Friday, May 21, 2010

Two cosmologies in conflict

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)

The Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz recently said: "The legacy of the economic and financial crisis will be a great battle of ideas about the future of the earth." I fully agree with him. I think the big battle is about the two conflicting cosmologies present on the stage of history.

By cosmology we mean the worldview -- the cosmovision -- that underlies the ideas, practices, habits and dreams of a society. Each culture has its respective cosmology. Through it, it seeks to explain the origin, evolution and purpose of the universe and define the place of humans within it.

Our current cosmology is one of conquest, domination and exploitation of the world, with an eye to progress and unlimited growth. It is characterized by being mechanistic, deterministic, atomistic and reductionist. Because of this cosmovision, undeniable benefits to human life were created, but also perverse contradictions such as 20% of the world population controlling and consuming 80% of all natural resources, creating a gap between rich and poor as has never been before in history. Half of the great forests destroyed, 65% of arable land, lost, nearly 5,000 species of living things disappearing annually and over a thousand synthetic chemicals, most of them toxic, scattered in the soil, air and water. Weapons of mass destruction have been built, capable of eliminating all human life. The final effect is the imbalance of the Earth system, expressed by global warming. With the gases already accumulated, in 2035 we will reach fatally an increase of 2 degrees Celsius, and if nothing is done, according to some estimates, at the end of the century it will be 4 or 5 degrees, which will make life as we know it today virtually impossible.

The dominance of particularly speculative economic interests, able to reduce whole countries to the most brutal poverty, and consumerism have trivialized our perception of the danger in which we are living and conspire against any change of course.

In contrast, an alternative and potentially saving cosmology is appearing with ever greater strength. It has been developing for more than a century and reached its greatest expression in the Earth Charter. It is derived from the sciences of the universe, Earth and life. It puts our situation within the cosmogenesis, this vast evolutionary process that started from the big bang, about 13.7 billion years ago. The universe is continually expanding, organizing and generating itself. Its natural state is evolution not stability, transformation and adaptability, not immutability and permanence. Everything in it is networked and nothing exists outside of this relationship. Thus all beings are interdependent and work together to co-evolve and ensure the balance of all factors. Behind all beings, the fundamental Energy acts, that gave birth to and animates the universe and makes new things emerge. The most spectacular of these is the living Earth and we humans, as the conscious and intelligent portion of it, with a mission to care for it.

We live in times of emergency. All the current crises are creating a spiral of changes needed that, if they are not implemented, will lead us fatally to collective chaos, but if they are made, can lift us to a higher stage of civilization. It is at this point that the new cosmology shows itself to be inspiring. Instead of dominating nature, it puts us in the midst of it in deep harmony and synergy. Instead of a globalization that levels differences, it suggests a bioregionalism that values them. This model seeks to build self-sustaining societies within the potential and limits of the bioregions, based on ecology, local culture and the involvement of the people, respecting nature and searching for the "good life" which is the harmony between all, and with Mother Earth.

What characterizes this new cosmology is caring rather than domination, the recognition of the intrinsic value of each being and not merely its usefulness to humans, respect for all life and the rights and dignity of nature and not its exploitation.

The strength of this cosmology is the fact of being more in line with real human needs and the logic of the universe itself. If we choose it, it will create the opportunity for a global civilization in which care, cooperation, love, respect, joy and spirituality will be central. It will be the great saving turnaround that we urgently need.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The World Needs Some Extra Soul

by Rev. José Eugenio Hoyos
(English translation by Rebel Girl)
May 20, 2010

The world economic crisis is no excuse for not continuing to help the poor and creating new work opportunities and social action programs for the neediest. We cannot allow governments to continue to invest large sums of money to sponsor wars and invest in sophisticated weapons while a large part of the human race is dying of hunger. The Catholic Church has learned from the gospel that an indispensable part of its evangelizing mission is action for justice and the tasks of human advancement.

There is unanimous recognition that John Paul II was a champion, an eminent witness to the Kingdom through the defense of social justice, human rights, and an authoritative and daring voice for the poorest. But we have to ask whether being sensitive to the poor is only working on the material aspect. What has happened and how have other "poor" areas in the Church advanced? For example: Do lay people and women have an important place in the Church? Or has the Church since Paul VI undergone a regression where deep wounds have been opened in the Church itself, and scandals have sprung up such as the pedophile priests that were not publicly visible before?

In a world that needs some "extra soul", the Church hierarchy should turn its eyes less towards theological dogmas and more towards the poor who, sad and disillusioned, go to the evangelical sects where they find the warm and human embrace of their brothers and sisters. We are all accomplices in this globalized and humanized planet, and in our Church -- Mystery and People of God -- that should think more about being a "convocation of the faithful" than a "hierarchical body". By prophetic tradition we have the right to dream our social and ecclesial future guided by the Holy Spirit. The world is tired of words and cries out for good deeds.

Be inspired to serve and prove through solidarity that for you, love is a practice and not just words. Prayer is not for God to change, it's to fill you with divine energy and change your selfishness into generous self-giving to others, especially to the neediest.

Photo: Love in action at an unidentified Catholic Worker house.

Migration Chairs of Mexican and U.S. Bishops’ Conferences Issue Join Statement on President Calderon’s Visit to the United States

Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration, and Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz of Tijuana, Mexico, head of the Mexican Episcopal Conference Migration Commission, issued May 19, a joint statement on the occasion of President Felipe Caderón of Mexico visit to the United States.

In the statement, the bishops urged Presidents Obama and Calderón to focus their conversation on the need for reform of their respective immigration systems; the need to uphold the respect for human rights and dignity of migrants and citizens alike while protecting their nation’s borders; and the implementation of fair trade and development policies that would stem the need for people to migrate, while making sure the immigration system provides sufficient legal visas or legal status for immigrants to work in jobs that are important to the U.S. economy.

The statement was released in bilingual form. Full statement follows.

Statement of Most Reverend John C. Wester
Bishop of Salt Lake City, Utah
Chairman, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration


Most Reverend Rafael Romo Muñoz
Archbishop of Tijuana, Mexico
Chairman, Mexican Episcopal Conference Migration Commission


The State Visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderon to the United States
En Ocasión de la Visita del Presidente Felipe Calderón a Estados Unidos

May 19, 2010

On behalf of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM), we welcome the visit of Mexican President Felipe Calderon to the United States. The relationship between the United States and Mexico is extremely important, with mutual cooperation and understanding paramount. We pray that this visit will strengthen the political and policy-based relationship of the two leaders and their countries.

La Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de Estados Unidos (USCCB) y la Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano (CEM) vemos con satisfacción la visita del mandatario mexicano Felipe Calderón a Estados Unidos. La cooperación y el entendimiento mutuo son de suma importancia en la relación de ambos estados. Elevamos nuestras oraciones para que esta visita fortalezca la relación política de ambos líderes y las naciones que gobiernan.

Specifically, we urge both leaders to focus upon the issue of immigration and how it impacts the most vulnerable: the migrant worker and their families. While we respect the obligation of both countries to ensure the integrity of their borders and the security of their peoples, we believe they can achieve these goals without sacrificing the basic human dignity and rights of the migrant.

Particularmente, urgimos a ambos líderes a centrar su atención en la migración, y cómo ésta afecta a los más vulnerables: al trabajador migrante y su familia. Si bien respetamos la obligación de ambos países de garantizar la integridad de sus fronteras y la seguridad de sus pueblos, también creemos que estos objetivos se pueden alcanzar sin sacrificar la dignidad humana básica y los derechos de los migrantes.

This requires both countries to examine critically their immigration policies, both in the areas of legal immigration and enforcement, and their adverse impact on human beings.

Esto requiere que ambos países, examinen con ojo crítico tanto sus políticas migratorias como la aplicación de sus leyes y el impacto adverso en los seres humanos.

With regard to the United States, it is essential that immigration reform legislation become a priority. Currently, the U.S. immigration system does not provide sufficient legal visas or legal status for immigrants to work in jobs that are important to the U.S. economy. A system which provides legal avenues for migration would reduce the exploitation of migrants by human smugglers and the number of migrant deaths in the desert. Reform must also bring migrants out of the shadows, so that they can live with their families without fear.

Con respecto a Estados Unidos, es necesario que el gobierno dé prioridad a una reforma migratoria integral. El sistema migratorio actual de Estados Unidos no proporciona suficientes vías legales o estatutos jurídicos para que los inmigrantes obtengan trabajos claves para la economía del país. Un sistema que proporcione vías legales para la inmigración reduciría la explotación a la que los trabajadores están sujetos por traficantes de personas y el número de migrantes que perecen en el desierto. Una reforma integral, además sacaría de la sombra a miles de inmigrantes indocumentados, para que puedan vivir con sus familias sin temor.

With regard to Mexico, changes must be made to ensure that migrants are not abused and subject to exploitation by criminal elements and corrupt officials. More attention should be paid to the creation of living-wage employment for low-skilled workers, so that they can stay at home and support their families in dignity. This would help reduce illegal immigration over the long-term, a goal which both nations share.

Respecto a México, los cambios deben garantizar que los migrantes no sean objeto de abusos ni sujetos de explotación por parte de bandas criminales y funcionarios corruptos. Es necesario prestar atención a la creación de oportunidades para sus ciudadanos en sus lugares de origen, que les permitan vivir en condiciones dignas en su país. Esta situación ayudaría a reducir la migración indocumentada a largo plazo, un objetivo que ambas naciones comparten.

The United States and Mexico have an opportunity to work together to prevent illegal immigration in a humane manner, not in a way which places total emphasis on enforcement measures. While both countries exchange commerce, information, and capital on a regular basis, the movement of labor has yet to be regularized, to the detriment of the basic rights of human beings.

Estados Unidos y México tienen la oportunidad de trabajar juntos para prevenir la migración indocumentada de forma humana y no sólo aplicando medidas restrictivas. Mientras que ambos países intercambian comercio, información y capital con regularidad, el movimiento de mano de obra entre ambos países aún no se regulariza, en detrimento de los derechos fundamentales de muchos seres humanos.

Over the long-term, cooperation and aid agreements as well as trade and economic pacts considered by both nations should address the movement of labor and the impact such agreements may have on the migration of peoples between the two countries.

A largo plazo, el comercio, la cooperación y los acuerdos económicos considerados por ambas naciones deberían abordar el tema del flujo de trabajadores y el impacto que tales acuerdos pueden tener en la migración de personas entre los dos países.

The United States and Mexico face a crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border, with drug cartels and human smuggling networks battling with law enforcement and placing citizens of both sides of the border at risk. Repairing the immigration laws in both countries would help take migrants out of the enforcement equation and would permit law enforcement to focus their limited resources on criminal networks.

Estados Unidos y México enfrentan una crisis a lo largo de su frontera común, en la lucha contra de carteles de la droga y redes de contrabando humano, que pone en riesgo a los ciudadanos que residen en ambos lados de la frontera. Reparar las leyes migratorias de ambos países, ayudaría a sacar a los inmigrantes de la ecuación y facilitaría que las fuerzas de seguridad enfoquen los recursos limitados de que disponen en el combate contra redes criminales.

In conclusion, we urge both President Obama and President Calderon to work cooperatively toward the mutual goals of creating a safe border and a humane and fair immigration system. Only through bi-national cooperation will this issue be solved in a manner which serves the interests of both nations, upholds the rule of law, and respects the rights of both U.S. and Mexican citizens.

En conclusión, rogamos tanto al Presidente Obama como al Presidente Calderón que trabajen en conjunto hacia un objetivo común para crear una frontera segura y un sistema de inmigración humano y justo. Solamente a través de la cooperación binacional este problema se resolverá de una manera que sirva a los intereses de ambas naciones, respete sus leyes y los derechos de sus conciudadanos.

+Rafael Romo Muñoz
Arzobispo de Tijuana y Responsable de la Dimensión Pastoral de la Movilidad Humana
Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano

Most Rev. John C. Wester
Bishop of Salt Lake City
Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration


From the mouths of babes...

During a visit yesterday to New Hampshire Estates Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland by First Lady Michelle Obama and Mexico's first lady Margarita Zavala, a second grade girl raised the question of the Obama administration's immigration policy and deportations. The exchange went like this:

Student: "My mom says Barack Obama's taking everybody away that doesn't have papers."

Michelle Obama: "Yeah, well that's something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That's exactly right."

Student: "But my mom doesn't have any."

Michelle Obama: "Well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that, and everybody's got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens. That's right."

First, to the Obamas: That sounds like a promise to me and we should never break the promises we make to our children, so it's time for the President to get to work on immigration reform and not make excuses for political expediency.

Segundo, a nuestra comunidad: Es una vergüenza que una niñita tiene el valor de hablar directamente a la primera dama de los Estados Unidos sobre este tema mientras nosotros los mayores, cuando se nos pide salir en la calle, firmar una petición, llamar a nuestros congresistas o tomar otra acción a favor de una reforma migratoria justa, tenemos mil pretextos por no actuar..."es que me salió una casa para limpiar este sábado", "soy cristiano y no entro en la política", "me van a despedir/deportar/encarcelar (pick one)", "no aguanto el frio/el calor", "no puedo estar de pie", pretextos porque tenemos miedo de salir en defensa de nuestros valores. Aprendamos de esta niña y la próxima vez que hay una marcha o otra acción, hagámonos presente. Este no es asunto de nuestros bebes; es asunto de nosotros. ¿Vale?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Death and Dying: Incomplete Answers

This is a very difficult time. So much is making me question my Church and my allegiances within it.

From the Arizona Republic (5/15/2010): A Catholic nun and longtime administrator of St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix was demoted and reassigned in the wake of a decision to allow a pregnancy to be ended at 11 weeks gestation in order to save the life of a critically ill patient. The decision also drew a sharp rebuke from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, head of the Phoenix Diocese, who indicated that the nun was "automatically excommunicated" because of the action. The patient had pulmonary hypertension, a condition that limits the ability of the heart and lungs to function and is made worse, possibly even fatal, by pregnancy. Sr. McBride participated in the hospital ethics committee's decision to recommend termination of the pregnancy so that only one life (the fetus) would be lost rather than two. The pregnancy was terminated at the hospital which is run by Catholic Healthcare West. Both St. Joseph's and Bishop Olmsted issued statements regarding the case. Tell me, Your Excellency, would you have ruled this way if it had been your sister's life at stake? Would you be willing to explain to the family why the Catholic Church prefers a scenario that would almost certainly guarantee the death of both the mother and the unborn child? This is the first example of what we get when bioethical policy is made by celibate, childless men.

And I am watching my mother (photo above) slowly die from end-stage dementia. She almost never speaks anymore -- certainly not in complete coherent sentences, she is incontinent, cannot walk, can barely sit up, cannot feed herself, let alone bathe or dress herself. Her understanding of her surroundings is elusive and uncertain. Mostly she is very weak and sleeps a lot. Fortunately she is a Quaker and signed a firm living will forbidding all extraordinary forms of intervention. I know that she understood this to include all forms of artificial feeding such as IVs or feeding tubes. I, a Catholic, have durable medical power of attorney for her. I know what the Church teaches about end of life choices but I am legally and, in my personal opinion, morally obligated to uphold her choices even if they conflict with my Church's ethical teachings. This is helped by the fact that in cases like my mother's where there is no realistic hope of coming back to anything ressembling a meaningful life, I agree with my mother's choices, not the Catholic Church. So no IVs, no feeding tubes and when she can no longer swallow food and water, she will die. The Catholic Church's insistence that we must inflict artificial feeding and hydration on the terminally ill is the second example of what we get when bioethical policy is made by celibate, childless men.

Both denying abortion to mothers whose lives are endangered by carrying a pregnancy to term and not allowing dying people to refuse artificial feeding and hydration strike me as idolatry -- of the fetus in the first case, and of the physical body in the second. The men who make these policies are for the most part freed by their vocations from having to deal with the real life situations that confront husbands, fathers, and caretakers of elderly parents. Their dying parents are usually cared for by their married siblings somewhere else. Of course they grieve when their parents are terminally ill but they are spared the heartbreak of actually having to watch and deal with the day to day physical deterioration of their loved ones.

And it also makes me question the Church's teaching on euthanasia as I watch my mother's body go on long after her personality and ability to participate in her surroundings have vanished. If I had a pet in her condition, I would put the animal out of its misery quickly and painlessly as we did when our 20-year old cat became too weak to do anything but look forlornly at us. I know the reason this option is not available to humans is because we are not sufficiently spiritually mature as a species to use it wisely and compassionately.

The experience of my mother's dying is opening my eyes to where I find -- and don't find -- consolation within the Church. Nobody in my charismatic prayer group has called to ask why I wasn't at the retreat this weekend or how my mother is doing. Responses to previous reports on my mother's declining health from members of the group have ranged from "your mother isn't talking because she is resentful that she has to live in a nursing home" to "so? we all have problems" to attempts to cheer me up with unrealistic assertions that God will work a miracle in my mother if I pray hard enough. Meanwhile the unwritten expectation is that if I were really committed to the charismatic movement, I would put on my black and white uniform and a happy face and go to work as if nothing were happening. "Let the dead bury their dead" trumps "Honor thy father and thy mother".

But, as Fr. Michael Pfleger urged in his sermon last Sunday, I have not given up on prayer or on the Church. I continue to pray privately even though it often takes the form of saying a Rosary with tears streaming down my face while asking God why He is allowing my mother to continue to live in this condition (so far God hasn't provided any satisfactory answers). I go to my new parish where I am free to just be, without a whole lot of performance expectations, where I can sit in Mass and just be sad when I'm sad. I am not called upon to participate in some big media show and I can leave immediately and go to my mother's bedside, no questions asked. Seeing our pastor and knowing that he buried his mother last year after a long illness is helpful because even though we haven't spoken about it, his presence tells me that the pain I feel right now is survivable.

I miss the Renovacion somewhat but it is not what gives me comfort now. I don't know when, how or if I will return to it. So, Padre Hoyos, this is my answer, incomplete though it is.