of Comisiones Obreras, organized by the optional celibacy movement, Movimiento pro Celibato Opcional (MOCEOP) in Albacete, and concelebrated by some of the theology congress participants. During the difficult years of the Franco regime, workers from the PCE union would hide in Catholic churches and now they are returning the favor to that church that hated state Catholicism as much as they did.

The first congresses were held in religious centers but the hierarchy has now coerced those congregations into not welcoming them. Most of the participants -- some 700 this year -- are priests devoted to teaching or secular people in base communities who work in working class parishes.

In Spain there are around 5,000 married priests. A few continue to minister discretely, with the complicit agreement of some bishops. Those who presided at the Eucharist yesterday did so openly. The fervor of the ceremony was palpable as were the joy and enthusiasm. Among the many songs, these verses: "Sabéis lo que hizo [Cristo] cuando hubo hambre? Partió el pan. El oro del templo para repartir mazapán. ¿Sabéis lo que hizo cuando hubo amor? El Papa de Roma volvió a ser papá, la suegra de Pedro reparte rosquillas en el Concilio I de Moratalaz: cuando salió del armario Dios se hizo Mamá" ("You know what [Christ] did when there was a famine? He broke the bread. The gold of the temple to distribute marzipan. You know what he did when there was love? The Pope of Rome became a father, the mother of Peter shared donuts in the First Council of Moratalaz: when He came out of the closet, God became a Mom"). During the collection, the participants gave 10,800 euros for solidarity programs. Last year it was 11,255 euros. The crisis.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tweeting the 25th

I don't tweet but if I did, this is how the last two days would look:

Friday midday: Get a call at the office from Eugenio, just back from Colombia and also a lot of articles, photos, and some news coverage for the blog. Am told that I absolutely cannot miss the Misa de Sanación that night because the bishop of Zacatecoluca, El Salvador -- Padre Alex's bishop! -- will be the celebrant. I was going to get my hair cut and rest up for Saturday. "I don't have a ride to Sterling.""Don't worry. I'll pick you up at 7 p.m." Okay. I like riding with Eugenio because it gives us a precious few minutes of (mostly) uninterrupted time.

5 p.m.: We are given leave at 4 p.m. By the time I finish our blogs, it's an hour later. Stop to pick up some take-out sushi for dinner. Eat, shower, and don the black and white uniform and wait.

7 p.m.: Eugenio shows up in a car that is less cluttered than usual. He's feeling good and we chat amicably on the way to Sterling. He says he has been reading this blog while he was in Colombia. "Storms come and go," I say. He says that the Vatican is reading the blog. I tell him they read what has been posted about responses to the Pope's encyclical. Eugenio thinks they care about what lay people are saying... no comment.

8 p.m.: Get to Cristo Redentor. The hermanos there treat me royally and have set aside a good front row seat for photo taking.

Friday night: Healing Mass starts. The bishop is a good soul but his homily is overly long for a Friday night. We move through the liturgy seamlessly, if slowly. I think we're done, but then Padrecito decides that the testimonios are indispensable and throws in another mini-homily -- an unfortunate habit of his when we have guest preachers. Not to be outdone by the ordained, several of the testigos offer their own lengthy predicaciones. (Note to self: the Renovación needs to get back to the ABCs with an emphasis on "B" as in BREVE, por favor).

Later Friday night: Finally it's over. Lots of people giving and receiving laying on of hands and even the bishop and visiting clergy roll up their sleeves and jump in. We end with tamales and donuts. Padrecito steals the bishop's skull cap and places it on his head. Lots of laughter. I snap a photo but it's too dark so the colors are wierd, hence the grayscale. The bishop accuses me of being a paparazza. I tell him I've never had the pleasure of catching Padrecito doing anything tabloid-worthy.

Midnight: The girls from Santa Ana pile into Vilma's car and ride home amid much joking and laughter and I am reminded of why I love this group even when they drive me crazy.

Saturday 6 a.m.: The alarm goes off and I groan from too little sleep. Decide on the "Rebel Girl" look -- all black, low cut lacy tee, black gypsy skirt and chandelier earrings -- definitely and defiantly not chancery attire.

8:15 a.m.: Catch first of three buses to get to Springfield. By the grace of God, make all the connections and the last bus deposits me in front of St. Bernadette's two hours later.

10:15 a.m.: Enter the sanctuary to stake out a prime photo-taking spot. An hermana tells me to move because "these pews are for Padre Hoyos' family". I move to where she tells me to go and along comes Protocol Man who tells me I can't sit there because "those are for the priests" and then proceeds to lecture me on church photography protocol. I tell him I've only been photo'ing Masses almost twice a month for the last three years and that I'm going to do whatever is needed to get the photos Padrecito wants but that I never, NEVER use flash so no worries. I go outside to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, drink some water, take some Tylenol and try to keep the approaching migraine at bay. It doesn't work.

10:45 a.m.: JuanMM shows up and sits next to me in the pew to which I have been banished. Some nuns sit in the priests' area. Eventually Protocol Man works up the nerve to evict them too. But when there are still vacancies in the "family" pews as the Mass begins, I relocate. Solidarity be damned; I have a job to do.

11 a.m.: Mass. Padrecito offers his homily bilingually. English speakers also get to hear a lavish praise of our bishop; Spanish speakers hear him remember Jairo and throw a few punches at the FARC. I like it best when he sticks to the script and talks about love. "As the years go by," he says, "I am more and more convinced that the key to the priesthood is nothing other than love. Nothing is more important or more decisive than love and the priest is called to be a specialist in love." (Move over, Padre Alberto, 'cause you ain't got nothing on Padrecito when it comes to talking about luv). At some point he actually says we need a "revolución de amor"; my mind wanders off to Maná...

Noon: The Mass is over and we are invited for refreshments -- 3 cookies, a piece of cake and a can of Inca Kola. Padrecito comes out surrounded by a gang of bodyguard servidoras, signs autographs, poses for photos, and generally lives up to his "Padre Juanes" moniker. He cuts the cake and eats the first piece and, being as he is calling this his "Boda de Plata", I wonder if one of us should smush some cake in his face like newlyweds do at wedding receptions sometimes in this country ...probably not a good idea, although P. Alex daubs some icing on Padrecito for a laugh (see Boys will be boys) .

1 p.m.: It's very hot and the migraine is getting worse. JuanMM graciously gives me a ride home and some tips for an upcoming trip to Barcelona.

Saturday afternoon: More meds, a neck massage from my friend, a little food and water and a nap. Recharge the camera batteries and change into "cocktail attire" for the "25th Anniversary Fiesta" gig at the OAS.

6 p.m.: Quick iced coffee at Starbucks. Come out of the store to witness a fight in progress between a white couple and a black woman and who knows who else. Police arrive and order all parties to separate, sit down and shut up. The black woman has a huge lump on her forehead where she was struck by the white woman. More police arrive to take testimony from the eyewitnesses. There's been more and more of this nonsense lately around here-- public drinking, disorderly conduct, loitering, etc...It's depressing. I pray for the bus to arrive quickly, get on, tune my MP3 player to Mano Negra ("Guayaquil City") and close my eyes.

6:45 p.m.: Walk from Farragut Square to the OAS, listening to Françoise Hardy to clear my head and calm my nerves. Turn off the MP3 player, throw out the Starbucks cup and paste a smile on my face. Lots of elegantly dressed people, both steak and salmon for dinner, wine (though not for me), more cake (though not for me), mucho pisto but not many people parting with it, more elaborate homages to Eugenio and more photos, but too obscure and too many competing photographers with high-powered flash. Even the paid photographer gets tired and tells me that the speeches are too long. He gets himself a drink, and then another one. I wonder how much this extravaganza cost and where the money came from and thank God I'm out of the accounting business.

11 p.m.: Walk to the Metro past the homeless bedding down in the doorways for the night. Wonder how El Salvador fared against the U.S. in the World Cup qualifier (they lost...but only barely) and think how much happier we would be curled up on a sofa, watching the game and eating pupusas...

"Antiimperialismo y noviolencia": a new book by Padre Miguel d'Escoto

La Ventana
September 4, 2009

In moving words, almost like a farewell to his mandate — which he expressly wished to give in Cuba — Miguel d'Escoto, president of the 63rd UN General Assembly, presented his book Antiimperialismo y noviolencia ("Anti-Imperialism and Nonviolence", Ocean Sur, 2009), a compendium of lectures, articles, talks and reflections that the priest gave or wrote from 1974 to 2006, on Friday, September 4 in Havana.

"Cuba is a place of spiritual refreshment. When Roberto Regalado [Cuban political scientist and a friend of Miguel d'Escoto] invited me to Cuba, for the presentation of the book, I thought it was fair that my last visit as president of the UN General Assembly be here to make a kind of accounting of this whole year", said the priest and Nicaraguan revolutionary in the Havana House of Friendship.

In this highly anticipated volume, a kind of treatise on theology is woven: a theology of nonviolence, evangelical insurrection, political praxis, Christian ecumenism, globalization, anti-imperialism and latinamericanismo. According to Miguel d'Escoto's introduction, the book "aims to help raise awareness about the nonviolence of Jesus and militant anti-imperialism. We want to help you understand that every follower of Jesus must be nonviolent and, therefore, also anti-imperialist, and that imperialism is always violent, criminal and terrorist."

Along with the presence of Ricardo Alarcon, president of the National Assembly of Cuba, Abel Prieto, Minister of Culture, Armando Hart, director of the Office of Programa Martiano, Caridad Diego, head of the Religious Affairs Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Kenya Serrano, president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, the large audience was invited to learn more about anti-imperialism and nonviolence, which Eusebio Leal, director of the Office of the City Historian, Roberto Regalado, director of the Area of the Americas Analysis Section in the International Relations Department of the CPC Central Committee and the author of the volume, Miguel d'Escoto spoke about.

The prominent Cuban intellectual Eusebio Leal defined the book as "an interpretation of the world through a man of faith, which raises for us revolutionaries and Christians one of the most important arguments: the fight for justice." He said that "it is a book of faith, a book of combat, an anti-imperialist book" where a vocation for the hurt and suffering is present.

"How good it is that a priest is presiding over this Assembly," said Leal, "an Assembly that without men like him seem like a futile little group." And he summed up his view of a transcendental essence of the volume: "Only love saves and only love can fight for a social revolution. That is the reason that the priest in the book confronts the currents that only produce hatred and bitterness."

For his part, Roberto Regalado thanked "dear Father Miguel once more for joining us, with that great ideological, ethical and human force that characterizes him, for putting his trust in Ocean Sur to publish this valuable selection of talks and articles."

Regalo, who is also the coordinator of the Contexto Latinoamericano series for Ocean Sur, announced that in the coming months this series "will publish a selection of speeches and documents produced by Miguel as chancellor of the revolutionary government of Nicaragua during the years of the Sandinista Popular Revolution" and also an anthology on liberation theology.

Regalado described Miguel d'Escoto as "a main protagonist and witness to the birth of this new age in which we live. He knows that there can be a bright future and how to make it happen, but he also knows the dangers that humanity carries over from the old era, and how to exorcise them."

His words recalled the many steps, actions and interventions of the Nicaraguan diplomat after the coup in Honduras, an ongoing struggle that dates back to the days when, as Sandinista foreign minister (1979-1990) he played a leading role in the trial that led to the conviction of the United States by the Court in The Hague, in the peace process sponsored by the Contadora Group, and in the negotiations that led to the signing of the Esquipulas Accords.

"Bolivar's dream stopped being a dream and became a real work," is how d'Escoto would seem to sum it up this afternoon, while presenting his book, taking advantage of the moment to draw a picture of his life and his struggle for justice.

He spoke about his experiences as President Pro Tempore of the UN General Assembly, from his nomination to his conclusions at the end of his mandate: "I say that the United Nations can not be reformed, it is not about patches or reforms: the UN has to be reinvented, and to reinvent it, we must begin with a vision of what kind of world we want."

"Here in Cuba is where I have seen the greatest faith," continued the historian and theologian, "because they believe that another world is possible and commit everything, their life, their thought, all to turn their dream into reality." He added that "what we most owe each other is to give each other an example so that we can always stay in the struggle. Cuba is the paradigm of that."

After receiving the Order of Solidarity granted by the State Council of Cuba, d'Escoto welcomed the opportunity to present his book Antiimperialismo y noviolencia in Cuba. "Hopefully it be useful," he concluded before the ovation.

Boys will be boys

I took a lot of photos this weekend but this is the only one I really like...