Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ask and Ye Shall Receive: More Good News About Maribel Perez Vargas

Yesterday's Washington Hispanic reports that Maribel Perez Vargas, the young Peruvian mother in need of a lung transplant for whom we have been praying and to whose cause we have contributed, was found by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center team that tested her last month to be a suitable candidate for lung transplant surgery.

Maribel has now been placed on the list of those awaiting a donor organ. Please keep those prayers and donations coming and go to or MAPAVI to find out how to make a donation.

Finally, you can help people like Maribel by becoming an organ donor. It's easy. When you get your driver's license or non-driver ID, check the box that says you want to be an organ donor. Also -- and this is important -- make sure that your family and emergency contact person know that you want to be an organ donor and will support you when asked by medical personnel. Go to to find out how you can sign up to be an organ donor and get answers to your questions. Para personas hispanohablantes, la organización Done Vida provee información sobre como hacerse donante de órganos.

It is very important for members of all ethnic groups to sign up to be donors. There is a greater probability of compatibility within an ethnic group and also certain ethnic groups are more predisposed to certain diseases leading the patient to require an organ transplant. For example, Hispanics are three times more likely than Whites to suffer from end-stage renal disease and require a kidney transplant.

Cost is often a concern but you need to know that the organ donor and/or their family is not charged for the organ donation. Medical costs associated with compatibility testing, harvesting the organ and transplanting it are the responsibility of the recipient and his/her insurance company.

Finally, Catholics can be assured that their Church fully supports organ donation. A person who has donated an organ can have a full Catholic funeral and burial in a Catholic cemetery. Catholics view organ donation as an act of charity, fraternal love and self sacrifice. Transplants are ethically and morally acceptable to the Vatican. Pope John Paul II has stated: "The Catholic Church would promote the fact that there is a need for organ donors and that Christians should accept this as a 'challenge to their generosity and fraternal love' so long as ethical principles are followed." "La donación de órganos, después de la muerte, es un acto noble y meritorio, que debe ser alentado" (Catecismo de la Iglesia Católica nº 2301). En palabras del Papa Juan Pablo II: “Cada órgano trasplantado tiene su origen en una disposición de gran valor ético: la decisión de dar sin contrapartidas parte de nuestro cuerpo para la salud y bienestar de otra persona”.

Marching for Life: Some Reflections and Photos

Yesterday I attended the annual March for Life. I didn't see anybody I knew and the closest I came to "Consistent Life" was the student from Notre Dame who sat next to me on the subway and who, in response to some intense grilling from a GWU student, gave a perfect, "seamless garment" response.

One of the pluses of this year's march was that there were relatively few gory fetus signs like this:

On the other hand, I was not comfortable with the mass-produced "Women DO Regret Abortion" and "Men Regret Lost Fatherhood" signs, courtesy of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign (brought to you by Priests for Life and Anglicans For Life). A small group of women who really have had abortions carrying signs that say "I Regret My Abortion" is a powerful witness. Gross -- and therefore inaccurate -- generalizations carried and mouthed by teenagers who have never been pregnant, let alone experienced abortion, is just offensive and creepy.

In a spiritual sense, abortion is experienced as a loss of freedom and control over our bodies. With these signs, we can't even own our grieving process, which is different for each woman. Some women do not regret their abortions or they may regret them for reasons that are different than those that underlie this campaign. Many men do not equate the loss of one unintended pregnancy with loss of fatherhood. To Fr. Frank Pavone and his fellow priests: Keep your slogans off our bodies, stop manipulating and exploiting our grief, and focus your energies on what you can do best as priests of the Roman Catholic Church -- educate your fellow priests and hierarchy on how to make the Church a more welcoming place for post-abortion women.

I prefer simple personal signs like this one:

And then there's the equation of the fetus with Christ which begs the theological question: Isn't the mother also made in the image of God/Christ?

But there were also immediate opportunities to give life: helping a Hispanic family from New Jersey who had lost their cellphone and become separated from their group, giving directions to our visitors, and buying a plastic bracelet from some parochial school students from Wilmington, Delaware who were selling them to benefit Haiti. Their teacher explained that many were from the Dominican Republic and so chose their neighbor country for their annual service project.

Perhaps next year I will find friends like Fr. Hoyos (who says he was there) but I did have one "friend": Nuestra Madre y Señora María de Guadalupe que siempre camina con sus hijos cuando andan buscando vida y justicia. Our Lady was everywhere!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Pray for Padre Chiqui

Padre Chiqui, the Jesuit priest renowned for his ministry to gangs and youth in the poor neighborhood of El Agustino in Lima, Peru, was threatened and assaulted by 5 individuals outside the San Judas Tadeo chapel last Sunday. He was spared major harm by the quick arrival of police.

The Movimiento de Acción Social (MAS) El Agustino has posted a statement about the incident on their blog in which they allege that the attackers have been identified and that they are affiliated with the municipal government. We have not been able to corroborate this from the regular press as details about the incident are just starting to emerge.

The rest of the MAS statement is a resounding defense of Padre Chiqui's considerable work in El Agustino, which has been covered at length in this blog, as well as a call for swift prosecution of the perpetrators of this attack on a beloved priest and a call for neighborhood vigilance against any further incidents.

Let's keep this hermano/padre in our prayers for his healing and future safety.

Towards a more compassionate priesthood

This week's Catholic Herald contained a column by Fr. Peter Daly, pastor of St. John Vianney in Prince Frederick, MD, on what he has learned in 24 years of priesthood. Says Daly:
I’ve learned to be more accepting of people. I take them as God sends them.

We are all works in progress. This insight has made me more compassionate.

Twenty five years ago, I was much more severe. When people came to me for the sacraments, I wanted to see evidence that they were living the Christian life.

If they wanted their baby baptized, I want to see them married.

If they wanted to get married, I wanted to see them not living together.

If they wanted confirmation or reception into the church, I wanted to see some knowledge of the faith and some evidence of practice.

But now, I realize that the sacraments are not trophies conferred on those already victorious over sin, but rather they are food for the hungry and strength for the weak.

People seek the sacraments because they want help on the path to perfection, not because they are already perfect. I take them as they come.

This is the kind of spirit that has informed my pastoral work in the Hispanic community. It was the vision that I had for St. Ann's -- that it could be a community where those who felt excluded from other parishes because of their pasts or their conditions of life could feel welcomed and find an opportunity to worship and serve God to the extent allowed by the Church. So, for example, couples who had not married in the Church were welcome to serve in any position except as catechists and ministers of Holy Communion. This kind of attitude is especially critical in the Hispanic community where many of our brothers and sisters cannot get married due to their immigration status.

When St. Ann's new priest started last week, he spoke out against concubinaje and urged all such couples to get married. Now that I know a little more about this priest's past, I understand why he is stressing marriage but tone makes all the difference in how the message is received. If you begin by stating that you don't like couples living together, the only thing you achieve is to drive cohabiting couples further into hiding or away from the Church completely. If you tell me you don't accept me as I am, I don't want to deal with your distaste. I am afraid to open up to you even though I might want to change my circumstances. This is especially true in a Hispanic community where there is tremendous respect for the figure of the priest and a lot of importance given to "face".

It takes courage to come out and admit that we are not living in conformity with the teachings of the Church. In many ways, our Hispanic concubinos are braver and more honest than their North American counterparts. Every Sunday they silently "come out" by remaining seated in their pews while their married brothers and sisters step up to Communion. They have enough respect for the Church to accept their exclusion and not put on a mask.

I hope all priests will read and reflect on Fr. Daly's words. I hope they will stop and listen to their own words from the perspective of those who are on the margins of the Church. Do our words invite the marginalized to come in, as Jesus taught, or do they drive them further away into the shadows?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, Ernesto Cardenal!

Today is Nicaraguan poet Ernesto Cardenal's 85th birthday and, for the occasion, we have translated an interview with him.

Ernesto Cardenal turns 85, with new poems and "censored" email

by Gabriela Selser, (dpa)
Diario Digital Nuestro País

Managua,(dpa) - "I don't like to talk about myself, don't ask me those things," replied the poet faced with the recorder, weary of being asked for reflections about life. On the verge of his 85th birthday, Ernesto Cardenal prefers to speak of the herons and lizards he has carved in wood or the new book of poems by children with cancer that will come out this week in Nicaragua.

He takes off his black beret and puts it on the desk in his sober office in the Casa de los Tres Mundos gallery, in Managua, where books of poetry, paintings by Salvadoran artists and the well-known winged sculptures by the priest, which sell for 100 to 150 dollars depending on the size, are exhibited.

"I don't tend to the gallery. I am completely devoted to writing, reading and making sculptures," says Ernesto Cardenal (b. 1/20/1925) in an interview with dpa. His long time assistant, Luz Marina Acosta, comes into the office and writes her phone numbers and e-mail in a booklet.

"Yes, better note down her e-mail because mine is censored by the government", the poet says. Acosta agrees. "And they also took away my personal computer in a supposed robbery almost a year ago," he adds.

In February 2009, unknown individuals entered Casa de los Tres Mundos and only took Cardenal's computer, where he kept his important documents. They did not take the television or the new computer, or the valuable paintings and sculptures. They left without leaving a trace.

"This was a professional job, there is not a single fingerprint," the police experts who came looking for clues commented, according to Luz Marina. "Thank God we had backup for all the archives," she says.

In his typical attire of jeans, a white "cotona" (peasant shirt) and leather sandals, Ernesto Cardenal calls himself a victim of political persecution by the government of Daniel Ortega. "Like many others, because what happened with the computer they didn't just do to me, but also to a former mayor of San Juan del Sur, who was a party Sandinista," he comments.

The conflict erupted almost two years ago, when the irreverent priest criticized President Ortega and his influential wife, poet Rosario Murillo, in Paraguay. A local judge then dusted off a slander complaint filed long ago by a German businessman, and the author of "Epigrams" was forced to pay a fine of one thousand dollars.

Since he refused to do so because he considered it to be political revenge, the judge "froze" his bank accounts, including 2,500 dollars donated by a Nicaraguan millionaire for the poetry workshops for children with cancer.

Rosario Murilllo, meanwhile, lashed out against the intellectuals from around the world who sympathized with Cardinal, authors of the stature of the Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, Argentine Juan Gelman, Cervantes Prize, and Portugal's Jose Saramago, Nobel Literature. Not even the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) was spared.

"Only the disinformation that the United States applies to Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua can explain that our brothers in UNEAC ignore the political reality of certain figureheads who have been fighting for more than a decade in right-wing oligarchic movement," wrote the first lady on the government website.

Ernesto Cardenal has accused Ortega of installing a dictatorship like that of Anastasio Somoza, the dictator he faced more than three decades ago from his famous Solentiname Island, a hotbed of the Sandinista guerrillas where peasants wrote poetry, preaching "liberation theology".

But he says the struggles with Murillo date from the '80s, when Cardenal was Minister of Culture and Doña Rosario, then more dedicated to procreation than creation, vied with him for control of artistic activity from her "Sandinista Cultural Workers Association".

Without even resolving the problem of the bank accounts, last December another judge ordered the seizure of the Mancarrón hotel in Solentiname, whose administration he gave to Nubia Arcia, a former employee of Cardenal and wife of the German Immanuel Zerger, the same person who filed the libel suit.

Built in the 80s with a donation from the German steelworkers union, the hotel was initially thought of as a training center for peasant leaders, but it became a tourist center after the Sandinista electoral defeat in 1990.

The property belongs to the Solentiname Development Association (ADS), which Cardenal directs and through which he manages funds to finance the secondary education of youth with limited means. The first graduation on the island took place a month ago.

"We don't know where all this is going to end," states the poet, who in spite of it all has not stopped going to the "La Mascota" children's hospital every Tuesday. In the workshops with the children who are sick with cancer, they convert poetry into healing therapy.

From this work came the poetry book "Sin arcoiris fuera triste" ("Without a rainbow it would be sad"), published in 2006 with the support of UNICEF, and the new compilation "Me gustan los poemas, me gusta la vida" ("I like poems, I like life"), financed by the Swiss municipality of Villa de Lancy and which will be presented this week.

The publication is part of the cultural festival for the 85th birthday of the poet, a week of activities including presentation of books, a poetry recital, an open lecture at the university and an exhibition of his sculptures.

Ernesto Cardenal is also busy right now with a long poem which he prefers not to talk about yet. "I have the belief that if I tell what I'm writing, then I am no longer writing it," he says, cutting the questions short.

But then he adds complacently: "It is on a science topic, what most inspires me now ... the cosmos, the origin of life and species, the fate of man on Earth". He says that it will follow along the line of "Cántico Cósmico" ("Cosmic Canticle"), a poetry book published in 1992 after three decades of work:

"Tal es así, que ahora no busco la luz sino la oscuridad, porque que detrás de las tinieblas está el sol. Y que el pobre corazón del hombre es apenas un punto en la cuadratura azul del Universo."

"So much so that now I do not seek the light but rather the dark, because I know that behind the darkness is the sun. And that man's poor heart is just a dot on the blue quadrature of the Universe."

The New Year and Time

by Sr. Teresa Forcades i Vila (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Un Manament Nou Blog

The very notion of progress of modernity being in question, circular conceptions of time are back in fashion - not without a hint of frustration. The notion of cycle, a time segment that is repeated with regular periodicity, seems to bring us closer to Earth and Nature which are supposedly governed by immutable laws. It is a notion that can offer us shelter in times of uncertainty. But it is a shelter that has a taste of failure, of impotence, and in that sense it is deeply contrary to the joy that is born from creativity, novelty, and surprise.

In order not to eliminate the notion of history entirely, there are those who propose the spiral as a symbol and expression of human temporal experience: both inside and outside of ourselves there are cycles that are more or less predictable but that are never identically repeated but rather draw curves in our subjective space that grow ever wider through the accumulation of experiences.

Seen in this way, time is an opportunity to open up, like a sea snail that with each curve increases its capacity to make the waves resound within itself, that ends up producing that deep sound that connects with the gut and awakens distant longings.

The image of the spiral design also allows us to conceive time as an opportunity to concentrate, to penetrate within oneself in an increasingly short and simple way, to approach the point of rest that energizes everything, the Archimedean point that is not really a subjective 'place' but a love relationship with Him who loved us first and year after year commits the folly of waiting patiently and confidently for us, as if He did not know that the new year would be for us a mere repetition, perhaps in a minor key, of the previous year.

Or maybe not?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Latin American Protest Song

by Fr. Ronal Vargas Araya (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Pais (Costa Rica)

“The Latin American protest song has been the basis of my priestly vocation”

The Latin American protest song has been a particular kind of language with which impoverished people, who are denied a voice but have not renounced their rebellious spirit, have identified, intending not so much to know the world as to change it; less a mere catharsis or exercise in resignation than a social transformation. And I not only say it at an international level but also from personal experience.

I was born in the coffee growing valley of Palmares 43 years ago today, on 10 January 1967, in the same year that the First International Encounter of the Protest Song was held in Cuba, the same year that Ernesto Che Guevara was killed, when the world had just suffered the consequences of the appaling gringo war in Vietnam ... I consider it providential that when I started to take my first steps, Liberation Theology (LT) also began its official journey with the Bishops' Conference at Medellín (1968), a Latin American adaptation of Vatican II to the possible transformation of the reality of injustice and oppression prevailing in the continent.

During my school years, one of the first songs I memorized and most enjoyed singing in its entirety was “El Cristo de Palacagüina” ("The Christ of Palacagüina" - Translator's note: An English translation of this song is available from the San Francisco Bach Choir) by Mejia Godoy ... his song helped me to discover the presence of Christ among the peasants and the poor. In 1978, upon entering the Salesian minor seminary in Cartago, I shared life with Nicaraguan religious and comrades who little by little injected the spirit of the Sandinista revolution into me. I particularly remember Foster Cerdas, now a priest, who as a year-end reward, took us on a trip to Nicaragua in December 1979, where the revolution had recently ended with the Sandinista triumph: the victorious and joyful air of the Nicaraguans, who sang above the remains and debris produced by both the earthquake in Managua and by that war, therefore they made my vocational journey more exciting. I do not forget that many weekends in the seminary the sound of an old tape recorder with the joyous songs of Mejia Godoy and Los Guaraguao of Venezuela woke all us seminarians.

It would not be a coincidence that during those years the link between protest music and the emerging Liberation Theology had already been growing. Our seminary Masses were never without the songs of the Peruvian J. A. Espinoza [Translator's note: Actually Juan Antonio Espinosa is Spanish] , among the ones I most liked to sing were “Danos un corazón” ("Give Us a Heart"), “Llegará la libertad” ("Freedom Will Come") and “Dolorosa” ("Sorrowful One"), the latter with strong social and denunciating content, while singing of the sorrows of Mary and Her suffering children. Nonetheless in those days my favorite singer was the Brazilian priest Zezinho, whose poetic and brave songs questioned the meaning I gave to my priestly vocation, so much that a verse of his would run through my veins for almost 15 years, turning me around inside until it settled along side my priestly motto: "I who want to live in truth, I beg you with all humility, do not let me give in, Lord."

At this time in the seminary my love of poetry was also born, particularly the social sort, such as that of Turrialban Jorge Debravo, Salvadoran Roque Dalton and other South American authors. In those days, the book of "Psalms" by Ernesto Cardenal fell into my hands: from reading it attentively I discovered a more humanizing and liberating meaning in the usual recitation of the Jewish psalms that even today I continue to do ... reading him also encouraged me to compose poetry, to release my existential angst.

I entered Francisco Marroquín University (the one with a more neo-liberal ideology) in Guatemala in 1983, just days before turning 16. I soon realized why rival students at the University of San Carlos (the leftist one) hated us, particularly when one of their most liked war songs, entitled “La chalana” ("The barge") fell into my hands, some of which's fragments read:

“No valen ni cuatro reales
en este país de traidores,
la venden los liberales
como los conservadores…
Vuestros curas monigotes
que comercian con el Credo
y patrioteros con brotes
de farsa, interés y miedo”

("Not worth four reales
in this nation of traitors,
Liberals sell it
as well as conservatives ...
Your puppet priests
who trade in the Creed
and jingoists in outbreaks
of farce, self-interest and fear")

Contact with many Central American comrades, many experienced in warfare, both with the army and the guerrillas, awoke in me a new vision of social reality in America. Upon entering the Salesian novitiate in 1984, we were introduced to the art of "Gregorian Chant" and even occasionally celebrated Mass in Latin ... we relived the nostalgia for a classical era of ecclesiastical hegemony. In those days, I repeated the pious folk songs that we would sing traditionally in Costa Rica, whose message was nothing more than to ask for forgiveness and resign oneself to the daily poverty and misery, with the consolation that soon everything would have a happy ending, when we would have "eternal life." Not infrequently, a strange thought distracted me in the midst of those solemn songs: Is it possible that this "eternal life" of happiness, peace and justice could start for the people NOW, from this daily life? Will there really be a new heaven and a new earth for the poorest some day?

Although the so-called "protest songs" were not welcome in the liturgical celebrations, we would sing one when we could. And better, in those years I directed the choir and sometimes even encouraged musically with the organ, which gave me some freedom to choose the musical repertoire. Where we did have full freedom was in the weekend pastoral work in the rural indigenous communities of Guatemala and with youth groups, where many songs of protest and social content rang out strongly, despite the risks involved, as the repressive military regime immediately accused anyone who listened to and promoted this kind of music of being a communist and a guerrilla. Several friends of mine were shot without trial, for these artistic and ideological sympathies.

In 1987, when I offered my pastoral services in the Colegio Santa Cecilia de Santa Tecla (El Salvador) I was able to experience up close the effects of a civil war that had divided the population between those supporting the military and the oligarchy in power and the anti-imperialist guerrilla; this division struck strongly in families, with siblings often facing each other in combat on different sides. The "curfews" were common and the final guerrilla offensive was coming. Meanwhile, well outside in the music and religion lessons I taught at the Colegio and in the vocations promotion for Central American youth attending a boarding annex, protest music could be heard, sung and openly discussed in both spaces. True to the received tradition, on weekends I woke the seminarians with the singing of Mercedes Sosa, Mejia Godoy, or other religious -- or not so religious -- composers...

In my first year of theology, back in 1989, a guanaco companion gave me a cassette on which he had made a rudimentary recording of the Misa Popular Salvadoreña ("Salvadoran Popular Mass"), climbing the mountain with a Jesuit priest from the UCA who occasionally visited the guerrillas. Then I gave myself the task of musically transcribing that literary treasure, putting onto staff paper the exact notes of those tremendous liberation songs. The scores of the Salvadoran Popular Mass soon became famous among students with greater social commitment. I still remember the words of comrade Humberto Flores, now a university professor in El Salvador: "Listening to these songs I seriously questioned myself about my future: 'Would I serve God better as a priest or by joining with the guerrillas in the mountains to free my people?'" The testimony of the priests Camilo Torres in Colombia and Gaspar Garcia in Nicaragua, who had chosen the second option, had struck him hard ... and more so would the cruel assassination of the Jesuits perpetrated by the army at the UCA in San Salvador on November 16, 1989.

Earlier that year, following research I did on the experience of sexuality among Salesian seminarians and a letter I wrote providing a basis for my views opposing the expulsion of several young fellows, by a few priests strangely called "major superiors", I too was expelled from the Salesian Order in Guatemala and forced to return to my parents' house in Costa Rica. That decision of the "superiors" made it clear to everyone else that "dissent was forbidden." Amid the desolation and uncertainty about that misstep on my future, music would be what would bring me comfort and courage.

After working in 1990 as a professor at the Colegio de Palmares I reentered the priestly path, but now with the diocesans in the Major Seminary in Paso Ancho, where I became more fanatical about the music performed by Mercedes Sosa and Silvio Rodríguez, among others. The misnamed "celebration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America" was approaching and the atmosphere was conducive to breathe the Patria Grande and denounce this and other invasions through which the empires of the past and present were tarnishing our people ... and what better than protest music to raise popular consciousness? The Guanacaste communities where I had just started my pastoral ministry, sang with me lamenting the consequences of 500 years of colonization and dispossession of our lands. I will never forget a Holy Hour I had to lead at the Seminary when I changed the traditional Eucharistic songs for that song from the Nicaraguan Mass “Vos sos el Dios de los pobres”, and "Gracias a la vida" and "Sólo le pido a Dios"... the negative comments from more than a few companions and priest trainers were swift. The tense situation became calm again few days later with the words of the rector of the seminary, Father Guido Villalta: "Although no one saw me, I also participated in the Holy Hour, praying from the top of the choir and did not hear anything unorthodox or contrary to the doctrine of the church."

I was fortunate enough that Bishop Héctor Morera agreed to ordain me as a priest in my home parish of Palmares, from where he also originated. I chose to receive the priesthood on December 11th, it being not only the eve of the indigenous Virgin of Guadalupe, but also the 15th anniversary of the death of the priest and guerrilla commander Gaspar Garcia Laviana, which occurred somewhere on the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua; the poems and songs in his honor were swift in coming from the pinolera soil. The choir that masterfully animated the Ordination Mass stood out not only when singing traditional melodies but a protest song never before heard in that traditional parish church, along with several violent songs from the "Misa Tica" by the group "Cantares". The solemn "First Mass", for which the interpretation of the most prestigious religious songs by the most renowned choirs of the parish is usually chosen, was for me a beautiful popular encounter instead: the musicians were some well-known drunks in the village, who left aside their bottles for a while to rehearse with several young people some strong Andean songs, others from the Nicaraguan mass and not a few from the Misa Tica, along with "Sólo le pido a Dios" and "No me dejes claudicar". All the people sang the chorus enthusiastically and listened to the verses while looking at some photocopies of all the songs that they had previously been given.

In my 16 years as a priest, protest music along with the Word of God have become two pillars of my personal spirituality. In recent years I have participated in some "Peñas Culturales" (cultural circles), where young unknown artists parade with poems, songs and reflections that help to awaken dried up consciences callused by indifference and excessive caution. I read in some book that at the end of the 60s, and resembling the French "boites de nuit" where they had performed, Isabel and Angel Parra in Chile founded the "Peña de los Parra", cradle of Chilean protest song and inspiration for many young revolutionaries of its time. No doubt based on that experience, along with the transformation that these "peñas culturales" received in Cuba, our Guanacaste has been seeing a swarm of these artistic experiences full of life and social commitment, enriched by the presence of the "storytellers" and young dancers.

"Tell me what kind of music you listened to in your childhood and youth and I will tell you what kind of adult you will become." If what protest music has done in my life has caught your attention and I really have earned your trust and friendship, I invite you to look among your music albums for some singer/songwriter in the Latin American trova (folk music) and give yourself a few minutes of supportive (and non-narcissistic) pleasure sharing with your family or friends these messages of these musicians of yesterday, today and forever, that are so current, convincing yourself, as Los Guaraguao sing, that

“No, no, no basta rezar,
hacen falta muchas cosas para conseguir la paz.
Y rezan de buena fe y rezan de corazón,
pero también reza el piloto cuando monta en el avión,
para ir a bombardear a los niños de Vietnam”.

"No, no, it's not enough to pray,
many things are lacking to achieve peace.
And they pray in good faith and they pray from the heart,
but the pilot also prays when he climbs into the plane,
to go out to bomb the children of Vietnam."

I still believe in the transcendental importance in my life of protest songs, as at about midnight I hear, with sincere gratitude to the God of life, my eternal comrade of song "La Negra" [Translator's note: the late Mercedes Sosa], who died recently, emphasizing to us that:

“Si se calla el cantor, calla la vida,
porque la vida, la vida misma es como un canto…
Los obreros del puerto se persignan,
¿quién habrá de luchar por sus salarios?…
Si se calla el cantor muere la rosa,
de qué sirve la rosa sin el canto…
No saben los cantores de agachadas,
no callarán jamás de frente al crimen…
Si se calla el cantor, calla la vida”.

"If the singer falls silent, life is silenced,
because life, life itself is like a song...
The workers in the port cross themselves,
who will fight for their wages?..
If the singer falls silent, the rose dies,
for what use is the rose without the song...
Singers never bow down,
they are never silent in the face of crimes...
If the singer falls silent, life is silenced."

Guanacaste, Costa Rica, 1/10/2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Celebration Fit for a King

The auditorium at Kenmore Middle School in Arlington was packed for the 10th Anniversary Interfaith Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday. The celebration, which was attended by the entire Arlington County Board, was organized by my parish, Our Lady Queen of Peace, in collaboration with Mount Zion Baptist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington.

In keeping with tradition, the service began with "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing" and ended with "We Shall Overcome". It featured beautiful music selections from the adult choirs of the three churches involved as well as a couple of numbers performed by a combined children and young adults choir.

Two young people from Queen of Peace, Devon Hogan and Caitlin O'Grady (daughter of Monique O'Grady who emceed) read a narrative weaving together Dr. King's final speech with the Biblical story of the Transfiguration.

Reverend Mary McKinnon Ganz, Minister of Community Building for the Unitarian Universalists offered a stark assessment of where the country has come since Dr. King's day: "The color of one's skin may mean less, but the color of one's money reigns supreme." She said that we need to become "creatively maladjusted" to the extreme capitalism of our time and immoderate in the pursuit of justice.

Fr. Tim Hickey, the pastor of Queen of Peace, offered an inspiring homily on Dr. King as a prophet and asked those assembled to reflect on where God is calling them now in their lives. "We need to be the voice of those whose voices are ignored, to speak out for those who have grown too tired to speak." He asked us to envision a world in which people truly believed that everyone is the temple of the Holy Spirit and concluded: "Let us walk out of here committed to following the dream of Martin Luther King."

Fr. Tim's homily, which also stressed the urgent need to respond creatively to the crisis in Haiti, was frequently punctuated by "amens" from the audience, particularly from veteran Arlington community activist John Robinson (above), physically weakened from a stroke but still a strong and very much respected voice in our county on behalf of the poorest.

Fr. Tim left the podium to a standing ovation and we QOPers decided he didn't do too bad for being the "new kid on the block". We were pretty proud of our new pastor and I'm willing to bet that his homily inspired people to dig deep into their pockets when the collection plate was passed for Haiti.

My Will or Thine?: The Ministry of Accompaniment

The reading today, 1 Samuel 15:16-23, struck a nerve. Saul has been told by God via Samuel to destroy all of Amalek but he puts his own spin on the order, saving the best sheep and oxen, ostensibly to sacrifice to the Lord. Samuel is not pleased and tells Saul: "Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission than the fat of rams." How often do we, like Saul, want to decide for ourselves what is pleasing to God, to set our own agenda rather than listen to Him?

Yesterday was a case in point. I woke up without having slept well and with a backache. Dragged my tired self half an hour in the rain over to escuela at 7 a.m., thinking that after I got through that, I would find a quiet place to hole up with the Sunday Post and a cup of coffee, maybe some breakfast, and then take a bus to Our Lady Queen of Peace (and Quiet) for Mass, drop my little donation for Haiti in the basket and call it a day.

Those of you who are in Hispanic ministry will not be surprised that nothing turned out as planned. At escuela, MT spotted me and insisted that she had to talk to me immediately afterwards. "Talk" turned out to be accompanying her to co-sign an application for a loan from her parish credit union so that she could help her grown son with his university tuition. This is the kind of thing I REALLY don't like to do, a) because so many in our community are very poor credit risks and b) because it really burns me up that our saintly Latina mothers are forced to toil and go into debt even into old age because their children think they are too good to take blue collar jobs to help themselves get ahead or defer their dreams until they are able to finance them themselves. MT is in her 60s and still cleaning offices 6 days a week.

Having co-signed the loan application (we are still called to help one another when we can even when we have misgivings) I thought I could get my day back on track. Hah! The moment MT found out I was going out to breakfast, she insisted on going with me and treating me. Now, it was pouring with rain, MT did not have an umbrella, we did not have a car, and MT was hobbling on a foot she had injured earlier in the week by dropping a TV on it. I tried to suggest that it would be much more sensible for MT to stay in the warmth of her church and wait for Mass to begin, but she grabbed onto my arm and we set off limping to the nearby McDonalds under one umbrella that left both of us mostly exposed to the elements. We basically got soaked but to not allow her to come along would have been an unpardonable sin against Latino hospitality and reciprocity.

By the time we finished our meal, the day was so far off course that there was no option but to accompany MT back to Mass in her parish, a parish I had left ages ago. As I sat through another wineless Communion -- ironic on a Sunday when the Gospel reading was the Wedding at Cana (where is Jesus when you need Him?) -- and then watched the parish divide neatly along its usual lines as one parishioner was honored on her birthday while those who are feuding with her walked out, I was vividly reminded of why I had left and was longing for my new parish home.

I suppose God had a purpose in all this and I followed obediently as my personal agenda unraveled but, in the end, I just felt drained. Next time, Lord, can I please just sacrifice that ram?