Friday, December 3, 2010

CELAM gathering denonouces persistent human rights violations

The Latin American Bishops Conference (CELAM) highlighted a growing awareness of the value of human rights on the continent but warned that "in spite of these advances, we have to note painfully that shameful situations of human rights violations persist."

These conclusions follow the 5th Continental Encounter on Human Rights Ministry that took place in San Salvador this week. The objective of the meeting was to produce a guide for human rights ministry. Sixty-five people from 22 different countries participated in the gathering.

In their concluding document, the conference participants state that "the existence of a socioeconomic system that is not centered on human beings and their rights has led to a degradation of the conditions of people who are excluded from any order. The continent has grown economically but that has not translated into more equity and social justice."

They decry the fact that "more than 200 million people live in unacceptable conditions on a continent with enormous natural wealth and biodiversity" and they also noted the "feminization of poverty". They stress that the lack of decent working conditions and inequality of access to resources -- both political and natural -- are a grave scandal that threatens the ability of the region to become economically integrated in the world.

The conference document makes special mention of environmental rights, particularly in areas where the exploitation of natural resources, especially in mining and petroleum, is taking place with no regard for the environment and in the absence of any laws or norms. It highlights the particular violations of the rights of indigenous people and those of African descent and says that those violations "are an offense against God and the entire human family." It also condemns drug trafficking and human trafficking, as well as the criminal mistreatment of migrants.

It states that "for many years impunity has been the common denominator in human rights violations caused by agents at the service of the state and powerful groups" and avers that judicial independence is still a challenge in the region's fragile democracies.

The gathering concluded with a mass celebrated in the crypt where Monseñor Oscar Romero is buried by Bishop Jorge Eduardo Lozano of Gualeguaychú, Argentina, who heads the Social Ministry Section of CELAM's Department of Justice and Solidarity. Mons. Lozano made a plea for commitment to a gospel path of love and nonviolence. “We can, however, be stupid and foolish and choose the inconsistency of war, hatred, revenge, greed, comfort, silence ... When the Word is not fruitful in our lives, we are covered by the shadow of indifference towards the fate of brothers and sisters, for whom we don't take responsibility because we don't feel responsible. But we can wake up from this negligence. We are called to overcome the pride of doing things 'my way'. Praying with the story of Moses has enlightened us over these days. We should grow in humility and generosity to commit ourselves to the liberation of the people according to God's "style."

Photo: Conference participants gather at Mons. Oscar Romero's tomb.

Centenary of the death of Leo Tolstoy, Gandhi's teacher

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)

Occupying a central place in the living room of my house is a stunning picture by a Polish painter showing Tolstoy (1828-1910) embraced by the Christ crowned with thorns. He is dressed like a Russian peasant and seems exhausted, as if symbolizing all humankind finally reaching the infinite embrace of peace after millions of years of painfully climbing the path of evolution. It was a gift I received from then President of the UN General Assembly Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, a great devotee of the father of modern pacifism. November 20 marked the centenary of his death in 1910. Tolstoy deserves to be remembered not only as one of the greatest writers of humanity for his novels War and Peace (1868) and Anna Karenina (1875), among many others -- 90 volumes -- but primarily as one of the minds most committed to the poor and peace, being considered the father of modern pacifism.
We theologians are particularly interested in the book The Kingdom of God Is Within You, written after a terrible spiritual crisis when he was 50 years old (1878). He visited philosophers, theologians and scholars and no one satisfied him. Then he plunged into the world of the poor. There he discovered a living faith, "that gave them a chance to live." Tolstoy considered this book the most important of all he had written. He regarded his famous novels, as he confessed in his Diary on 10/28/1895, as "the chattering of street vendors to attract customers with the aim of selling them something very different later." He took three years to complete it (1890-1893). In Brazil, it was published in 1994 by Editora Rosa dos Tempos (now Record), with a beautiful introduction by Friar Clodovis Boff, but unfortunately it is out of print. In Spanish, it was published by Editorial Kairos this year, 2010. [Translator's note: The Kingdom of God Is Within You is available in English through Watchmaker Publishing, 2010]

The Kingdom of God Is Within You, quickly translated into several languages, had an enormous impact, generating acclaim and strong rejection. But its biggest influence was the one it had on Gandhi. It also submerged him in a deep spiritual crisis, because he still believed in violence as a solution to social problems when he read the book in 1894. It caused an abyssal stir in him: "Reading the book cured me and made me a staunch follower of ahimsa (nonviolence)." He distributed the book among friends and took it to prison in 1908 to meditate on it. The apostle of "active nonviolence" had Leo Tolstoy for a teacher. The latter was excommunicated by the Orthodox Church and the book was banned by the Tsarist regime.

What is the central thesis of the book? These words of Christ: "Do not resist evil" (Mt 5:39). Its meaning is: "Do not resist evil with evil." Or do not answer violence with violence. It is not crossing your arms, but responding to violence with nonviolent action -- with kindness, gentleness, and love. To put it another way: "not returning evil, no retaliation, no counter-attacks, no revenge." These true attitudes have intrinsic invincible strength as Gandhi taught. For the Russian prophet, such a precept was not restricted to Christianity. It translates the secret and profound logic of the human spirit, which is love. It touches on the sacred that is within each person. Hence the title of the book: The Kingdom of God Is Within You.

Gandhi translated Tolstoyan nonviolence into non-cooperation, civil disobedience and active repudiation of all servility. Both he and Tolstoy knew that power is fed by acceptance, blind obedience and submission. Since both the State and the Church demand such subservience, he discredits them forcefully. These are institutions that take away freedom, an inalienable and defining attribute of human beings. In the frontispiece of the book we read this phrase of St. Paul: "Do not become slaves to human beings" (1 Cor 7:23).

For Tolstoy, Christianity is less a doctrine to be accepted than a practice to be lived out. It is looking ahead and not behind. Looking backward, it seems that it failed, but looking forward, it is a force not yet fully experienced. And it is urgent to put it into practice. Tolstoy prophetically sensed the eruption of violent wars, as in fact occurred. The house is burning and there's no time to ask if it is necessary to leave or not.

Tolstoy has a message for the present since the big powers continue to believe in the violence of war to solve political problems in Iraq and Afghanistan. But other times will come. When the chick is no longer able to stay in the egg, it breaks the shell with its beak and is born. So, a new era of nonviolence and peace must be born.

Photo: Leo Tolstoy the Russian Novelist Embracing Jesus, by Jan Styka.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

30th Anniversaries 2: The Martyred Church Women of El Salvador

Thirty years ago today, on December 2nd, 1980, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, lay missionary Jean Donovan and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford were brutally raped and murdered while serving the poor in El Salvador by that country's national guard.

The four women were recently commemorated in a new oratorio by composer Elizabeth Swados, called "Resilient Souls". The piece alternates between examining the murders and corruption and celebrating the spirit of each woman and the echo they have left for future generations. “Their generosity and selflessness and the twinkle, the not being so self-important, helps me focus my own beliefs, to not be so self-serious,” Swados said of the women. “They don’t dwell, they just get on with it. That’s a huge thing to learn.” Performances of the oratorio are being held in New York this week to benefit the Maura Clarke-Ita Ford Center which provides education and economic development assistance to women.

More information about the martyred women is available from the Inter Religious Task Force on Central America.

Songs for Advent and Christmas 2: Villancico - Ska-P

As we said in the previous post on this theme, these songs are not for those who want warm and fuzzy, feel good Christmas music. They are songs that make us think about Christmas in the context of a mature Christian faith and understanding of the social implications of the gospel.

Ska-P are a ska punk band out of Vallecas (Madrid), Spain. Common themes throughout Ska-P's songs are human rights - including abolishment of the death penalty, social injustice, women's rights, anti-fascism, anti-zionism, anti-capitalism and the support of legalization of cannabis, and animal rights (particularly the abolishment of bullfighting). In "Villancico" they take on the commercialism of Christmas that forgets about the poor and the starving. They also take on the institutional Church which they see as distorting the original message of Jesus and making money off the faithful. The song was recorded on their 1998 album Eurosis. Is this anti-capitalist carol just mindless militant secularism, or do these guys have a point?

Well, some will say, the Church does speak out for the poor and the hungry. Could it be that this message is being obscured by the much louder discourse on personal morality issues? Archbishop Tim Dolan, the new president of the USCCB, recently pondered the disturbing question raised by the Pew Forum survey which found that Catholics accept Christ, but not necessarily the Church. Why the disconnect? Maybe we can start with asking why, when 9.8% of Americans are unemployed, are the USCCB and the Knights of Columbus spending millions of dollars to disseminate a second video to counteract the trend towards gay marriages? In many Catholic families there will be no Christmas this year because there's no money for it...and the Church is worried about "Adam and Steve". What would Christ's priorities be?

25, ya es Navidad. Todos juntos vamos a brindar
por Ruanda, Etiopía. En Venezuela o en la India
hoy mueren niños, ¡FELIZ NAVIDAD!
Navidades de hambre y dolor. Ha nacido el hijo de Dios.
El Mesías que nos guía, ofrece su filosofía.
Nadie entiende al hijo de Dios.
Mi familia comienza a cantar. En el ambiente hay felicidad.
En compañía vamos a olvidar la agonía de los pueblos
donde no hay Navidad.
Cantemos, hermanos, todos juntos hacia el Vaticano.
Suelta prenda, ¡COÑO!, que mueren niños de inanición.
Un negocio millonario con la fe de los cristianos
que utilizan a Jesús como el perpetuo salvador.
Jesucristo era un tío normal, pacifista, intelectual,
siempre al lado de los pobres, defendiendo sus valores,
siempre en contra del capital.
Crucificado como un animal, defendiendo un ideal.
El abuso de riqueza se convierte en la miseria más injusta
de la humanidad.
Mi familia comienza...
Cantemos, hermanos, todos juntos...
Fue la Iglesia la que se lo montó
y de su muerte un negocio creó.
El Vaticano es un imperio que devora con ingenio
predicando por la caridad.
25, ya es navidad. Todos juntos vamos a brindar
por un revolucionario que intentó cambiar el mundo,
el primer hippie de la humanidad.
Mi familia comienza...
Cantemos, hermanos, todos juntos...
La Navidad, la Navidad, ES LA SOCIEDAD DE CONSUMO.
MENTIRA, MENTIRA, la Navidad es mentira, MENTIRA...

(Rebel Girl's translation)

The 25th, now it's Christmas. We're all going to drink a toast
to Rwanda, Ethiopia. In Venezuela and in India
Children are dying today. Merry Christmas!
Christmases of hunger and pain. The Son of God is born.
The Messiah who guides us, offers His philosophy.
Nobody understands the Son of God.
My family starts to sing. There's happiness in the air.
In others' company we'll forget the agony of the places
where there's no Christmas.
Sing, brothers and sisters, all together to the Vatican.
Speak up, m-f, because there are children dying of starvation!
A million-dollar business with the faith of Christians
who use Jesus as a perpetual savior.
Jesus was a regular fellow, a pacifist, intellectual,
always on the side of the poor, defending their values,
always against capitalism.
He was crucified like an animal, while defending an ideal.
The abuse of wealth becomes the most unjust misery
of humankind.
My family starts...
Sing, brothers and sisters, all together...
It was the Church that organized it
and made a business out of His death.
The Vatican is an empire that devours ingeniously
while preaching charity.
The 25th, now it's Christmas. We're all going to drink a toast
to a revolutionary who tried to change the world,
the first hippie of the human race.
My family starts...
Sing, brothers and sisters, all together...
Christmas, Christmas, it's the consumer society.
A lie, a lie, Christmas is a lie, a lie...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

30th Anniversaries: 1. The Death of Dorothy Day

Thirty years ago, on November 29, 1980, Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker passed away. Also, December 2nd marks the 30th anniversary of the martyrdom of Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, lay missionary Jean Donovan and Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clarke and Ita Ford, who were killed for their service to the poor in El Salvador.

And, because it is Advent, I found myself going to the Dorothy Day Library on the Web to see if I could find some of Dorothy's Advent reflections. With all the glorious tributes to Dorothy that are floating around the Web at this time, I think her own self-assessment during an undated Advent examination of conscience that she shared with the world in her "On Pilgrimage" column in the Catholic Worker might be useful. It shows a very human woman and goes part of the way towards explaining why Dorothy famously said: "Don't call me a saint. I don't want to be dismissed so easily.” Dorothy didn't want people to view her as anything other than an ordinary human being. Her message was that what she did, we can do as well. I don't know about you, but I find a lot to identify with in Dorothy's self examination:

...Many people think an examination of conscience is a morbid affair. Péguy has some verses which Donald Gallagher read to me once in the St. Louis House of Hospitality. (He and Cy Echele opened the house there.) They were about examination of conscience. There is a place for it, he said, at the beginning of the Mass. "I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault." But after you get done with it, don’t go on brooding about it; don’t keep thinking of it. You wipe your feet at the door of the church as you go in, and you do not keep contemplating your dirty feet.

Here is my examination at the beginning of Advent, at the beginning of a new year. Lack of charity, criticism of superiors, of neighbors, of friends and enemies. Idle talk, impatience, lack of self-control and mortification towards self, and of love towards others. Pride and presumption. (It is good to have visitors — one’s faults stand out in the company of others.) Self-will, desire not to be corrected, to have one’s own way. The desire in turn to correct others, impatience in thought and speech.

The remedy is recollection and silence. Meanness about giving time to others and wasting it myself. Constant desire for comfort. First impulse is always to make myself comfortable. If cold, to put on warmth; if hot, to become cool; if hungry, to eat; and what one likes — always the first thought is of one’s own comfort. It is hard for a woman to be indifferent about little material things. She is a homemaker, a cook; she likes to do material things. So let her do them for others, always. Woman’s job is to love. Enlarge Thou my heart, Lord, that Thou mayest enter in.

I find Dorothy's frank self-assessment refreshing as her canonization process continues along its merry way, spearheaded by some of the most conservative forces in the Church. I look at the Dorothy Day Guild Web site and wonder how Dorothy would feel about the lily-white corporate-looking Flash presentation on the main page. Dorothy conscientiously kept the Catholic Worker integrated at a time when segregation of the races was popular. She supported Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. She supported Cesar Chavez and the striking farmworkers in California. She even had the Catholic Worker masthead redesigned to include a person of color. And, of course, the Guild site downplays and often completely ignores Dorothy's political activities, her resistance to war and nuclear weapons and her arrests for civil disobedience. It's disheartening. Archbishop Dolan's recent homily on the anniversary of her birth earlier last month, highlighting a story about a time when Dorothy chose going to Mass over attending a rally, exemplifies the direction in which the pro-canonization folks are going. We may gain a saint, but will she be a sanitized "plaster saint"? Will she obscure the real Dorothy Day? In the Church, there's always a fine line between celebration and co-optation -- just look at what happened to Our Blessed Mother.

A better tribute to Dorothy is in the work of Robert Ellsberg who has been compiling and publishing Dorothy's writings. The first volume, The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day came out two years ago. This year we have All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day. Both are published by Marquette University Press. Dorothy's papers are kept in the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection in the Marquette University Archives. Here, Dorothy is allowed to speak for herself.

And the best way you can pay tribute to Dorothy Day is very simply to keep the work of the Catholic Worker going through volunteering with and making donations to those who are keeping her legacy alive. Click here to find a Catholic Worker house near you.

Photo: Dorothy Day takes the words of Pope John XXIII to the streets: "Why should the resources of human genius and the riches of the people turn more often to preparing arms -- pernicious instruments of death and destruction -- than to increasing the welfare of all classes of citizens and particularly of the poor?"

Songs for Advent and Christmas 1: Esperando, Esperando

Last year around this time, we brought you a series of videos about the Virgin of Guadalupe -- ones that, we hope, were a bit more interesting than all of the well-known Guadalupan hymns. This year, we are inspired by a question posed on Women's Ordination Conference's Facebook page and so we will be sharing some of our favorite seasonal songs. These are, for the most part, not your traditional carols. If you just want Santa and sleds and sweet baby Jesus and his meek and mild Mother curled up together in a clean, fresh-smelling manger, go to the nearest shopping mall (or most parishes, for that matter). This is not "Baby Jesus" for "baby Christians".

Our first Christmas song is by Basque priest and prolific Catholic songwriter, Cesáreo Gabaráin (English translation by Rebel Girl). It was recorded on his ”Liturgia y Canción” album. This song has moved into the popular religious tradition and the lyrics have been slightly modified, so you will see some versions that have changed "Si seguimos viviendo en pecado" ("If we continue to live in sin") in the final verse to "Si seguimos odiando al hermano" ("If we continue to hate our brother"), perhaps to counteract the Church's overemphasis on personal sin at the expense of social sin.

As you listen to this song, look at the photo below. Can you see Mary and Jesus in this homeless young woman and her child?

Esperando, esperando.
Esperando al Mesías que nos ha de salvar,
tierra y hombres que sueñan
porque Dios va a llegar.

Esperando, esperando.
Esperando, Señor tu venida,
tu venida de verdad.

Buscamos la luz que nos guíe
y encendemos estrellas de papel.
¿Hasta cuándo, Señor, jugaremos
como niños con la fe?
Aunque vanos discursos gritemos
pregonando una falsa hermandad.
¿Hasta cuándo, Señor, viviremos
sin justicia y caridad?

Villancicos alegres y humildes
nacimientos de barro y cartón,
mas no habrá de verdad nacimiento
si a nosotros nos falta el amor.
Si seguimos viviendo en pecado
o hay un niño que llore sin pan,
aunque suenen canciones y fiestas
no podremos tener Navidad.

Waiting, hoping.
Waiting for the Messiah who is to save us,
Earth and people dreaming
because God is coming.

Waiting, hoping.
Waiting, Lord, for Your coming,
Your coming in truth.

We seek the light that guides us
and light paper stars.
How long, O Lord, will we play
with faith, like children?
Even though we shout out vain speeches,
preaching a false brotherhood,
how long, Lord, will we live
without justice and charity?

Happy and humble carols,
creches of clay and cardboard,
but there won't be a true Birth
if we don't have love.
If we continue living in sin
or a child cries for want of bread,
although carols and feasts ring out,
we cannot have Christmas.