Friday, March 19, 2010

President Obama Stumps for Health Care Reform

“Aggressively fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.” (President Obama quoting Teddy Roosevelt)

Today as part of my job, I had the rare opportunity to watch President Obama live at George Mason University pulling for the health care reform bill which is still shy of the votes it needs to pass the House of Representatives. The only good news is that there are still many undecided Democrats -- the Republicans are one massive "no" having managed, unfortunately, to bring Jesuit-educated Louisiana Rep. Anh Joseph Cao back into the fold, in spite of the fact that almost one quarter of his constituents lack health insurance. One can only hope and pray that Rep. Cao will continue to pray about this issue between now and the vote on Sunday, that perhaps he will take time out to read Rev. Thomas Reese, SJ's column on the issue on the relative merits of a certain good vs. a possible though unlikely evil in making moral choices, something Rep. Cao must surely have studied when he was a seminarian.

The President's speech was well received by most of the crowd. There were a handful of counter-demonstrators outside with signs such as "Keep Your Hands Off My Health Care" and a couple of hecklers who got inside were removed when they refused to shut up and kept others from being able to hear the President.

Rather than attempt to summarize the speech, which was largely President Obama's standard one -- though perhaps with a greater sense of urgency -- I have added the video from the White House Web site below. For those who want to follow the positions of their representatives, especially if your representative is undecided, the Washington Post provides a handy chart.

Will we get the votes to pass health care reform? Your guess is as good as mine but I personally see a number of representatives we can persuade to vote "yea". As the President said today: "I don’t know how passing health care will play politically -- but I know it’s right. Teddy Roosevelt knew it was right. Harry Truman knew that it was right. Ted Kennedy knew it was right. And if you believe that it’s right, then you've got to help us finish this fight. You've got to stand with me just like you did three years ago and make some phone calls and knock on some doors, talk to your parents, talk to your friends. Do not quit, do not give up, we keep on going. We are going to get this done. We are going to make history. We are going to fix health care in America with your help."

Social justice - Environmental justice

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)

Among the many problems that plague humankind, two are particularly serious: social injustice and environmental injustice. Both must be addressed together if we are to put humanity and the planet Earth on a secure course.

Social injustice is an age old problem, derived from the economic model that, in addition to plundering nature, generates more poverty than it can handle and overcome. It involves great accumulation of goods and services on the one hand, at the cost of glaring poverty and misery on the other. The figures speak for themselves: there are billions of people living on the edge of survival with only a dollar a day, and 2,600 million people (40% of humanity) living on less than two dollars a day. The consequences are perverse. Just to cite one fact: there are 350 to 500 million preventable cases of malaria, with a million victims a year.

This anti-reality had remained invisible for a long time to hide the failure of the capitalist economic model, developed to create wealth for the few and not well-being for humankind.

The second injustice, environmental, is linked to the first. The devastation of nature and the current global warming affect all countries, irrespective of national boundaries or levels of wealth or poverty. Naturally, the rich have more means to adapt and mitigate the damaging effects of climate change. Given extreme events, they have refrigerators or heaters, and can build defenses against floods that destroy entire regions. But the poor can not afford to defend themselves. They suffer harm from a problem they did not create.

Fred Pearce, author of Peoplequake, wrote in the November 2009 New Scientist: "the world's richest half-billion people-- that's about 7 percent of the global population-- are responsible for 50 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. Meanwhile the poorest 50 percent are responsible for just 7 percent of emissions."

Like the other one, this environmental injustice can hardly be made invisible, because the signs are everywhere, nor can it be resolved only by the rich, since it is global and affects them too. The solution must be born from the collaboration of all in different ways: the rich, being more responsible in the past and present, should contribute much more through investment and technology transfer, and the poor have the right to environmentally sustainable development, that brings them out of poverty.

Surely we can not neglect the solutions, but they alone are insufficient, since the global solution goes back to a previous matter: the paradigm of society as reflected in the difficulty of changing lifestyles and consumption habits. We need universal solidarity, collective responsibility and care for all that lives and exists (we are not the only ones who live on this planet and use the biosphere). The awareness of interdependence among all and the unity between Earth and humanity is essential.

Can the current generations be asked to govern themselves by such values if they have never before been experienced globally? How do we bring about this change urgently and quickly?

Perhaps only after a major catastrophe that would afflict millions and millions of people could we count on this radical change, if only because of survival instinct. The metaphor that comes to mind is this: if our country were to be invaded and threatened with destruction by some external force, we would unite beyond any differences. As in a war economy, all would be cooperative and supportive, and accept giving up and making sacrifices in order to save the country and life. Today the country is imperiled life and Earth. We must do everything to save them.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

In Memoriam: Angelito Cossio

Last night at 1:30 a.m., Angelito Cossio died. He died of metastatic cancer of the pancreas all alone in a hospice in Baltimore. His last wish -- to see his only son -- was never granted because the American consulate in Lima denied a non-immigrant visa to his son, Orlando Martin, on the grounds that the son could not demonstrate sufficient ties to Peru to guarantee his return. His other wish -- to spend his final days in Arlington near his church "family" -- was denied by his insurance company.

Many of you who read this blog helped by writing letters, e-mails, etc. to the consulate trying to get the decision reversed. It would be especially important to highlight the help we received in this matter from the Peruvian consulate here in the metropolitan Washington area and from Rep. James Moran (VA) who went out of their way to intervene in the case. Thank you and blessings for your willingness to stand up for what's right.

Many other people helped through prayers, through visiting Angelito and bringing him spiritual "food" when he could no longer eat physical food. To the priests and deacons in Arlington and Baltimore who helped Angelito receive the sacraments, a special thanks.

Angelito, as we have said, was loved throughout his time here because of his willingness to serve others and God in any capacity from being a minister of holy communion to giving rides to those of us who don't drive. When you needed him, Angelito was there, and now, according to our friend Aida, he is still there -- up in Heaven, interceding for us.

Hermano Angelito, intercede por nosotros para que logramos una reforma migratoria justa y compasiva, para que otra familia no tiene que pasar por lo que paso la familia Cossio. And the rest of us who are still alive, let's get out of bed on Sunday morning and go down to the Mall and march for immigration reform. It's the least we can do to honor Angelito's memory.

Photo: Angelito, in better days, awaits the beginning of the Señor de los Milagros procession.

No, YOU do the math, boys!

Honestly, watching our prelates implode over the health care reform issue is positively embarrassing.

First, in response to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and other heads of women's congregations, they issue a "clarification" attacking Network, a Catholic social justice lobby that is not even mentioned in the CNS story about the letter to members of the House of Representatives -- and saying that they do not represent 59,000 nuns. That is true. LCWR -- the group the bishops should have been addressing -- does not represent all 59,000 American nuns either but it does represent between 80% and 90% of them, depending on whether you believe LCWR or the rival -- and far more conservative -- Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which claims to represent 20% of all women religious. Either way, LCWR has the majority -- whether the bishops like it or not.

Scrambling a little more, the bishops say that "there are 793 religious communities in the United States". Yes, and most of them have only a handful of members whereas most of the large ones belong to LCWR. The number of communities itself is statistically irrelevant. The bishops' little snide conclusion: "The math is clear. Network is far off the mark." No, hermanos obispos, YOU are off the mark, off topic, and off course.

On abortion, the bishops' own argument against the bill undermines their reasoning: "While the Senate provides for one plan without abortion coverage in each exchange, those who select another plan in an exchange to better meet the special needs of their family will be required to pay a separate monthly fee into a fund exclusively for abortions." What the bishops do not tell you is that this is voluntary. Those who want to have abortion coverage pay separately for it; nobody else has to pay for abortions. Excuse me if I fail to see how this is forcing any taxpayer to pay for someone else's abortion. Meanwhile, many, many people will be able to get potentially life-saving medical insurance who previously were excluded. And that includes giving women greater access to prenatal care to help them give birth to more healthy, normal birth weight babies.

With respect to this, as I am writing this piece, the bishops have issued a second "clarification" in response to EJ Dionne Jr's column emphatically denying that Cardinal Francis George misrepresented CHA President Sr. Carol Keehan's position on the matter. But Sr. Keehan has gone on record since CHA's March 11th statement to support the bill as is for now (see below). And Sr. Keehan has reached out to Catholic lawmakers asking them to support the legislation.

Finally, the bishops object to the health care reform bill on the grounds that it continues the present practice of denying legal immigrants access to Medicaid for five years, and also prohibits undocumented immigrants from buying insurance for their families in the exchanges using their own money. They piously align themselves with the Hispanic caucus. Problem is that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is now unanimously supporting the health care reform bill, having wisely concluded that it would be better to get this legislative behemoth out of the way so that the problem of undocumented immigrants can be addressed through immigration reform legislation later on.

I'm doing the math...and by my calculations, our bishops' intransigent opposition to the health care reform bill doesn't add up.

Sr. Carol Keehan, President, Catholic Health Association, March 15, 2010 statement in Catholic Health World:

The time is now for health reform

(Editor's note: Sr. Carol Keehan, DC, was among guests invited to the White House March 3 to hear President Barack Obama's remarks on health insurance reform.)

By Sr. Carol Keehan, DC
CHA president and chief executive officer

As I watched our president present his plan to pass the health reform legislation, it was clear this is an historic opportunity to make great improvements in the lives of so many Americans. Is it perfect? No. Does it cover everyone? No. But is it a major first step? Yes.

The insurance reforms will make the lives of millions more secure, and their coverage more affordable. The reforms will eventually make affordable health insurance available to 31 million of the 47 million Americans currently without coverage.

CHA has a major concern on life issues. We said there could not be any federal funding for abortions and there had to be strong funding for maternity care, especially for vulnerable women. The bill now being considered allows people buying insurance through an exchange to use federal dollars in the form of tax credits and their own dollars to buy a policy that covers their health care. If they choose a policy with abortion coverage, then they must write a separate personal check for the cost of that coverage.

There is a requirement that the insurance companies be audited annually to assure that the payment for abortion coverage fully covers the administrative and clinical costs, that the payment is held in a separate account from other premiums, and that there are no federal dollars used.

In addition, there is a wonderful provision in the bill that provides $250 million over 10 years to pay for counseling, education, job training and housing for vulnerable women who are pregnant or parenting. Another provision provides a substantial increase in the adoption tax credit and funding for adoption assistance programs.

We expect to see charges and counter charges about what is in the bill and how it will work. We need to carefully review its provisions, its safeguards and its implementation schedule and help everyone understand what the actual proposal is. We are especially called to share our expertise in the health care marketplace to help people understand this bill. So many people depend on our continuing to advocate for quality health reform for everyone.

El Piolín will be walking...and talking!...for immigration reform

Latino radio personality Eddie “El Piolín” Sotelo, host of Piolín por la mañana on KSCA (101.9 FM) in Los Angeles, will join the lineup of speakers for this Sunday's March for America in support of immigration reform.

This is far from El Piolín's first foray into this issue. In 2006 and 2007, he helped prove the power of Spanish language radio to mobilize the masses in the comprehensive immigration reform battles. A formerly undocumented immigrant, El Piolín gave a significant amount of airplay to undocumented immigrants. In 2006, his audience helped turnout 500,000 people at Los Angeles marches against anti-immigration legislation.

In 2007, he encouraged his listeners to recruit U. S. citizens to sign a letter proposing an immigration reform. This resulted in over 1 million letters sent to Congress and grabbed the attention of political leadership.

Join El Piolín and come to the National Mall to March for America...your land and our land, as Woody Guthrie said.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Women religious say vote for Senate health bill would be 'life-affirming'

UPDATE 3/18/2010: Today, the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious, which represents about 20% of American nuns, issued a brief statement supporting the bishops' opposition to the health care reform bill. Meanwhile, columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. added his perspective in a column titled On health care, listen to the nuns in today's Washington Post. The most interesting assertion in this column is that the bishops have been misrepresenting the CHA's position on the issue...

Two days after the U.S. bishops refused to support the health care reform bill, restating their objections to provisions in the measure they said would expand federal funding of abortions, the leaders of more than four dozen U.S. congregations of women religious are urging members of Congress to "cast a life-affirming 'yes' vote" on the Senate's version of health reform legislation.

Signers of the letter, who represent 59,000 Catholic women religious in the United States, include the president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and the superiors or leadership teams of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; Adrian Dominican Sisters; Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; Sisters of Mercy of the Americas; Sisters of the Holy Family; Sisters of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis; Society of the Holy Child Jesus; and dozens of other religious orders.

The following is the text of the sisters' letter, released to the media and delivered to members of Congress today.

"Members of Congress:

"We write to urge you to cast a life-affirming "yes" vote when the Senate health care bill (H.R. 3590) comes to the floor of the House for a vote as early as this week. We join the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), which represents 1,200 Catholic sponsors, systems, facilities and related organizations, in saying: the time is now for health reform AND the Senate bill is a good way forward.

"As the heads of major Catholic women's religious orders in the United States, we represent 59,000 Catholic Sisters in the United States who respond to needs of people in many ways. Among our other ministries we are responsible for running many of our nation's hospital systems as well as free clinics throughout the country.

"We have witnessed firsthand the impact of our national health care crisis, particularly its impact on women, children and people who are poor. We see the toll on families who have delayed seeking care due to a lack of health insurance coverage or lack of funds with which to pay high deductibles and co-pays. We have counseled and prayed with men, women and children who have been denied health care coverage by insurance companies. We have witnessed early and avoidable deaths because of delayed medical treatment.

"The health care bill that has been passed by the Senate and that will be voted on by the House will expand coverage to over 30 million uninsured Americans. While it is an imperfect measure, it is a crucial next step in realizing health care for all. It will invest in preventative care. It will bar insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. It will make crucial investments in community health centers that largely serve poor women and children. And despite false claims to the contrary, the Senate bill will not provide taxpayer funding for elective abortions. It will uphold long-standing conscience protections and it will make historic new investments —“ $250 million" — in support of pregnant women. This is the REAL pro-life stance, and we as Catholics are all for it.

"Congress must act. We are asking every member of our community to contact their congressional representatives this week. In this Lenten time, we have launched nationwide prayer vigils for health care reform. We are praying for those who currently lack health care. We are praying for the nearly 45,000 who will lose their lives this year if Congress fails to act. We are also praying for you and your fellow Members of Congress as you complete your work in the coming days. For us, this health care reform is a faith mandate for life and dignity of all of our people.

"We urge you to vote 'yes' for life by voting yes for health care reform in H.R. 3590."

The Catholic Health Association — which represents more than 2,000 Catholic hospitals and medical providers in the United States — has also officially endorsed the health care reform bill. In her March 11 letter to members of the House of Representatives, Sr. Carol Keehan, President and CEO of CHA, says:

"On behalf of the Catholic Health Association of the United States (CHA), the national leadership organization of more than 2,000 Catholic health care sponsors, systems, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and related organizations, I am writing to urge you to move quickly to enact health
reform by passing the Senate-approved legislation in conjunction with a second “corrections” bill providing for necessary legislative fixes that will improve the overall package."

Since these are the folks on the front lines dealing directly with the poor and medically uninsured -- the people who know the extent of the problem first hand, maybe it would be time for the bishops to come out of their ivory tower and listen to the sisters for a change.

Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ Tattoos Hearts and Minds in DC

Last night Fr. Greg Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, a gang intervention program in Los Angeles, came to downtown DC and wowed a standing room only crowd at a local bookstore with his stories from his lifelong ministry to gang members and the wisdom he has gained from his experience. All available copies of Fr. Greg's book, Tattoos on the Heart: Stories of Hope and Compassion (also available in Spanish as Tatuajes en el corazón) were sold, as Fr. Greg patiently signed books and chatted with his audience. Proceeds from the sale of the book will be plugged back into Homeboy Industries which, like many other charitable organizations, took a significant hit during the current economic crisis -- both due to the drop in donations and a decrease in demand for the group's products.

In response to a question about his organization's economic problems, Fr. Greg was at first reluctant to broach the topic. Last year, the group was in crisis and Fr. Greg was afraid he might have to furlough some of his 427 employees. The workers, many of whom are former gang members, produce silk-screened casual wear and other merchandise, run a bakery and a café/catering operation. They also run a cleaning and landscaping business. The organization's motto is: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job".

Help came in the form of a $340,000 gang reduction contract approved in August by the LA City Council. An even more important break came in October when Ralphs Grocery agreed to carry Homegirl Café salsas in their deli section. According to Fr. Greg, there is hope that this deal might expand to other Homegirl Café and Catering products.

In addition to its commercial enterprises, Homeboy Industries provides the usual range of educational, social work, counseling and legal services and something more unusual but extremely popular: the Ya 'Stuvo Tattoo Removal Service. Using two laser tattoo removal machines that the organization has purchased, volunteer medical personnel help gang members remove the signs of their former life so that they can more easily find employment and reintegrate into society. According to Fr. Greg, around 4,000 tattoo removals were performed last year and the group has a waiting list of more than one thousand former gang members wanting this service. Services are provided according to the needs identified by the gang members. Once its economic crisis is over, the group hopes to move into additional areas such as transitional housing and day care.

Tattoos on the Heart tells the stories of some of Homeboy Industries' clients. They are stories that Fr. Greg has told over and over again in the 25 detention centers in which he has celebrated Mass, as well as to community groups. The book is a fundraising project but it is also a response to homeys who wanted to be able to come back to Fr. Greg's stories for inspiration (or caution).

The book reflects Fr. Greg's philosophy that without a sense of kinship there can be no justice. He calls us to imagine a circle of compassion with no one standing outside it, calls us to stand at the margins with the "easily despised and readily rejected". He calls us to "stand in awe at what the poor have to carry" rather than in judgement of them. In the end, Fr. Greg calls each of us to help him build a world where we are conscious that we "belong to each other", in the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

We are not there yet. In 1988, Fr. Greg buried his first victim of gang violence, three months ago he presided at the funeral of the 168th one. God willing, if we can help Fr. Greg and the homeys keep Homeboy Industries going, we will come to the day when there will be no more gang-related deaths.

For those who are thinking of making a donation to Homeboy Industries, here is the group's latest 990. As you will be able to see, this is NOT an nonprofit organization that pays outrageous executive salaries. The three highest paid executives all made less than $75,000 in 2008, with Fr. Greg as CEO in fact making less than the other two officers. Let's give these folks a hand, because unlike all the unworthy recipients of public charity that our tax dollars bailed out last year, Homeboy Industries really IS "too big to fail".

Photos: Father Greg Boyle reads from and signs his book; Homeboy Industries workers produce silk-screened merchandise and salsa; Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa samples some Homegirl Café salsa.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Los Lonely Boys Coming to March for America

Music lovers, if you need another reason to come out on the National Mall this Sunday to support our immigrant brothers and sisters, consider this: It's a free opportunity to see and hear the Grammy award winning band Los Lonely Boys who will be performing as part of the day's activities.

Until Sunday, here is the Boys' hit "Heaven" while we wait for immigration reform legislation that will bring this country closer to paradise.


Save me from this prison
Lord help me get away
Cause only you can save me now
From this misery
Cause I've been lost in my own place
And I'm getting' weary
How far is heaven
And I know I need to change
My ways of livin'
How far is heaven, Lord can you tell me

Cause I've been locked up way too long
In this crazy world, how far is heaven
I just keep on prayin' Lord
Just keep on livin', how far is heaven
Lord can you tell me, how far is heaven
I just got to know how far, how far is heaven
Lord can you tell me

Tu que estas en alto cielo,
Echame tu bendiciòn
[translated from Spanish]
[You that's in a higher place
Send me down a blessing]

Cause I know there's a better place
Than this place I'm livin', how far is heaven
So I just got to show some faith
And just keep on giving, how far is heaven
Lord can you tell me, how far is heaven
I just wanna know how far, how far is heaven,
Lord can you tell me, how far is heaven,
'cause I just gotta know how far,
I just wanna know far

A cura rockero's vision for the Church

I've been reading Padre Jony's Notas de un cura rockero (Espasa, 2009) for Lent. It seems like a continuation of the spirit of those who signed the Pact of the Catacombs, about which we blogged yesterday, and it's a welcome break from the ongoing child sex abuse scandals or the Church's obsession with sex translated into public policy. We can sometimes forget that Jesus talked a lot about justice and the poor, and virtually not at all about what people do behind their bedroom doors.

Padre Jony's book provides the requisite biographical information, the background and lyrics to his songs, and accounts of some of his mission experiences, including a harrowing carjacking in Honduras when he was driving a mission van full of children. No one was hurt but the robbers escaped with the van. And the rock n' roll priest lays out his vision for what the Catholic Church should become (pp. 135-136, English translation by Rebel Girl):

  • A more "missionary" Church, a braver one, one that goes out into the streets, that advances along with humanity, instead of being twenty years behind it; one that takes Pentecost as its point of departure, when the wind of the Spirit carried away its security, its walls and protections, and left it open to the elements of life. On that day, it saw the world, its hunger, its violence, its suffering, its loneliness...For the first time, it heard the world crying and left its fearful and unproductive confinement.
  • A more "good Samaritan" Church, one that doesn't go down the road with a cold and distant attitude, but with a sensitive heart. One that doesn't make a detour when it meets a difficult problem or a needy person, but instead approaches and does what it can to help and gets involved.
  • A more "good shepherd" Church, one that, when it realizes a sheep is missing, is able, like the good shepherd, to leave the ninety-nine remaining ones and go out to look for it, even though it is night, ready to face all sorts of danger...until it finds it, and then throws a "feast".
  • A more "merciful and less severe" Church. As John XXIII said: "Nowadays however, the [Church] prefers to make use of the medicine of mercy rather than that of severity." (Opening Speech for the Council of Vatican II, 15, BAC, p.753)
  • A "humbler and non-imposing" Church: the Church must bring its viewpoint on whatever issue is affecting human beings, but with humility, amicably, with a vocation to joyful service to humanity, not as an imposition. You attract more with a drop of honey than a drop of vinegar. It's important for the Church to make its voice heard in debates in society, agreeing to dialogue, but remembering that in a plural society, it is not the only institution.
  • A "simpler" Church, one that shows that it is possible to be happy on earth without money and without power. Jesus said: "You cannot serve both God and mammon." (Mt 6:24) "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!...It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (Mk 10:23-25)
  • A Church that holds "love" as the highest law, one without so many burdens that it cannot even bear them itself.
  • A Church with more "hunger and thirst for justice", one that supports those who fight to defend the weakest.
This is the kind of vision we need if the Church is going to bring back all the disaffected young people who are tired of the scandals, the abusive and high-handed behavior, and who no longer believe the Church has anything to say about the issues they care about such as a clean environment, economic justice, and protecting other young people like themselves from war and exploitation. We need Padre Jony's voice -- be it writing, singing, preaching, or rapping.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dom Helder Camara, Monsignor Romero, and the Pact of the Catacombs

This article by theologian Jon Sobrino appeared in Spanish on Adital on 3/10/2010 under the title "La urgencia de volver a la iglesia de los pobres. A los cien años del nacimiento de Don Helder" ("The need to return to the Church of the Poor: On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dom Helder"). We have translated it into English and changed the title, largely to highlight the term "Pact of the Catacombs", to which Fr. Sobrino refers and which is a little known event in Vatican II history, particularly outside of Brazil. The pact was signed on November 16, 1965 by 40 of the participating conciliar fathers. We found another partial English translation of the pact on the Web, but to the best of our knowledge, this is the first complete translation in this medium. We have introduced more inclusive language into the translation, as Fr. Sobrino started to do in his Spanish version.

Viewing the Church as "in poverty and powerless" has never been very successful, and it was not even a central element in Vatican II, which was so important and decisive in many other matters. Yes, it was there in Medellin, and it was able to emerge in Puebla despite serious maneuvres against it. But the decline over the last three decades has been undeniable. Comblin says: "After Puebla, the Church of silence began. The church began to have nothing to say." And although Aparecida put the brakes on a little bit, that "reversal of history" that Ellacuria stressed in order to heal a seriously ill society has not yet happened in the Church. The conclusion is that we must return to a church of the poor and work for it. In El Salvador, after Monsignor Romero, the decline has been obvious, hence the need for rebuilding the Church.

Vatican II. John XXIII wanted the Council to acknowledge that the Church is "a church of the poor." Cardinal Lercaro gave an emotional and lucid speech about it at the end of the first session in 1962, and Monsignor Himmer asked clearly that "first place in the Church be reserved for the poor." But in October 1963, Bishop Gerlier complained about the low priority being given to the poor in the schema on the Church. Also, the most brilliant Latin American bishops soon understood that the issue was very distant for the vast majority of the Council, but a group always remained that wanted to follow the inspiration of John XXIII, including a number of the Latin Americans. They met regularly and confidentially at Domus Mariae to deal with the issue of the "poverty of the Church".

On November 16, 1965, just days before the close of the Council, about 40 conciliar fathers celebrated a Mass in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla. They prayed to "be faithful to the spirit of Jesus," and at the end of the celebration signed what they called "the pact of the catacombs".

The "pact" is a challenge to the "brother bishops" to live a "life of poverty" and to be a "poor and servant" Church as John XXIII wanted. The signatories, including many Latin Americans and Brazilians, who were later joined by others, agreed to live in poverty, reject all symbols and privileges of power, and place the poor at the center of their pastoral ministry. The text would have a strong influence on the theology of liberation that sprouted up several years later.

One of the proponents of the pact was Dom Helder Camara. This year marks the centenary of his birth, on February 7, 1909 in Fortaleza, Ceará, in Northeast Brazil. As a tribute to him and demand to us, we publish the text below:

"The pact of the catacombs: a servant and poor Church"*

We, Bishops meeting at Vatican Council II, being aware of the deficiencies of our life of poverty according to the Gospel, encouraged by one another in this initiative in which each one wants to avoid singularity and presumption, in union with all our brothers in the Episcopate; counting, especially, on the grace and strength of our Lord Jesus Christ, on the prayer of the faithful and priests of our respective diocese; putting ourselves in thought and prayer before the Trinity, before the Church of Christ and before the priests and faithful of our diocese, with humility and awareness of our weakness, but also with all the determination and all the strength that God wants to give us in His grace, commit ourselves to the following:

1. Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the ordinary manner of our people. See Mt 5:3, 6:33f, 8-20.

2. We renounce forever wealth and the appearance thereof, especially in clothing (expensive fabrics and brilliant colors), and insignia of precious metals (such signs should, in effect, be evangelizing). See Mk 6:9, Mt 10:9f, Acts 3:6. Neither gold nor silver.

3. We will not possess either movable or fixed assets, or bank accounts, etc., in our names; and if it is necessary to possess anything, we will place it under the name of our diocese or other social or charitable works. See Mt 6:19-21, Luke 12:33f.

4. Whenever possible we will entrust the financial and material administration of our diocese to a commission of competent lay people conscious of their apostolic role, given that we should be pastors and apostles rather than administrators. See Mt 10:8, Acts 6:1-7.

5. We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the gospel name "Father". See Mt 20:25-28, 23:6-11, Jn 13:12-15.

6. In our behavior and social relations, we will avoid everything that could appear to confer privilege, priority, or even preference to the rich and powerful (for example in banquets offered or accepted, in religious services). See Lk 13:12-14, 1 Cor 9:14-19.

7. We will also avoid fostering or flattering the vanity of anyone, whoever they might be, when rewarding or requesting donations, or for any other reason. We will invite our faithful to consider their gifts as normal participation in worship, ministry and social action. See Mt 6:2-4, Lk 15:9-13, 2 Cor 12:4.

8. We will give as much as is necessary of our time, thought, heart, means, etc. to the apostolic and pastoral service to working individuals and groups who are economically weak and underdeveloped, without compromising other people and groups in the diocese. We will support lay people, religious, deacons or priests, whom the Lord calls to evangelize to the poor and workers, sharing their life and work. See Lk 4:18f, Mk 6:4, Mt 11:4f, Acts 18:3f, 20:33-35, 1 Cor 4:12 and 9:1-27.

9. Aware of the demands of justice and charity and their mutual relationship, we will seek to transform the works of "beneficence" into social works based on charity and justice that take everyone into account, as a humble service of relevant public bodies. See Mt 25:31-46, Luke 13:12-14 and 33f.

10. We will endeavor to ensure that those responsible for our government and our public services decide on and implement the laws, structures and social institutions that are necessary for justice, equality and the full and harmonious development of the whole person and all people, and thus for the emergence of a new social order, worthy of the children of men and women and children of God. See Acts 2:44f, 4:32-35, 5:4, 2 Cor 8 and 9, 1 Tim 5:16.

11. Because the collegiality of the bishops finds its greatest evangelical fulfillment in communal service to the majority in physical, cultural and moral poverty -- two thirds of humanity -- we commit ourselves:

  • To share, according to our ability, in the urgent projects of the bishoprics in poor nations;
  • To ask together, at the international level, always giving witness to the gospel, as did Pope Paul VI at the United Nations, for the adoption of economic and cultural structures that do not create poor nations in an ever richer world, but that allow the poor majority to emerge from their poverty.

12. We pledge to share our life, in pastoral charity, with our brothers and sisters in Christ, priests, religious and laity, so that our ministry constitutes a real service. Thus,

  • We will strive to "revise our life" with them;
  • We will seek out partners so that we can be promoters according to the spirit rather than rulers according to the world;
  • We will try as much as is humanly possible to be present, to be welcoming;
  • We will be open to everyone, whatever their religion. See Mk 8:34f, Acts 6:1-7, 1 Tim 3:8-10.

13. When we return to our diocese we will present these resolutions to our diocesan priests, asking them to help us with their understanding, collaboration and prayers.

God help us to be faithful

The Church of Monsignor Romero

The pact, when read today, draws one's attention to the fact that it basically addresses one single subject: poverty. But that being the hinge around which everything revolves -- though not, for example, the administration of the sacraments, the pact of the catacombs produced important fruit in Medellin, and little by little, in other churches. Historically, it led to the fight for justice and liberation. Ecclesially, to the option for the poor. Theologically, to the God of the poor. All that came to El Salvador, and Archbishop Romero put it into use and blessed it, together with the new Salvadoran martyrs.

At Puebla, Monsignor met those bishops of the pact and of Medellin and returned very happy. "I remember one of the first nights of the Puebla meeting, when I met Monsignor Helder Camara and Monsignor Proaño and Cardinal Arns from Brazil. When they heard I was the archbishop of San Salvador they said to me: 'You have much to tell us. Know that we know it and that those people are admirable, and may they remain faithful to the Gospel as they have been up to now'." The admiration they felt for Monsignor, and that Monsignor felt for them, is obvious.

At present there are "pacts" too. Pedro Casaldaliga is their most eloquent spokesman. In his circular of 2009, he writes: "pact".

Dom Helder Camara was one of the main promoters of the prophetic group. Today, we, at the current turbulent juncture, profess the validity of many social, political, ecclesiastical dreams, which we can not renounce in any way. We reject neoliberal capitalism, the neo-imperialism of money and weapons, a market and consumer economy which buries the vast majority of humanity in poverty and hunger. And we will continue to reject any discrimination based on gender, culture, race. We demand substantial transformation of the international agencies (UN, IMF, World Bank, WTO ...). We pledge to live out a "deep and whole ecology", promoting an alternative agrarian-agricultural policy over the predatory policy of the latifundio, monoculture, and agrochemicals. We will participate in social, political and economic transformations, for a "high intensity" democracy.

As a church, in the light of the Gospel, we want to live out the Kingdom, the obsessive passion of Jesus. We want to be the Church of the option for the poor, ecumenical and macroecumenical community as well. The God we believe in, the Abba of Jesus, can not be in any way a reason for fundamentalism, exclusion, absorbing inclusions, proselytizing pride. Enough now of making our God the one true God. "My God, does he let me see God?". With all due respect for the views of Pope Benedict XVI, interreligious dialogue is not only possible, it is necessary. We will make ecclesial co-responsibility the legitimate expression of an adult faith.

Correcting centuries of discrimination, we will demand full equality for women in the life and ministry of the Church. We will encourage the freedom and recognized service of our theologians. The Church will be a network of communities praying, serving, prophetic, witnesses to the Good News: the Good News of life, freedom, happy communion. The Good News of mercy, acceptance, forgiveness, tenderness, a Samaritan at the edge of all the roads of humankind.

We will make Jesus' warning live in church practice: "It shall not be so among you" (Mt 20:26). That is to say, servant authority. The Vatican will stop being a state and the Pope will no longer be head of state. The Curia will have to be profoundly reformed and local churches will cultivate the inculturation of the Gospel and shared ministerialism. The Church will commit itself, without fear, without evasions, to the great causes of justice and peace, to human rights and the recognized equality of all peoples. It will be prophecy of announcing, denouncing, and consolation.

* Translator's Note: The original written text of this pact was in Portuguese and published in Kloppenburg, Boaventura (org.). Concílio Vaticano II. Vol. V, Quarta Sessão. Petrópolis: Vozes, 1966, 526-528. Kloppenburg gave it a working title of "O Pacto da Ingreja Serva e Pobre". A copy can be found here.


Since I posted this article I found a commentary (in Portuguese) by renowned Brazilian church historian and Vatican II expert, Fr. José Oscar Beozzo, which is included in a set of documents on the website of the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. Beozzo offers additional information about the circumstances of the pact, including a partial list of the participants in that ceremony.

Photo: Fresco of Christ and the apostles from the Crypt of Ampliatus in the Catacombs of St. Domitilla in Rome

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