Saturday, October 30, 2010

Make room for women priests, activist urges

By Leslie Scrivener
The Chronicle Herald
Sat, Oct 30 - 4:54 AM

TORONTO — Roy Bourgeois knows it’s not easy to change deeply held beliefs or to cast off church teaching — but he’s living proof it can be done. He grew up in a small town in Louisiana in a family of traditional Catholics. He volunteered to serve in Vietnam and considered a career in the navy. Instead, he became a missionary in Bolivia.

"How unquestioning I was. How conservative. How submissive," he says of his former adherence to Catholic directives. His roots are Cajun and you can hear it in his voice.

"If I can change, anybody can change."

When Bourgeois spoke at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education last weekend he invited Catholics to change, too — to break their silence and support the ordination of women, a subject the Vatican has declared off limits.

"We were instructed not to discuss this," he says. "What are you talking about? How old are we? It’s like when you are three or four and a parent says, ‘I don’t want to hear any more of this: Go to your room.’ "...

Click here for the complete news story...

Thank you, Fr. Bourgeois, for expressing exactly how progressive Catholics feel about this directive from the Vatican. We are sick and tired of living under a hierarchy that treats us like spiritual infants.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Dilma: the importance of a woman in the Presidency

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)

There are two main ways of being present in the world: through work and through caring. Since, unlike animals, we are beings without any specialized organs, we must work to survive, i.e., we must draw from nature all we need. To do this, we use practical reason, creativity and technology. Here we need to be objective and effective, because otherwise we succumb to necessity. In human history, at least in the West, the dictatorship of work has been established. This is no longer a craft but has been transformed into a means of production and sold in the form of wages, which implies competition and terrible devastation of nature and evil social injustice. The main, though not exclusive, representatives of the work way of being are men.

The second way is caring. It has life and interpersonal and social relationships at its core. We are all sons and daughters of caring, because if our mothers had not taken infinite care with us when we were born, we would have died some hours later and would not be here to write about these things. Caring has more to do with subjects that interact with each other than with objects to be managed. Caring is a loving gesture towards reality.

Caring is not in opposition to work. It gives it its own characteristic which is being done in such a way as to respect things and allow them to be redone. Caring means being close to things, protecting them, and not over them, dominating them. They are never mere means. They represent values and symbols that evoke feelings of beauty, complexity and strength. Obviously there is resistance and perplexity, but they are outweighed by persevering patience. Women tend to put loving coexistence in the place of aggression. Instead of domination, caring companionship. Cooperation replaces competition. Women are the privileged, but not exclusive, bearers of caring.

Since ancient times, we have been witnessing a tragedy of dire consequences: the rupture between work and caring. From the Neolithic era, work has been a frantic search for efficiency and wealth. This mode of being subjects women, kills caring, liquidates tenderness and makes human relationships tense. It is the rule of androcentrism, the dominance of man over nature and woman. Now we have reached a fundamental impasse, either we impose limits on productivist greed and rescue caring, or the Earth will not take it anymore.

We feel the urgency to feminize relationships, i.e., to reintroduce caring in all areas, especially those of the most massacred people (two thirds of humanity), devastated nature and the world of politics. The gateway to the universe of caring is cordial and sensible reason that allows us to feel the wounds of nature and people, allowing ourselves to be surrounded and mobilizing ourselves to humanize relations between all, without neglecting the vital collaboration of instrumental-analytic reason that allows us to be effective.

This is where I see the providential importance of being able to have a woman like Dilma Rousseff as head of the government of Brazil. She will be able to join the two dimensions: that of work that seeks rationality and efficiency (the masculine dimension), and that of caring that welcomes the poorest and most suffering ones and plans inclusive policies for the recovery of dignity (the feminine dimension). Dilma has the character of a great and efficient manager (her masculine/work side) and at the same time the capacity to carry out with tenderness and compassion Lula's project of caring for the poor and oppressed (her feminine/caring side). She can achieve the ideal of Gandhi: "Policy is a loving gesture for the people."

In this dramatic moment in the history of Brazil and the world, it is important that a woman exercises power as caring and service. Dilma, imbued with this consciousness, will be able to impose limits on devastating work and could make the long-awaited development happen with nature, not against it, with a sense of social justice, solidarity from below, and from an open fraternity that includes all peoples and the whole community of life.

Statement of the Asociación de Teólogos/as Juan XXIII about Pope Benedict XVI's upcoming trip to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona

English translation by Rebel Girl. For the record, I think this message is a bit harsh, especially their 4th point, but I do agree that it is time for the Catholic Church to stop being treated as a "state" and for it to stop enjoying any special benefits that are not given to other faiths. God should not be in Caesar's pocket. -- RG

The Association of Theologians John XXIII want to make public the following reflections on Benedict XVI's visit to Santiago de Compostela and Barcelona on November 6th and 7th of this year.

1. Even if the Pope's trip is presented as a pastoral and religious visit, one can not ignore its political nature as he embodies the dual role of religious authority and head of state of Vatican City. The role of religious authority is exercised undemocratically, and the one of head of state seems like an oxymoron, it is in opposition to the Gospel and is a counter-sign that, far from bringing nearer, draws away from faith in Jesus of Nazareth.

2. We believe that this journey has little to do with the apostolic journeys of Paul of Tarsus, whose purpose was to proclaim Jesus Christ the liberator and the Good News of liberation, to create new Christian communities and strengthen the faith of existing ones at risk to his own life because of threats from civil authorities. The pope now travels as a pilgrim, a pilgrim with other believers and nonbelievers to make the way to Santiago as a religious experience. The trip is scheduled as a mass phenomenon to acclaim his figure in an act of papolatry, without any contact with living Christian communities much less the least advantaged sectors of society. It is very folkloric and only minimally an expression of authentic and genuine faith.

3. We view the high costs of the trip paid for from public funds -- several million euros -- in the middle of an economic crisis, with more than eight million poor people, including four million unemployed, cuts in social services, reduction in pensions and workers' wages, as scandalous, anti-gospel and lacking in solidarity. Such disproportionate costs show the insensitivity of the Pope himself, the public institutions and the Church itself towards the working class sectors, especially the immigrants, who personally suffer the consequences of the crisis more acutely.

4. We consider the motive of the visit to be debatable: to win the Jubilee for the Compostela Holy Year and dedicate the Church of the Sagrada Familia and make it a basilica. These are both acts of sacralization, contrary to the evangelical maxim that God is to be worshiped "in spirit and in truth."

5. The Pope will meet with political and religious authorities in a "holy alliance" to ratify the privileges of all kinds that the Catholic Church receives from public authorities: fiscal, educational, social, economic, etc. when what it should do is give up these privileges and support the equal treatment of all religions by public authorities.

6. It is possible that the church hierarchy is offering the Pope an idyllic image of the Spanish Catholic Church and the vitality of the Christian faith in our society. We believe that the image does not correspond to reality. The Spanish Church is undergoing a profound crisis of credibility in most sectors of society, especially among the young and working class sectors, and among Catholics themselves, because of its neoconservative positions on moral issues, the alienating of the poor, the lack of communication with youth and the exclusion of women from leadership and ministry. Two samples of the lack of credibility are, among others, the huge decline in the number of those who call themselves Catholic and increasing apostasy.

7. We recall that John Paul II, the most traveled pope in history of the Church, left the Church plunged in one of the most serious crises of Christianity. We believe, therefore, that papal trips do not contribute to a credible presentation of the Gospel in our time. They are only applauded by people and Christian groups who use them as a platform to lean on the Pope and spread his neoconservative vision of Christianity. Given its political, social, economic and even negative folkloric implications, we believe that other means of announcing the liberating message of Christianity must be sought.

Madrid, October 29, 2010

Thursday, October 28, 2010

U.S.-Mexico Border Women Will Hold Hunger Strike in DC

Ten women whose families have been impacted by the violence, poverty and unemployment engulfing the Ciudad Juarez/El Paso border region are launching a hunger strike in front of the White House at noon on Monday, November 8. They want an end to the federal government’s abandonment of their families and communities.

The fasting group will arrive on November 8 and remain through the 17th. The hunger strike will begin on November 8 at 11 a.m. with an opening ceremony. The women will remain onsite until 6 p.m., and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day thereafter. A daily program will take place from noon to 1 p.m. highlighting different themes related to poverty, women, and border issues. We will add the thematic schedule to this blog when it becomes available. You can support these brave sisters by accompanying them at the White House and/or by signing their online petition to Congress urging our leaders to support the kind of development initiatives in the border region that could improve the lives of the people there.

The women, who live in El Paso and have family members on both sides of the border, are part of the nationally recognized grassroots organization, La Mujer Obrera, one of many organizations on the U.S.-Mexico border committed to long term development.

Historically, border communities have suffered the brunt of federal decisions from international trade policies such as NAFTA to the ‘war on drugs,’ which impose economic and social policies that benefit corporations and have long term negative repercussions at the community level. Border women are angry that their livelihoods, communities, and futures have been written off as “unfortunate but necessary casualties” of these policies.

While national and international conversations about the border focus on short-sighted security initiatives, border women have been creating long term security through grassroots economic development, despite tragic personal experiences with border violence in Ciudad Juarez and profound poverty in El Paso. But those accomplishments and future plans are now at profound risk because of a lack of federal investment.

Nationally, billions have been authorized for jobs benefitting mostly men in the construction industry and border security, primarily benefiting private security firms. U.S. transnationals operating maquilas and those seeking to profit from the violence and poverty in Ciudad Juarez and Mexico are reaping millions. Yet the border communities struggle with 10%+ unemployment, and even higher rates for women workers.

“Real community starts within the community itself. By investing in the places where we live, work, and play, we reduce the chance that people will have to leave seeking economic opportunities or resort to illegal activities to make ends meet. This is true for both sides of the border,” said Ana Gomez, one of the women participating in the hunger strike.

Border women are pursuing their own version of security and employment, on both sides of the border. The women have created their own jobs and community development alternatives amidst the dire conditions.

Their work at La Mujer Obrera in El Paso is one example. Through a daycare, restaurant, festival marketplace, and a network of artisan women in Mexico, the women are creating genuine border security.

And like La Mujer Obrera, there are other communities of low income women on the border, who want to create jobs, change lives, and work to break the cycles of poverty and abuse, restoring pride and dignity in their neighborhoods.

Despite their innovative approaches, women on the border have been excluded from plans for the border’s development and security.

Although the border region bears extreme poverty and underdevelopment, funding streams exclude border women’s development efforts because they are not “in a third world country.” In addition, the established planning and development infrastructure in the U.S, such as local and regional government agencies, Community Colleges, School Districts, and Public Housing Authorities, does not include women workers.

For these reasons, La Mujer Obrera in conjunction with women workers’ development organizations on the border seeks an immediate investment to:

1) Organize and help convene a national summit to identify public-private initiatives in support of a Border Development Commission and border women’s efforts to restore their communities from the damaging effects of international trade policies, global economic restructuring and the current “war on drugs” raging on the border.

2) Provide urgently needed economic sustainability support for women and their organizations whose development achievements and future plans are now in jeopardy because of the lack of investment and political support for border women’s development programs.

The women are fighting their hardest battle ever – sustainability of their initiatives in the weakest U.S. economy in decades and a future being designed that does not include them.

The conditions of women on the border are urgent, and La Mujer Obrera and other women’s organizations on the border are demanding justice and equity now.

"Our God is a revolutionary God": An interview with Joaquim Melo

On the eve of the second round in the 2010 Brazilian presidential election, as considerable attention is being paid to liberation theology, we have an interview with João Joaquim de Melo Neto Segundo, a former Roman Catholic seminarian turned community organizer and banker to his country's poorest. Joaquim, who himself was born in a housing project, founded Banco Palmas, a "people's bank" that earned him election as an Ashoka fellow in 2004 (the Ashoka website has a good profile of Joaquim and his work in English). Last year, Joaquim published a book in French about his work, Viva Favela ! Quand les démunis prennent leur destin en main ("Viva Favela!: when the dispossessed take their destiny in hand"), in conjunction with Elodie Bécu and Carlos de Freitas (Editions Michel Lafon, 2009).

by Carlos de Freita and Camille Dubruelh (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Le Monde des Religions

A few days before the second round of the presidential election, the gap has narrowed between José Serra and Dilma Rousseff, the heir apparent to the current president, condemned by the Church for her position on abortion. The campaign plays around the religious issue. An interview with Joaquim Melo, a staunch supporter of liberation theology, the base on which Brazilian democracy was built.

Because of her position on abortion, which has been judged too liberal, Dilma Rousseff has drawn the ire of the Catholic and Evangelical churches. In a country where 70% of the population supports banning it, the candidate has lost points by supporting its decriminalization up until 2009, although she has since retracted her remarks.

In Brazil, beyond strict spiritual practice, it is the religious question which has laid the foundation for the whole organization of society. In the 1970s, liberation theology enabled the poor to organize themselves into communities, trade unions, to fight against the dictatorship in place. This ideological movement is the foundation upon which democracy is built in Brazil, a school of activism from which the managers of state emerged - starting with President Luiz Inacio Lula.

Now general coordinator of the Palmas Institute in Brazil, Joaquim Melo is a former seminarian. A proponent of liberation theology, he has been involved since the mid-1980s in the fight against poverty through the creation of community development banks combining microcredit, social projects, and creation of local currencies.

What is liberation theology?

The great contribution of liberation theology is the belief in the fact that poor people can solve their problems by themselves. It is based on the Book of Exodus (3:1-15) which says: "God has seen, heard, and come down to free His people." Therein lies our great mystique. The churches in general, speak of a God who is up there, away from people's problems, a God who judges people. To which liberation theology responds: "No, our God is a revolutionary God, He descends, He is present among the people. And if God is present, then He gives encouragement on this long journey together, and together we will overcome." Generally, it is this certainty that we, the poor, the small, the humble, by walking together, organized, will win. Over the years we have developed this process of community organization, association, social struggles, banks, demonstrations, marches.

In the late 1970s, when you discovered this ideological movement, the struggle involved mostly the dictatorship. What is your perception of the transition that has led to democratization?

At the time of the dictatorship, everything that represented injustice was commissioned and coordinated by the military: both the physical prison and torture for activists, and the economic prison of inequality between rich and poor. During the 1980s, democracy was restored gradually, the spectre of the military moved away but misery and poverty were still very violent. The economic project remained the same: the exploitation of workers by employers. Today, the mystique of liberation calls for equality between social classes, the right to decent wages and decent housing, access to education - everything that is social rights.

How did liberation theology become rooted in the communities?

Liberation theology created "ecclesiastical base communities," CEBs, by the tens of thousands: in the 1970s and 80s, there were between 10,000 and 30,000 CEBs scattered over the territory, where the problems of the people were discussed, where local answers were found. Sometimes these communities united regionally and nationally, like parishes. Of course, there were Catholics within these structures, because we were the majority, but people of other faiths were also present, and atheists -- all people who believed in social transformation, justice and equality. This was the cradle of Brazilian democracy as it is today -- the unions, political parties, the student movement; most activists who were and are still part of them come from this movement of CEBs with liberation theology as its backbone.

How does liberation theology stand vis-a-vis the conservative front of the Catholic Church?

Since the early 1980s, liberation theology has been violently persecuted by the Vatican, especially by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then headed by Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. I am one of those today who do not recognize him as pope, either as a leader, a coordinator or a facilitator of Catholics. He was involved the violent destruction of the movement. And all those who, like me, came out of the church in 1988, have actually stopped campaigning for the institution, without abandoning this movement towards justice and freedom.

What's your relationship with the evangelical Protestant churches?

These churches join liberation theology with respect to drawing near to the people. But in terms of exegesis, mysticism, spirituality, they depart from it, talking about an absent God. Evangelicals tell people that God is watching them and He will work miracles. He judges them. So if they suffer, it's a good thing. Because one day they will die and be saved. These churches "offer" them eternal life. Liberation theology, on the other hand, affirms that the kingdom of God is here now, that it's up to us to build it.

Does liberation theology still have any influence today?

The 30 years and younger generation would probably not be able to tell you what it is, what it was, but that same generation has values, principles, that are part of the same current as liberation theology. So I think the influence is huge today. Ditto when it comes to leaders influenced by liberation theology -- you will always find very strong processes of mobilization and organization. However, the old form, with the CEBs, has clearly lost ground. For two reasons: the priests of liberation theology have become extinct naturally, little by little, and the younger ones, because of the persecution by the Vatican, have received a priestly formation which departs more and more from the true theology.

Might the elections have caused a resurgence of interest in this ideological movement?

When Lula won the elections in 2002, there was great hope. Our entire generation lived just for that day, that dream that we would come to power and, once there, would ensure the necessary transformations. This was perhaps our biggest mistake. Our generation has been waiting for something that did not happen. To the point that Frei Betto and other figures of liberation theology have participated in the government to try to effect change from within. It was our strategy. But they left ... Frei Betto has released a book titled Calendário do poder ["The Calendar of Power"], where he comes very clearly to this conclusion: the change we are waiting for cannot come from the government. We need to find our own path. Obviously, this will be different because the times and people have changed. But regardless of the outcome of the elections, whether or not Lula is followed by Dilma Rousseff, I think we're going through a completely different decade, in which we will regain a foothold in the social movements. The fight will be that of the favelas again. We are one example.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Forgiveness First

If this is an example of the kind of theological reflection we are to expect from Joxe Arregi now that he has left the Franciscan order -- though with his Franciscan spirituality intact as these words show -- I say the change was good for him, and for us!

by Joxe Arregi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
October 21, 2010

A few days ago, a Madrid journalist asked a bishop from these parts: "Is it possible to forgive?" The bishop -- I don't know if he was thinking about and weighing the question or without thinking, as if nothing had happened -- replied: "Forgiveness first involves a dynamic that those who have inflicted the damage, repent. That they be aware of the harm they caused, that they have the ability to ask for forgiveness. But it must be a sincere desire to make reparations. Only then will those who have suffered be able to show the greatness of spirit to grant forgiveness."

These words shook me. I felt as if suddenly the gospel had gone blank, as if the world was adrift, without forgiveness, without revelation, without God. My God! A world without forgiveness, a merciless world, a world out of kilter! And I ran to the Holy Book to see if the most sacred words had disappeared, if the gospel was no more than a sad memory. But no, there were the stories and words that had turned the world upside down and, in turn, fill it with consolation. There were the words of Jesus in Matthew 5: "You have heard it said, 'An eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' But I tell you when someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other to him as well." There was the prayer of Jesus in Matthew 6: "As we forgive those who trespass against us." There was the Master's answer in Matthew 18: "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times do I have to forgive my brother when he offends me? Seven times?' Jesus replied: 'I say unto you not seven times, but seventy times seven.'" There was the unusual command of Jesus in Luke 6, without any concession or loophole, "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Treat others as you would have them treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them." And there was Jesus, at the end, asphyxiating on the Cross between two crucified men and saying: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." In those words, the world is reborn, it sustains itself through them, through them the darkness of the cross and chaos becomes light again. Let there be light! And there was light. And despite all the evils, all was good. I kissed the Book.

The bishop also tenderly and ceremoniously kisses the Gospel before explaining it to the faithful from his chair. But a few days ago -- it was the eve of his installation -- the bishop spoke to a reporter and a reporter asks insidious questions -- it's his job -- and the question about forgiveness was probably insidious, and perhaps seeking to delve into the wounds of the Basque people with their painful history, their critical present. I understand that the bishop has to calculate his response and, occasionally, talk more for parties than for people, and look to the political left and right before speaking. That's how it must be, but it's a shame, and I still do not understand the words he said, if that's how he said it.

Is it possible to forgive? Jesus did. He could, but is it only possible for us to forgive a posteriori and conditionally? Well, I don't know, but Jesus thought otherwise. And if there is forgiveness in the world like that of Jesus, it would have to be free and unconditional, as unlikely as that may seem to us. The conditions can facilitate forgiveness, and hopefully they will always occur! But would we leave this world adrift when the desirable conditions aren't there? Jesus didn't. Jesus created the conditions by forgiving first, and He calls us to do likewise. If Jesus, before granting forgiveness, had demanded that the soldiers and the chief priests and Pontius Pilate repent and be aware of the harm they had caused and be able to apologize and have a sincere desire to make reparations, if Jesus had set all these conditions before forgiving, I tell you: the black night of that Friday would have lasted until now, that Friday would not have been "Good" and we'd still be waiting for Easter -- the gospel rather than the tomb would had remained empty. But Jesus forgave first. "Forgive them for they know not what they do." He forgave, that is, He was able to look kindly upon his wrongdoers, i.e. He was able to put Himself in their place, i.e. He excused them, i.e. He rehabilitated them, i.e. He healed them, i.e. He humanized them. Forgiveness came first. And then all the wounds of Jesus were also healed, and Easter blossomed on the Cross. The man became God.

I realize that this is too much, for myself first. But what is the gospel without this excess? Why call ourselves Christians if not for that? And where will this world go if there is no forgiveness to heal it? Only the one who forgives can be healed, only the one who forgives can heal. And if you only forgive those who ask for forgiveness and "atone for their sins", what credit is that to you? Forgiving is not ignoring or spoiling, but trusting the other. Forgiving is not absolving the guilty, but seeing in the other the good within the depths of his evil. He who forgives does not humiliate the other, but puts himself in his place instead. As Confucius and Buddha and Mahavira did earlier, and as Rabbi Hillel and the Prophet Muhammad did later, Jesus said: "Treat others as you would want others to treat you if you were to find yourself in the same situation." And that is the magnanimity or greatness of mind: expanding one's own soul to the soul of another.

No doubt the one who has done harm should someday ask forgiveness, and only then will he be able to heal the wound that was inflicted on himself when he injured the other; now, the more easily one comes to apologize, like the centurion at the cross of Jesus, the more unconditionally forgiven one feels, like the centurion at the cross of Jesus. But is there any hope in this world, is there any hope for a different world, as long as the wounded demand repentance, apology and reparations from their respective offenders as a precondition for forgiveness? I'm not saying there should be no Law, and I dare not say that there should be no punishment in this world such as it is. Let it be, if it must be, but how sad I think it is that it has to be this way! The Gospel is not like that. God is not like that, much as we have distorted Him with our old patterns of blame and punishment and penitential rites to gain forgiveness. Jesus was not like that. And I think that the Gospel of forgiveness that restores and heals is the only alternative, and that all of us who are followers of Jesus are called to be sacrament of that gospel.

And I also believe that all things, from their depths, shout out the Gospel of forgiveness first. Even the humble Arroa Behea stream hidden among the bushes and alders that flows under here with barely a murmur. Even the shaggy, good-natured bobtail that comes and goes with a young child, taken in hand by his mother and grandmother. What about the wolf? Yes, even the wolf, like the one of Gubbio. Brother Francis lived for some time in that beautiful medieval town in Umbria, Italy, near Assisi. And the Fioretti say that there, with his gentleness and by calling it "brother", he tamed a hungry and fierce wolf that was wreaking havoc. He tamed it with his meekness, how else? And he made people in the region, also tamed, agree to feed the wolf that, without hunger, was like a peaceful and playful bobtail.

Are these words harsh? Are they an illusion? Maybe. But I think they're only reasonable. There will be no peace in this poor world without forgiveness first.

Arregi closes as usual with a poem for meditation, this one from Dom Pedro Casaldáliga.


Lleva el destino a cuestas, con el saco,
muerto el amor y la tristeza viva.
Le escuece el alma en el mirar opaco.
Es una soledad a la deriva.

Ha cruzado la Isla, el Araguaia,
la sociedad, el tiempo, el mal. Rehúye
la luz del sol y el sueño de la playa.
Huye de todos, de sí mismo huye,

condenado a vivir su vida muerta.
Si ha violado la ley, la paz presunta,
a él le hemos matado la paz cierta.

Quizás sea un Caín, pero es humano,
Y por él Dios, celoso, nos pregunta:
–Abel, Abel, ¿qué has hecho de tu hermano?

He wears fate on his back, like a coat;
love is dead and sadness lives.
His soul stings in the opaque look.
He is solitude adrift.

He has crossed the Island, the Araguaia,
society, time, evil. He shuns
sunlight and the dream of the beach.
He runs away from all, flees himself,

condemned to live his dead life.
If he has broken the law, the presumed peace,
we have killed the true peace within him.

Maybe he is a Cain, but he's human,
And about him, God zealously asks us:
"Abel, Abel, what have you done to your brother?"

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

From Theology to Travel: The Journey of Margaret Hebblethwaite

It is perhaps fitting that the most recent travel guidebook in English for Paraguay (Paraguay, Bradt Travel Guides, August 2010) -- a country run by a former Catholic bishop, Fernando Lugo -- should be written by a Catholic writer and columnist who studied theology at the Gregorian University in Rome and now makes her home in that country. The author, Margaret Hebblethwaite's personal journey from theology to travel maven is just as interesting as her guidebook.

Margaret Hebblethwaite, nee Speaight, was born in London in 1951. She read theology and philosophy at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford and at the Gregorian University in Rome. In 1974, Margaret met and married Peter Hebblethwaite, an older Jesuit priest who left the priesthood after a decade in the ministry to be with her. Five years later, in 1979, Margaret published her first book, The Theology of Penance (co-authored with Kevin Donovan, Mercier Press, 1979). She gave birth to three children. Peter Hebblethwaite, who passed away in 1994, made a name for himself as a Catholic journalist and Vaticanologist.

Despite the substantial age difference (20+ years) this was a marriage of intellectual equals. Peter wrote for The Month, The Tablet, The Observer, and National Catholic Reporter. He published numerous books on the Church, including The Runaway Church (Collins, 1975), The New Inquisition? Schillebeeckx and Küng (Fount Paperbacks, 1980), and In the Vatican (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1986) and wrote biographies on several modern popes, including John XXIII: Pope of the Council (Chapman, 1984), Paul VI: The First Modern Pope (HarperCollins, 1993) and Introducing John Paul II: The Populist Pope (Collins/Fount, 1982). One decade before John Paul II's death in 2005, Peter Hebblethwaite began to look into the question of papal succession. Co-authored by his wife Margaret, The Next Pope: An Enquiry was published posthumously by Fount in 1995 and re-published by HarperCollins in 2000.

Meanwhile Margaret Hebblethwaite worked in a variety of ministries: prison chaplaincy from 1984 to 1986, catechesis from 1986 to 1991 and again from 1994 to 1998 at Exeter (Oxford), parish work on the Blackbird Leys housing estate in Oxford from 1988 to 1994. And she wrote too. She was assistant editor of The Tablet from 1991 to 2000 and after her move to Paraguay continued a regular column called From the South which she has been writing since 2000. She has also been a lecturer and a contributor to the BBC on Catholic Church affairs and has facilitated Ignatian retreats.

Margaret has also written numerous books, particularly on women in the Bible and in the Church, and on Christian base communities. In addition to The Theology of Penance and The Next Pope mentioned above, some of these include:

  • Motherhood and God (Geoffrey Chapman, 1984)
  • Way of St. Ignatius (HarperCollins, 1987, 2nd edition 1994, 3rd edition 1999)
  • Basic is Beautiful: basic ecclesial communities from Third World to First World (HarperCollins, 1993)
  • Base Communities: an introduction (Geoffrey Chapman, 1993)
  • Six New Gospels: New Testament women tell their stories (Geoffrey Chapman, 1994)
  • Conversations on Christian Feminism (with Elaine Storkey, HarperCollins, 1999)
  • Opening the Scriptures (Continuum, 2001)
This alone would have been a full life for anybody else but Margaret's life didn't stop there. In 2000, with her husband gone and her youngest child having turned 18, Margaret decided to pursue her interest in liberation theology, the preferential option for the poor, and base ecclesial communities more fully. She became a freelance missionary in Santa Maria de Fe, a poor village in Paraguay, leaving behind, as she says, her job, her family, her home and her language.

In Paraguay, Margaret learned Spanish and Guarani and founded a charity called the Santa María Education Fund. She organised a number of classes in English and taught Bible at the Institute of Tertiary Education, where students from poor families are trained to be food technologists. That charity also sells Christmas cards and local handcrafts to support its work and it runs the Santa Maria Hotel in Misiones, Paraguay.

Of the Church in her new home in Paraguay, Margaret says: "It is basic Catholicism, it’s the poor, it’s the Gospel of the poor, the good news for the poor, and the church preaching it, and the clergy and the bishops and the sisters for the most part, are really backing the poor and speaking about solidarity and honesty and the importance of no corruption, the importance of justice, which we don’t have. So the clerical image of the church is a much, much better one in Paraguay. It is of people who have a voice, who are respected in society and who are constantly using that voice on behalf of the forgotten and the downtrodden." People like Margaret Hebblethwaite.


Photos: Margaret Hebblethwaite alone and celebrating with graduates from the Institute of Tertiary Education

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dilma: Securing progress and consolidating gains

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)

Brazil has now stopped "lying in a splendid cradle." In recent years, particularly under President Lula's administration, it has undergone changes unprecedented in our history. They are the result of a political project that has decided to put the nation ahead of the market, which gives a central position to the social-populist issues, managing to integrate millions and millions of people who used to be condemned to exclusion and early death. Despite the obligations imposed by neoliberal macroeconomics that it had to take on, it has not submitted to the dictates from the IMF, the World Bank and other bodies that direct the course of economic globalization. It opened its own way, so sustainable that it successfully faced the deep economic and financial crisis that decimated the central economies and that, due to the increasing scarcity of natural goods and services and global warming, is putting the reproduction of the capital system itself at risk.

Lula's government carried out the Brazilian revolution in the sense of Caio Prado Jr. in his classic A Revolução Brasileira (1966): "Transformations able to restructure the life of a country in a way that fits its broadest and deepest needs, and the aspirations of the great mass of its population ... something that takes the life of the country in a new direction." These changes have occurred; the most basic needs to eat, live, work, study and have light and health have been largely met. Our country has taken a new direction, a direction that confers the dignity that had always been denied to the majority. Lula never betrayed his promise to eradicate hunger and to stress social issues. His performance has been so impressive that he has been considered one of the great world leaders.

This invaluable legacy can not be put at risk. Despite the errors and deviations that occurred during his rule, which we should acknowledge, correct and punish, the changes should be consolidated and completed. This is the main significance of the victory of candidate Dilma, who has the qualities necessary to "rebuild" the new Brazil continuously.

For this it is important to defeat the opposition candidate José Serra. He represents a different plan for Brazil, one that comes from the past, he is endowed with beautiful words and illusory proposals but basically he is neoliberal and non-populist, and plans to privatize and weaken the state to allow free action of domestic private capital, in conjunction with international capital.

PSDB ideologues who support Serra believe that the process of globalization via the market is irreversible, despite being in crisis. They say: we should join it, albeit in a subordinate way. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves to historical irrelevance. This is clearly apparent when Serra discusses foreign policy. He explicitly aligns with the central, imperialist and militarist powers that persist in using violence to solve global problems, ridiculing President Lula's attempt to found a new diplomacy based on dialogue and sincere negotiation on a win-win basis.

The fate of Brazil within that option, is more dependent on the mega-forces that control the world market than on Brazilian policy decisions. The autonomy of Brazil with its own national project that could help find a new direction that would save humankind, afflicted by so many dangers, is totally absent from his discourse.

This neoliberal project, that triumphed during the eight years of Fernando Henrique Cardoso's administration, made significant developments, especially in economic stabilization. But it made poor policies for the poor and rich ones for the rich. Social policies were no more than crumbs. Those who carry the neoliberal project are linked to the agribusiness export sectors, the economic and financial elites, modern in lifestyle but conservative in mindset, the representatives of multinational companies based in our country and the political forces of technological modernization without social transformation.

To vote for Dilma is to secure the gains that have been made in favor of the majority and consolidate a state, whose president will know how to take care of the people, since the essence of the feminine is to care for and protect life in all its forms.

Catholic Church distributes condoms in Lucerne

Romandie News

Within the framework of an AIDS prevention campaign, the Catholic Church in Lucerne has been distributing condoms in front of the train station of Lucerne (Switzerland) starting today. It risks drawing fire from the Vatican.
Some 3,000 condoms were ordered for the well-publicized action, which should last three days. Under the slogan: "Forgetting is contagious. Protect your neighbor as yourself", the Catholic Church in Lucerne wants to draw attention to the risks of unprotected sex.

"Condoms are not a miracle solution in the prevention of AIDS, but they're one possibility among many," Florian Flohr, head of communications for the Catholic Church in Lucerne said Monday to ATS [Agence télégraphique suisse]. "Whoever doesn't talk about it while discussing the subject of AIDS is acting unethically."

This distribution is only one element of a prevention campaign being waged these days. It includes a roaming bus with information aimed primarily at young people.

"Our action is not provocation," church community leader Alois Metz explained to the news program "10 vor 10" on German language TV. "We must protect life. And we protect it by using condoms." He didn't conceal the fact that he also wanted to show that the Catholic Church is not "in the Dark Ages".

The Diocese of Basel, of which the Catholic Church in Lucerne is part, has not intervened, but wants to get information from the parish about the background of this campaign which will not be to the Vatican's liking. Contacted by ATS, the Swiss Bishops' Conference didn't want to take a position: "This pastoral issue concerns the Diocese of Basel," spokesman Walter Müller stated.

The campaign has already drawn fire from the Diocese of Chur and the anti-abortion organization Human Life, which have condemned it vehemently, calling it "irresponsible". On the other hand, Aide Suisse Contre le SIDA, a Swiss AIDS action group, has applauded the initiative.