Friday, September 25, 2009

Immigration News Roundup - 9/25/09

1. La Migra en Español: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has finally created a Spanish Web portal with information en español on all visa categories, citizenship test preparation materials, etc...Even many of the forms can now be downloaded in Spanish. As someone who has experienced the frustration of trying to find this information in the past and often had to rely on immigration attorneys' Web sites -- they'll provide the translation but it comes with a heavy dose of solicitation -- I am very happy that the government has stepped up to the plate.

2. Number of Foreign-Born U.S. Residents Drops: The Washington Post reports that "the number of foreign-born people living in the United States declined last year, particularly among low-skilled immigrants from Mexico, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday.

3. Also from the Bureau of the Census:

4. U.S. Census Uses Telenovela to Reach Hispanics: The New York Times reports that in an episode of “Más Sabe el Diablo” (Telemundo) "Perla Beltrán (played by Michelle Vargas -- photo), a young woman from the wrong side of the tracks in New York, has suffered a great deal lately — her husband, a thief, has been murdered and she has been associating with lowlifes. But she thinks she has found a way out: as a recruiter for the United States Census Bureau"..."With the census story line, “we’re trying to fight the fear,“ Aurelio Valcarcel, an executive producer at Telemundo Studios, said. The campaign is not merely about civic participation. Next year’s count is likely to mean more advertising revenue for Telemundo, a unit of NBC Universal, and other Spanish-language networks over time. Nielsen Ratings sample of television households is directly tied to the census results..."

5. Leader has back-up immigration plan: In an interview with Associated Press reporter Suzanne Gamboa, Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund says that if comprehensive immigration legislation seems unlikely in 2010, Congress should make down payments by passing smaller-scale reforms...Lawmakers could address the need for foreign agricultural workers, provide legal status to high school graduates brought to the country illegally as children, and create equity for same sex partners who want to come to the U.S. or get green cards...Saenz said other priorities for MALDEF are: Countering calls by some in the Latino community for Census boycotts as a way to secure immigration reform and protecting Latino's voting rights when legislatures take up redistricting after the Census.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walking with Zelaya: Padre Andres Tamayo

Events in Honduras are changing by the hour. As I am writing this, dialogue has started again with various representatives of different sectors approaching President Zelaya where he has sought refuge in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa. Among Zelaya's visitors was the auxilliary bishop of Tegucigalpa, Mons. Juan José Pineda. The United Nations Security Council has scheduled a session on the crisis tomorrow morning.

But we cover the crisis from a church perspective and to us, the interesting person is not Zelaya but someone who is holed up in the Brazilian embassy with him: Fr. Andrés Tamayo. Fr. Tamayo celebrated Mass with the president and his supporters this morning at the embassy, but mostly he has been enduring the same conditions as everyone else. Tamayo gave a brief interview yesterday to the Argentinian Critica Digital.

According to Tamayo, life inside the Brazilian headquarters in Tegucigalpa is ever more difficult. The number of visitors increased dramatically Tuesday morning after the Honduran police and military dispersed hundreds of Zelaya supporters congregated around the building with tear gas. "At the moment there are some 70 people living in here and that's too many for this place," Tamayo said. According to him, the people are lying down on the floor and "are half asleep, half awake, always on the alert." President Zelaya, "has settled in an office where he can rest in an armchair."

Are you thinking of reducing the number of occupants in the embassy?

We have already done this. We put all of the children out, because the building can't hold many people. They cut the electricity and the other problem is that it was difficult for us to bring them food, and the people were hungry.

How much food do you have?

A little while ago the Red Cross was able to send in some food. We will see what we can do to hold up. There is a curfew here and it is hard to get supplies.

Are you afraid that the military will come into the building?

There are lots of threats. On Monday they said they would stop us at one in the morning and they came at five. Micheletti says that he is not going to invade the embassy but it is being surrounded by more and more military units. They have lost their minds and nothing matters to them, not even the law. A little while ago, they came from the courts to read the case against President Zelaya.

Father Tamayo, a Franciscan priest, was born in El Salvador but left his native land during that country's civil war. In Honduras, he was ordained in 1984 in Juticalpa and also became a naturalized Honduran citizen. Earlier this month, the coup government stripped Tamayo of his citizenship and initiated legal proceedings that may result in his expulsion from the country. The priest was also removed from his parish in Salama in the Diocese of Orlancho. In an interview, with Tiempo, Monsignor Luis Alfonso Santos of the Diocese of Copan indicated that if Fr. Tamayo were to request an assignment in his diocese, the matter would be taken into consideration as each bishop in Honduras is autonomous. The bishop reiterated that Pope Benedict XVI is against the coup d'état and for the people, based on the principles of the Catholic Church.

A group of priests in Copan has just issued a new statement about the crisis that included some words of support for Fr. Tamayo: "As ordained priests, we are in solidarity with our brother in the priesthood, Father Andrés Tamayo, defender of our forests and prophet of these times, demanding that the Catholic Church should not aid the economically rich group but the poor."

Environmental Activist

Prior to his involvement with the struggle to restore President Zelaya to power, Father Andrés Tamayo was a leader in the struggle for environmental justice in Honduras. He directed the Environmental Movement of Olancho (MAO), a coalition of subsistence farmers and community and religious leaders who are defending their lands against uncontrolled commercial logging. Together they continue to exert heavy pressure on the Honduran government to reform its national forest policy.

The Department of Olancho, Honduras's largest and most biologically diverse region, hosts a wide variety of forest eco-systems, including mountaintop cloud forests, rare old-growth pine forests and lowland tropical rainforests. But unregulated logging had already taken more than half of Olancho's 12 million acres of forest. Erosion was widespread, water levels were dangerously low and natural springs had dried up completely. One community had to dig 120 wells before hitting water.

Not willing to stay silent as he witnessed the effects of clear-cutting and water shortages, Tamayo mobilized local residents and drew the government's attention to Olancho's urgent environmental issues. In 2003, he led a regional campaign that stopped the development of a major highway that would have increased access to forests for new sawmills. Later that year, Tamayo led the "March for Life," a 3,000-person, 120-mile, weeklong march to the nation's capital. It brought the environmental debate to the national stage and inspired other rural communities to organize against illegal logging. One month later, the Honduran president agreed to meet with Tamayo. In recognition of his efforts, he was awarded the 2003 Honduras National Human Rights Award.

In June 2004, more than 5,000 people joined a second "March for Life," drawing attention to alleged corruption in the government's National Forestry Agency. The March led to a government investigation, prompting the resignation of the agency's General Manager.

His environmental activism earned Father Tamayo the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2005. That same year, Father Tamayo gave a detailed interview with Michelle Nijhuis, a freelance journalist from Colorado. Nijhuis asked Fr. Tamayo about the harassment and death threats that had dogged him. His answer may give us some insight into the man who is walking at Zelaya's side today: "My courage emerges from my own consciousness. Death threats don't perplex me -- I don't waste my time thinking about death. I work in defense of life, for the fulfillment of the gospel, and I work to be faithful to God and the people."

Photos: President Zelaya meets Bishop Juan José Pineda; Celebrating Mass in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa; Fr. Tamayo as environmental activist

New book about President Fernando Lugo

There is a new book out this month about Paraguay's President Fernando Lugo. We are taking the liberty of reprinting the book review from Thinking Faith: The Online Journal of the British Jesuits. The author of the review is Fr. Michael Campbell-Johnston, SJ, who has lived and worked extensively in Central America and the Caribbean.

The Priest of Paraguay: Fernando Lugo and the making of a nation

Hugh O’Shaughnessy & Edgar Venerando Ruiz Diaz
Zed Books, London & New York, 2009
176 pages
ISBN: 9781848133136

The story of a Roman Catholic bishop who resigned his bishopric to run in a presidential election was always going to be a fairly unique one. Even more so when, having won the election, he was welcomed by the Vatican as a legitimate president and sent a present by the Pope. Fernando Lugo is the man in question and his country of Paraguay the beneficiary of his decision. His is an extraordinary story, related in detail in this important and gripping book which also paints a vivid picture of a reality shared by other Latin American countries.

Almost from its outset, Paraguay seemed to be a doomed nation. Since gaining independence in 1811, its history has been dominated by long periods of political instability and devastating wars with its neighbours. In the mid-fifties it fell under the brutal 36-year dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner, which, as the authors put it, ‘left Paraguay like a house stricken with dry rot.’ The richest 10% of the population had 40 times the income of the poorest 10%, while the richest 1% of landowners were sitting on 80% of the land. The authors show clearly how this situation was maintained through a combination of trickery, corruption and terror, by a ruling party (the Colorados) which held power for 61 years. The regime was recognised and supported by industrialised nations concerned with safeguarding the prosperity of their markets, especially for weapons.

This was the world in which Fernando Lugo grew up. Born in 1951 in a country village to a railway worker and his schoolmistress wife, he both witnessed and experienced injustice from childhood. He was 11 when his father, Guillermo, was arrested and subjected to ‘waterboarding’, a process the Paraguayan police had learnt from the USA and that was later formally taught in the School of the Americas established in the Panama Canal Zone. It did serious damage to Guillermo’s kidneys and caused his death. Fernando’s three brothers were also tortured by Stroessner’s police and the family pressured him to forget any ideas of going into politics. Instead, in 1970 he entered the Paraguayan novitiate of the Divine Word Missionaries.

The authors trace, in some detail, Lugo’s religious formation and his gradual introduction to the then new liberation theology. A crucial stage in this process was a year he spent in Ecuador just after his ordination during which he fell under the influence of Bishop Leonidas Proaño who, a year previously, had been arrested with 16 other bishops for ‘subversive activities’. As Lugo said later, ‘I was proud that one of the bishops detained in Riobamba by the military was Paraguayan, Mgr Bogarín Argaña’, who for years worked among the peasants pushing for land reform. However, when Lugo returned to his homeland, Stroessner made it known to the priest’s superiors that they should send him out of the country, so he was sent to the Gregorian University in Rome where he did a degree in spirituality and the Church’s social teaching.

After returning to Paraguay, in 1994 he was appointed bishop of San Pedro del Ycuamandeyú, one of the poorest areas of the country. Over the subsequent ten years, he became a champion of the rural poor and indigenous peoples, working through base Christian communities (comunidades eclesiales de base, whose numbers in the diocese he more than doubled), living in a small house indistinguishable from any other, using the Guaraní language and travelling around the diocese on a motorbike. As might be expected, he emerged gradually as one of the few voices that could speak with authority on behalf of the poor, and a number of political groups sought him out and began looking to him as a possible leader of the opposition and presidential candidate. Lugo resisted the call for a long time, but finally announced his candidature on Christmas Day 2006. He was elected comfortably two years later, released from his vows but faced with the daunting problems of trying to ‘haul Paraguay out of the quagmires in which history landed it.’

The value of this well-researched book is that it provides the background necessary to understand the huge task that now faces Fernando Lugo. And his story is not only of relevance to the situation in Paraguay: Lugo joins the company of Lula of Brazil, Chávez of Venezuela, Morales of Bolivia and Correa of Ecuador, all of whom are engaged in a struggle for social justice that could transform Latin America and give new hope and life to its people. There may be disagreement over some of the methods employed or even the objectives sought, but many in Latin America will feel that is not for wealthy, industrialised nations to determine these: they may rather look to such nations to support their attempts to put right intolerable situations. Hopefully this book will go some way towards increasing understanding of the huge task facing Latin Americans.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Faith Communities and Immigration Reform

To a room full of immigration rights supporters, the Center for American Progress unveiled its new report by CAP Senior Fellow Sam Fullwood III on Loving Thy Neighbor: Immigration Reform and Communities of Faith. The report looks at a number of case studies where religious communities have come together in support of immigrants from the aid given to families of the victims of the huge raid at Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville, Iowa, to the Welcoming Immigrants Network in Texas, to a pilgrimage to an immigrant detention center in Bellingham, Washington (see photo).

The topic was introduced by Congressman James Clyburn (D-SC), the son of a pastor who told us about his work with migrant farm laborers in his state before he went into public office. Clyburn stressed that the history of migrant labor is important, that there were no stringent immigration laws at that time, and he said that "we must pass an immigration bill that focuses on how we got to where we are today." He quoted from James and Micah and concluded that we need to "get off our high horse" and go where the need is. "Our neighbor is not defined by church membership. Our neighbor is not defined by ethnicity," said the congressman.

Angela Kelley, CAP's Vice President for Immigration Policy and Advocacy, then moderated a panel discussion that included Mr. Fullwood, Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, VA, and Rev. Dean Reed, Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Stephensville, Texas and one of the founders of the Welcoming Immigrants Network. The speakers talked about their work on immigration issues and concurred that it is important to a) put a human face on immigration by talking about the plights of people who are known to a congregation and b) recognize that America was built by immigrants.

At Kelley's invitation, members of the panel told stories of personal experiences with immigration that shaped their decisions to become activists. Rev. Reed spoke of wanting to hire a Bulgarian man who would have been a perfect fit for his church as music director only to be forced to shelve the idea because of the inability to cut through all the immigration red tape. Cardinal Mahony spoke of being present as a young child when the INS raided his father's poultry plant looking for (non-existent) undocumented workers. He said that the terror of the experience stayed with him and moves him to continue to fight for the rights of immigrants.

In his prepared statement, which the Cardinal did not get to read because of the format of the event but which was distributed afterwards, he addressed the anti-immigrant rhetoric that has emerged in connection with the health care reform debate. "Let us pray today that our public officials are able to move beyond this negative political atmosphere and work together to eliminate persistent injustices in our nation's is my belief that the faith community, working with others, holds the key to eventual victory on the issue of immigration."

Or, in Mr. Fullwood's delightful way of expressing it, "Immigration has to become churchy."

Monday, September 21, 2009

Christ was cleaning the bathrooms...

Another retreat come and gone and I do not feel renewed, just tired and depressed. At the end, everyone packed up and left as quickly as possible, including the preacher who didn't even wait for the closing announcements but peremptorily asked that we conclude the Mass and then bolted out of the auditorium like a bat out of hell.

And it felt like hell, sitting there listening to a concoction of sexist marital recommendations, conservative political pronouncements, and extremely traditional and rigid church teachings. Many of those who were free not to have to sit through two days of this, chose not to come back on Sunday.

If our marriages are failing and our husbands are unfaithful, the preacher said, it's our fault because we spend too much time and attention on the children and not enough stroking our husbands' egos and buying sexy lingerie. But if our children are antisocial video game addicts and dress like sluts, it's also our fault because we don't spend enough time with them. We can't win.

And we are also spiritually anemic because we don't go to daily Mass and if we go to the Saturday night vigil Mass, well, we're not really committed Catholics. Oh, and chronic anemia leads to leukemia, said the preacher, so when he asked if we agreed with him, I could not raise my hand because I was too busy rolling my eyes.

He doesn't want us to support health care reform either, the preacher said. Doesn't matter if it will insure millions of people who previously had no access to medical care and he doesn't even care if it insures undocumented immigrants or not. If the bill does not contain airtight anti-abortion language, he's against it.

It must be nice to be a celibate male with a cushy diocesan health care policy and no dependents. What a luxury not to have to lie awake at night worrying about how you're going to buy medicine for your asthmatic child when you have to choose between paying an additional premium for dependent care coverage or paying the electric bill. To be able to go around speaking against health care reform because you don't have to work two jobs to pay for your wife's cancer treatments because she can't get any insurance due to her condition. New research has come out showing that 45,000 Americans die every year due to lack of health insurance, but I guess since they aren't fetuses, they don't count...

The preacher goes on to tell a story about a woman who had seven abortions and now that she wants to have a child, she cannot conceive. I wait for some words of compassion, something about hope, miracles, another chance. Nothing. "God gave her seven children and she killed them all." Punto final. No forgiveness. The door to redemption firmly shut in her face.

The preacher is the great avenger of Christian morality. He "knows" when there is brujería in a home and he's proud that he walked out of that house after having been invited to dinner by the family. He's pleased to report that he ordered a catechist to wipe the makeup off the faces of the girls in a First Communion class.

We are supposed to be impressed by this, but I'm left wondering what happened to Jesus, the Son of God who loved all of us, including His enemies, to His death. What happened to the Christ who forgives 70 x 7? But what do I know? According to the preacher, I'm just a "wordly" member of the media.

We were told we should be taking communion every day but by the time we got the lecture on Eucharistic prayer protocol (we were ordered to either kneel on the concrete floor or sit on the edge of our seats; standing was not an option even though many of us come from countries where standing throughout the Eucharistic prayer is both accepted and considered to be respectful), and another lecture on who may or may not take communion, many of us decided to sit this one out. I stayed in my seat, wishing fervently that I had chosen to skip this event and gone to my parish where I always feel welcome, loved and accepted.

Looking up at the Crucifix above the stage, I took the time to reflect on some information I was given before the Mass that almost made me change my mind about a job I had previously decided not to apply for. I looked at Jesus and remembered about the temptation to power, to selling out for the sake of a false sense of inclusion. Jesus said: "Nothing has really changed. People like us are still on the margin and that's where we belong."

Christ did not wear a Roman collar or clerical vestments that day. Christ was outside the auditorium, cleaning bathrooms, guarding fire alarms, directing traffic, and serving food. He was selling coffee and donuts and driving people to the Metro. He was picking up trash and mopping floors. Christ is my brothers and sisters in the Renovación who don't know and don't care about my past, who don't stop speaking to me because I miss a photo-op, and who always welcome me back with a loving abrazo, no matter how many times I walk away.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: Hispanic Bishops Lobby Congress on Behalf of the Faithful

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Though they believe the church is largely on the same page as Congress when it comes to other aspects of health care and immigration reform, a delegation of Hispanic bishops came away from meetings with several groups of House and Senate leaders Sept. 17 concerned that immigrants might be left out of health reform.

At a briefing for reporters after their morning of meetings with senators and then with the groups representing congressional Hispanics, two of the bishops said they were optimistic that looming health care legislation will not fund abortions and will include conscience protections for health care workers. Those have been two major areas of concern for the Catholic Church as the legislation is being shaped.

San Antonio Archbishop Jose H. Gomez said the group of half a dozen Hispanic bishops told the members of Congress that in addition to not funding abortions and including a conscience clause, their concern is that health care reform offers a universal plan in which everyone is able to participate and that would provide care from conception to natural death.

He said they want the plan to include all immigrants, whether they're in the country legally or not, though the bishops recognize that it's probably not politically viable to expect undocumented immigrants to be covered in this bill.

"Everybody should have a way to participate," said Archbishop Gomez.

Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento, Calif., said at the briefing that besides not providing government-funded care to people in the country illegally, as President Barack Obama promised in his address to Congress Sept. 9, there has been concerns expressed that even legal immigrants might be left out of the system.

Bishop Soto said the exclusion of government-supported insurance for undocumented immigrants is an issue with which the bishops might disagree, but could concede as a political necessity. But the legislation "has to include at a minimum some kind of safety net for the undocumented," particularly if the goal of a nationwide health care reform plan is to improve the overall health of society, he said.

"We realize it's a very contentious issue," said Bishop Soto. "But there has to be some kind of a safety net." If undocumented immigrants cannot participate in health insurance, he added, "they will end up in emergency rooms."

Micheal Hill, a member of the government relations staff of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said after the briefing that proposals made in mid-September could discourage or even prohibit illegal immigrants from buying health insurance for themselves or their families.

The Immigration Policy Center Sept. 17 sent out an analysis of the Senate Finance Committee version of a health care reform bill, saying it includes "harsh eligibility restriction on legal immigrants," such as legal residency verification procedures that would discourage people from participating whether they're here legally or not.

Bishop Soto told Catholic News Service after the briefing that "the reason this even comes up is Congress has previously failed to deal with comprehensive immigration reform."

The bishops said they came away from their meetings feeling confident that comprehensive immigration reform will begin progressing through Congress soon, once health care legislation has moved off the table.

The entire group of bishops met with Senate Democrats, the Congressional Hispanic Conference, which represents Republicans, and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which represents Democrats. Archbishop Gomez also met separately with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Other bishops in the delegation included Bishop Ricardo Ramirez of Las Cruces, N.M.; Bishop James A. Tamayo of Laredo, Texas; Bishop Carlos A. Sevilla of Yakima, Wash.; and Auxiliary Bishop Edgar Moreira da Cunha of Newark, N.J.

Besides health care and immigration reform, the bishops' agenda for the meetings included encouraging a national housing policy that helps low-income families, the elderly and other vulnerable people and education programs that help keep students in school, including a voucher program that includes those in Catholic schools.


  • Health Care and Immigration. The U.S. Bishops have for decades been in favor of health care reform that is truly universal and respects the life and dignity of all, including the poor and legal immigrants. Health care legislation must allow all legal immigrants, regardless of income level, to participate in any new health care system and oppose any ban that would prevent them from participating for five years. Such legislation must also support the inclusion of pregnant women and children, regardless of their legal status.
  • Just Immigration Reform. The U.S. Bishops support just immigration reform, which contains several core elements. This would include broad-based legalization through a program that provides an opportunity for “earned” permanent residency and a new worker program that includes a living wage. The U.S. Bishops support family-based immigration reform and a restoration of due process protections lost in the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. The U.S. Bishops also support addressing the root causes of migration and the inclusion of the DREAM Act and AgJOBS in reform legislation.
  • Hispanics and Poverty (Housing). The U.S. Bishops support a national housing policy that includes preservation and production of quality housing for low income families, the elderly and other vulnerable people. The U.S. Bishops also call for an end to abusive lending penalties and urge Congress to fund the National Housing Trust Fund, which will preserve or produce 1.5 million rental homes in the next ten years and 200,000 new housing choice vouchers annually for ten years.
  • Hispanics and Education. The U.S. Bishops encourage the federal government to promote programs that keep students in school, include Catholic students and teachers in federal education program, especially reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, reauthorize the D.C. Scholarship program to assist low income students in the District of Columbia to receive financial assistance to attend private schools, and support funding for students to attend community colleges where many Hispanic youth are educated.

Fifty Years in Hispanic Ministry: Rev. Gerard John Redden

Today, Google coughed up an interview with one of the most dedicated individuals doing Hispanic ministry in this country...and the hermano is from Northern Ireland! (via Peru). Fr. Gerard John Redden just celebrated his 50th anniversary in the priesthood this year and he continues to follow his vocation, serving a poor Hispanic community in the San Juan Diego Pastoral Center in Ft. Pierce, Florida.

By Joe Crankshaw (Contact)
Sunday, September 20, 2009

The road from Derry, Ireland led through England, France and the teeming barrios of Peru and Ecuador, to Fort Pierce for the Rev. Gerard John Redden. Now 76, he is the director of the Juan Diego Catholic Ministry Center on Delaware Avenue. Redden graduated from All Hallows Seminary in Dublin. He received degrees in theology and philosophy and was then ordained a priest. He celebrates his 50th year in the priesthood.

Q. When you graduated and were ordained, what did you do, where did you go?

A. When you enter seminary, you choose a diocese. I chose Scotland because my father was born in Scotland. My first parish was Perth. I was in Scotland for nine years.

Q. How did you end up in South America?

A. They needed priests for South America. I thought, why not? I was young and wanted to get into that kind of work. I really wanted to get into work with the poor, that was my main objective. I wanted to work in undeveloped countries and I went to Peru. I studied at the university there, then was placed in what is called the “Barriadas.” There were a couple of million people who came and just took over the land. Missionaries went in to work. I went to one of those groups and it made a huge change in my life.

Q. What was your reaction to all this?

A. I discovered the enormous history of Peru, the Incas and all that. You cannot be there long and not learn of it. But, I was also appalled by the poverty, the straw houses, the utter lack of sanitary sewers and so on. I was utterly appalled. But I lived there. My first parish was with two other priests and we had the care of 90,000 people. I specialized in groups. I studied the work of Paolo Freire, a Brazilian who began a radical work in the education field to make people aware of who they were and where they were. I wanted to make them understand that God wants more for you. I wanted to liberate them from the extreme, unbelievable poverty. The people were down from the mountains and their religion was part superstition. I went out of my way to make them understand the big Gringo was not there to do the job, they were.

Q. How many years were you there in South America?

A. Nine years, six in Peru and three in Ecuador. We didn’t work for mass conversions because you couldn’t handle them. What we tried to do was to educate some and let them lead the others. You have to accept the reality of what was there and work with that. Then I became interested in liberation theology. It is very difficult to avoid it. I became a disciple of Gustavo Gutierrez, a controversial theologian who lived in the slums of Lima. But I have to be honest, it is difficult to see a loving God in those kinds of situations. You wonder how He can see His creations treated in that fashion and exploited.

Q. How did the civil authorities react?

A. They didn’t like it. But I did not think I was doing anything wrong. I resented the poor being used as garbage. I thought working with the people was what the Gospel is all about.

Q. Why did you leave?

A. My mother died at the end of the 1970s and I went back to Scotland. I found it something different from South America. But I learned the church is not a building, we are the church. I learned they wanted a priest to work in Florida among the Latins in 1983. The Bishop let me come. Bishop Daley sent me to Indian River and St. Lucie counties.

Q. Where did you go, what did you see?

A. I found no priests who spoke Spanish. I was in Fellsmere. I said Mass in a field and the people started coming. Then I had a small hall. A Methodist minister came to me and offered the use of his church. That was an ecumenical moment. He never charged me. Then we built a church in Fellsmere in 1994.

Q. But we needed a center from which to work, and eventually we got this center in Fort Pierce. We minister to many Hispanics, offer social services through Catholic Charities, and provide educational and social programs.

Q. It sounds as if you have been successful in working for the poor?

A. Perhaps, but I worry because I have no priests coming behind me to take over and I am getting old.