Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lessons from Copiapo

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the recent rescue of the 33 Chilean mineworkers trapped half a mile underground for 69 days. But if we stay at the level of simply awe at God for this "miracle", we will miss most of them.

When he comments on the story of the loaves and fishes in the gospel, liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierrez is careful to remind his listeners that the miracle is not about multiplication. The miracle is in the sharing which made God's gratuity possible. What if the owners of the five loaves and two fishes had been unwilling to part with their provisions?

A similar miracle occured under the Atacama desert where 33 men were able to stretch three days worth of emergency food to last 17 days until rescuers could figure out how to get additional food to them. They allowed themselves a ration of 2 teaspoons of tuna, a biscuit and 2 sips of milk every other day per person. No one succumbed to the very human temptation to steal more than his share to ward off what must have been terrible hunger pangs. Indeed, some reports have said that on the 17th day when more food got to the miners, they still had some leftover! If we took this lesson from Chile and applied it worldwide, we could eliminate hunger. Most experts on the subject have been telling us so for decades. There is no food shortage at the global level, only a shortage of moral vision and socioeconomic justice. As it is, the most recently released Global Hunger Index continues to show almost 1 billion chronically hungry people around the world.

The miners brought this same discipline and lack of selfishness to their final rescue. It has been reported that each wanted the others to go first. In the end, the order was determined based on practical considerations and everyone waited patiently until the last person was brought up to the surface. What a contrast to the "me first", self-centered culture in which we live! How many auto accidents could be avoided in the United States alone if all drivers would adopt the attitude of those Chilean miners? Jesus said it best: In My Kingdom, the last shall be first and the first, last.

We saw a number of miners fall to their knees and give thanks to God after being rescued. Others are giving thanks by reforming their lives. Esteban Rojas and Jessica Ganiez (photo) had been married civilly and have three children but they had never been married in the Church. They now plan to make their commitment forever before God. Claudio Yanez and Cristina Nunez, who had been living together for 11 years and have two daughters, also decided to tie the knot. The miners have also agreed to hire an accountant and share equally any money they make from their story. Do we have to wait until we escape with our lives to choose the path that leads to life?

Yes, we should thank God that the 33 Chilean miners are now safe and sound. We should give Him some glory. But we should also thank Him for the clarion call to solidarity and conversion that these men have sounded in this world that is being brought to the brink of ecological disaster by selfishness and materialism. That is the main lesson of Copiapo.

Photo: Esteban and Jessica share a moment of thanksgiving...with Our Lady of Guadalupe!

Friday, October 15, 2010

To Dilma Rousseff: the feminine and the current politics

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)

Anthropological thought in recent years has shown that male-female are not autonomous entities, but principles or sources of energy that continually build the human being as man or woman. The latter are the result of the actions of the above underlying principles that are fulfilled in the one and the other in different densities.

The feminine in men and women is that moment of completeness, of abyssal depth, of the ability to think with one's own body, to decipher hidden messages under signs and symbols, of interiority, of a sense of belonging to a larger whole, of cooperation, compassion, responsiveness, of creative and nurturing power and spirituality.

Masculinity in women and men expresses the opposite pole of the human being, the pole of reason, objectivity, order, power, even aggressivity and materiality. The movement for change, for work, for the use of force, for clarity that distinguishes, separates and sorts, belong to the masculine in women and men. The ability to rest, care for, conserve, love unconditionally, perceive the other side of things, cultivate the space of mystery that always challenges curiosity and desire for knowledge, belong to the feminine in men and women.

Note: I am not saying that men do everything that involves the masculine and women all that the feminine expresses. What we're dealing with here are the principles present in one or the other, structuring the personal identity of man and woman.

The drama of the patriarchal culture is still the fact of having usurped the male principle only for men making them deem themselves the sole possessors of reason, control, building of society, and relegating to the private sphere and dependent tasks women, often thought to be appendages, objects of adornment and satisfaction. By not integrating the feminine in themselves, they became rigid and dehumanized. On the other hand, by preventing women from fulfilling the masculine within themselves, they weakened them and gave rise to a sense of incompleteness within them. Both are impoverished and have crippled the construction of a single, diverse, reciprocal and egalitarian human being.

Overcoming this cultural barrier is the main prerequisite for more inclusive gender relations, ones that are fair to each party.

The worldwide feminist movement put the project of patriarchy that had dominated for centuries in check and deconstructed gender relations organized under the sign of oppression and dependency. It opened more symmetrical and cooperative relations. Such developments hint at the dawn of a rotation of the cultural axis of humankind. Everywhere a new type of manifestation of the feminine and masculine in associative terms is being outlined, one of cooperation and solidarity in which men and women are welcome with their differences in the framework of a deep personal equality of origin and destiny, task and commitment to building more benevolence towards life and the Earth in more participatory and supportive ways.

But at the present time we are experiencing a unique situation for humankind. As a species we are at a new threshold. Global warming, the depletion of natural resources and services, the scarcity of drinking water and the stress on the life-system and Earth-system have brought us to this dilemma: either we give birth to ourselves as a different human species, with a different consciousness and sense of responsibility, or we go to meet the darkness. Brazil, given its privileged eco-geographical situation, should play a central role in the construction of the new balance of the Earth or we risk an irreversible path.

At this point as never before in history it is necessary to live out the values of the feminine, of the anima, as we described them above: giving a central place to life, caring, cooperation, compassion and universal human values.

Dilma Rousseff, as a woman: wake up to your unique historical mission. Your candidacy is providential for Brazil and for the balance of Mother Earth. May the voters, men and women, when they elect you President, become architects of a regeneration process and a good destiny for all.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Our Lady -- Walled out?

In 1969, a Chicana artist named Carlota Espinoza was driving back to Denver from a tiny village in Mexico, Tenejapa, near San Cristobal de las Casas. She had gone down there with a comadre, Frances Mendez, another woman, and four children, including her 8-year old son Miguel, to deliver food and medicine to the village. Frances' husband, Anton Mendez, was the chief of this indigenous community.

On the way back, having run out of money, the women drove through the night rather than stop to rest. At 3 a.m., they were passing through a particularly dangerous stretch of road called "Espinosa del Diablo" (the Devil's Spine). Carlota, who was at the wheel, was nearly asleep. Suddenly she was awakened by a loud clapping sound and saw a white light in front of the car. She slammed on the brakes and a vision of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared before her. She woke Frances to take over as driver and when the two got out of the vehicle to change places, they noticed that the car had stopped just four feet from the edge of the cliff. The vision of Our Lady had essentially saved their lives.

Carlota kept her vision to herself until she returned to Denver. Then she shared it with a fellow artist who told her she should paint La Virgen de Guadalupe just as she had seen her.

In 1976, Carlota met Fr. Jose Maria Lara, then pastor of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Denver. She asked Fr. Lara if she could paint a small (8x8) image of her vision somewhere in his church. To her surprise, Fr. Lara responded by asking: "What took you so long to get here?” He had been waiting for her and Carlota was instructed to paint the entire wall behind the altar, as well as a piece of the ceiling above it. The mural was completed in 1978. Carlota drew San Juan Diego in Anton Mendez's likeness.

Carlota called the project a "labor of love" and told a reporter from the Denver Daily News that "the whole time I was praying while I was painting it, and I was praying that a lot of these people, they go in there with such broken hearts and pain in their lives because life is, it’s hard to be human, and so I would say prayers to the Blessed Mother to please help the people that were coming to pray to her if they looked at my mural and wanted her guidance.”

Fr. Lara was pleased with the mural and told El Semanario: "I have seen many murals of Our Lady, but none equals Carlota's. I feel, and I felt at the time, that Carlota was painting it, that Guadalupe Church deserved a high quality mural to substitute a frontal ugly blue wall with no religious meaning. Carlota appeared as an answer to our prayers. She had the vision, training, and the piety and faith that represented the best of our people."

The mural remained behind the altar at Our Lady of Guadalupe for about 30 years until a couple of years ago when Fr. Benito Hernandez took over as pastor. Fr. Hernandez did not care for the mural and walled it off, painting over the parts of the mural that could not be concealed by the wall. In a statement, Fr. Hernandez said: “The Catholic Church believes that the tabernacle houses the true body and blood of Jesus Christ and as such, should be made the central and primary focal point of any Catholic church’s sanctuary. As the pastor, I came to this decision after having consulted with our parish council. Together, we decided sanctuary's original background detracted from the central focus of the Holy Presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the altar." So the mural of Our Lady had to go.

Disgruntled parishioners organized themselves into a group called Faithful United/Fieles Unidos. They started a website,, and gathered 435 signatures on a letter to Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput last month, protesting their pastor's actions. The parishioners beg to differ with Fr. Jorge de los Santos, Vicar for Hispanic Affairs of the Archdiocese, who defended the pastor's decision and added that the mural "was treated with as much respect as possible. Anyone who wants to see the mural can go behind the wall." Faithful United/Fieles Unidos say that, contrary to Fr. de los Santos' assertions, the mural has been treated disrespectfully. Folding chairs have been stored behind the wall, piled up against what remains of the mural. They are also offended by a homily preached by one of the church's deacons, William Martinez, who accused them of choosing their culture over their faith.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is still present in the church sanctuary, but only as a generic replica of the original Basilica image of her, framed, above and apart from the altar. It is a reproduction that has no emotional connection for the community, unlike Carlota's painting.

Meanwhile, the parishioners continue to struggle. Some of the women come to church wearing white as a protest against the "whitewashing" of Our Lady. They say they have been photographed by the priests and have been given communion only reluctantly. They continue to appeal to have their mural restored.

On October 5th, Archbishop Chaput finally responded with a letter in which he said: "I have full confidence in Father Benito’s leadership of Our Lady of Guadalupe parish. As pastor, his decision to remodel the sanctuary was appropriate. I must also frankly share with you that recourse to the Denver Post has weakened rather than strengthened the credibility of your petition."

This struggle is deeply personal. One of the parishioners, Mercy Cruz, told the Denver Post that it's as "if someone comes to your home and tears up pictures of your mom, that would be disrespectful. It's the same thing." Another, Fran Frain Aguirre, believes the walled-off Morenita reflects the change of atmosphere in the parish. "The church is being run like a business, strictly nine to five," she said. "The previous pastor, Father Lara, used to take calls all night," another activist, Mike Wilzoch said. "This was the place where people could come to. We just want to come back home."

As for the artist Carlota Espinoza, she stands ready to restore her mural whenever the church is ready to take down the wall.


This is not a story about racism. The major protagonists on both sides of the conflict are Hispanic. Rather, it is a story about the patriarchal "Church as It" trying to dominate and eliminate the "Church as She". For many women, it is in fact Fr. Hernandez's claim that Our Lady of Guadalupe detracts from Christ's presence in the Blessed Sacrament that is theologically lacking. Guadalupe is traditionally portrayed as a pregnant woman, the Mother of God. As we say when we pray the Holy Rosary: "Dios te salve, Maria Santisima, templo, trono y sagrario de la Santisima Trinidad...", words that must surely be familiar to Fr. Hernandez, pre-dating his seminary education. If we truly believe this, then there should be no problem accommodating the mural AND the tabernacle behind the altar.

Photos (top to bottom): The sanctuary with the original mural; a detail from the mural; the walled-off mural today, the altar area as it looks today.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Showdown in Detroit

From today's Detroit Free Press: "The Archdiocese of Detroit is warning Catholics in metro Detroit — including priests and ministers — to stay away from a national conference of liberal Catholics to be held in Detroit next year. And Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron is calling upon organizers of the conference to cancel their plans, saying they are in opposition to the Catholic faith...The American Catholic Council, which calls for church reforms and greater openness, is set to hold a national gathering in June 2011 featuring progressive Catholic leaders near the 35th anniversary of the ‘Call to Action,’ a Detroit gathering in 1976 that urged reform and was held by the late Cardinal John Dearden of Detroit..."

In a statement published on the Archdiocesan website, Msgr. Vigneron says:

"...The American Catholic Council movement and its national gathering are not conducted under the auspices of the Detroit archdiocese, the universal Roman Catholic Church, or any entity or organization affiliated with the archdiocese or the universal Roman Catholic Church...

...The Archdiocese of Detroit cautions any Catholic against participating in the American Catholic Council local listening sessions and national gathering in June 2011. Catholic parishes, schools, and institutions are not to host any meetings, gatherings, or "listening sessions" associated with the planning of the June 2011 American Catholic Council. Priests, deacons, and ecclesial lay ministers will want to avoid lending support to such a misguided effort. On behalf of the archdiocese, Archbishop Vigneron has asked the organizers to cancel their plans for this national gathering that distorts the true Spirit of Vatican II..."

The American Catholic Council is an umbrella church reform organization that was created last year "bringing together a network of individuals, organizations, and communities to consider the state and future of our Church...We seek personal conversion to renew our Church to conform to the authentic Gospel message, the teachings of our Church, and our lived context in the United States." Some of the participating groups include Voices of the Faithful, CORPUS, Future Church, Call to Action, DignityUSA, and the Women's Ordination Conference.

As far as using the Archdiocesan facilities is concerned, I don't think the Archbishop needs to worry. According to ACC's registration form, the group has booked space in the Detroit Convention Center and the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center for their June 10-12, 2011 gathering. The cost of the conference is $260, with discounts available for early registration. Discounts are also available for groups of 10 or more and scholarships are available for men and women religious and other persons with limited resources.

We'll bring you more information -- program, speakers, etc. -- as it becomes available...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The First Woman Priest

by José Ignacio González Faus
(English translation by Rebel Girl)
Periodista Digital/Miradas Cristianas Blog

A futuristic tale of an encounter imagined by the Jesuit theologian, after the story of Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman -- RG

The story is confusing because, before it happened, Earth had been almost wiped out, it is unclear whether by nuclear war or an unprecedented environmental disaster, through which a lot of documentation was lost. But the indisputable fact is that, halfway through the 22nd century, the Catholic Church agreed to ordain women to priestly ministry. The first to ordain them was a pope who, according to some, was called Paul and, according to others, Peter. There is a lack of documentation about this.

But what is known is that, at that time, a Syro-Phoenician woman approached the Pope on his trip to Palestine. It was easy to do so, because after the disaster to which we alluded, popes no longer traveled like heads of state surrounded by an army of bodyguards. It was a serious risk, but the popes of that time accepted it to become more like Jesus. And they traveled almost incognito, concerned above all to see and hear the faithful rather than be seen and heard, because the latter was now very easy due to the the incredible progress of the media at that time.

The Pope knew that he was traveling to a region where Christianity was a minority faith in a difficult situation, cornered by a Jewish-Palestinian conflict which was still alive after centuries. But he wanted to learn about the problems of those Christians and support them in their difficult faith.

The Syro-Phoenician woman (whom others call "Canaanite" by analogy with the Gospel of Matthew 15:21 ff) was a believer from head to toe who had struggled to keep her faith alive and nurture it amid the difficulties of her environment. She had studied theology in spite of opposition from her bishop. But she was shy and had to pray and work up the courage to approach the Pope and say that she wanted to ask a favor of him, a very gospel one according to her.

The Pope smiled and with all his ability to be welcoming, asked her:

"Woman, what do you desire?"

"Your Holiness, I think that for the good of the Gospel and the Church, you should proclaim as soon as possible that women can be allowed to minister in the Church."

The Pope's face was troubled for a moment. Trying to keep a smile on his lips but with a touch of severity in the eyes, he replied:

"Jesus Christ only called men to the ministry. So therefore, what Christ gave to men, we don't give to women. "

"Yes, brother Peter. But Jesus also taught that Mary had chosen the better part and it would not be taken from her. Without that better part, Martha's service only breeds resentment and complaints. While, if one has gone through being like Mary, then one doesn't remain there but is happy to return to being like Martha, as did the Lord when He washed the feet of His own. I believe that there is no good Martha unless she is born of Mary, nor is there a real Mary that does not lead to becoming Martha. No good service is born without contemplation, no genuine contemplation fails to turn into service. Ecclesial ministry is service rather than an honor, therefore it would be good for women to be involved in it -- to help, so that the ministers of the Church are not only grumpy and complaining Marthas... "

"I see you have faith, woman," the Pope replied. "But I can not use the power that Christ gave me according to my whim. I have no more power than what the Lord gave me. "

"Yes, Your Holiness. You have no more power than Peter did. But Peter did not think he was disobeying the Lord by going to preach to the gentiles, despite such a clear statement of the Master ("I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel"). Neither did Peter excommunicate Paul, the revolutionary and annoying upstart, but instead listened to him, because he understood that the service which had been entrusted to him was not to do exactly the same thing as Jesus had done in the past, but to do what Jesus would do in each new present situation. That is why the Lord promised him His Spirit, and that promise is in effect for you too."

Upon hearing her, the Pope was deeply moved. He closed his eyes and after a pause, replied: "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be as you wish, for if the Lord allowed Himself to be corrected by the faith of a woman, I do not want to think that I am incorrigible."

And then and there, he laid hands upon her and said: "Receive the Holy Spirit."

The woman went away, even more moved than the pope. Actually, she was not seeking the priesthood for herself. She had read that back in the 20th century (circa 1965), at a meeting of the journal Concilium in which the issue had come up for almost the first time, and with somewhat twitching impatience, a young Canadian theologian had approached the microphone to say: "I don't think that we will liberate women by imposing the alienation of men on them." But she expected that the entry of women into church ministry would free a lot of priests from perverting their vocation into a career, to turn it into real service.

At least in the beginning. Then the human makeup is the same in all, and temptations to prominence will arise in both men and women. But then the Holy Spirit would take care of seeking solutions through a deep reform of church ministry.

Songs that make you think: "No está bien"

I don't know where Morena gets some of the songs she shares with us during Mass. Her repertoire of justice-themed music seems inexhaustible. Morena shared the source of this song with me this week and thus I was able to find ALL the verses, more than we actually sang in church.

It is a song from an album by Brazilian priest, poet, and songwriter Fr. José Fernandes de Oliveira, SCJ, better known as Padre Zezinho. The album was issued in 1978 in Portuguese as Não Deixes que Eu Me Canse and in Spanish as Peregrino de la Paz. In Portuguese, the song is Não é Justo.

"No está bien" says that it's a sin to have too much and spend recklessly while so many people don't even have enough to buy milk and bread. And it says that those who climb the ladder of success by stepping on others will meet them on the way back. It is a prophetic song that warns that those who are slaves to money cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It's a song that talks about economic justice, the issue that Jesus cared about far more than who sleeps with whom. Our hierarchs too often content themselves with tabloid theology ("sex sells"). To hear the Gospel as Jesus taught it, it's best to listen to people like Padre Zezinho and Morena.

No esta bien por que es pecado
Tener todo lo que tienes,
No trabajas casi nada
Y te vez lleno de bienes;
Y otros hombres que se matan
Trabajando mucho mas,
Van viviendo entre miserias
Por que tu tienes demás.

Tu dirás que no es tu culpa
Haber nacido entre riquezas,
Y que no es problema tuyo
Que otros vivan en pobreza
Y que si lo dieras todo
Casi nada cambiaria,
Que si todos fueran pobres
El país se arruinaría.

En momentos más cruciales
Tú contestas con dureza,
Y te irritas y te enfadas
Con quien habla de pobrezas;
dices tu que si los pobres,
por los ricos se cambiaran,
al igual que tantos ricos
de seguro se portaran.

Yo se bien que muchos pobres
Que se matan por la vida,
Y reciben por salario
Lo que gastas tú en bebida,
Lo que gastas en tabaco,
Fiestas, juergas y demás,
Le bastaba a quien te sirve
Para leche y para pan.

No esta bien porque es pecado
Gastar tanto sin motivo,
Cuando aquellos que te sirven
Llevan vida de oprimido;
Y mejor harías cambiando
Por bondad y compasión,
Antes de que haya que hacerlo
Por la dura imposición.

La escalera que tu asciendes
No es camino hacia el progreso,
Quien subió pisado a otros
Los encuentra a su regreso.
No te olvides que Jesús dijo
Todo eso y muchos más,
Si el dinero te esclaviza
A su Reino no entraras.