Friday, July 2, 2010

An ecological design for democracy

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)

Democracy is surely the highest ideal that social coexistence has historically developed. The underlying principle of democracy is: "what concerns all should be able to be thought about and decided by all."

It has many forms: the direct, as is experienced in Switzerland, where all people participate in decisions via referendum.

The representative, in which more complex societies elect delegates who, on behalf of all, discuss and make decisions. The big problem now is that representative democracy has been unable to gather together the forces of a complex society, with its social movements. In societies of high inequality, such as Brazil, representative democracy takes on characteristics of unreality, if not farce. Every four or five years, citizens have the possibility to choose their "dictator" who, once elected, is more concerned with making palatial policies than establishing an organic relationship with the social forces.

There is participatory democracy which is an improvement on the representative kind. Organized forces, such as the major trade unions, social movements for land, housing, health care, education, human rights, environmentalists and others have grown in such a way as to constitute the basis of participatory democracy -- the state is obliged to listen to and discuss with such forces to make decisions. It is imposing itself everywhere, especially in Latin America.

There is also communitarian democracy that is characteristic of the original peoples of Latin America, little known and acknowledged by analysts. It is born of the communitarian structure of the native cultures from north to south in Abya Yala (an indigenous name for Latin America). It seeks to "live well", which is not our "good life" that means that many live worse. "Living well" is the constant search of balance through the participation of all, a balance between man and woman, between man and nature, a balance between production and consumption in the context of an economy of sufficiency, decency, and not of accumulation.

"Living well" involves overcoming anthropocentrism -- it is not only in harmony with humans, but with the energies of the Earth, sun, mountains, water, forests and with God. This is a sociocosmic democracy, where all elements are considered bearers of life and therefore included in the community, their rights respected.

Finally, we are moving towards a global superdemocracy. Some analysts such as Jacques Attali (A Brief History of the Future, 2008) envision that it will be the saving alternative to a superconflict that could, if given free rein, destroy humanity. This superdemocracy starts from a collective consciousness that is aware of the uniqueness of the human family and that the planet Earth -- small, with scarce resources, overpopulated and threatened by climate change -- will force people to develop global policy strategies to secure everyone's life and the ecological conditions of the Earth.

This global superdemocracy does not override the different democratic traditions, but makes them complementary. This is best achieved through bioregionalism. This is a new ecological design, i.e. another way to organize the relationship with nature starting from regional ecosystems. Unlike the globalization of uniformity, it values differences and respects the peculiarities of each region with its local culture, making it easier to respect the cycles of nature and harmony with Mother Earth. We must pray that this type of democracy will triumph; if it doesn't, we don't know at all where we will end up.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

W.S. Merwin: New U.S. Poet Laureate

W.S. Merwin has been nominated as the country's 17th poet laureate. "I am very happy to do it at a time when there is someone that I respect so much in the White House," Merwin said from Hawaii, where he has lived since 1976. We are very happy about the nomination because Merwin, in addition to being an exceptional poet, is someone who has always stood up for peace and the environment.

During the Second World War, Merwin enlisted in the Navy but then discovered he was a pacifist. He asked to be put in the brig, saying that he had made "a terrible mistake" by enlisting, but instead was confined to the psychiatric ward of a naval hospital in 1946 for the rest of his military service. He talked about this experience during an interview on the NPR program Fresh Air. Merwin told his interviewer he was uncertain how his father, who had been a Presbyterian military chaplain, would handle the news, but that his father came to visit him in the hospital and told him he had to follow his conscience.

Merwin was deeply affected by the Vietnam War and the brutal police violence towards anti-war protestors at home. Upon receiving the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for The Carrier of Ladders, he wrote in The New York Review of Books:

I've been informed that I have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry for 1971.

I am pleased to know of the judges' regard for my work, and I want to thank them for their wish to make their opinion public.

But after years of the news from Southeast Asia, and the commentary from Washington, I am too conscious of being an American to accept public congratulation with good grace, or to welcome it except as an occasion for expressing openly a shame
which many Americans feel, day after day, helplessly and in silence.

I want the prize money to be equally divided between Alan Blanchard (Cinema Repertory Theater, Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, California)— a painter who was blinded by a police weapon in California while he was watching American events from a roof, at a distance — and the Draft Resistance.

Here are a couple of Merwin's best known anti-war poems:

The Asians Dying

When the forests have been destroyed their darkness remains
The ash the great walker follows the possessors
Nothing they will come to is real
Nor for long
Over the watercourses
Like ducks in the time of the ducks
The ghosts of the villages trail in the sky
Making a new twilight

Rain falls into the open eyes of the dead
Again again with its pointless sound
When the moon finds them they are the color of everything

The nights disappear like bruises but nothing is healed
The dead go away like bruises
The blood vanishes into the poisoned farmlands
Pain the horizon
Overhead the seasons rock
They are paper bells
Calling to nothing living

The possessors move everywhere under Death their star
Like columns of smoke they advance into the shadows
Like thin flames with no light
They with no past
And fire their only future

(Incidentally, this poem has just been given an amateur rap treatment on YouTube by some young ladies at the G20/G8 protest in wonders what the poet would think...)

When the War Is Over

When the war is over
We will be proud of course the air will be
Good for breathing at last
The water will have been improved the salmon
And the silence of heaven will migrate more perfectly
The dead will think the living are worth it we will know
Who we are
And we will all enlist again

In addition to his pacifism, W.S. Merwin has distinguished himself as an environmentalist in Hawaii, where he resides. He served as one of the directors of Environment Hawai'i for many years, though he has not been on the board for several years. He tried to reforestate his own property which had been a former sugar cane and pineapple plantation and in the mid-1990s, he helped to organize a watershed preservation conference that was held in Keanae on Maui, Waipio on the Big Island and Waiahole on Oahu.

W.S. Merwin has also done a lot of literary translation on the advice he received from poet Ezra Pound in his youth. Says Merwin: "He said: Translate. You haven't got anything to write at 18, and you have to write every day. The only way to do it is to learn languages and translate." Merwin has translated works in all of the major romance languages, including such classics as Dante's Purgatorio, El Poema de Mio Cid, and Le Chanson de Roland. Here is one of the poems from his translation of Pablo Neruda's Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair:

Tonight I Can Write

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, 'The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.'

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is starry and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight tries to find her as though to bring her closer.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another's. She will be another's. As she was before my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that's certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

London: Archbishop Romero Lecture

by Ellen Teague
Independent Catholic News

The beautiful church of St Martin in the Fields in Central London is often called “the church with the open door” because it welcomes people from all walks of life. It believes that people who are homeless, refugees, struggling and feeling on the edge are at the centre of God’s love and the centre of the church. It was a fitting venue then for a memorial talk ‘Remembering Romero’ (audio here) delivered there last Sunday evening by Fr Thomas Greenan, a priest of Edinburgh diocese now living and working in the remote Petén area of Guatemala. Before that he spent many years as a missionary priest in El Salvador, and is an admirer of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador, who was assassinated while celebrating mass in March 1980. He wrote his masters and doctorate studies on the life and work of Romero.

Fr Thomas, who had also spoken in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Liverpool, described Romero as “a prophet possessed by the Spirit of God” whose homilies rallied a population suffering persecution and murder by death squads. A recording of a section of the homily Romero gave the day before his killing was played in St. Martin’s and Fr Thomas translated: “Brothers, they are our own people! You are killing your own brothers and sisters, peasant folk, rural workers….And faced with an order to kill, that a human being gives, there ought to prevail the Law of God which states ‘Thou shalt not kill’” The words were interspersed by the clapping of a congregation who found him to be an inspirational leader, who took the gospels and Catholic Social Teaching seriously and who put his own life at risk to defend them. Fr Thomas noted, sadly, that assassination was the second principal cause of death in El Salvador; the first was diarrhoea.

In February of 1979 in Puebla, Mexico, Romero met the Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff. Fr Thomas reported that Boff remembered that encounter. Romero had asked him for some theological ideas on the theme of life. Boff recalled: “I remember very well how he spoke in a soft, gentle voice saying – ‘In my country they kill with cruelty. The poor are murdered; simple rural folk are tortured from day to day with the most extreme violence. We need to protect the minimum, which is God’s greatest gift - Life. Father Boff, help us to develop a theology of life.” Boff remembered that, after a pause, Romero said that, “we need to give our lives in order to protect the lives of others: this was the path of the Crucified One”.

Fr Thomas highlighted the sad stories of ordinary Salvadoreans who found comfort in Romero’s championing of their rights, through the life of a man he knew called Rodolfo. This man was a peasant, forced into exile by the persecution unleashed throughout the decades of the seventies and eighties. He hid in the hills before crossing into neighbouring Honduras and taking refuge in a refugee camp. In 1989, under the protection of the United Nations and other humanitarian organisations, he was among hundreds of these refugees who returned to El Salvador, and his village was a place which Fr Thomas visited and served. Rodolfo told the priest he was very proud that he had shaken hands with Romero on two occasions.

Unfortunately, soon after his return, Rodolfo was killed by a booby trap which exploded as he attempted to repair tiles on his roof.

Julian Filochowski, chair of the Archbishop Romero Trust, urged the congregation to visit its website regularly, become supporters of the Trust and to purchase some of the books about Romero advertised there.

The full text of Fr Thomas Greenan’s talk will be available at: after the final lecture at St Anne’s Cathedral, Leeds, on Friday 2 July at 7.30pm.


A priest of Edinburgh diocese, Fr Tommy lives and works in the remote Petén area of Guatemala. In Guatemala, Fr. Tommy covers a broad mission area and collaborates with three religious sisters who work in health education and catechetics. Also he collaborates with the Human Rights Office with special attention to migrants from the area, who are looking for work in Mexico and the U.S.A.

Before coming to Guatemala, he spent many years as a missionary priest in El Salvador. He was there during Hurricane Mitch and told his experience in graphic detail to The Tablet. He has researched and written a major study which compares and contrasts the lives of Saint John Chrysostom in the 4th Century and Archbishop Romero in our own times. And he is also the author of El pensamiento teológico pastoral en la homilías de Mons. Romero published by Tutela Legal del Arzobispado de San Salvador, 1998.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Memoriam: José María Díez-Alegría, undocumented Jesuit

by Juan G. Bedoya (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El País

José María Díez-Alegría, one of the great Spanish theologians, died yesterday [June 25, 2010]. He was going to turn 99 in October. He was an unrepentant Jesuit, obliged by the Vatican inquisitors to leave the order of Ignatius of Loyola because he accepted neither silencing nor censure. In spite of everything, he never stopped living in (and with) the Society of Jesus. "I'm an undocumented Jesuit," he said ironically.

Born in the branch of the Bank of Spain in Gijon, of which his father was director, Alegría (everyone called the theologian Díez-Alegría "Alegría") soon moved to the side of the miners. They once asked him how a banker could be Catholic, and Diez-Alegria answered with this Brechtian story. A banker came to him for confession and said: "Look, Father, I'm a banker." Alegría replied: "We're starting off badly!".

Díez-Alegría was a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome when, in 1972, he published the book Yo creo en la esperanza ["I believe in hope"] without the obligatory prior censorship, which in a few weeks went around the world. It was the postconciliar period, although clouds loomed over the spring of the Church. Alegría had asked permission to publish his book. Not applicable, they told him. He made a decision that would change his life. The book appeared under Desclée de Brouwer publishers in Bilbao. It sold 200,000 copies in many languages. His rise to fame was swift. Fifteen days later, a newspaper in Rome, Il Messaggero, and the largest U.S. one, The New York Times, thundered: "The best seller by a Spanish Jesuit acclaims Marx and attacks Rome."
Out of the cloister of the Society of Jesus, he returned to Madrid and lived in a shack in Pozo del Tio Raimundo, the neighborhood where another Jesuit, Father Llanos, former Falange chaplain and former friend of the dictator Franco, had been practicing liberation theology since 1955. Alegría, whose sense of humor and gospel patience had no limits, had this business card printed: "José María Díez-Alegría. Doctor of Philosophy. Doctor of Law. Master of Theology. Former Professor of Social Sciences at the Gregorian University. Retired honorably from a bloodless war. Calle Martos, 15. Pozo del Tio Raimundo."

He died in the Jesuit residence of Alcalá de Henares. Disciples, friends and admirers often made pilgrimages there to enjoy his conversation -- wise, sly, without mincing words, of incomparable beauty. A few months ago he began to waste away slowly. Word spread: "Alegría is fading." He passed away at dawn on Friday.

Alegría had admirers even among the hierarchy of Catholicism because he was an irreducible Christian, despite his impertinence with power. In that, he was like Jesus, the founder of Christianity, who was crucified for speaking His mind. In a world of comfortable clerics, who barely use the name of Christ because they prefer the tender but peaceful and mellifluous figures of Mary, or of the popes luxuriously installed in Vatican sovereignty, Díez-Alegría counseled humility, going back to Christ, and less gullibility. "The gospels should be quoted more and the Pope less," he said. In his last conversation with El País, he proclaimed that marriage of priests would be allowed in about 20 or 30 years, and, somewhat later, the priesthood of women. When he returned from Rome, to stay in El Pozo, "a swarm of reporters looked for him around Madrid, as if he were a famous movie actor," recalls Pedro Miguel Lamet, also a wise and rebellious Jesuit, and his biographer (Díez-Alegría. Un jesuita sin papeles. Editorial Temas de Hoy. 2005).

The hierarchy has endured Alegría's fame with wonder and panic. For example, May 28, 1977. That day, there was a large photograph on the front page of El País of the Jesuit Llanos waving his fist in front of 60,000 people gathered at the Vallecas soccer field (Madrid). "The communist meeting yesterday had two exceptional players, both within the logic of the history of the Spanish Church and outside the program: the Jesuits Diez-Alegria and Llanos. Father Llanos -- in the photo -- salutes, fist raised, his hometown of El Pozo. Somehow it comes to symbolize the historic commitment of a certain Church that has gone from National Catholicism to a greeting identified with Marxism," read the caption.

Díez-Alegría was neither Marxist, nor anti-Marxist. In the book Rebajas teológicas de otoño, he wrote a chapter entitled "Recuerdos a Marx de parte de Jesús" ["Jesus' Regards to Marx"] in which he had had a dream in which Jesus appeared and told him: "Hey, and that Karl Marx, the one who my current disciples talk about, scandalized, what do you say about him?" Alegría recited the texts of Marx to Him and Jesus told him: "Look, if you see Karl Marx, give him my regards and tell him that he is not far from the kingdom of God."

At age 90, Díez-Alegría published the second part of his famous book, this time with the title Yo todavía creo en la esperanza ["I Still Believe in Hope"], but in between there have been many other magnificent works such as Actitudes cristianas ante los problemas sociales ["Christian Attitudes Towards Social Issues" - 1967], Cristianismo y revolución ["Christianity and Revolution" - 1968], Teología en broma y en serio ["Theology in Jest and in Earnest" - 1977], ¿Se puede ser cristiano en esta Iglesia? ["Can One Be Christian in this Church?" - 1987], Cristianismo y propiedad privada ["Christianity and Private Property" - 1988], and Tomarse en serio a Dios, reírse de uno mismo [Take God Seriously, Laugh at Yourself - 2005].

In spite of the earlier punishment for Yo creo en la esperanza, Díez-Alegría never again had problems with the inquisitors. It's because he was very knowledgeable about the Bible. There was always a Church Father who had said before what he was arguing.

Neither did Llanos or Alegría have problems with the harsh national Catholic Franco dictatorship, that was forced, on the other hand, to open a prison only for priests in Zamora. The explanation was the origin of the two protagonists. Llanos was the son of a general, and Díez-Alegría, a banker of Gijon, as well as brother of the lieutenant-general Luis Díez-Alegría, Francos' Chief of the Army and former director general of the Guardia Civil, and Manuel, a former Chief of the Army High Command. Once, General Luis committed a traffic violation and the officer who was taking notes for the fine, on seeing his name, asked if he was related to "the famous theologian Diez-Alegria."

This is one of the stories Díez-Alegría told, with theological delight, to harmonize the Catholic faith with his radical liberation theology:

A catechist in Andalusia met a very poor young woman, married with children, who had gone to live with an old man.

- Woman, you have to go back, you can't stay with the old man.

- Of course, sir. But the old man will die soon, and I'm going to have a very decked out house, I will bring my husband and my children, and the problem is solved.

- But, woman, that's against God's law.

The woman replied with conviction: "No, sir, I don't have any problem with the Lord. I say to the Lord: 'Lord, You forgive me and I forgive You' ['for making me so poor', Alegría added], and we are at peace."