Friday, October 1, 2010

Updating pedagogy in a changing world

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)

Centuries of wars, confrontations, struggles between peoples and class conflict have left us a bitter lesson. This primary and reductionist approach has not made us more human, nor brought us closer to each other, much less brought us much desired peace. We live in a permanent state of siege and full of fear. We have reached a historical stage that, in the words of the Earth Charter, "calls us to a new beginning." This requires a pedagogy based on a new awareness and an inclusive vision of the economic, social, cultural and spiritual problems that challenge us.

This new awareness, resulting from globalization, the earth and life sciences, and ecology too, is showing us a way forward: understanding that all things are interdependent and that not even the opposition is outside of a dynamic and open Whole. Therefore, it is not appropriate to separate but rather to integrate, to include rather than exclude, to acknowledge, yes, the differences, but also to seek convergence, and instead of win-lose, look for win-win.

This holistic perspective is influencing the educational process. We have an unforgettable teacher, Paulo Freire, who taught us the dialectic of inclusion and put 'and' where before we put 'or'. We must learn to say 'yes' to everything that makes us grow, in the large and in the small.

Friar Clodovis Boff accumulated extensive experience working with the poor in Acre and Rio de Janeiro. In line with Paulo Freire, he gave us a book that has become a classic: Como trabalhar com o povo ("How to work with the people"). And now, given the challenges of the new state of the world, he has developed a small decalogue of what could be a new pedagogy. It is worth transcribing and thinking about it, because it can help us a lot.

"1. Yes to the process of conscientization, the awakening of critical consciousness and the use of analytical reason (head). But also yes to the sentient reason (heart) where values are rooted and from which imagination and all utopias feed.

2. Yes to the 'collective' or social subject, the 'we' creators of history ("no one frees anyone, we free ourselves together"). But also yes to the subjectivity of each, the 'biographical I', the 'individual subject' with his or her references and dreams.

3. Yes to 'political praxis', transforming the structures and generating new social relations, a new 'system'. And yes also to 'cultural praxis' (symbolic, artistic and religious), 'transfiguring' the world and creating new meanings or simply a new 'living

4. Yes to 'macro' or societal action (including 'revolutionary action'), which acts on the structures. But yes also to 'micro', local and community action ('molecular revolution') as the basis and starting point of the structural process.

5. Yes to the linkage of social forces in the form of centralized 'unifying structures'. But also yes to linking in a 'network', in which through decentralized action, each node becomes the center of creation, initiatives and interventions.

6. Yes to the 'critique' of the mechanisms of oppression, the denunciation of injustice and the "work of the negative". But yes also to 'alternative' proposals, to positive actions that
establish the 'new' and herald a different future.

7. Yes to the 'historical project', the concrete 'political program' pointing to a 'new society'. But yes also to the 'utopian', to the dreams of 'creative fantasy', in search of a different life, in short, 'a new world'.

8. Yes to the 'struggle', to work, to the effort to make progress, yes to the seriousness of the commitment. And yes also to the 'free' as manifested in play, leisure, or simply the joy of living.

9. Yes to the ideal of being a 'citizen', of being a 'militant' and a 'fighter', yes to the one who gives him- or herself full of enthusiasm and courage to the cause of the humanization of the world. But yes also to the one who 'encourages', the 'partner', the 'friend', in simple terms, yes to the one who is rich in humanity, freedom and love.

10. Yes to an 'analytic' and scientific concept of society and its economic and political structures. But yes also the 'systemic' and 'holistic' vision of reality, seen as a living whole, dialectically integrated in its various dimensions: personal, gender, social, ecological, planetary, cosmic and transcendent."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Women's ordination in the news

Yesterday I was sighing inwardly as I listened to the conservative young priest who had the noon Mass address the traditional vocations gospel reading "The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest." -- Luke 10). He immediately dismissed expanding the priesthood to previously ineligible classes of people and actually used this passage to argue that Jesus didn't intend to expand the priesthood and that Jesus' solution, in this young man's exegetical interpretation of Scripture, was to pray for more vocations. Nothing else, just pray.

Others, however, have been more willing to discuss the alternative of women's ordination. A sampling of stories:

1. The Push to Ordain Female Priests Gains Ground (Time, 9/25/2010):

"Alta Jacko is the mother of eight children. She is also an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Jacko, 81, who earned her master's degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, a Jesuit Catholic school, says being a priest is what she was called to do..."

Video of Rev. Alta Jacko's ordination last year:

2. Woman in Priestly Garb Sounds ‘a Great Echo’ (New York Times, 9/24/2010)

"While other little girls in her hometown of Nissoria, Sicily, were dressing up and playing house, Maria Vittoria Longhitano would pretend to say Mass, dispensing cookies and chips to her toys for communion. Sometimes, she would even baptize her dolls...Ms. Longhitano’s spiritual journey eventually led her to the Old Catholic Church, a denomination that split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 19th century, mostly over the issue of papal infallibility. She studied theology at the University of Catania. On May 22 — coincidentally, the feast day of St. Rita — Ms. Longhitano, 35, was ordained a priest..."

3. Oak Park priest joins parish in pushing for female priests (Chicago Sun-Times, 9/28/2010)

"More than 600 members of a Roman Catholic parish in Oak Park signed a petition that expresses 'solidarity' with 'those who support women and married men who are called to ordination.' Among those to sign: the pastor, the Rev. Larry McNally, who delivered the signatures to his boss, Cardinal Francis George, earlier this month..."

Some of you might remember that in August Fr. McNally apologized to the women of his parish after the Vatican added women's ordination to the list of delicta graviora. Writing in his parish bulletin, the priest said: "As we celebrate this great feast of Mary, the Mother of God [Feast of the Assumption], I want to take this opportunity to say to all of our wonderful and virtuous women that I am sorry. I apologize to each one of you for the insensitive and harsh words coming from the Vatican male hierarchy of the church."

Another Chicago priest who has gotten into trouble for his support of women's ordination, Fr. Michael Pfleger, was thankful for Fr. McNally's latest action. On his Facebook page, Fr. Pfleger said "Thanks God!" and then added, "Funny thing is I did say it about 3 months ago and the Cardinal came down on me on the Catholic Website and had Bishop Perry call me!" No word yet on whether Fr. McNally will be told to apologize too.

Brazilian Environmentalist Bishop Wins Right Livelihood Award

"I'm convinced that another world is possible, in which indigenous and poor people finally shall live in dignity and peace." -- Bishop Erwin Kräutler

A Brazilian Catholic bishop, known for his work in support of that country's indigenous people and the environment, is one of the recipients of this year's Right Livelihood Awards. Often referred to as the "Alternative Nobel Prize", the Right Livelihood Award honors and supports those offering practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today.

Erwin Kräutler, a Catholic Bishop motivated by liberation theology, is one of Brazil's most important defenders of and advocates for the rights of indigenous peoples. Already in the 1980s, he helped secure the inclusion of indigenous peoples' rights into the Brazilian constitution. He also plays an important role in opposing one of South America's largest and most controversial energy projects: the Belo Monte dam.

Kräutler was born in Austria on July 12th, 1939, became a priest in 1965 and shortly after went to Brazil as a missionary. In 1978, he became a Brazilian citizen (though also keeping his Austrian citizenship). He worked among the people of the Xingu-Valley, who include indigenous peoples of different ethnic groups. In 1980, Kräutler was appointed Bishop of Xingu, the largest diocese in Brazil. From 1983-1991, and since 2006 he is the President of the Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) of the Catholic Church in Brazil.

Kräutler is motivated in his work by the teachings of liberation theology. He teaches that a Christian has to take the side of the powerless and to oppose their exploiters.

Working for indigenous peoples' rights

For five centuries, the population of Brazil's indigenous peoples has constantly decreased - and the downward trend still continues. Today the causes are well-known and documented, including direct (yet rarely investigated) violence in connection with the appropriation of indigenous land; land grabs for energy, settlement, mining, industry, farming, cattle, and agribusiness projects; and military projects for national security that aim to open up areas.

During Kräutler's presidency, CIMI has become one of the most important defenders of indigenous rights, with a focus on land rights, self-organisation and health care in Indian territories. In 1988, CIMI's intensive lobbying helped secure the inclusion of indigenous people's rights in the Brazilian Constitution. The Council has also raised awareness within the Church about indigenous people's issues and rights.

Since 1992 and besides CIMI's advocacy work, Kräutler has continued working tirelessly for the Xingu on the ground. The projects he has initiated include building houses for poor people, running schools, building a facility for mothers, pregnant women and children, founding a 'refugio' for recuperation after hospital treatment, emergency aid, legal support, and work on farmers' rights and land demarcation.

Opposing the Belo Monte dam

For 30 years, Kräutler has been very active in the struggle against the plans for the huge Belo Monte dam on the Xingu River, nowadays heavily promoted by President Lula, which would be the third largest dam in the world. The dam would destroy 1000 square km of forest, flood a third of the capital city, Altamira, and create a lake of stagnant, mosquito-infested water of about 500 square km, which would make life in the rest of the city very difficult. 30,000 people would have to be relocated.


Kräutler's commitment and outspokenness have put him at constant personal risk. In October 1987, some months before the decision to grant full civil rights to indigenous peoples was taken in the constituent assembly, he was seriously injured in a, suspected planned, car crash. Since 2006, Kräutler has been under round-the-clock police protection, partly because he insisted on a full investigation following the murder of the environmental activist Sister Dorothy Stang in 2005 who, since 1982, had worked closely with him. More recently he has received death threats because of his opposition to the Belo Monte dam and because he took legal action against a criminal group involved in sexual abuse of minors.

Awards & books

In 1989, Kräutler received the Grosser Binding-Preis für Natur und Umweltschutz (Principality of Liechtenstein) and in 2009 an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Salzburg, Austria. The citation called Kräutler "the personification of outrage against societal conditions that violate human dignity for all those who consider that human dignity and the preservation of Creation are more than just void words without meaning, and he embodies for us the hope that another world indeed is possible".

Kräutler has written a number of books, most recently Rot wie Blut die Blumen - Ein Bischof zwischen Leben und Tod (Flowers Red as Blood: a Bishop Between Life and Death), published in German in 2009.

Bishop Kräutler reacted with joy to the award but added: "I am not happy for myself, but because of the Amazon region and the indigenous people who deserve this recognition."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What we're reading...

1. The Wind Doesn’t Need a Passport: Stories from the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands

Tyche Hendricks, a journalist based in San Francisco, California, has traveled the entire length of la frontera and talked to a representative sample of people from both sides of the border, from doctors and nuns to ranchers, Minutemen, and border patrol agents. She demonstrates how the U.S.-Mexican border is not the solid barrier Americans conceive it to be, but a fluid, amorphous space that is crossed daily in both directions with no more consideration than someone might commute from Baltimore to Washington. She documents the amount of trade that goes on across the border and even shows collaboration between medical institutions and emergency services. She shows how many people live in one country and travel daily to the other for work or school, to shop or go to a concert or sporting event. And the traffic is both ways. After you read this book, you may very well reach the author's conclusion that shutting this flow of people off tightly is not only unfeasible but economically and socially counterproductive. (University of California Press, June 2010)

NOTE: Hendricks is on a book tour right now. She will be in Washington, DC the next two days.

2. Radical Disciple: Father Pfleger, St. Sabina Church, and the Fight for Social Justice

Robert McClory, a retired journalism professor at Northwestern University (Medill) and former Roman Catholic priest, set out to balance the record following the firestorm of criticism generated by Fr. Michael Pfleger's mockery of Hillary Clinton in a 2008 sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. McClory seeks to show the world that the pastor of St. Sabina, whom he calls "a veritable sacerdotal Energizer Bunny", is more than just a loose cannon.

McClory, who served for a while at St. Sabina's himself though not with Pfleger, shows how Fr. Pfleger rebuilt St. Sabina's, following the "white flight" that came with integration in the 60s, into the vibrant African American Catholic parish it is today. He highlights the best of Fr. Pfleger's activist campaigns against the alcohol, tobacco and gun businesses that targeted St. Sabina's surrounding community, destroying lives. He also shows how Fr. Pfleger built up a massive social services operation, staffed frequently by parishioners and funded significantly by tithing, a practice Fr. Pfleger encourages successfully among his flock and one that is virtually unknown in most Catholic parishes. This book goes a long way towards answering the question that has been on the minds of many of us who have followed Fr. Pfleger's career over the years: How in the world does this man get away with what he does and not get suspended by his Archbishop? And for those who don't know Fr. Pfleger, it sheds some light on the theology of a liberated and completely inculturated church. (Lawrence Hill Books, October 2010)

NOTE: Fr. Pfleger's homilies at the 11:15 a.m. service -- a longer service in the African American tradition -- are broadcast over the Internet. They may be too long and too loud for Catholics of other traditions but the pastor's level of Scripture teaching is hard to top. His is a hard-hitting message along the lines of Jesus and the prophets.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Theology in Toledo

Those of you who are blessed to live in Toledo, Ohio, should take advantage of the lecture series on Biblical Spirituality that begins tomorrow night at the Corpus Christi University Parish, 2955 Dorr St., Toledo. Each lecture begins at 5:30 p.m. and ends by 6:30 p.m., followed by questions and comments until 7 p.m. The ticket cost is $30 for the series of six lectures payable in advance or $10 per lecture if bought individually at the door. The Toledo Blade has just given the series a good plug.

Here are the speakers:

Tuesday, September 28
Biblical Scholarship a Valuable Resource for Spiritual Development
James Bacik, Pastor, Corpus Christi University Parish

Tuesday, October 5
Subject not specified
Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, OP, University of Notre Dame

Tuesday, October 12
Reading Exile Then and Now: Ancient Israelites, Babylon, and Our Exile
Dr. Daniel Smith-Christopher, Professor of Theological Studies and Director of Peace Studies, Loyola Marymount University

Tuesday, October 19
The Word in the World: Discipleship in the 21st Century
Sr. Sandra Schneiders, IHM, Jesuit School of Theology

Tuesday, October 26
Who Among You Will Be a Friend and Prophet of God?
Sr. Carol Dempsey, OP, Professor of Biblical Studies, University of Portland

Tuesday, November 2
Biblical Spirituality and the Search for Wisdom
Richard R. Gaillardetz, Murray/Bacik Professor of Catholic Studies, University of Toledo

The poverty of Brazilian 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)

The electoral campaign time provides an opportunity for critical reflection on the type of democracy that prevails among us. The proof of democracy is that over a hundred million citizens have to go to the polls to elect their candidates. But that still doesn't say anything about the quality of our democracy. It is shockingly poor or, in softer language, a "low intensity democracy" in the expression of the Portuguese sociologist Boaventura de Souza Santos. Why is it poor? I take the words of Pedro Demo, from Brasilia, a brilliant mind who, because of his vast work, deserves to be further heard. In his Introdução à sociologia ("Introduction to Sociology" --2002) he says emphatically: "Our democracy is a national staging of refined hypocrisy, replete with 'beautiful' laws, but ones that are ultimately always made by the ruling elite to serve itself from beginning to end. Politicians are people who are known for earning a lot, working little, making deals, hiring relatives and cronies, getting rich at the expense of public coffers and going above the market ... If we were to link democracy with social justice, our democracy would negate itself." (p.330,333).

This description is not a caricature, with few exceptions. This is what is found every day and can be seen on TV and read in the newspapers: scandals of depredation of public goods with numbers in the millions and millions. Impunity goes on because crime is a thing of the poor; the criminal assault on public resources is skill and the 'privilege' of those who got there, to the source of power. One understands why, in a capitalist context such as ours, democracy serves those who live in opulence or have the ability to exert pressure first, and only then thinks of the people, who are served by poor policies. The corrupt eventually also corrupt many of the people. Capistrano de Abreu observed correctly in a letter in 1924: "No government method can avail, in the case of people so viscerally corrupt as ours."

In our democracy, the people do not feel represented by those elected; after a few months they don't even remember for whom they voted. So they are not used to accompanying them or demanding anything from them. In addition to material poverty, they are doomed to political poverty, maintained by the elite. Political poverty means that the poor do not know the reasons for their poverty, and believe that the problems of the poor can be solved without the poor, just through state handouts or populist clientelism. Through this, the mobilizing potential of organized people who may demand changes -- ones that are feared by the political class -- and call for public policies that address their demands and rights, is aborted.

But let's be fair. After the military dictatorships, democracies of a popular and socialist stamp have emerged throughout Latin America from below and so make policies for the least, raising their level. Capitalist macroeconomics continues, but has to negotiate. The network of social movements, especially the MST, put the State under pressure and under control, signaling that democracy can be improved.

I see two basic points to be gained: first, Boaventura de Souza Santos's proposal to build a "democracy without end" in all fields, especially in the economy, since the dictatorship of rulers is installed in it. This is more than delegational, it is a movement open to participation, as widely as possible.

The second is an idea I've championed for years: that democracy can not be anthropocentric, thinking only of humans as if we lived alone up in the clouds, without realizing that we eat, drink, breathe and are immersed in nature on which we depend. We must join the two contracts, the social and the natural one; include nature, water, forests, soil, animals as new citizens that have a right to exist with us, especially the rights of Mother Earth. It is then sociocosmic democracy, in which humans coexist with other beings, including and not hurting them. The PT of Acre showed us that it is possible to articulate citizenship and florestanía ["jungleship"], i.e. the jungle respected and included in the well-being of the peoples of the jungle.

Utopia? Yes, in its best sense, showing the direction towards which we should walk from here on out, given the changes the have occured in the planet and in the inevitable encounter of peoples.