Friday, November 20, 2009

The Teresa Forcades Watch - 11/20/2009

A new information tidbit from El Periódico de Catalunya in a brief article titled La Monja Más Deseada (excuse me while I roll my eyes; I like Sr. Teresa too but this media adulation is getting to be a bit over the top):

"Fue a finales de abril del 2006. Se lo conté a ustedes en esta columna. Ramon Colom la invitó en su Mil.lenium (El 33). Ella abordó la figura de María Magdalena como base para una reinterpretación del papel de la mujer en la Iglesia. Nos recordó que incluso en el Evangelio de Tomás se advierte que la pecadora pudo finalmente entrar en el cielo porque Jesús había decidido convertirla en hombre."

"It was at the end of April 2006. I told you about it in this column. Ramon Colom invited her on his Millenium (El 33). She talked about the figure of Mary Magdalene as a basis for reinterpretation of the role of women in the Church. She reminded us that even in the Gospel of Thomas [one of the non-canonical gospels] we are told that the sinful woman could finally enter heaven because Jesus decided to change her into a man."

...hmmmm...It says that in the Gospel of Thomas??? Guess I'll have to go back and reread it. Maybe it's a good thing it wasn't included in the official canon of the Church.

FYI: I haven't been able to get the Millenium video to work but perhaps you will have better luck.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prosperity or deceit?

The December 2009 Atlantic Monthly has a very interesting article by Hanna Rosin titled Did Christianity Cause the Crash? -- well, not just any kind of Christianity, but specifically those churches that preach the so-called prosperity gospel, the idea that God showers material wealth on those He favors. That if you aren't doing well economically, it's because you aren't faithful enough. That going into debt for a dream is a sign of trust in God's promise of blessing.

Rosin focuses her attention on Casa del Padre, a Latino non-denominational Christian church in Charlottesville, VA pastored by Fernando Garay. But her broader theme centers on how these prosperity gospel preaching churches led Hispanic home buyers to taken on mortgages that they could not afford and she even cites instances of direct collaboration between churches and subprime lenders where the lenders gave "kickbacks" to the churches for referred clients from their congregations who ended up signing a mortgage.

A sample quote from the article:
Among Latinos the prosperity gospel has been spreading rapidly. In a recent Pew survey, 73 percent of all religious Latinos in the United States agreed with the statement: “God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.” For a generation of poor and striving Latino immigrants, the gospel seems to offer a road map to affluence and modern living. Garay’s church is comprised mostly of first-generation immigrants. More than others I’ve visited, it echoes back a highly distilled, unself-conscious version of the current thinking on what it means to live the American dream.

One other thing makes Garay’s church a compelling case study. From 2001 to 2007, while he was building his church, Garay was also a loan officer at two different mortgage companies. He was hired explicitly to reach out to the city’s growing Latino community, and Latinos, as it happened, were disproportionately likely to take out the sort of risky loans that later led to so many foreclosures. To many of his parishioners, Garay was not just a spiritual adviser, but a financial one as well.

What is relevant for us is that the same Pew survey shows that 79% of Hispanics who characterize themselves as charismatic Catholics believe in the prosperity gospel. This means that we have some work to do because the prosperity gospel is NOT the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While God does not want His children to live in penury, He also does not want His children to focus exclusively on material wealth or accumulating treasure on this earth, especially when other children are hungry and homeless while prosperity preachers drive Mercedes Benzes (the Garays) and live in multimillion dollar homes (the Osteens) paid for by the tithes they demand from their poorer parishioners. Nor does the Catholic Church teach that a person is poor because they don't have enough faith. There are many socioeconomic structural reasons for the huge gap between rich and poor -- inability to pray or failure to tithe are not among them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

November 21-22: Catholic Campaign for Human Development

This weekend, November 21-22, the second collection for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development will be taken up in the Diocese of Arlington. Some of the funds are distributed at the diocesan level, others at the national level, but local organizations have benefitted from these national grants. Bishop Paul S. Loverde has issued a letter encouraging the faithful to support this collection.

Iglesia Descalza also wants to encourage you to be generous. Why? Because as you can see from the following list of local organizations that have received funds over the years from CCHD, they are groups that have a strong presence in our Hispanic and immigrant communities. Así que cuando les solicitan su contribución en la segunda colecta este weekend, hermanos y hermanas, por favor sean generosos porque estas monedas regresarán a nuestra comunidad en particular. ¿Vale?

Virginians Organized for Interfaith
Community Engagement
2009 - $40,000
2008 - $35,000

BRAVO (en español)
2008 - $40,000
2007 - $30,000
2006 - $25,000
2005 - $40,000

Tenants and Workers United (en español)
2008 - $45,000
2007 - $35,000
2006 - $50,000

Progreso Hispano, Inc.
2005 - $30,000.00

Friend of Florida Farmworkers Receives Award from USCCB

Brigitte Gynther, 27, coordinator of Interfaith Action (IA) of Southwest Florida, is the recipient of the 2009 Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award for her role in supporting and empowering farmworkers from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), as they pursue fair wages, improved working conditions, and an end to modern day slavery in the fields.

Gynther received the award at a reception on Monday, November 16, during the annual fall meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore. The Cardinal Bernardin Award was established in 1998 by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the domestic anti-poverty effort of the U.S. bishops.

Gynther first became involved in IA’s work after visiting Immokalee, Florida while a student at the University of Notre Dame. Moved by the plight of the farmworkers, her efforts to mobilize fellow students were instrumental in encouraging the university’s involvement. As coordinator of IA, Brigitte has played a key role in mobilizing faith communities throughout the country, whose support has been essential in convincing Yum Brands, McDonalds, Burger King, Whole Foods, and Subway to pay tomato pickers an extra penny-per-pound, which translates to nearly a doubling of their wages. Brigitte has also championed endeavors against human trafficking and worker slavery, and played an influential national role in the development of the national Campaign for Fair Food movement.

“Catholic social teaching lifts up right relationships, working together in respect,” says Gynther, describing her work as building a bridge so that farmworkers and people from other backgrounds enter into genuine relationship with one another. Gynther also emphasizes the need “to look at root causes of farmworkers’ struggles and help people see that we can do something at the systemic level.”

Bishop Roger P. Morin, Chairman of the USCCB Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, praises Gynther and her work: “Brigitte’s commitment to standing with the Immokalee workers is a powerful illustration of CCHD’s work to empower low-income people to address the root causes of poverty in their communities. Her support for the farmworkers’ struggle to ensure that human dignity and basic rights are protected is an illustration of the Gospel call for the faithful to stand in solidarity with those who are vulnerable (Lk. 4:18-20).”

The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award honors a Catholic between the ages of 18 and 30 who demonstrates leadership in fighting poverty and injustice in the United States through community-based solutions. It is named for the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, former archbishop of Chicago and a leading voice on behalf of poor and low-income people, who understood the need to build bridges across ethnic, economic, class and age barriers.

Four other young Catholics from across the country were recognized as finalists for the award: Elizabeth Garlow, for her work empowering small business owners in Boston; Sergio Lopez, for his development of Catholic social teaching resources for youth ministers in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Raquel Orbik, for her work to facilitate experiences of solidarity for students at Creighton University; and Mary Theresa Slavkovsky, for her social justice outreach to fellow students at Seattle University.

Photo: Gynther, with Romeo Ramirez, a tomato picker and member of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

10 Years Ago: Remembering Michael Kirwan

It seems impossible to believe that it has already been 10 years since my friend Michael Kirwan, a Catholic Worker in Washington, DC, died on November 12, 1999 of cancer. I still remember his funeral Mass. Michael's generosity towards the poor and homeless was legendary and I can't think of a funeral for a lay person where I have seen quite so many concelebrants. Or such a mix of mourners -- well-to-do donors sitting side by side with Catholic Workers and other homeless activists and the homeless themselves, who came into St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church from their street corners and grates to pay a final farewell to the man who had shown them so much love during his life.

In honor of this 10th anniversary, I want to share Colman McCarthy's obituary on Mike, as well as Mike's own last letter to his friends as he faced death from cancer. Those who want more information about Mike Kirwan's life can read his biography.

After his death and the death of his assistant Connie Ridge, the houses in DC were turned over to SOME and A Simple House. If you want to honor Mike's memory, you can make a donation to either of those programs or to your local Catholic Worker house.

Michael Kirwan Dies

Obituary by Colman McCarthy. Reprinted from The Washington Post, Saturday, November 13, 1999; Page B07 by permission of the author.

Michael Kirwan, 54, who as a member of the Catholic Worker community in Washington for more than two decades was known for his feeding, housing and living with the poorest of the poor, died of cancer Nov. 12 at his mother's home in Washington.

In a farewell letter sent to friends and benefactors on Sept. 8, Mr. Kirwan reflected on his faith-based service to the city's destitute: "We cannot by ourselves lift the burden of racism, economic and social disparity, suspicion and mistrust. But we can begin to lighten it."

The hungry and homeless came daily to Mr. Kirwan's residence at 1305 T St. NW, the Llewellyn Scott Catholic Worker House of Hospitality. Over the years, tens of thousands of meals were served. Tons of clothing and other supplies were dispensed. Countless hours were given listening to and comforting the city's lost and lonely.

Mr. Kirwan's residence was seen by some in the increasingly gentrified neighborhood as a homeless shelter. At times, as many as 30 men and women were given space--some staying for a night or two, others for long stretches--while Mr. Kirwan lived in a third-floor cubicle.

Not much larger than a monk's cell, the book-lined room was Mr. Kirwan's only haven of quiet from the demands of people whose problems were as complex as schizophrenia or as simple as needing a shower.

Mr. Kirwan, a native of Washington and one of 10 children in a home often visited by Dorothy Day, the co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement in the early 1930s, was the grandson of Rep. Michael "Honest Mike" Kirwan (D-Ohio). He often played in the congressman's office as a boy.

Rep. Kirwan, who served in the House from 1935 to 1970, had been a nearly broke day laborer during the Depression when he won election to Congress by telling voters in Youngstown and other labor towns that he wanted to go to Washington because he needed a job.

Such total honesty overwhelmed the voters, who gratefully gave him his first of many landslide victories. Mr. Kirwan often joked that his grandfather would have been one of the poor and homeless if he had not been elected to Congress.

In the winter of 1978, Mr. Kirwan was a graduate student in sociology at George Washington University preparing for a conventional career in business or government. One freezing night, he passed a homeless man keeping warm on a heat grate near the State Department. The man asked for food. Mr. Kirwan ignored him and kept walking to his campus dorm room. There, unsettled, he had second thoughts and took back a bowl of hot soup to the man.

So began a life's mission. Mr. Kirwan continued bringing food to homeless people at 21st Street and Virginia Avenue NW.

"One night, as I brought down a large gallon jug of hot split pea soup and set it down on the cement block near the heating vent where they gathered, a rather rough-looking fellow picked up the jar of soup and, in one motion, broke the jar over my head," Mr. Kirwan recalled.

"Instead of running away, I asked the man why he had done that. These were probably the first words I had ever spoken to any of them. He told me that I was doing nothing more than bringing food to the dogs. I was bringing food, setting it down like I was feeding them out of a pet dish and then just walking away. He said, 'Talk to us. Visit with us. We don't bite.' "

Mr. Kirwan did begin visiting. "What happened that night," he said, "was that a first barrier had been broken in my perceptions of who homeless people are. I realized that these men and women on the streets had feelings, just like me. They wanted to be loved and respected and listened to. They cared that someone cared about them, but just giving food and a blanket was not enough."

Soon after, Mr. Kirwan opened his George Washington University dorm room to his new friends. One homeless man stayed a month.

After giving a talk at a Catholic parish in the early 1980s, Mr. Kirwan received a five-figure donation from a woman in the audience, a sum large enough to open a house of hospitality at Fourth Street and Florida Avenue NW. In 1986, with funds donated by a McLean physician, Mr. Kirwan moved to 1305 T St. NW, a dwelling between two boarded-up buildings and near an alley where crack cocaine was sold.

After an article about his work appeared in The Washington Post, he received a donation that allowed him to buy a residence at 939 T St., NW, which was named Mary Harris Catholic Worker House of Hospitality and overseen by Connie Ridge, a longtime ally of Mr. Kirwan.

In 1982, Mr. Kirwan had enough donations to purchase a farm in West Virginia where over the years he brought hundreds of homeless and unemployed people for rest and recovery. In 1988, a Charleston, W.Va., philanthropist heard about the operation and supplied the funds to build a $350,000 16-room house for the residents as well as a barn for animals.

The animals were not raised to be eaten but to be respected.

It wasn't just poor people who came to Mr. Kirwan for help. His T Street house was regularly visited by high school, college and law-school students wanting to learn of his work and his philosophy. His living room seminars were often packed with students, many of them in awe of a man who lived in voluntary poverty.

"It is community and in community that we find love, and in love there is no ending," was his constant message.

Mike Kirwan's Letter:

Last Tuesday, my doctor at Providence Hospital told me the cancer within my lung had spread. It is now in my brain, colon, liver, elbow, foot, hip, and leg. There is not much to be done except to pray. The doctor said it would take a miracle to put me well again. Otherwise, I can expect to live from one to six months-shorter rather than longer-since the cancer has become very aggressive.

I don't pray for a miracle. Rather, I pray that I will do whatever God has in store for me. I pray for the women and men of my family who are deeply grieved, and I am especially praying for the people of our farm and houses on the streets, where there is much fear and anxiety over the ceasing of a long and caring association. I know that it will not cease but rather be changed. As my work ebbs, other work commences.

We cannot by ourselves lift the burden of racism, economic and social disparity, suspicion and mistrust; but we can begin to lighten it. Our responses are always an attempt: a small mustard of faith to grow, to nurture, to plant again that others might sow and reap. Our response to the gospel is different in all of our lives. Whatever leads to God must be counted as valid.

My own journey began with my parents and their attraction to a gospel that called for personalism, the intimacy of faith in action that was exemplified in the lives of Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin. That continues. Again and again, over these years, men and women who came into my life seeking hospitality stayed on to provide it. Groups of young people who were briefly touched by the experience of living among the poor came back again. So the work moves from one generation to another. We will never know completely where our influence has touched, but God has worked with the few loaves and a couple of fish and done the rest.

I do not fear death. I fear not being a good and faithful friend and of not being filled with gratitude and joy to a good and gracious God who has so favored me with grace in my unworthiness. God has chosen someone weak and strengthened him. I have seen it in my own life countless times, and in the lives of so many who came across my path.

I think and pray now with all of you and ask that you always remember me as someone who tried to do the best he could and, on not-so-good days, tried to do better. I always tried to break down barriers and build friendships and peace; I trusted that God would see things to completion in good time. I still believe that with all my heart and soul. God will provide, especially now.

I might add that I have not thrown in the towel. For the moment, I am able to manage fairly well and rejoice in the normal operation of the houses. Our work goes on as always. One of the men in our house on T Street went out last night to the parks instead of me, with water, clothes, blankets, toilet articles, and meal tickets. Today our soup line opened and people came in to take showers and use the phone. Hospitality continues. Love goes on. I may not be able to write you again, but my family will be ever vigilant and let all of you know what is happening.

To you, our friends and generous benefactors, I want to especially express my heartfelt gratitude for your faithful trust and prayers. Some have told me that I am the "glue" that holds these houses and this work together. But God is the real unifying force and God will see to it that these places and this work continue, perhaps in a somewhat changed form. For now, let us rejoice and be glad. Emmanuel, the Lord is with us! Love, prayers, and gratitude.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Vatican and the Internet

For a long time I have been reflecting on how the Internet has changed the dynamics of the relationship between the Catholic laity and the Magisterium. We have gone from the days when Mass was celebrated in Latin and the faithful didn't even read the Bible for themselves, through a period when Mass was celebrated in the vernacular but information was only shared on a "need to know" basis, to an era when any of us can get almost any Church documents or data we want in an instant.

This more equal access to information has also changed the paradigm of who can interpret that information. Gone are the days of "Father knows best". Many years ago, before the Internet, a priest once told me that he had allowed Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator, to use the pulpit to address the congregation after Mass in our church because "Canon Law" required him to do so. My initial reaction was "Hogwash!" but I had no way of proving the priest was lying. Now I can wade through the Code of Canon Law on the Vatican Web site and see if there is any such provision. We no longer have to take what we are told at face value. We now have lay people who are more knowledgeable about canon law, the Catechism, and the liturgical norms of the Church than their seminary-trained priests. This means that, both at the parish and at the diocesan level, a more equal and collegial relationship must develop between clergy and laity, else the Church loses credibility. Unless a paycheck is at stake, when does anyone unconditionally obey someone who knows less than they do?

The Internet has also provided a bully pulpit for dissenters from the official Church line. Back when Fr. Dan Berrigan, SJ was exiled to Latin America for his war resistance in the United States, it was easy to restrict his communication to the odd -- and private -- letter home to family and friends. Today when the Jesuits exile Fr. Juan Masia Clavel to Japan to keep him out of Spanish Church politics, he simply puts up a multilingual Web site and blog and anyone in Spain with Internet access can read his views.

Nowhere did we see this more clearly than when the Vatican tried to silence Fr. Jon Sobrino several years ago. In response, outraged liberation theologians from around the globe gathered together and published a free digital anthology in record time. Bajar de la Cruz a Los Pobres: Cristología de la Liberación is still freely available from Servicios Koinonia and has been translated into English and Italian as well. Its publication trumpeted: "Rome, you can no longer silence all of us. Nor can you keep us down by denying us access to Catholic publishing houses." Since then, many many theologians whom Rome hoped would shut up and disappear have their own blogs and even come together in online forums such as Atrio. The Internet has brought a cultural revolution to the Catholic Church where "a hundred schools of thought contend", to borrow the famous phrase.

The Internet has also provided a way for dissenters to unite and organize across national and linguistic boundaries. MOCEOP can collaborate with CITI and CORPUS to fight for optional celibacy and a married priesthood. Women's ordination groups in many countries share scholarship and resources on the history of women's leadership in the early Church.

Finally, the Internet exposes divisions within the hierarchy. Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga may offer his analysis of the political situation in his country but, with a couple of clicks, anyone can learn that Mons. Luis Alfonso Santos, bishop of the Santa Rosa de Copan diocese, has a different perspective. The laity can listen to both parties, weigh the evidence and decide for themselves which prelate is more believable.

Now the Vatican is trying to inform itself, to get a better handle on the Internet. As Pope Benedict XVI admitted, it can no longer afford embarrassments like the Williamson case where journalists using Google quickly discovered Williamson's anti-Semitic remarks while the Pontiff was unaware of them. The Pope is also aware of how other denominations are using the Web to woo the Catholic faithful away from the Church and he believes the time has come for a counter offensive.

This week representatives of Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia addressed the European Bishops' Commission for the Media in a highly publicized 4-day conference. An initial quick survey of conference participants found that while almost all had used Wikipedia for research, only 10% had edited a Wikipedia entry. Similar percentages had posted videos on YouTube or used Twitter. Most Catholic institutional Web sites have not introduced the interactive elements of Web 2.0.

My fondest hope is that any counter offensive will begin with a complete redesign of the Vatican Web site:

1. Design: The current look is heavy, medieval, Eurocentric, and uninviting. It suggests a Church mired in the past and does not reflect the beauty, youth, vitality and diversity of the universal Catholic fold.

2. Navigation: The organization of information is arcane and haphazard with meaningless icons. It is difficult to navigate for the uninitiated, for those who are not Vatican insiders, for the average information consumer who may want to find, for example, Humanae Vitae but may not know which pope authored that encyclical. I am a librarian with considerable knowledge of Catholic Church structure but even I find it easier to go to Google first to find basic information on the Vatican Web site.

3. Timeliness and updating: If we based our organizational decisions on the Vatican Web site, it would become immediately "apparent" that a number of the commissions, congregations, etc. have produced nothing in the last couple of years and we might conclude that these should be abolished. Also, if a congregation or commission issues a report that is made available to the press, is it too much to expect that the text of that report -- or at least a substantial summary if it is an item that will be sold -- would appear on the Vatican Web site that day in at least one of the official languages? That it would be locatable under "Latest Updates" and not buried in some obscure dicastral subdirectory? This is the norm for good corporate and NGO Web sites.

4. News Archiving: I would like to see a longer retention period for the complete editions of the daily and weekly Osservatore Romano and VIS bulletins. Because of time zones and delayed news indexing, I often see a news item referencing an article in the daily l'Osservatore after that edition has been replaced by the next day's one. An industry norm for this would be approximately 2 weeks of free back issues.

We are not even talking about Web 2.0 interactivity and multimedia here. We are talking about basic Web design and site management. The Vatican needs to go back and ask itself what users expect to find on its Web site. Look at the search and usage statistics and redesign to make sure that the most frequently requested items are easy to find in multiple ways. Convene focus groups of users from the major linguistic groups to help determine a taxonomy and information structure that reflects the language real people use to search a site ("What would you look for to click on to find 'Humanae Vitae'?").

Finally, try to determine what people might be expecting to find on the Vatican Web site that they are currently getting elsewhere. With a few changes, the Vatican Web could be the portal site for our faith rather than the various advertising-supported online Catholic directories.