Friday, December 18, 2009

Mary: Exalted Virgin or Suffering Servant?

Going back to the infamous billboard of Mary and Joseph (see yesterday's post), today we have the reading from St. Matthew about Mary and Joseph and the virgin birth (Matt 1:18-24). The lectionary text stops just short of the 25th verse at the end of the chapter, the one that supports the Roman Catholic dogma: "He [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus."

Fr. Virgilio Elizondo, the well-known Hispanic theologian, uses this text as one example of how he learned to interpret the Bible "from below" (as the liberation theologians say), from the perspective of the people. From his A God of Incredible Surprises:

...As we were studying this text, I extolled the virtues of Joseph, who went against social tradition and took her in as his wife, One of the groups [of people from the barrio] had a different reading of this text. "Yes, to a point Joseph was a hero, but he was equally cruel and insensitive. How terrible and lonely it must have been for Mary, the young and inexperienced girl, to just be taken into his home but for him not to have relations with her, not to have anything to do with her, it must have made her feel dirty and at best merely tolerated."...

...I [Elizondo] do not question this permanent virginity, but I wonder if this was not part of the ongoing suffering of Mary: the suffering of being rejected, of not receiving the loving and tender gestures and touches that are supposed to be there in marriage...

...So once again, Mary enters into solidarity with women who are taken in as wives only to cook, clean, do the dishes, clean house, bear children, and maintain the family without any trace of loving relationships between her and her husband...

Fr. Elizondo affirms his belief in Mary's permanent virginity but I suspect that for many Hispanic Catholic women this dogma is psychologically incomprehensible, especially the assertion of Mary's virginity after Jesus' birth. We want for our Blessed Mother what we would want for ourselves: a good and loving husband in both the physical and spiritual sense of the word, and a family, defined as more than just one child. The absence of abrazos, besos, and other signs of cariño -- this exalted loneliness of permanent virginity -- does not seem to us to be a blessing unless lived out in a context that fits our paradigm, e.g. a monastic community.

I draw this conclusion because I am also an anomaly. I am an older, single, childless woman, yet I am not a nun. In my work in Hispanic ministry, people frequently assume that I am an hermana. When they find out that I am not part of any religious congregation, they take pity on me and try to fix me up with someone, either seriously or in jest. At first, this concern about my marital status used to bother me, but now I recognize the generous spirit behind it.

With all due respect to the institutional Church and its dogmas developed by celibate men, I think that if Mary were to come into a Hispanic community today, the ladies would wonder why she did not have any more children after Jesus and would be quietly beseeching God for her womb to open and for her to be blessed anew with the gift of life.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

International Migrants Day: No More Deaths!

UPDATE 12/22/2009: Walt Staton will not be serving a jail term. According to today's Green Valley News & Sun, Staton backed away from his vow not to comply with a sentence for leaving water jugs on a wildlife preserve last year, and told a judge he would complete 300 hours of community service. The theology student has one year to complete the hours and must submit a plan to the court next month.

Mexico's National Commission for Human Rights issued the following statement to commemorate International Migrants Day to be celebrated on December 18th (English translation by Rebel Girl).

Ironically the communique comes only days after an article in the San Diego Union Tribune reported that a young theology student, Walt Staton, may be facing a 25-day jail term for a littering conviction in Arizona after leaving water jugs along trails in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge for border crossers.

The National Commission for Human Rights believes, on the occasion of International Migrants Day commemorated tomorrow -- December 18th, that the rights and dignity of migrants is a commitment for all. The rights of individuals should not be violated inside or outside the country; any type of abuse is inexcusable.

The framework of this commemoration should serve not only to remember and mourn the shame, it is imperative that the Mexican government promote development and sustained economic growth so that fellow nationals are not forced to search in another country for the opportunities that their land should offer.

For the NHRC it is also necessary for countries to reach a genuine understanding about the phenomenon of migration and promote mechanisms to prevent deaths and abuse at borders.

The National Commission believes that it is the responsibility of governments to play a decisive role in seeking changes to ensure respect for migrants' human rights, without prejudice to the sovereignty of any nation in the world.

It is known that in the Mexican situation, migrants leave their country as a result of not having the conditions that make their quality of life secure. On the way to that search, they are hit upon by the common criminal, the organized mafia, non-immigration authorities who abuse them, threaten, rob and deprive them of their freedom.

The journey in which they are immersed is dramatic. They are subjected to harassment by the people smugglers who motivated them to undertake the adventure, or deceive them by offering "services" of relocation and shelter that they then do not meet; they sell what little they have to pay them or go into debt for years.

Therefore, it is unacceptable to the NHRC that there is still indolence and irresponsibility for accommodating migrants. Lack of political will and commitment to addressing the inexcusable abuses they suffer.

The application of the law is essential, as well as the respect and safeguarding of human rights.

Humane treatment of migrants must be assured.

In search of a new situation, from 1994 to date, more than 5,000 Mexican migrants have died in the desert, rivers and mountains on the northern border.

During 2007 and 2008, the average number of Mexicans killed at the border was 3 every 2 days.

The migratory phenomenon requires more attention. Migrants should not be criminalized or treated as criminals.

Photo: Walt Staton

Mary and Joseph in Bed: The billboard that's shaking up New Zealand

UPDATE 12/18/2009: The billboard was attacked a 3rd time by an elderly woman who slashed it with a knife and this time, the church says, it will not be replaced. Glynn Cardy, vicar at the church, told Ekklesia:

"I regret to say that tonight our billboard was attacked by a knife wielding Christian fanatic who was then apprehended by a group of homeless people who care about our church. Later in the evening another group of fanatics ripped it down.

"When knives are wielded in the name of God I have two responses. One is to act to ensure the safety of the public and parishioners. We will therefore not be replacing the vandalised billboard with an identical one.

"My second response is one of deep sadness at those in the Christian Church who don’t want to offend any faith position, even the most literalistic view of a male god. By having unity as their priority they inadvertently feed fanaticism.

"We have no regrets about bringing this discussion about Jesus’ origins and the nature of the Christian God into the public sphere – into homes, workplaces, universities and the internet. We are glad that discussion about Santa, food, and present buying was momentarily usurped by a discussion about Jesus.

Auckland, New Zealand is buzzing about the following billboard that the self-described "progressive Anglican" church St. Matthew-in-the-City has erected twice. The first time the billboard was defaced with brown paint; the second time it was stolen.

Before we continue, we know perfectly well that this billboard goes against the Catholic Church teaching that Mary was a virgin before and after Jesus' birth. A spokeswoman for the Catholic Diocese of Auckland reaffirmed this position and called the poster "inappropriate and disrespectful".

So why are we reporting this controversy here? Because we actually went to the church Web site and read what their vicar, Rev. Glynn Cardy, wrote about the church's reason for putting up such a provocative poster. And what he says is not so bad, although we personally disagree with calling the Christmas narratives "fictitious". Some excerpts:

...Many in society mistakenly think that to challenge literalism is to challenge the norms of Christianity. What progressive interpretations try to do however is remove the supernatural obfuscation and delve into the deeper spiritual truth of this festival...

...The Christmas billboard outside St Matthew-in-the-City lampoons literalism and invites people to think again about what a miracle is. Is the miracle a male God sending forth his divine sperm, or is the miracle that God is and always has been among the poor? ...

...Progressive Christianity believes the Christmas stories are fictitious accounts designed to introduce the radical nature of the adult Jesus. They contrast the Lord and Saviour Caesar with the anomaly of a new ‘lord’ and ‘saviour’ born illegitimate in a squalid barn. At Bethlehem low-life shepherds and heathen travelers are welcome while the powerful and the priests aren’t. The stories introduce the topsy-turvy way of God, where the outsiders are invited in and the insiders ushered out...

...Progressive Christianity doesn’t overlook Jesus’ life and rush to his death. Rather it sees the radical hospitality he offered to the poor, the despised, women, children, and the sick, and says: ‘this is the essence of God’. His death was a consequence of the offensive nature of that hospitality and his resurrection a symbolic vindication...

...One billboard that expresses middle mush reads, “I miss hearing you say ‘Merry Christmas’, and its signed ‘Jesus’. No one can take offense because no one is being asked to do or think anything particularly different, except say ‘Merry Christmas’.

No doubt on Christmas Eve when papers print the messages of Church leaders most of them will serve up this middle mush. Jesus will be born in a palatial sanitized barn and every king and crook, religious and irreligious, will be surrounding him saying ‘Merry Christmas my friends!’ No reader will be asked to do or think anything risky, no reader will be offended, and no reader will write a critical response. They’ll just yawn and turn the page.

So maybe this billboard will get people talking and thinking about the theological concepts that we often swallow without really understanding what they mean.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Initiative to Improve Access to Catholic Schools for Latino Children

Bishop Thomas J. Curry, chairman of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Catholic Education and auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, praised (en español) an initiative to improve access to Catholic schools for Latino children.

The initiative was designed by the Notre Dame Task Force on the Participation of Latino Children and Families in Catholic Schools. The report "To Nurture the Soul of a Nation: Latino Families, Catholic Schools, and Educational Opportunity" ("Para alentar el espiritu de una nación: familias latinas, escuelas catolicas y oportunidades educativas") was made public December 12.

"The study highlights two items in particular: Hispanic students who attend Catholic schools do better than their counterparts who do not; and Catholic schools are not attracting enough Hispanic students,” said Bishop Curry. “The study is a challenge to the Church to get the word out and spread the good news in the Hispanic community.”

Latino students in the U.S. suffer from an educational achievement gap:
  • Only 53 percent of Latinos graduate from high school in four years.
  • Only 16 percent of Latino 18-year-olds are considered “college-ready.”
Catholic schools serve Latino students well, offering a “Catholic school advantage.” Latinos who attend Catholic school are:
  • 42 percent more likely to graduate HS and
  • two-and-a-half times more likely to graduate college
Despite the Catholic school advantage, only 3% of Latinos send their children to Catholic schools. This represents an opportunity to more fully serve Latino children through Catholic schools. In response, the Notre Dame task force has set a goal of enrolling one million Hispanic children in Catholic schools by 2020, doubling the percentage of Latinos in Catholic school from 3 percent to 6 percent.

In Memoriam: Fr. Ronaldo Muñoz

Chilean priest and liberation theologian Fr. Ronaldo Muñoz, SSCC has died of cancer at 76. Muñoz received his doctorate in theology at the University of Regensburg in Germany in 1972 with a thesis on the new consciousness in the Church in Latin America. He sought to bring together his training in systematic theology with his experience living and working with the Christian base communities in Santiago. Fr. Muñoz was a member of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary.

From 1965 to 1980, Muñoz was a member of the theological team of the Latin American and Caribbean Confederation of Men and Women Religious which edited the "Theology and Liberation" series and he was an advisor to the bishops during the conferences at Puebla, Santo Domingo and Aparecida. One of his more interesting articles after Aparecida analyzes the key differences between the document that the bishops approved and the final version as revised by the Vatican. Muñoz offers a point by point comparison showing how the original document was watered down. Example:

Versión original
191. La Eucaristía, signo de la unidad (…) misterio del Hijo de Dios hecho pobre, nos plantea…

Versión oficial
176. La Eucaristía, signo de la unidad (…) misterio del Hijo de Dios hecho hombre (cf. Fil 2,6-8), nos plantea…
Among his publications are "Nueva Conciencia de la Iglesia en América Latina" ("New Consciousness in the Church in Latin America"); "La Iglesia en el Pueblo: Hacia una Eclesiología Latinoamericana" ("The Church in the People: Towards a Latin American Ecclesiology"); "Pueblo, Comunidad, Evangelio. Escritos Eclesiológicos" ("People, Community, Gospel. Ecclesiological Writings"); "Nueva Conciencia Cristiana en un mundo globalizado" ("New Christian Consciousness in a Globalized World". His most widely published work was "Dios de los Cristianos" ("The God of Christians") which has been translated into Portuguese, English, French, Italian and German.

As a tribute to Fr. Muñoz, we would like to share a poem he wrote. I would not presume to translate it and take away from its original eloquence but, to summarize, he says that the Church he loves is one of small mud chapels, of the poor and witnesses to truth, of service. He calls for a Church of fewer blessings of weapons, banks and governments and more marches for peace, justice and which we can only add a grateful and heartfelt "Amen!":

LA IGLESIA QUE AMO (Padre Ronaldo Muñoz, Teólogo)

Pocas catedrales de canto y oro,
muchas capillas de barro y tabla.

Pocos ricos adiestrados a la indiferencia,
muchos pobres expertos en pasión compartida.

Pocos letrados calculadores y prudentes,
muchos sencillos que saben de fe y de esperanza.

Pocos doctores muy seguros de su doctrina,
muchos testigos que escuchan de verdad.

Poco poder de fariseos y sacerdotes de carrera,
mucho servicio humilde a los hermanos más pequeños.

Pocos proyectos de dólares y marcos,
muchas mingas de sudor y canto.

Pocas ceremonias en palacios y cuarteles,
muchas fiestas en aldeas y barrios marginales.

Pocas bendiciones de armas, bancos y gobiernos,
muchas marchas de paz, justicia y libertad.

Poco temor al Dios del castigo y de la muerte,
mucho respeto al Dios del amor y de la vida.

Poco culto de espaldas al pueblo
a Cristo rey eterno en las alturas.

Mucho amor y seguimiento a Jesús el de María,
Compañero, Profeta, Hijo del Padre.

Poco, cada vez menos,
mucho, cada vez más.


Ask and Ye Shall Receive: A full-time Spanish speaking priest for St. Ann's

UPDATE 10/2014: This update would be better titled "Be careful what you ask for." Fr. Acho returned to Peru shortly after his appointment, ostensibly to tend to his dying mother. So, imagine our surprise when we read the following notice recently on the website of the Old Roman Catholic Church Latin Rite (an independent Catholic denomination, not under the Pope): "Padre Alcides Jorge Acho, is appointed to be the Bishop of the new Diocese of Peru. Padre Acho comes to the Old Roman Catholic Church, Latin Rite, from the Papal Roman Catholic Church. Father Acho left active ministry with the Novus Ordo Church in order to enter into the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, and all was done in accordance with Canon Law. Padre Acho has been with this Church for seven years. Father Acho is married to Cynthia and they have two beautiful Children. We have journeyed with them through the transition period from the Novus Ordo Church to the Old Roman Catholic Church." Interesting...because if this announcement is correct and you do the math, then Fr. Acho was actually already considered a member of his new denomination at the time he was serving in Arlington. 'Nuf said...

God and the Diocese of Arlington have finally answered a long time prayer of mine. For over 15 years, St. Ann's Hispanic community has been served by visiting priests and while these priests have been wonderful, very faithful men of God (and, in the case of the Jesuits, A+ homilists), the lack of a regular full time person to attend to the spiritual needs of the Spanish speaking faithful has made pastoral care difficult and sometimes spotty.

This week we have received the news that Fr. Jorge Acho will move from being priest-in-residence at St. Anthony's to St. Ann's. This move and the associated transfer of Fr. Alex Diaz to St. Anthony's is arguably the best human resource allocation decision for Hispanic ministry that the diocese has made since it moved Fr. Tuck Grinnell and Fr. Hoyos together to St. Anthony's many, many years ago.

St. Ann's has traditionally been a predominantly Peruvian community. Many parishioners are members of the Hermandad del Señor de los Milagros. Fr. Jorge came here from the Diocese of Abancay in Peru and he knows his people's traditions. Over the years he has frequently helped out at St. Ann's, celebrating Mass and assisting with other sacramental activities. He is known and well liked by all segments of that community.

Moving Fr. Alex to St. Anthony's is also a stroke of genius. St. Anthony's, with its two huge prayer groups and alabanza choir, is the "heart" of the Hispanic charismatic renewal in the diocese. It also has the largest Salvadoran population. Fr. Alex, who came here from the Diocese of Zacatecoluca in El Salvador, entered the priesthood from the charismatic renewal and has been one of the spiritual advisors to the renewal here in Arlington, along with Fr. Hoyos. Fr. Tuck, who continues as pastor at St. Anthony's, is very involved with the English speaking healing ministry.

I believe this move can only strengthen Hispanic ministry in our diocese by putting these two men in situations that best showcase their respective gifts. It is the best Christmas present we could receive and I want to salute our bishop: Grazie, Monsignor Loverde, e Buon Natale!
Photos: 1. Fr. Jorge Acho; 2. Fr. Alex Diaz

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rep. Luis Gutierrez introduces comprehensive immigration reform bill

UPDATE - 12/16/2009: The Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009 (H.R. 4321) now has 91 co-sponsors and I'm proud to report that my Congressional representative Jim Moran (VA-8) is one of them!. Click here to download a PDF copy of the immigration reform bill courtesy of

How marvellous to be able to be present as Rep. Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) and a huge cast of fellow Congressional representatives, backed up by members of the clergy and immigrant families from CASA de Maryland who came to the Hill to support the measure, introduced his Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity (CIR ASAP) Act of 2009. A summary of the legislation was circulated and a copy has already been posted online by Reform Immigration for America.

The room in the Rayburn House Office Building was hot and overly crowded with the many constituencies who have been waiting for this moment. The energy and enthusiasm were palpable and the speeches were punctuated by choruses of "Si, se puede" and "Yes, we can". And we did not have to wait for proof that "yes, we can": between the beginning of the press conference and when it ended more than two hours later, two additional co-sponsors had added their names to the bill bringing the total up to 89. Rep. Gutierrez said that this gives him hope. The last time the House of Representatives debated a comprehensive immigration reform package, the bill started with slightly more than 20 co-sponsors. Beaming at his multiethnic group of colleagues, he repeated with satisfaction: "Es que tenemos el equipo." We have the team now to do the job. He added that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been "a wonderful and consistent ally."

Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (NY-12), who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, when asked if President Obama would honor the commitment he has made to the immigrant community on this issue, reaffirmed her faith in the president. "I believe President Obama is a man of his word and I take him at his word." In her remarks, she said that she has never been so proud in her 18 years in Congress and reflected on two immigrant men from Ecuador, José Sucuzhañay and Marcello Lucero, both victims of racially-motivated hate crimes, adding: "We cannot wait for one more person to be killed because of a broken system."

Several of the representatives who spoke reflected on their own immigrant experiences. Rep. Mike Honda (CA-15), Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, mentioned that there are 1.5 million undocumented Asians in this country. "Some of us came on slave boats, some of us came in refugee boats, but we are all in the same boat and if there is a hole at one end of the boat, we are all affected," the congressman said. It was later mentioned that Rep. Honda has authored most of the sections of the bill dealing with family reunification, a critical issue in the Asian Pacific American community. Another Asian American representative, Rep. Judy Chu (CA-32) talked about her grandparents who came over from China with nothing and opened a Chinese restaurant.

Rep. Joseph Crowley (NY-7) reminisced about his Irish ancestors and how often people are forced to leave their countries out of economic necessity whether they want to or not. He mentioned that one of his cousins had been killed on 9/11 and said that was why he was supporting legalization as a way for us to know who is in the country and thus become more secure. He emphasized the importance of remembering the human dignity of immigrants that is so often exploited.

Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (TX-18) mentioned that her grandparents were Jamaican and learned Spanish as they worked building the Panama Canal. She spoke of mentoring a young Haitian woman who went to college and became a teacher. The young woman is now being threatened with deportation and the congresswoman is helping her fight the deportation. Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (NY-11), Whip of the Congressional Black Caucus, also said that she is a second generation American and vowed to bring busloads of people from Brooklyn to lobby for this bill if required.

Other Congressional representatives who spoke were Rep. Xavier Becerra (CA-31), Rep. Ruben Hinojosa (TX-15), Rep. Jared Polis (CO-2), Rep. Anthony Weiner (NY-9), and Rep. Sam Farr (CA-17). The honor of introducing the bill in the House, however, went to the first person to speak after Rep. Gutierrez. Rep. Solomon P. Ortiz (TX-27) who has served in Congress for over 30 years and was the original head of the Hispanic Caucus will put this bill before his colleagues. Ortiz said he is confident that the legislation will "end the exploitation and abuse in the current system."

Rep. Gutierrez, for his part, deplored the "immigrant blame game" that has characterized public debate up until now but also praised his fellow immigrants who "rose above the immigrant blame game with patience, tolerance and dignity". He quoted Scripture on turning the other cheek and added "our immigrant community has turned so many cheeks that our heads are spinning." He characterized his bill as "pro family, pro jobs, and pro security" and said that it "should be our nation's immigration policy."

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: Some Good News About Maribel Pérez Vargas

We have been praying for and contributing to the fund for a young Peruvian mother, Maribel Pérez Vargas, who needs a lung transplant.

Yesterday, the Peruanista blog which has also been following this case, posted an update from the Peruvian consul general Fernando Quirós who has been working tirelessly on Maribel's behalf with some good news:

An agreement has been signed between Maribel's medical insurance, Kaiser Permanente and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center where she will be evaluated and, if approved and if a lung becomes available, God willing, will eventually be operated. Fr. Hoyos' charitable foundation MAPAVI and the Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation of Boston also signed the agreement committing to help cover the deductibles and co-payments for these procedures.

Because of this agreement, Maribel and her husband Lorenzo went up to Pittsburgh this week where she will undergo a week of tests to determine whether she is a suitable candidate for a lung transplant. If she is approved, she will be placed on the list of people waiting for a donated lung.

Please keep your prayers and donations coming for Maribel and her family (husband Lorenzo and children Diana and Jason). As the consul general says: "Maribel is an exemplary woman, with impressive physical and spiritual fortitude. In the last 12 months she has taught us how to find strength even in the darkest hour and how to continue to fight under the most adverse circumstances. Maribel is the living example of the energy and enormous strength of Peruvian and Latin American women...Many thanks Maribel. God is and will always be with you."

Donations can be sent to Maribel through MAPAVI or via her Web site:

In this video, Maribel explains her situation:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Our Lady of Guadalupe Fiesta at St. James

Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at Padrecito's current parish, St. James in Falls Church, VA. I took a few photos, some of which are on his blog. We started out with a special rosary to Our Lady led by a parishioner wearing a lovely typical Mexican dress. Then, as it was also the third Sunday of Advent (Gaudete Sunday, hence the pink vestments), a family came up to light the Advent wreath.

We had not only "Juan Diego" who came up preceded by a group of indigenous to present the roses and the miracle of Mary's image imprinted on his tilma to "bishop" Padre Hoyos, but also a Mexican dance group from All Saints in Manassas who were wearing elaborate costumes and performed a dance symbolizing the submission of all Mexican peoples and also all forces of evil to Mary.

They danced again during the social following Mass and a quick procession from the church to the school. Roses were distributed to all and many people took the opportunity of having their pictures taken with La Morenita. Maybe we weren't as big as New York or San Antonio and certainly not Mexico City, but we had every bit as much fun with our celebration. ¡Que viva la Virgen de Guadalupe y que con su intercesión logramos una reforma migratoria en 2010!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Reflection 3: 'Another Christmas Is Possible'

by Arnaldo Zenteno S.J., from the Equipo de Servicios CNP. Comunidades Eclesiales de Base de Nicaragua (English translation by Rebel Girl)

"For today in the city of David a Savior has been born unto you who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a newborn babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." (Luke 2:11-12)

Outraged by the total manipulation of Christmas nowdays, we would like to state that the real Christmas has been stolen from us. The folly of the ads and Christmas decorations that fill the streets have little or nothing to do with what the birth of Jesus means. We are tired of the constant bombardment of advertising to which we are subjected that encourages us to consume and buy what we don't need and and spend what we don't have, using Christmas as simply a means to increase sales and profits.

We realize how this savage neoliberalism in which we are immersed produces values contrary to Christmas and the message of Jesus, and are strongly calling for recovering of the true values that Christmas implies and denouncing the hypocrisy of this system that uses God to promote business profits while forgetting the poor who are the favorites of the Father. Today, there would be no room for poor Joseph, poor Mary and poor Jesus in the malls or supermarkets, or in luxury hotels.

We denounce this neo-liberal system under which we live that excludes the majority and benefits the wealthiest and the large national and multinational companies. Nothing is further from the message of love, solidarity and fraternity that the birth of the Christ Child brings us.

We imagine "another possible Christmas", closer to this Infant Jesus humbly born in a manger ... and still being born today in the poorest and most excluded. We don't want this commercial Santa Claus, only interested in promoting this exacerbated consumerism. We want to open hearts and doors to the saving coming of the Christ Child. Solidarity and tenderness will open a way against individualism, selfishness and consumerism.

We imagine a Christmas where we take the opportunity to make a journey into our spirit, there where the God of life dwells, and ask Him to help us recognize Him today among the poorest and most excluded and fight together with them for a decent life, such as He wants for His daughters and sons.

We imagine a simple, caring, happy Christmas ... one without frills, where we make present in our heart all people who suffer and who are preferred by God the Father and Mother: children of the streets, exploited workers in the maquilas, the unemployed, the sick without access to health care, peasants in the interior and villagers of many districts who will spend another day hungry, our brother migrant workers who will spend Christmas far from their families, the battered and abused women in so many homes, the Samaritans, etc ...

But we also imagine that our hearts can not remain impassive in the face so much pain and injustice and that it will move us to get going to find ways so that this whole situation, which is scandalous in the eyes of God, will cease once and for all.

And at the level of our Communities we want a Missionary Christmas. We do not want to celebrate Christmas locked up in ourselves, nor reduce it to just our families. From them and from our Communities we want to go further and bring the Good News of Jesus and celebrate it at least with other neighbors, in other parts of our neighborhoods and also with those who are excluded in any way.

We imagine and we want another possible world, another possible America, another possible Nicaragua ... just, fraternal, and in solidarity like the birth of Jesus.

In the following video, Fr. Arnaldo reads a poem he wrote about the birth of Jesus and the street children.

Photo: This poster from Argentina reminds us that there was no room at the inn for the Holy Family in Bethlehem and calls for a Christmas without evictions.

How Catholic Charities could live with gay marriage

I was very pleased to see this opinion piece in today's Washington Post from Nancy Polikoff, a law professor at American University. In other words, to the Archdiocese of Washington: If you are uncomfortable with the new gay marriage law for moral reasons, say so. But don't pretend that it will make it impossible for you to continue to contract with the District to provide social services in any practical, legal sense. If not entering into a business relationship with a government that doesn't share all of your values is more important than the services you have been providing through such a relationship to God's poor, say so. It may not look or sound pretty but it's better than lying, adding that sin to the sin of discrimination. - RG

Catholic Charities is misleading the public about the impact of the D.C. bill authorizing same-sex marriage. It can maintain its city contracts while extending the most important benefits only to the different-sex spouses of its employees, and it does not need an exemption in the legislation to do so. It just needs to follow in the footsteps of Catholic Charities of Maine.

In 2001, Portland passed a law requiring city contractors to give equal benefits to heterosexual spouses and same-sex domestic partners. Catholic Charities refused to sign a contract including such a provision, sued the city and won. Here’s why:

The health and pension benefits offered by private employers are regulated only by federal law, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Federal law does not require employers to recognize same-sex domestic partners or spouses, and therefore private employers cannot be compelled to treat same-sex and different-sex couples equally. Nor can non-9discrimination in employee benefits be a condition of receiving a government contract.

Churches are permitted to “opt out” of ERISA. If they do so, they are subject to local law. I do not know whether Catholic Charities of D.C. has opted out, but if it has, it can opt right back in. That’s what Catholic Charities of Maine did. It’s wrong that private employers in states recognizing same-sex couples are allowed to discriminate in their employee benefits programs. But that’s a problem with the federal law, and it has nothing to do with religion.

On a recent radio program, I confronted D.C. Catholic Charities President Edward Orzechowski with the fact that ERISA gives his agency a way out of providing benefits to same-sex spouses. He responded by saying, “We want to abide by all the laws. ..... We don’t want to come under the guise of another law and still believe as others might that we are in violation of local law.” This is nonsense. Private employers can choose whether to grant employee benefits to same-sex couples. That’s the law, and it means that Catholic Charities has no basis for demanding a special religious exemption.

Given the ease with which Catholic Charities can achieve its stated goals — maintaining its city contracts and extending benefits only to different-sex spouses — I have to wonder why it insists that there is an irreconcilable conflict. Two explanations seem plausible. The church may want the most prominent platform possible for both opposing same-sex marriage and urging an overbroad religious exemption; it gets this by threatening to cut social services. Alternatively, Catholic Charities might be planning to cut its programs anyway because they cost the archdiocese so much money, in which case the same-sex marriage bill provides a convenient scapegoat.

Catholic Charities’ other objection — that marriage equality would require it to place adoptive and foster children with same-sex couples — is truly a red herring. D.C. law already outlaws discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. The city apparently has looked the other way at Catholic Charities’ discrimination in adoption and might have kept doing so had the agency kept quiet. But the church seems to have gambled that it could get a provision in the current bill exempting it from laws it already violates. It lost. Fortunately, other agencies that don’t discriminate can step in; Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) determined that last year Catholic Charities handled only six adoptions in conjunction with its city contracts.

I am proud that my city council is standing firm. Now it’s time for widespread acknowledgment that marriage equality in the District creates no justification for Catholic Charities to sever its contractual relationship with the city. Just look at Portland.