Saturday, December 5, 2009

Poetry of Work

There will be free poetry readings by John Olivares Espinoza and Naomi Ayala in connection with the Smithsonian's Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program 1942 - 1964 exhibit at the National Museum of American History, 14th and Constitution NW, Washington, DC.

December 5 at 11AM and 2PM
December 6 at 12PM and 3PM

Our Lady of Guadalupe Videos 5: Guadalupe

Sometimes the poverty is spiritual rather than material. There are not so many songs in English devoted to Our Lady of Guadalupe but I like this one by Tom Russell as sung by American folk/country music singer Gretchen Peters. In this song, she confesses her lack of faith but sings: "I am the least of all your pilgrims here, but I am most in need of hope..."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stones Into Schools: Greg Mortenson in DC

Last night, I had the good fortune of being able to hear Greg "Three Cups of Tea" Mortenson speak at the Historic Synagogue in DC. Greg spoke about the work of his Central Asia Institute which has now established 131 schools in Pakistan and 48 in Afghanistan, most in extremely remote areas of those countries. Greg was in town promoting his new book, Stones Into Schools.

The work has changed over the years, including a growing collaboration with the U.S. military leaders in Afghanistan. Greg's first book, Three Cups of Tea, is now required reading for officers going into that region.

Greg analyzed the way outside forces, both Americans and allies and the Taliban and religious extremists, have caused Afghanistan's traditional social structure to unravel. He says that the keys to a peaceful future in the country are: 1) building relationships; 2) putting the elders back in charge; and 3) education. In an aside which we received warmly, Greg said he didn't buy the "God is on our side" argument. To the extent that God is on anyone's side, he said, He is on the side of the widows, the orphans, the disabled veterans, the victims of war. He mentioned that in patriotic parades in Afghanistan, these victims parade first, followed by the active duty military. It puts things in perspective.

Greg's work has emphasized educating girls who had been neglected by the public education system and the Islamic schools. He argues that "when you educate a girl, you educate a community" and mentioned that women's education has been linked to lower birth rates and infant mortality rates. He specifically mentioned the case of Aziza, a woman from the Charpusan Valley in northern Pakistan, who trained as a health worker with support from CAI. That area had a maternal mortality rate of 3-5 women per year. Since Aziza started to work in 1999, no woman has died in childbirth.

Educated men tend to leave poor communities while women stay on, Greg argues. Educated girls will read to their illiterate mothers -- even basic things like the newspaper wrapped around the produce they have bought in the market. An additional benefit is that educated women are much less likely to permit their children to become jihadists and a good Muslim son or daughter will not go against their parents' wishes. This is why the Islamic extremist groups have opposed educating girls.

Greg talked about his children's program Pennies for Peace and noted with pride that several charities led by young people have emerged from PFP "graduates", including the Little Red Wagon Foundation (homeless children in America), Peruvian Hearts (orphans in Peru), and Fund a Field (building soccer fields in poor communities in Africa).

Since 2007, Greg said, UNICEF reports that over 800 schools in Afghanistan and 650 in Pakistan have been destroyed by the Islamic extremists but only one of Greg's schools has been attacked. Greg attributes this to the willingness of the communities to defend these schools in which they have invested their own resources and sweat equity. But the gains have been far greater. In 2000, 800,000 children were in school in Afghanistan, almost all of them boys. In 2009, 8.4 million children are in school in that country, of which 2.5 million are girls.

While Greg did not comment about the surge and other recent changes in U.S. policy in the region, he has given a couple of extensive interviews recently on that subject. His main advice? Listen to the local people for a change.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Videos 4: Santa María de América

This video by the Peruvian Christian music group Takillakkta (in Quechua their name means "song of the people) highlights Mary as the universal patroness of the Americas. It lists all the major Marian apparitions on the continent, starting with Guadalupe.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Immigration News Roundup - 12/3/2009

1. Transborder Immigrant Tool: If you are going to cross la frontera mojado, don't forget your celular! And make it a Motorola. Ricardo Dominguez, a professor of visual arts at UC San Diego, has developed an app which he calls the "Transborder Immigrant Tool" for those phones. An estimated 3,861 to 5,607 people have died trying to cross the border over the last 15 years, according to a report released in October and produced by the American Civil Liberties Union and Mexico's National Commission on Human Rights."The primary goal of the tool", which operates on the same principle as the GPS, "is to offer those crossing a way not to die," Dominguez said. Dominguez said he would like to include the location of Border Angels water stations and other information that would help illegal immigrants stay safe. Working with fellow academics, Dominguez said he has been able to install the application on inexpensive Motorola phones. Eventually, he said, he would like to distribute the application free through the Internet to be installed on different kinds of phones.

2. The 2009 Scrooge Award?: From the Houston Chronicle (11/30/2009): "They don't claim to know who's been naughty or nice, but some Houston charities are asking whether children are in the country legally before giving them toys. In a year when more families than ever have asked for help, several programs providing Christmas gifts for needy children require at least one member of the household to be a U.S. citizen. Others ask for proof of income or rely on churches and schools to suggest recipients. The Salvation Army and a charity affiliated with the Houston Fire Department are among those that consider immigration status, asking for birth certificates or Social Security cards for the children..."

Predictably, pro-immigrant activists went ballistic and picket lines went up at various Salvation Army locations around the country. Shouts of "discrimination" rang out in blogsphere. And, guess what? The Salvation Army heard you loud and clear. After a half-hearted attempt to defend its policy of requesting Social Security numbers, according to yesterday's San Jose Mercury-News: "The Salvation Army says it will no longer ask for a parent's social security number before giving Christmas toys to children at some local branches. Juan Alanis, a spokesman for the Salvation Army's Houston branch, says the charity changed its policy Wednesday following a protest by Hispanic immigrants in Los Angeles. Alanis says the Christian organization never wanted to give the appearance of discrimination based on legal status and decided to not require a social security number to register for its Angel Tree program..."

3. Report Finds Illegal Immigration Has Negligible Impact on U.S. Economy: Illegal immigration's overall impact on the U.S. economy is negligible, despite clear benefits for employers and unauthorized immigrants and slightly depressed wages for low-skilled native workers, according to a report, The Economics and Policy of Illegal Immigration in the United States, authored by UC-San Diego Professor of Economics Gordon Hanson. In the report, Hanson argues that the largest economic gains from illegal immigration flow to unauthorized workers, who see very substantial income gains after migrating. U.S. employers also gain from lower labor costs and the ability to use their land, capital and technology more productively. Small losses are felt, however, by native-born low-skilled workers who compete with unauthorized immigrants.

"Illegal immigration produces a tiny net gain to the U.S. economy after subtracting U.S.-born workers' losses from U.S. employers' gains," said Hanson, who is Director of the Center on Pacific Economies at UC-San Diego. "And if we account for the small fiscal burden that unauthorized immigrants impose, the overall economic benefit is close enough to zero to be essentially a wash." But policy can help to convert illegal to legal flows, increasing the positive contribution that low-skilled workers could make to the U.S. economy. A more constructive immigration policy, Hanson suggests, would aim to generate maximum productivity gains to the U.S. economy while limiting the fiscal cost and keeping enforcement spending contained. He recommends a policy redesign that provides sufficient legal channels, fluctuating with economic needs, for entry of low-skilled workers while maintaining reasonable immigration enforcement.

4. Mass criminal immigration hearings unlawful: Immigrants who have been arrested in zero-tolerance zones along the Mexican border must not be tried at mass criminal immigration hearings because the proceedings violate federal rules, an appeals court ruled Wednesday. A three-judge panel with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that a federal court in Tucson, Ariz. — where mass hearings have been held for defendants arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents — had violated Rule 11, which requires that each defendant be read their rights and be given an explanation of what a guilty plea means....

Photo: Ricardo Dominguez and transborder immigrant tool

Sr. Teresa Forcades: Speech on Influenza A H1N1 at the 2º Congreso de Ciencia y Espíritu in Barcelona, 11/22/2009.

Here is the 2-part video of Sr. Teresa Forcades' remarks about Influenza A (H1N1) during the 2º Congreso de Ciencia y Espíritu (2nd Congress on Science and the Spirit) in Barcelona on November 22, 2009. Speaking in Spanish, she goes into areas beyond her first famous video on the subject.

Teresa Forcades charla gripe A en Ciencia y Espíritu II, 22 nov 2009 parte 1 from LaCajaDePandora on Vimeo.

Teresa Forcades charla gripe A en Ciencia y Espíritu II, 22 nov 2009 parte 2 from LaCajaDePandora on Vimeo.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Videos 3: Ruega Por Nosotros, Virgen de Guadalupe

Here, as promised, is the other Padre Diego Cabrera video. For those who didn't click on Padre Diego's YouTube channel because they don't speak Spanish, you should know that a couple of the videos are in English, which Padre Diego learned when he was assigned by his order to do mission work in Fiji.

I tuned in to one titled The Lord Is Coming and was stunned to hear Padre Diego alternate between masculine and feminine pronouns for God. At first I thought it was a mistake (use of inclusive language for God from Latino priests is rarisimo!), but I read the accompanying narrative: "...God shows to us as a Father and a Mother, taking care of us with such a love and gives us security and tenderness...." So the use of the feminine pronoun is deliberate...and wonderful! And it is also present in the Spanish version of the song Mi Dios hoy viene.

In the following video is a litany to Our Lady of Guadalupe, "mother of the Earth, mother of the disappeared". Pray for us, Holy Mary of Guadalupe!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Priests March for Immigrants in Los Angeles

At midday today, LA Auxilliary Bishop Alexander Salazar led a group of priests and laity with the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to the B-18 Immigration Holding Center, an immigrant detention facility in downtown Los Angeles. The group released a batch of white doves to symbolize freedom. Bishop Salazar also spoke about the USCCB's January 2010 postcard campaign for comprehensive immigration reform.

You can see a news video of the action by station KCBS here.

¡Bien hecho, Monseñor Salazar!

Spiritual care of migrants in detention

A friend, Fr. Ken Gavin, SJ, is on the road in Sri Lanka this week for a meeting of Jesuit Refugee Services regional directors. Fr. Ken is one of the visiting Jesuits who celebrates Mass for the Hispanic community at St. Ann's. For those who want to know what he's up to, he is blogging regularly from the other side of the world.

Below is an excerpt and a video from his most recent post. Fr. Ken talks about ministering to the spiritual needs of migrants in detention, a theme recently taken up by Bishop John Wester, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Migration, at the Vatican's World Congress on the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Refugees. "Bishop Wester said the church must insist on several things: that access to detention centers and detainees is provided so that sacraments can be administered regularly; that pastoral workers can ensure detainees are being treated properly; that detainees can receive spiritual comfort and counseling; and that church workers can inform family members about how the detainees are doing...But, he said, the best way to deal with the problem is to enact comprehensive immigration reform, regularizing the status of millions of people and keeping them out of detention." (CNS)
From Fr. Ken's blog:

...I was particularly moved by the work of JRS chaplains and pastoral visitors who work in detention centers throughout Europe and U.S., caring for the spiritual needs of detained migrants and asylum seekers. It is often there — in prisons and detention facilities — the need for and the call to reconciliation is experienced most deeply.

I will never forget the story of a 22-year old Mexican migrant, Francisco-Javier, who in early 2007 was killed by a U.S. border patrol agent while attempting to cross into southern Arizona from Mexico with his two younger brothers and a sister-in-law.

None of these young people carried a weapon and, in fact, they probably froze in fear when the border patrol apprehended them. No doubt, the arresting agent, too, must have felt threatened by these four young migrants. In his fear, he pulled out his firearm and shot Francisco-Javier.

Two days later, while celebrating Mass at a detention center north of Tucson, I was introduced to Francisco-Javier’s two surviving brothers, who had been detained there at the center. Their pain was still raw and they were clearly deeply concerned about their parents in Mexico, and the wife of one of the brothers who was being detained in the women’s section of the facility.

In difficult moments like these, I ask myself how can we in JRS begin to bring even a small sense of reconciliation and peace into the lives of these broken people? How can JRS help break down barriers of fear that make groups — like migrants and border agents — stand in such great fear of one another?...

JRS/USA ministers to detainees from Jesuit Refugee Service/USA on Vimeo.

Photo: Fr. Ken Gavin, SJ -- "borrowed" from Fr. Ken's Facebook page (do I have to go to confession for that?)

Our Lady of Guadalupe Videos 2: Virgen de Tepeyac

The next two videos in this series will be by Padre Diego Cabrera Rojas. He is a Columban priest from Peru whose music deserves to be better known in this country than it is. I first found his videos while looking for a music video on the priesthood to post on Fr. Hoyos' blog and was completely charmed by Padre Diego's simplicity and his love for the poor that comes out both in the lyrics and in the faces of the people in his videos. You can find most of the Padre Diego videos collected here but don't click on this link unless you have a lot of time (or will power!) because it's hard to stop watching after just one video. "Virgen de Tepeyac" talks about Mary as the Mother of the poor and the disappeared.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe Videos 1: Nican Mopohua

In 12 days, we will be celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas. In preparation, I've been trolling the Web looking for music videos on this subject to share. There are thousands of course, but I am not looking for the slick ones by famous singers like Marc Antonio Solis. Instead, I am looking for ones that fit the theme of this blog, a church with the poor.

This first video is interesting because it is sung in both Spanish and Nahuatl, the indigenous language in which the Nican Mopohua ("Here it is told"), the account of the apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe at Tepeyac, was written. We are including it because it highlights the mestizaje in Mexican culture and Catholicism.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Latinos Overwhelmingly Support Health Care Reform That Includes Public Option

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 30 /PRNewswire/ -- A new poll released today by Latino Decisions, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico (UNM-RWJF Center), and impreMedia, shows a widespread consensus among the Latino/Hispanic electoral about the importance of health care reform and indicates significant support for expansion of coverage. For the first time, health care tops the list of national issues identified by respondents as the most important issue Congress and the President need to address. This is particularly impressive, given that in April 2009 a similar Latino Decisions poll found that only 6% of the Latino electorate had identified health care as the most important issue.

The national survey of 1,000 Latino registered voters shows that there is broad-based and overwhelming support not just for health care reform, but 74% support a plan that includes a public option to compete with private insurance programs, 67% say health care should be made available regardless of citizenship or legal residency, and 61% would still like to see universal health care. "This poll suggests that a bill with the public option that also provides access to those who are non-citizens will be looked upon favorably by the Latino electorate," said Gabriel Sanchez of the UNM-RWJF Center.

The survey of those polled also found, that despite Latinos being heavily courted by the candidates for their support during the presidential elections, a large segment (44%) of the Latino population feels that their needs have not been taken into account during the national health care debate. "Lawmakers will once again tackle health care reform when they return to Washington after the Thanksgiving recess, and this poll strongly suggests that they have to do a much better job of addressing the needs of the nation's fastest growing electorate," said Latino Decisions Investigator, Matt Barreto.

"We are at a historic moment when real health care reform is possible and Latinos want to see Congress take action," said Monica Lozano, SVP of impreMedia. "How much they take these into account will be important as we move into the mid-term elections of 2010," said Lozano.

The executive summary of the poll results is available online at:

The top-line results from the survey are available online at:

The demographic profile of those surveyed can be found online at:

Survey of Latino registered voters on Health Care Reform - Executive Summary

by Matt A. Barreto & Gary Segura, Latino Decisions
November 30, 2009

A new poll of Latino/Hispanic registered voters finds widespread consensus about the importance of health care reform and significant support for robust efforts in this direction. The poll, commissioned by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, and impreMedia and administered by Latino Decisions, queried 1,000 Hispanic registered voters from November 1-16 regarding their views about politics in general, the nation's health care debate and their views of the administration.

Overall, Latino registered voters are very supportive of efforts to reform the nation's health care system, and show especially strong support for including the 'public option' as part of the reform effort. While President Obama continues to enjoy strong support from the Latino electorate, less than 1 in 7 survey respondents felt the needs of the Hispanic community were fully taken into account during the health reform debate.

Health Care the Nation's Most-Important-Problem

When asked what "the most important issue that President Obama and the Congress should address over the next year":

  • 32% reported health care, 30% identified the economy--including jobs and mortgage issues, 17% picked immigration as the biggest issue, while another 9% identified the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • In April 2009, a Latino Decisions poll found 56% of Latinos stated the economy was the top issue, compared to just 6% who mentioned health care
  • Priorities differ between native born and naturalized citizens.
  • Naturalized citizens identified the economy (33%) and immigration (28%) more frequently than health (25%) and the wars (4%).
  • US-born Hispanics identified health (37%), the economy (28%), and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (14%) as more urgent than immigration (7%).
Urgency of Health Reform

There is widespread consensus among Latino/Hispanic citizens regarding the urgency of both health care reform, and immigration reform.

  • Among all Hispanic registered voters, 84% report that it is important for Congress to pass a bill on immigration before the 2010 election.
  • Similarly, 86% report that it is important for Congress to pass a bill on health reform before the 2010 election.
  • Both are considered more urgent to the foreign born naturalized citizens (85% and 91% respectively) than to the US born (82% for each).
  • When asked which of the two was the more important, two-thirds (67%) of respondents picked health reform, compared to just 20% for immigration reform, and 10% thought they were of equal importance.
  • This order of priority is consistent between immigrant citizens and the native born, with 62% of the foreign born and 69% of the U.S. born indicating health care was more important.
  • While immigration reform looms as a very important concern to the Latino electorate, passing health care reform is such a grave concern that it's importance outpaces immigration reform by over a 3-1 margin
Policy Preferences in Health Reform

  • Hispanics prefer some form of universal health insurance, even if it means higher taxes, to the current system, 61% to 28%
  • The number of uninsured (30%) is most often cited as the principal motivation for reform, with cost control (23%) and affordability (22%) rounding out the top three.
  • Those opposed to universal health insurance are only partially motivated by anti-government sentiment, which receive great attention in the media. Among those opposed to universal health insurance, 33% said they were against government take-over, however more than a quarter (27%) stated they needed more information or clarity on the health care reform process
  • The public option has robust support among Hispanic voters. 74% of Latinos would "somewhat" or "strongly" support its inclusion in the final bill. This number is significantly higher than in the nation as a whole (56%, CNN 11/15; 61% CBS, 11/16);
  • 67% think everyone should be covered, without regard to citizenship or immigration status, while only a quarter (25%) would restrict benefits to citizens and legal residents only. Not surprisingly, immigrant citizen sentiment favors full inclusion (80%) at significantly higher rates than US born 59%, however a clear majority of Latinos, both foreign and U.S. born support inclusion in health care services to all those living in America
Hispanics' needs are great, sense of influence modest.

The issue of health is of critical importance to many respondents, with high rates of uninsured Nevertheless, Hispanics have a decidedly mixed evaluation regarding whether their views are considered.

  • 20% report having gone without insurance for at least one month sometime in the last two years, and 16% were without insurance on the day of their interview;
  • Only 14% believe that public officials care very much about the Hispanic communities health care needs when crafting the health legislation, and 36% said only somewhat. A substantial percentage -- 44% -- report believing that public officials don't consider their needs much or at all.
  • Regarding the quality and costs of the current medical system, 49% of Latino voters said they were very satisfied with the quality of care they receive, and 31% were very satisfied with the costs of care, suggesting many in the Latino community are less than satisfied about their current health care situation.
Congress and President enjoy approval among Latinos

President Obama remains widely popular among Hispanic registered voters.

  • 74% somewhat or strongly approve of the job being done by President Obama, only 23% disapprove; in April 2009, 81% of Hispanic voters approved of Obama
  • Obama is somewhat more popular among foreign born Latinos, holding 79% approval, compared to 72% among U.S. born
  • 52% somewhat or strongly approve of the performance of Congress, 37% disapprove; in April 2009, 67% of Hispanic voters approved of Congress

In November 2009 Latino Decisions fielded a national survey of Latino registered voters on issues related to health care reform. Latino Decisions partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico, and impreMedia, and all phone calls were administered by Pacific Market Research in Renton, WA. The poll was overseen by Drs. Matt Barreto and Gary Segura, experts in Latino public opinion. A total of 1,000 Latino registered voters were interviewed, with a margin of error of +/- 3.1%. Latino registered voters were identified through a Spanish surname match against the statewide list of registered voters in 21 states*. Latino Decisions selected the top 21 states with the highest number of Latino registered voters, and taken together, they account for over 90% of the Latino electorate. Telephone calls were conducted in English and Spanish, at the discretion of the respondent, and all respondent's who were interviewed self' identified as Latino or Hispanic and registered to vote. Overall, 54% of respondents were born in the United States, 39% were foreign born, and 6% born in Puerto Rico and 65% of interviews were completed in English and 35% in Spanish. The survey was approximately 22 minutes long, and was fielded from November 1 - November 16, 2009. For more information, please visit or call 877-271-2300.

Immigration Reform Is Good for Economic Recovery

By Angela Maria Kelley, Gebe Martinez
Center for American Progress
November 30, 2009

There are signs that the nation is slowly emerging from the longest and most severe recession since the Great Depression. But a full economic recovery will require solid thinking about the strength of our workforce so that we are better positioned to produce and consume goods, contribute to the tax base, and expand job opportunities for all. An overlooked source of economic recovery will be the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

It might seem counterintuitive to enact immigration reforms and legalize up to 8 million workers in the United States who are without documents, including many who pay taxes. But the simple truth is that updating our immigration laws will generate tax revenues by requiring all workers and employers to be in the system and level the playing field for business owners who play by the rules. And now couldn’t be a better time: Current immigration rates are down mainly due to the economy, which gives us a chance to assess how many immigrant workers our economy needs.

Comprehensive immigration reform would require current undocumented immigrants and their employers to pay their full and fair share of taxes once they come out of the shadows and register to earn legal status. The reform bill passed by the Senate in 2006, which included a legalization program, would have generated $66 billion in new income and payroll taxes during 2007-2016, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Fixing the immigration system would also level the playing field for business owners. Reforms would keep law-abiding businesses from constantly being undercut by outlaw employers who exploit workers by making them work in substandard conditions and at lower wages. Workplace rights, which are sought by labor unions that have united behind comprehensive immigration reform, will put upward pressure on wages, which will benefit native workers, as well.

Unfortunately, immigration hardliners are attacking immigrants under the false pretense of fixing the economy. They are demanding that the Obama administration round up undocumented residents at their worksites and deport them so that jobs can open up for U.S. citizens. That assertion belies smart economics and simple logic. Consider:

Federal officials could not find and deport the estimated 12 million people who are now in the country without proper documents, including almost 5 million who overstayed their visas. This is an impossible task, and the public does not favor such costly, draconian enforcement action. Deportation of about 10 million immigrants who entered illegally or who stayed after their visas expired would cost at least $206 billion over five years, or $41.2 billion annually, and this figure could be as high as $230 billion or more, based on figures available in 2005.

Immigrants and native-born workers do not compete with each other for jobs. Immigrants and native-born workers usually complement each other, with immigrants more likely to fill lower-paying jobs that native-born workers reject or do not apply for. A laid off auto worker in Michigan, for example, will not move to California to pick produce. Millions of laid off workers will resist taking jobs held by undocumented immigrants in places such as hog pens, chicken processing plants, and in motels cleaning toilets.

“Enforcement only” strategies do not improve the economy. Indeed, such strategies will make the economy worse, according to economists across the political spectrum. Immigrants—regardless of status—create additional occupations for native-born workers because they spend their earnings on goods, services, rental payments, and taxes. Immigrants and their families become small business owners that create other jobs. The Cato Institute noted that strict enforcement would actually cut U.S. household welfare by $80 billion, whereas “legalization of low-skilled immigrant workers would yield significant income gains for American workers and households.” A separate study last year by The Perryman Group concluded that deportation of the undocumented workforce would damage the nation, resulting in $1.8 trillion in annual lost spending, $651.5 billion in annual lost output, and 8.1 million lost jobs.

Congress needs to focus on fixing the economy. And it is clear that fixing the broken immigration system will help strengthen the economy, while deporting undocumented workers would only make it worse. Some politicians are using the recession as an excuse to run away from immigration reform, but doing nothing is not an option.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) is one politician who is forcing the issue head on and drafting immigration reform legislation as the head of the House Judiciary Subcomittee on Immigration. Lofgren’s congressional district has the largest Latino and Asian populations in the Bay Area and covers the Silicon Valley were half of the start-ups were founded by immigrants, up from 25 percent a decade ago.

Lofgren proudly names three immigrants—one of them a refugee—who came to the United States as children and became job creators: Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google; Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo; and Andrew Grove, who served as chairman and chief executive officer of Intel. “None of these (immigrants) came because of their skills, and yet they are responsible for hiring tens of thousands of my constituents, and they are glad for the work,” Lofgren emphasizes. Even immigrants at the lower end of the income scale are more likely to create their own businesses, whether they are landscaping firms or tamale stands, she added. “That’s absolutely good for the economy.”

The economy must be fixed and voters want solutions to serious issues, not scapegoats. Comprehensive immigration reform will be an important component of this effort.

Prophetic Mission: Fr. Jack Davis in Peru

By Stephen J. Lee,
Grand Forks Herald

It took a few years of living as a missionary priest in Chimbote, Peru, before the Rev. Jack Davis learned a key distinction from a nun.

In Mexico, people were in poverty but they could and would offer a visitor a bite, however humble, to eat, the nun told Davis.

But in Peru where Davis has been a missionary for 35 years, the people had not even poverty, only misery, he said the nun taught him: a disabling lack of basic human needs that led to despair and violence and death.

A Catholic priest for 40 years, Davis, who grew up in Devils Lake, has been in Peru since 1975.

He was the featured speaker Sunday night at the symposium on human rights being held this week at the North Dakota Museum of Art on UND’s campus, at 261 Centennial Drive, near Twamley Hall. It’s being held in conjunction with an exhibit, “The Disappeared,” of victims of South American governments the past 40 years.

Davis told the crowd of about 90 people at the Museum that his first impression of Peru 35 years ago was the shock of the pervasive anti-American sentiment.

There was a priest he worked with that maybe had collaborated with the CIA, Davis said. That meant that Peruvians looked at Davis, too, as possibly an agent of political and governmental change, and the leftist Peruvian government kicked the Peace Corps workers out of the country in the mid-1970s, about the time Davis arrived.

The message he got from the people of Peru was “Yankee, go home,” he said. He learned, Davis said, to trace some of the sentiments back to the European conquest and invasion of South America that began 500 years ago.

Chimbote, Peru, was different in most ways from his North Dakota home.

Chimbote is in one of the most arid places on earth.

“It rained in 1983, and it rained in 1999,” Davis said tersely. “It does not rain in Chimbote.”

So, sand is a main theme, he said.

Davis got to see the early working-out of the controversial “liberation theology,” of the Rev. Gustavo Gutierrez, the Peruvian priest who roiled the Catholic world with his idea that Jesus’ Gospel said that poverty was not God’s will.

Davis said it was a big change in his own thinking to realize it was not God’s will that Peruvian children would die of tuberculosis because their families were too poor to give them the nutrition and care they needed.

“This is not what God wants,” he said of what he preached at such a child’s funeral, fighting the fatalism of the Peruvian poor.

Although many leaders in the Catholic church, as well as political leaders in the West, opposed liberation theology as Marxism dressed up in church clothes, Davis said it got Peruvians enmeshed in the popular communist front groups to listen to the Bible.

“Father Gustavo said ‘Let’s talk about the Bible. What does the Bible say about poverty and justice?’”

It was putting the language of Christianity into the language of the poor in Peru, Davis said.

“Father Gustavo developed his theology using the vocabulary of the Marxists,” Davis said, arguing that Gutierrez helped bring people into the church, not into communism.

Davis said he learned, too, to fight “the culture of death,” in Peru that laughed at and accepted violence against women as the way things were supposed to be.

For the past quarter century he and Sister Peggy Byrne, the Irish nun who followed Davis from Devils Lake to work in Chimbote in the same parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, have raised money on regular trips back to the United States to spend in Chimbote.

It’s a huge parish, of 30,000 people, with great needs.

He realized years ago that his mission was a “prophetic,” one, that challenged not only destructive ideas in Peru, but the ways that American foreign policy had hurt the people of South America, Davis said.
Davis was threatened by the violent Maoist group, The Shining Path that tried to get him to join them in fighting the drug trade. He told the terrorists that while he opposed drug-dealing, he wouldn’t condone violence by anyone.

After years in which it was thought the Shining Path had disappeared, they have raised their head again in Peru, now, ironically, trying to use the illegal drug trade to make money, according to news reports.

Davis has been awarded the Peruvian Medal of Honor for his decades of service.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Star in God's Eyes

Last night was the "Buscando una Estrella Para Jesús" singing contest or, as I like to call it, Padre Hoyos' answer to "American Idol". Singers from different local Catholic parishes compete, interpreting religious songs. They are rated by a jury of people with varying degrees of musical expertise, who usually come to conclusions that vary so much from my assessments that I no longer bother to try to guess who will come out ahead.

Last night was no exception and I left feeling that the primary criteria must be "sexy" and "female" rather than any discernible vocal qualities or originality of interpretation. The good performances by male singers far outnumbered the good performances by women this time and yet they were underrepresented in the final selection.

One of the two men who did win -- and deservedly so -- was my friend Marcelo. He sang a very moving "Ave Maria" at the end of the program and came away with the "Voz Revelación Masculino" certificate. He could easily have been a candidate for one of the bigger prizes but, like I said, the jury's criteria are inscrutable.

Marcelo, who is originally from Bolivia, was feeling good because he just got his permanent residency. Hopefully this will make life easier for him and his family. He has worked every type of job imaginable to support them and on Sundays, he leads the singing at St. Ann's and occasionally in other parishes. I have known him for years and he has done some excellent carpentry work in my house.

In the end, Marcelo doesn't need some jury to tell him if he's a star. Because of his hard work, his devotion to his children, and his commitment to the Church, Marcelo is already a star in God's eyes...and those are the only ones that count.

Apocalypse and Apocatastasis

English translation of Apocalipsi i Apocatàstasi by Sr. Teresa Forcades.

Both are biblical words, both appear in the New Testament: apocalypse and apocatastasis.

When he sees Jesus, the old man Simeon exclaims: "... light to be revealed to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel" (Lk 2:32). It should be translated literally: "light for revelation to the Gentiles." The word "revelation" in the original Greek is apocalipsi. Paul repeatedly speaks of the apocalypse of Jesus, commonly translated as the "revelation of Jesus" (1 Cor 1:7; 2 Thes 1:7), so does the letter of Peter (1 Pe 1:7; 1 Pe 1:13) and, of course, so does the book of Revelation in its first verse (Rev 1:1). It is from this last book that the popular use of the word apocalypse in modern languages derives, to indicate large-scale destruction and chaos, like in the famous film Apocalypse Now about the Vietnam War.

The other word that heads this paper,"apocatastasis", appears in the Acts of the Apostles. Peter announces the second coming of the Messiah and the arrival of the "time of consolation" and of "restoration (apocatastasis) of all things" (Acts 3:21). Apocatastasis means "restoration", that is, things return to their original state which, as we know from the book of Genesis, was a state of fullness, a "good and very good" state (Gen 1:31). In the Gospel of Mark, the verb form of this word apocatastasis appears: Jesus heals the man with the withered hand and the evangelist writes that he "restored" (apocatatitzar) the hand (Mk 3:5).

After Peter announces the "time of consolation" and the apocatastasis of all things, they put him and John in jail and the next day they tell them not to speak of this anymore because they are disturbing the public order (Acts 4). After Jesus restores the withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees (the religious authority), in council with the Herodians (the political authority), make a decision against Him on how to get rid of Him (Mark 3:6).

Popular wisdom does not arise from nothing. There is violence associated with the apocalypse of Jesus and his goal of restoring the goodness of things. But violence is never from God. Therefore the Christmas liturgy that we begin to prepare for this week, without forgetting the Holy Innocents or St. Stephen, can call Jesus the "Prince of Peace".

The challenges of theology in the 21st century

Some thoughts by Belgian theologian José Comblin to contemplate this Advent.

by José Comblin (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Our starting point is the distinction between religion and gospel. Christianity was not originally a religion and Jesus founded no religion. Christians later founded the Christian religion, a human and not a divine creation.

Religion is a product of human culture. There are a great variety of religions, and all have the same structure although they are very different in their external forms. All have a mythology, a cult and a class dedicated to performing it. In that sense, the Christian religion is no different from the others. It is also a human creation, a product of diverse cultures. Religion is a basic fact of human existence. It raises the problems of the meaning of life on this earth, the problem of values, the place of human beings in the universe, and the problem of the salvation of this world from all its evils.

Religion has been studied by religious anthropology, religious sociology, the psychology of religion, the history of religions. All this also characterizes the Christian religion. As a human creation, the Christian religion has changed and may still change in the future according to changes in history. This is even one of the great challenges of the present, because the Christian religion is exhausted and offers no response to the orientation of today's culture, except traces of the past.

The gospel of Jesus is not a religion. Jesus founded no religion: He did not proclaim any religious doctrine or mythology, no discourse about God, He did not found any cult and founded no clerical class. Jesus proclaimed and inaugurated the Kingdom of God on earth. The Kingdom of God is not a religious realm, it is a renewal of the whole human race, which changes the meaning of human history, opening a new era, the final one. It is a message for all humankind in all cultures and religions. You could say that it is a message and a meta-political history.

Since humans can not live without religion, for 2000 years the followers of Christ built a religion that was like a coating for the Christian message, with the danger of transforming Christianity into a religion. The religious coating can mask the message of the gospel or lead to the message, according to the evolution of history. In many cases, religion hid the gospel. Christians enunciated a doctrine that used many elements of Judaism and of religions that were neither Christian nor Jewish, they created a cult of the same inspiration and an entire legal system that frames a very complex institution.

We can say that the history of Christianity is the story of a tension or conflict between religion and the gospel, between a human tendency toward religion, and the voices or lives of those who wanted to live by the gospel.

Religions are conservative and believe in a permanent world where everything gets a religious explanation. Religion changes unconsciously but resists any request for voluntary change. Many Christians and Christian structures unknowingly struggle against the Gospel. There is some truth in what Charles Maurras, the twentieth-century French atheist, said when he said he congratulated the Roman religion for having taken all the poison of the gospel out of Christianity. It's a bit exaggerated but suggestive.

The gospel is change, movement, freedom. It cannot accept the world as it is, because it has to change it. The gospel is conflict between rich and poor. It is a choice between rich and poor. In religion, rich and poor are part of the general harmony. They are so because it must be so, although the rich have to help the poor without changing the structure created by God or the substitutes for God. Religion wants peace, even if it is through an alliance with the powerful. The gospel means conflict.

The task of theology is to show the distinction, seeking what is the gospel and all that was added, and it can or should change to be faithful to that gospel. It's liberating the gospel from religion. Religion is good if it helps to seek the gospel and not to forget it under the cloak of religion. It is a human need but it has to be investigated and corrected.

Theology is at the service of Christian and even non-Christian people, so that they will know the true gospel, can come to true faith and not religious sentiment. For centuries theology was serving to defend the institution from heresy or the enemies of the Church. That's how it was after Trent until the twentieth century and in many areas until Vatican II. It was apologetics, the intellectual weapon in the fight against the Reformed Churches and all modernity, at the service of the hierarchy. In some ways it was a weapon directed against the laity so that they would not let themselves be seduced by the enemies of the Church. Up until Trent, theology was Bible commentary, free, open to all, as free intellectual work. The Reformation started from theologians and then theology was under the tight control of the hierarchy.

1. God

Most Catholics understand by the word "God" the idea of a God that is common to all humankind in different ways. God would be a cosmic God. He is within the cosmos as the One who created it or put it in order. He is all-powerful, eternal, omniscient, capable of punishing or rewarding, responsive to prayers and demanding sacrifices and donations. One must ask Him for forgiveness and pay for that forgiveness with various services. He is part of the universe at the highest level, sitting in Heaven from which He runs the whole world. He is the author of order or what humans call order in the world and which, in reality, is the disorder of the world. He does not want that order to change.

They think they know God and they do not know Him. They know just one idea common to all humanity under many different forms. They do not know God, because no one has ever seen God and nobody knows what He is. They think they know Him, they are wrong, and they deceive others.

2. Revelation

God made Himself known in Jesus Christ. He announced this revelation through the prophets, but had not revealed Himself. He made Himself known in the life of Jesus. Jesus did not make Him known through words, speeches or doctrines. He didn't do any of that. He never said He was the Father in a theoretical way. Thus He invalidates any discussion of God and any theology that is a human construct. They assume that this discussion expresses what Jesus meant to say and didn't. It is a mistake. If He didn't say it, that silence itself is already a revelation.

The Word or the revelation of God became flesh. He did not say "man" because man is an ambiguous category. What is being a man? The official doctrine of the Church is inspired by the Greek categories used by the great Councils that speak of two natures in Jesus: divine and human. Jesus would have a human nature. But the word nature says nothing about what John meant. Jesus was flesh, which means a human life with all its weaknesses, exposed to all accidents of the material world, a life of hopes, dreams and disappointments, projects, successes and failures, made of joy and sadness, which ultimately results in death. Flesh is all that and much more.

The Word became flesh, that is God became flesh. This means that God gave up all his power and became weak as any human being. He didn't even accept what is power in human society. God became poor, lay, without money, without political power, without cultural power. He became a peasant from Galilee, a province cursed by the Jews faithful to the law. God is weak, He knows suffering, persecution, the infamous death on the Cross. The Father is never separated from the Son. One is in the Other.

Where is the revelation of God? It's in the life of Jesus, first in the overall project of His life. Jesus had a well-defined project that He exposed in all His actions and words. The project was a radical change of all humanity in view of a just and fraternal humanity.

This project consists of: declaring the religion of Israel obsolete in order to return to the promise of Abraham, the debate against the authorities who want to maintain the Jewish system until the final conflict leading to the Cross. The Cross is the final conclusion of the fight against defenders of the traditional law of Judaism. Besides, Jesus gives the signals of the new humanity by caring for the sick, giving priority to the oppressed and the victims accused of being sinners, choosing a group of disciples in charge of communicating the gospel to the whole world; signs of openness to pagans and Samaritan heretics, replacing the law with freedom. Jesus wants a free humanity. Paul sums it up well when he defines Christianity as a call to freedom. What Jesus did reveals the Father. We can not read the pages of the gospel out of their global context which is the life project of Jesus.

3. The Freedom of God

The freedom of God is shown in that which abandons all power. The life of Jesus is without power, He does not impose Himself, does not condemn, does not make requirements, a program that was the one of Dom Helder when he arrived in Recife -- two forbidden words: command and demand. Jesus showed the way by walking as He did.

He comes to open the way to a free humanity. On this way, there is no power. He acts freely without fear, resisting the temptations of Satan's power, enters into conflict with all the authorities without fear and with the greatest boldness. God respects human freedom and thereby opens the way to freedom so that they will follow that path. The cross shows the path of freedom: better to die than kill. He believes in the efficacy of the death because He knows that God walks the path of freedom without domination. The strength of God is in the witness and love to the outcasts, sinners, victims, the poor in general. These are His forces. He is a God very different from the gods imagined by religions, including Christianity.

Freedom comes from love and love comes from freedom. To love is to make men and women free, or freer. Freedom is love.

To love one must be free. Human beings are prisoners of their individualism, their concern for themselves which is what blocks love. God is love because He makes others free. That's His love. He is free and wants human beings to be free too.

4. The liberation of men and women

History is a history of liberty. Because humans are not born free, they are born into a society of domination and exploitation. There are men and women who dominate others and subject them to their will, to the service of their wealth, their privileges, their power. There is an immense mass of men and women who are dominated, exploited and excluded so that others dominate and grow. Therefore, history is always a constant and repeated struggle by the powerful to impose their domination over the dominated, and the dominated fight or try to fight to defend their livelihood, and win some freedom. All religions offer an image of humanity as something fixed, stable, positive on the whole, immutable, God's creation. To want to change is to be against God. The Christian religion has taught that, at least since the 4th century and even before. Religion does not accept any conflict other than the conflict of religions. For Jesus, the conflict is not between religions; it is the conflict of two classes -- the rulers and the ruled. That's why Michel Henry, a contemporary Christian philosopher can say that the first Christian philosopher was Karl Marx. The Greek philosophers were philosophers of being, the order of being, both Plato and Aristotle. Instead of being good servants of theology, they separated it from the gospel.

Personal, group and structural domination is the sin that has existed since the origins of humanity. It is not an obligation, but all human beings contribute to maintain these structures of domination. It is a sin of all and is the sin of the world that is so strong in humanity that human beings can not free themselves from this dominion of sin by themselves. They are victims of sin, and sin through submission to universal sin. Jesus came to liberate human beings from the bondage of sin. Power is the great temptation: rather than being service it becomes domination. Therefore, God does not manifest any power because He has relinquished all power of domination or imposition. Jesus is free from sin because He does not dominate, does not accept any form of domination.

5. The place of the poor in liberation

All religions preach that we must help the poor. Charity is highly esteemed in all religions. The gospel says otherwise.

The gospel is directed at the poor because they are called to liberate humanity. They do not dominate and so can be free. They can, because there are some who do their best to dominate too. But many do not aspire to dominate and try to love their neighbor. It is they who constitute the people with their words, their testimony, their collective actions of free will. The liberation of humanity comes not from the top down, but rather from the bottom up. This is the foolishness of God of which Paul speaks. God chose the weak to destroy the power of the strongest. A new humanity is born from the poor, from all those who do not want to dominate and who try to love. They may be Christians or not, it doesn't matter. They can be atheists, because the Holy Spirit comes to all.

The poor find a tremendous resistance from the powerful: they pass through the cross, but have the promise of the victory of the resurrection.

The big challenge is to convince the poor that they have the power of the Spirit to follow Jesus' way and are able to build a new world, even without money, without political power, without cultural power. Because the poor have a sense of powerlessness, fear, submission to the higher-ups. The task of the disciples of Jesus will be to encourage and convince the poor to have faith. Because faith is not accepting a universal doctrine applicable to all.

Such a doctrine does not move anyone. It would be only a submission to a system of concepts. Faith is believing that I am able to follow the path of Jesus and build a new world by the power of the Spirit, despite all my weakness. That faith is very difficult of course, but most Catholics do not have faith. They accept all dogmas, but don't have faith.

The Tasks of Theology

The main and somewhat unique task is the critical study of the whole Christian tradition, to return to the gospel. It's about rediscovering what was actually revealed in the life and death of Jesus. This is not to destroy religion. It would be useless, because humans need a religion and if it is eliminated, it reappears in other forms. The problem is to know everything about religion that is no longer understandable and acceptable in the new modern culture that goes into all religions. One must find what is really understandable and meaningful and can be an acceptable coating for the gospel. Let's look at the elements of religion.

1. The doctrine or mythology

Jesus formulated no doctrine. He spoke through metaphors, stories, parables, judgments, advice, comments on the experience of the moment. This means of expression is popular, it is the means of the poor. If God expressed Himself in that form, He did not do it for entertainment or as an adaptation to a supposed intellectual inferiority of the poor. He used it because that mode of expression is less rigorous, less imposing, less limited. A doctrine is always marked by an era, a culture limited in time and space. The metaphorical language retains its meaning in the midst of many cultures. It lacks the precision that concepts have. If God did so, it's because He chose it as the best means of expression. If that language does not have the precision of abstract concepts, it is because God did not want that precision. Jesus' expressions allow for various interpretations and God willed it so. He did not want His disciples to be prisoners of a doctrine.

Later the Church defined a mandatory doctrine in the form of concepts that were often drawn from Greek philosophy. It imposed a rigid interpretation of the gospel. The dogmas have always been a source of questions, problems, resistance because not all accepted this discipline of thought that Jesus had not imposed.

The task of theology will release the gospel from the rigidity of dogma. We will have to critically examine all documents of the magisterium. Since Trent, theologians have usually given the maximalist interpretation of dogmas. We need to return to a minimalist interpretation of: what is it that the gospel really requires? Moreover dogmas function historically by what they do not say. The first 4 councils concentrated everything on the concepts of person and nature. They put aside the human life of Jesus. That's why the human life of Jesus stopped being a subject of reflexion for Christians for centuries. Thomas a Kempis could write a book on the Imitation of Christ, without any reference to the human life of Jesus. What Christ is that? The dogmas hid the human life of Jesus for centuries. At Trent, there was no talk of faith in the biblical sense, but of a religious faith that is not Christian. The end was centuries of lack of communication between Catholics and Protestants, which could have been avoided.

The dogmas were defined by popes and bishops. But they do not necessarily represent the entire Christian people, as if the Spirit were not also in the people. There were councils that deeply divided and expelled immense sectors from the Church: the Churches of Syria, of Egypt and of the whole Orient, not to mention Protestants. Within the assemblies there were dissensions that were not heresies. For example in Vatican I. This weakens the definitions. All of that is the subject of theology.

Of course theology itself is suspect in light of the gospel and must be examined critically to see if it helps to understand the gospel or hides it, which has happened many times. Because since Trent, theology became a polemic against Protestants and modernists. It began serving the hierarchy. That is not the task of theology. It serves to help the Christian people to better understand what the Gospel says. It serves the Christian people and not their hierarchy.

2. Worship

In religion the most important part is worship. Over time, Christians created a huge liturgical edifice, very rigorous, very determined in every gesture and every word. The rituals are inspired by the Old Testament, by the religions of the Christianized people. It came to be defined that there would be 7 sacraments. There are also countless blessings and other acts of worship, whether more popular or more intellectual. After Vatican II, there were some very superficial changes because everything essential stayed the same. The consequence is that many Catholics have left a cult that means nothing to them. Indeed it is difficult to understand how this liturgy is related to the individual and social life of modern times. The anointing of the sick is little practiced. Very few still practice the sacrament of penance. Everything had meaning when it was introduced in the official cult. But many rites became incomprehensible. What are the gestures and words that would be significant for the new generation? Instead of looking for what is required by the current state of humanity, there are important groups in Rome that would like to return to the past of Trent. Then it would be the definitive expulsion of young people. They would like to return to Latin. Why not to Greek or Hebrew?

3. The organization

All religions are an institution whose basic element is the priests whose mission is mainly the cult. The Christian religion could not escape. A clergy appeared - especially after Constantine - that socially separated itself from the people and formed a caste with its own subculture. In fact until Trent the clergy created many problems, but Trent was able to bring order and define the clergy that still exists today. The system is strictly monarchical. All powers are in the pope and the pope delegates a portion of them to the bishops and they, to the presbyters and deacons. The problems caused by the current situation of the monarchical system and the separation between clergy and people -- what makes true community impossible -- are well known and there is no need to repeat them. Clearly the system is broken. The rejection of the clergy is one of the primary reasons for the abandonment of the Church. In the other so-called historical churches, the problem is the same.

For centuries, theologians have devoted themselves to explaining and justifying all elements of the system. Times have changed. All that was linked to traditional culture lost its meaning and legitimacy. Theology should put the gospel and the contemporary world in contact with each other.

[Presentation by Fr. José Comblin, in Jornadas Teológicas Latinoamericanas: Actualización de la Teología Latinoamericana a la Luz de Aparecida, Santiago, Chile. October 2009 - Editor: Enrique A. Orellana F, Cuadernos Movimiento También Somos Iglesia Chile. Mail: / Rosas 2090 -D. Santiago. Chile / Celular: 09 3659171. Published on on November 24, 2009]