Friday, June 28, 2013

Teresa Forcades: "The dynamic of capitalism is creating hells, places of extreme exploitation"

By Javier Rada (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Mensual de 20minutos
July 2013

Montserrat is a bewitching mountain. An impossible sculpture that rises steep in originality, creating unusual, shocking, modern structures (despite the geological millenia) like a daring modern sculptor. Located in the bowels of Catalonia, the mountain could have sculpted Teresa Forcades' spirit.

Sister Teresa is a Benedictine nun who lives in the San Benet monastery in the foothills of Montserrat. Her message also creates a landscape of unheard of, shocking, daring structures that seem impossible or contradictory, but gain ascetic sense before her open and curious gaze.

She's been called the revolutionary, anti-capitalist, red, independent, rebellious nun...they're just words, descriptions and even platitudes, like calling the great rock magic. She defines herself as close to the anarchist ideal, drinks of Christian Socratism, "the one that doesn't remove reason." She defends the essence of the Gospel, that of Christ expelling the powerful merchants from the Temple.

She's a medical doctor, a theologian, and a doctor in Public Health. She became known for her Internet videos denouncing the bluff about influenza A. Since then, she has changed her small monastic community through political activity, unafraid of confrontation or pressure from murky interests. A nun launching a message of revolution and rupture, promoting assemblies and a "constitutional process." An almost cloistered woman who talks a blue streak, jokes, and doesn't dodge questions, even when they get into the sore spots of her Church.

She has just created new media commotion by proposing a constitutional process in Catalonia, with economist and activist Arcadi Oliveres. They are demanding the commitment of much of the citizenry to "subverting the system" -- capitalism and the cannibalistic increase in sacrilegious destitution. They're calling for expropriating banks and power companies, for rescuing democracy which has been usurped by the financial alliance. She says this in an austere monastic room in which two chairs and a side table stand in as Benedictine witnesses to the originality of this woman who is as firm as this holy mountain.

What's this constitutional process you're pushing?

It's a proposal to change the rules of the game. To talk about the constitutional process is to realize that this growing precarity in which we're living in our society and these cutbacks of rights and freedoms can't be solved in the current framework. Therefore, we separate ourselves from people who think the problem is just some corrupt politicians or bad management. That's not the problem; even if the politicians weren't corrupt and there wasn't bad management, the framework that determines the rules of the game is a framework that allows an alliance between political power and economic power to exist. And, either we separate that or we keep going along this route and the only thing it will cause is an increase in the Gini index, which economists use to measure the distance between rich and poor.

Your message is disruptive...


Don't you think capitalism can be reformed?

No, no way, because capitalism isn't the defender of freedom and therefore isn't a defender of private initiative. If capitalism would defend freedom, I wouldn't have any problem with it. I like private initiative. I don't imagine an ideal society controlled by a central committee. My ideal society personally would tend towards anarchism, but not a violent anarchism, not an anarchism unable to structure society, but a society in which broader and broader spaces of freedom are created for everyone. And this has to do with Christian anthropology. I believe God made us and that He made us in His image, which means in freedom and with the ability to love, and He made us with talents that are different for everyone. Living means being aware of your potential and putting it into practice, and society must create the conditions for that to be possible.

Isn't there a contradiction between God and anarchy?

There's a passage in the Book of the Prophets, in the Book of Samuel, where the people of Israel say to the prophet, "Tell God we want a king." To which God responds, "No. Tell them no. If they put in a king, the first thing he'll do is take their daughters as concubines and send their sons to make war, he'll take some of their crops -- the best they have -- and keep it. Tell them they don't need a king, that they already have me, that I'm God and they don't need anyone over them." So there's a current that I feel is mine, which is favorable to this individual freedom and opposed to all paraphernalia.

Your Church doesn't seem to have paid too much attention to you...

In the Roman Apostolic Church we have structures right now through which it's hard to see and make transparent this simplicity of the Gospels. Let's hope we get them off us the sooner the better because the Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, shortly before he died, said that in the Church we've had a 200 year lag.

The Church hierarchy lost that original message of Christ along the way...

I think there are many people, both in the hierarchy and the grassroots, who have lost it, but there are also other people, including in the hierarchy, who have kept it such as Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga, who is fighting to the end, and Samuel Ruiz, the [late] bishop of Chiapas, who wrote about his experience and it's impressive. So I don't think it's a question of bishops or non-bishops, but of becoming aware, standing up, getting into the Gospel with all simplicity and seriousness, and naturally that leads you to the side of the poorest people, of course.

The last shall be first...

The Gospel doesn't run away from confrontation. The Mother of God herself, in the Magnificat prayer, says she's happy because God has lifted up the lowly. If the Mother of God hadn't said it, they'd say it was a Communist song and every evening, in all the churches in the world, in all the monasteries, they would call us Communists. We pray for the Lord to put down the mighty and exalt the lowly. If it hadn't been the message of the Mother of God, they'd say, "May the Lord bring us all to happiness." Well, the Mother of God didn't say that. I think this is the way to achieve happiness; to get to Her, those above have to come down and those below, rise; we don't all have to come down or all have to rise.

I understand there's a struggle of ideas in the Church just as there is in current society...

There has always been. Every reform movement from within the Church has had opposition; Jesus even had it with his disciples. One didn't have it clearly; he thought this had to work from top to bottom and not the other way around because otherwise, it would be a failure. And that one, Judas, betrayed him. This tension has existed from the beginning. Both in society and in the Church, and even within me, there's this dialectical interpretation that's not exclusive to Marxism. Yo look at reality and see that there's a dialectic, and you become aware of the confrontation, and that you have to choose freely.

The current trend seems to be based on shock, the constant proclamation of the apocalypse..

I think this has to be countered with great calm, and looking at history, and seeing what happened in the medieval era, or in the absolute monarchies. So therefore, out with apocalypse! It's true that in the world in general there's an increased percentage of hunger, and it's dramatic ...

Including in Spain itself...

In Catalonia and in Spain, yes, and one shouldn't make a simplistic or falsely positive analysis. The situation is hard, but the answer isn't paralysis but precisely, and without precipitation, the urge that among us all we can build the alternative. And what's certain, what has happened throughout history, is that the most significant factor that has stopped a revolution or social change has been the ideological one. Tanks and forces of repression aren't enough.

Religion has also played a role in this ideological process...

Yes, I think it's played both parts. It's had this role of opiate of the people, and it still has it when it argues that reality is complex and that what we have to do is favor everybody, as if this confrontation didn't exist. We must be conscious of that. But it has also influenced the feminist movement, and the liberation movements. Look at Martin Luther King, or Gandhi, with his own religion but also inspired by the Gospel as he himself said during his time in prison. Even Marx was inspired by people who had a religious base. I think that religion is the most subversive force. What happens is that I'm also aware it can be manipulated.

Do you think of yourself as a nun of the new century?

I think I'm 21st century because when I speak, I don't try to adapt my message to what others are interested in, but I express my own concerns. I've tried to answer them, and when I do, I meet people who tell me that it concerns them too. And that's why I feel I'm part of the current world.

It must be a complicated balance living in a cloistered monastery and at the same time raising a media frenzy down the mountain...

I have to give credit to my community and my abbess, because if they didn't give me their support, I wouldn't be able to do this while being a nun, I'd have to leave and it would be another approach. When I say they support me, I don't mean they all think alike. For example, there was a community meeting when I wrote about abortion and there was a letter from Rome asking for an explanation of what was written which I gave, expressing my opinion, and passed on to the community. When the community read it, the abbess called me and told me they had discussed it and they told me that half the community disagreed and the other half didn't understand it. But -- and this is the point -- they all agreed that they wanted a world, a Church, and a community in which people could say what they think. And that's perfect.

It's striking that you say it's a space of feminist liberation...

It has been for me. The monastery has been a space of freedom. And, above all, if you compare it with the other two places I was before entering it, which were the hospital and the university. Everyone knows that in those sites there are sacred cows, people whose opinion is worth more than that of others, and you learn not to confront them. In a monastery like the one where I am, this happens much less than in a university, and that's very important in daily life. And the real diversity must be pointed out. There might be nuns who are right-wing or anti-feminist -- which there are -- and there's room for everyone, and that's a richness.

What role have the "indignados" [the "outraged ones"] played in this step you've taken?

Their influence has been undeniable. Because, as I said, forces of repression aren't enough. The blindfold must fall from the eyes, and in this the indignados have been the undeniable pioneers, and most of the people have said they're right. And not just taking off the blindfold but also because of the methodology -- who is the leader of the indignados? Why does there have to be a leader? And they tell them this isn't serious. And the other is? This insistence, this stubbornness, and these alternative methodologies, and the rotations, I think they will be very significant. And now in the constitutional process, one of the great challenges is thinking not just about the content, which is clear in the manifesto. It's one thing to say "expropriation of the bank" and another, how? We not only have a challenge at the level of deepening content but also at the level of organization, how to conceive among all through assemblies where the most citizens are included, new institutions. What's certain is that those we have aren't working.

Do you think it's a global process? We're seeing revolts in Brazil, Turkey, Spain, Greece...

I think so.

It seems like the citizens of the world are tired of being subjects and are demanding to be just that...citizens.

I think it's related to '89, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, since these fallacies of totalitarianism don't stand anymore, because there always has to be an enemy to allow this culture of shock to be maintained, that keeps you from looking at reality objectively and peacefully. When the wall fell, neoliberal globalization emerged, and they tried to create that enemy too, and it worked for a time, with the clash of cultures that Huntington talks about. But we are in a time when that enemy isn't credible. The Latin American countries have been pioneers with the Bolivarian revolution, and it's very interesting to analyze that while these countries have shaken off much of that foreign debt, much of it has crossed over here. In southern Europe, we have a neocolonial relationship with the north. Here, I'm applying the thesis of Rosa Luxemburg, who said in her time that capitalism, because of its own dynamic, must create hells, must create places of extreme exploitation.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to follow Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
June 30, 2013

Luke 9:51-62

Jesus begins his march towards Jerusalen decisively. He knows the risk he's running in the capital, but nothing stops him. His life only has one purpose: proclaiming and promoting the project of the Kingdom of God. The march starts off badly -- the Samaritans reject him. He's used to it -- the same thing happened to him in his hometown of Nazareth.

Jesus knows it isn't easy accompanying him in his life as an itinerant prophet. He can't offer his followers the security and prestige that the doctors of the law can offer their disciples. Jesus doesn't deceive anybody. Whoever wants to follow him will have to learn to live like him.

As he is going along the road, a stranger approaches. He looks enthusiastic -- "I will follow you wherever you go." First of all, Jesus makes him see that he must not expect security, advantages, or well-being from him. He himself "has nowhere to lay his head." He doesn't have a house, he eats what is offered him, sleeps where he can.

Let's not fool ourselves. The great obstacle that keeps many of us Christians today from really following Jesus is the well-being into which we have settled. We're afraid to take him seriously because we know he would require us to live in a more generous manner and in solidarity. We're slaves to our little well-being. Perhaps the economic crisis could make us more humane and more Christian.

Another man asks Jesus to let him go and bury his father before following him. Jesus answers him with a provocative and enigmatic play on words: "Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." These disconcerting words question our conventional lifestyle.

We have to broaden the horizon in which we operate. Family isn't everything. There's something more important. If we decide to follow Jesus, we must also think of the human family -- no one should live without a home, without a homeland, papers, rights. We can all do something for a more just and fraternal world.

Another is ready to follow him but wants to say farewell to his family first. Jesus surprises him with these words: "No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God." Collaborating in Jesus' project requires total dedication, looking forward without being distracted, walking towards the future without being locked in the past.

Recently, Pope Francis warned us about something that's happening in the Church today: "We fear that God may force us to strike out on new paths and leave behind all our too narrow, closed and selfish horizons in order to become open to his own."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Pope Francis meets with Adolfo Perez Esquivel and other leaders about indigenous rights and liberation theology

On Monday, June 24th, Pope Francis met a second time with Argentine human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel and with Felix Diaz, leader of the Qom ethnic tribe's "La Primavera" Community, Diaz's wife Amanda Asijak, and Fr. Francisco Nazar, vicar for the indigenous populations of the Diocese of Formosa, Argentina.

During the meeting, the leaders denounced the persecution and systematic violations of human rights that the native peoples of Argentina are suffering and expressed concern for the protection of those rights, especially with respect to land and cultural identity. After the meeting, Diaz stated that the Pope told them he had decided to include the indigenous issue on his agenda and that he had asked them to join him in the struggle against injustice in the world. "He asked us to join him and support him to fight this unjust world. And he's very interested in including the indigenous issue on the agenda," the indigenous leader said. Diaz later expressed his confidence that the Pontiff would be able to intercede for the demands of the indigenous peoples both in Argentina and throughout Latin America.

However, the meeting did not simply address indigenous rights. Perez Esquivel also brought the Pope a message from Brazilian Bishop Emeritus Pedro Casaldaliga whom he had phoned before going to Rome -- a plea for the Church to defend the indigenous people and reconcile with liberation theology. "I brought him a message from Pedro Casáldáliga, who told me, 'You're going to see Francis. Tell him to try to listen, reflect, and reach an agreement, a reconciliation with the Latin American theologians. To be concerned about the whole problem of the native peoples on the continent.'," Perez Esquivel said.

After the meeting, Perez Esquivel said he thought that the Pope would probably move towards what Casaldaliga is asking for. "Pope Francis is committed to the poor...I think [he] will promote reconciliation with liberation theology. The Pope is a pastor; the others were just functionaries. That's the difference," he pointed out.

Perez Esquivel also revealed that during the 45-minute meeting, he gave Pope Francis a copy of the Pact of the Catacombs that was signed by around 40 progressive bishops during the Second Vatican Council, including many from Latin America, in which they made a commitment to live simply and in solidarity with the poor.

Perez Esquivel said that when Pope Francis saw the names of  Helder Cámara, Luigi Betazzi, Manuel Larraín, Leónidas Proaño, Sergio Méndez Arceo and Faustino Zazpe among the signatories, he exclaimed, "Wow, look who's there!" He said that the Pope was very interested in the subject and that, although he didn't commit to anything, he said he was going to think about it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Women answer the call to the priesthood

In joyous ceremonies this weekend in Falls Church, Virginia, and St. Cloud, Minnesota, five women were ordained to the Roman Catholic priesthood and three to the diaconate.

At an ordination Mass celebrated June 22nd at First Christian Church in Falls Church to the strains of the "Mass of Christ Sophia", an inclusive language setting composed by Kathleen Rosenberg of the NOVA Community, Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests conferred Holy Orders on:


  • Barbara Anne Duff from Macon, Georgia. Rev. Duff was a Maryknoll Sister for 12 years, during which time she taught school in the Bronx, NY. After leaving community life, she pursued a nursing degree from Loyola in Chicago, IL, and served as an Air Force flight nurse during the Vietnam war. She then worked at the Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire where she obtained a Master’s Degree in Human Services. She transferred to the VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, and served there as the Nursing Home Care Unit Supervisor and subsequently became the Assistant Chief Nurse. During that time she got a BS in Information Technology from Macon State College (now Middle Georgia State College). Commenting on her ordination, Rev. Duff said that "I am fulfilling my original call to minister to those who are on the margins of society. We women priests are working toward a renewed priestly ministry, supporting nonviolence and social justice in our church and in the world."

  • Joleane Presley, who lives in Manassas, Virginia, and works full time as a hospital chaplain for Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, providing pastoral care to patients who are recovering from physical disabilities such as stroke, amputation, head injury and spinal cord injury. Rev. Presley has a Masters of Divinity degree from Duke University and she says of her current career and journey to the priesthood that "working with people with disabilities and meeting their spiritual needs has been a dream come true. Being ordained as a woman priest brings all of these dreams full circle. God has called me from age seven to be a priest and serve those who are hurting and ill." During the ordination ceremony, Joleane's father spoke movingly about that early calling while testifying to his daughter's readiness to undertake her new role.

  • Mary Collingwood, a devoted Catholic from Cleveland, Ohio, whose varied church career has already included teaching theology both at the high school level at Our Lady of the Elms High School in Akron and at the college level as an adjunct professor at Notre Dame College in South Euclid. Collingwood has also worked as Assistant Director of St. Barnabas Villa, an assisted living facility. For four years, she was Pro Life Director for Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Cleveland, and at the parish level she has been a Director of Religious Education and Marriage Preparation Coordinator. She has a Masters in Theology from St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology.

  • Marianne T. Smyth, who is from Silver Spring, MD and has been affiliated with the Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in that area, has a Masters Degree in Counseling and four certificates from Global Ministries University in Theology and Scripture. A secular Carmelite for seven years, she was a caretaker for her elderly mother and has worked with students with learning disabilities and those who were drug and/or alcohol dependent. She now ministers to those facing sickness, dying and death.

  • Mary Theresa Streck of Menands, New York, a former Sister of St. Joseph who requested dispensation from her vows to marry the late Jay Murnane, a former Catholic priest and chaplain at Russell Sage College. The couple, who were active in CORPUS, the support organization for married Catholic priests and their wives, founded numerous projects and groups together including the Rensselaer County chapter of Pax Christi, Joseph's House and Shelter in Troy, NY, and the Ark Community Charter School in Troy, a school primarily serving low-income families, of which Streck remains the director. Streck has a doctoral degree in Education Leadership from Sage Graduate School. In an interview with the Times-Union, Streck described her ordination as "a continuation of a lifetime path." "It's not like I woke up and said 'Now I'd like to pursue a life of ministry'," Streck said, adding that unlike some of the other women priests who have come from working in Catholic institutions, "I am not going to lose my pension if I do this. I am not going to lose my job to do this. For me, it's a joyous passage." She said she is taking this step because "I don't want to wait another 400 or 500 years" for the institutional Catholic Church to accept women priests. Streck also rejects the argument that she should become an Anglican if she wants to get ordained. "I am not Anglican. I am a Roman Catholic," Streck affirmed.

In her homily during the ordination, Bishop Meehan asserted that "there is no shortage of vocations. Women are answering God's call and justice is rising in the Roman Catholic Church." She said that there are now 60 inclusive Catholic communities being pastored by women priests in the United States and that recent surveys have shown that 70% of American Catholics support ordaining women.

The following day, on June 23rd, Bishop Regina Nicolosi ordained three women to the priesthood in the Midwest region of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The ordination took place within the Community of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, an RCWP community that meets at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Cloud. The three are:

  • Bernadyne Sykora of St. Cloud, MN, who was a member of Maryknoll for five years before leaving to become a school teacher. She has a master's degree in education of children with special needs and has been a deacon at the Community of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle. The 80-year old ordinand told the St. Cloud Times that it was her hope that "one day women will be given rights in the Catholic Church equal to those of the male population."

  • Corene Besetzny of Red Wing, MN, who says that her "journey toward priesthood has been life-long." After working in the Peace Corps in Liberia, West Africa, she completed graduate programs in teaching and anthropology. She has been active in parish ministry for many years in the areas of marriage preparation, family life, RCIA and social justice. She recently received a Masters of Arts in Women’s Studies: Religion, Theology, and Ministry from United Theological Seminary in New Brighton, MN. She has been presiding at worship at the Fairview Seminary Home in Red Wing, MN, and she also assists at the House Masses in her community. She works at the Red Wing Health Center where she ministers to the elderly.

  • Martha Sherman of Salem, South Dakota, who is a former School Sister of Notre Dame, an order she entered after graduating from St. Louis University with a BA in English and Theology. She left the order four years later but continued to teach in an SSND run school for eight more years. She currently owns and operates the Camp America Campground in Salem.

As for the official Catholic Church response to this weekend's ordinations, WJLA got Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde on record as saying that the ordinations were invalid. "The church does not have the authority to change her doctrine on the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which has been passed down... from our Lord Jesus Christ... It is a great sadness when Catholics choose to reject the truth of the Faith... I pray for their return to the fold."

The position of Bishop John Kinney of St. Cloud on the matter is well-established since, in 1998, he ordered Liturgical Press of Collegeville to destroy 1,300 copies of Woman at the Altar: The Ordination of Women in the Roman Catholic Church by Sr. Lavinia Byrne, a book promoting women in the priesthood. The book is now published in the United States by Continuum. According to the St. Cloud Times, Bishop Kinney reiterated the Church's opposition to women's ordination prior to this weekend's ceremony.

Bishop Nicolosi's response to such positions is that Roman Catholic Women Priests "believe[s] there are laws that are unjust and they need to be broken because they are not in accordance to the teaching of equality and love that Jesus preached and died for." She explained to the St. Cloud Times that RCWP's "liturgy is quite similar to the regular Roman Catholic ordination liturgy. The differences is we use inclusive language, which means we do not address God as 'male' and also addressing people in the pews, we do not address them as ‘brothers’ but as ‘brothers and sisters'". And Bishop Nicolosi added, "the part where men promise obedience to the bishop, we do not do that. We believe that the obedience is to the person of Christ, then our almighty God and to the community, not specifically to the bishop because we do not believe in the hierarchy as male priests do."