Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Time of Change

by Fr. Bruno Renaud (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Últimas Noticias

There is a time to continue in the mold, and there is a time to break molds, to create a rupture. The Catholic parish, for example. The parish was a political and civil organizational model at the time of the Roman Empire. The diocese too. In a huge anonymous society such as the one we have, especially in the city, its tranformation is vital. The Christian community has felt this for fifty years in our indigenous and latino continent. It feels that the large triumphalist demonstrations of faith, huge parishes, luxurious churches, priests who aim to give orders, are not so appropriate for today.

Christians today remember that the organizational model of the early Church was not centered on the church or the priest, but the home -- a place for modest groups to meet who wanted to cultivate faith in a fraternal way, reading the word of God intensely, practicing active solidarity and community. Its protagonists: simply the baptized. They experienced excitement and joy. For centuries, this Church steadfastly proclaimed its boundary in the face of "normal" features of any religion. "We have no church, no priesthood, no altar, no sacrifice, no images!" It wasn't a sad reality, but a burning conviction: "Christianity isn't a religion," said the followers of Jesus, but a "way". The way of Jesus, then, isn't a religion in the classic sense of the word. Soon one will have to recall it in the necessary dialogue with the great religious traditions, starting with Islam.

How things have changed! Throughout the centuries, because of this long cohabitation between faith and politics, the space filled up with churches, priests (by no means proposed by Jesus), images ... Today, in the countries of Western Europe they don't know what to do with hundreds and hundreds of vast empty churches.

This weekend, the 5th National Conference of Christian Communities, or of the Basic Ecclesial Communities (BCCs), which is the same thing, takes place in Barquisimeto. The Church is reborn on more refined bases!

Friday, August 12, 2011

Some encouragement to those discouraged with the Church

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)

There is much disappointment with the institutional Catholic Church currently. A double migration is happening: an outer one -- people who are just leaving the Church, and an inner one -- those who remain in it but no longer feel like it's a spiritual home. They continue to believe in spite of the Church.

No wonder. The current pope has taken some radical initiatives that have divided the church body. He has taken a path of confrontation with two important bishoprics -- the German and French ones -- by introducing the Latin Mass; he has coordinated an elaborate reconciliation of Lefebvre's followers with the Church; he has thrown out the main renewing insights of Vatican II, especially ecumenism, absurdly denying the title of "church" to churches that aren't Catholic or Orthodox; as cardinal, he was gravely permissive with pedophiles; his position on AIDS borders on the inhuman.

The Catholic Church is now plunged in a harsh winter. The social base of support for the current Pope's obsolete model is composed of conservative groups that are more interested in media productions, the logic of the market, than in proposing an appropriate message for the serious current problems. They offer a "Lexotan Christianity", fit for calming anxious minds, but alienated in the face of suffering humanity.

It's urgent to encourage these Christians who are in the process of emigration with what is essential in Christianity. It's certainly not the Church, which was not the subject of Jesus' preaching. He proclaimed a dream -- the Kingdom of God -- as opposed to the kingdom of Caesar, a Kingdom of God that is an absolute revolution in relationships, from individual to divine and cosmic ones.

Christianity first appeared in history as a movement and as the way of Christ. It predates its sedimentation in the four gospels and doctrines. The spiritual path nature means a type of Christianity that has its own course. It generally lives on the margins and sometimes at a critical distance from the official institution. But it is born and nourished by the ongoing fascination with the figure and the liberating and spiritual message of Jesus of Nazareth. Initially regarded as the "heresy of the Nazarenes" (Acts 24:5) or simply "heresy" (Acts 28:22) in the sense of "clique", Christianity kept gaining autonomy until its followers, according to the Acts of the Apostles (11:36), were called "Christians".

Jesus' movement is indeed the stronger force of Christianity, rather than the churches, because it isn't framed in institutions or trapped in doctrines and dogmas. It comprises all kinds of people, from the most varied cultures and traditions, even agnostics and atheists who let themselves be touched by the brave figure of Jesus, by the dream He proclaimed, a Kingdom of love and freedom, by His ethic of unconditional love, especially towards the poor and oppressed, and by the way He took on the human drama, in the midst of humiliation, torture, and His execution on the cross. He presented an image of God so intimate and friendly to life that it is hard to give up even by those who do not believe in God. Many people say, "If God exists, He must be like the God of Jesus."

This Christianity as a spiritual journey is what counts. However, it soon went from being a movement to being a religious institution with various modes of organization. In its midst, different interpretations of the figure of Jesus were developed that became doctrines and were gathered by the official gospels. The churches, on assuming an institutional nature, established criteria for membership and exclusion, doctrines as an identifying point of reference and their own celebratory rites. Sociology explains this phenomenon, not theology. The institution has always lived in tension with the spiritual path. The optimum is for them to walk together, but that is rare. What is decisive in any case, is the spiritual path. It has a future and animates the meaning of life.

The problem of the Roman Catholic Church is its claim to be the only true one. What is right is that they all recognize each other, as they all reveal different and complementary dimensions of the message of the Nazarene. The important thing is that Christianity maintain its character as a spiritual path. It can sustain many Christians in face of the mediocrity and irrelevance into which the Church of today has fallen.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Fr. Bruno Renaud: Priest of the Venezuelan Barrios

In this country, one gets the impression that the entire Catholic Church in Venezuela is conservative and perpetually at war with Hugo Chavez. This article about Fr. Bruno Renaud, a priest at
Sagrado Corazón de Jesús parish in Petare in the Archdiocese of Caracas, and founder of the Escuela de Formación Popular in that city, tells a different story...

by Jean-Baptiste Mouttet (English translation by Rebel Girl)

Bruno Renaud has been serving for 45 years in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas, which are known for their violence. His life is dedicated to the "liberation" of the poor.

In the street that winds between the ocher houses of the barrio, the Venezuelan equivalent of favelas, the Belgian priest Bruno Renaud says mass. In this working class neighborhood of Petare, a city bordering the capital, Caracas, about forty people listen attentively and laugh heartily at every joke tossed out by this man of the cloth. "He's the only one who dares to come here. He has done a lot for the neighborhood," Esperanza Valdes, 78 and sitting on a plastic chair, says with a smile.

Bruno Renaud, who studied theology and ancient history at the Catholic University of Louvain, came to settle in Venezuela nearly 45 years ago. He chose to live in Petare, one of the most dangerous cities in the country, a country itself known for its extreme violence (according to official figures there were 48 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2010, as against 1.4 in France in 2008 according to UNDP).

This tall 71-year old man with short white hair and sparkling blue eyes rubs shoulders with the dangers of the city every day. Recently, it's the story of a teenager slashed by a razor blade in the middle of street during daytime that touched him.

Books and health care

While heads appear at the windows to watch the service, Esperanza continues: "Thanks to him, we have a health center and library." From the 70s to the early 90s, the priest set up a score of libraries in neighborhoods that did not have easy access to cultural centers then. Today, some are self-managed while others have been incorporated into the national library network. The health center allows residents to consult doctors and has been operating for over 30 years.

Bruno Renaud explains humorously how he was able to build this center. An old lady, "not very talkative", to his amazement, immediately agreed to sell her house so that the priest could carry out his project. "Everything is violent in these neighborhoods, the barrios, hospitality is violent, generosity is violent, and love is violent," he said.

In the neighborhoods where he serves, it's hard for him to walk more than five feet without someone coming to shake hands or engage in conversation. "Bruno is loved and respected here. He's a friend," Humberto Segovia, a truck driver, asserts. "With my big nose and my very white skin, I don't go unnoticed. But the people have welcomed me as one of them," Renaud says, laughing.

He regrets that the Catholic Church isn't more present. "There's no fellowship with the poor. We are facing an assistantialist church that occasionally makes donations without permanently investing itself on the side of the poor."

Bruno Renaud, because of his life devoted to the poor, might make one think of Mother Teresa's involvement. The comparison would not please him at all. He isn't trying to help the people in Petare but to "liberate" them. Close to liberation theology -- a theological school of thought born in Latin America that aims to "liberate" the poor from their condition, he is more similar to Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador (capital of El Salvador), who opposed the military government and American interference.

Frank positions

Bruno Renaud defines himself as a "Christian activist". Every Thursday, Ultimas Noticias, one of the few newspapers to open its pages to different opinions, publishes his columns with frank positions. In an often humorous, sometimes sarcastic and readily ironic tone, he tweaks the Pope, makes allusions to the conservatism of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference. He criticizes the Catholic hierarchy of his adopted country for "always being reactive" and for using "the pulpit and the lectern for politics."

He opposes the systematic anti-Chavez attitude of the Church. "Every day I see changes in the neighborhoods. The people have risen up to study, they have a right to health care, unemployment has decreased and there is attention to all segments of the population." And he highlights the problems the socialist government has failed to solve: "Insecurity, extreme centralization, disorganized reforms..."

This freedom of tone doesn't seem to be to everyone's taste. A professor of the history of ideas and the early church at the Theological Institute for Religious and the Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas, he also taught in a seminary in Caracas, before being removed from his position in 1972. Reinstated, he was fired again in 2005, but the reasons were't revealed to him.

His followers don't seem aware of these positions. "I didn't immediately make the connection between the columnist and the priest in front of my house," says Nestor Segovia, an avowed atheist and member of the community council (local community decision-making body). They know that the priest is a source of support. It's enough to visit the septuagenarian in his apartment. There is constant back and forth, residents who have come looking for someone to listen, for advice or just to share a moment with their friend.


Articles by Bruno Renaud in Ultimas Noticias

Articles by Bruno Renaud at

Entrevista al Padre Bruno Renaud -- "Las misiones deberían ser reajustadas a la realidad cambiante", Últimas Noticias, 12/21/2008

Venezuela: des prêtres au pays de Chavez, Par Jean-Baptiste Mouttet, Témoignage Chrétien, 5/5/2011