Saturday, September 19, 2009

The way of the Cross versus the way of power

I found this article by Fr. Juan Masiá Clavel, SJ, sufficiently interesting to translate it completely into English. Clavel is a Spanish Jesuit and theologian who is currently living and working in Japan in the Institute for Peace Studies of the Japanese branch of the World Conference of Religions for Peace. His Web site and blog are trilingual -- English, Spanish and Japanese.

"Get behind me, Satan!"

Strong words. Jesus calls Peter "Satan". Peter wanted to lead Jesus away from his path, he recommended that He seize power.

Can you imagine the Church leaders receiving an e-mail in the morning that comes from Heaven and that would say: "Get behind me, Satan"? It would not be unusual for that message to come every time the cohabitation of the institutional church with the powers of this world alienates people from the faith.

When we seek power, influence, prestige and domination, we are not in line with the network that Jesus initiated -- one not of power but of service.

The temptation of Jesus (Mk 1:13) was to take power, to boast of being the "Holy One of God" (Mk 1:24, 3:11), asserting his authority with a sign from Heaven (Mk 8:11), or coming down from the Cross (Mk 15:30). But Jesus doesn't fall into this temptation. The way He recommends to those in His network is not the way of power. "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you." (Mk 10:42-43)

Mark says "Satan". Satan is not the devil, but rather temptation, which is within oneself. When commenting on this text, interpreting Satan as "the demon" (that can be blamed for evil and temptation), weakens the symbol of evil and changes it into an external evil figure that must be expelled with the trickery of exorcisms.

There are believers who think that believing in demons and hell is part of the Creed. No, evil is in the ambiguity that is inside each one of us. Individual and communal temptation does not come from a satanic figure. The temptation is power. And the Church has fallen into that temptation again and again throughout its history. That is why it is hard for us to pray in St. Peter's Basilica and we escape to the catacombs to restore the faith that is weakened through Michelangelo and Bernini.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Voices in the Church: Maricarmen Bracamontes Ayón, O.S.B.

She studied medicine, joined the Benedictines, and is now working on her doctorate in theology. Sounds familiar but no, this is not another article about Sr. Teresa Forcades i Vila.

Sr. Maricarmen Bracamontes Ayón, OSB joined a Benedictine community in Mexico City in 1980 after completing studies in General Medicine. She professed her final vows 25 years ago in March. In 1992 she formed part of a new foundation that transplanted the Benedictine charism to Torreon, Coahuila, a semi-desert region in north central Mexico, where she lives with her monastic community in Pan de Vida Monastery. There she helped found CEDIMSE (Centro de Desarrollo Integral de las Mujeres, Santa Escolástica); and continues to give workshops and classes in Social Analysis and Biblical Spirituality with a gender perspective. Maricarmen also works in an advisory capacity with many Mexican religious institutes.

Maricarmen completed her Licentiate in Theology at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City. At present she is a doctoral candidate in the DMin program as a Bernardin Scholar at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. She has been a member of the Theological Reflection Team (ERT) for the Conferencia De Superiores Mayores De Religiosos De México since 2003, as well as a theological advisor for the Confederación Latinoamericana y Caribeña de Religiosos/as (CLAR) (Latin American and Carribean Conference of Religious) since 2006. In 2002 and 2008 she made presentations in Gatherings of Women Theologians from Latin America and Germany. In August 2008 she participated in the IV International Theological Congress in Medellin, Colombia on the Situation of Theology in Latin America on the 40th Anniversary of the Latin American Bishop’s Meeting in Medellin.

Online Articles:


  • Jesús de Nazaret y las Mujeres de su Tiempo (2005)
  • Mujeres y Derechos Humanos: Aportes Sociales y Eclesiales (co-authored with Patricia Henry, OSB, 1998/2001)
  • Algunas Reflexiones sobre el Jubileo de las Mujeres (co-authored with Patricia Henry, OSB, 2000)

In Memoriam: "Norma Rae" a.k.a. Crystal Lee Sutton

Crystal Lee Sutton, the textile workers organizer who was immortalized in the movie "Norma Rae" has died. More information about the real-life "Norma Rae" can be had from Alamance Community College where Sutton left her papers and where she studied to be a nursing assistant. Sutton received the Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award from the Davenport Catholic Interracial Council in 1980.

by Connie Schultz
Plain Dealer
Wednesday September 16, 2009, 3:47 AM

Crystal Lee Sutton died last week at the age of 68. You may have known her by a different name.

Last year, in an interview with NC Policy Watch, a public-policy organization in North Carolina, Sutton recalled the moment that changed her life, and later elevated the lives of thousands of textile workers.

It was May 1973. She was a 33-year-old mother with three children, widowed once and remarried, making $2.65 an hour assembling towel sets at the J.P. Stevens Plant in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. She had just started her shift when a supervisor ordered her to the front office.

Sutton walked through the door and into a gaggle of plant supervisors. One of the men accused her of talking too long on the pay phone and spending too much time in the bathroom, but he knew that wasn't the real reason she was standing there.

She also knew she was about to lose her job.

"You got to let me go back in my plant and get my purse," she said. Sutton rushed to her station, but she had no intention of reaching for her handbag.

"I got a piece of cardboard that we used for our towel gift set," she said. "I grabbed a magic marker and I just wrote the word UNION on that piece of cardboard and climbed up on the table. I don't even know how I got up there. And I held that word UNION up -- that cardboard -- and turned it around. And people . . . they finally, they all shut their machines down."

Police officers dragged her out of the plant that day. Six years later, Sutton was Norma Rae, the brave union organizer played by Sally Field in the movie.

The actress won an Oscar, a Golden Globe and Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival. The activist faded into relative obscurity, but even as a great-grandmother she never stopped fighting for the people of her roots.

She was humble about the union organizing that led to higher wages, health care benefits and paid vacations for textile workers throughout the South. One of her close friends in later years, Carrie Price, didn't know anything about her past until two years after they met.

They were both nursing assistants and community activists, and lived across the street from each other in Burlington, N.C. One day, Price pointed to Sutton's framed photo of Sally Field holding up the UNION sign. "Oh, you like Sally Field, too?"

Sutton's third and long-time husband, Lewis, started to laugh.

"You don't know who Crystal is?" he said. "She's the real Norma Rae."

Price was stunned. Sutton just nodded and smiled.

"She never stopped taking notes, giving interviews and talking about the rights of people who can't fight for themselves," Price said.

In January 2007, Sutton was diagnosed with brain cancer. She had two surgeries, and suffered a two-month lapse in treatment while she haggled over health care coverage. Once again, she told the Burlington Times News, she was fighting a battle facing so many of the working poor.

"How in the world can it take so long to find out [whether they would cover the medicine or not] when it could be a matter of life or death?" she said. "It is almost like, in a way, committing murder."

She was a warrior to the end, Price said.

"I've never seen any woman fight cancer as hard as she did. She was in a wheelchair in the last few months, and she wanted me to push her to a protest about a school's teacher cuts."

Last year, a Burlington Times News reporter asked Sutton how she'd like to be remembered.

"It is not necessary I be remembered as anything," she said, "but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the U.S. and the world. That my family and children, and children like mine, will have a fair share and equality."

"Crystal would never say this about herself," Price said, "but you'd think more people would remember her. You'd think more people would care."

Crystal Lee Sutton died last Friday.

The need for her voice lives on.

Fr. John Jenkins of Notre Dame Announces Pro-Life Initiatives

Notre Dame President Fr. John Jenkins, CSC sent the following letter announcing Pro-Life initiatives and a Task Force supporting the 'Choice for Life':

"Dear Members of the Notre Dame Family,

"Coming out of the vigorous discussions surrounding President Obama’s visit last Spring, I said we would look for ways to engage the Notre Dame community with the issues raised in a prayerful and meaningful way.

"As our nation continues to struggle with the morality and legality of abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and related issues, we must seek steps to witness to the sanctity of life. I write to you today about some initiatives that we are undertaking.

"Each year on January 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the March for Life is held in Washington D.C. to call on the nation to defend the right to life. I plan to participate in that march. I invite other members of the Notre Dame Family to join me and I hope we can gather for a Mass for Life at that event. We will announce details as that date approaches.

"On campus, I have recently formed the Task Force on Supporting the Choice for Life. It will be co-chaired by Professor Margaret Brinig, the Fritz Duda Family Chair in Law and Associate Dean for the Law School, and by Professor John Cavadini, the Chair of the Department of Theology and the McGrath-Cavadini Director of the Institute for Church Life. My charge to the Task Force is to consider and recommend to me ways in which the University, informed by Catholic teaching, can support the sanctity of life.

"Possibilities the Task Force has begun to discuss include fostering serious and specific discussion about a reasonable conscience clause; the most effective ways to support pregnant women, especially the most vulnerable; and the best policies for facilitating adoptions. Such initiatives are in addition to the dedication, hard work and leadership shown by so many in the Notre Dame Family, both on the campus and beyond, and the Task Force may also be able to recommend ways we can support some of this work.

"I also call to your attention the heroic and effective work of centers that provide care and support for women with unintended pregnancies. The Women’s Care Center, the nation’s largest Catholic-based pregnancy resource center, on whose Foundation Board I serve, is run by a Notre Dame graduate, Ann Murphy Manion (’77).

"The center has proven successful in offering professional, non-judgmental concern to women with unintended pregnancies, helping those women through their pregnancy and supporting them after the birth of their child. The Women’s Care Center and similar centers in other cities deserve the support of Notre Dame clubs and individuals.

"Our Commencement last Spring generated passionate discussion and also caused some divisions in the Notre Dame community. Regardless of what you think about that event, I hope that we can overcome divisions to foster constructive dialogue and work together for a cause that is at the heart of Notre Dame’s mission. We will keep you informed of our work, and we ask for your support, assistance and prayers. May Our Lady, Notre Dame, watch over our efforts."

Spanish theologian Juan José Tamayo wins International Islamic Studies Prize


Tunis, Sept. 17 (EFE)— Spanish theologian Juan José Tamayo won the Eighth President of the Republic of Tunisia International Prize for Islamic Studies. Tamayo was one of 28 candidates from 13 different countries, official sources said.

Tamayo picked up the award from Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, during a ceremony last night after dinner breaking the fast of Ramadan (iftar) held in the palace of Carthage.

Tamayo, a professor of theology at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, won the award for his book Islam: Culture, Religion and Politics" published in Spanish.

It also found that the book "enriches the thought and work of ijtihad (creative interpretation of the Koran and Islam), which is based on dialogue and openness, rejecting a defense of the status quo and self-absorption.

Tamayo told EFE that "after devoting more than 50 books to liberation theology and critique of the fundamentalism of the Catholic hierarchy, it was necessary to venture into Islam because of the great historical momentum that it has had in recent years" in the international arena.

The theologian stated that in the West "there is a social imagination that deems Islam to be a sexist, patriarchal and fundamentally violent religion.

"The book that is receiving this award examines these and other stereotypes and prejudices that are not part of the essence of Islam, but they are useful to a West that always needs an enemy. After the defeat of Communism, criticisms are now being hurled against this religion," said the author.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Cristo al servicio de quien?

I stumbled upon this video from the August 23rd "Voces Contra el Golpe" concert in Tegucigalpa against the coup in Honduras. The lyrics are particularly poignant in that context, given the Honduran hierarchy's position on the coup (except for the Diocese of Copan). The title asks "Christ in whose service?" and the song is by Alí Primera of Los Guaraguao.

Cristo al Servicio de quien?

Cristo al servicio de quien?
Preguntaba Jaime Obrero
Preguntaba Jaime Obrero
Al servicio de unos pocos
que se lo llevaron preso
disfrazandolo que lujos
sabiendo que El es del pueblo
Lo tiene encarcelado
en palacios de concreto con
pisos de puro mármol de
pura madera el techo
templos que no se parecen
a las casas de mi pueblo

Casas de la calle Cartón
techos rotos tierra el suelo
Cristo al servicio de Quien?
Preguntaba Jaime Obrero
Preguntaba Jaime Obrero
A Cristo hay que liberarlo
El siempre quiso ser pueblo
y hoy lo explotan
los de arriba Ricos, Iglesia y Gobierno

Los señores de una iglesia
que esta muy lejos del pueblo
que no sabe de miserias
que no vive su evangelio y
que no habla nuestro idioma
cuando nos dice silencio
son cosas de Dios permite
son cosas que manda el cielo

Cristo al servicio de Quien?
Preguntaba Jaime Obrero
Preguntaba Jaime Obrero
A Cristo hay que liberarlo
me decía Jaime Obrero
porque ellos se lo han robado
y Cristo, Cristo es del pueblo
Iglesia que no denuncia la injusticia
y la opresión es una iglesia vendida

queremos resurrección
queremos renovación
queremos revolución

Christ at whose service?
Asked Joe the Worker (x2)
At the service of the few
Who have taken Him prisoner
Dressing Him in luxury
knowing that He is of the people
They have imprisoned him
in concrete palaces with
pure marble floors
and pure wooden roofs
temples that don't look like
the houses of my people.

The houses on Cardboard street
broken roofs and earthen floors
Christ at whose service?
Asked Joe the Worker (x2)
We have to free Christ
He always wanted to be with the people
and now the higher-ups are exploiting him
the Rich, the Church, the Government

The lords of a Church
that is very far from the people
that knows nothing about poverty
that doesn't live its own gospel
that doesn't speak our language
when they tell us to be silent
it's something God allows
something that Heaven commands

Christ at whose service?
Asked Joe the Worker (x2)
We have to free Christ
Joe the Worker said to me
Because they have stolen Him
and Christ, He is of the people
A Church that does not denounce injustice
and oppression is a Church that has sold out.

We want resurrection
We want renewal
We want revolution

Priests cannot be replaced by the laity, Pope Benedict explains

Does anyone still seriously believe that this Pope is not backing away from Vatican II? I read this and wonder if Benedict XVI and I are part of the same universal Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps the Pope would care to explain to all the communities that are being held together by lay people because of the priest shortage exactly where his new priests are going to come from, barring any significant change to the institution of the priesthood, e.g. expanding it to married men. And also what those communities are expected to do while they wait for a miracle. Perhaps the Pope would like them to disperse?

But, as Gustavo Gutiérrez always says, what you see depends on where you sit. Someone who is holed up in the Vatican which is always chock-full of priests is not going to get the reality of poor, rural and priest-less Latin American communities.

Catholic News Agency
September 17, 2009

Castel Gandolfo, Italy, Sep 17, 2009 / 10:27 am (CNA).- In an audience this morning with bishops visiting from Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI advised them on how to respond to the lack of priests, emphasizing that the shortage cannot be solved by having lay people substitute for the clergy.

The Holy Father began his address to the Brazilian prelates by pointing out the difference between the identity of priests and the laity. While the lay faithful share in the "common priesthood," they are not ordained ministers of Christ and His Church. "Hence," the Pope cautioned, "it is important to avoid the secularization of clergy and the 'clericalization' of the laity."

Fulfilling the lay vocation, he explained, involves working to "give expression in real life - also through political commitment - to the Christian view of anthropology and the social doctrine of the Church."

On the other hand, "priests must distance themselves from politics in order to favor the unity and communion of all the faithful, thus becoming a point of reference for everyone," Benedict said.

When dioceses are faced with a lack of priests, the Pope emphasized that they should not resort to "a more active and abundant participation of the laity" since it could take away from their own calling.

"The truth is that the greater the faithful's awareness of their own responsibilities within the Church, the clearer becomes the specific identity and inimitable role of the priest as pastor of the entire community, witness to the authenticity of the faith, and dispenser of the mysteries of salvation in the name of Christ the Head," Benedict XVI stated.

"The function of the clergy is essential and irreplaceable in announcing the Word and celebrating the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist," he insisted, saying that for this reason it is "vital to ask the Lord to send workers for His harvest; and it is necessary that priests express joy in their faithfulness to their identity."

Looking to the future, the Pope made it clear that "the shortage of priests must not come to be considered as a normal or typical state of affairs."

He exhorted the bishops resolve the crisis by combining efforts to "encourage new priestly vocations and find the pastors your dioceses need, helping one another so that all of you have better-trained and more numerous priests to support the life of faith and the apostolic mission."

As the Church celebrates the Year for Priests and the 150th anniversary of the death of the "Cure of Ars," Pope Benedict pointed to the French priest as a model for priests, "especially in living a life of celibacy as a requirement for the total giving of self." This total gift of self is "expressed through that pastoral charity which Vatican Council II presents as the unifying center of a priest's being and actions," he reminded.

The Holy Father ended his address on a positive note, assuring the prelates that "many signs of hope" exist for the future of particular Churches. This future, he said is one that "God is preparing through the dedication and the faithfulness with which you exercise your episcopal ministry."

Photo: A lay woman catechist in rural Peru who is in charge of her community in between visits from a priest (approximately once every six weeks).

Folk singer Mary Travers of Peter, Paul and Mary dead at 72

Some very sad news. The folk trio's Web site has statements from her two music partners as well as family and friends about Mary's death.

From Peter Yarrow: "In her final months, Mary handled her declining health in the bravest, most generous way imaginable. She never complained. She avoided expressing her emotional and physical distress, trying not to burden those of us who loved her, especially her wonderfully caring and attentive husband, Ethan. Mary hid whatever pain or fear she might have felt from everyone, clearly so as not to be a burden. Her love for me and Noel Paul, and for Ethan, poured out with great dignity and without restraint. It was, as Mary always was, honest and completely authentic. That's the way she sang, too; honestly and with complete authenticity. I believe that, in the most profound of ways, Mary was incapable of lying, as a person, and as an artist. That took great courage, and Mary was always equal to the task. "

From Noel Paul Stookey: "As a partner...she could be vexing and vulnerable in the same breath. as a friend she shared her concerns freely and without reservation. as an activist, she was brave, outspoken and inspiring - especially in her defense of the defenseless. and, as a performer, her charisma was a barely contained nervous energy - occasionally (and then only privately) revealed as stage fright...I am deadened and heartsick beyond words to consider a life without mary travers and honored beyond my wildest dreams to have shared her spirit and her career."

By David Hinckley
New York Daily News
Wednesday, September 16th 2009, 10:36 PM

Mary Travers, a striking figure of power and glamour in the early-1960s folk music movement, died Wednesday at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut after suffering from leukemia for several years. She was 72.

She was best known as the blond with the bangs who commanded the middle microphone with Peter, Paul and Mary, a trio that brought folk music from coffeehouses to top-40 radio.

They also gave much of America its first taste of the young Bob Dylan by helping to turn his "Blowin' in the Wind" into a national anthem.

The group reunited several years ago to begin touring, and Travers performed with them until a few months ago, even when she needed assistance on stage.

Travers, like Paul Stookey and Peter Yarrow, saw folk music both as an art and as an instrument for change. They sang a number of sociopolitical songs, which Travers later defended.

"I'm not sure I want to be singing 'Leaving on a Jet Plane' when I'm 75," she said in one interview. "But I know I'll still be singing 'Blowin' in the Wind.' "

She was born in Louisville, Ky., but grew up in Greenwich Village and came up through the New York coffeehouse circuit, singing on her own before she was put together with Stookey and Yarrow by famed manager Albert Grossman, who also managed Dylan.

The trio took considerable criticism from fellow folk singers for developing a sound that some considered too "commercial" and not "authentic" enough.

Travers always strongly defended the trio's sound, saying that they were in the folk tradition by making music accessible to everyone, not just academic collectors.

Peter, Paul and Mary were inducted into the Sammy Cahn Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. Travers is survived by two daughters.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Colombian Catholic Prison Ministry Receives Van Thuan Prize

The Vatican Press Office announced yesterday that the ALAS project of the "Caminos de Libertad" Foundation of the Archdiocese of Bogota, Colombia, will receive one of the 2009 Van Thuan Solidarity and Development Prizes. The prize, valued at 15,000 euros will be used to build a national centre for prison ministry in conjunction with Pastoral Penitenciaria de Colombia. The prize is named for the late Cardinal Francois-Xavier Van Thuan who headed the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace before his death. The Archdiocese of Bogota welcomed the prize, calling it "a recognition not only of Father Andrés Fernández, who has been working in the Colombian jails for almost 40 years, but of all people who support the mission of the Church behind bars, who make visible and real the words of Jesus: 'I was in prison and you visited me ...'"

In honor of this occasion, we would like to share with you this translation of a 2008 interview with Father Andrés by Jacques Berset (APIC):

"Colombian prisons are planned for 50,000 inmates, but they shelter more than 75,000 people in overcrowded conditions that reach unsustainable proportions. In some detention centers, prisoners often have a space to sleep that does not exceed 75 cm in width. They are forced to crowd into the toilets and showers," Fr. Andrés Fernández Pinzón, national coordinator of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care of Colombia (PPC), tells APIC.

Father Andrés Fernández Pinzón, a tall soft-spoken priest, gives us the statistics, while stressing that this prison overcrowding, which does not even include all those who are imprisoned in the police stations, in the district and municipal detention centers, has become completely inhumane.

Since youth, as a student already, Andrés has been committed to improving the living conditions of prisoners in Colombia. His bishop in the Diocese of Sonson-Rionegro (Antioquia), allowed him to visit prisons while he was still a seminarian. When he was ordained a priest, he continued this commitment.

In Colombia, the prison situation is frightening. In recent years, with the repressive policies of President Alvaro Uribe Velez (first elected in 2002 and reelected in 2006), the prison population has increased dramatically, causing a rate of overcrowding in prisons of over 40 percent above the available accomodation capacity. The Defensoria del Pueblo, a public agency responsible for ensuring respect for human rights and defending citizens, believes that overcrowding in prisons in Colombia "is one of the factors that contribute to the violation of all fundamental human rights of persons deprived of liberty." For Father Andrés, the high recidivism rate - 70 percent! - shows that just confining someone for years does not solve the crime problem.

APIC: Father Andrés, what is your position in the Colombian Church?

Father Andrés: I am the national coordinator of Prison Pastoral Care of Colombia (PCC), entrusted with this task by the Bishops' Conference in Bogota. I have worked in the prisons for 38 years ... while I was studying in school, then as a seminarian, I worked as a volunteer. And it is now 16 years since I was officially appointed to the post of national coordinator. The state gives us the opportunity to have a General Chaplain of Prisons, appointed by the Bishops' Conference.

APIC: How many prisons do you care for nationally? With how many chaplains?

Father Andrés: The Prison Ministry has thirteen chaplains, not counting some part-time ones, appointed by the bishops. That would be about forty in all, for 141 prisons throughout Colombia, with 75,000 prisoners. That does not include some 15,000 Colombian prisoners in various countries around the world ...

APIC: Why are there so many Colombians in foreign jails?

Father Andrés: Most of them were convicted for transporting drugs, including those used as "mules". They are usually young people, and there are mothers among them. They are promised money to smuggle drugs into your country. Every Christmas, the Prison Pastoral Care, after collecting the addresses through embassies, consulates, prison chaplains of various countries, sends greeting cards to any Colombian held in any prison in the world.

APIC: The prison situation in Colombia is explosive ...

Father Andrés: In the Colombian prisons, there are various groups of prisoners: those who are there because they belong to the guerrilla insurgent movements or paramilitary groups, others for drug trafficking, not to mention a whole variety of common crimes. When the prison is small, all these people are mixed, but when there is a big prison, they are separated by quarters: the guerrilla and the paramilitaries are not put together. There were gun battles at the beginning -- 1990 to 2000 -- between the guerrilla and the paramilitaries, with deaths and injuries.

At that time, there were firearms in the prisons, even grenades; now it has calmed down a bit ... How they could bring so many weapons into the prisons is a mystery ... But there were clearly accomplices in prison, the family ... women visiting their husbands were able to hide weapons in the private parts of their body! Not to mention drug trafficking, because there is a lot of drug use in the detention centers ...

APIC: In some Colombian prisons one sees signs that say it is "forbidden to use drugs on Sunday" ...

Father Andrés: That means of course that drugs are being used in prison! The conditions are difficult for the prisoners; they are really stacked on top of each other. Inmates must sleep on the floor in the corridors, next to the toilets and showers. We are clearly talking about subhuman situations.

In Bogota, we have La Picota, for example, which houses 5,300 inmates, La Modelo, which had 5,500 (when there was officially space for only 2,700), Reclusion de Mujeres Buen Pastors, a women's prison where there are a thousand inmates, the district prison, etc. The Church is present in all the prisons, with the "Pastoral Penitenciaria Católica" (Prison Pastoral Care).

A priest who is chaplain, is accompanied by a team of lay volunteers who develop a number of services for prisoners: they act as "integrated brigades" of doctors, lawyers, dentists, eye care professionals, opticians and even hair stylists. These volunteers, professionals who receive no salary, travel once a month, and at the large prisons, the work lasts two days. They asked for leave from their firms. This has already been going on for 14 years! It must be said that usually in prisons, when prisoners have the chance to see the doctor, there is often no medicine, and when there is dental equipment, there is no dentist ...

We are certainly not the solution, as it should be the duty of the state to provide these services to inmates. We are only a small grain of sand, because as it says in the Gospel: "... I was in prison and you visited me". (Matthew 25)

54,000 free consultations in Colombian prisons

"In ten years we've offered some 54,000 free consultations in the Colombian prisons," says Father Andrés. This voluntary activity is possible with the help of foreign relief agencies, such as Misereor in Germany or AED, not counting support from the Colombian Church, which not always easy to obtain. Some regions, like the Choco on the Pacific Coast of Colombia, have not yet benefited from assistance from the PPC, because transportation costs are too high. Only those costs, along with the meals of the integrated brigades and the cost of overnight accommodations, are assumed by Prison Pastoral Care, but that's already a huge amount. "Our volunteers, who take leave for this, work all day, two consecutive days per month. That is considerable! These professionals have a special gift, a very special charism, and the prisoners appreciate them a lot, nothing has ever happened to them ... "

Solidarity with Prisoners Abroad

Since 1995, the PPC has been making contact abroad with prison chaplains, and embassies and consulates. Every year at Christmas, it sends some 15,000 greeting cards to Colombians being held in some 60 countries, often for drug trafficking. The prison ministry also works for the reintegration of prisoners at the end of their sentence. "Finding work outside of prison is not easy. For society, these people are "marked", and they fail to reintegrate. No wonder we have a recidivism rate of nearly 70 per cent. We often try to train the wives of prisoners so that when they leave, they can work together to develop a small business, sewing, selling food on the street, etc.. It is very difficult to reintegrate former prisoners into formal productive activity because they no longer have work discipline. For farmers, it is very difficult, because the city jail is just a world of concrete, there is no land for production, animal husbandry ... I dream one day of having the money to buy a few acres of land and develop a self-sustaining farm that could accommodate those who are about to leave prison. Our problem is finding the money to fund such activities, because people give more freely for projects concerning the elderly or children than for criminals!"

Towards the construction of a large National Center for Prison Ministry

Through the "Caminos de Libertad" Foundation he created eleven years ago, Father Andrés was able to buy a plot of approximately 3,000 m2 in the historical district of Bogota to build the large "National Center for Colombian Catholic Prison Ministry". Now to find the money to the tune of several million dollars! The aim is particularly to accommodate families who come from all over Colombia to visit family members imprisoned in Bogota, because women are sleeping outside the jail, while waiting for visiting hours.

Others are staying in cheap hotels of dubious repute at the risk of sexual assault, Father Andrés testifies. "Those who pay when a father is in prison, are the members of his family, the children at school, who are shunned by their peers and eventually drop out..." Not to mention the foreigners who are on parole, prohibited from working or leaving the country. "A situation that can last several years! If it were not for our center, they would be on the street and would steal or prostitute themselves to survive .... " It is to address this persistent problem, that the national coordinator of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care has launched a major project which aims to offer a home for families visiting their imprisoned parents, allowing some of them to receive training in arts and crafts and then be independent, and to welcome the foreigners who have been released and are waiting for their exit papers.

Fundación Caminos de Libertad - Video

Gustavo Gutiérrez to Get Niebuhr Medal

Campus Honors Champion of the Poor

Elmhurst presents its highest honor, the Niebuhr Medal, to Roman Catholic priest Gustavo Gutiérrez on Sunday September 20.

Elmhurst College will present its highest honor, the Niebuhr Medal, to Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Roman Catholic priest and acknowledged "Father of Liberation Theology," for his lifetime of service to humanity, especially the poor.

A renowned theologian and champion for the rights of the world's "poorest of the poor," Gutiérrez challenges Christians to join in a sustained fight against material poverty.

Father Gutiérrez will receive the medal at a ceremony on Sunday, September 20, at 7:00 p.m. on the Elmhurst College campus, in Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel, 190 Prospect Ave., Elmhurst, Ill. The event is free and the public is invited to attend. For more information, call (630) 617-3390.

"Gustavo Gutiérrez is among the most thoughtful and effective advocates for the poor in today's world," said S. Alan Ray, president of the College. "Because his witness embodies the core values of Elmhurst College, awarding the Niebuhr Medal to this humble servant of faith will serve as a powerful symbol of the College's commitment to personal dignity and social justice."

Inspired by Gutiérrez's message, and in an effort to deepen its meaning for the Elmhurst College community and beyond, the College will offer opportunities throughout the academic year to confront and explore the issue of poverty in DuPage County.
Among them:

  • A community forum that will bring together experts and resources from social service agencies, educational institutions and other sources to share information and ways to get involved in fighting poverty.
  • A project by the College's News Writing class in which students will research the nature and extent of poverty in DuPage County, and will present their findings through articles and graphics in an upcoming issue of the College's Prospect magazine.
  • A Web site that will post ongoing efforts by Elmhurst College students and faculty to address aspects of poverty ranging from hunger to lack of access to education and health care.
  • Student organizations, such as the newly formed Global Poverty Club, will organize hands-on and educational efforts throughout the year.
"Our service to the poor begins with the recognition that we at the College are part of a global family, whose choices—economic, environmental, and social—affect the lives of everyone around us, whether in DuPage County or far beyond," Ray said. "Especially in this time of recession, we are mindful of those struggling to live and to labor with dignity. As a College, we will provide education around poverty as well as direct service to those in need. In so doing, we will realize our core value, announced in our new Strategic Plan, to ‘act on our social responsibilities and call on others to do the same.' "

The Niebuhr Medal recognizes extraordinary service in the tradition of Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr, graduates of Elmhurst College and two of the 20th Century's most influential theologians and public intellectuals.

A native of Peru, Father Gutiérrez grew up in poverty but came to study at three of the leading universities in Europe. His 1971 book, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, Salvation, stands as the seminal text of a social and intellectual movement that calls Christians to stand against the injustice of poverty. In the Third World, Liberation Theology is a potent and enduring force in support of economic change and human dignity.

The priest-scholar is the John Cardinal O'Hara Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, and has served as a visiting professor at universities in Europe and in North and South America.

The Niebuhr Medal was established in 1995. Prior recipients include Elie Wiesel, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize; Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, archbishop of Chicago; Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund; Lech Walesa, founder of Solidarity and the first democratically elected president of Poland; Millard and Linda Fuller, co-founders of Habitat for Humanity International; and Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., distinguished historian and presidential adviser.

The medal is named for Elmhurst College alumni Reinhold Niebuhr and his brother, H. Richard Niebuhr, who served as the College's sixth president. The brothers rank among the pre-eminent American theologians of the 20th Century. Their bold scholarship and commitment to social engagement helped shape the political and religious thinking of their time—and ours.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Vigils Call for Humane Immigration Policy that Protects Children and Families

NEWARK, NJ (September 15, 2009) - Ten communities throughout New Jersey are holding "Children’s Vigils" today as a part of a coordinated campaign by Pax Christi NJ and NJ Advocates for Immigrant Detainees called "We Are One Human Family" in support of children at risk of family separation because of immigration detentions or deportations. Immigrant rights advocates and religious leaders will gather with families at churches, parks and town halls in Bridgeton, Dumont, Freehold, Hightstown, Jersey City, Highland Park, Keyport, Montclair, Morristown, and Newark in support of the rights of millions of children living in families in which at least one parent is an immigrant.

Members of the community will bear witness to the ordeals of immigrant and mixed-immigration status families including long or permanent separation and denial of basic rights. Vigil participants will join in a call for federal immigration legislation that respects human rights, particularly family unity. "If you take a parent away and send them back to their native land, you are fracturing a family. Anything we can do to keep these families safe and together is worth our prayers," said Fr. Patrick McDonnell, pastor, St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church, Hightstown.

Vigil participants will also call for an end to immigration raids, detentions and deportation because they separate families. It is estimated that in New Jersey around 1,000 immigrants are currently detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center and county jails for suspected violation of immigration laws. Detention Watch Network estimates that the policy of detaining immigrants and asylum seekers is costing taxpayers $1.7 billion a year. "Policies meant to improve public safety are instead sweeping up thousands of families and leaving children behind" said Chia-Chia Wang of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Immigrant Rights Program.

Jocelyn, the young daughter of Harry Pangemanan, a member of the Highland Park Reformed Church who spent several months in immigration detention last year, recalls visiting her father at the Elizabeth Detention Center. “Daddy, I cried when we came to visit you and I couldn’t hug you through the glass.” Pauline, a resident of Newark and mother of three, stated “Ever since I was released from immigration detention, I have to report to the immigration office every month. Each time, my children are afraid that I would disappear and never come home again. This is the nightmare that my children have been going through. ”

Also at issue for vigil organizers is the participation of the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office and the town of Morristown in a federal program that enables local law enforcement to take on immigration enforcement responsibilities. Advocates believe this will split their communities even further. “The people here in Morristown reject the idea that immigrants are to be treated like criminals,” said Vigil co-organizer Diana Mejia of Wind of the Spirit in Morristown. “People in our community from all walks of life are coming out in droves in support of all families who work and live in our town – with or without papers. We are all members of the same community.”

Immigration News Roundup - September 15, 2009

1. Astronaut Speaks Up for Undocumented Immigrants: Spaceman Jose Hernandez said Monday the United States needs to legalize its undocumented immigrants — a rare, public stand for a U.S. astronaut on a political, hot-button issue...During a telephone interview with Mexico's Televisa network, Hernandez pushed for U.S. immigration reform — a key issue for Mexico that has been stalled in Washington amid fierce debate. "The American economy needs them," said Hernandez, 47, a California native who toiled in the cucumber, sugar beet and tomato fields alongside his Mexican-born parents. "I believe it's only fair to find a way to legalize them and give them an opportunity to work openly, so they can also retire in a traditional U.S. system."

2. Number of Immigrants Applying for U.S. Citizenship Is Down 62%, Study Finds: The number of immigrants applying to become U.S. citizens plunged 62 percent last year as the cost of naturalization rose and the economy soured, according to an analysis released Friday by the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy organization. Because of this drop in applications, the Associated Press reports that Citizenship and Immigration Services is expecting to come up about $282 million short of the $2.33 billion in fees it predicted it would collect in this fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

3. Health Care Reform and Undocumented Immigrants: Following the dust-up over Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) accusing President Obama of lying about health care for undocumented immigrants, Senator Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is leading bipartisan negotiations on health care legislation, on Monday said he would include in his bill a proposal by the Obama White House to bar illegal immigrants from buying health coverage through a new insurance marketplace, or exchange, even if the illegal immigrants were willing and able to pay the full cost. Meanwhile, seizing this golden opportunity to get their point across, the anti-immigrant American Council for Immigration Reform released a new national poll they commissioned of 1,000 likely voters showing that "78% of Americans believe that high immigration levels have had an adverse impact on the quality and cost of our health care system."

4. Hold Their Feet to the Fire 2009: The Washington Post reports that the war of words between pro- and anti-immigrant groups is escalating as these two issues -- health care and immigration -- collide. On the tail of the anti-Obama crowd that invaded our capitol last weekend, 47 conservative radio talk show hosts are starting a 48-hour Hold Their Feet to the Fire 2009 Radio-thon. Broadcasting from the luxurious Phoenix Park Hotel (520 North Capitol Street, N.W. Washington, D.C.), to "remind Congress and the new administration that rampant
illegal immigration, efforts to grant amnesty, and taxpayer subsidized health care benefits to millions of law-breakers are hot button issues for the American public." The event is being organized by another major anti-immigrant group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

5. Justice For Immigrants Philadelphia Regional Meeting: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 3:00 PM - Friday, October 9, 2009 12:00 PM at the Malvern Retreat House in Malvern, PA. Conference includes Mass celebrated by Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia. Click here for details and to register.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Catholics, Immigration, and the Common Good"

The August 2009 edition of the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies newsletter just crossed my desk with the following article: "Catholics, Immigration, and the Common Good" by Fr. Dominique Peridans (photo). Contrary to its benign-sounding title, the article is anti-immigrant, particularly undocumented Hispanic immigrants. It's sad, really, especially given the fact that Peridans himself is the son of Belgian immigrants.

I was torn between whether to reproduce the article in its entirety on this blog or just direct you all to CIS. As tempting as it was to just excerpt lines like "Why is the Catholic Church in the United States not addressing the imbalance in immigration, i.e. the disproportionately high numbers from Mexico? Why does the Church seem to be contributing to it, for example, by equipping our seminarians to be able to exchange linguistically with them and no others from outside the Hispanophone world?", I chose to reproduce the article because I want you to read it in its entirety before engaging Fr. Peridans in "true, honest dialogue on this terribly sensitive issue in the Church." Fr. Peridans' by-line at CIS just says that he is "an associate pastor at a Roman Catholic parish in Maryland." That parish is St. Louis Catholic Church. The address is 12500 Clarksville Pike, Clarksville, Maryland 21029. Telephone: (410) 531-6040. Please be courteous when you write or call Fr. Peridans, even if you disagree with this article. If you cannot find it within yourself to be courteous, just pray for Fr. Peridans.

I'm too angry to write a personal letter to Monsieur le Père right now but I'm going to pray about it. All I want to say publicly to him is that attitudes like his make it that much harder for people like me who are trying to keep our hermanos and hermanas from going over to the evangélicos.

Catholics, Immigration, and the Common Good

by Fr. Dominique Peridans

The following are considerations offered by someone engaged in the complex arena of Christian ministry. They are reflections by a Christian pastor, a minister in the Roman Catholic tradition, prompted by a statement on immigration issued in November 2007 by the three Bishops of Maryland — Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore, Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, and Michael A. Saltarelli of Wilmington — entitled "Where All Find a Home: A Catholic Response to Immigration."

These thoughts primarily seek to be a respectful response and a forthright questioning of that statement (and thus the immigration views of the American Catholic hierarchy more generally, since the statement reflects the views of many other bishops). Much of the content of this Backgrounder is thus necessarily theological. Indeed, it speaks first to the bishops, authors of the statement, and concerns persons of Christian faith. As such, it takes us beyond the immediate political sphere. And yet, as I try to articulate, Christian (or any other) ministry is not exercised in a social or cultural vacuum. Christian ministry eminently takes root in human experience (and is meant to lift human experience) and finds itself always in the context of a human community, of a body politic, be it local or national. The community, therefore, and the reality of the common good, can never be ignored if ministry is to be honest and true, and truly effective.

"Where All Find a Home: A Catholic Response to Immigration" is a pastorally sensitive statement. However, in the vagueness of its expression, the statement can lead to confusion. It is my intention to raise a few respectful questions, and to attempt to offer a few elements of response. I raise these questions not only as a Christian minister, but also as a citizen, and as a child of (Belgian) immigrants. My concerns are articulated in greater depth in the pages that follow. Hereunder are a few of them in summary fashion:

  • A seemingly simplistic passage is made from the mandate to love (which, of course, includes the mandate to "welcome the stranger") to public policy, as though "catholicity of heart" immediately translates into open borders. The statement gives no tools for discernment, because the important distinctions between a philosophical perspective and a theological perspective are not made.
  • There is an acknowledgment of the need for law ("Illegal entry is not condoned,") but, in the same breath, practically speaking, such respect for law is disregarded ("but undocumented immigrants are embraced.") Indeed, the qualification "undocumented" — as distinguished from "illegal" — is ambiguous because, as mainstream media seem so often to try to do in using the former, it implies that the distinction between "legal" and "illegal," when it comes to immigration, is morally irrelevant.
  • Little mention is made of the common good of the national family, only of the universal human family, when an important discussion needs to be had regarding the reality of a sovereign state.

  • No mention is made of the current imbalance in immigration, i.e. the fact that the majority of current immigrants are "Hispanic."

Philosophy vs. Theology

The question of immigration is one that I have pondered at length, encouraged to do so by life in a bilingual (French-English) home, and, later, by seven years of ministry in Laredo, Texas, the busiest port between the United States and Mexico. I share with utter simplicity some of the fruit of my reflection on this issue.

The bishops' statement is a rather general statement, so general that it becomes vague, such that many key questions are left untreated, and, dare I say with all due respect, few tools are given for healthy, wise, and thus truly compassionate discernment. Too many important distinctions are missing. Catholics need not only to be encouraged to love, but need to be given tools for the discernment of how to love intelligently and respectfully.

The statement, and those who read it, would be served well if a more explicitly philosophical perspective were articulated, one that is clearly communicated as such. The issue of immigration is for Christians also a philosophical one, without which perspective the Church contributes to the tensions and confusion. The philosophical perspective is the one that allows us to dialogue in the political arena, and is the only one that can be used to forge public policy. Catholics ought to be urged not only "to consider prayerfully the question of immigration," as the bishops recommend, but also to consider philosophically the question of immigration, that is to say, with sound and thoughtful consideration based on the human reality of the common good. Not to do so is to fall into a form of fideism. In other words, not to do so is to eliminate the role of reason in rightly ordering the sphere of the "authentically secular" (as Pope Benedict XVI calls it), making, for example, a "facile move from Bible quoting to public-policy prescription" (to quote Fr. John Neuhaus in his critique of the stance on immigration of Roger Mahoney, Archbishop of Los Angeles1), against which the Church (most recently, both John Paul II and Benedict XVI) cautions Catholics. Indeed, in the bishops' statement, there are abrupt shifts from philosophical consideration to theological consideration and back, with no mention of the distinctions between the two. There is suggestion of passing from the "universality" of love (to which the Christian believes God indeed calls) to a public policy of limitless welcome of immigrants. Paragraph five of the statement typifies this, and leaves the reader wondering on which foot he or she is to dance:

In the Church, a universal body united through Christ, all find a home. Illegal entry is not condoned, but undocumented immigrants are embraced. "In the Church no one is a stranger, and the Church is not foreign to anyone, anywhere; the Church is the place where illegal immigrants are also recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters."

The divisions regarding immigration in the public forum, to which the bishops' statement alludes, in fact, stem from fundamentally differing philosophical perspectives of community. We indeed have two fundamentally different philosophical perspectives: that of the legitimacy of a sovereign state whose common good must be protected and promoted (and, of course, in which increasing numbers can participate), and that of the il-legitimacy of a sovereign state, an increasingly popular perspective in certain circles of Western civilization, which underlies the promotion of the elimination of borders. The statement seems to suggest that, as Christians, we ought perhaps to embrace the latter perspective, a perspective which is, again, philosophically unsound, for it disrespects the reality of the political community.

The human family is the basic cell of society, and thus the first analogue for trying to understand the nation, that is to say, the sovereign state, and for trying to understand the question of the common good. Quite simply, what is true of the family is analogously true of the nation. In both communities, we speak of the common good, in the light of which and in reference to which any community — from the family to the nation — is understood. The common good is that which the members of said community share. The common good is comprised essentially of a community's patrimony, a community's traditions, and it bears a community's general mindset, a community's social and political vision. When the common good disappears, so does the community. A community, therefore, has a right, and an obligation, to protect its patrimony and to invite others to join the community respectful of this patrimony. The common good must be protected and promoted. The common good grows as the community's members together grow in quality and quantity (number).

To these ends laws are established, for the sake of the common good. The bishops' statement says that "the rule of law must be respected." Why? In the end, it is because the common good, which is real, must be respected. The bishops make insufficient mention of the common good. To the degree members of a community transgress the law, they transgress the common good, and thus their neighbor. If certain laws are perceived as not truly serving the common good (immigration laws, for example), they ought to be changed (through channels respectful of the common good), not transgressed — even in the name of charity. Indeed, "our Catholic faith urges us to participate in the public debate with charity," but it is the common good that, practically speaking, determines the debate, the common good in which Catholics participate and which Catholics must respect.

It has been stated elsewhere by the same local leadership of the Church that the United States currently has "hard and unjust immigration laws."2 I ask in what way are they "hard and unjust?" The United States has the most generous immigration policy in the world. In 2008, 1,107,126 people were granted green cards. Where is the hardness and injustice? If, however, we are speaking of the application of immigration laws — which is a very distinct issue, it ought to be articulated clearly. The distinction is paramount. There are perhaps issues to be addressed regarding the application of immigration laws, but the leap from humane treatment of illegal immigrants to open borders, as is — for all intents and purposes — suggested, is enormous and erroneous. One cannot pass from incidents of injustice in the application of laws to generalizations about the laws themselves, thereby undoing their intelligibility. It is a slippery intellectual slope. As suggested above, a very important theological principle regarding the Christian life is negated: "grace does not destroy nature." And a very important truth about the nature of faith is equally negated: "faith does not destroy reason."

If a nation is a natural human reality, then any faith statements by the Church must respect the reality of the nation. If a nation is a sovereign community of persons who have the right and human obligation to protect their common good, then they have the right and human obligation — all the while being generous in their welcome — to control the influx of persons into the community, so not excessively to disturb the community socially, culturally, economically, and environmentally. Any theological perspective, and thus any faith statements by the Church, must take into account and respect the common good. And so, at least three important questions arise:

  • What is the Church's responsibility toward the common good?
  • Should the Church be actively encouraging new immigrants to embrace the common good, i.e. American patrimony and culture?
  • To what extent is the Church's promotion of parallel cultural realities disrespectful of the common good?

The real lack of acknowledgement of the common good is manifested, for example, in the primacy given to the welfare of immigrants. Such a perspective obviously shifts the focus away from the more basic truths of the common good, and thus does a disservice to any clarification of the issue. There is an order in charity. As Thomas Aquinas states, "In matters concerning relations between citizens, we should prefer our fellow citizens."3 In other words, the welfare of the community is a more immediate concern than that of immigrants — which, of course, does not mean that we should not be very sensitive to the latter. Such is the realism, however, of being part of a community. Do we not say that "well-ordered charity begins at home?" Given the reality and legitimacy of the sovereign nation, it is, therefore, important to state that free migration is not a basic human right. Frequent statements like "the Church stands with undocumented immigrants"4 can easily suggest the contrary. The vagueness of Church statements on immigration leaves one truly wondering what exactly it means to "stand with undocumented immigrants"?

Legal vs. Illegal: An Issue for Believers?

The question then is, "To what extent is a nation, any nation, obliged to welcome anyone and everyone who wishes to enter it?" There is indeed tremendous, unfortunate economic disparity in the world. To speak of a "third world" is a grave embarrassment. But such a question is largely that of foreign policy, distinct from that of immigration policy. Does the United States have an obligation to welcome anyone and everyone who wishes to cross her borders, and join her? Do Catholics have an obligation in charity to promote such policy, that is to say, an open-border policy? Does the common good of the universal human family truncate or negate the common good of the national family? Or, again, does well-ordered charity not begin at home?

Generosity is a must. Fair international economic policy is a must. Open borders, however, are not a must — if there is such a thing as a national community. If there is such a thing as a national community, open borders are the negation of the common good, and blurring the lines of legality of status in a country is a lack of healthy and respectful realism regarding the common good. If the common good of the national family is to be protected and promoted by all members of the community, including Catholics, then the distinction between legal immigrant and il-legal immigrant is not morally irrelevant. It is, in fact, a fundamental distinction that cannot be ignored, a distinction between persons who respect the common good and persons who do not respect the common good. "The Church is (indeed) the place where illegal immigrants are recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters," for the Church is the place where all are recognized and accepted as brothers and sisters. But the illegality of such brothers and sisters — as harsh as this may sound to certain ears — cannot be promoted if Catholics are to respect the common good of the national family. Open borders advocacy is civilly and socially disrespectful. Immediate, temporary, transitional assistance for a person in distress who is here illegally is a mandate from Christ, but it is not on the same level as public policy.

The history of the United States — as the history of every nation — is unfortunately marked by intolerance and discrimination. It is here above all, that Catholics — respectful of the rule of law — are to be ferment of communion and change of hearts. Catholics must, beginning with themselves, be converted unto unconditional love of neighbor. But looking lovingly on your neighbor does not necessitate blurring the line of distinction between legal and illegal. In fact, in respecting the distinction, the Church manifests her respect for the common good, and brings clarity and peace to those who, feeling overwhelmed by the large influx of recent immigrants, are tempted to group together unfairly legal immigrants with illegal immigrants, and to make sweeping statements about them, in particular about the largest group of them: "Hispanics." Immigration policy is a question of respect for the common good. Protection of a nation's borders is a question of respect for its common good. Such policy and such protection in no way preclude kindness and sensitivity. Enforcement of law is not necessarily a question of harshness (as is so often portrayed in the media).

It also would have been helpful if the bishops' statement framed the reason for recent debate more precisely and accurately. The question of immigration has indeed moved to the center of public debate. But why? The question of immigration has moved to the center of public debate because of unbridled, unchecked illegal immigration that has left the majority of the American population terribly uncomfortable.

The statement seems to have a subtext, suggested from its very title ("Where all find a home"), a subtext that is oddly and disappointingly similar to the majority of mainstream media. There is vague, even weak, reference to the need for law concerning immigration (for, one might presume, it is obvious that, without law, there is social chaos), but any policy that is seemingly anything less than unconditional welcome of any and all immigrants in "need" (i.e. open borders) is (or at least comes across as being) hastily qualified as "tense" and "confused" and "intolerant" and "discriminatory" (to use the statement's adjectives that qualify the current debate).

Reference to respect for immigration law is so often made by the bishops who then, in the same breath, seem to invite dis-respect for law. How could anyone want to enforce immigration law when they are pushed back against the wall, "Dare we look at them with and through the eyes of Christ for whom no one is illegal?"5 Such statements are ambiguous, and frankly guilt-inducing. Let us not forget that Jesus Christ said, "Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar."6 Jesus had great respect for the reality of the state, and thus civil authority. To claim that someone who has entered a country illegally is law-abiding makes no sense, and is to suggest that immigration laws are morally irrelevant. Our welcome of immigrants ought to be generous, not unconditional. The latter is disrespectful of the common good.

What Is "Hispanic" Ministry?

I spent seven years in Laredo, Texas. There I lived 15 minutes by bicycle from the bridge that crossed into the heart of Nuevo Laredo, a large Mexican border city of approximately 400,000 people. Laredo was fascinating in many ways, and obliged reflection on questions of community, the common good, cultural assimilation, and how the Church ought to navigate such issues.

I found myself a "minority," so to speak, in the midst of a people who surprisingly (for the most part) does not consider itself to be Mexican. And yet, I was "Anglo." "Anglo" is, of course, an appellation essentially predicated on that of "Hispanic" (or "Latino"). Such an intriguing appellation manifests the superficial and simplistic (and, dare I say, counter-productive) labeling of persons that has become an American pastime. In the case of "Anglo" and "Hispanic" we see how confusing such labeling has become, for, in order to "accommodate" the latter, the categories of race and language have been combined under the nebulous heading of "ethnicity," leaving even the Census Bureau at a loss.

The bishops of Maryland statement regarding immigration is indeed largely with respect to this currently predominant group of recent immigrants to the United States, of those whom we call "Hispanic." The terms "Hispanic" and "Latino" are actually terms that do not really exist outside of the United States. They are American mental constructs, that create a generic category of persons, and, might I add, the facile, univocal adoption of the term "Hispanic" by the Church (with little philosophical reflection as to its significance) frankly poses questions, and indeed merits further discernment. The very important question of the nature of "Hispanic ministry" beckons sound exploration.

I asked the National Council of La Raza, "the largest national 'Latino' civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States," to define "Hispanic" for me. Their initial (quickly received) response was entirely dissatisfying. They in fact hide behind the confusion of the Census Bureau:

The terms Latino and Hispanic are used interchangeably by the U.S. Census Bureau to identify persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central and South American, Dominican, and Spanish descent; they may be of any race.

In my response, I made the following statement and asked the following questions, which I believe the Church, who has adopted the category "Hispanic," must answer. By the way, the questions have yet to be answered by La Raza. If I allow myself a note of cynicism, I can only guess that real answers to them might undermine an agenda.

Given the racial and cultural diversity of this vast grouping, it would seem that the only real thing that associates such persons is the Spanish language. If so, a few questions arise:

  • What becomes of those Americans of such descent who do not speak Spanish?
  • What of persons from these countries who speak indigenous languages rather than Spanish?
  • If the associative factor is the Spanish language, does not this appellation give primacy to the Spanish colonization over the indigenous cultures?
  • Are persons "Hispanic" in these various countries? Or
  • Is "Hispanic" a mental construct conceived in the United States?
  • Do not persons from Spain prefer to be called Spaniard, since such an appellation recognizes their culture?
  • Why use the categorization, given how generic and vague it is and how it eliminates racial and cultural diversity?

The Church's evaluation of the current immigration situation must avoid the generalities common to civil society. One would hope that it is in the Church where the most nuanced thinking would be found. For the Church, whose mission entails highlighting and embracing the uniqueness of each individual, of each child of God, to use sweeping categories such as "Hispanic" (or "Latino") is unfortunate and simplistic. To be truly philosophically sound and consistent, and to be truly respectful of diversity, the Church ought to refer to this portion of her flock as a whole as Hispanophone ("Spanish-speaking"). Otherwise, we ought to speak of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and Bolivians, etc., that is to say, of real cultural groups, and this only to the extent that persons have a real (not imagined) association with them.

Latinos: "Objects of Suspicion, Intolerance, and Discrimination"?

The Hispanophone population is, by many standards, quite privileged. We are, in fact, in many places, experiencing the bilingualization of the United States with little or no input from the American people. What reasonable American would ever expect such privileges abroad? We are experiencing this bilingual phenomenon (to the exclusion, by the way, of other linguistic groups, including the 1.8 million French-speakers) when language is constitutive of the koinonia (fellowship or sharing) that maintains social cohesion — in the midst of other forms of diversity. A little trip to Belgium, for example, would erase any doubts about the cultural and national divisiveness of bilingualism.

I recall a recent year spent at a parish with a fairly large "Hispanic" population, such that there was a full-time associate pastor from El Salvador, to minister to them. In the parish there is a separate Religious Education program for this community within the community (that is to say, a fairly separate community) when all of these young people attend the same schools as the larger body of the parish's young people, are friends with them, and when many of them socialize among themselves in English. My office was next to that of this other associate pastor. Most of the time, I would hear the children playing in the hallway in English. And I was told that many of them actually wish to be part of the larger youth program.

When I asked this associate pastor why he supported the extra logistical and financial burden to the parish for a program that, as far as I could tell, was largely unnecessary, he told me that it was the parents who wanted it. Through interaction with some of the members of the "Hispanic" community (who were often invited to broader parochial gatherings, but most often declined the offer), I came to realize what I had heard and still hear in various circles: They have little intention of participating in the larger common good. They will do what they can to retain their cultural heritage even if it means creating a new, supposed "heritage" called "Hispanic," and even if it means ignoring the existent cultural reality that is "American."

Two questions arose in my mind:

  • Are we serving the common good of the parish, when what has been created, thanks to such cultural gymnastics, is two communities, whose true common good, i.e. membership in this spiritual entity, the Church — which transcends culture, is largely being ignored?
  • Is the parish supposed to be a cultural tool that supersedes the spiritual reality of the one body that we are meant to be?

The fact that "Latinos" have become the "objects of suspicion, intolerance, and discrimination" is, dare I say, almost understandable. What is to be thought of persons who, in apparently large numbers, often do not seem to respect the common good by not wanting to integrate? What is to be thought when more than 10 percent of the Mexican population has moved north of the border? It is the equivalent of two million North Koreans moving into South Korea, of 130 million Chinese crossing the border into Russia, of 14 million Russians pouring into Germany, of 30 million Americans landing in Iraq. If well-ordered charity begins at home, then the Church ought to extend compassionate understanding to American citizens as they struggle with what amounts, in many ways, to an "invasion." The American people are understandably uncomfortable: when they see their neighborhoods quickly changing, large numbers of persons with whom they cannot communicate, large numbers of persons who sometimes do not seem to want to communicate with them, persons who, after many years in the United States, still refer to another country as their country. The discomfort is, once again, exacerbated when the important distinctions between civil duties and Christian duties is blurred. When an official statement by members of the hierarchy includes in the definition of neighbor "undocumented immigrants" as though the distinction between legal and illegal is ethically neutral, and without articulating that obligations to the common good remain, light is not shed, but obscured.

The Church and the Promotion of Fair Immigration

Moreover, fair immigration means allowing equal-opportunity immigration, which is not the current case in the United States. As Yale professor Amy Chua has written:

That the 11 million to 20 million illegal immigrants are 80 percent Mexican and Central American is itself a problem; if the U.S. immigration system is to reflect and further our ethnically neutral identity, it must itself be ethnically neutral, offering equal opportunity to Sudanese, Estonians, Burmese, and so on. The starkly disproportionate ratio of Latinos — reflecting geographical fortuity and a large measure of law-breaking — is inconsistent with this principle.7

As regards the question of fair immigration, two questions arise:

  • Why is the Catholic Church in the United States not addressing the imbalance in immigration, i.e. the disproportionately high numbers from Mexico? Why does the Church seem to be contributing to it, for example, by equipping our seminarians to be able to exchange linguistically with them and no others from outside the Hispanophone world?
  • Why do we not decry the immigration policies of countries such as Mexico which make our borders look like the pearly gates?

No Comfortable Solution

Serving basic human needs is indispensable (cf. I John 3:17). And charity urges us to provide for whomever may appear on our doorsteps. But, again, such concrete and generous love does not translate directly into public policy. The argument that is based on circumstance ("Well, you cannot simply deport 12-20 million people") and not an understanding of the common good is not an argument, but rather resignation or the promotion of an ideology. Resignation and/or ideology are always, in the long run, contrary to love.

What ought to be done is obviously a question with no easy solution. The Catholic finds him or herself with a heavy heart, caught between various options: that of legalizing a massive influx of persons, which seems to be the higher road of charity, and that of enforcement of existent law, which will lead to some attrition, and which is more respectful of the common good. Whatever option is pursued as a nation, we need to grow in love, which will hopefully purify us of the greed that has so greatly contributed to our getting into this immigration bind, the same greed that has induced so many to turn a blind eye.

It would be extremely helpful for the Church hierarchy to articulate for the faithful the need for great sensitivity and generosity in immediate, emergency care for illegal immigrants, but also the fact that they remain illegal, and that our ministry should not and cannot circumvent their illegality. The fact that the eyes of Christ first see all of us as children of God does not mean that they do not see the human reality of the community, and thus such illegality. It makes discernment perhaps more emotionally challenging. But, at least, there is some clarity, for the fundamental truths of the human community, which our faith respects, remain. It is indeed my wish that true, honest dialogue on this terribly sensitive issue in the Church can some day be had.

End Notes

1 "Who Speaks for the Church?" First Things, June 15, 2007,

2 Archbishop Edwin O'Brien,"The Church's Beacon Shines Brightly," The Catholic Review, July 16, 2008,

3 Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 26, "Of the order of charity", art. 8, respondeo.

4 "The Church's Beacon Shines Brightly," op. cit.

5 Ibid.

6 Matthew 22:21.

7 Amy Chua, "The Right Road to America?" The Washington Post, December 16, 2007,

Isis' story

I would not have found the jornaleros had it not been for Isis. She and her friend were sitting on the bench next to mine in Lafayette Park on Saturday afternoon and I overheard her asking where the rally was. I was wondering too so I asked Isis which rally she was waiting for. After a few phone calls Isis, a self-described guerrilla photographer, was able to determine that the jornaleros were in fact starting at 15th and Constitution. We started to walk over there and our conversation quickly turned to matters of faith.

Isis, a cultural Jew who is pro-choice, told me about filming a confrontation between a group of pro-life demonstrators and some abortion clinic defenders. A young Catholic pro-lifer was giving out rosaries to everyone. One of the clinic defenders took the young man's rosary and threw it in the dirt. Isis was horrified. Although she is a Jew and did not agree with the young man on abortion, she could not bear to see anyone's religious symbol desecrated. She stopped taking photos to pick up the rosary and tried as best as she could to clean it off. Then she handed it back to the young man, apologizing profusely for the disrespectful act of the pro-choice demonstrator.

Isis' story did not end there. As a Jew, she said, she was aware of how many of her ancestors survived the Holocaust because they had been sheltered by Catholic priests, nuns, and lay families. Many of those Jewish children were given rosaries by their hosts, both for spiritual comfort and to conceal their real religious identity from their persecutors so that they would survive physically. She said that many of the survivors kept those rosaries as cherished possessions and when the Holocaust Museum opened, some donated their rosaries to the collection.

I told Isis about St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Polish Catholic priest who volunteered to take the place of a married father in a group of ten prisoners selected to die of starvation, thus saving that man's life at Auschwitz.

Hearing Isis' story was particularly moving as we walked amid the rabid anti-Obama protestors that had invaded our city that day. It is a reminder of how we can disagree without being disagreeable, that we need to work towards respect and civility in public discourse for our mutual survival.

Exaltation of the Cross

Today is the feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross. I particularly like Miguel Arias' write-up on this moment in Christian history in "Palabra, Vida Y Fe" so here it is in English:

The devotion to the Holy Cross on which our Lord Jesus Christ died began with the early Christians. This feast was instituted after Emperor Heraclius recovered the Cross on which Our Lord died because it has been stolen by the Persians in the 7th century. When he got it back, Heraclius, dressed in all his regal splendor, wanted to carry the Cross on his shoulders up to Calvary, but he could not. Zacharias, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, told him that in order to carry Christ's Cross, he had to get rid of all his wealth and worldly power. So, barefoot and without his crown, Heraclius carried the Cross of Our Lord to Calvary, to the Basilica of the Resurrection, that was consecrated on September 14, 335.

In his personal reflection on the feast, Arias comments: "The path and the victory of Our Lord is not through weapons or violence, but through peace and faithfulness to the Cross, to the suffering that brings true liberation. The Cross is not a defeat, it is the victory of the vanquished. Jesus' victory is our victory."

Photo: Painting of the Exaltation of the Cross by Spanish painter Juan de Valdés Leal, Getty Museum. A barefoot Heraclius presents the Cross to the Patriarch of Jerusalem.