Saturday, January 30, 2010

Saints You Should Get to Know: St. Martina

As we are in the middle of this brouhaha in the Arlington Diocese over a music director's comments on the role of women in the Church, along comes the feast day of a saint whose life demonstrates that women in the early Church had more power than they have today.

According to tradition, St. Martina was a deaconess in the Church in Rome and she was a woman who stood up for her faith and against idolatry even at the cost of her life. St. Martina was the wealthy daughter of a Christian Roman consul. On her parent’s death, she gave away her riches to the poor and devoted herself to prayer. She was tortured and martyred in the persecutions of Alexander Severus for refusing to sacrifice to pagan gods. Unfortunately, her memory was also used by Pope Urban VIII to fuel the Crusades.

The popular tradition surrounding this saint, who is the patroness of Rome, is extraordinary and I have provided a good recounting of it here from A Dictionary of Saintly Women (compiled by Agnes B.C. Dunbar, 1904). The only element missing from this account is that St. Martina is also the patroness of nursing mothers because, according to another tradition, her body bled milk instead of blood when she was finally beheaded.

St. Martina, Jan. 1, 15, 30, Dec. 31, + 230. Patron of Rome.

She was the daughter of a consul of Rome and deaconess in the Christian church in the time of the Emperor Alexander Severus and Pope Urban I. She was ordered to sacrifice to Apollo, and replied, "Command me to sacrifice to Jesus Christ, that will I do, but to no other God." They dragged her to the altar of Apollo, and she prayed that his image might perish. Immediately, part of the temple fell down, destroying the statue of the god, killing the priests and causing the devil to depart shrieking from the idols' shrine.

She was struck on the mouth, and eight executioners were commanded to inflict diverse tortures on her, but she was defended by four angels who avenged on the eight men each injury they did to the young saint. They tore off her eyelids and the angels tore off theirs. She prayed for their conversion, which occurred while they were tearing her with hooks ; they declared themselves Christians, and were immediately hung up and torn with hooks by other executioners.

She was condemned to be killed by a lion; but instead of hurting her, he crouched at her feet. Then she was hung on four stakes and cut with swords, and at last she was beheaded. At the moment of her death, a great earthquake shook the city: a circumstance which increased the number of converts from paganism. Her martyrdom occurred Jan. 1, but her festival is the 30th.

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Padre Hoyos Census Video

My friend Fr. Jose Eugenio Hoyos just made a video encouraging Hispanic people in Virginia to not be afraid to participate in the 2010 Census. Good job, Padrecito!

A Lament to God for Haiti

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)

There is a Via Crucis of suffering with stations that never end in the small and poor country of Haiti. Suffering in the body, the soul, the heart, in the mind assaulted by ghosts of panic and death. There is also much suffering in all human beings who have not lost the basic sense of humanity and solidarity. From this universal compassion comes a mysterious community that overrides the differences, religions, and ideologies that previously separated and divided us. Now only the meaninglessly abused common humanitas, which must be rescued, counts.

With every Haitian who suffers under the rubble or dies of thirst and hunger, we also die a little. After all, we are brothers and sisters of one and the same family. How can we not suffer?

But there is a profound and heartbreaking suffering in people of faith who claim that God is Father and Mother of goodness and love. How do we keep on believing? We ask plaintively: "God, where were you when that earthquake that decimated your poorest and most suffering sons and daughters in the entire Western hemisphere, was formed? Why didn't You intervene? Aren't You the Creator of the Earth with its continents and tectonic plates? Aren't You the Father and Mother of tenderness, especially towards those who, like your Son Jesus, are the unjustly crucified of history? Why?

This silence of God is frightening, because it simply has no answer. As much as geniuses like Job, Buddha, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and Leibniz have designed arguments to exempt God and explain suffering, suffering does not disappear nor does tragedy cease to exist. The understanding of suffering does not eliminate suffering, just as hearing recipes does not alleviate hunger.

Jesus Himself was not without anguish and suffering. From high up on the Cross He gave a piercing cry to Heaven, complaining, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?".

We agree with Job when, irritated with his "friends" who wanted to explain the meaning of his suffering to him, he said: "You are no more than charlatans and fake doctors; if you would at least shut up, people would take you for wise men." But we can not shut up. There's too much pain and the night is dark. We need some light.

Yet even without light, we continue to believe with a broken heart, because we are convinced that chaos and tragedy can not have the last word. God is so powerful that He can draw good from evil, we just don't know how. Hopeful, we go with this option that will not let our tears be in vain. We also believe that God can be that which we do not understand. Above reason that wants explanations is the mystery that demands silence and reverence. It hides the secret meaning of all events, including the tragic ones.

I identify with the poem of a great Argentinian writer, Juan Gelman, who lost a child during the military repression:

desde los cielos bájate, he olvidado
las oraciones que me enseñó la abuela,
pobrecita, ella reposa ahora,
no tiene que lavar, limpiar, no tiene que preocuparse andando el día por la ropa,
no tiene que velar la noche, pena y pena,
rezar, pedirte cosas, rezongarte dulcemente.

Desde los cielos bájate, si estás, bájate entonces,
que me muero de hambre en esta esquina,
que no sé de qué sirve haber nacido,
que me miro las manos rechazadas,
que no hay trabajo, no hay,
bájate un poco, contempla
esto que soy, este zapato roto,
esta angustia, este estómago vacío,
esta ciudad sin pan para mis dientes, la fiebre
cavándome la carne,
este dormir así,
bajo la lluvia, castigado por el frío, perseguido
te digo que no entiendo, Padre, bájate,
tócame el alma, mírame
el corazón,
yo no robé, no asesiné, fui niño
y en cambio me golpean y golpean,
te digo que no entiendo, Padre, bájate,
si estás, que busco
resignación en mí y no tengo y voy
a agarrarme la rabia y a afilarla
para pegar y voy
a gritar a sangre en cuello
por que no puedo más, tengo riñones
y soy un hombre,
bájate, ¿qué han hecho
de tu criatura, Padre?
¿un animal furioso
que mastica la piedra de la calle?"

come down from the heavens, I have forgotten
the prayers grandmother taught me,
poor thing, she is resting now,
she doesn't have to wash, to clean, to worry all day long about clothes,
she doesn't have to lie awake at night, sorrow upon sorrow,
praying, asking things of you, grumbling to you softly.

Come down from the heavens, if You are there, come down then,
because I am dying of hunger on this corner,
because I don't know why I was born,
because I look at my rejected hands,
because there is no work, none,
come down a little, contemplate
what I am, this broken shoe,
this anguish, this empty stomach,
this city with no bread for my teeth, fever
hollowing out my flesh,
this sleeping like this,
under the rain, punished by the cold, persecuted
I don't understand, I tell You, Father, come down,
touch my soul,
search my heart,
I did not steal, I did not kill, I was a child
and in return they beat and beat me,
I'm telling you I don't understand, Father, come down,
if You're there, because I'm seeking
to be resigned and am not
and I'm going to grab onto rage and sharpen it
to strike out and I'm going to
let out a blood-curdling scream
because I can't take it anymore,
I have guts and I'm a man.
Come down.
What have they made of Your creature, Father?
A furious animal that chews the stones of the street?"

May the Father come down to the Haitian people with His love.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Music Director Forced Out Over Comments on Women's Status in the Church

Last Saturday the Washington Post ran an article on women's ordination beginning with local gal Bridget Mary Meehan (pictured below) who last year was elevated to "bishop" by Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Among those interviewed in that article was Sylvia Mulherin, 69, a former nun married to a former priest, who "said that Jesus was progressive in his treatment of women but that, over time, men unjustly pushed women out. 'Maybe the women don't have to come in the back door, but we still have to sit in the pews,' said Mulherin, who lives in Fairfax County."

Of Mulherin's remark, most of us would say: "This is news??" It barely passes for controversial these days. Problem is that Mulherin was also music director at St. Leo's and, according to another article in today's Post, her pastor, Rev. David Whitestone, called Mulherin into his office to discuss her comments with her.

What happened afterwards is a matter of dispute. Mulherin and her supporters claim she was forced out. Fr. Whitestone claims she resigned voluntarily and that he did not raise the issue of Mulherin leaving, but he said she had violated the diocese's rules for employees by 'advocating against church teaching.'" In our opinion and without going into details, Fr. Whitestone would do well to go back and meditate on the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matt 18:21-35). Those who have received second chances should extend the same to others, Father. What is indisputable is that this controversy has caused a huge rift in the St. Leo's community.

I, personally, find it really incredible that to simply make the obvious point that women have been discriminated against in the Roman Catholic Church while Jesus was more progressive and egalitarian, is considered to be "advocating against church teaching." And it is making me think twice about whether I EVER want to work for the Arlington Diocese or any of its parishes, schools or other institutions. It should give other thinking Catholics pause as well.

Haiti: Earthquakes and Faith

We found this article by Ann Neumann from AlterNet (1/26/2010) on the rise of Pentecostalism and redemptive suffering theology in Haiti quite interesting.

Pat Robertson may have received a lot of negative attention for his statement that God is punishing Haiti, but there are ways in which churches, and not just Robertson’s, gain ground in the wake of disaster. His message is as common as our world history of power and domination. Geographic exploration, colonialism, and war have all traditionally been ways to convert “the heathens/savages/locals” to more “civilized” ways of living and seeing the world.

That misfortune, disease, poverty, injustice, inequality are all punishment for sin is as old as ideas of redemptive suffering. The more you hurt, the closer you are to God. Why work to end suffering when it will bring you converts, souls? And for the believer, why cry out against the suffering that injustice causes when you’re told that you deserve it?

Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado reminds us, at ReligionDispatches, that churches gain ground after disasters like the one in Haiti. She writes, citing Virginia Garrard-Burnett’s work:

She correlates the explosion of Pentecostalism in Guatemala, who like Haiti, is an epicenter of Pentecostalism in the Americas, in part as a response to the earthquake. An overwhelmingly high percentage of Guatemalans saw the earthquake as a form of divine punishment and a call for repentance. Arriving in the guise of aid and relief, Protestantism provided an alternative way of being Christian. Yet Pentecostalism primarily emerged in Guatemala, as it did in Haiti, disconnected from North American denominations. Indigenous Pentecostalism, with its apocalyptic theology, also gained momentum among Indigenous Guatemalans.

Haiti had barely recovered from the four devastating storms of 2008 prior to this earthquake. The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Port-au-Prince has collapsed, and Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Monsignor Joseph Serge Miot’s lifeless body was pulled from the ruins of the diocesan offices. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described the natural disasters that this nation has endured as “biblical” in nature. “It is biblical, the tragedy that continues to stalk Haiti and the Haitian people.” Clinton does not realize that her comments would strike a chord with many Haitians today. Haitian Pentecostals, with their biblical literalism and their certainty that the second coming of Jesus is imminent, could see this time of tribulation as a challenge where the faithful will be rewarded on judgment day. Religion will surely play a role in the manner in which Haitians make sense of this tragedy, and I suspect we will find growing numbers of Pentecostal converts as Haitians attempt to find meaning in what can only be described as senseless and inexplicable suffering.

After crisis, struggling to make sense of death and destruction is easier when you can ascribe reasons to an outside power. Instead of preaching theologically sound ideas of community, mutual aid, justice and compassion, the Pentecostal church has found a way to prey on the fears of those in crisis. Tell them they are being punished for their sins, that their suffering is given by God, and that hurting in shamed silence will save their soul.

Fighting the foreign and national causes of Haiti’s corrupt government, sub-standard buildings, poverty, and inability to care for its citizens, loses urgency when suffering makes you closer to God. If evil comes from God, how can you fight it? If salvation comes from suffering, why demand justice? Of course the government would prefer this type of theology to others – it’s more passive, safer. And it reminds me of how abusers treat their victims: you deserve this punishment; now be good and take it so I can love you again.

The Guardian today corroborates Gonzalez Maldonado’s conjecture with reports on how the Pentecostal church is working to expand in Haiti in the midst of crisis:

With the government’s presence all but invisible, and humanitarian agencies and the UN struggling to cope with the demand for aid, groups of preachers are moving in to fill the void.

“I’ve started a school and we are trying to give people food and clothes,” said Reverend Sauverne Apollon, 75, whose church – the Eglise Mission foi Caribéenne Independence d’Haiti – was one of the first to be constructed in the slum after its headquarters was destroyed in the quake.

“The people need hospital help, food and homes. I’m trying to do what I can,” Apollon added.

As he spoke, UN troops used pepper spray and rubber bullets to contain Pont-Rouge’s residents who were crushing together in their thousands in a queue for water and food. Peruvian soldiers from the UN stablisation force waved their shotguns about in an attempt to repel children who were trying to push into the seemingly endless queue.

Haiti has two official religions: Catholicism and voodoo, and the majority believe in some form of voodoo. But as in the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean, the number of born again Christians has risen sharply over the last 10 years. For Port-au-Prince’s Pentecostal leaders the earthquake is an opportunity further spread their word among the city’s homeless people.

“When God speaks we must listen,” said Apollon, known in Pont-Rouge as “le pasteur”. “The earthquake is God’s voice and He will do other things. The stars will crash down onto the earth.”

Later the article states:

“Whether you are a [Pentecostal] preacher, a Catholic priest or voodoo, it’s the same. Humanity needs to say: ‘Stop. Stop now. Stop the sinning’.”

I think it’s time for a little liberation theology – too an indigenous Latin American product – to revive to counter all that redemptive suffering.

In Memoriam: Howard Zinn

Nonviolent activists in the United States are mourning the passing of Howard Zinn, the historian who chronicled history from our perspective instead of from the viewpoint of the high and mighty. Dr. Zinn was also willing to lend his support and the authority of his voice to the antiwar movement, particularly the Berrigan brothers and other Plowshares activists with whom he made common cause.

By Mark Feeney and Bryan Marquard
Boston Globe

Howard Zinn, the Boston University historian and political activist who was an early opponent of US involvement in Vietnam and whose books, such as "A People's History of the United States," inspired young and old to rethink the way textbooks present the American experience, died today in Santa Monica, Calif, where he was traveling. He was 87.

His daughter, Myla Kabat-Zinn of Lexington, said he suffered a heart attack.

"He's made an amazing contribution to American intellectual and moral culture," Noam Chomsky, the left-wing activist and MIT professor, said tonight. "He's changed the conscience of America in a highly constructive way. I really can't think of anyone I can compare him to in this respect."

Chomsky added that Dr. Zinn's writings "simply changed perspective and understanding for a whole generation. He opened up approaches to history that were novel and highly significant. Both by his actions, and his writings for 50 years, he played a powerful role in helping and in many ways inspiring the Civil rights movement and the anti-war movement."

For Dr. Zinn, activism was a natural extension of the revisionist brand of history he taught. "A People’s History of the United States" (1980), his best-known book, had for its heroes not the Founding Fathers -- many of them slaveholders and deeply attached to the status quo, as Dr. Zinn was quick to point out -- but rather the farmers of Shays' Rebellion and union organizers of the 1930s.

As he wrote in his autobiography, "You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train" (1994), "From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."

Certainly, it was a recipe for rancor between Dr. Zinn and John Silber, former president of Boston University. Dr. Zinn, a leading critic of Silber, twice helped lead faculty votes to oust the BU president, who in turn once accused Dr. Zinn of arson (a charge he quickly retracted) and cited him as a prime example of teachers "who poison the well of academe."

Dr. Zinn was a cochairman of the strike committee when BU professors walked out in 1979. After the strike was settled, he and four colleagues were charged with violating their contract when they refused to cross a picket line of striking secretaries. The charges against "the BU Five" were soon dropped.

In 1997, Dr. Zinn slipped into popular culture when his writing made a cameo appearance in the film "Good Will Hunting." The title character, played by Matt Damon, lauds "A People’s History" and urges Robin Williams’s character to read it. Damon, who co-wrote the script, was a neighbor of the Zinns growing up.

"Howard had a great mind and was one of the great voices in the American political life," Ben Affleck, also a family friend growing up and Damon's co-star in "Good Will Hunting," said in a statement. "He taught me how valuable -- how necessary -- dissent was to democracy and to America itself. He taught that history was made by the everyman, not the elites. I was lucky enough to know him personally and I will carry with me what I learned from him -- and try to impart it to my own children -- in his memory."

Damon was later involved in a television version of the book, "The People Speak," which ran on the History Channel in 2009, and he narrated a 2004 biographical documentary, "Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train."

"Howard had a genius for the shape of public morality and for articulating the great alternative vision of peace as more than a dream," said James Carroll a columnist for the Globe's opinion pages whose friendship with Dr. Zinn dates to when Carroll was a Catholic chaplain at BU. "But above all, he had a genius for the practical meaning of love. That is what drew legions of the young to him and what made the wide circle of his friends so constantly amazed and grateful."

Dr. Zinn was born in New York City on Aug. 24, 1922, the son of Jewish immigrants, Edward Zinn, a waiter, and Jennie (Rabinowitz) Zinn, a housewife. He attended New York public schools and was working in the Brooklyn Navy Yard when he met Roslyn Shechter.

"She was working as a secretary," Dr. Zinn said in an interview with the Globe nearly two years ago. "We were both working in the same neighborhood, but we didn't know each other. A mutual friend asked me to deliver something to her. She opened the door, I saw her, and that was it."

He joined the Army Air Corps, and they courted through the mail before marrying in October 1944 while he was on his first furlough. She died in 2008.

During World War II, he served as a bombardier, was awarded the Air Medal, and attained the rank of second lieutenant.

After the war, Dr. Zinn worked at a series of menial jobs until entering New York University on the GI Bill as a 27-year-old freshman. He worked nights in a warehouse loading trucks to support his studies. He received his bachelor’s degree from NYU, followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Columbia University.

Dr. Zinn was an instructor at Upsala College and lecturer at Brooklyn College before joining the faculty of Spelman College in Atlanta, in 1956. He served at the historically black women’s institution as chairman of the history department. Among his students were novelist Alice Walker, who called him "the best teacher I ever had," and Marian Wright Edelman, future head of the Children's Defense Fund.

During this time, Dr. Zinn became active in the civil rights movement. He served on the executive committee of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the most aggressive civil rights organization of the time, and participated in numerous demonstrations.

Dr. Zinn became an associate professor of political science at BU in 1964 and was named full professor in 1966.

The focus of his activism became the Vietnam War. Dr. Zinn spoke at many rallies and teach-ins and drew national attention when he and the Rev. Daniel Berrigan, another leading antiwar activist, went to Hanoi in 1968 to receive three prisoners released by the North Vietnamese.

Dr. Zinn’s involvement in the antiwar movement led to his publishing two books: "Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal" (1967) and "Disobedience and Democracy" (1968). He had previously published "LaGuardia in Congress" (1959), which had won the American Historical Association's Albert J. Beveridge Prize; "SNCC: The New Abolitionists" (1964); "The Southern Mystique" (1964); and "New Deal Thought" (1966).

He also was the author of "The Politics of History" (1970); "Postwar America" (1973); "Justice in Everyday Life" (1974); and "Declarations of Independence" (1990).

In 1988, Dr. Zinn took early retirement to concentrate on speaking and writing. The latter activity included writing for the stage. Dr. Zinn had two plays produced: "Emma," about the anarchist leader Emma Goldman, and "Daughter of Venus."

On his last day at BU, Dr. Zinn ended class 30 minutes early so he could join a picket line and urged the 500 students attending his lecture to come along. A hundred did.

"Howard was an old and very close friend," Chomsky said. "He was a person of real courage and integrity, warmth and humor. He was just a remarkable person."

Carroll called Dr. Zinn "simply one of the greatest Americans of our time. He will not be replaced -- or soon forgotten. How we loved him back."

In addition to his daughter, Dr. Zinn leaves a son, Jeff of Wellfleet; three granddaughters; and two grandsons.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Immigration News Roundup - 1/27/2010

I haven't done one of these for a while...

1. From Center for American Progress:

  • Comprehensive Immigration Reform: How We Will Make It Happen: This was supposed to be a panel discussion spearheaded by Cong. Luis Gutierrez but the congressman was detained on the Hill with a vote. Instead we heard from Markos Moulitsas Zúñiga (Kos), Founder and Editor, Daily Kos; María Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO; and Andrea Nill, Immigration Blogger and Researcher, Think Progress. Probably the most useful aspect of it is that it identified the two biggest conflicts in the pro-immigration coalition: conflict between Catholics and evangelicals (together at last) and GLBT groups over unification provisions for bi-national same sex couples; and the old conflict between big labor and big business over guest worker programs. Click on the link to see the video of the event.

  • Seven Reasons to Push for Immigration Reform this Year:
    1. The American public wants its leaders to quit playing politics
    2. Support for comprehensive immigration reform is broad, deep, and bipartisan
    3. The American public wants realistic solutions on immigration
    4. Fixing our immigration system will promote economic growth and stability
    5. Voters will not support politicians who fail to deliver on their promises
    6. Comprehensive immigration reform is backed by business, labor, law enforcement, and faith communities
    7. Reform cannot wait

  • Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform: This new report from the CAP shows that legalizing the nation’s unauthorized workers and putting new legal limits on immigration that rise and fall with U.S. labor demand would help lay the foundation for robust, just, and widespread economic growth. "Comprehensive immigration reform generates an increase in U.S. GDP of at least 0.84 percent. Summed over 10 years, this amounts to a cumulative $1.5 trillion in additional GDP. It also boosts wages for both native-born and newly legalized immigrant workers."

2. State Immigration Policy to Promote National Change: This Stateside Dispatch (1/12/10) from the Progressive States Network is absolutely a wealth of information on immigration reform and the impact it could have on states. The groups is trying to organize state legislators to sign on in support of federal immigration reform legislation.

3. America's Voice: This is a great resource for regular news and polling data on the immigration reform debate. Here is their roundup of recent polls including a December 2009 one by the Benenson Strategy Group which they commissioned and which shows that "65% of voters prefer for Congress to take up the immigration issue this year rather than wait until later. Sixty-six percent of respondents supported comprehensive immigration reform before even hearing details of the plan. Support for reform continued to cut across party lines, with 69% of Democrats, 67% of independents, and 62% of Republicans supporting comprehensive reform."

4. From Pew Hispanic Center:

  • Latinos Online, 2006-2008: Narrowing the Gap: From 2006 to 2008, internet use among Latino adults rose by 10 percentage points, from 54% to 64%. In comparison, the rates for whites rose four percentage points, and the rates for blacks rose only two percentage points during that time period. Though Latinos continue to lag behind whites, the gap in internet use has shrunk considerably.

  • Between Two Worlds: How Young Latinos Come of Age in America: This report takes an in-depth look at Hispanics who are ages 16 to 25, a phase of life when young people make choices that-for better and worse-set their path to adulthood...The data paint a mixed picture. Young Latinos are satisfied with their lives, optimistic about their futures and place a high value on education, hard work and career success. Yet they are much more likely than other American youths to drop out of school and to become teenage parents. They are more likely than white and Asian youths to live in poverty. And they have high levels of exposure to gangs. The report is based on a new Pew Hispanic Center telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,012 Latinos, supplemented by the Center's analysis of government demographic, economic, education and health data sets.

5. Study Finds Immigrants Generate 25% Of GDP In San Diego County: A new study by the California Immigrant Policy Center finds that immigrants generate about 25 percent of San Diego County's gross domestic product. The study provides a new set of statistics on immigrants' contributions to the San Diego region. It determined that immigrants make up nearly one-quarter of San Diego County's population. Nearly one-third of the county's labor force is immigrants.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Prophetic Legacy of Zilda Arns

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)

All due elegies have already been made to Brazilian doctor Zilda Arns, sister of the human rights Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns, who succumbed under the ruins of the Haitian earthquake. Perhaps world public opinion has not realized the importance of this woman who in 2006 was proposed as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize. And she well deserved it, because she devoted her whole life to looking out for the health of the most vulnerable people. For 25 years, she coordinated the Children’s Pastoral, accompanying more than 1,800,000 children under five and more than 1,400,000 poor families. Through simple means such as homemade serum, feeding based on a nutritive preparation, and other basic resources, she saved thousands of children who previously would have died. In 2004, she started the Pastoral for the Elderly, which reaches 100,000 people of advanced age.

It would take a long time to tell of her extraordinary work, now spread across more than 20 poor countries in the world. What I will try to do is emphasize the spiritual capital values that underlied her practice. In this, she went against the dominant system and serves as an inspiration for these times.

There is a growing conviction that we will not get out of the current crisis of civilization if we go on with the same habits and the same individualist and consumerist values as we have. Dr. Zilda showed how it could be different and better.

She honored Christianity, living a mysticism of love for suffering humanity, of hope that something can always be done to save lives, of faith in the strength of the weak when organized and in lending an ear to all, even to the children who don’t talk yet.

She had a clear awareness that the solution comes from below, from society, while at the same time not dispensing the State from its duty. Social problems are resolved starting with society. For this, she stirred the humanitarian sensitivity that is hidden in each person and inaugurated a new policy of good will. Over 250 thousand volunteers took on the work with her, without any economic recompense.

Copied from Jesus’ practice, a generating-idea motivated her action: multiplication. Not only of bread and fishes as He did, but, in today’s conditions, multiplying knowledge, solidarity and effort.

Multiplying knowledge involves transmitting to simple people the rudiments of hygiene, carefulness with water, periodically weighing the child, and proper nutrition. This knowledge reinforces people’s self-esteem and gives autonomy to civil society.

Multiplying solidarity which, in order to be universal, must begin with the least, seeking to reach the people who live in the corners where no one goes, trying to save the most malnourished and almost dying child. This solidarity is what is most lacking in the world today.

Multiplying efforts, involving public policy, the NGOs, the grassroots groups, the businesses through their social responsibility, in short, everyone who puts life and love over profit and opportunism. But above all, multiplying generous good will.

These are the contents of the spiritual capital that should be the basis for the new world society we must bring into being. The 21st century will be the century of caring for life and for the Earth or it will be the century of our self-destruction. Up to now, we have globalized the economy and communications. We need to globalize planetary awareness and multiply knowledge that is useful for life, universal solidarity, efforts to build what has not yet been attempted. Love and solidarity do not enter into statistics or economic calculations, but they are what is most sought after and what can save us.

Doctor Zilda Arns -- certainly without knowing it, but prophetically – showed us in miniature that that world is not only possible, but that it is now achievable.

Optional Celibacy: Electronic Postcard Campaign

The Catholic reform organization, FutureChurch, has organized an electronic postcard campaign directed primarily towards Cardinal Claudio Hummes, Prefect for the Congregation for the Clergy, asking him to "begin discussion at the highest levels of the Church about the need to return to our earliest tradition of permitting both a married and celibate clergy."

The campaign notes the closing and consolidation of many parishes due to the priest shortage as well as the many parts of the world where Catholic faithful no longer have regular access to the Eucharist and other sacraments.

The Church's policy of mandatory celibacy is widely considered to be a signficant contributing factor to the lack of vocations to the priesthood as well as the primary reason why seminarians drop out and men leave the priesthood. It is certainly one of the more obvious ones to remedy, unlike the frequently-cited reluctance among this generation to make a lifetime commitment.

Certainly any number of surveys in many different countries of both priests and laity have found clear majorities in favor of optional celibacy, particularly for diocesan priests with religious orders setting their individual policies on the matter.

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