Saturday, October 9, 2010

"Solidarity Village": an interview with Fr. Jaime Álvarez Benjumea

By Isabel Sánchez Benito (English translation by Rebel Girl)

When asked where he is from, he always answers: "I'm Colombian, I have been living thirty years in Ecuador and I have roots in Extremadura," as if it would be hard for him to give up any part of his identity. Jaime Álvarez Benjumea, "Father Jaime" as everyone calls him, came to Penipe (Ecuador) at 26. Now, at 56, he looks at the place where he landed as a youth and that now is nothing like it was then. The town of Penipe, which used to be sick, poor and punished by the Tungurahua volcano, has become, thanks to the efforts of Father Jaime to restore dignity to its people, a model of human development. Dubbed "Solidarity Village", Penipe serves today as an example for other communities and neighboring countries.

All these achievements have been recognized with awards and accolades that have been draped on the figure of Father Jaime, like the 2005 Reina Sofia Award for Rehabilitation and Integration, the Grand Knight Order of Merit conferred by Ecuador, and the title of Commander of the National Order of Merit with which the Colombian government recognized him. "Sometimes I feel like a retired general," he jokes. "Have you noticed how they keep placing medals on generals, when they are old and have been sent back home?" He laughs a little, but then turns serious to clarify: "The truth is that they are awards that I value, I value them a lot."

You came to Penipe…

On May 4, 1980.

You remember the date.

(Laughs) Yes, very well. Truthfully, I already knew Penipe. I had been there six years earlier, but that is the day I came to stay.

As pastor.

Yes. I was the fourth priest they had proposed for Penipe parish.

Why the fourth one?

The others said no.


Well, the truth is that the outlook was rather bleak: nearly half of the population sick with goiter, whole families of disabled people and a high migration of the healthy population... It was something to think about.

But you didn't think about it.

If they had told to me, up front, "Pastor of Penipe for thirty years?", I would have said, "No thanks." But I had the opportunity to experience it as a process, discovering it, moving forward and achieving small successes gradually.

How did you do it?

See, judge, and act: those were the first three steps. Then came evaluation and celebration. Evaluation in order to improve, and celebration in order to have the pleasure of showing what we had achieved.

Tell me about it.

When I came to Penipe, I met an anthropology team from Catholic University. I decided to live with them. And together, we directed all of our efforts towards social research about the village. But in a simple way, without technical complexities, no curves, graphs, or such stuff. We observed the people, their customs, their routine, their life...And then we analyzed all that information to try to discover what the problem of the area was.

And what was it?


Which is...

An increase in the size of the thyroid gland. One of the visible consequences of this disease is disability. Physical and mental. Doctors call it "cretinism", but I don't like that word at all, I find it very harsh, almost insulting.

What is the role of the disabled person in this population of disabled people?

Well, interestingly, the mentally disabled person, who was fit to work, was considered a blessing from God. He fetched the water, tended the animals, worked in agriculture ... wihout wriggling out of obligations. And the woman with mental disabilities, because of the painful habit of rape, regenerated the family.


Once we filed a complaint for 72 women who had been raped, with 174 children born as fruit of that violence. 174!

And what happened with that complaint?

We were able to get 20 men imprisoned. The problem was that at that time DNA tests or the other advances of today didn't exist, so that, without proof, all of them were found not guilty. It was a really difficult moment, very tense...

I imagine so. But is all this the job of a pastor?

It's not like there was any line to follow, nobody told you "you have to do this and that", but I came from the cradle of liberation theology, I couldn't be indifferent to certain issues.

You talked about visible consequences. What about invisible ones?

There is a terrible one: apathy...I think that the apathetic ones have suffered most. It is difficult for them to relate to others and they don't like being moved out of their routine...

So this was the scene you found when you arrived.

It was. Forty-five percent of the people with goiter due to iodine deficiency in nutrition.

And what did you do?

Well, the damage that was done, was done. Now what we had to do was make sure that no more children would be born with goiter. Prevention. So we started to organize marches and campaigns, very simple, using funny slogans such as "el bocio malvado muere yodado" ("the evil goiter dies iodized"). The kids loved it. And the grownups too! (Laughs). We published brochures, calendars ... Anyway, we started to fight against that.

Did it work?

The problem was that rock salt, not iodized salt, was still being sold in the market. We needed to bring in good, hygienic and iodized salt. And we got it through an agreement we signed with companies from the coast, that brought us salt in industrial quantities. Then came getting the families used to using the new salt.

How did you do that?

Since the people there are very religious, we started to give out sacks of salt after Mass. So, the families were accumulating bags and bags of iodized salt in their homes, so why go to the market to buy more? The next step was getting the people to pay for that salt. So we worked with the authorities, the non-iodized salt being sold in the markets was seized and health controls were imposed.

What happened with the people who were already sick?

That's why CEBYCAM, the Centre for Eradication of Goiter and Training for the Disabled, was created. Then we had to rename the center, when we had eliminated goiter and the word "disability" stopped being useful to us. It was a center we created together. The Church provided the land, the state got funding for us, and the people worked on constructing it. That was crucial! The community involvement had very important added value: the feeling of "I worked here, I made this, this is my center."

Was it a medical center?

Yes, a rehabilitation center. We also had to create a group of health promoters. That was the first objective, before prevention, to provide a service to the community through the work of the community itself.

So you were creating jobs as well, weren't you?

And not only in the health center, because we gradually introduced other productive activities (a shoe factory, a printing plant, a steel mill...). All of this was important. You can spend your whole life in a center doing therapy, moving the arm up and down, but if you don't end up being an independent person, with work or some sort of productive activity, the rehabilitation is useless. Rehabilitation ends in a job.

And training?

That was also part of the process. We gave classes in baking, mechanics, administration, agriculture...Training is fundamental for all this to be sustainable. We cannot just do welfare things. Besides, I don't go along with that. When the volcano erupted, for example, the government gave houses. We train people. A house doesn't solve the problem, but it seems more satisfactory to say "I built these houses" rather than "I trained these people so that they could adapt their agriculture to the conditions of the area." The houses are visible; the other isn't.

Tell me about the volcano.

Imagine that it's raining. But instead of water falling, earth falls. The eruption of the volcano was a problem. The village was buried in ash. Luckily, we had learned to convert problems into opportunities. Every problem must be seen as, and converted into this: a new opportunity to grow. A volcano! We never had any experience with volcanoes, however now people from other villages and other countries come to us to ask for help and advice on eruptions.

What kind of advice?

I always say the same thing to them: "Rush to end the shelters." A shelter can't become habitual, it must be temporary. Instead, build centers of village recovery, which is what gives people dignity. It's about generating small initiatives where people can cope by themselves, without having to always depend on humanitarian aid. But I speak from what I know, which are volcanoes. Floods would be something else, earthquakes would be something else ... I speak from this field, in which we have become ...

Somewhat expert.

Well, I wouldn't say just "somewhat". I have to brag; I know the topic. I prepared, studied it, participated...and I lived it.

After all you had done, what did you do with a village buried in ash?"

We started with the issue of health. Since we already had a base, thanks to the promoters of the center, what we did was to seek an endorsement by the Ministry to send them to the university to be trained in medicine. We are talking about people at the primary level, peasants. We also wanted to get into the area of economic development, and we did it with microcredit. With little money, about $300 per household, people have been making their own little capital gain. They buy two or three pigs, chickens ... But the big dream is that one day they will say to me "we don't need more." Although I know it will take time, that it's a long process and it takes time.

They call Penipe "solidarity village".

It is! When we had been working there for some time, physically and mentally disabled people from other communities started to come, seniors who were not ours either ... We started to realize that this was more universal than we had thought. Penipe has become a model village because its development proposal has been different. It's been integral.

You talked earlier about CEBYCAM's name change.

It was renamed CEBYCAM-CES. We stayed with CEBYCAM because it was already known by that name. But its acronym now stands for "Center for Human Development, Culture, and Solidarity Economics." I like to highlight "culture". Solidarity economics takes place in specific cultures, and culture has its concrete expressions of solidarity. Don't come to me with the argument that there are prefabricated economic rules that must be imposed on the cultures.

Prefabricated rules...of the system?

Yes, the system is aimed at the reduction of the individual. It makes us pro-consumerist: you have to buy this apartment, that cellphone, this computer, that car ... And next year, the same thing: change the cellphone, the apartment, the computer ... It's like being trapped in a spider web. But people are already exhausted. Where is my freedom? Where is my life? We have been leaving values behind to stay locked in consumption. We must learn to free ourselves from this society ... filth. This filth. [Translator's note: In this final sentence, Fr. Jaime is playing on the words "sociedad" (society) and "suciedad" (filth)]

Photos: Fr. Jaime with a campesina in his community (top) and receiving the Reina Sofia award from the queen herself (bottom).

Fr. Jose Eugenio Hoyos Launches New Book

Last night we were at St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington for the launching of Fr. Hoyos' latest book, Bendecidos, Sanados, y en Victoria ("Blessed, Healed, and Victorious" -- Libreria Minuto de Dios, 2010).

It was a joyful occasion as several hundred people turned out in support of our spiritual director. A slightly reduced also performed, one female vocalist being on travel and another out of commission with bronchitis. However, there was plenty of food and Fr. Hoyos signed...and signed...and signed copies of his book, until everyone left happy.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Matter doesn't exist. Everything is energy.

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 title of this article is a no-brainer for those with some understanding of Einstein's theory of relativity, which states that matter and energy are equivalent. The highly condensed matter is energy that can be released, as the atomic bomb unfortunately showed us. The path of science has more or less followed this course: from matter it came to the atom, from the atom to subatomic particles, from subatomic particles to energy 'wave packets', from wave packets to vibrating superstrings in eleven dimensions or more, represented as music and color. Thus an electron vibrates more or less half a billion times per second. The vibration produces sound and color. The universe would be a symphony of sounds and colors then. From the superstrings, it finally arrived at background energy, at the quantum vacuum.

In this context, I always remember a phrase spoken by W. Heisenberg, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, during a semester course he gave at the University of Munich in 1968 in which I participated, and which still rings in my ears: "The universe is not made of things but of vibrational energy networks, emerging from something even more profound and subtle." Therefore, matter lost its central focus in favor of the energy that is organized into fields and networks.

What is this "something deeper and more subtle" from which everything emerges? Quantum physicists and astrophysicists call it "background energy" or "quantum vacuum", an inappropriate phrase because it says the opposite of what the word "vacuum" means. The quantum vacuum is the fullness of all possible energy and its possible densification in beings. Hence today the terms "pregnant void" or "original source of all being" are preferred. It is not something that can be represented in the conventional categories of space-time, it is something prior to all that exists, before space-time and the four basic energies -- gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear.

Some astrophysicists imagine it as a kind of vast ocean, borderless, boundless, ineffable, indescribable, mysterious, in which, like in an infinite womb, all the possibilities and potentialities of being are hosted. From there emerged, without our being able to know how or why, that extremely energetic, unimaginably hot little point which then exploded (big bang) giving birth to our universe. Nothing prevents other points from having burst forth from that background energy, giving birth to other entities and other parallel universes or ones in a different dimension.

With the emergence of the universe, space-time simultaneously irrupted. Time is the movement of the fluctuation of energy and the expansion of matter. Space is not the static vacuum in within which everything happens, but that continually open process that allows energy networks and beings to manifest themselves. The stability of matter implies the presence of a powerful underlying energy that remains in that state. In fact, we perceive matter as something solid because the energy vibrations are so fast that we fail to perceive them with the bodily senses. But this is why quantum physics helps us, precisely because it deals with particles and energy networks, which open up this different view of reality to us. Energy exists and is in everything. Without energy, nothing could survive. As sentient and spiritual beings, we are a very complex creation, subtle and extremely energy interactive.

What is this background energy that manifests itself in so many ways? There is no scientific theory that defines it. We also need energy to define energy. There is no escape from that redundancy, observed already by Max Planck.

This energy is perhaps the best metaphor for the meaning of God, whose names can vary, but always point to the same underlying energy. And the Tao Te Ching (§ 4) said the same of the Tao: "The Tao is empty, impossible to fill, and therefore, inexhaustible in its action. In its depth lies the origin of all things and it unifies the world."

The uniqueness of the human being is being able to come into conscious contact with this energy. He or she can invoke it, accept it and perceive it as life, irradiation and enthusiasm.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What can $100,000,000 do?

"It can feed 2,325,581 people with a cheese sandwich.
It could house 185 people for a year in a one bedroom apartment.
It could buy 800,000 bus passes.
It could heat the Basilica of St. Mary for 8 years.
It could change peoples lives.
But 1 anonymous donor decided to donate $1,000,000 to send 400,000 DVD's across Minnesota to deny the right of gay marriage.
Do you think this is right?"

This flier was put together by a 13-year old named Annika who understands what her church leadership does not.

Meanwhile, Lucinda Naylor, who has been artist-in-residence at Minneapolis' Basilica of St. Mary, was suspended from her position after she began a DVD to Art project and Facebook page opposing the anti-gay marriage DVD that was prepared by the Knights of Columbus and mailed to 400,000 Catholic homes, using $1 million given by an anonymous donor. More DVDs are being collected through where Catholics, protesting everything from the DVD's exclusive message to its cost at the expense of more urgent needs, are returning their Church's propaganda "gift".

One courageous priest, Fr. Michael Tegeder, pastor of the Church of St. Edward in Bloomington, MN, published the following letter about the DVD in the Minneapolis Star Tribune (10/2/2010):

"I have watched the DVD sent out by the Minnesota Catholic bishops in favor of a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

The premise of the DVD is that same-sex couples and their committed relationships are a grave threat to marriage. To be clear, these bishops hold that sacramental Catholic marriage is in essence different from what is considered marriage by society. Nevertheless, the bishops claim they have a concern for marriage in the overall society.

What are the real threats to marriage? The Sept. 29 story “Economy is Hitting Hearts and Wallets,” about the effects of our current economy on marriage, said that “being broke and unemployed is not conducive to matrimony, young Americans are finding. In 2009, the number of young adults (25-34) who have never tied the knot surpassed those who had married for the first time since data collection began more than a century ago.”

In every serious study, poverty is the top reason for marital breakdowns. It is very hard to make the case that a small percentage of the population who bond with members of their own sex and seek to live in a committed relationship could have anything but a positive effect on the general population’s appreciation of stable, faithful, life-giving unions.

The very thoughtful letters to the editor about this subject reflect the fact that Catholics have very diverse opinions about this issue. The bishops themselves are not united on how to approach this new reality of gays and lesbians claiming a right to have their own families publicly recognized with corresponding rights and responsibilities.

Since arriving in Minnesota as a bishop in 2001, Nienstedt has had the constitutional amendment as a priority. In 2006, he promoted postcards, which as archbishop he has upgraded to DVDs. I do not believe any of our other bishops would have been on such a crusade. “Minnesota nice,” if not prudence, would have prevailed. Ask them privately.

Just recently the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, the main author of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and friend of the pope, publicly stated that the church needs to look differently at committed same-sex relationships. His fellow Austrian bishops concurred. These are thinking, serious church leaders. They listen.

The constitutional amendment being promoted by the archbishop does not allow even for civil unions, and it would limit current rights enjoyed by our gay and lesbian citizens. We as Catholics can have our own beliefs about marriage. But we must recognize that people of other faiths and of no faith have conscientious beliefs as well.

Most scandalous is that Archbishop Nienstedt has compromised his office with the use of anonymous money to fund this effort. The constitutional amendment is a very political issue. The impression is given that political funding is at work here."

This issue is hot and getting hotter by the day. Stay tuned...

Gay Students Denied Communion by Minneapolis Archbishop

Here we have a case of members of an accredited GLBT student association, People Representing the Sexual Minority (PRISM), at a Benedictine higher education institution, College of St. Benedict/St. John University, being denied Communion. This is why we argue that the institutional Roman Catholic Church has departed from the teachings and example of Jesus Christ who never denied communion to anyone and even broke bread with the one who would betray Him. Jesus never used His Body and Blood as a political weapon. The Archbishop of Minneapolis-St. Paul would do well to reflect on the original institution of the Eucharist -- RG.

By Kira Garrett
The Record

“All are welcome,” church-goers sang during the opening hymn at the student mass Sunday. The St. John’s Abbey welcomed Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis to lead the mass. Nienstedt in turn excluded some GLBT supporters by refusing to grant them Eucharist.

PRiSM members and GLBT supporters arranged to wear rainbow buttons to the mass in a peaceful sit-in after senior PRiSM Educational Liaison Ana Seivert sent an e-mail rallying PRiSM members. During mass, the group of students approached Nienstedt for communion. Some reached their hands out to receive the body of Christ and were sent back to their seats without the holy sacrament. Nienstedt’s visit came directly after the Catholic Church produced a DVD that reinforces the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Nienstedt fully supports the DVD which will be distributed to Catholics throughout the state.

“Our goal was to show that our (GLBT) community respects the Benedictine values,” Seivert said. “We did this because we needed to address the DVDs and make a statement and we wanted to do that by participating in mass.”

Fellow PRiSM member and junior Elizabeth Gleich stressed the importance of community for GLBT supporters.

“We wanted to gather together as a community of supporters and participate in mass with the rest of our student body,” Gleich said. “Our only intention was to stand in solidarity.”

The assembly met briefly before mass to determine where it would sit. Dir. Of Life Safety Shawn Vierzba approached the group during this initial gathering.

“Shawn came up to us and pretty much just told us not to make a disturbance,” Gleich said.

Life Safety officers do not generally patrol mass but several officers were present Sunday. Vierzba said the officers were there as heightened security only because the Archbishop was visiting, not because they heard word of a protest.

“We had a VIP on campus with the Archbishop, so we were there,” Vierzba said. “We’ve been present during other masses. It’s not a new thing.”

Those involved in the sit-in were disheartened and embarrassed by Nienstedt’s refusal to offer them Communion.

“He took one look at that pin and it felt like he was saying, ‘you are not worthy of receiving Jesus,” Gleich said. In contrast to the welcoming community of the CSB/SJU monastics, Nienstedt’s public rejection of GLBT supporters especially shocked students.

“We have found great support within our community but Nienstedt’s actions go against that,” Gleich said. “A lot of students here may be uncomfortable on the issue of homosexuality, but when they see a classmate, a roommate, a friend standing up for it and getting denied, that sends a shock.”

PRiSM members organized several GLBT-friendly events for Coming Out Week which took place Sept. 20-24, including a Safe Space Training presentation.

“We were just coming off of Coming Out Week where we felt so supported by our community,” Seivert said. “Nienstedt came in and denied us of our community.”

For Seivert and others denied Communion, the mass was a glimpse into the life of a sexual minority. It showed them what discrimination feels like.

“Allies were denied too and it was really a glimpse into feeling that judgment,” Seivert said.

While this is the first time students have been denied Communion in the St. John’s Abbey, the action was not new for Nienstedt. He issued an official warning to a large group of GLBT supporters who planned to wear rainbow sashes to mass at the Cathedral in St. Paul.

“Anyone wearing a ‘rainbow sash’ will not be permitted to receive Holy Communion, since their dissent is a sign that they have publicly broken communion with the Church’s teaching,” Nienstedt said in a letter to a GLBT supporter. “I also ask that those not wearing the sashes refrain from sharing the Holy Eucharist with those who do. Such an action is unbecoming the dignity of the sacrament.”

“In comparison to the Benedictines and the CSB/SJU community, Nienstedt and Archbishops in general are conservative,” Fr. Rene McGraw said.

Church law in the past has said the only reason one can deny communion is if that person is a public sinner but Nienstedt has expanded that ruling to include actions that go against Catholic teachings.

“I think it’s a very bad idea,” McGraw said. “We wouldn’t deny someone communion who was wearing an ‘I am heterosexual’ sticker, so why would we for gay supporters?”

Those that participated in the sit-in agreed, and felt the mass made obvious the differences between the CSB/SJU community and the attitude of Nienstedt.

“I offered a mass following the student mass to those students who weren’t allowed to receive the Eucharist,” McGraw said. “It’s the church that’s causing the problems here, not the students or their opinions.”

Gleich agreed and thinks Nienstedt and those with similar conservative views are driving Christians away from Catholicism.

Others, though, felt the sit-in was inappropriate as Nienstedt is a prominent figure in the Catholic community and should be respected for his teaching of the Catholic beliefs.

“I’m all for standing up for what you believe in, but whether or not using the Eucharist as a tool in that is another thing,” McGraw said.

Nienstedt has returned to his parish in the metro-area and has not issued a statement to students at CSB/SJU. Students angered by his actions during mass now hope to continue dialogue about what happened.

“If there’s anything we can learn from this, it’s that we are now talking about GLBT and PRiSM and homosexuality and we’re going to continue talking about it,” Seivert said.

PRiSM hopes to set up a booth in Gorecki in the coming weeks to help explain Nienstedt’s DVD and discuss the mass with any students who wish to do so.

Photo: Elizabeth Gleich and Ana Seivert

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Fr. Jose Eugenio Hoyos to present new book on healing

This Friday, October 8th, our friend Fr. José Eugenio Hoyos will be presenting and signing copies of his new book, Bendecidos, Sanados y en Victoria. Fr. Hoyos, director of the Apostolado Hispano in the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia and spiritual director of the diocese's Spanish speaking Charismatic Renewal, has compiled testimonies gathered over his more than 25 years of experience in healing ministry.

The book has been published and distributed in Latin America by the Colombian Catholic press, Un Minuto De Dios. In the United States, it has been printed privately. Fr. Hoyos has already done signings in connection with retreats in New York, California and Puerto Rico last month. In all cases, the book sold out.

Now he is bringing it home. The presentation will take place at 7 p.m. in Burke Hall, St. Thomas More Cathedral, 3901 Cathedral Lane, Arlington, VA. All are welcome.

José Antonio Pagola: "Jesus is a very dangerous challenge for the Church today"

Priest and author of Jesus: An Historical Approximation. Forty thousand copies of the most recent Spanish edition of his book were sold in two months before the Spanish Bishops Conference took action on the matter and the work was withdrawn from church and diocesan bookstores by the Catholic publishing house that issued it. In his view, the Church is far from following the message of its founder.

by Matías Valléslvalencia (English translation by Rebel Girl)
October 4, 2010

Do you consider yourself a victim, because of the reactions against you caused by Jesus: An Historical Approximation?

No. In my book on Jesus, I present Him as "controversial and dangerous." Now I have seen for myself that He was and always will be. When you know His fiery words, His freedom to defend the people, His plan for a society of service to the least and His criticism of a religion devoid of compassion. Jesus generates mixed reactions of attraction and rejection. I think that, in large part, my book has caused concern when it is grasped that Jesus can be a dangerous challenge for the current Church, as we ordinarily understand it, experience it and organize it today.

Was Jesus Christ more man than God?

Probably nobody has had as much power over hearts as Jesus, no one like Him has expressed the concerns and questions of human beings, no one has raised as many hopes. Even today, when ideologies and religions are experiencing a deep crisis, Jesus continues to nourish the faith of millions of men and women. Why? Where does the secret of this power of attraction lie? We Christians believe that Jesus is so fully human that He isn't like us. Leonardo Boff said that "only God can be so human." We believe that through this man, His words, His actions and His whole life we find God as we cannot anywhere else. For me, Jesus is God speaking to us, accompanying us and saving us through this dear man.

Will you read Stephen Hawking's book, to refute the scientist's opinion about God?

No. I've always been interested in Hawking's work on astronomy, but not his assumptions about God. What Hawking said is nothing new. Among experts in the dialogue between faith and science, the general position is that no religion can prove the existence of God, nor can science prove His nonexistence. In the face of the ultimate mystery of reality, only a positive or negative act of faith is possible. Believers believe that God exists but they can't prove it, atheists believe He doesn't but they can't prove it either.

It sometimes seems that modern man has decided that what human beings can't prove scientifically, does not exist. However, this conclusion can't be proven scientifically.

Is God necessary?

God is not necessary to make money, gain power or achieve wellbeing. Nor to dispense us from evil, suffering, or the misfortunes of life. God helps us believers to face the harshness of life and the mystery of death with a light, a stimulus and a new horizon. The God revealed in Jesus helps me to live, love and work for a more humane life, to treat a human being like Jesus, to defend my freedom and not end up a slave to any idol, to continue to seek the ultimate truth of life, to not lose hope in the human race, to not live half-heartedly, to never feel alone or misunderstood, to feel forgiven and renewed inside, to be patient with myself.

Are these times too dark to properly discuss an "historical approach" to the life of Jesus?

It's not possible to write a biography of Jesus in the modern sense of the word. However, research carried out in modern times — in Papyrology, textual criticism, literary analysis, excavations and archaeological findings, application of social science, cultural anthropology -- enable us to approximate the profile of His person, the basic features of His actions, the powerful lines and the substance of His message, the attraction aroused in His followers and the hostility He generated among religious leaders. Excluding Paul of Tarsus and Josephus, Jesus is the best known Jewish figure of his time.

Would you like to have an open discussion with Benedict XVI about the contents of your book?

I would like for Rome to listen to the various theological movements that exist today within the Church, not only in Europe, but above all, I would be happy if the hierarchy would dare to lead a movement of conversion to Jesus Christ and His project of the Kingdom of God. Nothing is more urgent than this in the Church today.

Did Jesus Christ ended up in a mass grave, like the disappeared from the Spanish Civil War?

No. Historically, it is very unlikely. This hypothesis by the American John Dominic Crossan is not accepted at all among specialists.

Would Jesus expel the merchants from the Vatican?

You don't have to wait for Jesus to return. From the millions of hungry and malnourished of the earth, from the poor forgotten by the churches, from women humiliated among all peoples, Jesus is crying out right now to the leaders of the Vatican and to all of us who call ourselves Christians to expel from the Church wealth, power, grandeur and interests that conceal His message of hope. Those barriers prevent us from working for a world where the last begin to be the first to get our attention.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Venezuelan theologian Pedro Trigo S.J. receives honorary doctorate

In a public meeting of the university senate, the Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla (IBERO Puebla) gave an honorary doctorate in Latin American Christology to Dr. Pedro Trigo S.J. in recognition of his continuing strong commitment to promoting respect for human beings, especially those who are disadvantaged in our society.

Dr. Trigo is one of the most recognized theologians in Latin America today. A Jesuit originally from Spain, he became a Venezuelan citizen and is presently a professor at the School of Theology at Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas. He is a research member of Centro Gumilla and chair of Jesuit socio–political studies in Venezuela. He has written numerous books and articles on theology, philosophy and Spanish literature for international journals and is a frequent participant in conferences and seminars throughout the world on liberation theology.

The awarding of the honorary doctorate took place in the Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. Auditorium Gymnasium of IBERO Puebla, in the presence of the university senate members, officials, students and scholars from the university. Monsignor Víctor Sánchez Espinosa, Archbishop of Puebla, also attended.

To intitiate the ceremony, Dr. Maria Eugenia Sanchez Diaz de Rivera, sponsor of the candidate, recalled that Pedro Trigo is one of the most recognized Latin American theologians currently and that the honorary doctorate was being given to him for his ability to communicate "complex aspects of reality and to express the unconditional love of the 'maternal Father', as he calls God, in the drama of this ever more absurd and uncertain world. Pedro Trigo has shown an emotional ability, integrity and sensitivity at the same time, worthy of our times. This is manifested in his daily life in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas."

"The Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla, which in the midst of many difficulties and contradictions eagerly seeks to be a place that develops in students the analytical skills and the desire to join fraternally in an effective way with those who have been historically humiliated, that tries to help society "think about itself," as Ellacuría used to say, and that wants many people inside and outside to discover the deeper dimensions of the human, is honored to deliver to Pedro Trigo an honorary doctorate," said Dr. Sanchez Diaz de Rivera.

Later, Master Juan Luis Hernández Avendaño read the message of Master Dávalos Fernández, president of the University Senate. "Pedro does not require our homage, he is a wise and simple man who, if he has accepted this honorary degree, has done so on behalf and in support of the causes of the poor and suffering in Latin America, to whom he has dedicated his life and thought; it is the building up of himself as a fair and generous human being that exalts and praises him, not our distinction. It is the contribution that he has made as a Christian to the cause of the human race that makes him shine, not our recognition." Elsewhere in the rector's message one reads: "At the Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla, with this tribute, we wish to state that indigenous peoples, women, migrants, children, all the excluded and the hopes that they carry are at the heart of the efforts of our university. With this distinction we want to remind the people of Mexico and our region that the full satisfaction of the needs of the poor is a subject still pending and it seems now forgotten. We intend to raise our voice to denounce that the suffering of millions of men and women is crying out to heaven for full justice and freedom."

Subsequently, on behalf of the President of the IBERO Puebla, Master Juan Luis Hernández Avendaño awarded an honorary doctorate in Latin American Christology to Dr. Pedro Trigo and administered the pledge of fidelity to the new Doctor, who pledged to continue sponsoring the dialogue between faith and justice, particularly in Latin America.

In turn, Dr. Pedro Trigo accepted and thanked the university for the honor: "I accept this title which you have so generously granted me, confused because I'm aware that my contributions have been modest, grateful because you are giving it to me, the community of the Universidad Iberoamericana Puebla, that since the first time you invited me, welcomed me with such warmth, closeness and understanding as only you can do. Grateful because I think of you as an earnest, skilled, dynamic community, able to work together, aware of your responsibilities to the country and in solidarity with the least. I accept it, above all, happily because it is a tribute to Latin American Theology. Latin American theology today is not fashionable. Today the elites tend to look to the first world and in its case to the north. Today this theology is seen as unwelcome interference and so they eagerly seek to turn the page that has caused such a stir," he said.

"Only from below can the good of all be achieved, only when poor people do well will everyone do well, now more than ever we are aware that the good of the least is not achieved by the overflow to them from the abundance of those above, although it is not easy for those above, who have enough elements to make decisions to their advantage, to accept this," said the new Doctor Honoris Causa.

Finally, he called on universities to give priority to human development over scientific and technical development. "If universities eventually adapt to the requirements of the corporation and become its human material suppliers, they will lose some of their transcendance and will be part of the problem not the solution. Another particular problem is to synchronize Latin American time and world time. Because only then will we be able to enter globalization with our own weight and profile and be able to contribute," he concluded.



A priest's journey: Ex-fighter pilot on mission to bring change to Juárez

What a pleasure to see this article about Fr. Peter Hinde, O.Carm., co-founder with Sr. Betty Campbell, RSM of Tabor House (photo), which moved from Washington, DC to San Antonio, TX and finally to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Fr. Hinde was also a co-founder of CRISPAZ, Cristianos/as por la Paz en El Salvador. A lifetime of solidarity with the poorest of the poor...

By Marty Schladen
El Paso Times
Posted: 10/03/2010

JUAREZ -- You might not agree with James Hinde on everything, but it is hard to doubt his sincerity.

Known now as "Father Peter," Hinde has gone from World War II fighter pilot to a member of Veterans for Peace who comes to El Paso every Friday to protest U.S. military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And as a priest, Hinde lives among and ministers to some of Juárez's poorest residents. And he argues that U.S. policies help keep them poor.

After experiencing the civil-rights movement while living in Washington, D.C., and the beginnings of the movement known as liberation theology while living in Peru, Hinde plans to end his days in Juárez trying to demonstrate what he sees as the effects of trade policy on Mexican workers.

"Christ challenged the authorities of his day, and that's what is going on here," Hinde said in a recent interview.

Even though he's 87, Hinde's end seems a long way off.

One Sunday last month, the slight priest walked a mile up and down steep, unpaved streets in the western outskirts of Juárez, past loose dogs and kids playing soccer outside cinder-block shacks.

Then he donned his vestments and celebrated Mass in a sweltering chapel on a hill. He had to speak loudly because thieves stole the public-address system a month earlier.

After Mass, he hiked another mile to a humble bazaar held by two other chapels. Hinde stopped repeatedly to hug parishioners, many of them maquiladora workers. He bought a hamburger from one of the four booths in the rocky street and kept trying to give away half. And after he ate standing up, he busied himself finding chairs for his guests.
It was a long way from where he started.

Born in 1923 in Elyria, Ohio, Hinde grew up in Chicago. He attended a Catholic High School run by the Order of Carmelites and vaguely thought of becoming a priest. But he pursued a more worldly profession when he started college at the Illinois Institute of Technology.

"I was setting out on an engineering career," Hinde said.

But war broke out, and in 1942 he volunteered for the Army Air Corps.

Hinde is as modest about his service as he is about every other aspect of his life. Based on an island off of Okinawa, Japan, he flew three combat missions, but he says there was little danger.

"They were almost milk runs, as they used to call them."

But one mission took Hinde over the Japanese city of Nagasaki just days after an atomic bomb leveled it.

"We saw where the city was," Hinde said pointedly.

It was not that, or any other searing experience in the war, that led Hinde to the priesthood and pacifism. They came gradually, he said.

After the war, he thought of becoming a priest, but he also wanted to keep flying and to play baseball. After he was ordained in 1952, Hinde taught math and science and then spent three years in an Austrian monastery.

Upon returning to the U.S., Hinde was placed in charge of 60 seminary students in Washington, D.C., between 1960 and 1965 -- the height of the civil-rights struggle. He encouraged students to go into the urban areas and to work with young black activists. Hinde formed a close friendship with activist Stokely Carmichael that lasted until Carmichael's death in 1998.

Hinde says the seminarians and the activists confronted and then helped the all-Anglo Washington police department prepare to implement provisions of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"We learned how racism is structural," Hinde said. "And the system conditions people who go through it."

The experience conditioned Hinde for the Peru he saw in 1966, when he went to work in a new Carmelite community. The Peruvian government was embroiled in a fight with Standard Oil of New Jersey over oil leases that vastly underpaid Peru, Hinde said. The U.S. government was threatening to cut foreign aid if Peru interfered with the leases.

In the midst of the fight, in July 1968, Hinde saw the Rev. Gustavo Gutiérrez of Peru give a speech in which he articulated the idea of liberation theology -- that Christians have a responsibility to see life through the eyes of the poor and ask how social institutions help or hurt them.

Some conservatives called liberation theology a Marxist ideology, and Pope Benedict XVI criticized parts of it before he became pope. But to Hinde, it is a way of life.

"God is speaking to us through Latin Americans struggling for a fair wage," Hinde said.

Since 1995, he has lived among the poorest people in Juárez, celebrating Mass at whichever chapel the archdiocese asks him to. He has no television, and he hasn't had a car since 1978.

Just about all the families he preaches to have at least one member working in the maquiladoras, making $50 to $55 a week, he said.

As he preached recently, in front of a padlocked tabernacle, Hinde likened the economy to a boat in which millionaires upset the balance. The more millionaires, he said, the more poor people are needed to balance the boat. The message seemed to resonate with his audience.

"I've watched as NAFTA has impoverished the great majority of Mexicans," he said later of the trade agreement that has helped foster the maquiladora industry.

Many on both sides of the border would disagree. Outgoing Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz counts retention of the industry as a major achievement in an administration marred by epidemic violence.

But Hinde means what he says and has devoted his life to proving it. And he has no regrets about choosing his humble life.

Doing "otherwise would have spiritually been a disaster to me," he said. "I would have ended up with my head in the same bubble as so many people."