Friday, December 31, 2010

A Year End Grace

A friend, Roger Ludwig, wrote this grace which he shared with retreatants at Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia, before one of our meals this week...

We thank you, God --
you who are both father and mother to us
and more than we can say or conceive --

We thank you for being with us always,
though we forget often
and are only dimly aware
most of the time
of your presence.

We thank you for sustaining us
and working with us
to help us grow toward freedom,
the freedom to love each other
as you love us.

In a world full of hunger,
both physical and spiritual,
you nourish us.
Body and soul, mind and heart --
we owe our whole being to you
the source of all that is.

So we thank you.


Songs for Advent and Christmas 12: Cuando venga el niño

I meant to put this video up before going for my annual year-end retreat to Holy Cross Abbey but, hey, we're still in the Christmas season! I can't find lyrics to this song by Padre Diego Cabrera, a Peruvian Columbine missionary priest, but what it says is that when the Child Jesus comes, there will be peace and justice and love enough for all. I love Padre Diego's videos because of the beauty he sees in the faces of the poor, especially the children.

By the way, while preparing this post, I found a little treasure trove of Padre Diego cancioneros. Unfortunately, it doesn't include this album...

The neoliberal crisis and human suffering

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

My assessment of 2010 will be different. I emphasize a fact little noted in the analyses: the immense human suffering, the subjective destruction, especially of employees, due to global economic and financial reorganization.

The "great transformation" (Polanyi) has been in operation a long time, placing the economy as the backbone of social life, subordinating policy and ethics. When the economy is in crisis, as is happening now, everything is sacrificed to save it. The whole society is penalized, as in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and even in America, on behalf of the healing of the economy. What should be a means, becomes an end in itself.

Placed in a situation of crisis, the neoliberal system tends to radicalize its logic and exploit the workforce even more. Instead of changing course, it does more of the same, loading a heavy cross onto the backs of workers.

It is about that relatively studied "moral harassment", that is, the persistent and prolonged humiliation of workers to subordinate them, frighten them, and bring them to quit. The suffering is now more widespread and diffuse -- sometimes more and sometimes less -- affecting all the core countries. It is a kind of "malaise of globalization" in a process of humanistic erosion.

It is expressed through a sort of collective depression, destruction of the horizon of hope, loss of the joy of living, a desire to disappear from the map and, in many, the desire to commit suicide. Because of the crisis, companies and their managers have carried competitiveness to extreme limits, providing almost unattainable goals, instilling in workers anxiety, fear and sometimes panic attacks. Everything is required of them: unconditional commitment and full availability, damaging their selfhood and destroying family relationships. In Brazil, it is estimated that about 15 million people suffer from this type of depression, linked to work overload.

The researcher Margarida Barreto, a medical specialist in occupational health, noted in a survey taken of 400 people last year, that nearly a quarter of them had suicidal thoughts because of the excessive demands of the job. And she said: "We must see the attempt to commit suicide as a major condemnation of the working conditions imposed by neoliberalism in recent decades." Bank employees in the financial sector, which is highly speculative and aimed at maximizing profits, are particularly affected. A 2009 investigation by Marcelo Augusto Santos Finazzi, professor at the University of Brasilia, found that between 1996 and 2005, one bank employee committed suicide every 20 days because of the pressure of goals, excessive tasks, and fear of unemployment. The current managers are insensitive to the suffering of their employees.

The World Health Organization estimates that about three thousand people commit suicide every day, many because of abusive work pressure. Le Monde Diplomatique of November of this year reported that one of the reasons for the strikes in October in France was also to protest against the fast pace of work imposed by the factories, which caused nervousness, irritability and anxiety. A phrase from 1968 was heard again: "Metro, work, bed" ("Metro, boulot, dodo"), now updated to "Metro, work, grave." ("Metro, boulot, tombeau"). That is to say, fatal illnesses or suicide as a result of capitalist super-exploitation.

In the analyses being made of the current crisis, it is important to incorporate this perverse fact: the ocean of suffering that is being imposed on the people, especially the poor, in order to save the economic system, controlled by a few strong forces, extremely strong ones, but dehumanized and without mercy. One more reason to overcome it historically, in addition to morally condemning it. The ethical conscience of humankind, well-represented in the various embodiments of the World Social Forum among others, is moving in this direction.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas: Seeing with the eyes of the heart

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We are forced to live in a world where things are the most explicit object of desire for children and adults. What's for sale has to be bright and magical. If not, nobody buys it. It speaks more to the greedy eyes than to the loving heart. Within this dynamic is the figure of Santa Claus. He is the commercial evolution of Saint Nicolas -- Santa Claus -- whose feast is celebrated on December 6th. He was a bishop, born in 281 in what is now Turkey. He inherited a substantial family fortune. At Christmas time, he went out dressed as a bishop, all in red, with a cane and a bag with gifts for the children. He gave them to them with a note saying they came from the Child Jesus.

Santa Claus gave rise to the current Father Christmas, creation of an American cartoonist, Thomas Nast, in 1886, and subsequently spread about by Coca-Cola, since consumption fell a lot during this cold season. The image of this good old man, dressed in red and with a sack on his back, good natured, giving good advice to children is the dominant figure on the streets and in the shops at Christmas time. His country of birth would have been Lapland, in Finland, where there's heavy snow, elves, fairies and gnomes, and where people travel in sleds pulled by reindeer.

Is there a Santa Claus? That was the question that Virginia, an 8 year-old girl, asked her father. He told her, "Write to the editor of the newspaper. If he tells you that he exists, then he actually exists." That was what the girl did. She received this beautiful answer:

"Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no child-like faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence."

But for this, we must learn to see through the eyes of the heart and love. Then we see that there is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. Is there a Santa Claus? Thanks be to God, he lives and will live forever as long as there are kids big and small who have learned to see through the eyes of the heart.

This is what we lack most today: the ability to rescue the creative imagination to project better worlds and to see with the heart. If this existed, there wouldn't be so much violence, or so many abandoned children, or the suffering of devastated Mother Earth.

For Christians, the figure of Baby Jesus shivering on the straw, warmed by the breath of the ox and the mule, serves. They told me, mysteriously, through one of the angels singing in the fields of Bethlehem, that He sent a Christmas card to all the world's children that says:

Dear little brothers and sisters,

If you look at the manger and see Me there, knowing in your heart that I am the Child God who doesn't come to judge but to be, cheerfully, with all of you,

If you are able to see My presence in other boys and girls, especially in the poorest,

If you have succeeded in reviving the child hiding in your parents and adults so that love and tenderness well up in them,

If, when looking at the Nativity, you notice that I'm almost naked and you remember the many children who are equally poor and poorly clad, and you suffer in the depths of your heart because of this inhumane situation and truly wish for it to change,

If, on seeing the cow, ox, sheep, goats, dogs, camels and elephants, you think that the whole universe receives My love and light and that everything -- stars, rocks, trees, animals and humans -- forms the great House of God,

If, when you look upward and you see the star with its tail, you remember that there is always a star over you, that keeps you company, lighting you and showing you the best paths,

Know then that I am coming again and renewing Christmas. I will always be near you, walking with you, crying with you and playing with you until that day -- only God knows when -- when we'll all be together in the house of our Father and our Mother of kindness to live happily ever after.

Signed: Baby Jesus
Bethlehem, December 25, 1.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Songs for Advent and Christmas 11: Cantique de Noël

This "Magnificat" of Christmas carols was composed by Adolphe Adam to the French poem "Minuit, chrétiens" ("Midnight, Christians") by Placide Cappeau (1808–1877), a wine merchant and poet, who had been asked by Fr. Eugène Nicolas, pastor of Roquemaure, a town in Gard in the south of France now known as the home of Côtes du Rhône wine and for its moniker "The Capital of Lovers" (Roquemaure hosts an annual "Festival of the Kiss"), to write a Christmas poem for some activities he was organizing to raise funds to restore the stained glass windows at Saint Jean Baptiste. Cappeau wrote the poem on December 3, 1847 in a stagecoach while travelling between Mâcon and Dijon. Adam, who called this carol the "Marseillaise religieuse", set it to music and it was performed for the first time on Christmas Eve during the midnight Mass at Roquemaure by Emily Laurey, a singer who had worked previously with Adam in light opera.

Initially, "Cantique de Noël" was very popular with the church in France, but when Placide Cappeau walked away from the church and became a part of the socialist movement, and church leaders discovered that Adam was a Jew, the song was suddenly and uniformly denounced by the church as being too pagan. The heads of the French Catholic church of the time deemed "Cantique de Noël" unfit for church services because of its "total absence of the spirit of religion." Yet even as the church tried to bury the Christmas song, the French people continued to sing it.

After moving away from institutional religion, Cappeau repented the first verse of his famous poem/hymn. He wrote an alternate version in 1876, just before his death, one that was never embraced by popular culture:

Minuit, chrétiens, c’est l’heure solennelle,
Où dans l’heureux Bethléem, vint au jour
Le messager de la bonne nouvelle
Qui fit, des lois de sang, la loi d’amour.

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When in happy Bethlehem was born
The messenger of the good news,
who made the law of love from the blood laws.

It was the tenth of his Poème historique en vingt chants, dedicated to the organ at Roquemaure, and in the margins, Cappeau added this note: "Nous avons cru devoir modifier ce qui nous avait échappé au premier moment sur le péché originel, auquel nous ne croyons pas... Nous admettons Jésus comme rédempteur, mais rédempteur des inégalités, des injustices et de l’esclavage et des oppressions de toute sorte..." ("We thought we should modify what escaped from us the first time about original sin, in which we don't believe...We view Jesus as redeemer, but redeemer from inequality, injustice, slavery and oppression of every kind...")

In 1855, John Sullivan Dwight, a Unitarian minister, wrote the English version we are most familiar with as "O Holy Night". Dwight's version guts the political strength of Cappeau's lyrics. Only in the last verse, which is often omitted in performance, does Dwight stay close to the power of the French original:

...Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother;
And in His name all oppression shall cease....

Because this song was originally designed to be sung by a female voice, I'm partial to this simple version by Nana Mouskouri even though she doesn't sing all the verses (most performances omit the middle verse so this is not unusual).

Cantique de Noël

Minuit, chrétiens, c'est l'heure solennelle,
Où l'Homme-Dieu descendit jusqu'à nous
Pour effacer la tache originelle
Et de Son Père arrêter le courroux.
Le monde entier tressaille d'espérance
En cette nuit qui lui donne un Sauveur.
Peuple à genoux, attends ta délivrance.
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, voici le Rédempteur !

De notre foi que la lumière ardente
Nous guide tous au berceau de l'Enfant,
Comme autrefois une étoile brillante
Y conduisit les chefs de l'Orient.
Le Roi des rois naît dans une humble crèche :
Puissants du jour, fiers de votre grandeur,
A votre orgueil, c'est de là que Dieu prêche.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.
Courbez vos fronts devant le Rédempteur.

Le Rédempteur a brisé toute entrave :
La terre est libre, et le ciel est ouvert.
Il voit un frère où n'était qu'un esclave,
L'amour unit ceux qu'enchaînait le fer.
Qui lui dira notre reconnaissance,
C'est pour nous tous qu'il naît, qu'il souffre et meurt.
Peuple debout ! Chante ta délivrance,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur,
Noël, Noël, chantons le Rédempteur !

(literal English translation)

Midnight, Christians, it is the solemn hour,
When God-man descended to us
To erase the stain of original sin
And to end the wrath of His Father.
The entire world thrills with hope
On this night that gives it a Savior.
People kneel down, wait for your deliverance.
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, here is the Redeemer!

May the ardent light of our Faith
Guide us all to the cradle of the infant,
As in ancient times a brilliant star
Guided the Oriental kings there.
The King of Kings was born in a humble manger;
O mighty ones of today, proud of your greatness,
It is to your pride that God preaches.
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!
Bow your heads before the Redeemer!

The Redeemer has overcome every obstacle:
The Earth is free, and Heaven is open.
He sees a brother where there was only a slave,
Love unites those that iron had chained.
Who will tell Him of our gratitude,
For all of us He is born, He suffers and dies.
People stand up! Sing of your deliverance,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer,
Christmas, Christmas, sing of the Redeemer!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Songs for Advent and Christmas 10: Navidad by José Luis Perales

Let's look at what Christmas looks like. As Spanish singer-songwriter José Luis Perales says: caring for one another, tending the environment, and, most expecially, putting an end to war.

Mientras haya en la tierra un niño feliz
Mientras haya una hoguera para compartir
Mientras haya unas manos que trabajen en paz
Mientras brille una estrella habrá navidad

As long as there's a happy child on earth
As long as there's a bonfire to share
As long as there are hands working for peace
As long as a star is shining there will be Christmas

Navidad, navidad, en la nieve y la arena
Navidad, navidad en la tierra y el mar
Navidad, navidad, en la nieve y la arena
Navidad, navidad en la tierra y el mar

Christmas, Christmas in snow and sand
Christmas, Christmas on sea and land
Christmas, Christmas in snow and sand
Christmas, Christmas on sea and land

Mientras haya unos labios que hablen de amor
Mientras haya unas manos cuidando una flor
Mientras haya un futuro donde mirar
Mientras hay ternura habrá navidad

As long as there are lips speaking of love
As long as there are hands caring for a flower
As long as there's a future to which we can look
As long as there's tenderness there will be Christmas

Estribillo / Chorus

Mientras haya un vencido dispuesto a olvidar
Mientras haya un caído a quién levantar
Mientras pare una guerra y se duerma un cañón
Mientras cure un herido, habrá navidad

As long as there's a loser ready to forget
As long as there's a fallen one to be raised
As long as a war ceases and a canon falls asleep
As long as the wounded are healed, there will be Christmas.

Photo: José Luis Perales with children from Aldeas Infantiles SOS in Peru.

Songs for Advent and Christmas 9: Ven a Mi Casa Esta Navidad

When I first read the lyrics to this song by the late singer-songwriter Luis Aguilé, an Argentinian who made his career in Spain, I thought of all my immigrant friends who will be spending this Christmas so far away from their homelands and loved ones. The song simply invites all the lost and lonely to the table. I suppose the song was intended to be romantic, but I also think of Jesus inviting us to His house (the Church) and His table (the Holy Eucharist). The song is also an invitation to reconciliation, to putting aside our unforgiving hearts during this Christmas season.

Tú que estás lejos de tus amigos,
de tu tierra y de tu hogar,
y tienes pena, pena en el alma,
porque no dejas de pensar.

You who are far from your friends,
your land and your home,
and have pain, pain in the soul,
because you can't stop thinking.

Tú que esta noche no puedes
dejar de recordar,
quiero que sepas, que aquí en mi mesa,
para ti tengo un lugar.

You who can't stop remembering
I want you to know I have a place for you
here at my table.

Por eso y muchas cosas más,
ven a mi casa esta Navidad. (x2)

For this and many other things,
come to my house this Christmas. (x2)

Tú que recuerdas quizá a tu madre
o a un hijo que no está,
quiero que sepas, que en esta noche,
él te acompañará.

You who are perhaps remembering a mother
or a child who isn't here,
I want you to know that tonight
He will accompany you.

No vayas solo por esas calles,
queriéndote aturdir,
ven con nosotros y a nuestro lado
intenta sonreír.

Don't walk these streets alone
wanting to stun yourself,
come with us and, at our side,
try to smile.

Por eso y muchas cosas más,
ven a mi casa esta Navidad.

For this and many other things,...

Tú que has vivido, siempre de espaldas,
sin perdonar ningún error,
ahora es momento de reencontrarnos,
ven a mi casa, por favor.

You who have always turned your back,
never forgiving any trespass,
now is the time for us to meet each other again,
come to my house, please.

Ahora ya es tiempo, de que charlemos,
pues nada se perdió,
en estos días, todo se olvida,
y nada sucedió.

Now is the time for us to talk,
since nothing has been lost,
in these days, all is forgotten,
and nothing happened.

Por eso y muchas cosas más,
ven a mi casa esta Navidad. (x3)

For this and many other things,...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"The Church tends to distance itself from Christ so as not to be disturbed": An interview with Jon Sobrino

This is a recent interview with Jesuit liberation theologian, Jon Sobrino.

by Asteko Elkarrizketa (English translation by Rebel Girl)

They tell me - in jest -- that you're angry with the world and I've also heard more than once that you want to be able to live without feeling ashamed of human beings ... Why?

Sometimes I feel ashamed. For example, are we really interested in Haiti? Obviously it raised interest in the beginning, and there have been some serious responses. But time goes by and it doesn't matter ... Another example I've told other times: in one soccer game of elite teams playing in the Champions League, I calculated that on the field, between the 22 players, there was twice the budget of Chad ... That angers and embarrasses me. Something very profound has to change in this world ...

Where are neoliberalism and globalization taking us?

The disaster is such that, in large part, it has led some to respond humanely: volunteers, NGOs, many churches -- Catholic and Protestant, other religions ... But I think the so-called First World -- one quarter of humanity -- continues to put the meaning of history in accumulation and the enjoyment that accumulation allows. Entertainment, for example, is a multinational mega-industry -- elite sports, tourism ...

Ellacuría called this the "civilization of capital", which produces a very sick society, in a fateful and fatal trance. And I used to say that the solution is to turn it around, so I concocted the term that we need a "civilization of poverty". Ellacuría was stubborn about this: it must be turned around; the engine of history can not be accumulating but solving the basic needs of 6.5 billion human beings, and the meaning of history is spirited solidarity.

In our society, it's common for large companies to hold very mediagenic "solidarity campaigns" with charity events, sponsorships, sending aid, etc ... Is the concept of solidarity being distorted?

I understand the question, but I think both things happen. On the one hand, a certain well-being and material affluence make it easier to give aid, and if one doesn't have a heart of stone, as the prophet Ezekiel said, it becomes somewhat of a heart of flesh and one helps. I think part of that solidarity is authentic.

However, such solidarity is also often used to hide the shame of the lack of a greater and more fundamental solidarity, and not only that, but also the oppression of the great powers over small countries.

Maybe it serves to mask the roots of the problems?

It can be used this way, although, ironically, many of the NGOs exist precisely to tell the truth -- though they don't pay much attention to them -- not just to help financially, but also to defend human rights. I see it as complex and each situation must be analyzed. It's clear that power subjects the whole world, but everyone must push the car of history as they can. Certainly, what we are being offered as solutions makes me indignant and sad.

Does the average citizen in the developed world have some responsibility for the poverty, oppression and wars that plague the planet?

Objectively, yes. Who declares the great wars? Governments, driven by oligarchies, but elected by the citizens. When governments offer war directly, some elect them and others not, but I don't hear of a leader offering to live worse off, at a lower level, so that many others might rise somewhat. In that sense, objectively we are co-responsible. The world is divided between oppressors and oppressed, there's no getting around it ...

In 2006, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a "Notificatio" in which it deems that you distort the figure of the historical Jesus to emphasize His humanity too much at the expense of His divinity. It's the argument of the old heresy ...

What I'm saying is that through the human reality of Jesus of Nazareth, God has made Himself present. But they tell me that I don't end up really saying He is God, and that I speak of Jesus of Nazareth too specifically, and even that I turn Him into a politician, and, in general, the authorities of the Roman curia and the diocesan ones too, don't tend to like that. It happened to several theologians; in my case, it began in 1976.

In the Notificatio, they said two of my books contained dangerous misstatements. Earlier, they had been given to seven serious theologians to read and none of them told me there was any problem of possibility of heresy ... I think Jesus of Nazareth always disturbs us. God disturbs us less because He is so untouchable, so unpalpable ... I think we have a tendency in the Church to distance ourselves from Jesus of Nazareth. It doesn't mean we don't speak of Christ, but Christ is "the anointed one", an adjective.

I think the most dangerous thing is to ignore the fact that Jesus did not just die, but they executed Him, and they killed Him because He stood up to the power of the chief priests and, indirectly, to the Roman powers. Clearly, Jesus didn't just do that; He preached very beautiful and very difficult things: the Beatitudes, mercy towards people, prayer to the Father ... It's nice to see Jesus, but it's something serious too, and if anyone wants to follow the way of Jesus, it's going to cost them ... So I think that, overall, the Church often distances itself from Him so as not to be bothered. But, thank God, there are people and groups who are drawn to Jesus. I've seen it in El Salvador, especially among the poor and their advocates.

After the "Notificatio" you sent a letter to the Jesuit General Peter Hans Kolvenbach, which stated that various theologians didn't find any incompatibility with Church doctrine, that the campaign against you and liberation theology came from 30 years ago and that Ratzinger, in his time as cardinal, had already taken your thoughts and expressions out of context. I gather that there's premeditated harassment against you ...

I wouldn't call it harassment, but bias against me and many others. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger [now Pope Benedict XVI], in an article in 1984-85, criticized me on five points, but also criticized Gustavo Gutiérrez, Ignacio Ellacuría and Hugo Assmann, the four us were in the current that was called liberation theology. Ratzinger was already against this current. If I meet him someday, I hope we can talk as friends...

By the way, one doesn't hear much talk of liberation theology now. Has something changed, perhaps?

Liberation theology was born some fifty years ago in Latin America, a continent of great poverty and Christian faith. Something burst forth there. Something exploded. What erupted? The truth of the poor, which was the reality for centuries. The Church had seen them and had helped them in various ways, but ... when something is so real and explodes, it affects you, shakes you and encourages you to do something.

Thus began the so-called liberation theology, which intended that the poor have life, justice and dignity. For Christian churches, that was God's main will. And in that sense God also "exploded". And then there were two reactions. One, outside the churches. U.S. Vice President [Nelson] Rockefeller, was traveling through Latin America in the seventies and said, among other things: "If what the bishops in Medellin [the 1968 Bishops' Conference, where liberation theology took ecclesial shape] are saying is realized, our interests are endangered." Within the institutional church there was also a backlash from some bishops and cardinals. So liberation theology was born and confrontations ensued. All this led to something unique in the history of Latin America. They wanted to stop it in different ways; one was by killing. They killed dozens of priests, men and women religious, and four bishops. Two others were saved by mistake. And what's less well known: thousands of lay people, most of them poor.

Liberation theology triggered a lifestyle based on compassion, then materialized in forms of justice, based on love for the poor. This now has dropped at the level of the Church and bishops who advocate that line.

Monsignor Romero [Archbishop of San Salvador] said weeks before he was killed in 1980 that "a Christian who sides with the oppressor is not a true Christian" ...

Obviously. To identify with the oppressor means belonging to that group of human beings that is oppressing and taking the lives of others, slowly, through poverty and repression. That person is not Christian. How does he look like Jesus if he is just the opposite? And moreover, he isn't humane. Monsignor Romero was right.

Recently, at a conference of Christian thinkers, you said, paraphrasing the theologian José María Díez Alegría, that "the Church has betrayed Jesus", "this Church is not what Jesus wanted". Where is the Catholic Church's hierarchy leading it?

I didn't paraphrase Díez Alegría, but rather quoted him literally. He said that "overall, the Catholic Church has betrayed Jesus," and I think it's an important reflection. Obviously, not all the Church. I think he is saying that Jesus of Nazareth is disturbing, and so the Church betrays Him. José Antonio Pagola says: what is most needed today is "to mobilize ourselves and join forces urgently to focus the Church more truly and rapidly on the person of Jesus and His plan of the kingdom of God." According to Christian belief, the kingdom of God is the will of God for this world that there be life for all, starting with the poor. And Pagola ended with these words: "Many things will have to be done in the Catholic Church, but none is more crucial than this conversion."

I love the use of the word "conversion" -- it's a radical change. I see nothing more important than returning to this Jesus because we tend to separate from Him, not always, not everyone, not in all ways, but ...

To put it quite simply: when one hears Christian men and women, priests, bishops and non bishops, one rarely hears them talking about Jesus of Nazareth, telling what He said and what He did ... We are losing the essence of Jesus, that's what I meant at the conference. In Latin America it was very present in Don Helder Camara, in Don Pedro Casaldaliga, in many others ... But there's also the temptation to say, like the Grand Inquisitor in the novel "The Brothers Karamazov": "Go and never come back ..."

Even dramatically ... I remember the slogan of the extreme right and the army at the time of repression and war in El Salvador, "be a patriot, kill a priest." Why did they persecute them so cruelly?

They didn't just persecute us, priests and Christian groups, but above all the peasants ... With the Medellin Conference of Bishops of 1968, there was a big change, a breakthrough, and Jesus of Nazareth was present. Being a Christian was following the life of this Jesus, being with the victims, the poor, and, to defend them, confronting the powerful. The oligarchy didn't tolerate this, much less that it came from well-known people of the Church. We priests might be better or worse, but we were an important symbol in the country. That Church that they wanted to have on their side got away from them, so they killed the first priest, Rutilio Grande, a Jesuit, a great friend, on March 12, 1977. A great commotion arose and Romero made a very important decision: he denounced it, he said he would never appear in public civil activities until the crime was solved. And on the Sunday of the funeral, he ordered that there only be a single mass. The people with money, the oligarchy, got angrier: "We have killed one of their priests and they continue ..." They continued to kill priests and distributed leaflets with this sentence: "Be a patriot, kill a priest." In June, they gave us Jesuits a month to leave the country or they would kill us all ... We left. They continued to kill priests and nuns, and especially peasants ...

In this context came the killing of the six Jesuit priests and two women [9/16/1989] in the Central American University (UCA). You were also one of the targets of the military, but were saved by being in Thailand attending a conference. How do you remember those events?

A friend called me from London, he asked if I was sitting and if I had a pencil to write with. And he began: "They killed Ellacuría and ...". I felt like they had ripped my skin to shreds, but when I got angriest was when they told me they had killed the cook and her daughter. That they killed Ellacuría, he "had it coming" -- like Jesus of Nazareth. But killing a cook and her fifteen year-old daughter...!

I also remember that a Thai who had converted to Catholicism asked if in El Salvador, there were Catholics who killed priests. He understood well the horror that entailed. In El Salvador, killing priests now entailed not breaking the rules of good, but those of evil. Anything could happen. And it happened ...

Have you often feared for your life?

Yes and no ... Several times bombs exploded in the UCA and in our house. We were on the lists, Ellacuría first, and the others too. Sometimes in the newspapers, I was singled out too. But to think that what happened to Rutilio Grande, to Father Alfonso Navarro, to Archbishop Romero could happen to us... did not cause us to fear. They used to ask us why we didn't leave the country and we replied that we would be ashamed to go, we would be ashamed to say that we must be with people and then leave. I also taught classes on Christology and had to talk about the life of Jesus. How could I talk about Jesus if I left? And we didn't leave, above all, because we felt part of something larger, an entire people whom we loved and who loved us ... For me, it was a gift to have gone to El Salvador. I will be grateful for life.

You've been living there for over half a century. Some things have changed a lot in El Salvador, but poverty continues, the situation has even worsened with crime and youth gang violence ...

El Salvador, as is happening in Haiti, disappeared from the news. Peace treaties were signed and something important happened: two armies agreed not to continue to fight militarily. And that's very good. Furthermore, in the peace agreements it was decided to investigate serious human rights violations on both sides. The United Nations did a quite serious study about it. But what happened? Before the UN report came out, President Cristiani granted amnesty to those who appeared in it. Such an amnesty is not an act of reconciliation, of humanization: it served mainly so that it would not touch the government. Nobody has been convicted yet for the murder of Monsignor Romero -- nor has the Vatican canonized him...

Because of the short time framework, the agreements didn't sufficiently address the economy either, and that is still being felt. I'm not saying that with good agreements on the means of production, labor law, etc ... much would have changed. I'm not very optimistic but, by doing nothing, the unfair economic situation continues with no sign of a solution.

And there have been two other major negative things: Many Salvadorans -- two to three million -- go to the U.S. to find work, which brings many human problems, division of families, etc ... The other problem is the violence of the gangs, that have generated a kind of life in which young people find a sense of identity and are prepared to kill and be killed. And we must add the mafias, drug trafficking, kidnapping ... I wonder sometimes, tragically, why in El Salvador, and in similar countries, they have not decided on collective suicide. For many people, that is not living. But in the people, there is a greater force to move forward and face the most difficult problems. This force is expressed in the effort to survive, the attempts to organize. It is nurtured by many good people, the martyrs with Romero at the top. I think this is difficult to understand here.

I'm surprised how little Salvadoran accent you have ... In El Salvador do they still think of you as Basque?

Admittedly, I haven't changed accents. As far as what is Basque, I haven't lost my roots ... But nor is it an absolute ... Nor is it that I feel Salvadoran, although that is what I most feel I am. I think what has happened to me in El Salvador is a greater openness to all that is human, beyond localities ...

You've put aside coming back to Basque Country to stay ...

What's normal is not coming back to stay; if I come back, I will have to figure out what to do to help here. I would love to cooperate, do good, but I have no recipe. The change would be great. In El Salvador are the poor who don't take life for granted and have almost all the world powers against them. Here in Europe, life is taken for granted, and with much power in their favor. If I may say metaphysically: the poor are "those who are not real." Here we think we're what's real. Being in El Salvador means cooperating for all to live, and the dream of doing it as brothers and sisters. Here I would have to rethink it, though I see good people and things to which I could point.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Songs for Advent and Christmas 8: Villancico de Gloria Fuertes

The late Spanish poet, Gloria Fuertes, wrote many Christmas-related poems. She also wrote poetry for children. In this simple carol, she looks at the Nativity from the perspective of the Child Jesus and His priorities. Is it a greater sin to kiss each other in public or speak ill of our neighbor? Her words challenge today's Church that seems overly focused on sexual morality. Paco Ibañez put Gloria's words to music. In the end, Fuertes' Jesus is like any other little boy -- He asks for the Three Kings to wait so He can write to them!

Ya está el niño en el portal
que nació en la porteria,
San José tiene taller,
y es la portera Maria.

Vengan sabios y doctores
a consultarle sus dudas,
el niño sabe lo todo
está esperando en la cuna.

Dice que pecado es
hablar mal de los vecinos
y que pecado no es
besarse por los caminos.

Que se acerquen los pastores
que me divierten un rato
que se acerquen los humildes,
que se alejen los beatos.

Que pase la Magdalena,
que venga San Agustín,
que esperen los reyes magos
que les tengo que escribir.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Songs for Advent and Christmas 7: Canción de Navidad - Silvio Rodriguez

This song by Cuban singer-songwriter Silvio Rodriguez highlights the social inequality that becomes even more apparent at Christmas. He sings to those who are forgotten, those who eke out a living begging in the doorways, those, as Rodriguez says, "to whom no one has sung."

El fin de año huele a compras,
enhorabuenas y postales
con votos de renovación;
y yo que sé del otro mundo
que pide vida en los portales,
me doy a hacer una canción.
La gente luce estar de acuerdo,
maravillosamente todo
parece afín al celebrar.
Unos festejan sus millones,
otros la camisita limpia
y hay quien no sabe qué es brindar.

The end of the year smells of shopping,
greetings and cards
with vows of renewal;
and I who know of a different world
that begs its livelihood in doorways,
I set to write a song.
People appear to be as one,
amazingly everyone
seems akin in celebration.
Some drink to their millions,
others, to a clean shirt,
and some don't know what toasting is.

Mi canción no es del cielo,
las estrellas, la luna,
porque a ti te la entrego,
que no tienes ninguna.

My song is not about the sky,
the stars, the moon,
because I'm giving it to you,
who has none of them.

Mi canción no es tan sólo
de quien pueda escucharla,
porque a veces el sordo
lleva más para amarla.

My song is not just for
those who can hear it,
because sometimes the deaf
are better able to love it.

Tener no es signo de malvado
y no tener tampoco es prueba
de que acompañe la virtud;
pero el que nace bien parado,
en procurarse lo que anhela
no tiene que invertir salud.

To have is not a sign of sin,
nor is having nothing
proof of virtue;
but the one who is well born,
doesn't have to spend his health
in getting what he yearns for.

Por eso canto a quien no escucha,
a quien no dejan escucharme,
a quien ya nunca me escuchó,
al que su cotidiana lucha
me da razones para amarle,
a aquel que nadie le cantó.

Therefore I sing to the one who doesn't listen,
the one who is not allowed to listen to me,
the one who hasn't heard me yet,
to the one whose daily struggle
gives me reason to love him,
to the one to whom no one has sung.

Mi canción no es del cielo,
las estrellas, la luna,
porque a ti te la entrego,
que no tienes ninguna.

My song is not about the sky,
the stars, the moon,
because I'm giving it to you,
who has none of them.

Mi canción no es tan sólo
de quien pueda escucharla,
porque a veces el sordo
lleva más para amarla.

My song is not just for
those who can hear it,
because sometimes the deaf
are better able to love it.

A new vision of the priesthood - Part 9

This is the ninth in an ongoing series of columns about the priesthood by an activist priest from the Dominican Republic, Fr. Rogelio Cruz, that he published in El Día. English translation by Rebel Girl.

Part 9 - 12/7/2010

Celibacy is the main obstacle for young men entering seminary today.

Celibacy is a condition that the Church requires of all who want to be priests.

There are many Christians suited to be priests and there are many young men who would love to be priests, but they don't accept these conditions of celibacy, they aren't ready to give up marriage.

There are many young men of all classes, positions, who would have devoted their whole life to the priesthood, but they're married.

The Latin rite Church has the right to reserve the priesthood for those who have the charism of celibacy, but if it does, it should not be surprised if there are no priests in the future; and the hierarchy can not cause such great harm to the whole Church, only because it wants to hold on to a tradition that is relative and that has been so poorly kept throughout history.

Celibacy arose as a disciplinary weapon of the Church in the year 300, at the Council of Elvira (Spain), a provincial synod, clearly established as a disciplinary norm, and the hierarchy has had to insist on many occasions through all sorts of orders, laws, and plans, that what has been established be maintained.

We believe there have been and can be celibate priests.

What we can't see clearly -- and neither can the people of God -- is why all priests have to necessarily be celibate and why the doors are closed to those who could be priests without being celibate.

The deduction from this is that the Church should have two types of priests, single and married, with different attitudes and training, but united in the work of evangelism.

Friday, December 17, 2010

We are the change we want in the world

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

This statement, which seems arrogant, is actually testimony of the meaning of the "Cultivating Good Water" project launched by the big Itaipú Binacional hydroelectric plant on the border between Brazil and Paraguay, that involves about one million people. The directors of the company, Jorge Samek and Nelton Friedrich, with their teams, wisely understood the global challenge that comes to us from global warming and decided to give the most inclusive and holistic local response possible. It was so successful that it has become an international reference.

Its director-inspirers spell it out: "The Itaipú hydroelectric plant adopted for itself the role of inducing a true cultural movement towards sustainability, linking, sharing, joining forces with the various actors in the Paraná Basin 3 around a series of programs and projects systemically interconnected and holistic, that make up 'Cultivating Good Water'. They were created in light of planetary documents such as the Earth Charter, the Treaty on Environmental Education for Sustainable Societies, Agenda 21 and the Millennium Development Goals."

They have accomplished something that is truly difficult: a cultural revolution, that is, they have introduced a set of principles, values, habits, styles of education, ways of relating to society and nature, modes of production and consumption that justify the slogan, written on all the shirts of the four thousand participants of the last major meeting in mid-November, "We are the change we want in the world."

Indeed, the severity of the crisis of the Life-system and Earth-system is such that governmental initiatives, usually late and ineffective, no longer suffice. Humanity, all the sciences, social institutions and individuals must make their contribution and take the common destiny into their hands. Otherwise, it will be difficult for us to survive collectively.

Christian de Duve, Nobel Prize in Physiology winner in 1974, warns us in his famous book, Vital Dust: Life as a cosmic imperative (1995), that "our time reminds us of one of those major breaks in evolution, marked by mass extinctions." Indeed, the human being has become a destructive geophysical force. In earlier times, it was levelling meteors that threatened the Earth; now the devastating levelling meteor is called the human being sapiens and demens, doubly demens.

Hence the importance of the "Cultivating Good Water" project: to show that the tragedy is not fatal. We can make changes that go from the organization of hundreds of courses in environmental education and training, through the outcrop of a collective consciousness of co-responsibility and care for the environment, the shared management of watersheds, incentivizing family farming, the creation of a biological refuge for regional species, biodiversity corridors linking several forest reserves, over 800 km of fencing to protect riparian vegetation, the recovery of all rivers, cultivation of medicinal plants, power generation through pig and poultry wastes, construction of a 10 km canal to overcome a height difference of 120 meters and allow fish to swim upstream, to the creation of a Technology Center, the Center for Environmental Knowledge and Care and the University of Latin American Integration, among others which we haven't cited.

Sustainability, caring and the participation/cooperation of civil society are the pillars that make this project possible. Sustainability introduces a rationality responsible for the supportive use of scarce resources. Caring founded on an ethic of a respectful relationship with nature, healing past wounds and preventing future ones, and the participation of society create the collective subject that carries out all the initiatives. Such values are always reviewed and agreed upon. The end result is the birth of a new type of society, integrated with the environment, a culture of valuing all of life, with clean production within the limits of the ecosystem, and strong solidarity among all. A benevolent spiritual aura runs through the meetings as if everyone felt as one heart and one soul.

Isn't that how the recovery of nature and the birth of a new paradigm of civilization start?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A new vision of the priesthood - Part 8

This is the eighth in an ongoing series of columns about the priesthood by an activist priest from the Dominican Republic, Fr. Rogelio Cruz, that he published in El Día. English translation by Rebel Girl.

Part 8 - 11/30/2010

Those who are in the priesthood have been recruited at a very early age and, in reality, they chose that life before reaching mental maturity, so that when they come to make their first adult decision, it may be too late.

These young men (adolescents) thus recruited are those who give the tone of levity that is found in seminaries. They are poorly motivated young men, who don't even know where they're going or what they really want.

The vocational campaigns or days are not at all satisfactory and those who go are usually adolescents with very little motivation.

Also, since they see a lot of adult or middle-aged priests, they are not drawn to be like them.

Before, the priest was considered to be an important man in society.

Today many contend with him for this role and in some societies, they are rejected.

Before, the priest was considered to have an aura of science; today, the priest knows very little about modern technology.

Today, the priest is a man of the church, only endowed with "magical" powers. And the magical and mystical are not accepted in today's society.

The problem is that there are too many bitter, alienated, and abusive priests today.

We are not examples of patience, or charity, or prayer, or selflessness, or poor and sacrificial living.

We are men with spiritual power and the people see us as police, sergeants in an organization that is as feared as it is loved.

There are many bad examples of priests who center their lives on the church, and the lives of men and women are centered on other things.

We see the most active priests and the ones who most identify with the people sent somewhere else or we see them leave the priesthood, and it's obvious that they did it because of being who they are and because their lives are made impossible, both by superiors and fellow priests. The young men who see that, say: "I'm not going to go there."

If Christ is the model, why make a priest undergo a long path to dehumanization? Christ, on the other hand, became man to redeem humanity, he acted like a real man. Why does the priest have to become dehumanized in order to serve his brothers and sisters?

Why does he have to separate himself from people, dress differently from men, not frequent the usual haunts of people, not have a family like other men, and always be on top of himself so that, in his daily actions, the man doesn't appear?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Songs for Advent and Christmas 6: Someday at Christmas

This song, written by Ron Miller and Bryan Wells, is the title track of a Christmas album recorded in 1967 by Stevie Wonder. Miller, who is better known for such romantic hits as "Touch me in the morning" and "For once in my life", was writing while the Vietnam War was still going strong and the fight for civil rights at home still being waged. He was looking forward to a time of peace, a time when no child would go hungry and when all people would be free. The day Miller envisioned still hasn't arrived. Will we ever see it?

Someday at Christmas men won't be boys*
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there'll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life's really worth
There'll be peace on earth

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas we'll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
Our world where people care

Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shinning moment, one prayer away
From our world today

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Take hope because your love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime
Someday at Christmastime

*For those who object to the non-inclusive language, please remember that this song was written in 1967 before our collective conscience was raised.

A new vision of the priesthood - Part 7

This is the seventh in an ongoing series of columns about the priesthood by an activist priest from the Dominican Republic, Fr. Rogelio Cruz, that he published in El Día. English translation by Rebel Girl.

Part 7 - 11/18/2010

We must revise recruitment to enter the seminary, as the way it's being done today is counterproductive, since many of the youngsters (teenagers) who enter don't persevere, they don't stay.

Only those who have the spiritual charisms required for today's priesthood persevere. And they will be few and far between.

This is how the process has been for those who are priests today:
  • They follow a family tradition (Christian families)
  • They have lived enclosed in seminaries and novitiates
  • They have stayed in the background
  • They have been subtly pressured not to waver (put the hand to the can't look back)
  • Many see the face of the aunt, the tears of their mother, the serious gesture of their father, the disappointment of the rich lady who paid for their studies up to now, or the reprimand of the priest who recommended them
  • But as the seminarian matures, these arguments lose strength and when they have to make a decision, they make one.
What kind of young people -- young men -- enter the seminary?

a) Those who come from societies and families with great Christian traditions, where modern thought and customs have not developed and socio-religious problems are never questioned, much less traditional values. But it won't be long before they suffer a strong crisis.

b) Much fewer in number, those who belong to a new era and, one could say, a new Church. The one with a service image that fits the modern world. Those who, knowing some if not all of the dehumanizing process they will go through, because they have a special charism, are ready to go through this process and move beyond it when it's over.

They will go through many crises, since the priesthood will prove not to be all it was made out to be.

These young men are not going to come from angelic groups, where purety, resistance to temptation, flight from sin, or even a grace-filled life are the main engine of their lives, but rather from the special movements than have made them, through their activism, real priests for the secular world in which they unfolded.

They know that their main role won't be being distributors of sacraments, but living exponents and witnesses to the message of Christ. They will be true servants of their brothers and sisters out in the field where they are needed -- not specifically in the church, but where they are needed.

Young men who know what it is to have a girlfriend, who know what dancing is, what having true friendships with people of the opposite sex is, who have experienced being tempted, who know what work life is because they have had to earn a living by working.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A new vision of the priesthood - Part 6

This is the sixth in an ongoing series of columns about the priesthood by an activist priest from the Dominican Republic, Fr. Rogelio Cruz, that he published in El Día. English translation by Rebel Girl.

Part 6 - 11/16/2010

If one of the great sins of priests is interest in material things, a no lesser one is the lack of interest in the spiritual.

Lack of interest in personally getting to know each of his sheep. Lack of interest in knowing their problems. Lack of interest in helping them with their problems. Lack of interest in going to visit them in their own homes.

Many censuses are conducted to impose tribute, to keep the list of contributors up to date, but never to know the real situation of the parish, of each family, to know how many sick people we have to visit, to know how many fallen away Christians we need to draw back, to know how many children are not going to school or to catechism.

Almost all the interest is based on attending to rich people; and for the poor, crumbs of time or whatever is left over.

Most priests come from the lower class, but their training and work is directed at the middle class or those above; they put themselves at the service of the upper class and divorce themselves from the working class.

Other priests have the urge to be builders, priests involved with financiers, going from bank to bank looking for those who will lend to them or give them money to build.

The priest should do that when it is absolutely necessary and represents a great good for the Church and there is nobody else who can do it.

The problem is that many priests, after having built the church, are unfit for the Gospel. The heart has become cement, brick, and they have built a wall between themselves and the people.

Others have an urge to celebrate Mass, without denying the importance of the Eucharist, many priests come to the chapel, to the church, with time measured out.

They confess, they celebrate baptisms and in the sermon will talk about funds and the collections to build the new chapel.

Mass is over, and they disappear until next Sunday; many of those churches won't open for the whole week. But Mass has been celebrated.

Despite the best will, the priest thus becomes a functionary who brings merchandise. Such a Mass is useless. It doesn't fill any need.

The Mass has no content, no meaning.

The Mass, being a value in itself, becomes merchandise that does not attract the buyer.

Who comes? Pious people, good ones, friends of following tradition -- they are those who don't want to commit a mortal sin by not going to Mass. The absence of the young is noticeable.

If celebrating Mass like that is the task of a priest, one could say that he is wasting his time. The first thing to do is evangelize.

This is the price the Church has to pay for making into a legal obligation what can only be decided by Love.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Navidad 2010: A Christmas reflection from Dom Pedro Casaldaliga

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga, bishop emeritus of São Félix do Araguaia in Brazil, has penned this poem/reflection about being Christmas in today's world . We bring it to you in Spanish and English (translation by Rebel Girl).

Es difícil detectar El Anuncio
entre tantos anuncios que nos invaden.
¿Existe aún la Navidad?
¿Navidad es Buena Nueva?
¿Navidad es también Pascua?
Sabemos que «no hay lugar para ellos».
Sabemos que hay lugar para todos,
hasta para Dios...

It's hard to detect The Annunciation
among so many announcements that invade us.
Does Christmas still exist?
Is Christmas the Good News?
Is Christmas Easter too?
We know that "there is no room for them."
We know that there is room for all,
even for God...

El buey y la mula,
huyendo del latifundio,
se han refugiado en los ojos de este Niño.

The ox and the mule,
fleeing the latifundio,
have taken refuge in this Child's eyes.

El hambre no es sólo un problema social,
es un crimen mundial.
Contra el Agro-Negocio capitalista,
la Agro-Vida, el Bien-Vivir.

Hunger is not just a social problem,
it's a worldwide crime.
Against capitalist Agri-business,
Agri-life, Right-living.

Todo puede ser mentira,
menos la verdad de que Dios es Amor
y de que toda la Humanidad
es una sola familia.

Everything could be a lie,
except the truth that God is Love
and that all Humanity
is one family.

Dios continúa entrando por abajo,
pequeño, pobre, impotente,
pero trayéndonos su Paz.
Doña María y el señor José
continúan en la comunidad.
La Veva continúa siendo tapirapé.
La sangre de los mártires
continúa fecundando la primavera alternativa.
Los cayados de los pastores,
(y del Parkinson también),
las banderas militantes,
las manos solidarias
y los cantos de la juventud
continúan alentando la Caminada.

God still enters from below,
small, poor, powerless,
but bringing us his Peace.
Lady Mary and Mister Joseph
are still in the community.
Veva is still tapirapé.
The blood of the martyrs
still fertilizes the alternative spring.
The staffs of the shepherds,
(and of Parkinson's too),
the militant banners,
hands outstretched in solidarity,
and the songs of youth
still offer encouragement along the Way.

Las estrellas sólo se ven de noche.
Y de noche surge el Resucitado.
«No tengan miedo».
En coherencia, con tesón y en la Esperanza,
seamos cada día Navidad,
cada día seamos Pascua.

Stars are only seen at night.
And from the night, the Risen One emerges.
"Fear not."
Consistently, with determination and hope,
let us be Christmas every day,
every day let us be Easter.

Amén, Axé, Awire, Aleluia.

The Dueling Virgins

Yesterday, our church was visited by two Marys. Two Marys?? Of course, anyone even remotely connected to Hispanic ministry knows that one of them was Our Lady of Guadalupe. I wore my Guadalupe t-shirt for the occasion -- a t-shirt that also happens to be pink, the liturgical color of Gaudete Sunday (what the official Catholic Church thinks we were celebrating).

As we were waiting, I saw some brothers and sisters bring an image of the Virgin to the little altar they had assembled in the front of the church. It wasn't La Morenita. No. These folks had arranged to dedicate this Mass to the Virgin of Cotoca, a Bolivian Marian devotion from the Santa Cruz region that is technically supposed to be celebrated on December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception).

I had never heard of the Virgin of Cotoca but later learned that she was discovered inside a log by three humble field hands who had fled their master after being falsely accused of a murder they didn't commit. The field hands brought the Virgin back to their master when, after they prayed to Her, the real culprits were discovered. The Virgin went on to produce many more miracles. She is the patroness of the eastern part of Bolivia and has a shrine and even a Facebook page.

La Guadalupana, whose feast day really is on December 12th, had the place of honor right at the foot of the altar. Her image, painted by one of our young people, was carried in the opening procession by two children while the other children followed, carrying roses to offer to Her. Our choir director who, being Salvadoran, didn't have a stake in this "competition", programmed two opening hymns -- one to each Virgin. Before beginning the Mass, Fr. Joe looked with bemusement at the two Marys and quipped: " least they're not fighting!"

I don't know what happened later upstairs. Downstairs, with the children, we simply told the story of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I had never heard of Our Lady of Cotoca before yesterday and, in any case, Guadalupe was the Virgin who was named Patroness of the Americas so She is our common Madrecita.

These are the moments that make Hispanic ministry so fascinating to me. We are (more or less) monolinguistic and yet culturally diverse. If we are a Kingdom people, we will enjoy the richness of each other's faith traditions, learn from, and accommodate them without conflict. A Mexican Mary and a Bolivian Mary can peacefully co-exist at the foot of their Son, through Whom we are one people of God.

Songs for Advent and Christmas 5: Come, Rejoice!

Judy Collins recorded this song on a 1994 CD by the same title. We are called to remember a Christ who makes queens and beggars equal and Collins exhorts us to "Give the tender gift of hope / Make Christmas every day."

Bright as the sun in the dark night air
There appeared a heavenly light
To guide the wise men to the King of hope
Who was born on Christmas night

The wisdom Child and His Mother mild
Slept in a manger stall
In a stable low where the cattle moaned
And the angels stood their guard

Come rejoice, queen and beggar
The homeless man and the prince of pride
Saints and vagabonds, rich and poor
Rejoice in gladness on Christmas night

Bearing their gifts every wise man knelt
Bending his knees to the King
In the heavenly light while sweet Mary smiled
They heard the angels sing

So every soul on Christmas night
Yearns for healing grace
With gifts of myrrh and frankincense
They bless sweet Jesus' face

Come rejoice, queen and beggar
The homeless man and the prince of pride
Saints and vagabonds, rich and poor
Rejoice in gladness on Christmas night

May all the blessings that come to us now
Lead us from darkness to light
May all the hope that is here in our hearts
Live beyond this magic night

Late tonight on a city street
Some child of woman and man
Goes to sleep on the frozen ground
And holds an empty hand

Lift your eyes to the hopeless face
That greets you on your way
Give the tender gift of love
Make Christmas every day

Come rejoice, queen and beggar
The homeless man and the prince of pride
Saints and vagabonds, rich and poor
Rejoice in gladness on Christmas night

Come rejoice, queen and beggar
The homeless man and the prince of pride
Saints and vagabonds, rich and poor
Rejoice in gladness on Christmas night, on Christmas night

Photo: Judy Collins with children in Croatia as part of her work as UNICEF ambassador.

Itaipú Binacional: a miniature of biocivilization

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

In the global culture today, there is much widespread despair and bewilderment. We don't know where we're going. It's a blind flight into the unknown. Even more painful is the lack of an alternative to the current model that seeks great accumulation with a view to accelerated consumption, at the expense of the depletion of natural resources and generating glaring social injustices worldwide.

With the emerging "externalities" (global warming, resource scarcity, global imbalance of the Earth-system) the predominant feeling is that the world can not continue as is. We have to change. So, everywhere, there are new visions and, in particular, practices that give us back some hope that another world is possible and necessary. The new focus is on caring for life, saving humanity and the protection of planet Earth. What is to be born will be a biocivilización or a "land of good hope" (Ignacy Sachs).

And here in our country we find a miniature of the collective will, a small anticipation of what should be dominant in humanity: the "Cultivating Good Water" project of Itaipú Binacional in Foz do Iguaçú, in the state of Paraná.

There, through an agreement between Brazil and Paraguay, the world's largest hydropower plant has been built with a reservoir 176 kilometers long, where 19 billion cubic meters of water have been collected, used for 20 turbines that generate 14,000 megawatts.

What was the insight of its directors, Jorge Samek and Nelton Friedrich, even at the beginning of their administration in 2003? That water would not be used only for electricity production, but also to create all sorts of energy needed by the beings that are vitally dependent on it, especially humans.

So the "Cultivating Good Water" project was formed, that involves 29 cities around the area, in which close to a million people live, along with the raising of poultry and pigs, among the largest in the country. This is a highly complex project covering virtually every dimension of reality, resulting in a cultural revolution, since this is the purpose of the thousands of people carrying out the project. This is exactly what we need: a new civilizing attempt, tested in miniature, that is viable within the altered conditions on an Earth in the process of global warming and depletion of its resources. The motto says it all: "A new way of being for sustainability."

I've always said that sustainability was hijacked by the capitalist project, making it empty to keep it from being an alternative paradigm to it, which is inherently unsustainable. Freed from this captivity, it becomes the central value of a new civilizing arrangement that establishes a balanced relationship between human beings, nature, development and generational solidarity. In Itaipu, the establishment of this happy relationship has been achieved. They started correctly with community awareness. That is to say, they began with the expansion of consciousness, convening notable names in ecological thinking, such as F. Capra, Enrique Leff (UNEP-Latin America), Marcos Sorrentino, Carlos and Paulo Nobre among others. I myself have accompanied the project from its inception. They defined space not by the arbitrary limits of the municipalities but by the natural boundaries of watersheds. They involved all the communities, creating management committees for each river, legalized by the municipalities. Wisely, they realized that environmental education is the engine of change in being, feeling, producing and consuming. Is this not the inauguration of a cultural revolution? They trained several hundred environmental instructors, thus reaching thousands of people. A new generation is emerging that is looking for a sustainable way of living.

In the next article, I want to detail the wide range of activities from the use of solid waste to generate energy, to technological innovation with the electric car, research on hydrogen, the creation of the Centro de Saberes y Cuidados Ambientales (Center for Environmental Knowledge and Care) and the Universidad Federal de la Integración Latinoamericana (Federal University of Latin American Integration - UNILA).

Anyone who accompanies this project comes away with this certainty: that humankind can be rescued, there is a way, and it's possible, as Fernando Pessoa said, to create a world that has not yet been tried.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Songs for Advent and Christmas 4: La Navidad de Luis

This song by León Gieco was performed by him and Mercedes Sosa as a duet on her 1996 CD, “Escondido en mi país”. In stunningly simple lyrics, it demonstrates the difference between mere charity and justice and gives us a clear understanding of what Jesus meant when He said that we do not live by bread alone.

Toma Luis, mañana es Navidad,
un pan dulce y un poco de vino,
ya que no puedes comprar.

Toma Luis, llévalo a tu casa
y podrás junto con tu padre
la Navidad festejar.

Mañana no vengas a trabajar,
que el pueblo estará de fiesta
y no habrá tristezas...

Señora, gracias por lo que me da,
pero yo no puedo esto llevar
porque mi vida no es de Navidad.

Señora, ¿cree que mi pobreza
llegará al final comiendo pan
el día de Navidad?

Mi padre me dará algo mejor,
me dirá que Jesús es como yo,
y entonces así podré seguir...

Viviendo, viviendo,
viviendo, viviendo,
viviendo, viviendo,
viviendo, viviendo.

Tomorrow is Christmas, Luis.
Take some sweet bread and a little wine
since you can't buy anything.

Take it, Luis. Take it to your house
and you'll be able to celebrate Christmas
with your father.

Don't come to work tomorrow
since people will be celebrating
and there will be no sadness...

Thank you, Ma'am for what you give me
but I can't take this
because my life isn't Christmas.

Ma'am, do you think my poverty will come
to an end by eating bread
on Christmas Day?

My father will give me something better,
He'll tell me that Jesus was like me,
and so I'll be able to keep on...

Living, living,...

Monday, December 6, 2010

Songs for Advent and Christmas 3: Standing in the Rain

This song is by the late English Quaker singer-songwriter Sydney Carter, best known as the author of "Lord of the Dance". It challenges us on what it means to call ourselves Christian. Would we welcome Mary and Joseph if they came to our door in the middle of the night asking for shelter? Would we welcome them if they were of a different race, if they didn't speak our language, or even if they were of a different faith? This song was written in 1965, but as long as there is discrimination in our churches and society, as long as there are apathetic Christians, it still applies.

This video is not the best version of the song but it's the only one available on the Internet. The children's choir leaves out some of the most controversial lines of the song, perhaps because they are not appropriate for small, innocent voices.

Standing in the rain, knocking on the window
Knocking on the window on a Christmas Day
There he is again, knocking on the window
Knocking on the window in the same old way

No use knocking on the window
There is nothing we can do, sir
All the beds are booked already
There is nothing left for you, sir

No use knocking on the window
Some are lucky, some are not, sir
We are Christian men and women
But we're keeping what we've got, sir

No we haven't got a manger
No we haven't got a stable
We are Christian men and women
Always willing, never able

Christ the Lord has gone to heaven
One day he'll be coming back, sir
In this house he will be welcome
But we hope he won't be black, sir

Wishing you a merry Christmas
We will now go back to bed, sir
Till you woke us with your knocking
We were sleeping like the dead, sir

Photos: Sydney Carter; Fritz Eichenberg's Birth of Christ

Friday, December 3, 2010

CELAM gathering denonouces persistent human rights violations

The Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) highlighted a growing awareness of the value of human rights on the continent but warned that "in spite of these advances, we have to note painfully that shameful situations of human rights violations persist."

These conclusions follow the 5th Continental Encounter on Human Rights Ministry that took place in San Salvador this week. The objective of the meeting was to produce a guide for human rights ministry. Sixty-five people from 22 different countries participated in the gathering.

In their concluding document, the conference participants state that "the existence of a socioeconomic system that is not centered on human beings and their rights has led to a degradation of the conditions of people who are excluded from any order. The continent has grown economically but that has not translated into more equity and social justice."

They decry the fact that "more than 200 million people live in unacceptable conditions on a continent with enormous natural wealth and biodiversity" and they also noted the "feminization of poverty". They stress that the lack of decent working conditions and inequality of access to resources -- both political and natural -- are a grave scandal that threatens the ability of the region to become economically integrated in the world.

The conference document makes special mention of environmental rights, particularly in areas where the exploitation of natural resources, especially in mining and petroleum, is taking place with no regard for the environment and in the absence of any laws or norms. It highlights the particular violations of the rights of indigenous people and those of African descent and says that those violations "are an offense against God and the entire human family." It also condemns drug trafficking and human trafficking, as well as the criminal mistreatment of migrants.

It states that "for many years impunity has been the common denominator in human rights violations caused by agents at the service of the state and powerful groups" and avers that judicial independence is still a challenge in the region's fragile democracies.

The gathering concluded with a mass celebrated in the crypt where Monseñor Oscar Romero is buried by Bishop Jorge Eduardo Lozano of Gualeguaychú, Argentina, who heads the Social Ministry Section of CELAM's Department of Justice and Solidarity. Mons. Lozano made a plea for commitment to a gospel path of love and nonviolence. “We can, however, be stupid and foolish and choose the inconsistency of war, hatred, revenge, greed, comfort, silence ... When the Word is not fruitful in our lives, we are covered by the shadow of indifference towards the fate of brothers and sisters, for whom we don't take responsibility because we don't feel responsible. But we can wake up from this negligence. We are called to overcome the pride of doing things 'my way'. Praying with the story of Moses has enlightened us over these days. We should grow in humility and generosity to commit ourselves to the liberation of the people according to God's "style."

Photo: Conference participants gather at Mons. Oscar Romero's tomb.