Saturday, March 5, 2011

The poet, the mystic, and the cat

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)

The Italian Catholic Church has presented throughout its history a fruitful contradiction. On one side is the strong presence of the Vatican, representing the official Church with its mass of faithful kept under a watchful social control by the doctrines and especially by family and sexual morality. On the other is the presence of Christians, lay people, non-aligned, resisting against the monarchical and implacable power of the bureaucracy of the Roman Curia, but open to the gospel and Christian values, without breaking with the papacy, although critical of its practices and the support it gives to conservative and even authoritarian regimes.

Thus we have in the nineteenth century the figure of Antonio Rosmini, a fine philosopher and critic of the anti-modernism of the popes. In recent times, we identify figures like Mazzolari, Raniero La Valle, Arturo Paoli, the hermit Maria Campello. Among them, Adriana Zarri, a hermit, theologian, poet and eminent writer, stands out. In addition to several books, she wrote weekly in the newspaper Il Manifesto and fortnightly in the culture magazine Rocca.

She was very harsh with respect to the current course of the Church under the Popes Wojtyla and Ratzinger, who she directly accused of betraying the reform efforts adopted by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and returning to a medieval model of exercising power and presence of the Church in society. She died on November 18, 2010 at 90 plus years of age.

I visited her a few times at her hermitage near Strambino in northern Italy. She lived alone in a huge, dilapidated mansion, full of roses and with her beloved cat Archibalda. She had a chapel with the Blessed Sacrament exposed where she recollected several hours a day in prayer and deep meditation.

In our conversations, she wanted to know everything about basic Christian communities, the Church's commitment to the cause of the poor, black and indigenous people. She had a special affection for the liberation theologians, seeing the persecution they endured from the Vatican officials who treated them, as she says, "with thrashings", while they used kid gloves with the followers of schismatic Archbishop Lefebvre .

Her last article, published three days before her death, was dedicated to her dear Archibalda. As I was able to witness personally, she had a loving relationship with her, like intimate friends. What our great Jungian psychoanalyst Nise da Silveira described in her book Gatos, A Emoção de Lidar ["Cats: the emotion of getting along"], Zarri confirmed: "The cat has the ability to capture our mood; if she sees me crying, she immediately comes to lick my tears." They say that the cat was beside her while she expired. When she saw the friends arrive for the wake, she rolled herself up, nervous, in the curtains of the room. Shortly before they closed the coffin, as if she knew the time, she went quietly into the chapel.

Someone, knowing the love of the cat for Adriana Zarri, grabbed her neck and brought her near to the face of the deceased. She looked at her a long time; it seemed like she was crying. Then she sat under her coffin and stayed there in absolute stillness.

This reminds me of our cat, Branquinha. She looks like a fragile and elegant girl. She is so stuck on my companion, Márcia, that she always accompanies her and sleeps at her feet, especially when she has had a disappointment. She picks up on her mood and tries to comfort her, rubbing against her and meowing gently.

Adriana Zarri left her written epitaph, which is worth reproducing: "Don't dress me in black; it's sad and mournful. Or white, because it's arrogant and rhetorical. Dress me in yellow and red flowers, and the wings of birds. And You, Lord, behold my hands. Maybe they have put a rosary or a cross on me. But they were wrong. In my hands, I have green leaves, and on the cross, your resurrection. Do not put a piece of cold marble over my tomb, with the usual lies to comfort the living. Let the earth write, in the spring, an epitaph of herbs. There, it will be said that I lived and am waiting. Then, Lord, you will write your name and mine together like two poppy petals."

The writer and open-eyed mystic, Adriana Zarri, showed us how to live and die beautifully and sweetly.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Mons. Victor Corral and The Cry of Riobamba

Monseñor Víctor Alejandro Corral Mantilla (photo), who ably took over the Diocese of Riobamba in Ecuador in 1987 after the late Mons. Leonidas Proaño, who was renowned for his work on behalf of indigenous people, has submitted his resignation, having reached 75, the age at which he must retire according to canon law. Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the bishop's resignation.

Monseñor Corral followed the same pastoral line as Mons. Proaño. He is best known for having convened the ecumenical gathering in 1998 that produced the Grito de Riobamba and, to honor his life and work and also that of the recently deceased Mexican bishop Mons. Samuel Ruíz, one of the signatories of the "Grito", we have translated this famous manifesto into English.

From these luminous heights of Chimborazo, where we are meeting on the 10th anniversary of the death and resurrection of Leonidas Proaño, a good pastor from Riobamba, we want to associate ourselves with the "Cry of the Excluded" ["Grito de los Excluidos"], and the hopes of the peoples of our Continent.

The God of Exodus and Easter, who always listens to the cries of His people in the processes of liberation and life, has convened us ecumenically. And the local Church of Riobamba, with its head pastor, Mons. Victor Corral, welcomes us with fraternal generosity.

Along with the memory of the Patriarch of Riobamba, we also celebrate the 30th anniversary of Medellin, the 25th anniversary of the Latin American Council of Churches and the 50th anniversary of the World Council of Churches. And, with all the churches of the world, we prepare to celebrate the jubilee of the coming of Jesus Christ.

During these days of anniversary, we have visited the communities and participated in the various encounters of indigenous people, Latin American people of African descent, pastoral agents and CEBs [Christian base communities], noting in all of these contacts the vitality of this Church so prophetically cultivated by its pastors and that is such a protagonist for the poor.

At this time of jubilee, therefore, we want to make the great causes that forged the soul and action of Mons. Proaño our own:

  • The option for the poor, of compromising currency now more than ever because they are more than 70% of Our America -- excluded by the neoliberal system;

  • The struggles and alternative contribution of the indigenous people (and also the people of African descent), especially in the defense of the earth and living out their own cultural identity and social autonomy;

  • Community, as an expression of fraternal "communion and participation" in church and society;

  • And solidarity between the peoples and faiths in our Great Country and with the faiths and peoples of other continents, especially of the Third World.

1. Starting from the option for the poor:

  • We will tirelessly denounce the inequality of neoliberalism as a total market, a system of exclusion, idolatry of profit and uncontrolled ecocide, as well as the repressive growing arms race, militarism and paramilitarism.

  • Together with the voices that are now rising in various parts of the world, we will denounce the new vicious onslaught of the announced Multilateral Agreement on Investment, MAI.

  • We will fight permanently for the abolition of foreign debt and for the payment of the social debt that has accumulated against the life and dignity of our peoples.

  • We will demand the reform of international institutions (UN, IMF, WB, G-8) that benefit the accumulating and exploiting countries, and we will also demand reform of the political, judicial and social institutions of our countries.

  • We will support through effective solidarity the movements for liberation and peace, and against impunity and institutionalized violence that are burgeoning on our continent, particularly in Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, and Haiti.

  • We will encourage responsible participation of the people in politics and in the various manifestations of the popular and civic movement.

2. We will move from the ecumenism of intentions, speeches and isolated gestures to a mutual recognition of the denominations, complementary repositories of the truth and holiness of the one mystery of Christ, by

  • trying to overcome historical ambitions and even doctrinal disquisitions that don't always have anything to do with the Gospel;

  • serving prophetically in the diaconate of "justice, peace, and the integrity of creation";

  • dialoguing as well, macroecumenically, with all religions, more specifically with the indigenous and African religions, starting from faith in a single God and a single human family, in a spirit of acceptance, conversion, self-criticism and criticism;

  • helping to overcome the attitude of centralization and authoritarianism of the Catholic church, and the atomization of the evangelical churches;

  • Recognizing each other as equals through baptism and in the service of the Kingdom; we will enhance adult participation of the laity, and women in particular, in the denominations, participation that will be exercised in the various ministries and decision-making positions;

  • Inculturating liturgy, theology, and all ministry in the light of the Gospel and the freedom of the Spirit;

  • Building day to day the Church we dream of as People of God, with the Bible brought alive, in the Christian base communities, through social ministry, in creativity that is faithful to the Gospel and to our times and to Our America...

We want this to be the way of living out and helping to live out, in our respective denominations and countries, the true and lasting jubilee that Jesus of Nazareth introduced, thus making specific, beyond any triumphalist and occasional celebration, what the Biblical Jubilee must mean in our social and religious contexts for a personal and structural conversion of our churches and societies, through living out faith consistently and in an inculturated manner, through fraternally living out together peace with justice and dignity, through satisfaction of the greater demands for land, health, housing, education, communication and work.

We want to safeguard the historical memory of our denominations and our peoples and we feel responsible for a heritage of centuries of struggles and martyrdoms that we cannot misuse. We walk with many brothers and sisters who, in Our America, in the whole Third World and those in solidarity in the First World, hopefully contest the fatalism that the single system wants to impose on us. And we trust in the loving presence of the God of Jesus, liberator of the poor, Father-Mother of the human family.

For the Catholic Church: Samuel Ruiz
For the Protestant and evangelical churches: Federico Pagura
For the theologians: José Comblin
For those in pastoral ministry: José Oscar Beozzo
For the religious: Magdalena Vandenheen
For the laity: Adolfo Pérez Esquivel
Riobamba, Ecuador, August 30, 1998

Rev. Dr. Michael Pfleger at Rankin Chapel

Yesterday, Fr. Mike Pfleger spoke at Howard University as part of the Rankin Chapel speaker series. The program included marvellous music from the Howard Gospel Choir, a presentation by the Beacon Dance Ministry and prayers by a number of local clergy, led by the dean of Rankin Chapel, Dr. Bernard Richardson.

Fr. Pfleger read from Acts 4 about Peter and John being arrested and their courageous testimony for Jesus. Fr. Pfleger's theme? We have to become dangerous. Pfleger believes that there are too many "safe" churches in America where no one says anything controversial for fear of offending someone, but he argues that "our very discipleship demands that we be dangerous because we follow a radical Christ." Jesus is more than just the baby we adore at Christmas and the Crucified and Risen One we celebrate at Easter.

Using the example of the late Mamie Till Mobley, who opened the casket at her 14-year old son Emmett Till's funeral to show his body bruised and broken in one of the most infamous racist lynchings in our country's history, Fr. Pfleger argued that the Church needs to "open the casket and expose the evil of a nation that has abandoned its poor." To nods of agreement, he expressed his disappointment that the poor were not mentioned in this year's State of the Union address. He noted that his parish, St. Sabina's in Chicago, had had to provide food to 12,000 people in December, four times as many as usual.

Fr. Pfleger, a known Obama supporter, took the president to task later in his sermon for his failure to act decisively against gun violence. He begged the president to transcend the current political climate where "the blood money of the NRA takes precedence over the blood of our children running in the streets" and called on President Obama to ban assault weapons and make his term in office stand for something. "We have become immune to the genocide of black and brown children...not in Rwanda, not in Darfur, not in Uganda, but in the United States of America," Fr. Pfleger lamented.

Fr. Pfleger also talked about the ongoing systemic discrimination against African Americans, particularly the disproportionate incarceration rates. He noted that African Americans account for 13% of illegal drug users, while they are 35% of those incarcerated on drug-related charges. "We are shuttling our children from second class schools to first class prisons...There's no money to build schools and pay teachers' salaries but we can always find money for prisons and more guards."

Deploring America's current fascination with the foibles of the rich and famous, Fr. Pfleger pointed out that we are a nation that is "more concerned about Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, and even Justin Bieber's haircut, than about children and families living and dying on the streets."

Finally, he encouraged Howard students not to remain in the comfort of classrooms and safe churches but to take it to the streets and ask the prophetic questions. Our job, Fr. Pfleger said, "is not to make people comfortable with Pharaoh, but to tell Pharaoh to 'let our people go'."

The audio of this sermon is embedded in this video: