Saturday, November 14, 2009

Leonardo Boff in Alicante

by Angel Bartolomé (Translation by Rebel Girl)
La Verdad

The first thing that drew Brazilian Jesuit [Sic. Translator's note: Actually Leonardo was never a Jesuit. He is an ex-Franciscan] Leonardo Boff's attention yesterday after stepping onto Alicante soil was the heat of November. "This is a consequence of global warming. It seems like we are in Brazil." He oozes intelligence from every pore. He enjoys an enviable mental agility and eloquence that those who presume themselves to be scholars would wish for themselves. But an aura of humility makes his figure grander, with an ample head of hair streaked with white.

- What are you doing in Alicante?

- I am on a European tour to warn of the consequences of climate change and the measures to be taken if we don't want there to be an ecological disaster that could destroy the planet soon.

- Where have you been?

- I have come from Austria and Switzerland, where there is a huge concern. Now in Spain I have met with fifty entrepreneurs to address global warming of the Earth and create new habits that will emerge from the crisis.

- The problem is that bad?

- Society has a collective responsibility that must be addressed in a supportive way. What can we expect from the global crisis? We will be in a tragic situation if there is not a qualitative leap in the defense of nature; we are on the road to tragedy.

- What should we do?

- My thesis is to shape a solution based on the Earth Charter. It's a social question, one of solidarity , but also an ecological one.

- How is that done?

- In Brazil, through the Petrópolis program, we have applied liberation theology in the neighborhoods, with legal advice in order to reach young people and street people, but also victims of domestic violence.

- What do they do?

- We developed the Pão e Beleza (Bread and Beauty) program. It consists first of a good bath and then dinner and then gets to beauty.

- Beauty?

- Taking on the problems through dialogue, solidarity and personal effort.

- Need Help?

- We got Lula to get involved and the cost of food and cleanliness come from the Administration.

- You spoke of new habits. What would those be?

- We come from an economy based on exploitation of the Earth's resources for human consumption. This system has brought great benefits but only for a small part of humanity. Noam Chomsky says there are three people that the world that produce more income than 40 countries together. Wealth is concentrated in a few people. This creates injustice and tremendous ecological and social inequality.

- Hence the warming?

- We have devoured the Earth's resources. We can not continue. We're headed for a humanitarian catastrophe. If warming continues into the year 2038, droughts and floods will destroy the planet.

- So?

- The consumer has to be more frugal and supportive.

- You were one of the protagonists of liberation theology. You confronted the Church hierarchy but now you seem more concerned about climate change than theology. Why?

- I still believe in liberation theology. But it's always open. Under construction. The main thing is to listen to the cries of the oppressed but also to listen to the cry of the earth, the cry of poverty. I have not abandoned my ideas, not in the slightest.

- What can you say about how the Catholic Church is today?

- Regretably, I see that the Church is not mobilized against the ecological crisis. It is not up to the world's needs. There is a deficit. Other churches, yes, but not the Catholic one. We must work quickly and together.

- You think it's that bad?

- The current pope has made a huge effort to strengthen the Church and abandon the dialogue with other faiths. That is a mistake. As is distancing himself from Jews and Muslims and growing closer to Lefebvre and resurrecting Latin. We must rebel against this internal shift. Today the challenge is to help get out of the ecological and social crisis. The Catholic Church has lost his way.

- What do you think of the Spanish Catholic Church?

- I can not talk about it because I do not know it; what I can say instead is that there are magnificent Spanish priests in Brazil with some exceptional qualities, such as Father Casaldáliga.

- Is there a crisis of vocations?

- We live in a time of return to spirituality. People are very tired of materialism. There is a search for new non-material dimensions. But young people ahve not found an answer in the Church because it is a very rigid institution. Spirituality must be sought outside of official doctrine.

- How?

- Humankind needs dreams. Religion is a source of dreams. Life is not just entertainment and consumption. Thus the human being feels empty.

- Why?

- Global domination is in the hands of the G-20 but everyone else is ignored. Humanity consumes 30% more resources than what is available and the problem of drinking water is tremendous. We must listen to the poor and take solidarity measures.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sisters of Selma

This is not something new, but I just had the opportunity to watch this wonderful DVD, Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change. Made by Alabama Public Television with funding from numerous sources including the Catholic Communications Campaign, the documentary interviews some of the nuns from different congregations who traveled to Selma, Alabama in 1965 to march with civil rights protestors.

They include some of the first African American women to enter the religious life and, as a side, you get some perspective on how much discrimination existed within the Church itself in those days. The nuns were reunited by the filmmaker to view themselves and the protests on tape for the first time and to discuss their experiences in retrospective. Selmians, both Catholic and Protestant, offer their views on the nuns’ contributions to history.

This would be an excellent film to air for any parish social justice group or for a youth group. There is also a homepage for the film at


Black nun discusses her role in ‘60s rights movement, Florida Catholic (CNS), 2/18/2009

Friends in the press 3: America's voices on Latin American politics

1. My friend, fellow blogger, and lay missioner John Donaghy (aka Hermano Juancito) participated in a podcast by America Magazine about the crisis in Honduras. Hermano Juancito's blog is an excellent source of reliable information about what is going on in that country.

2. And long time friend and priest, Fr. George Anderson, SJ produced this video commentary on presidential term limits in Latin America:

Friends in the press 2: Marlene Zelaya

Not to be outdone by Padre Alex, Marlene Zelaya, friend and director of the Institute for Pastoral Formation of the Spanish Apostolate of the Arlington Diocese, also got her name in today's El Tiempo Latino in connection with an article on the Institute's quinceañera retreat program.

Hacer un pacto con la vida y con Dios

En la Diósesis de Arlington organizan retiros para preparar espiritualmente a las jóvenes que van a cumplir 15 años

Por Maritza Gueler
El Tiempo Latino

La jovencita dobló el papel blanco donde había escrito sus sueños, sus deseos, sus ilusiones, y lo depositó en una pequeña canasta de mimbre al pie de la virgen. Aquella mañana, Kathy Estrada, supo lo que significaba cumplir 15 años y el compromiso que asumía con ella misma, y con Dios.

Kathy había ido con sus padres al retiro para quinceañeras que todos los meses organiza la Diósesis de Arlington para las familias de sus parroquias. Un requisito necesario antes de hacer la misa de los 15 años que precede a la fiesta.

La condición es que las jóvenes vayan acompañadas por sus padres. Allí, descubren lo que significa entrar en esta nueva etapa de la vida, y también un nuevo lazo espiritual.

Este festejo, que se remonta a más de cinco siglos, tiene sus raíces en diferentes culturas. Simboliza la iniciación de la jovencita a la vida adulta, y la aceptación de responsabilidades. Los jóvenes mayas y aztecas hacían una ceremonia religiosa para dar gracias a sus dioses. Era de esperar que la muchacha contribuyera a la comunidad que la había visto crecer y la había cuidado para que lograra su transición de niña a mujer.

En algunos países latinoamericanos los 15 se celebran con una gran fiesta y con una misa de iniciación en la que la iglesia católica ha puesto énfasis en los últimos años como una forma de reafirmar el vínculo de las jovencitas con Dios.

En este país, en 2004, la conferencia de obispos católicos aprobó una liturgia especial para las quinceañeras, con la intención de reafirmar el compromiso con Dios y con la Virgen María.

Y en 2002, la diócesis de Arlington vio la necesidad de que las quinceañeras tuvieran una idea más completa de lo que es festejar los 15 años. “Esta celebración a nivel religioso es algo así como un bautizo”, dijo la salvadoreña Marlene Zelaya, directora del Instituto de Formación Pastoral del Apostolado Hispano de la Diósesis de Arlington.

“Además de ser una tradición y de tener raíces en la historia, las jovencitas tienen que dar acción de gracias a Dios. Ellas reconfirman las promesas de su bautismo y eso es una parte importante para un cristiano, que es el inicio de la vida nueva en Cristo”.

En este retiro, al que asisten entre 20 y 30 quinceañeras latinas, las jóvenes pasan una mañana o una tarde compartida con su familia y con otras quinceañeras como ellas.

En las aulas del Apostolado Hispano un sacerdote les da dos charlas. Una de ellas, es una presentación de los deberes y derechos que tienen como jóvenes dentro de la iglesia, el significado de la sagrada escritura y su importancia.

“Ésta es una oportunidad para que analicen su proyecto de vida a través de las Sagradas Escrituras”, afirma Zelaya. “Y se les hace ver que Jesús llamó a los jóvenes para que lo acompañaran, y ésta es una forma de renovar esos vínculos”.

Entre los temas fundamentales del curso, las quinceañeras reciben orientación para reflexionar sobre el papel femenino dentro de la iglesia y la sociedad.

La segunda charla del curso es sobre la Virgen María como modelo de madre y mujer. “En este punto ponemos énfasis en que ellas tienen que conservar esas virtudes”, apunta Zelaya.

Mientras sueñan con su fiesta de quince y con verse vestidas de pricesas, las jovencitas, después de ver videos sobre la vida de los santos, y de hacer los ejercicios propuestos por el sacerdote, escriben una carta a la Virgen con los secretos de sus sueños de convertirse en mujer.

Para informes sobre los próximos retiros de quinceañeras: 703-841-3883.

Friends in the press 1: Padre Alex

What a pleasant surprise this morning to see my friend Padre Alex Díaz, the pastor of the Hispanic community at St. Philip's Catholic Church in Falls Church, VA on the cover of El Tiempo Latino! Padre Alex was in Silver Spring participating in a radiothon organized by El Zol radio station to benefit the victims of Hurricane Ida in his native El Salvador.

According to the article (English version by Rebel Girl):

...Father Alex Diaz of the Arlington Diocese, joined the radiothon organized by "El Zol" station and came to Megamart in Silver Spring on Tuesday the 10th to encourage people to make donations.

"This is the moment to offer shelter and support to our Salvadoran brothers and sisters," Diaz said. "We need to give some sort of comfort to these people who have been left with nothing," he added.

The priest is originally from El Salvador and he knows several of the affected areas in the department of San Vicente since he used to work there.

"I get chills seeing the images because I have walked those streets. And seeing that they no longer exist is very sad," stated Diaz, pastor of St. Philip's Church in Falls Church. "The Salvadoran countryside has been destroyed. The people are without their daily sustenance because the coffee and sugar cane crops have been destroyed," he added.

Diaz stated that Radio"El Zol" is working together with the FUNTER Telethon Foundation and the Archdiocese of San Salvador to "offer good faith and credibility" that the funds will be distributed to the neediest. The radio station collected $50,000 in only one day, Tuesday the 10th.

"I am making a commitment as a priest and a Salvadoran that the money donated here will be used for the victims of the tragedy," Diaz stressed...
Felicitaciones, Padre Alex! Está haciendo una buena obra.

In addition to SHARE Foundation which I mentioned in an earlier post on this subject, persons wanting to contribute directly to the Archdiocese of San Salvador relief effort can make donations through two banks:

Banco Agricola SA: Acct No 504-008671-6

Banco HSBC: Acct No 042510012102

Both banks have offices in the metropolitan Washington area as well as in several other states.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Antorcha Guadalupana

It seems like every year something happens and I have missed meeting up with this wonderful group of people when they get to my area. The International Antorcha Guadalupana (Guadalupan Torch) Relay Race is an event that is sponsored each year by the Tepeyac Association of New York. The race began on October 3rd at the Our Lady of Guadalupe Basilica in Mexico City and will end on December 12th at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.

The Association estimates that 25,000 registered runners are involved this year as well as any number of spontaneous runners who will accompany the torch and the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe as they progress through Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississipi, Alabama, Georgia, So. Carolina, No. Carolina, Virginia, Washington, DC, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. A complete calendar of when the Antorcha will be where is available here. It will be in the Woodbridge/Manassas area on December 1st and in Washington, DC on December 2nd and it usually makes a stop at the White House.

Here is more information about the purpose of this action from the Tepeyac Association Web site:


To unite people and families that are separated by the borders of the two countries, as well as to promote friendship and solidarity between different community groups in both countries.


The International Guadalupan Torch Relay Race...Mexico-New York, unites two nations and millions of families divided by a border. The starting point is a very sacred place in Mexico, the Guadalupan Basilica. Along its journey, the torch passes first through Mexico, through the states where the families of Mexican immigrants who are based in New York live. And then through the United States, where the immigrants live, work, and endure everything. During this relay race, the families of Mexican immigrants run and have passed the torch from hand to hand, knowing that the same torch, later on, will be carried by their relatives through the states of the North American nation until arriving at its final destination in New York City.

According to an interview given by its executive director Joel Magallán, this year the Tepeyac Association also hopes to gather at least 7,000 postcards from the runners to President Obama and Congress supporting the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' call for comprehensive immigration reform.

Let's pray for and support these courageous and faithful people as they come through our communities and go out and stand in solidarity with them.

Here is a video of the Torch crossing the border between Matamoros, Mexico and Brownsville, Texas. It was a bittersweet moment -- a handoff facilitated by the Mexican consul in Brownsville -- because the runners who had accompanied the Torch from Mexico City were prevented by our immigration policies from staying with it in the United States. Some of those interviewed in this video compared the moment to when a loved one crosses la frontera. You "hand them over" to God and whatever fate they will meet up north and trust and pray that they will be well cared for there. They also speak of their devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe and their hope that this event will be a way of encouraging others to pray for Her intercession.

La Antorcha cruza la frontera: Matamoros-Brownsville from Productions on Vimeo.

Letter to a young Internaut

This Carta a un joven internauta by the Brazilian liberation theology author Frei Betto that was just published on Adital on 11/9/2009 absolutely hits the nail on the head. I say that as someone whose life is constantly consumed by the Internet via work, Church activities and, simply, because there are many days when I feel more accepted and at home in cyberspace than in the so-called "real" world.

I know you spend long hours at the computer surfing in every direction available. I do not envy your adolescence. At your age I was embarking on student activism and I injected utopia into the veins. I had read everything by Monteiro Lobato and was starting into the works of Jorge Amado, led by "Capitanes de arena" ("Captains of sand").

I didn't like TV and after lunch I joined my gang in the street, surrendered to the emotion of youthful romance, or sat with my friends at the bar of a sandwich shop to discuss the New Cinema, bossa nova - because everything was new - or the works of Jean Paul Sartre.

I know that the Internet is a huge window on the world and history, and I usually paraphrase by saying that "Google is my shepherd, I shall not want..."

What worries me about you is the lack of cognitive synthesis. By sitting at the computer, you receive an avalanche of information and images, like the waves of lava from a volcano rush upon a village. Without clarity as to what really arouses your interest, you are not able to transform information into knowledge and entertainment into culture. You flit through endless sites while your mind drifts like a boat without a paddle, carried by the whim of the waves.

How much time do you waste trolling sites of dull conversation? Yes, it's okay to exchange messages with friends, but at least know what to say and ask. It's exciting to get lost in the virtual corridors of anonymous people accustomed to the game of hide and seek. But beware! That girl who so fascinates you by her spicy chatter might just be an old pedophile who, under the cloak of anonymity, is disguised as a beauty.

Beware of anyone who has nothing to do but dig in for hours of compulsive fingering, hunting the unwary who let themselves be dazzled by erotic messages.

Make good use of the Internet. Use it as a research tool to further your studies; visit sites that emit culture; learn the biographies of people you admire; study the history of your favorite era; look at the incredible images of the universe captured by the Hubble telescope; listen to symphonies and pop music.

But watch your health! Prolonged use of the computer can cause hand injuries through repetitive stress (read) and can cause you to become sedentary, obese, especially if next to the keyboard, you keep a bottle of soda and a bag of chips ...

Take care of your eyesight, increase the font size of the letters, let your eyes get distracted occasionally by a landscape other than just the monitor screen.

Pay attention: there is no free lunch. Do not be fooled by the idea that the computer costs just the electricity consumption, the monthly provider and Internet access fees. What keeps this machine running, the one on which I am writing this article, is advertising. Note that ads appear in every corner. They frame Google, the news, Wikipedia, etc.. It is consumerist pollution lurking near our subconsience.

Do not be enslaved by the computer. Do not let it steal from your leisure time, from reading a good book (paper, not virtual), from gatherings with your family and friends. Make it submit to the pace of your life. Put it to work only a few hours a day. Beat the rush that it provokes in many people.

And do not be fooled. The machine will never be more intelligent than the human being. It contains millions of bits of information but does not know anything. It is capable of winning at chess, but only because someone like you and me programmed it to play. It displays the best films and allows us to hear the most exciting music, but it will never be delighted by the extensive menu it offers us.

If you prefer the machine to people and use it as a refuge from your aversion to sociability, I recommend that you seek a doctor, because your self-esteem is very low and the computer will never tell you that you have to treat it as a virus. Or your self-esteem reaches the skies and you believe that there are no people at your level, so it is best to remain alone.

In both cases you are being cannibalized by the computer. And gradually you will become a merely virtual being. Which is no virtue at all, but rather the proof that you already suffer from a serious disease: electronic onanism syndrom.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Church applauds Salvadoran government's decision on Romero

There have been many news stories on the topic of the Funes administration's decision to implement the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommendations with respect to fully investigating the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero. I chose to translate this one because it also includes reaction from the Catholic Church.

EFE News Agency

Today, the Salvadoran Catholic Church celebrated the decision by the government of Mauricio Funes to implement the recommendations of the IACHR on the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, and asked that the memory of the prelate not be "manipulated".

"We are sympathetic to this gesture by President Funes and ask the Lord that the decisions that will be taken in the coming months to put the commitment that has been made into effect contribute to the reconciliation of the Salvadoran family," said Monsignor Gregorio Rosa Chavez, auxilliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Salvador.

The prelate said, without elaborating, that "this implies that the martyrdom of the pastor is to be treated with utmost respect, leaving aside any intent to manipulate his memory."

"This is sacred, we can not touch Romero with dirty hands," Rosa Chavez said at a news conference, and he opined that "justice must be done, but in order to achieve forgiveness so that society can be reconciled."

He noted also that the official decision is the culmination of an effort begun by Archbishop Arturo Rivera y Damas, who sued the State before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) for failing to properly investigate the murder of Romero.

On the announcement by the Funes government, which acknowledged "fully" the authority of the IACHR and the binding nature of its recommendations, Rosa Chávez said that "thus the commitment to comply with the provisions of the resolution issued by the agency in 2000 has been solemnly affirmed."

The IACHR recommended that the Salvadoran government expeditiously carry out a complete, impartial and effective judicial investigation into the case, in order to identify, prosecute and punish all perpetrators both actual and accessory, despite an amnesty law enacted in 1993.

It also ordered the State to remedy all the consequences of human rights violations committed, including payment of fair compensation, and to adjust its domestic legislation to the American Convention to rescind the amnesty.

In this regard, the general director of Human Rights in the Foreign Ministry, David Morales, provided the Commission with the Funes government's commitment "to comply in good faith" and to the extent possible with the recommendations of that body.

Romero was murdered while celebrating mass on March 24, 1980 by government agents who were part of death squads.

The Truth Commission, which investigated war crimes in that country, identified as the mastermind of the assassination of Romero the founder of the Nationalist Republican Alliance (Arena, a right-wing party), Roberto D'Aubuisson, now deceased.

But the amnesty law, passed one year after the Peace Accords that ended the civil war in the country (1980-1992), left the crime unpunished.

Cara a Cara: Leonardo Boff

Once I got over the shock of seeing my friend, theologian Leonardo Boff looking quite spiffy in a suit and tie, I really enjoyed this recent interview with him on the Spanish TV program "Cara a Cara" ("Face to Face"). The questions are intelligent and non-sensationalist and, in response, Leonardo gives an eloquent and simple explanation of liberation theology and its place in the Church today.

Teresa Forcades: feminismo y liberación

Interview with the Catalan nun Teresa Forcades, where she talks about feminism, family planning and abortion in the Venezuelan context. The video is by Guarataro Films, made in the community of Carapita, Caracas, Venezuela.

Mud mauls El Salvador poor

Toronto Star

VERAPAZ, El Salvador – Torrents of mud and boulders choked the streets of Verapaz on Sunday as an onslaught of rain-fed flooding was blamed for at least 124 deaths throughout El Salvador with five dozen others missing.[NOTE: Other news accounts give a figure of 130 deaths to date]

Almost 7,000 people, many of them poor cliff dwellers, saw their homes damaged, destroyed or cut off by floods and mudslides.

Rescue workers dug frantically for victims, but the mud floes were high enough in places to nearly swallow vehicles. Many streets were blocked with boulders.

"What happened in Verapaz was something terrible," said Interior Minister Humberto Centeno, who flew over the city Sunday.

At least 23 people were killed in San Vicente province, where Verapaz is located, and at least 60 were missing in the city, 40 kilometres east of the capital, San Salvador.

Provincial Governor Manuel Castellanos said workers were struggling to clear roads, and power and water service had been cut off.

At least 300 houses in Verapaz were flooded after a river overflowed its bank, Red Cross spokesman Carlos Lopez Mendoza said.

The rains unleashed massive rock slides from the Chichontepec volcano that buried several other houses, Verapaz Mayor Antonio Cerritos told Radio Nacional.

In San Salvador, authorities reported 61 dead, including a family of four trapped when a mudslide buried their home.

Elsewhere in the country, victims were buried by slides or carried away by raging rivers.

Poverty and precarious construction appeared to play a role, as homes clinging to steep hillsides quickly fell prey to mudslides.

The area was slammed by three days of heavy rains indirectly connected to Hurricane Ida, which is continuing north and expected to hit the United States on Tuesday.


This time the organization that gets our vote as the most likely to make effective use of your charitable dollars is SHARE Foundation. They have a faith and justice, hands-on approach without a lot of money spent on advertising and overhead. Plus they are another group that is worth getting to know. Here is SHARE's write-up on the situation and you can also donate through their Web site:

While the National Hurricane Center in the United States has downgraded Hurricane Ida to a Tropical Storm, El Salvador has experienced the full brunt of hurricane force winds and rain. Over the weekend, the storm destroyed more than 7,000 homes and damaged many more. The most recent data, reported this morning in the Prensa Gráfica, indicates that approximately 130 people have been killed by the storm, and thousands more injured. This total is sure to rise as emergency relief workers continue to work their way through damaged buildings and areas that have experienced landslides.

The community of Verapaz in the department of San Vicente was left badly damaged by mud, rocks and debris after a mudslide from the San Vicente Volcano. Because the heavy rains rapidly made the land on the foothills of the volcano quite unstable, water quickly engulfed much of the town and many people did not have time to prepare or

As is often the case in these sorts of situations, the most immediate problems include access to emergency shelter, access to potable water, and food. SHARE Foundation, in collaboration with its partners in the three zones of San Salvador, La Paz and San Vicente, will be working to provide emergency relief. This will include distribution of plastic sheeting and wood for temporary housing; food and water.

We ask that you lend your support to this effort by making a contribution for emergency relief in response to Hurricane Ida. You can do this by way of a secure
online donation via our website
or by mailing a check to:

P.O. Box 29620
Washington, DC 20017 (please write Hurricane Ida relief in the memo line)

Other ways you can help:

  • Organize fundraising efforts within your local churches and other community
  • Post a note to your facebook, twitter or other social networking websites
    calling attention to the crisis in the wake of Hurricane Ida and encourage your
    friends and family members to make a contribution to the relief efforts via our
  • Pray for the victims of Hurricane Ida and their family members affected by
    this weekend’s tragedy

Please do not hesitate to call our office at 202.319.5540 or send an email to if you have any questions.

El Salvador honours martyrs who fought inequality and injustice

In addition to this article, see also Fr. John Dear, SJ's blog post: Remembering the Jesuit Martyrs .

by Brendan Butler
Irish Times

The assassination of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter by the Salvadoran army 20 years ago made such an impact on Noam Chomsky that in Dublin last week he referred to these murders as “the defeat of liberation theology” and “the end of Christianity”.

On the 20th anniversary next Monday, President Carlos Mauricio Funes of El Salvador will honour these martyrs with the nation’s highest award as a public act of atonement for the state’s involvement in their murders. In Ireland their memory will be celebrated at a Eucharistic celebration in the Church of the Virgin Mary, Shangan Road, Ballymun, on Sunday next, November 15th, at 7pm.

The House of Representatives of the US Congress recently passed resolution 761 to honour these martyrs, thus acknowledging American involvement in these crimes.

Conspicuous by its absence is the official church’s recognition of their martyrdom.

Why were these people murdered in El Salvador in 1989 and why, 20 years later, do they still make an impact?

These six Jesuits were responding to their superior general, Fr Pedro Arrupe, who challenged Jesuits worldwide to take up the preferential option for the poor, stating that “we cannot separate action for justice from the proclamation of the word of God”.

They transformed their Jesuit University of Central America in the capital of El Salvador, San Salvador, from being an elitist institution to one which served the marginalised in a country where 14 families owned and controlled the wealth.

The rector of the university, Ignacio Ellacuría, called Jesuits from all faculties to study and analyse the reality of El Salvador and they published their analyses in a monthly publication, Estudios Centroamericanos , which exposed the gross inequalities and violations of human rights in the country. This was liberation theology in action. Fr Amando López, who studied theology at Dublin’s Milltown Institute and was ordained there in 1965, preached that the “root cause of the conflict in El Salvador is wealth distribution”.

Their alliance with the poor brought them into conflict with the rich and powerful in the state and within the Catholic Church, just as archbishop Oscar Romero had done there before them. He was assassinated in San Salvador on March 24th, 1980.

The Jesuits were shunned by the Salvadoran bishops, one of whom was chaplain to the repressive armed forces, and were reported to the Vatican for upsetting the cosy status quo between church and state.

Both pope John Paul II and the then cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) took a hard line against liberation theologians like Fr Ignacio Ellacuría and Jon Sobrino whose crime, according to the Vatican, was their use of Marxist terminology as sociological tools in their study of the structural injustices in their society. But the Jesuits, in spite of death threats, continued their work of justice.

In the early hours of November 16th, 1989, Salvadoran military occupied the university and took the six Jesuits from their beds and, in a telling sign, shot them dead along with two women, Celina and Elba, so as to leave no witnesses.

Chomsky’s pessimistic view that liberation theology and Christianity have been defeated as a result of the Jesuit murders is inaccurate. El Salvador, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Paraguay have presidents who acknowledge their debt to liberation theology, while Brazilian liberation theology Bible groups number over one million.

May the legacy of Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Martín Baró, Segundo Montes, Juan Romeno, Amando López, Joaquín López y López, Elba Ramos and Celina Ramos never let us rest in peace.

Brendan Butler has been active in campaigns on Central and South American issues since 1979

Monday, November 9, 2009

A socialite's crusade: Yvonne Bezerra de Mello and the children of the favelas

Here is another educator whose work you should get to know. Yvonne Bezerra de Mello founded Projeto Uerê to help the street children in her native Rio de Janeiro. She is the subject of a documentary film, "Warrior of Light" (2001) and the recipient of Brazil's National Human Rights Award, 1996; the European Culture of Peace Award, 2007; and UNESCO's Femme Lumière award.

By Juan Forero
Washington Post
Sunday, November 8, 2009

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Like her neighbors in Rio's elegant Flamengo district, Yvonne Bezerra de Mello enjoys the trappings of wealth, from riding show horses to escaping on weekends to a mountain estate north of the city.

But during the week, the socialite with the perfectly coiffed hair runs a small school in one of Rio's sprawling, violent favelas, or slums -- the latest initiative in 30 years of activism that has won Bezerra de Mello worldwide acclaim.

The jolting contrast in her life parallels the disparity between rich and poor across the country. Bezerra de Mello, 62, attends dinner parties with Brazilian power brokers. She's also a mother hen to urchins shunned by much of Brazilian society.

Bezerra de Mello says that some in her social circle clearly don't approve.

"Many people say to me: 'You are crazy. You cannot raise favela kids.' And I say, 'Come and see, just see for yourself, that it's possible to do that,' " she said as she told her story -- in English, with an accent traceable to years spent studying languages in Sweden and Italy and sculpting in Paris. Now, she's married to a Rio hotel magnate.

She found her cause at 13, when she started reading to blind children. Bezerra de Mello says her mother not only raised her children by herself, on a civil servant's salary, after her husband left her, but she also helped orphans.

One objective of Bezerra de Mello's crusade is to change the perception of street children as pivetes, or boy thieves. "I want to change that part, that favela kids are bandits," she said. "But it's not an easy task."

Some Brazilians would rather not dwell on such things, now that their country of 190 million is in the midst of an impressive economic expansion that helped Rio win the 2016 Olympics. Under President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a former shoeshine boy, Brazil is riding a wave of optimism.

The tangible byproduct is that poverty is diminishing. But Bezerra de Mello sees little reason to celebrate. She says favela children still have limited options, with crack cocaine use spreading and the public schools a disaster.

Rio also remains one of the world's most violent cities, a fact brought home last month when drug traffickers shot down a police helicopter. "For many people," Bezerra de Mello said, "their lives aren't any better."

Her supporters say she has won the right to speak out after building the slum school, called Project Uere, from scratch. Project Uere -- the word means "Children of the Golden Rainbow" -- has been operating since policemen killed eight Rio street children outside a church in 1993.

Bezerra de Mello started her school with the 62 survivors of the massacre, at first under a downtown viaduct. The walls were plywood; the bridge formed the ceiling. Some city officials dismissed her efforts as showboating.

"I said to the authorities: 'I have 62 survivors. Where do you want me to go?' " she recalled.

Twelve years ago, Bezerra de Mello moved the school to a collection of small cinder-block houses in Mare, a swamp-turned-favela where more than 100,000 people live.

"My philosophy is, you go into a community, you don't change the community," Bezerra de Mello said. "You want the children to feel at home."

It's not ideal. The classrooms are small, the stairwells narrow. The lunchroom is so cramped that the children eat in shifts. Bezerra de Mello says she turns down applicants for lack of space.

Today, there are 430 students, many from broken families in which drugs and violence are the norm. But, at the school, those children have a computer room, a library, free meals.

Arriving one recent day, Bezerra de Mello was greeted with shouts of "Bom dia! Bom dia!" -- good morning! -- and kisses.

Once in the classroom, she got down to business, quizzing 17 pint-size children about what they did the night before. The children sang songs -- in French, Spanish, German. Then she tested them with a memory game.

The whole time, Bezerra de Mello hovered over her young charges, making eye contact, urging them on. What she calls her teaching "methodology" has drawn so much attention here that she has been hired to train teachers from some of the toughest Rio schools.

Instead of having students simply copy what teachers write on blackboards, Bezerra de Mello and her teachers move around the classroom. Their strategy is to engage students intensely but briefly -- for 15 or 20 minutes, tops -- before switching subjects. The goal is to keep them alert. The battle is against boredom.

"The brain is a muscle," she said. "You go to the gym and work your arm. You have to work the brain every day."

Bezerra de Mello says that when children first arrive, many can barely speak, having been used to being ordered around.

"At home they don't speak to each other," she said. "It's short: 'Go here, do that, pa, pa pa,' so the kids can't have a conversation, hold a conversation."

Brandon Santora da Silva, 6, lives blocks from the school in a single room that he shares with his mother and five siblings. There is no running water, no bathroom. He was resentful, even angry, when he arrived at the school, Bezerra de Mello says.

But Brandon's mother reports a change. "He's calmer now," said Líria Gomes Almeida, 30. "He's learned to write his own name."

Bezerra de Mello is not yet predicting success. She's a pragmatist who estimates that 360 of the children she has worked with over the years have died. Still, one former student is in medical school, and dozens have won scholarships to elite Rio schools.

They are the building blocks in her campaign.

"My goal is to diminish the intellectual gap between classes," she said. "You can give food, you can give clothes, okay. But the intellectual gap will be there, so no way of improving a country."



Here is Part 1. Links to the other three parts are listed below. Includes heartbreaking footage of the street kids in Rio.

Stones into Schools

Back in May we wrote in this blog about the work of Dr. Greg Mortenson, author of the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea which has been translated into many languages. After being rescued by villagers in northern Pakistan following a failed attempt to climb K2 in the Himalayas, Dr. Greg promised to repay the village by building a school for its children.

This decision became the turning point in his life and Dr. Greg went on to head a foundation that has built more than 100 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan, in areas where Islamic fundamentalism is firmly rooted and most Americans are viewed as enemy infidels. He has been able to persuade all but the most conservative local mullahs of the benefit of educating their daughters as well as their sons. And he has done it with respect for local religion and customs. No fights about hijabs here, just a clear conviction that the best way to combat terrorism is with books, not bombs.

For those who, like me, read Three Cups of Tea and were totally blown away by what Mortenson has been able to achieve, you should know that a sequel will be coming out next month. Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Viking, 2009, ISBN: 0670021156) focuses in particular on the Central Asia Institute's expansion into Afghanistan and even contains a foreword by famed Afghani writer Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns). Pre-order your copy now from your favorite bookseller.