Friday, July 12, 2013

Big Mama's Got a Brand New Church

Back in 2009, inspired by headlines screaming about this drag queen/Old Catholic priest, we brought you the colorful story of Rev. Anthony Capretta, aka Vincent Capretta, aka "Big Mama" whose video "Big Mama's House" went viral. Capretta followed it with a less successful video in the same genre, "Candy Medicine." In an interview he gave at the time, Fr. Capretta said the video is "all about having safe sex and using condoms--the condoms are candy medicine." He opined that the Roman Catholic Church was "wrong and selfish to discourage the use of condoms," adding that "condoms cannot cure HIV/AIDS, but neither will naïve appeals for sexual abstinence."

Four years later, we're happy to report that, while he hasn't been making any new music videos, Rev. Capretta's clerical career is flourishing. His Community of Charity Old Catholic congregation in Columbus, Ohio, has purchased a "real" church building (below) and started a second community in Crestline. The new community is called Holy Redeemer Old Catholic Church and Fr. Capretta plans to celebrate its first Mass there in September.

The priest says that future plans for the new facility will also include an arts conservatory as well as worship space. At the moment, Holy Redeemer is advertising and soliciting new members on its web site with a video that trumpets the church's openness and tolerance, and its emphasis on charity and service. “We are very inclu­sive,” Rev. Capretta says. “There is no one we would turn away from the sacra­ments."

Old Catholic churches have the same seven sacraments as the traditional Roman Catholic Church. However, the Eucharist is open to all baptized Christians regardless of denomination and, in this case, the sacrament of Marriage is extended to same-sex couples. The priesthood and diaconate in the Old Catholic tradition is open to both men and women, married and single, and there is no celibacy requirement.

Meanwhile, for those who miss Rev. Capretta in his previous (even pre-"drag queen") incarnation as singer Vincent Capretta, someone has helpfully uploaded a 1988 video of Vince singing "Nightstalker." A reminder that it's never too late to reinvent yourself...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Not passing by

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
July 14, 2013

Luke 10:25-37

"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." This is the legacy Jesus has left to humankind. To understand the revolution he wants to introduce into history, we must read his story of the "Good Samaritan" carefully. It describes the attitude we are to project -- beyond our beliefs and ideological or religious positions -- to build a more humane world.

On the side of a lonely road lies a human being who has been robbed, assaulted, stripped of everything, half dead, abandoned to his fate. In this wounded man without name or country, Jesus summarizes the situation of so many innocent victims who have been unjustly treated and abandoned by the side of so many roads throughout history.

On the horizon, two travelers appear -- first a priest, then a Levite. The two belong to the respected world of the official religion of Jerusalem. The two act in an identical manner: "They see the wounded man, make a detour, and pass him by." The two close their eyes and hearts. That man doesn't exist for them; they pass without stopping. This is Jesus' radical criticism of any religion that's unable to generate a compassionate heart in its members. What's the sense of a religion with so little humanity?

Along the road comes a third person. He isn't a priest or a Levite. He doesn't even belong to the Temple religion. However, when he comes, "he sees the wounded man, is moved, and approaches him." Then he does everything he can do for that stranger to save his life and restore his dignity. This is the dynamic that Jesus wants to introduce in the world.

The first thing is not closing one's eyes. Knowing how to "look" attentively and responsibly at those who are suffering. This view can free us from the selfishness and indifference that allow us to live with a clear conscience and the illusion of innocence in the midst of so many innocent victims. At the same time, "being moved" and letting their suffering hurt us too.

What's important is to react and "approach" those who are suffering -- not to ask ourselves whether or not we have any obligation to help them, but to discover up close that they are beings in need who are calling us. Our concrete action will reveal our human quality.

All this isn't theoretical. The Samaritan in the story doesn't feel obligated to fulfill a certain religious or moral code. He simply responds to the situation of the wounded man, coming up with all manner of practical gestures geared to alleviating his suffering and restoring his life and dignity. Jesus ends with these words: "Go and do likewise."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Priest to the Prostitutes

We've known Fr. Arnaldo Zenteno as the Jesuit priest who has worked for years with the base ecclesial communities in Nicaragua and occasionally shares his theological reflections through Adital and other liberation theology web sites. What we didn't know is that for more than 15 years, the CEBs in Managua have been sponsoring Proyecto Samaritanas, which aims to fight sex trafficking and help sex workers get out of the "life". And, as this article in La Prensa shows, Fr. Zenteno [the article incorrectly spells his last name "Centeno"] has been right there in the struggle to help these people regain their God-given dignity.

By José Denis Cruz (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Prensa
July 7, 2013

The first time he visited the women in miniskirts and low-cut blouses, it occured to him to bring a handful of chocolates. He came to the highway to Masaya, got out of the truck, walked a few steps to where they stood with their legs crossed, smiled, greeted them, and handed out the sweets.

"Let's go, sweetie," they sang out, before the Jesuit priest Arnaldo Centeno got to them. "Well, we're not going," he answered. What he was looking for there was to win the trust of dozens of sex workers. And he did.

From Mexico

Father Arnaldo Centeno is half Nicaraguan and half Mexican. The first time his sneakers trod on Nicaraguan soil was in 1972. Then he came back in 1982 for a theology workshop but this time he decided to stay. Over there in Mexico he had worked with the base ecclesial communities, populist Christian groups committed to a "dignified life for the people." And if he leaped from Aztec to pinolera ["Nicaraguan"] land, it was because the base communities in Mexico had maintained a close relationship with the countries of Central America.

In the eighties, he ran into the war and during that time he had to preside at Mass almost every day in memory of the young people killed in combat. As he contends, the war period was a very painful situation, however he admired the heroism of the people of Nicaragua.

"The first meetings were simple like that. Greeting them, so they could see that someone was greeting them with respect, without any interest in their work," says the 80-year Jesuit priest, a gentleman of unshakable memory.

However, it wasn't until the third day that the girls realized that the man who was visiting them was really a priest. This happened in December 1994 and the following year, "padrecito" -- as the women call him -- laid the foundation for Proyecto Samaritanas ["Samaritan Project"].


His mother died when he was a boy. There was a cantina and a transient hotel very close to his house. He was accustomed to greeting the women who sold their bodies daily. One evening, as he was returning to his home, he found a girl lying on the ground with her white dress stained with blood. The image was painful and shocking. He wanted to do something. He thought of studying medicine and thus helping the neediest, like her, but fate steered him toward the priesthood. And so he nurtured the idea of supporting teenagers and women who are in situations of sexual exploitation.

The stories of the sex workers have touched his heart, he says.

He still remembers the story of a 14 year-old girl he talked to the first time on the highway to Masaya. Her head was shaved and she had a handkerchief on her head.

Her story surprised him. "She was supporting her own son, her mother, her three brothers and sisters, and, with a lot of anger, she was supporting her stepfather," the priest remembers. What's unique about his work is that he has maintained human closeness with the girl sex workers.

The stories he has heard don't diverge much. They're repetitive along the road that the priest travels on Wednesdays and Thursdays each week. Today is a Thursday and the four members of Proyecto Samaritanas are ready to undertake the journey. There is bad news: Father Arnaldo won't be able to join them. But the mission must be fulfilled.

"When we get to the centers, they receive us with so much joy it touches the heart. For me, the will to get ahead that's in them is very important," he comments.

For the priest, the project is quite comprehensive, since the women "are not like beneficiaries but agents of their own process." What he's seeking is to "reconstruct" the self-esteem of adolescent girls and women in situations of commercial sexual exploitation. He says he doesn't claim to rescue the women from the world of prostitution. "We can't say that they're taken out of prostitution, because they aren't objects," says the gentleman with a burned out look.

"Yes, they can, they get out, but it's their decision. It doesn't depend on what they want but if the conditions are there," comments the priest who today has put on a white shirt with [the image of] Monseñor Óscar Romero, to whom he used to listen faithfully when he would address the Salvadoran people.

Father Arnaldo hasn't come to see his girls. His health stopped him weeks ago. It's very likely that next week he'll join his project. Today they aren't going to give them chocolates. They will give them condoms, lubricants, advice and blessings -- that's what the priest directs. And one inevitable question has to do with their children.

"It's very important for us to know that they can do for their children," says the priest.

When Proyecto Samaritanas began in 1995, it tasked itself with going around the centers of prostitution in the capital in its truck. It brought chocolates and gospel brochures to the women who spent the night selling their bodies.

Its "via crucis" used to begin on Carretera Norte, pass through Bello Horizonte and then end on the highway to Masaya. That was the route that was designed. But for some time now it has had to add the Military Hospital area.

Something has caught his attention, and it's that there aren't as many sex workers on Carretera Norte as before. "We don't know why," he ponders. The only answer he sees is that they've moved to Mercado Oriental or have gone to other departments in the country.

The project has managed to help women who, according to the priest, live in extreme poverty. "It moves one's heart to see how they live in their homes. They live in very dangerous neighborhoods."

Currently, Proyecto Samaritanas serves more than 220 women and provides social, psychological, medical, legal, and spiritual help to them.

"At the beginning we didn't have a budget, just their trust. But we got people who would give us chocolates and materials about self-esteem," Father Arnaldo states.

He's even come to these women's homes. He knows their families and has had a closer view of the problems that influence prostitution. "Another ingredient is violence," he laments.

This priest is bothered by the way society refers to his "daughters." "Words are deceiving. They call them 'whores', 'fags' [the male prostitutes], and the man, 'client', which is an elegant word." This criticism led him to write a poem titled “¿Cómo las llamas? ¿Prostituta o mujer?” ["What do you call them? Prostitute or woman?"].

¿Cómo la llamas?
¿Prostituta o mujer?

Las llaman “prostitutas”
Los que las prostituyen.

Las llaman “Mujeres de la calle”
Los que las echan de sus casas.

Las llaman “Mujeres de la vida alegre”
Los que ponen su alegría en pisotearlas.

Las llaman “pecadoras”
Los “limpios” fariseos hipócritas.

Las llama “MUJER”
El que las ama,
El que las acoge,
El que no las condena,
El que las perdona.

Las llama Mujer
El que con cariño y cercanía
Las invita a cambiar de vida,
A reconstituirse
A quererse con “autoestima”
Y a vivir plenamente
Como “Mujer”

Y Tú ¿cómo las llamas?
¿Prostituta o Mujer?

Photos: Fr. Arnaldo Zenteno, SJ; Fr. Arnaldo celebrates Mass on the 15th anniversary of Proyecto Samaritanas; a wall hanging at Proyecto Samaritanas protesting the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

Monday, July 8, 2013

First impressions of the encyclical "Lumen Fidei"

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

The encyclical Lumen Fidei comes with the authorship of Pope Francis, but it is known that it was written by the previous pope, now emeritus, Benedict XVI. Pope Francis clearly admits it: "I'm taking up your precious work, limiting myself to adding some contribution to the text." So it must be, otherwise it would not have the note of papal magisterium. It would be merely a theological text from someone who was once the Pope.

Benedict XVI had wanted to write a trilogy about the cardinal virtues. He wrote about hope and love. But faith was lacking, which he has done now with small additions from Pope Francis.

The encyclical doesn't bring any spectacular novelty that draws the attention of the theological community, of the faithful as a whole, or the general public. It is a high theology text, in an ornate style and full of biblical quotations and ones from the Holy Fathers. Interestingly, it cites authors from Western culture such as Dante, Buber, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Romano Guardini and the poet T.S. Eliot. You can clearly see the hand of Pope Benedict XVI, especially in the refined arguments that are hard to understand even for theologians, using Greek and Hebrew expressions, as a doctor and teacher usually does.

The text is addressed to the Church. It speaks of the light of faith to those already within the world enlightened by faith. In this sense, it is an intrasystemic reflection.

It has a typically Western and European tone. In the text, only European authorities speak. The teaching of the continental churches, with their traditions, theologies, saints and witnesses of faith, is not taken into consideration. This solipsism should be noted since only 24% of Catholics live in Europe; the rest are outside, 62% of them in the so-called Third World and Fourth World. I can imagine a South Korean, Indian, Angolan, Mozambican or even an Andean Catholic reading this encyclical. It's possible that all of them would understand very little of what is written there, nor would they find themselves reflected in this type of argument.

The thread of theological argumentation is typical of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger as a theologian -- the preponderance of the issue of truth -- almost obsessive, I would say. In the name of that truth, he frontally opposes modernity. He has difficulty accepting one of the most cherished themes of modern thought: the autonomy of the subject and its use in the light of reason. J. Ratzinger sees it as a way to replace the light of faith.

It doesn't demonstrate that attitude so recommended by the Second Vatican Council which would be that in clashes with contemporary cultural, philosophical and ideological trends, the main thing to do is identify the nuggets of truth in them, and from there organize the dialogue, criticism and complementarity. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to imagine that modern people have only thought up lies and falsehoods.

For Ratzinger, love itself must submit to the truth, without which the isolation of "ego" could not be overcome (no. 27). However, we know that love has its own reasons and obeys a distinctly different logic, without being contrary to the truth. Love can not see clearly, but it sees reality more deeply. St. Augustine, following Plato, said that we only truly understand what we love. For Ratzinger, "love is the experience of truth" (no. 27) and "faith without truth does not save" (no. 24).

This statement is problematic in theological terms since the whole tradition, especially the Councils have stated that only "that truth [faith] that is informed by love" (fides caritate informata) saves. Without love, truth is insufficient for salvation. In pedestrian language, one would say that what saves is not truthful preaching but effective practices.

Every document of the Magisterium is made by many hands, trying to contemplate the different acceptable theological tendencies. In the end, the Pope shapes it and endorses it. That also applies to this document. In its final part, probably from Pope Francis' hand, there is a remarkable opening, with a pastoral feeling, that is hard to reconcile with the previous, heavily doctrinal parts. In them, it's emphatically stated that the light of faith illuminates all dimensions of human life. At the end, the attitude is more modest: "Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey." (no. 57) With theological precision, it states that "the creed does not only involve giving one’s assent to a body of abstract truths; rather, when it is recited the whole of life is drawn into a journey towards full communion with the living God." (no. 45).

The richest part, in my opinion, is No. 45 where the Creed is explained. Here, it becomes an affirmation that overflows theology and touches on philosophy: "The believer thus states that the core of all being, the inmost secret of all reality, is the divine communion." And it adds: "this God of capable of embracing all of human history and drawing it into His dynamic of communion." [Translator's note: For this sentence, there is a significant -- and unfortunate -- difference between the official Portuguese and English translations of Lumen Fidei. Since Leonardo Boff was working from the Portuguese text, I have chosen to "re-translate" the official Portuguese text into English to preserve the meaning. -- RG]

But one notices a painful gap in the encyclical that takes away much of its relevance: it does not address the crisis of faith of human beings today, their doubts, their questions that not even faith can answer: Where was God in the tsunami that decimated thousands of lives, or at Fukushima? How does one believe after the massacres of thousands of indigenous people at the hands of Christians throughout our history, the thousands tortured and killed by the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s? How does one still have faith after the millions of deaths in the Nazi death camps? The encyclical does not offer any evidence to answer those questions. Believing is always believing in spite of...Faith did not eliminate the doubts and anxieties of a Jesus who cried out on the Cross, "Father, why have you forsaken me?" Faith has to go through this hell and become hope that there's sense in everything, but that it is hidden in God. When will it be revealed?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

No fear of newness

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
July 7, 2013

Luke 10:1-12,17-20

Pope Francis is calling the Church to get out of itself, forgetting fear and self-interest, to put itself in touch with the real life of the people and make the Gospel present wherever the men and women of today are suffering and rejoicing, struggling and working.

With his unmistakable language and lively and specific words, he's opening our eyes to warn us of the risk of a Church that is asphyxiating on a self-defensive attitude -- "when the Church is shut in, it gets sick"; "I much prefer a ragged Church to one that is sick from withdrawing into itself."

Francis' watchword is clear: "The Church must go out of itself to the edge, to bear witness to the Gospel and meet others." He's not thinking theoretically, but about very concrete steps: "Let's get out of ourselves to meet poverty."

The Pope knows what he's saying. He wants to drag the current Church towards a deep evangelical renewal. It isn't easy. "Newness always makes us a bit fearful, because we feel more secure if we have everything under control, if we are the ones who build, program and plan our lives in accordance with our own ideas, our own comfort, our own preferences."

Pope Francis isn't afraid of the "newness of God." At the feast of Pentecost, he asked the whole Church an important question which we'll have to answer in the next few years: "Are we detrmined to strike out along the new paths which God’s newness sets before us, or have we barricaded ourselves in outdated structures which have lost their capacity to respond?"

I do not wish to hide my joy at seeing Pope Francis call us to revive in the Church the evangelizing spirit that Jesus always wished would animate his followers. Luke the evangelist reminds us of his watchwords. "Go forth." You don't have to wait for anything. We are not to detain Jesus in our parishes. We must make him known in life.

"Carry no money bag, no sack, no spare sandals." You must go out into life simply and humbly. Without privileges or power structures. The Gospel is not imposed by force. It's spread from faith in Jesus and trust in the Father.

When you enter a house, say: "Peace be to this house." That's the first thing. Leave aside condemnation, heal the sick, alleviate suffering in the world. Tell everyone that God is near and wants to see us working for a more humane life. That's the great news of the reign of God.