Friday, December 30, 2011


by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Luke 2:16-21

Luke ends his story of Jesus' birth by telling the readers that "Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart." She doesn't keep what happened as a memento from the past, but as an experience that she will update and relive throughout her life.

It isn't a gratuitous observation. Mary is a model of faith. According to this evangelist, believing in Jesus the Savior isn't remembering events from former times, but experiencing today His saving strength that is able to make our lives more human.

Therefore, Luke uses a very original literary device. Jesus doesn't belong to the past. He intentionally goes on repeating that the salvation of the risen Christ is being offered to us "TODAY", right now, whenever we encounter Him. Let's look at a few examples.

This is how Jesus' birth is proclaimed to us: "Today in the City of David a Savior has been born unto you." Jesus can be born for us today. Today he can come into our lives and change them forever. With Him we can be born into a new existence.

In a village in Galilee, they bring a paralytic before Jesus. Jesus is moved to see him blocked by his sin and heals him by offering him forgiveness: "Your sins are forgiven." The people react by praising God: "We have seen incredible things today." Today, we too can experience forgiveness, God's peace and inner joy if we let ourselves be healed by Jesus.

In the city of Jericho, Jesus stays in the house of Zacchaeus, a rich and powerful tax collector. The encounter with Jesus transforms him -- he will give back what he has robbed from many people and will share his assets with the poor. Jesus says to him: "Today salvation has come to this house." If we let Jesus come into our lives, we can begin to live a worthier and more fraternal life of solidarity today.

Jesus is dying on the cross between two wrongdoers. One of them confides in Jesus: "Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom." Jesus responds immediately: "Today you will be with Me in paradise." The day of our death will also be a day of salvation. Finally we will hear these long awaited words from Jesus: rest, trust in Me, today you will be with Me forever.

Today we begin a new year. But what could be really new and good for us? Who will make new happiness be born within us? What psychologist will teach us to be more humane? Good wishes are not very useful. What's crucial is to be more attentive to the best that is being stirred up in us. Salvation is offered to us every day. We don't have to wait for anything. Today can be a day of salvation for me.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Conversion of the Heart

by Sr. Teresa Forcades (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Un Manament Nou

This centrality of baptism in terms of the inauguration of the 'new life' does not authorize us to anachronistically separate 'sacramental efficacy' from conversion. In St. Basil's text, it's clear that the sacrament is not complete without a conversion of the heart:

"As a result, with three immersions and as many invocations the great mystery of baptism is performed, so that death is represented and, through the tradition of the knowledge of God, the souls of those who are baptized are enlightened. So that, if there is any grace in the water, it comes not from the nature of the latter, but from the presence of the Spirit. Because baptism 'is not the elimination of bodily impurity, but a commitment to a good conscience with God' (1 Peter 3:21)" (15:35).

The baptized person must come to view herself only in terms of the dynamics of God's love. It is of utmost interest to the subject of the analogy between 'being a person' of God and of ourselves that St. Basil speaks openly of the 'new nature' of the baptized one and that he identifies it (as anticipated by grace) with the same nature that in the resurrection will allow us to participate in the life of the Trinity:

"To prepare us for the life of the resurrection, God offers us the whole gospel way of behaving, prescribing that we are to be gentle, tolerant, purified of the love of pleasure, and uninterested in wealth, such that the future life is by nature the same, as we proceed deliberately, maintaining ourselves appropriately. And if anyone, therefore, were to say by way of definition that the gospel is like a foreshadowing of the life that comes from the resurrection, I wouldn't think he were mistaken" (15:35).

'The life that comes from the resurrection' is the 'spiritual life' (1 Corinthians 15:44) and, as such, cannot be captured in formulas, concepts or words. It necessarily lies beyond our ability to speak of it, but we can experience it (in advance):

"Just as the sea represents Baptism because it tore [the people] away from Pharaoh, so the baptismal bath also separates us from the tyranny of the devil. That sea itself slew the enemy; here and now our enmity with God dies. From the former, the people came out unharmed, and from the water, we return to life from the dead, saved by the grace of Him who called us" (14:31).

Knowing oneself to be 'saved by grace', knowing onself to be totally and freely loved by God (up to the giving of life) is to find the truth about one's being, to behave according to this truth, to love (to the extent of one's own strength) as one is loved (up to the giving of life), is to 'be a person', is to 'be like God'.

(This is another excerpt from Sr. Teresa's new book, Ser persona, avui: estudi del concepte de ‘persona’ en la teologia trinitària clàssica i de la seva relació amb la noció moderna de llibertat ["Being a person today: a study in the concept of 'person' in classic Trinitarian theology and its relationship to the modern notion of freedom"] published in 2011 by the Abadía de Montserrat. As I work on these texts, I'm finding that I like Sr. Teresa's translation of St. Basil better than a lot of the standard English translations out there...)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Inseparable Communion

By Sr. Teresa Forcades (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Un Manament Nou

NOTE: These current columns by Sr. Teresa, which we will be gradually translating into English, are extracts from her most recent book, published in Catalan in 2011 by the Abadía de Montserrat, Ser persona, avui: estudi del concepte de ‘persona’ en la teologia trinitària clàssica i de la seva relació amb la noció moderna de llibertat ["Being a person today: a study in the concept of 'person' in classic Trinitarian theology and its relationship to the modern notion of freedom"]. The book is an adaptation of her 2008 doctoral thesis at the Facultat de Teologia de Catalunya.

Besides being dependent on notions of space and time altogether improper for God, the notion of subordination, because of the perfect image ratio that exists between the Father and the Son, in diminishing the Son, also necessarily diminishes the Father:

"Moreover, whoever thinks so low of the Son, will also do so of the Father. Consequently, they do not take away the dignity of the Son, but, by repeating these arguments, they incur the charge of blasphemy against God, for every audacity they commit against the Son must necessarily be transferred to the Father. So whoever assigns to the Father the upper place by way of precedence, and asserts that His only begotten Son is in a more humble place, will find that to his fiction attach all the consequent conditions of body. And if these are the delusions of a drunken man or one who is on the brink of madness, how could it be pious not to worship and glorify Him who by nature, glory and dignity is conjoined with the Father, when He Himself has taught us that 'whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father' (John 5:23)?"(6,15)

St. Basil concludes that the doxology "Glory to the Father, with the Son, together with the Holy Spirit" is not only legitimate and in agreement with the written and oral tradition of the Church, but that it is particularly useful for capturing the difference between the persons and the unity of the essence that constitutes the mystery of God's being:

"Indeed, whoever says that the Son is with the Father, simultaneously states the properties of the hypostasis and of inseparable communion. This can be verified in human matters: the conjunction 'and' expresses the common element in an action, but the preposition 'with' means communion, in some sense. For example, Paul and Timothy sailed to Macedonia, while Tychicus and Onesimus were sent to the Colossians; from this we know that they did the same thing. If, however, we hear that they sailed with one another, and were sent with each other, we also know that they have carried out the action together. So this word, like no other, while demolishing the error of Sabellius, does the same with a diametrically opposed impiety. I speak of those who separate the Son from the Father and the Holy Spirit from the Son, by intervals of time (25,59)."

However, as we were reminded at the beginning of his treatise, St. Basil's intention was not at any time to replace one doxological formula with another, but to show 1) that the reality of God is above any formula, and 2) that the usual formula "Glory to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit" should be understood as the communion of the persons and never as the subordination of one person to another:

"And to you who love Christ, I say that the Church recognizes both usages and has not rejected one as destructive to the other (...). Therefore, the expression 'with whom' is for those who glorify, and 'through whom' is the term chosen by those who give thanks (7,16). "

In a Manger

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Luke 2:1-14

According to Luke's story, it's the angel's message to the shepherds that offers us the key to understanding from the faith perspective the mystery enfolded in a Child born in strange circumstances on the outskirts of Bethlehem.

It's night. An unfamiliar light illuminates the darkness covering Bethlehem. The light doesn't descend on the place where the Child is, but envelopes the shepherds who hear the message. The Child remains hidden in darkness, in an unknown place. One must make an effort to find Him.

These are the first words we hear: "Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News, great joy for all the people." Something very great has happened. We all have a reason to rejoice. That Child doesn't just belong to Mary and Joseph. He has been born for all of us. He doesn't just belong to a few privileged ones. He is for all people.

We Christians should not hoard this holiday. Jesus belongs to those who follow Him in faith and to those who have forgotten Him, those who trust in God and those who doubt it all. No one faces their fears alone. No one is alone in their loneliness. There's Someone who is thinking of us.

So the messenger proclaims: "Today a Savior is born unto you, the Messiah, the Lord." He isn't the son of the emperor Augustus, the world dominator, celebrated as savior and bearer of peace thanks to the power of his legions. The birth of a powerful man is not good news in a world where the weak are the victims of all sorts of abuse.

This Child is born among a people in submission to the Empire. They didn't have Roman citizenship. No one in Rome awaited His birth. But He is the Savior we need. He will not be at the service of any Caesar. He will not work for any empire. He will only seek the Kingdom of God and His justice. He will live to make life more humane. Through Him, this unjust world will find God's salvation.

Where is this Child? How can we recognize Him? This is what the messenger says: "Here is the sign for you: You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger." The Child was born an outcast. His parents were not able to find a welcoming place for Him. His mother gave birth to Him without anyone's help. She herself, as best she could, wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger.

God begins His adventure among men in this manger. We will not find Him among the powerful but among the weak. He isn't in the grand and spectacular but among the little ones and the poor. We must hear the message: let's go to Bethlehem; let's return to the roots of our faith. Let's look for God where He has become incarnate.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The likeness of God

By Sr. Teresa Forcades (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Un Manament Nou

For Basil, it was clear that the end of human life is full participation in the divine life. Having been passively created in the image of God, we need to make use of our freedom to reach the likeness of God. The Spirit of God pushes us to live according to God's will. Our response is decisive: either we can stifle the action of the Spirit or we can be open to it.

"Just as when a sunbeam falls on bright and transparent bodies, they themselves become brilliant too, and shed forth a fresh brightness from themselves, so souls wherein the Spirit dwells, illuminated by the Spirit, themselves become spiritual, and send forth their grace to others. Hence comes foreknowledge of the future, understanding of mysteries, apprehension of what is hidden, distribution of charisms, participation in heaven and the dance of the angels, joy without end, abiding in God, being made like to God, and, highest of all, being made God." (9:23)

Due to sin, the step from the image to the likeness cannot be simply continuous. It can't just be the unfolding of potential that leaves intact or reinforces the initial identity but rather, as in the case of seed, we need a real transformation (1 Cor 15:51), we have to "die to be born anew."

The economy of our God and Savior over human beings is to bring them back from exile and rescue them for intimacy with God from the alienation caused by disobedience. (...) Therefore, for the perfection of life, the imitation of Christ is necessary not only in the examples of gentleness, humility, and patience He left us in His lifetime, but also of death itself, says Paul, the imitator of Christ -- "being conformed to His death, in order to attain the resurrection from the dead." (Phil 3:10-11) (15,35).

Basil reflects the belief of the Christians of the ascetic monastic movement at the end of the 4th century in his identification of the "death" that enables us to be "born from above" through baptism:

How, then, can we resemble Him in death? Being buried with Him in baptism. What is this kind of burial? And what is the benefit of imitation? First, you have to interrupt the course of the previous life. This is impossible unless one is born from above, according to the word of the Lord. In fact, the rebirth -- as its name suggests -- is the beginning of a second life. Now, before starting the second life, you have to put an end to the previous one (15:35).

(From Ser persona, hoy: estudio del concepto de 'persona' en la teología trinitaria clásica y de su relación con la noción moderna de libertad by Teresa Forcades i Vila. Published by the Abadía de Montserrat).

Christmas of yore: old and ever new

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardo Boff Blog

Note: This essay, which Leonardo reproduced on his blog, is taken from a special Christmas book he compiled, O Sol da Esperança: Natal, histórias, poesias e símbolos ["The Sun of Hope: Christmas stories, poems and symbols"], Editora Mar de Idéias, Rio de Janeiro, 2007. The book is illustrated by graphic artist Adriana Miranda. There is a companion volume about Easter, Ovo da Esperança – o sentido da festa da Páscoa ["The Egg of Hope: the Meaning of Easter"]. I can't tell Orbis Books what to publish, but I think both titles would do very well in English...

I go way back to the late 30s, a time when Santa Claus didn't yet arrive by sleigh. In our Italian, German and Polish colonies that were taming the Concordia-SC region, known as the headquarters of Sadia and Seara with their excellent meat products, we were only familiar with Baby Jesus. Those were times of a deep and naive faith that informed every detail of life. For us children, Christmas was the culmination of the year, prepared and yearned for. Finally Baby Jesus came with His little mule (musseta in Italian) to bring us gifts.

The region was pine forests as far as the eye could see and it was easy to find a beautiful little pine tree. This was decorated with rudimentary materials from that area that was still under construction. Colored paper, cellophane, and pictures we had painted ourselves at school were used. Mother made gingerbread in different shapes -- human and pets -- which were hung on the branches of the pine tree. At the top there was always a big star covered in red paper.

Below, around the Christmas tree, we put up the nativity, made of scraps of paper that came from a magazine to which my father, a schoolmaster, subscribed. There was the Good Joseph, wholly devout Mary, the wise men, the shepherds, the little lambs, the ox and the ass, some dogs, the singing angels we hung on the lower branches. And of course, in the center, Baby Jesus, whom, seeing Him almost naked, we imagined to be shivering with cold, and it filled us with compassion.

We lived in the glorious time of myth. Myth expresses the truth better than pure and simple historical description. How do we speak of a God who became a Child, the mystery of man, his salvation, good and evil, except by telling stories, projecting myths that reveal the deep meaning of such facts? The stories of Jesus' birth told in the gospels contain historical elements, but to emphasize its religious significance, they have been coated with mythological and symbolic language. For us kids, all this was truth that we enthusiastically embraced.

Even before the thirteenth salary check was introduced, teachers were paid a Christmas bonus. My father spent all this money to buy gifts for his 11 children. And they were gifts that came from afar and all were instructive: cards with names of the main musicians, of famous painters whose names we struggled to pronounce and laughed at their beards or their noses or any other peculiarity. A gift made a fortune: a box of materials to build a house or a castle. We, the older ones, began to participate in modernity -- we won a jeep or a little car that was pulled by a rope, or a wheel that spun and threw sparks and the like.

So that there would be no fighting about each present below, the name of the son or daughter was hung from the branches. And later, the negotiations and trading began. The irrefutable proof that Baby Jesus in fact had passed by the house was the disappearance of the bundles of fresh grass. We ran to check. And, indeed, the little mule had eaten all of it.

Today we live in times of reason and demythologizing. But that is only true for us adults. Children, both with Santa Claus and to a lesser extent with Baby Jesus, live in an enchanted dream world. The good old man brings gifts and gives good advice. As I have a white beard, every child who passes by me calls me Santa Claus. I explain to them that I'm just Santa's brother who has come to see if the children are doing everything right. Then I tell Santa Claus so that they get a good present. Yet many doubt. They approach, stroke my beard, and say that in fact the man is Santa Claus himself. I'm a person like any other, but the myth makes me really Santa Claus.

If we adults, children of criticism and demythologizing, can no longer be enchanted, let's allow our sons and daughters to delight in and enjoy the magical realm of fantasy. Their lives will be full of meaning and joy. What more do we want for Christmas than these precious gifts that Jesus also wants to bring to this world?

The Church Fathers of Latin America

by Jesús Espeja (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Iglesia se hace diálogo blog

On December 21st 500 years ago on Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic, Fray Antonio Montesinos delivered the famous sermon denouncing the abuses of the colonizers against the defenseless indigenous people (see video re-enactment below). That denunciation and similar ones in different regions of the Indies were the first cry of a Church that, especially in the 20th century, rejuvenated Latin America and is light for all Christian communities in the world. The subject well deserves a reflection on this day.

Whether in favor or against, who hasn't heard of "liberation theology"? It was a very significant movement in the middle of the last century in Latin America, especially after Vatican II. Its starting point was reality: the impoverished majority whose exclusion was now humanly intolerable and who lifted their voices to get out of an inhumane situation.

Christian sensitivities that experienced a compassionate God as revealed in Jesus Christ's historical actions could not remain impassive to that righteous cry, and logically the Church sided with the poor. And the Church wasn't just the theologians with their reflections, nor was it just the so-called base Christian communities that had been born among the poor and simple people, thanks to the Holy Spirit. It was also the bishops in the General Conferences. From the one held at Medellin in 1968 to the one that took place in Aparecida in 2007, the bishops have remained faithful to the preferential option for the poor.

It's true that the Roman Curia still has its reservations about this movement. But it is also true that this movement of the poor, processed through theological reflection, was accepted at the General Conferences of the Latin American bishops, and has been encouraged in the speeches of the last three popes. How can one not see this acceptance in the 1987 encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis? There are many currents in this theological movement, and it isn't fair to just talk about liberation theology, whether speaking ill or well of it. But at least it's a line I know a bit about; it seems to me to be very evangelical and scientifically serious.

Just as an example, there are names like Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, Jon Sobrino and others to whom we owe theological reflections that have been partially heard and could be very healthy for European theology. This theology has somehow received an endorsement at the CELAM General Conferences, which have been implementing Vatican II's invitation to read the signs of the times and discern in them the signs of the Holy Spirit.

We have a good basis to conclude that there is a tradition in the Latin American Church. Montesinos, Bartolomé de Las Casas and other prophets were its first Fathers. But that tradition is alive and has been renewed in others like bishops Helder Cámara, Evaristo Arns, Leónidas Proaño, Samuel Ruiz, Mons. Romero, Méndez Arceo, Jesús Calderón, Silva Henriquez, Gerardi, Pedro Casaldáliga, Tomás Balduino, Raúl Vera, Julio Cabrera, Ramazzini...

That tradition has been -- and continues to be -- a grace for the whole Church that we should celebrate with gratitude as we remember Montesinos' sermon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How does one govern seven billion people?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Last week we dealt with the challenge of feeding seven billion people. The increase in global population is at a growing rate -- in 1802, we were one billion, in 1927, 2 billion, in 1961, 3 billion, in 1974, 4 billion, in 1987, 5 billion, by 1999, 6 billion, and finally, in 2011, 7 billion. In 2025, if there is no abrupt warming, we will be 8 billion, in 2050, 9 billion, and in 2070, 10 billion. There are biologists like Lynn Margulis and Enzo Tiezzi who see in the acceleration a sign of the end of the species, like bacteria when they are placed in a closed container (a Petri dish). Sensing the end of nutrients, they multiply exponentially, and then, suddenly, all die. Would this be the last flowering of the peach tree before it dies?

Regardless of this threatening issue, we have an exciting challenge -- how does one govern 7 billion people? It's the subject of global governance, i.e. a multipolar center with the role of democratically coordinating the coexistence of human beings in the same country and Common Home. This configuration is a requirement of globalization, because it involves the interweaving of all with all within the same single living space. Sooner or later global governance will emerge, since it is a requirement that cannot be postponed to address global problems and ensure the sustainability of the Earth.

The idea itself isn't new. It was already present as an idea in Erasmus and Kant, but it acquired its first real contours with the League of Nations after the First World War, and definitely after the Second World War with the United Nations. The latter doesn't work because of undemocratic veto power of some countries that make any global initiative against their interests unviable. Organizations like the IMF, the World Bank, World Trade Organization, WHO, ILO, GATT and UNESCO are expressions of the presence of some global governance.

Currently, the worsening of systemic problems like global warming, water shortages, maldistribution of food, the financial and economic crisis and wars calls for global governance.

The U.N. Commission on Global Governance defines it as "the sum of many ways individuals and institutions manage their common affairs and resolve diverse interests in a cooperative manner. It includes not only intergovernmental relations but also NGOs, grassroots movements, multinational corporations and global capital markets."

This globalization is also at the cybernetic level, through global networks, a kind of governance without government. Terrorism has caused a security governance in the threatened countries. There's a perverse global governance that we could call governance of global corporate power formed by the great economic and financial consortia which are organized in a concentric manner until arriving at a small group that controls about 80% of the economic process. This has been demonstrated by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Research (ETH) that competes in quality with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and has been exposed among us by the PUC-SP economist Ladislau Dowbor. This power is not well-known, but it has a major influence in world politics starting from the economy.

These are the basic contents of healthy global governance: peace and security, avoiding the use of violent resolution, combatting hunger and poverty for millions of people, education accessible to everyone so that they can be protagonists in history, health care as a fundamental human right, basic decent housing, personal, social, cultural and gender human rights, rights of Mother Earth and nature, preserved for us and future generations.

To ensure these minimum things, common to all humans and also to the community of life, we need to decrease the figure of the nation states which are tending towards disappearing in the name of the unification of the human species on planet Earth.

Just as there is only one Earth, one humanity and one common destiny, a single form of governance must emerge, unique and complex, that will take charge of this new global reality and allow the continuation of human civilization.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

30th Anniversary of Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House

Friday night, Dorothy Day Catholic Worker House in Washington, DC celebrated its 30th anniversary with a Mass with Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, followed by cake and other light refreshments.

Many former residents of the house returned for the occasion and told stories from the house's genealogy -- the first Catholic Worker house in this line (there is a separate lineage for the Michael Kirwan Catholic Worker houses) in the early 1980s as part of N Street Village where the late Fr. Dick McSorley lived, then St. Francis House (which also spawned the St. Francis CW retreat house in Spotsylvania, VA).

It was a lighthearted occasion punctuated by music from members of one of the choirs of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington, VA, which enjoys a strong informal relationship with this Catholic Worker community both in the hospitality ministry and in joint peace activities through Pax Christi.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

With Joy and Trust

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Luke 1:26-38

The Second Vatican Council presents Mary, Mother of Jesus, as "prototype and model for the Church", and it describes her as a humble woman who listens to God with trust and joy. We have to listen to God with the same attitude in the Church today.

"Rejoice." It's the first thing Mary hears from God and the first thing we should hear today too. We lack joy. We often let ourselves be infected by the sadness of an aging and burnt out Church. Is Jesus no longer the Good News? Aren't we happy to be His followers? When joy is missing, faith loses its freshness, cordiality disappears, and the friendship between believers grows cold. Everything is harder. It's vital to awaken joy in our communities and regain the peace that Jesus left as our heritage.

"The Lord is with you." Joy isn't easy in the Church of our time. It can only be born of trust in God. We aren't orphans. Each day we invoke a Father God who walks with us, defends us and always seeks what's best for every human being.

This Church, sometimes so confused and lost, that fails to return to the Gospel, is not alone. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is seeking us. His Spirit is attracting us. We count on His encouragement and understanding. Jesus has not abandoned us. With Him everything is possible

"Do not be afraid." Many fears paralyze those of us who are followers of Jesus. Fear of the modern world and secularization. Fear of an uncertain future. Fear of our weakness. Fear of conversion to the Gospel. Fear is causing us much harm. It keeps us from going towards the future with hope. It locks us in a sterile preservation of the past. Our ghosts increase. Healthy realism and Christian rationality disappear. It's vital to build a Church on trust. God's strength is not revealed in a powerful Church but in a humble one.

"You shall give birth to a son and you shall call Him Jesus." Like Mary, we too have been given a mission: to contribute to shining a light in the midst of the night. We are not called to judge the world but to sow hope. Our task is not to quench the smoldering wick but to kindle the faith that is trying to spring up in many -- God is a question that makes us more human.

Starting in our communities which are ever smaller and poorer, we can be yeast for a healthier and more fraternal world. We are in good hands. God is not in crisis. We are the ones who dare not follow Jesus with joy and trust.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Awakening the shamanic side

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Sustainability, taken in its broadest sense and not limited just to development, covers all actions aimed at keeping beings in existence, because they have the right to coexist with us, and only from this coexistence do we use, soberly and respectfully, some of them to meet our needs, while preserving them for future generations too.

The Universe also fits into this conception. Today we know through new cosmology that we are made of stardust and that a mysterious background energy sustains us and passes through us that fuels everything and that is split into four forces - gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear - that, always acting together, keep us as we are.

As conscious and intelligent beings, we have our place and our role within the cosmogenic process. If we are not the center of everything, surely we are one of those advanced points through which the universe turns on itself, ie becomes aware. The weak anthropic principle allows us to say that to be what we are, all energy and evolutionary processes were organized in such a subtle and coordinated way that they made our appearance possible. Otherwise, I would not be writing here now.

Through us, the universe and Earth see and contemplate themselves. The ability to see emerged 600 million years ago. Until then the world was blind. The deep and starry sky, Iguaçu Falls, where I am now, the green of the forests next door, could not be seen. Through our sight, the Earth and the universe can see all this indescribable beauty.

The native peoples, from the Andeans to the Arctic Sami, were bound to the universe as brothers and sisters of the stars, forming a great cosmic family. We have lost that sense of mutual belonging. They felt that the cosmic forces balanced the course of all beings and acted within them. To live in harmony with this basic energy was to lead a sustainable and meaningful life.

We know from quantum physics that consciousness and the material world are connected and that the way a scientist chooses to make his observation affects what is being observed. The observer and the observed are inextricably linked. Hence the inclusion of consciousness in scientific theories and the reality of the cosmos itself is a fact already assimilated by much of the scientific community. We are indeed a complex and diversified whole.

Shamans are well-known, so present in the ancient world and now returning with renewed vigor, as shown by quantum physicist P. Drouot in his book Le Chaman, le physicien et le mystique ("The shaman, the physicist and the mystic" - Broché, 2003). I had the honor of writing the prologue [of the Portuguese edition]. The shaman experiences a unique state of consciousness that puts him in intimate contact with cosmic energy. He understands the call of the mountains, lakes, forests and jungles, animals and humans. He knows how to steer these energies for healing purposes and to harmonize them with the whole.

There's a shamanic side hidden in each one of us. That shamanic energy that makes us be silent before the grandeur of the sea, vibrate under the gaze of another person, tremble before a newborn. We need to free this shamanic dimension in us to get in tune with everything around us and feel at peace.

Might not our desire to travel in spacecraft through outer space perhaps be the archetypal desire to seek our stellar origins and the impetus to return to the place of our birth? Several astronauts have expressed similar ideas. This irrepressible search of ours for balance with the whole universe and to feel part of it belongs to the intelligible notion of sustainability.

Sustainability involves the assessment of this human and spiritual capital whose effect is to produce respect and a sense of sacredness before all realities, these values that nourish deep ecology and help us to respect and live in harmony with Mother Earth. Today this attitude is urgent to moderate the destructive force has taken hold of us in recent decades.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Is it possible to feed seven billion people?

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

We now have 7 billion people. Will there be enough food for everyone? There are several answers. We have chosen one from the group Agrimonde (see Développement et Civilisations, September 2011), based in France, which studied the nutritional status of six critical regions of the planet. The group of scientists is optimistic, even about when we have 9 billion people. It proposes two ways: to deepen the well-known green revolution of the 60's, and the so-called double green revolution.

The green revolution had the merit of refuting Malthus' thesis, according to which an imbalance would occur between population growth in geometric proportions and food growth in arithmetical proportions, producing a collapse of humanity. It found that with new technologies, greater use of arable agricultural areas and a massive application of toxins -- used earlier in war and now in agriculture -- it was possible to produce much more than the population demanded.

This forecast proved accurate, since there was a significant jump in the food supply, although because of the unfairness of the neoliberal and capitalist system, millions and millions of people still are in a situation of chronic hunger and poverty. It's true that this growth in food has had an extremely high environmental cost: the soil has been poisoned, water has been contaminated, biodiversity has been impoverished, and it has also caused erosion and desertification in many regions, especially in Africa.

Everything got worse when food became a commodity like any other rather than being considered a means of life that, by its nature, should never be subject to market speculation. The table is set with enough food for everyone but the poor have no access to it for lack of monetary resources. They continue starving, and their number grows. The prevailing neoliberal system still supports this model, since it doesn't need to change its logic, cynically tolerating living with millions of hungry people, considered irrelevant to unlimited accumulation.

This solution is not only shortsighted, but false, as well as being cruel and merciless. Those who still argue for it don't take seriously that the Earth is undeniably adrift and that global warming is producing high soil erosion, destruction of crops, and millions of climate migrants. For them, the earth is nothing but a mere means of production, not the Common House, Gaia, which must be cared for.

To tell the truth, those who understand food are the farmers. They produce 70% of everything that humanity consumes. Therefore, they should be heard and included in any step that is taken by the government, by business, and society, because it's about the survival of all.

Given human overpopulation, every piece of land should be taken advantage of but within the scope and limits of its ecosystem; all organic waste should be used or recycled as much as possible, energy should be saved as much as possible, alternative energy should be developed, family farms, small and medium cooperatives should be promoted. And finally, we should move towards a food democracy in which producers and consumers will become aware of their respective responsibilities, with knowledge and information about the actual state of sustainability of the planet, consuming differently, compassionately, frugally and without waste.

Taking such data into account, Agrimonde proposes a double green revolution in the following sense: it agrees to extend the first green revolution with its ecological contradictions, but simultaneously offers a second green revolution. This implies that consumers incorporate everyday habits different from today, more aware of environmental impacts and open to international solidarity so that food is in fact a right accessible to all.

Being optimistic, we can say that this latest proposal is reasonably sustainable. It is being organized embryonically in all parts of the world through family organic agriculture, small and medium enterprises, ecological farming, the Ecovillages and other forms that are more respectful of nature. It's viable and perhaps the mandatory road for humanity in the future.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Witnesses to the Light

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

John 1:5-8,19-28

The Christian faith was born of a surprising encounter a group of men and women had with Jesus. Everything began when these disciples got in touch with Him and experienced "God's salvific warmth." That liberating, tranformative, and humanizing experience they had with Jesus triggered everything.

Their faith awakened amid doubts, uncertainties, and misunderstandings as they followed Him along the roads of Galilee. It was wounded by cowardice and denial when He was executed on the cross. It was reaffirmed and began to spread when they saw Him fully alive after His death.

Therefore, if this experience isn't spread and transmitted from generation to generation over the years, a tragic breakdown occurs in the history of Christianity. Bishops and priests go on preaching the Christian message. Theologians write their theological studies. Pastors administer the sacraments. But, if there aren't any witnesses capable of spreading what was experienced with Jesus at the beginning, the essential is missing, the only thing that can keep faith in Him alive.

We need these witnesses to Jesus in our communities. The figure of John the Baptist, making way for Him amid the Jewish people, inspires us to stimulate this very necessary vocation in the Church today. In the darkness of our time, we need "witnesses to the Light".

Believers who awaken the desire for Jesus and make His message believable. Christians who, through their personal experience, spirit and words, facilitate an encounter with Him. Followers who rescue Him from oblivion and relegation to make Him more visible among us.

Humble witnesses who, in the style of John the Baptist, don't attribute any role to themselves that would focus attention on them, stealing the starring role from Jesus. Followers who don't replace or eclipse Him. Christians who are inspired and sustained by Him, who allow the unmistakable presence of Jesus alive in our midst to be seen through their words and deeds.

Jesus' witnesses don't talk about themselves. Their most important words are always those of Jesus. In fact, the witness doesn't have the floor. He or she is only "a voice" that inspires everyone to "make straight" the way that will lead us to Him. The faith of our communities today is sutained through the experience of those humble and simple witnesses who, in the midst of so much discouragement and bewilderment, shine a light as they help us feel the warmth of Jesus through their lives.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Belgian Catholics call for church reform

Belgian Catholics, both lay and ordained, are signing on in droves to a manifesto -- Gelovigen nemen het woord ("Believers Speak Out") -- which was initiated on the First Sunday of Advent by Fr. Johan Dekimpe, a 69-year old priest from Kortrijk, and several of his colleagues. Fr. Dekimpe has told the press that the protestors are acting out of faith because they care for the Catholic Church. "The Belgian church is a disaster. If we don't do something, the exodus of those leaving the church will just never stop. ... I really want the bishops to reflect deeply about the growing discontent of so many believers," Fr. Dekimpe said.

The manifesto, which was launched on November 19th with 50 names, now has over 6,000 signatures. It echoes many of the same demands raised in the Austrian "Wir sind Kirche" petition: that laypeople be allowed to lead parishes in the absence of a priest, the holding of Communion services when nobody is available to preside with laypeople being allowed to read the Gospel and preach, allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion, and expanding the priesthood to include women and married men.

Most of Belgium's bishops have not responded to the manifesto but Msgr. Johan Bonny, the bishop of Antwerp, expressed understanding of what led to it. In an interview with Tertio, he said the priests feel like they're drowning (because of the shortage). He advocated for pastoral teams in parishes and reiterated that the Latin rite Church could be enriched by admitting married men to the priesthood.

English translation of the Belgian manifesto courtesy of National Catholic Reporter

Believers Speak Out

Parishes without a priest, Eucharist at inappropriate hours, worship without communion: that really should not be! What is delaying the needed Church reform? We, Flemish believers, ask our bishops to the break impasse in which we are locked. We do this in solidarity with fellow believers in Austria, Ireland, and many other countries, with all who insist reform on vital for Church reform.

We simply do not understand why the leadership in our local communities (e.g. parishes) is not entrusted to men or women, married or unmarried, professionals or volunteers, who already have the necessary training. We need dedicated pastors!

We do not understand why these our fellow believers cannot preside at Sunday liturgical celebrations. In every active community we need liturgical ministers!

We do not understand why, in communities where no priest is available, a Word service cannot also include a Communion service.

We do not understand why skilled laypeople and well-formed religious educators cannot preach. We need the Word of God!

We do not understand why those believers who, with very good will, have remarried after a divorce must be denied Communion. They should be welcomed as worthy believers. Fortunately there are some places where this is happening.

We also demand that, as quickly as possible, both married men and women be admitted to the priesthood. We, people of faith, desperately need them now!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Good News

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Mark 1:1-8

Throughout this new liturgical year, we Christians will be reading the gospel of Mark on Sundays. His short text starts out with this title: "Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, Son of God." Those words allow us to evoke something we will find in his tale.

With Jesus, something new "begins". It's the first thing Mark wants to make clear. Everything before belongs to the past. Jesus is the beginning of something new and distinct. In the story, Jesus says that "this is the time of fulfillment." With Him, God's Good News has come.

This is what the first Christians are experiencing. Whoever has met the living Jesus and penetrated His mystery a little, knows that a new life begins, something that they have never experienced before.

What they find in Jesus is "Good News." Something new and good. The word "Gospel" that Mark uses was very common among the first followers of Jesus and it expresses what they felt when they met Him. A feeling of liberation, happiness, security and the disappearance of fear. In Jesus, they find "God's salvation."

When someone finds in Jesus the God who is friend of men and women, the Father of all people, the defender of the least and last, the hope of the lost, they know they will find no better news. When they know Jesus' plan to work for a more humane, worthy and blessed world, they know they could not devote themselves to anything greater.

This Good News is Jesus Himself, the protagonist of the story Mark will write. Therefore, his primary intention is not to offer us doctrine about Jesus or bring us biographical information about Him, but rather to seduce us so that we will open ourselves to the Good News that we will only be able to find in Him.

Mark attributes two titles to Jesus -- one that is typically Jewish, the other more universal. However, he reserves some surprises for the readers. Jesus is the "Messiah" for whom the Jews were waiting as liberator of their people, but a very different Messiah from the warrior leader many wished for to destroy the Romans. In his tale, Jesus is described as sent by God to humanize life and direct history towards its salvation. This is the first surprise.

Jesus is "Son of God", but not endowed with the power and glory some might have imagined. A deeply human Son of God, so human that only God could be thus. Only when His life of service to all ends, executed on a cross, a Roman centurion confesses: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" This is the second surprise.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Great Perversion

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

To solve the economic and financial crisis in Greece and Italy, governments of technicians alone without the participation of politicians have been formed, as required by the European Central Bank. It was based on the illusion that it's an economic problem to be solved economically. Those who only understand economics end up not even understanding the economy. The crisis is not one of a mismanaged economy, but of ethics and humanity. Both are closely related to politics. So the first lesson in basic Marxism is to understand that the economy is not part of mathematics and statistics, but a chapter of politics. Much of Marx's work is dedicated to dismantling the political economy of capital. When a similar crisis to the present one happened in England and a technical government was created, Marx harshly criticized it, mocking with irony, as he foresaw a total failure, as indeed happened. You can not use the poison that created the crisis as a remedy to cure it.

To direct the governments of Greece and Italy respectively, they have called people who belong to the high ranks in banking. The banks and stock markets have been those who have caused this crisis that almost destroyed the entire economic system. These guys are like the fundamentalist Taliban: they believe in good faith in the tenets of free market and the stock game. Where in the universe is the ideal of "greed is good" proclaimed? How do they make a habit (and, let's also say, a sin) a virtue? They are sitting on Wall Street in New York and in the City of London. They aren't foxes guarding the chickens, but devouring them. Through their manipulations they have transferred vast fortunes into a few hands and when the crisis exploded, they were saved through billions of dollars taken from workers and retirees. Barack Obama was weak, leaning more towards them than towards civil society. With the money they received, they continued the spree, since the promised regulation of the financial markets remained just on paper. Millions of people are unemployed and in precarity, especially young people who, outraged, are filling the streets against greed, social inequality and the cruelty of capital.

Are people whose minds have been formed by the catechism of purely neoliberal thinking going to get Greece and Italy off the hook? What's happening is the sacrifice of a whole society on the altar of the banks and financial system.

Since most of the establishment don't think (they don't need to) we will try to understand the crisis in the light of two thinkers who, in the year 1944 in the United States, gave us an illuminating key. The first was the Hungarian-Canadian philosopher and economist Karl Polanyi in his classic work The Great Transformation. What is it? It's the dictatorship of the economy. After the Second World War that helped to overcome the Great Depression of 1929, capitalism accomplished a master stroke -- it canceled politics, sent ethics into exile, and imposed the dictatorship of the economy. Since then, there hasn't been a society with a market as there always was before, but a market society. Economics structures everything and makes everything a commodity governed by cruel competition and shameless profit. This transformation ripped social ties and deepened the gap between rich and poor within countries and internationally.

The other is a philosopher of the Frankfurt School in exile in the United States, Max Horkheimer, who wrote The Eclipse of Reason (1947). There, the reasons for Polanyi's Great Transformation are given, consisting mainly of this -- reason is no longer guided by the search for truth and the meaning of things, but is held hostage by the production process and reduced to a merely instrumental role -- "transformed into a merely tedious mechanism to register facts." He laments that "justice, equality, happiness, tolerance, judged for centuries to be inherent to reason, have lost their intellectual roots." When society eclipses reason, it becomes blind, loses the sense of being together and is stuck in the quagmire of individual or corporate interests. This is what we have seen in the current crisis. The most humanistic Nobel Prize winning economists, Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, have written repeatedly that the players on Wall Street should be in jail as thieves and robbers.

Now, in Greece and Italy, the Great Transformation has acquired another name -- it's called the Great Perversion.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jesus' House

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Mark 13:33-37

Jesus is in Jerusalem, seated on the Mount of Olives, looking towards the Temple and speaking privately with four disciples -- Peter, James, John and Andrew. He sees they are worried about knowing when the end times will come. He, on the other hand, is worried about how His followers will live when they no longer have Him among them.

So, once again He shares His concern with them: "Watch, stay awake." Then, leaving aside the terrifying language of apocalyptic visionaries, He tells them a little parable that has gone largely unnoticed among Christians.

"A man went abroad and left his house behind." But, before leaving, "he entrusted a task to each of his servants." On parting, he only stressed one thing: "Watch, because you do not know when the lord of the house is coming." When he comes, let him not find you asleep.

The story suggests that Jesus' followers are a family. The Church is "Jesus' house" which will replace "the house of Israel." In it, all are servants. There are no masters. All are waiting for the one Lord of the house, Jesus Christ. Never forget it.

In Jesus' house, nobody has to remain passive. Nobody has to feel excluded, without any responsibility whatsoever. Everyone is needed. All have some mission entrusted by Him. All are called to contribute to the great task of living like Jesus who was known to always be devoted to serving the kingdom of God.

The years will go by. Will the spirit of Jesus remain alive among His own? Will they go on remembering his style of service to the neediest and the helpless? Will they follow Him along the way He opened? His great worry is that His Church will fall asleep. Therefore He urges them up to three times: "Stay awake." It isn't a recommendation to the four disciples who are listening to Him but a command to believers of all time -- "What I say to you, I say to all: 'Watch!'"

The most common trait of Christians who haven't left the Church is certainly passivity. For centuries we have taught the faithful to be submissive and obedient. In Jesus' house, only a minority feel they have any ecclesial responsibility today.

The time has come to react. We can't continue broadening the distance between "those who command" and "those who obey." It's a sin to promote disaffection, mutual exclusion, and passivity. Jesus wanted to see all of us awake, active, and working lucidly and responsibly.

Thoughts and dreams about Brazil

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia and in Portuguese on his blog. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

1. The Brazilian people became accustomed to "facing life" and getting everything through "the struggle", ie, by overcoming difficulties and hard work. Why wouldn't they also "face" the ultimate challenge of making the changes necessary to create more equal relationships and end corruption?

2. The Brazilian people have not finished being born. What we inherited was the Enterprise-Brazil, with an enslaving elite and a mass of dispossessed. But from the heart of this mass, social movements and leaders were born with consciousness and organization. Their dream? Reinventing Brazil. The process started from the bottom and is now unstoppable.

3. Despite poverty and marginalization, the poor invented paths to survival. To overcome the negative situation, the government and politicians need to hear and appreciate what the people already know and have invented. Only then will we overcome the elites-people division and be a single complex nation.

4. The Brazilian has a commitment to hope. It is the last thing that dies. Therefore, he is sure that God writes straight with crooked lines. Hope is the secret of his optimism, it lets him relativize dramas, dance in his carnival, be a fan of his soccer team, and keep the dream alive that life is beautiful and tomorrow could be better.

5. Fear is inherent in life because "life is dangerous" and always carries risks. These force us to change and reinforce hope. What the people, not the elites, want most is to change so that happiness and love would not be so difficult.

6. The opposite of fear is not courage. It is faith that things can be different and that, organized, we can move forward. Brazil has demonstrated that it is not only good at carnival and soccer, but it is also good at agriculture, architecture, music and in its inexhaustible zest for life.

7. The Brazilian people are religious and mystical. Rather than thinking of God, they feel God in their daily lives, which is revealed in the expressions "thanks be to God," "may God repay you", "go with God." God is not a problem for them, but the solution to their problems. They feel protected by saints and good spirits and orixás who anchor their lives in the midst of suffering.

8. One characteristic of Brazilian culture is the joy and sense of humor, which help alleviate social contradictions. That joy comes from the conviction that life is worth more than anything else. So it should be celebrated with fiestas and humor should be kept up in the face of failure. The effect is the levity and enthusiasm that so many admire in us.

9. A union that we still have pending in Brazil is academic knowledge with conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is born of suffering, of a thousand ways of surviving with few resources. Academic knowledge is born of studying, drinking from many sources. When these two forms of learning unite, we will be invincible.

10. Caring is part of the essence of all life. Without caring, life gets sick and dies. With caring, it is protected and lasts longer. The challenge today is to see public policy as caring for Brazil, its people, its nature, education, health, justice. That caring is proof that we love our country.

11. One of the hallmarks of the Brazilian people is their ability to interact with the whole world, adding, gathering, synthesizing and syncretizing. Therefore, they aren't intolerant or dogmatic. They enjoy and welcome foreigners. These are core values for globalization with a human face. We are showing that it is possible and we are building it.

12. Brazil is the largest neo-Latin nation in the world. We have everything to also be the greatest civilization in the tropics, not imperial, but in solidarity with all nations, because Brazil has incorporated representatives of 60 peoples who came here. Our challenge is to show that Brazil can be, in fact, a piece of paradise that was not lost.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The stars, the Araguaia and we ourselves are witnesses: Dom Pedro Casaldáliga's 40th anniversary as bishop

By Antonio Canuto (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Practically during the same period that Dom Leonardo left the pastorship of this church, and Dom Eugenio Rixen assumed it as apostolic administrator, it's the fortieth anniversary of Pedro Casaldaliga's ordination as bishop.

It was October 23, 1971. A moment of greatest importance for the prelature that was welcoming its first bishop. A time not to be forgotten. It was an event that profoundly marked the church and especially those who were privileged to participate in it.

Three years after the arrival of Pedro in the second half of 1968 to start a new mission field, accompanied by brother Manuel Luzon, the church of the prelature was consolidated with the ordination of its first bishop. Pedro was ordained by Dom Fernando Gomes dos Santos, archbishop of Goiânia, Dom Tomás Balduino, Bishop of the Diocese of Goiás, and Dom Juvenal Roriz, Bishop of Rubiataba.

Three rather significant elements stamped that ceremony with a completely new and prophetic character which had a strong impact not only on the church in Brazil, but also on many churches around the world and on society.

First, the ordination took place in the richest and largest cathedral in the world. The dome of this cathedral was decorated by the incalculable multitude of the stars of heaven. The walls were formed on one side by the free waters of the Araguaia, on the other, by the sands of the hill of Sao Felix. In the background, the poor little church of the community. At the foot of the hill, as if to recall how temporary and fragile life is, the cemetery where so many people, dead or "killed", were resting, next to the Karajá secular cemetery.

Second, Pedro refused any outward sign that would differentiate him within the church. I could be wrong, but I think he's the only bishop in Brazil -- and perhaps the world -- who considered never using any episcopal insignia. The episcopal insignia delivered to bishops at their ordination today are the ring, the crosier, the miter, and the pectoral cross. Outward signs of the place of the bishop in a hierarchically structured church. Signs of his authority and power. The bishop still has a shield that represents his motto for life and service. His clothes also differ from those of ordinary priests (Years ago, bishops still wore gloves, special shoes, and different vestments in the celebrations. All this to show their importance in the Church). Well, on that night of October 23, 1971, the sky, the waters of the Araguaia and all of us who were there saw something new happening. A bishop refused the signs of power in order to fully insert himself into the life of the people. These prophetic-poetic words echoed forth: "Your miter shall be a rustic straw hat, the sun and the moon, the rain and calm weather, the eyes of the poor with whom you walk and the glorious gaze of Christ the Lord. Your staff shall be the truth of the Gospel and your people's trust in you. Your ring shall be faithfulness to the New Covenant of the Liberating God and loyalty to the people of this land. You shall have no shield but the freedom of the children of God, or use any gloves other than loving service."

The third element that marked this ordination left a trail of light and hope. On one hand, he aroused immediate support of Christians throughout the church and in the most diverse sectors of society; on the other, he provoked an angry and violent reaction in the agents of the military dictatorship and those who enriched themselves through public incentives at the cost of the sacrifice, pain and slavery of many.

His pastoral letter, released on that occasion, was titled, "Uma Igreja da Amazonia em conflito com o latifundio e a marginalização social" ("The Church in Amazonia in conflict with the latifundio and social exclusion"). It was a document that marked an era and became a divider of currents within the Church in Brazil. The pastoral letter doesn't look inside the Church. It's the Church's look on the raw, naked reality of the people whom this Church came to serve.

It recounts the situations faced by the "squatters" who were expelled from the lands they had occupied and been working for decades, the situation of the indigenous people whose territory had been invaded for the benefit of capital, and the exploitation of laborers, workers brought in from various regions of the country and subjected to the most degrading conditions, in a situation similar to that of slaves.

Clear and prophetic words denouncing the injustices that were being committed against the people and that resounded in Brazil and around the world. Pedro said in the introduction: "If the first role of the bishop is to be a prophet, and 'the prophet is the voice of the voiceless'(Cardinal Marty), I honestly could not keep silent once I had received the fullness of priestly service."

The ordination was not just a celebration. It became reality in every corner of the prelature, in a simple and poor life, in a life shared with sertanejos and indigenous people, in collective and fraternal decision-making where lay people, religious and clergy had a voice, always considering the people and their history.

Forty years have passed. We can not forget those events that were the foundation of our diocese.

Message of Pedro Casaldaliga to the 21st meeting of the Base Ecclesial Communities:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What is crucial

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Eclesalia Informativo

Matthew 25:31-46

The tale is not really a parable but an evocation of the final judgment for all people. The whole scene is concentrated in a long dialogue between the Judge, who is none other than the risen Jesus, and two groups of people: those who have eased the suffering of the neediest and those who have lived denying them help.

Over the centuries, Christians have seen in this fascinating dialogue "the best recapitulation of the Gospel", "the utmost praise of love and solidarity", and "the sternest warning to those who falsely take refuge in religion". We are going to point out the basic statements.

All men and women without exception will be judged by the same criteria. What gives imperishable value to life is not social status, personal talent, and achievement over the years. What is crucial is love put into practice in solidarity with those in need of help.

This love translates into very specific deeds. For example, "giving something to eat", "giving something to drink", "welcoming the immigrant", "clothing the naked", "visiting the one who is sick or in prison". What's crucial in God's eyes is not religious deeds, but human gestures of help towards the needy. They can spring from a believer or from the heart of an agnostic who thinks of those who suffer.

Most of those who have helped the needy they have met along the way haven't done it for religious reasons. They haven't thought about God or Jesus Christ. They have simply sought to relieve some of the suffering in the world. Now, invited by Jesus, they enter the Kingdom of God as "blessed by the Father".

Why is it so crucial to help the needy and so reprehensible to deny them aid? Because, as the Judge reveals, what you do or fail to do to them, you do or fail to do to God himself incarnate in Christ. When we abandon a needy person, we are abandoning God. When we alleviate his or her suffering, we are doing the same for God.

This surprising message makes us all look at the suffering. There is no true religion, no progressive policy, no responsible human rights proclamation that doesn't defend the neediest, easing their suffering and restoring their dignity.

In each person who suffers, Jesus comes to meet us, looks at us, questions and implores us. Nothing brings us closer to Him than learning to look carefully and compassionately on the faces of those who suffer. Nowhere can we more truly recognize the face of Jesus.

Liberation Theology at 40

by Benjamín Forcano (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Forty years ago, a new way of doing theology began, which has significantly influenced society and the Church. At age 40, some think it's finished and others congratulate it for the work it has done and the challenges it's facing in the future.

But liberation theology did not begin in the 70s. In 1492, the so-called discovery of America occured and in 1511, a Dominican friar, Montesinos, on behalf of his community and to the authorities of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic) said in reference to the indigenous people and the treatment they were receiving: "Are they not men?" It was the first question in the history of liberation, as Professor Reyes Mate rightly stated in a lecture on this topic.

The history of liberation theology can be said to have begun on December 11, 1511, 500 years ago today.

No doubt, there were Christians who -- and always from the experience of their faith -- saw theology as subordinate to some oppressive colonizing dictates. But their experience never stopped expressing itself in new theological categories and making itself public in society. Starting in the 60s, great expectations for change have been generated in the world, but Christians seemed to lack creativity and didn't fall into this change with their own alternatives for transformation.

It was then that Gustavo Gutierrez launched a new theological approach from the Latin American context: How does one present God in a bipolar world of rich and poor, where their relationship is logically one of injustice and exclusion, and how, then, is faith able to cause radical changes? These changes suggest that the poor, the disenfranchised, the discriminated cease to be so, which is not possible without turning the system around.

If we Christians have the Gospel as a foundation and measure, we find in it a statement that sounds like a manifesto, in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It cuts through all the schemes of vain theologies and marks the style to follow. Jesus asks: "In your opinion, which of these three who saw the half-dead man who had been assaulted by bandits, was neighbor to him?"

"The one who had compassion on him."

"Perfect. Go and do likewise." (Lk 10:30-37)

Feeling compassion and acting accordingly is a prerequisite for those who want to do liberation theology. More than cold and abstract reflection, liberation theology is an experience, a praxis of love, within which a new way of doing theology springs up naturally.

Obviously liberation theology is not an end in itself; it doesn't stop at explaining what has happened, but goes on to change and liberation in practice. Explaining the contradictory reality that exists and leaving it as is, is not liberation theology. The reality, unjustly interpreted and configured, needs to be changed to be consistent with God's plan, which Jesus called the Kingdom of God, and which is built on the basis of equality, justice, fraternity and liberty. Living out liberation through change and liberating practice is imperative for the Christian if he wants to be faithful to the plan of the liberating God.

To change reality, Christians must have an analysis of that reality which is woven around the wealth/poverty, North/South pairings, and show that this situation is not due to chance or the will of the gods but to the selfishness and greed of men, the domination that the strongest have established over the weakest and neediest.

This analysis is necessary to discover the real causes of oppression and those who are responsible for them and to avoid idealism. Marxism, not as a philosophy or world view of reality but as a science, can help a lot to gain knowledge of these causes and their dire consequences. It is valid to the extent that its analysis proves true in pointing to the genesis and effects of capitalism. Liberation theologians never took Marxism as a philosophical view of reality or used it uncritically.

Precisely because liberation theology aims to change what is oppression and injustice, it has been falsely attacked. This theology is demanding for the whole Church the proper place to which its faith assigns it based on following Jesus: to be poor, to live with the poor, and to commit itself to their liberation.

This repositioning of the Church is dangerous for the oppressors and for a Power-Church that is used to living in alliance with the powerful. Nothing is given in this theology that does not faithfully translate the radical message of Jesus and His Gospel. But those "challenged" by liberation theology and their dominion and the "media giants" took responsibility for broadcasting that liberation theology was unorthodox because of its Marxistization, its separation from the Church's magisterium, its promotion of the guerrilla, its merely temporal concept of salvation, because of the reduction of the historical Jesus to an earthly leader...

Later, many came to associate the fate of liberation theology with that of real socialism. The fall of the latter led them to believe that liberation theology fell in a parallel manner. Double trick: because socialism was not the same as state socialism and liberation theology was not its subordinate, but had its own origin and basis in the Gospel. As Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga rightly said: "The godfather of liberation theology is not Marx but God, the Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ."

The fall of real socialism didn't canonize the intrinsic evil of capitalism, but rather encouraged us to delve deeper into the causes of oppression, now globalized. As always, economic structures count in the progress of society, and without them one can't understand the workings of the neoliberal system. But they aren't decisive nor do they choke out the influence of other factors in society -- the role of citizens, first of all. The current awareness can reverse the dominant Eurocentric view that has ruled the Earth for over 400 years. Man is not the owner and predator of the land, and he cannot continue exploiting it limitlessly and without solidarity.

Today, liberation theology acts on the fronts most in need of liberation: women/men, conflicting religions, harassed indigenous people, people in submission for centuries...

The new paradigm of liberation theology goes beyond all forms of subordination in the modern world, embodied in the capitalist society and system. Today's society with the role of citizens -- as it appears in the M-15 movement of the "outraged ones" -- is marking a turning point in face of the relationship of domination, established for centuries.

It is a fact that liberation theology does not seem to be providing eminent thinkers, as in previous years. Probably because its transformative sap is circulating at the bottom, more horizontally, permeating and directly driving the thoughts and action of "the voiceless".

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Spanish Catholic Hierarchy vs. the Progressive Theologians: La Lucha Continua

Spanish theologian Juan José Tamayo (right), president of the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII and author of numerous books, was prohibited last weeek by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela, Archbishop of Madrid, from giving a lecture at San Félix, a parish in that city run by the Viatoran order. The Archdiocese offered no explanation for the censorship, though the differences between Dr. Tamayo and the Cardinal are well-known, and the Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII has been forced to hold their annual conference in the Salón de Actos de Comisiones Obreras because they have not been allowed to use any Catholic Church facility.

Instead, Dr. Tamayo, Chair of Theology and Religious Studies at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, gave his lecture on "Is liberation theology dead? The option for the poor today" at the María Moliner Public Library last Friday.

Commenting on the incident, Dr. Tamayo said, "It's one more example of the bunker mentality of the more fundamentalist bishops who close ranks to block free and progressive theological thought." And he added, "we are moving towards the Church of Gregory VII."

In a similar incident, Mons. Mario Iceta, bishop of Bilbao, has banned theologian Andrés Torres Queiruga from teaching a course at the Bilbao Diocesan Institute of Theology and Pastoral Ministry. Torres Queiruga is professor of Theology at the Instituto Teolóxico Compostelá and of Religious Philosophy at the Universidad de Santiago de Compostela. He writes primarily in Galician, is the author of numerous books, and in 1990 received an award from the Spanish government for his translation of the Bible.

Although Dr. Torres Queiruga has had his own run-ins with the Spanish Catholic hierarchy, this latest move seems to be more directed at reining in the Institute or, as Javier Vitoria, a former director suggests, "leading the Institute back to a more centrist position." However, Mons. Iceta also let it be known that he does not consider Dr. Torres Queiruga to be "someone representative of the diocese." He did add that the theologian could be one member of a roundtable where multiple views were presented.

And the decision follows on a terse communiqué from the Archdiocese of Santiago de Compostela disassociating itself from the journal Encrucillada which Torres Queiruga edits: "The editorial policy and contents of Revista Encrucillada, as can be seen from its organizational chart, are the sole responsibility of the editor, his editorial team and those who contribute articles." In the same communiqué, the Archdiocese distanced itself from a forum on "Towards a New Spirituality" that Encrucillada held earlier this month at which theologians Sr. Teresa Forcades, Fr. José Antonio Pagola, and Dr. Luis González-Carvajal spoke. "Nor is the organization of forums being held by said journal the responsibility of the bishops of the Church in Galicia...obviously, those who organize the forum invite those who agree with their positions and message." And the communiqué concluded "the benchmark for evaluating content and opinions related to Christian thought is the Magisterium of the Church and, specifically, the Catechism of the Catholic Church."

When asked later by journalist José Manuel Vidal to what he attributed the reaction of the ultra-traditional Catholics to his forum, Dr. Torres Queiruga replied: "First of all, ignorance. I don't know to what extent they realize the very serious slander they are spreading, something which certainly, in the traditional morality they claim to defend, is a mortal sin. Then there's an attitude that hides an ignorance of true interpretation of faith and legitimate pluralism behind an aggressive dogmatism, that never distinguishes between faith and theology, between what is essential and what is secondary. They repeat phrases without having spent the slightest bit of time to understand what they really mean and comment on opinions of authors and books that they've never read. What I find hard to understand is how so much hatred can be distilled in the name of God who is love, and that in the name of Jesus who was enormously renewing and even "revolutionary" in His interpretation of the traditional faith that He had received, they are trying to impose a reactionary religion, which kills the living voice of the Gospel. Basically, they are reenacting today the same procedures and calumnies with which others embittered Jesus of Nazareth's life two thousand years ago...even killing Him."

We're still fighting the same battles that Jesus did with the religious authorities of our time.