Saturday, December 26, 2009

Sr. Teresa Forcades: Some Words of Support from the Abbot

Abbot Josep Maria Soler of the Monastery of Montserrat granted a far-ranging interview to Enric Juliana of La Vanguardia/InfoCatólica. The reporter engaged the holy man on everything from bullfighting to Barcelona's soccer team to current matters of controversy in the Spanish Catholic Church. In response to a rather bizarrely phrased question about Sr. Teresa Forcades, Abad Josep had kind words for his fellow religious sister:

Teresa Forcades, monja del monasterio de Sant Benet, en Montserrat, ha adquirido gran notoriedad en Babilonia por sus opiniones y su sugerente personalidad. ¿La aprueba?

"Una de las características primigenias del monaquismo era el de salir a la plaza pública cuando había debates importantes. Quizá se podría considerar que ha actuado en línea con esta tradición. Fíjese que volvemos a hablar de la tradición. Probablemente ha llamado la atención por ser monja y poseer una brillante formación. No entro a valorar algunas de sus opiniones médicas sobre la gripe A, puesto que es un tema que no conozco bien y me consta que hay discrepancias entre los profesionales..."

Teresa Forcades, a nun of the monastery of Sant Benet, Montserrat, has acquired a wide reputation in Babylon for her views and suggestive personality. Do you approve of her?

"One of the primordial characteristics of monasticism was to go out into the public square when there were important debates. Perhaps it could be considered that she has acted in line with this tradition. Note that we return to speaking of tradition. Probably she has attracted attention for being a nun and having a brilliant training. I'm not going to enter into an appraisal of some of her medical opinions on influenza A, as it is an issue that I don't know well and I know that there are discrepancies between the professionals ... "

Whereupon the interviewer changes the subject to futbol.....

Speaking from experience...

Prince William and I finally have something in common: we have both spent a bitterly cold night on the street in support of the homeless. As I read about the prince's sacrifice on behalf of the British charity Centrepoint, I was reminded of the night when a couple of Congressional representatives and celebrities and some of us homeless activists joined the late Mitch Snyder in an overnight sleepover on the streets of DC. Unlike the real homeless, we (and I assume Prince William as well) had police protection. I do remember that the celebrities got first dibs on the "first class accommodations" -- the steam grates! The prince also went over to Centrepoint to help prepare breakfast for the homeless young people and cut a special 40th anniversary cake.

Commenting on his experience, Prince William said: "I cannot, after one night, even begin to imagine what it must be like to sleep rough on London's streets night after night. Poverty, mental illness, drug and alcohol dependancy and family breakdown cause people to become and then stay homeless. Centrepoint's work - along with many other organisations' - in tackling these fundamental causes is desperately important if we are ever to end homelessness in this country. I hope that by deepening my understanding of the issue, I can help do my bit to help the most vulnerable on our streets."

There really is no substitute for an actual experience of homelessness or poverty. To be so cold and the pavement so hard that sleep is impossible and you lie awake wondering what happens when you need to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. A nearby church opened its doors to us as a special favor but the real homeless have nothing. The experience stays with me, largely in the form of a recurring muscle spasm in my back which first occured after that night on the street.

A similar kind of experience informed the presentation on Luke's account of the birth of Jesus in our prayer group last night. The predicador and several other men from El Salvador who had worked in stables shared graphic descriptions of the sights and smells to exclamations of "Ew, gross!" from their urban US-born offspring. Suddenly we all had a much clearer picture of what Mary and Joseph went through.

The predicador also spoke of an experience of being temporarily homeless and having to call different relatives and being turned down several times before finding someone who would take in his family of five for a few days. In a small way, he said, it gave him a sense of what Joseph must have felt as door after door was closed on him and his pregnant wife.

The feeling in the prayer group was radically different than in the sanctuary the previous night. Everyone was included and made to feel welcome. Somehow there was enough food for all even though there were many guests who brought nothing. We all ate. There were little presents for all the children. The leftovers went home with those who needed them the most. I was invited to lead one of the prayers and to read a passage from Isaiah. Christ was born last night in that room in the church basement. Perhaps next year He will move up and into the sanctuary...

Photo: Prince William and Centrepoint CEO Seyi Obakin prepare for a night in freezing temperatures

Friday, December 25, 2009

"No room at the inn" takes many forms

Last night I went back to St. Ann’s for midnight Mass. The attendance was sparse and dominated by our prayer group. Without the charismatics, there would have been about as many people as were probably present that first night in the little stable to witness the Child’s birth. Our new soon-to-be full-time priest, Fr. Jorge, presided.

Seeing so few people and only the dueño and his wife from among the lectors, I came up and offered to do one of the readings (not unusual given that I used to be lector coordinator there). The dueño declined, indicating that he and his wife had it under control. “We” turned out to be the dueño reading everything AND leading all the singing. Not even his wife was allowed a role as we watched him soldier valiantly along, alone, his voice hoarse from advanced COPD.

I was wearing a nice skirt and sweater so it must have been my cheap Payless snow boots. Or maybe the dueño never wanted to hear a gringa reading in Spanish again after I changed parishes. Or perhaps he just wanted to show everyone that no matter who the bishop assigned to the parish, he was still boss. Your guess is as good as mine. I went back to sit with some friends, a charismatic couple who are faithful servants of the Church but cannot receive communion because of their marital status – the marginados and the marginalizada sticking together.

In the days since Fr. Jorge’s appointment many friends have asked if I will come back to St. Ann’s. Sadly, after last night, the answer must still be “no, not yet.” Nothing has really changed. There is still no room for me in this inn, no seat at this table. Too many of us are still excluded, as Mary, Joseph and the newborn Jesus were on that first Christmas.

Christ is not present when we cannot share with others, when we cannot accept and welcome the gifts that others bring, when pride, arrogance, discrimination and exclusion still have dominion. Last night, regardless of the beautiful seasonal decorations and the Gospel that was proclaimed, I left the church not feeling that the Savior had been born, but that we are still waiting.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Advent Reflection 6: Today the King of Kings is born in a poor crib in Bethlehem...

Here is my friend Padre Alex Diaz's beautiful Christmas reflection, translated from the Spanish version on his blog...

Every year we celebrate the feast of Christmas, a time of joy, rejoicing and brotherhood, but we can not rule out that for many it is just a commercial holiday where what matters are the expensive gifts and meals and the cacophony of empty dinners and feasts, which to some extent are meaningless.

Why do I say this? I say it because the only center and purpose of Christmas is Jesus who comes to meet us, to show us with His life the great meaning of being a child of God. A Christmas without Jesus is not Christmas. I have always been impressed by the surprising form in which God made his son human. I think we have never thought about it seriously. Imagine:

He was born in a cave with animals. Many call it a crib, but in fact it was not even that. It was a stable in a cave in an insignificant and poor town called Bethlehem, where there was no wine, no champagne, no table set with delicious foods, nor fine clothes and good music that day, only poor shepherds tending sheep that perhaps belonged to others, with lined faces and foul-smelling from the fatigue of the day's labor -- that is where He was born, of a simple, poor and humble woman, married to a craftsman who worked a thousand jobs to earn their bread, but with an iron faith. This is where the Child of the Creator was born, King of Kings, Truth incarnate. He was so poor that He did not choose to be born among the "haves", but among animals, and when He died, they buried Him in a borrowed grave.

He was born in a manger that night, and it was "because there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7), and also because He wanted to settle on the lowest rung of the human ladder. He did this so that nobody would feel excluded, not even the poorest person, and so that the way of salvation would be open to everyone. To all, as to the shepherds, He announced, "Today is born to you a Savior." That is why the great challenge of Christmas is to receive in faith the Christ Child who is born.

The Child lying in the poverty of a manger is the sign of God. The God who always acts simply. Centuries and millennia pass, but the sign remains, and also applies to us men and women of this century. It's a sign of hope for the whole human family: a sign of peace for all who suffer from all kinds of conflicts, violence and wars. A sign of mercy and compassion for the poor and oppressed. A sign of liberation through reconciliation for whoever is a slave to sin and for the immigrant living in exile and solitude. A sign of love and consolation for those who feel alone and abandoned. A small and fragile sign, humble and quiet, but filled with the strength of God who, out of love, became man.

Brothers and sisters, the Savior is born today: "Today is born the life which comes to destroy the fear of death and give us the hope of a blessed eternity" (St. Leo the Great). This Christmas our hope is renewed, because sin, death, disease, poverty, and suffering do not have the last word. The last word belongs to the Lord Jesus, the Reconciler, the only Savior of the World, yesterday, today and forever.

Therefore, "let no one feel excluded from this happiness, since the cause of this joy is common to all. Our Lord, triumphant indeed over sin and death, since He found no one blameless, thus came to save us ALL. Then let the just one rejoice, because his reward is coming; let the sinner be glad because forgiveness is offered him; let the pagan take heart because he is called to life."(St. Leo the Great)

At Christmas, we open ourselves to hope, contemplating the divine glory hidden in the poverty of a Child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying by His mother in a humble manger. To accept this paradox, the paradox of Christmas, is to discover the Truth that sets us free and the Love that fills and changes lives.

I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with blessings of the Lord.

Immigration News Roundup - 12/23/2009

1. Immigration Enforcement Fuels Rise in U.S. Cases: Federal prosecutions reached a record high in the 2009 fiscal year, with the surge driven by a sharp increase in cases filed against immigration violators. The 169,612 federal prosecutions were a jump of nearly 9 percent from the previous year, according to Department of Justice data analyzed by a research center at Syracuse University in a new report. Immigration prosecutions were up nearly 16 percent, and made up more than half of all criminal cases brought by the federal government, the report said.

In a related development, Arizona will transfer illegal immigrants who have been convicted of nonviolent crimes to federal custody for the last three months of their sentences, saving the state the cost of housing them. Under the new plan, which begins Jan. 1, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency will take custody of the illegal immigrants pending deportation. The Arizona Department of Corrections said that a total of more than 1,200 prisoners would be moved this fiscal year and next, saving about $5.7 million.

And in another related development, The Nation has come out with an article titled America's Secret ICE Castles which states that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is "confining people in 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield offices, many in suburban office parks or commercial spaces revealing no information about their ICE tenants--nary a sign, a marked car or even a US flag...Designed for confining individuals in transit, with no beds or showers, subfield offices are not subject to ICE Detention Standards... ICE says temporary facilities in field or subfield offices are used for 84 percent of all book-ins." The descriptions the author provides of conditions in some of these facilities such as B-18 in Los Angeles are disgraceful. After he closes Guantanamo, perhaps President Obama should also consider taking a look at these ICE facilities if the inhumane treatment of prisoners and violations of basic human rights really have no place in the American judicial system.

2. Obama naming Hispanics to top posts at record pace: The Associated Press reports that President Barack Obama is on track to name more Hispanics to top posts than any of his predecessors, drawing appointees from a wide range of the nation's Latino communities, including Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and Colombians. The president has nominated 49 Hispanics to positions senior enough to require Senate confirmation. So far, 35 have been approved. That compares with a total of 30 approved under Bill Clinton and 34 under George W. Bush during their first 20 months in office, according to U.S. Office of Personnel Management data.

3. CAP Sets "Principles for Immigration Reform": A new report by the Center for American Progress argues that our broken immigration system undermines core national interests and must be reformed. The report identifies five principle goals of immigration reform and makes policy recommendations aimed at achieving them:

1. Establish smart enforcement policies and safeguards.
2. Resolve the status of those illegally present in the United States.
3. Create legal channels that are flexible, serve the U.S. interest, and curtail illegal immigration.
4. Protect U.S. workers from globalization’s destabilizing effects.
5. Foster an inclusive American identity.

4. Latino Leaders Use Churches in Census Bid: The New York Times reports that Latino leaders are mobilizing a nationwide drive to urge Hispanics to participate in the 2010 Census, including an intense push this week in evangelical Christian churches. Latino groups contend that there was an undercount of nearly one million Latinos in the 2000 census, affecting the drawing of Congressional districts and the distribution of federal money. Hispanic organizations are far better organized for next year’s census, but they say that if illegal immigrants — an estimated eight million of whom are Latino — are not included, the undercount could be much greater. One study suggests that Congressional delegations in eight states with large Hispanic populations could grow if all Latinos — the nation’s largest minority at some 47 million — are counted.

5. Trail of Dreams: On Jan. 1, four young people will lace up their sneakers and head north from Miami toward the nation's capital along U.S. 1. The group hopes that each step will bring more attention to the fact that thousands of undocumented individuals, many who have lived in the U.S. since they were small children, are barred each year from continuing their education in the U.S. They're calling it the Trail of Dreams, and the youth -- associated with Students Working for Equal Rights and supported by the Florida Immigrant Coalition and Reform Immigration for America -- plan to complete their trek to the National Mall by May 1.
The travelers would like to be joined in Washington by 100,000 supporters who will rally for the passage of the Development, Relief and Education Act for Alien Minors, or the DREAM Act. For more information or to donate to the marchers, please visit the Students Working For Equal Rights Web site.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Reflection 5: Always This

By Roger Ludwig

Always this seeing,
always this light—
faces, modest, beautiful—
not just-us-and-ours,
and more and more,
not white—
children, women, men,
the future on the way,
the past getting out of the way
of the rainbow mix of humanity,
the Great Commonwealth beyond
the poverty of bigotry,
the Circle of Belonging and Beloving
that excludes no one.

Advent Reflection 4: Two feet (of snow) closer to God

The frantic last minute rush of Christmas shopping came to a screeching halt in my area this weekend as God imposed His will, dropping a blanket of almost two feet of snow on the madness and forcing most of us into (relative) stillness.

Not a creature was stirring that I could see, save one lone squirrel who skittered frantically across the back fence in search of food, shelter, and dry ground. Every form of transportation from roads to airports to Metro was brought to its knees.

So we meditated, read the Bible at an unhurried pace, ate a real home-cooked breakfast for a change, and finally got the Christmas tree decorated and cards written. My friend Roger and I spent quality time together -- lots of it -- instead of each running our separate ways or being caught up in the pre-holiday chaos of the shopping malls and stores.

Less consumption, fewer exhaust-spewing vehicles on the road, a pause in the rat race of ordinary human existence. Mother Earth is getting a much needed rest in the northeastern United States this weekend.

And so this divinely imposed time-out has brought a few hours to reflect on life, how too often I become trapped in roles, do not have the time or discipline to seek a deeper relationship with God.

I think again about four years of photos and while it is a gift, what other gifts have gone uncultivated as I relentlessly pursue the perfect shot? My brothers and sisters in the Renovación love these images but I long to put the camera and its associated outsider perspective away and join the ranks of the black and white clad ministerio as an intercedora or a levantadora, to have the discipline to get my lazy self out of bed and off to the required escuela two Sundays a month.

Two feet of snow is an invitation to stop and take stock of one's life. It is the perfect natual backdrop to the Advent season of waiting and preparing if we view and use it rightly. It forces us to slow down, reach out to others, stop and look out for our most vulnerable neighbors -- the poor and the elderly. It brings us closer to God and, in the end, what more do we need?