Friday, January 6, 2012

New Voices in the Church: Sofía Chipana Quispe

We have been periodically highlighting new, interesting and, especially, female theological voices in the Church. Bolivian indigenous theologian Sofia Chipana's voice was heard loud and clear during the Andean region preparatory conference for this year's Continental Theology Congress to be held in October in São Leopoldo, Brazil. Ms. Chipana, who completed a degree in Biblical Studies with a thesis on women in the Old Testament, is a member of the Comunidad Religiosas Terciarias Trinitarias and is on the faculty of the Instituto Superior Ecuménico Andino de Teología (ISEAT). Back on October 20, 2011, Ermanno Allegri, director of Adital, conducted an interview with her. We are pleased to bring it to you now in English. -- RG.

"I'm Aymara and I think of myself as an urban indigenous woman because my parents emigrated to the city, and it is from this identity that I begin to express my theological and Biblical thoughts." This is how Sofía Chipana, an indigenous theologian from Bolivia who is leading the workshop on indigenous theology during the 3-day Andean Theological Conference taking place in Bogota, Colombia, introduces herself.

In an interview with Adital, she talks about the quirks, riches and contributions of indigenous theology.

ADITAL: All the peoples have always done theology, but when did the more systematized indigenous theology begin? How wide is the network that indigenous theology has established with other countries and other theologies today?

Sofía Chipana: Well, indigenous theology emerged in the 1970s, perhaps not under that name but as an initiative to be able to articulate theological thought from the indigenous perspective. In the first instance, that theology began to be articulated by missionaries and priests in the Catholic environment, out of pastoral concern, with an interest in systematizing indigenous theology as such. Then from there the articulation starts to take shape in various areas of Latin America, for example, we have had the theology in part of Mesoamerica, it is also beginning in the Amazon area, but it is being developed much more strongly in the Andean region of Latin America.

There's a whole process that each region has been carrying out. I'm more part of the Andean region and the theology has been articulated and systematized there. In the first place, it was preached by priests and missionaries and then, secondly, we indigenous people began to be protagonists of indigenous theology. We start with our own reflection from our perspective, from our being and our identity.

Currently we theologians are trying to articulate and systematize indigenous theological thought. Maybe there isn't a specific expression of what would be constant reflection or a constant systematization of indigenous theology, but rather it's more a sharing of experiences, because I think that the process of indigenous theology is done in a different way, or rather, that it's not necessarily through written systematization, but that for us, the indigenous people, experience, experiences, sharing are very important because we come from cultures where oral tradition is very strong, and not just that, but also the use of other elements, the use of symbols, for example.

Through symbols we are able to express our thoughts, our experiences. Perhaps it's hard for us to fit into an academic framework because, of course, our systematization is not like that kind of theology that begins to articulate scripture and reflect and capture its thoughts in writing. We, on the other hand, since it's an experience... then often it's hard for us to systematize these kinds of experiences and really there are elements that are hard for us to put into words.

I think that now we are in the process of sharing, of continuing to bring up our experiences and what we have lived, that in some way are also framing our theological reflection in the various areas where we are.

ADITAL: Are there any points that you perceive as basic in this theology and which frame the direction of this reflection, which is always in process?

Sofía Chipana: Yes, there are various elements and I call them key nuclei, like strong knots that hold up indigenous theology. For example, the theme of narration. Narration is very important to us and it's part of our culture, so spirituality, experiences, norms and the ethical codes of the culture have been passed on through narration.

Another aspect that is also important is what we now call "feeling-thinking", that is to say that our reflection is not based only in reason but also recaptures much of the issue of subjectivism as opposed to a theology and tradition where objectivism is valued, the use of reason; but, on the other hand, not in our experience. There is a mixture of feelings, subjectivity and that has to do with the ritualism of the various spaces. It has to do with the celebrations, the festive character, what is communal. This "feeling-thinking" core is very important.

ADITAL: And how can a more lively liturgy be created, in the sense of expressing the culture and personal feelings and those of the specific groups?

Sofía Chipana: I was saying to you that for the Andean context, ritualism, festivity, the communal act are very important. Well, that isn't very accepted in Christian or Catholic liturgy. With inculturation, some of the symbols were accepted but more from a folk perspective and not from the perspective of the background content of these symbols. Hence a certain break has been created in the link between the Andean and Christian experience. As people have become accustomed to seeing a more established type of liturgy, they are shy to incorporate some elements of our own culture.

ADITAL: But some elements blend in...

Sofia Chipana: What we see here, for me, is not syncretism, because syncretism occurs when you start doing that mix of things. In contrast, in the Andean context, I wouldn't call it syncretism but rather I would say that everything has its space, everything has its place. So that's why I once dared to suggest that it would be more of a shared religion, that indigenous peoples began to formulate this -- a dialogue with Christianity. In our rituals, it's true that there are Christian elements that are valued. I think that starting from this Andean context other types of expressions are being created that do not fall within the formal framework, but that are other types of re-creation that are not syncretism but are different re-creations that are the beginning of a different kind of dialogue.

ADITAL: Within this indigenous theology, also, of course, a new face of God is appearing. What does that face look like?

Sofía Chipana: The face of God that is perceived is more than a face; it's the presence of God among the people, because for many indigenous peoples in their spirituality, God is not outside of reality. That is to say that the divinity we talk about is immersed in reality, it's immanent, present in various elements so that sometimes indigenous peoples are classified as pantheists because they believe that everything is sacred and that this is God, and it isn't taken into account that the spirituality of indigenous peoples has to do with the immanence of God, with seeing that He is present at all times, and that this makes nature itself sacred all the time and in all situations. This contrasts completely with Christianity.

And on the other hand, this God is seen who is transcendent because, for example, in Andean culture, the Pachamama is the image of the divinity that is present and materialized in nature and is in direct contact with humans and with other beings, but also has this other transcendent dimension that is the whole, that's a divinity that encompasses all other realities and that transcends the more mundane realities. From there I see that really in indigenous theology, we break the image of God as static, supreme, almighty. It's more the image of a living, warm God whom one can talk to, whom one can go to through ritual, experience, through communal life, through the ethical life of the peoples.

So I feel it's a very broad image of God. S/he is like the mother who shelters us.

ADITAL: A God who is closer to the Father of Jesus Christ than the God of the catechism...

Sofia Chipana: Yes, yes. The Gospel presents that image of God as Father, which corresponded well to its context, to the culture, to present an image of a God who is very near. I think that that's the figure of Jesus, representing the nearness of God. Obviously, the Andean or indigenous cultures have to do with this and what we are trying to find is this -- the image of a God or God's presence in the midst of it all, and it's not that God who is outside, not that God who is in the temples, not that God who requires mediators to relate to us, but it's this God who is even breaking through borders. It really is this God who is in favor of life and, well, sometimes in indigenous theology we don't show the other side of God, who is a deity who also reacts to some human ethical attitudes that aren't right -- but in the sense of guidance rather than punishment.


Desafíos y tareas de la teología en la región andina. Desafíos y tareas desde la Teología India -- Sofia Chipana Quispe's presentation at the Jornadas Teológicas Andinas in Bogotá, Colombia, October 21, 2011 (in Spanish)

Bolivian shares indigenous theology of “sacredness with the earth”, World Council of Churches, 5/20/2011 (article is also available en español)

Manual de la Lectura Intercultural de la Biblia, Instituto Superior Ecuménico Andino de Teología (ISEAT), Bolivia (in Spanish)

"El Renacer de Un Nuevo Tiempo", by Sofia Chipana, Aire de Dios, Servicio Bíblico Permanente, Bolivia, No. 1, 2007 (in Spanish)

"¿Qué está permitido hacer en sábado: el bien o el mal? Marcos 3:4", by Sofia Chipana, Aire de Dios, Servicio Bíblico Permanente, Bolivia, Año 2, No. 5, 2008 (in Spanish)

"Voces y cuerpos que emergen de la memoria clandestina", by Sofia Chipana Quispe, Revista Clar: revista trimestral de vida religiosa, Vol. 48, No. 2, 2010 (full text not online)

Sofia Chipana also contributed to Teologia Andina, el tejido diverso de la fe indígena, edited by Josef Estermann, ISEAT, Bolivia, 2006 (summary of the 2 volume book's contents in Spanish from EATWOT)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Catholic bishops in Japan call for an end to nuclear power

Following the disaster at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, that nation's Roman Catholic bishops have issued a statement encouraging an end to the use of nuclear power (Note: The Japanese bishops have also published this particular statement en español):

To all residents in Japan,

The accident in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant triggered by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake contaminated the ocean and land by radiation, and tragically disrupted the daily life of an enormous number of people. Even now, almost one hundred thousand people are evacuated from the neighboring area of the nuclear plant, and numerous people are forced to live in fear and anxiety.

With regard to the pros and cons of nuclear plants, we, Japanese bishops, expressed in our message “Reverence for Life –A Message for the Twenty-First Century from the Catholic Bishops of Japan” as follows:

“It has provided a totally new source of energy for humanity, but as we can see in the destruction of human life in a moment in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the disaster at Chernobyl and the life-threatening criticality accident at Tokaimura, it also has the potential to pass huge problems on to future generations. To use it effectively, we need the wisdom to know our limits and exercise the greatest care. In order to avoid tragedy, we must develop safe alternative means of producing energy.”(1)

The “tragedy” in this message was brought about by nothing less than the accident in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. This nuclear disaster wiped out the “safety myth”, which was created because people put too much trust in science and technology without having “the wisdom to know our limits”.

In the message “Reverence for Life”, we, Japanese bishops could not go so far as to urge the immediate abolishment of nuclear plants. However, after facing the tragic nuclear disaster in Fukushima, we regretted and reconsidered such attitude. And now, we would like to call for the immediate abolishment of all the power plants in Japan.

With regard to the immediate abolishment of nuclear plants, some people voice concerns about energy shortage. There are also various challenges such as the reduction of carbon dioxide. However, most important of all, we as members of the human race, have responsibilities to protect all life and nature as God’s creation, and to pass on a safer and more secure environment to future generations. In order to protect life, which is so precious, and beautiful nature, we must not focus on economic growth by placing priority on profitability and efficiency, but decide at once to abolish nuclear plants.

Because of the prediction that a new disaster will occur due to another earthquake or tsunami, all the 54 nuclear plants in Japan are at risk of horrific accidents like the latest one. Therefore, in order to prevent human-generated calamities associated with natural disasters as much as possible, it is essential to eliminate nuclear plants.

Although nuclear plants have been supplying energy in the context of “peaceful use” to society until now, they have also released an enormous amount of radioactive waste such as plutonium. We are going to place the custodial responsibility of these dangerous wastes on future generations for centuries to come. We must consider this matter to be an ethical issue.

Nuclear power has been encouraged by national policies up to now. As a result, natural energy has fallen behind in development and popularity. We urge that the national policies be changed to place top priority on development and implementation of natural energy, which will also contribute to reducing carbon dioxide. On the other hand, it takes a long time and enormous labor to decommission a nuclear plant. Therefore, the decommissioning of reactors and the disposal of radioactive waste must be conducted with extreme caution.

Indeed, electricity is essential for our lives today. However, what is important is to amend our ways of general life by changing the lifestyles that excessively depend on electricity.

Japan has its culture, wisdom and tradition that have long co-existed with nature. Religions such as Shinto and Buddhism are also based on the same spirit. Christianity has the spirit of poverty as well. Therefore, Christians have an obligation to bear genuine witness to the Gospel especially through the ways of life expected by God; “simplicity of life, the spirit of prayer, charity towards all, especially towards the lowly and the poor, obedience and humility, detachment and self-sacrifice”. (2) We should choose anew a simple and plain lifestyle based on the spirit of the Gospel (3), in cases like saving electricity. We live in the hope that science and technology will develop and advance based on the same spirit. These attitudes will surely lead to a safer and more secure life without nuclear plants.

From Sendai
November 8, 2011
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan


1. Reverence for Life –A Message for the Twenty-First Century from the Catholic Bishops of Japan (Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan, 2001, p.104~p.105).
Another message on nuclear plants announced by the Catholic Church in Japan is “Petition on the Criticality Accident at the Uranium Conversion Facility, JCO Co. Ltd” (1999).

2. Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi, 76 (1975).

3. Cf. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 486 d. New lifestyles (2004).

The Spirit of Jesus

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

Mark 1:7-11

Jesus appeared in Galilee when the Jewish people were experiencing a deep religious crisis. They had been feeling distant from God for a long time. The heavens were "closed". A sort of invisible wall seemed to block God's communication with His people. No one was able to hear His voice. There were no longer any prophets. Nobody was impelled by His Spirit to speak.

The hardest was the feeling that God had forgotten them. Israel's problems no longer concerned Him. Why was He staying hidden? Why was He so far away? Certainly many remembered the ardent prayer of one of the prophets of old who prayed thus to God: "Oh, that You would rend the heavens and come down."

Those who first heard Mark's gospel must have been surprised. According to his narrative, on coming out of the waters of the Jordan after being baptized, Jesus "saw the heavens being torn open" and felt "the Spirit of God descending upon Him." The encounter with God was finally possible. A man filled with the Spirit of God walked on earth. His name was Jesus and He came from Nazareth.

This Spirit that descends on Him is the breath of God that created life, the force that renews and cures the living, the love that transforms all. Therefore, Jesus devotes Himself to liberating life, healing it, and making it more humane. The first Christians did not want to be confused with the disciples of John the Baptist. They felt they had been baptized by Jesus with His Spirit.

Without this Spirit, everything in Christianity is extinguished. Trust in God disappears. Faith weakens. Jesus is reduced to a figure of the past. The Gospel becomes a dead letter. Love grows cold and the Church is no more than just another religious institution.

Without Jesus' Spirit, freedom is stifled, joy goes out, worship becomes a mere custom, communion is broken. Without the Spirit, the mission is forgotten, hope dies, fear grows, following Jesus ends up as religious mediocrity.

Our greatest problem is forgetting Jesus and neglecting His Spirit. It's a mistake to try to achieve through organization, work, devotions or various strategies what can only be born of the Spirit. We have to come back to the root, regain the Gospel in all its freshness and truth, be baptized with the Spirit of Jesus.

We mustn't fool ourselves. If we don't let ourselves be revived and created anew by this Spirit, we Christians have nothing significant to bring to today's society, which is so empty inside, so incapable of love and solidarity, and so in need of hope.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

SOA Watch Solidarity Delegation to Chile: March 15-23, 2012

SOA Watch, better known for its efforts to close the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, GA, is organizing a solidarity delegation to go to Chile in March. The delegation will learn about the efforts of high school and college students in that country who are challenging the Pinochet-era privatization policies in education. In a national plebiscite of a million voters, 80% supported the students' demands for free public education.

The delegation will also be supporting the Mapuche indigenous people's ongoing struggle to recover their ancestral lands. They currently have access to only 5% of these lands. Many have been imprisoned and mistreated. Currently there are 18 Mapuche political prisoners and 44 on conditional release.

Both the student and Mapuche protests have been brutally suppressed by Chilean security forces. During the seventeen-year Pinochet dictatorship, 3000 people were killed or disappeared by SOA graduates.

The Chilean branch of SOA WATCH will host a delegation from March 15-23, 2012 in solidarity with the students and the Mapuche people. The trip to Chile will also focus on the rich history of Chilean culture, particularly poet Pablo Neruda and singer/songwriter Victor Jara. Participants will visit Santiago and Valparaiso, led by SOA WATCH Communications Coordinator for Latin America, Pablo Ruiz, a former political prisoner and survivor of torture under the Pinochet regime.

The cost for this solidarity trip is $1,200. For more information, please contact Lisa Sullivan:

The notion of freedom

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"].

I do not want to end this study of St. Basil's treatment of the Holy Spirit without recalling what is said about the concept of freedom:

"They maintain that the Holy Spirit is neither slave nor master, but free. Oh the terrible insensibility, the pitiable audacity, of them that maintain this! Shall I rather lament in them their ignorance or their blasphemy?" (20:51)

In contrast to the modern ideal, the old world concept of being is always relational. 'To be', 'to exist', means to be part of something larger than oneself and honor the obligations arising from this membership that gives me identity, this membership without which I would not exist. What is crucial is not to avoid all servitude (this is the modern notion of autonomy), but rather to serve the legitimate Lord, that is, Him from whom we receive the benefits that allow us to live. Jewish and Christian radicalness does not lie in the rejection of slavery, but the proclamation of Yahveh or God the Father-Son-Spirit as the only Lord of life itself:

"A life not lived under the oversight of the Lord is most pitiable. This is the case of the rebellious powers, which, in standing against God Almighty, are recalcitrant to slavery, not because they are of worse nature, but because they have rejected their creator. Whom then do you call free? Him who has no King? Him who has neither power to rule another nor willingness to be ruled? Among all existent beings no such nature is to be found. To entertain such a conception of the Spirit is obvious blasphemy." (20:51)

In this sense, 'to be free' would mean 'to be isolated', 'not being able to relate one's life to anyone else', while 'to rule' or 'to be ruled' indicates the experience of relationality:

"Therefore, if the Spirit is created, it is clearly a servant like everything else since, according to the psalm, 'all things are your servants' (Ps 119:91). But if it really is above created things, then it is part of the royalty [i.e. it is Lord, as the Father and the Son are Lord] (20:51)."

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Is this judgment day for our culture?

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 end of the year offers the opportunity to take stock of our human situation on this planet. What can we expect and what direction will history take? These are troubling questions since the global scenarios are grim. A crisis of structural magnitude has settled in the heart of the dominant socio-economic system (Europe and United States), which is reflected throughout the rest of the world. The Bible has a recurring theme in the prophetic tradition -- the day of reckoning is coming. It is the day of revelation -- the truth comes to the surface and our mistakes and sins are denounced as enemies of life. Great historians like Toynbee and von Ranke also talk about the judgment of whole cultures. I believe that we are really facing an overall judgment on our way of living on Earth and on the type of relationship we have with her.

Thinking about the situation at a deeper level, one that goes beyond the economic analyses that predominate among governments, businesses, in global forums and media, we see ever more clearly the contradiction between the logic of our modern culture, with its political economy, its individualism and consumerism, and the logic of the natural processes of our living planet, Earth. They are incompatible. The first is competitive, the second, cooperative. The first is exclusive, the second, inclusive. The first puts its main value on the individual, the second, on the good of all. The first focuses on commodities, the second, on life in all its forms. If we do nothing, this incompatibility can lead to a very grave impasse.

Exacerbating this incompatibility are the assumptions underlying our social process: that we can grow limitlessly, that resources are inexhaustible, and that individual material prosperity brings us much-yearned for happiness. Such assumptions are unrealistic -- resources are limited and a finite Earth can not withstand an infinite project. Prosperity and individualism are not bringing happiness, but high levels of loneliness, depression, violence and suicide.

There are two problems that are intertwined and could send our future into convulsions: global warming and human overpopulation. Global warming is a code that includes the impact that our civilization produces on nature, threatening the sustainability of life on Earth. The result is the annual emission of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and methane, which is 23 times more aggressive than the former. The accelerated melting of the permafrost in the Siberian tundra creates a danger in coming decades of an abrupt warming of 4 to 5 degrees Celsius that would devastate much of life on Earth. Human population growth causes more natural goods and services to be exploited, more energy to be spent, and more gases that produce global warming to be released into the atmosphere.

Strategies to control this threatening situation are virtually ignored by governments and decision makers. Our ingrained individualism has prevented a consensus from being reached in UN meetings. Each country only sees its own interest and is blind to the collective interest and the planet as a whole. And so we are casually nearing an abyss.

But the mother of all the distortions listed above is our anthropocentrism, the belief that we humans are the center of everything and that things have been made just for us, forgetting our complete dependence of all that surrounds us. Herein lies our destructiveness that leads us to devastate nature to satisfy our desires.

A little humility and seeing ourselves in perspective is urgent. The universe is 13.7 billion years old, Earth, 4.45 billion; life, 3.8 billion; human life, 5-7 million, and homo sapiens about 130-140 thousand years old. Therefore, we were born only a "few minutes" ago, fruit of all previous history. And we are going from sapiens to demens, threatening our partners in the community of life.

We have reached the apex of the evolutionary process not to destroy but to save and care for this sacred legacy. Only then will the Day of Judgment be the revelation of our true identity and our mission here on Earth.