Friday, April 25, 2014

Jesus will save the Church

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
April 27, 2014

John 20:19-31

Terrified by Jesus' execution, the disciples take refuge in a known home. They're together again, but Jesus isn't with them. There's a gap in the community that no one can fill. They need Jesus. Who will they follow now? What will they be able to do without him? "It's getting dark" in Jerusalem and also in the disciples' hearts.

They're in the house "with the doors locked." It's a community without a mission and without a vision, shut in on itself, without the ability to welcome. No one is thinking now about going along the roads proclaiming the kingdom of God and healing life. With the doors locked, it's not possible to draw near to the people's suffering.

The disciples are full of "fear of the Jews." It's a community paralyzed by fear, in a defensive posture. They only see hostility and rejection on all sides. With fear, it isn't possible to love the world as Jesus loved it, or instill encouragement and hope in anybody.

Suddenly, the risen Jesus takes the initiative. He comes to rescue his followers. "He came in and stood in their midst." The small community begins to be transformed. They go from fear to the peace that Jesus instills in them. From the darkness of the night, they go to the joy of seeing him again full of life. From locked doors, they will soon move to the openness of the mission.

Jesus talks to them, putting all his trust in those poor men and women, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you." He doesn't tell them whom they are to approach, what they are to proclaim, or how they are to act. They've already been able to learn it from him along the roads of Galilee. They will be in the world what he was.

Jesus knows the fragility of his disciples. He has often criticized their little and wavering faith. They need the strength of his Spirit to fulfill his mission. So he makes a special gesture towards them. He doesn't lay hands on them or bless them like the sick. He breathes on them and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit."

Only Jesus will save the Church. Only he will free us from the fears that paralyze us, break the boring patterns in which we aim to enclose him, open the many doors we have been closing over the centuries, make straight the many paths that have led us away from him.

What we are being asked to do is to reawaken much more in the whole Church trust in the risen Jesus, mobilize ourselves to put him fearlessly at the center of our parishes and communities, and focus all our strength on listening well to what his Spirit is saying to us, his followers, today.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Dom Erwin Kräutler's denunciation to the Pope: "Political and economic groups are seeking to dismantle the land rights of the indigenous people"

IHU-Online (Em português -- English translation by Rebel Girl)
April 15, 2014

The largest diocese in Brazil is in the Xingu and includes approximately 800 communities, but only has 27 priests. In addition to this disparity, the region presents many challenges to the defense of indigenous rights and also to the work of the Church in Amazonia. Both issues were discussed at the meeting between Erwin Kräutler, Bishop of Xingu, and Pope Francis on April 4th.

"I gave thanks for the privilege of being received in audience as bishop of the Xingu, which is the largest ecclesiastical area in Brazil in terms of territory. (...) In the Xingu as in all of Amazonia, the communities, for the most part, only have access to Sunday Eucharist two or three times a year," Dom Erwin Kräutler told IHU On-Line via e-mail.

"I denounced that today there are political and economic groups tied to agribusiness, mining companies and contractors that, with the support and participation of the Brazilian government, are seeking to dismantle the land rights of the indigenous peoples and are using political, administrative, judicial and legislative tools systematically to achieve that objective," Dom Erwin argued.

"And in this context, I talked about the development projects that are causing real social and environmental chaos. I cited the example of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Xingu. All the technical concerns that have been expressed by experts have failed to convince the Brazilian government to give up this megaproject. Around 40 thousand people are directly affected by Belo Monte and will have to leave their homes," he added.

Our complete interview with Dom Erwin Kräutler, bishop of the Xingu and national president of the Conselho Indigenista Missionário -- CIMI ("Indigenous Missionary Council"), follows.

IHU On-Line: How was your meeting with Pope Francis? What did you talk about? Did you address the issues of Belo Monte and the situation of the people of the Xingu?

Dom Erwin Kräutler: The meeting with Pope Francis had to do with my role as Secretary of the Bishops' Commission for Amazonia. Our Cardinal Dom Claudio Hummes, who's president of that commission, encouraged me to ask for a special audience with the pope to talk to him about my life and experience in Amazonia and, as an eyewitness who has known Amazonia for half a century, to keep him abreast of our concerns as Church in that region. But I'm also now in my fourth term as president of CIMI, the Indigenous Missionary Council. And with that responsibility, I really felt obligated to share with our Pope Francis the reality that the indigenous peoples in Brazil are experiencing, their suffering and anguish.

The audience was scheduled for 10 a.m. on April 4th, 2014. I had invited Father Paulo Suess, a theological advisor to CIMI who is deeply knowledgeable about the indigenous cause in Brazil and Latin America, to come with me to this audience so I could introduce him to the pope. After we greeted the pope and the usual photos, Father Paulo Suess gave him his Dicionário de Aparecida - 40 palavras-chave para uma leitura pastoral do Documento de Aparecida ("An Aparecida Dictionary: 40 Key Words for a Pastoral Interpretation of the Aparecida Document" -- Sao Paulo: Paulus, 2007) and also a document he had written about the communities without the Eucharist. Then the pope said he was hoping for specific suggestions, courageous proposals from the bishops as he had already asked for on July 27th, 2013, during his visit to Brazil on World Youth Day: "I'm asking you, please, to be courageous, to have parrhesia! In the 'porteño' way of speaking (of Buenos Aires)," he told them to "be 'gutsy'."

Communities without the Eucharist

Then the pope invited me to sit down. I thanked him for the privilege of being received in audience as the bishop of the Xingu, which is the biggest ecclesiastical area of Brazil in terms of territory. In the Xingu, there are around 800 communities and just 27 priests. In the Xingu, as in all of Amazonia, the communities, for the most part, only have access to Sunday Mass two or three times a year. It's very painful for me as bishop to live with this reality. Suddenly the pope asked me, "What do you think, or what your proposal to this effect?". I never expected that the pope would want to hear my opinion, and I said, "I don't have a ready 'recipe', but we urgently need to find a solution so that our people stop being excluded from the Eucharist." The pope then told me that there were some "interesting theories", for example, that of a German bishop who was bishop in South Africa. This was Dom Fritz Lobinger (b. 1929), who from 1987 to 2004 was bishop of the Aliwal Diocese. His book, Like His Brothers and Sisters: Ordaining Community Leaders (New York: Crossroads, 1999), has been translated into several languages. Dom Fritz Lobinger dreams of ordained ministers who belong to the community and continue their family and professional lives. The pope also recalled a diocese in Mexico where, among many indigenous ethnic groups, there are hundreds of married deacons who exercise their ministry among their people and lead their communities. They only need priestly ordination to be able to also preside over the Eucharistic celebration. It's the Diocese of San Cristobal de Las Casas in the state of Chiapas. Pope Francis stressed more than once that bishops in a given region should present very specific and bold proposals. He told me he expected and was looking for such proposals from the bishops.

He recalled the great José de Anchieta, now "Saint José de Anchieta". Who knows, this saint, who arrived in Brazil from the Canary Islands when he wasn't even 20 years old and never returned to his homeland, could foster in a sufficient number of priests in Brazilian dioceses the missionary spirit towards Amazonia.

I saw the pope's eyes shine when he talked about the missionaries in Amazonia. He reminded me that Dom Claudio Hummes had talked to him about the many bishops, priests, men and women religious, and lay men and women who are engaged in evangelization of that vast continental region and he expressed his caring and admiration for all of them.

The Indigenous Peoples in Brazil

Then I moved to the issue of the indigenous peoples. I talked about CIMI, about its presence with the indigenous peoples and also its goal to sensitize and raise the awareness of the majority society with respect to the dignity and rights of those peoples. I said that CIMI had contributed decisively to the indigenous peoples' "social organization, customs, languages, beliefs and traditions, and original right to the lands they have traditionally occupied" being recognized in Brazil's Charter (Article 231 of the Brazilian Constitution). I denounced that today there are political and economic groups linked to agribusiness, mining companies and contractors, that, with the support and participation of the Brazilian government, are seeking to dismantle the land rights of the indigenous peoples and are using political, administrative, judicial and legislative tools systematically to achieve that objective.

I also denounced that, contrary to what the Brazilian Constitution sets forth, the current government has suspended the administrative procedures for the recognition and demarcation of indigenous lands in the country. The stoppage of demarcation is a major cause of conflicts of which indigenous peoples are the victims. I cited some examples showing the violence against indigenous peoples. I talked about the confinement of the Guarani-Kaiowá in a tiny area that has resulted in deaths, suicides, and permanent atrocious suffering. I also recalled Brazil's precarious health care, especially in the Javari Valley Indigenous Territory in the state of Amazonas. Eighty-five percent of the native people have had contact with or been contaminated by one or more kinds of hepatitis virus. I couldn't help but also mention the approximately 90 groups of indigenous peoples in the Brazilian Amazon that are isolated, many of them in danger of decimation.

Finally I recalled the pope's meeting with indigenous people during World Youth Day when an indigenous man put a beautiful headdress on his head and another, a Pataxó who was just 14, exclaimed, "It's fantastic that someone from our community has the opportunity to meet the pope. We here are representing all the indigenous people of Brazil." Several indigenous people from Amazonia said that day that they were hoping for the pope's help in defending their ancestral lands.

Amazonia and Ecology

With another reminder from me to the pope, we moved on to the issue of ecology. I reminded him what he said to the bishops of Brazil in his July 27, 2013 speech: "I would like to invite everyone to reflect on what Aparecida said about the Amazon Basin,including its forceful appeal for respect and protection of the entire creation which God has entrusted to man, not so that it be indiscriminately exploited, but rather made into a garden." And in this context, I talked about the development projects that are causing real social and environmental chaos. I cited the example of the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam in the Xingu. All the technical concerns that have been expressed by experts have failed to convince the Brazilian government to give up this megaproject. Around 40 thousand people are directly affected by Belo Monte and will have to leave their homes.

The pope then told me that he is thinking about an encyclical on ecology and emphasized, "human ecology too." He's right. We can't separate the human family from the environment in which they live or abstract the environment from the men and women responsible for God's creation, the home of all humankind and of future generations too. I emphasized that Amazonia and the indigenous people cannot be missing from this forthcoming encyclical. The pope told me that he had already instructed the African Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, to draw up an outline. I responded to the pope, "Well, yesterday I was with Cardinal Turkson for several hours and one of the issues was exactly that. I insisted that Amazonia and the indigenous people not be left out of any future encyclical on ecology. And the cardinal asked me to help him on these points. I accepted the invitation with great joy." The pope nodded happily and thanked me for my willingness to collaborate.

The embrace of the Xingu people

Finally I told the pope that my people of the Xingu love him very much and affectionately embrace him. "I want to convey to you the embrace of thousands and thousands of men and women." Here he said that he was returning the embrace and, smiling, charged me, in his name, to embrace everybody, each one of the brothers and sisters in the Prelature of Xingu.

In parting, he asked the people of the Xingu to pray a lot for him. I remembered the moment he appeared for the first time as pope, on the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica, and before giving his first blessing, he asked the people of Rome and the whole world for their prayers. So he asked first for prayers before sending his blessing to the people of the Xingu. I thanked him once again for the privilege of having been received in audience and kissed his simple "Ring of the Fisherman". Then the pope kindly accompanied me to the door.

IHU On-Line: What are your impressions of your conversation with Pope Francis?

Dom Erwin Kräutler: Pope Francis is very cordial, fraternal. There's nothing false in his smile. It's the window to his heart and soul. Anyone who meets him feels welcomed. Even though the Apostolic Palace holds the air of many centuries ago and many rooms with thrones and works of art that seem more like a museum, when I entered the library and the Pope came to me with a friendly smile and shook my hand, I realized I was "at home". What creates such a friendly and welcoming environment isn't the works of art but Pope Francis himself.

I don't know why, but during our conversation I suddenly saw in my mind the figure of Moses who brought the people out of the house of slavery to take them to the Promised Land. He had to endure excruciating disappointments, misunderstandings, open and veiled slander, even the revolt of the people to the point of wanting to return to the land that God took them from "with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm" (Deut. 4:34, 26:8). But Moses, amid all the frustrations, let himself be led by the Lord, went ahead, step by step. And why? A profound mystique nourished him and held him firm, even in the hour of deepest darkness. He never forgot what God told him at the dawn of the Exodus: "I am with you" (Ex 3:12). "The Lord knew him face to face" (Deut. 34:10) is the ultimate comment on Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. I think the Pope is experiencing a similar mystique. He knows that God is with him and this certainty of God's presence in his life is the secret of his captivating smile.

IHU On-Line: How would you describe the reaction of people in general and the Church in particular in Europe, and especially in Austria, to Francis' pontificate?

Dom Erwin Kräutler: I've lived in the Xingu almost 50 years so I wouldn't dare to make an analysis with respect to the churches in Europe, not even in Austria where I was born. I'll leave it to the pastoralists there. But through my contacts with priests and bishops and more engaged persons, I've noticed that there's a deep feeling of gratitude towards God and unrestrained joy that we have this pope. No one's expecting that he will be able to make the long needed reforms overnight, but there's great hope that Pope Francis will turn our Church around.

Some are impatient and want the pope to make decisions now about the so-called "Heisse Eisen" (hot button issues) in Europe, like the rules for admission to the priesthood, or celibacy, or the role of women in the Church, or the process for electing bishops, communion for people in second marriages.

There are also people who, it seems, are insisting on remaining in the era of the Council of Trent (1545-1563). They don't accept the pope's simple, humble, and welcoming style and, worse, they also question his theology, his appeals to mercy, and they doubt his orthodoxy, flying to the defense of the Catholic faith. Thanks be to God, they're a numerically insignificant minority, but they're fanatical, intransigent, obstinate people who grieve us.

IHU On-Line: What are the expectations about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Europe? And in Brazil?

Dom Erwin Kräutler: The expectations are huge, especially after the Holy See's worldwide survey. The Extraordinary Synod will have an epic task to accomplish and the synod discussions will undoubtedly be heated, which isn't a negative when you're looking for answers to the concerns of millions and millions of families who are waiting for directives, guidelines from this Synod.

Cardinal Walter Kasper's speech at the Consistory of Cardinals on February 20th, 2014, could be an excellent starting point for the discussions in the synod wing, especially on a very hot issue like the access to communion of divorced people in second marriages. In his speech, Walter Kasper recalled what Pope Francis said on January 24th, 2014 to the officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota (the higher appeal body in the Apostolic See). The pope states that "pastoral issues and mercy are not in opposition to justice but, so to speak, they are the highest justice because behind each cause they see not just a case to be examined from the perspective of a general rule, but a human person who, as such, cannot be turned into a mere case and always has unique dignity."

I hope there will really be dialogue. In the Synod for America in which I participated in 1997 as a delegate of the Brazilian Catholic Bishops' Conference, there wasn't enough room to exchange ideas, to discuss points of view. I hope that eventually an organization chart and flowchart favorable to dialogue are created.

I also hope that at this synod not just synod fathers, cardinals and bishops will have a voice but that couples and families are invited and listened to, including people whose marriage failed and who are asking for compassion and mercy towards their painful and often irreversible situation.

Photo: Pope Francis with Dom Erwin Krautler and Fr. Paulo Suess

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Poor and Poverty in Evangelii Gaudium

By Víctor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Biblioteca Amerindia
April 2014

1. Symbolic gestures

The new Pope Francis, before giving many speeches and writing encyclicals, made a series of symbolic gestures charged with great significance that have been easily understood by everyone and widely aired by the social media.

Those gestures have changed the church environment that predominated up to now: kissing a disabled boy and embracing a man with a completely deformed face, washing the feet of a young Muslim woman, eating with children with Down syndrome in Assisi, going to the island of Lampedusa on his first trip outside of Rome and tossing out a wreath of yellow and white flowers to commemorate the deceased immigrants, convening a world day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria because the faces of the children dead because of chemical weapons strongly challenged him, using his old shoes rather than the red shoes of his predecessor, not living in the Vatican apostolic palace but in the Saint Martha residence, traveling around Rome in a simple small utilitarian car so as not to scandalize the people in the peripheral working class neighborhoods, answering the questions of a non-believing journalist, inviting rabbis from Argentina to Saint Martha's, giving little shoes to Cristina Fernández de Kirschner's grandchild, receiving Gustavo Gutierrez, the father of liberation theology, bringing a bouquet of flowers to the grave of Fr. Pedro Arrupe, inviting four beggars for his birthday,...These "little flowers of Pope Francis", like the "little flowers of John XXIII", have been easily understood by the people.

But gradually he has been sending out great pastoral messages and his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, on the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World, presents the whole program of his pontificate, his pastoral roadmap. From this exhortation, we will point out what Francis says about the poor and poverty.

2. Realities are more important than ideas (231-233)

This statement, surprising in the writings of the Magisterium which often seems to put ideas ahead of reality, affirms the priority of reality over the elaboration of ideas. Otherwise, reality is hidden by angelism, totalitarianism of the relative, nominalism, projects that are more form than real, ahistorical fundamentalism, ethicism without mercy, intellectualism without wisdom. Ideas must be connected with reality. The incarnation of the Word is the criterion that leads us to treasure the history of the Church as the history of salvation, to remember our saints who inculturated the gospel in the lives of our peoples, not pretend to develop thoughts disconnected from reality. On the other hand, prioritizing reality leads us to bring the Word into practice, to not build on sand.

Aren't we looking at the Latin American method of starting from reality, joining seeing with judging and acting? This used and supported methodology will positively determine the whole subject of poverty and the poor.

3. Prophetic denunciation of an unjust system (53-59)

According to the above, we can't be surprised that the exhortation begins by denouncing the great ills of today's society and harshly criticizing the model of society that prevails: no to an economy of exclusion and inequality, which is an economy that kills, that values a two-point drop in the stock market more than the death of an old man from the cold; no to the new idolatry of money; no to the dictatorship of a faceless economy based on a desire for power and possession that knows no bounds; no to money that rules instead of serving and that threatens to degrade people who are outside the market and who are reduced to scrap and surplus; no to the inequality that generates violence, because it springs from an economic system that is unjust at its roots; no to the exacerbation of consumption, no to the social cancer of corruption, to the culture of social anesthesia that prevents us from sympathizing with the suffering.

Faced with this situation, we are exhorted to disinterested solidarity, to create a more humane social order, to turn the economy and financial system towards an ethos that favors human beings, to remember that to fail to share our resources with the poor is to rob them and put them to death. In the name of Christ, we are reminded of the obligation the rich have to help, respect and promote the poor.

4. The new faces of the poor (210-216)

New types of poverty and vulnerability are pointed out, new faces of the poor in which we are called to recognize Christ: the homeless, drug addicts, refugees, indigenous people, the elderly who are more and more alone and neglected, migrants, victims of human trafficking, women who are doubly poor and who suffer from exclusion, abuse and violence, unborn children. In all these cases, it's about defending life and human rights.

To this is added the vulnerability of creation at the mercy of economic interests and indiscriminate exploitation, which leads to desertification of the soil, ecological illness, turning even the wonderful marine world into underwater cemeteries stripped of life and color. Like St. Francis, we Christians are called to care for the vulnerability of the people and the world in which we live.

Surely Pope Francis' sensitivity towards the poor and the new faces of poverty is nothing recent. It's not an improvisation; it's the fruit of long years of contact with and contemplation of the poor, the slums, and of pastoral support for the slum priests of Buenos Aires. This attitude is the result of taking the social dimension of faith seriously.

5. The social dimension of faith (175-186)

The social aspect forms an essential part of the faith and the Christian kerygma. Community life and commitment to others are at the very heart of the Gospel. The acceptance of the love of God implies wanting, seeking out and caring for the good of others. What we do towards others has a transcendent aspect. Our brothers and sisters are an extension of the Incarnation of Jesus (Mt 25:40). Reading of the Scriptures assures us that faith is not just a purely personal relationship with God, and that our response to that love can't be reduced to small personal gestures towards the needy, a kind of "charity à la carte".

Jesus' plan is the Kingdom of God, that God reign among us and in society through justice, fraternity, peace, and dignity for all, for the whole human being and for all people. The commandment to charity embraces all dimensions of existence, all individuals, all milieus of coexistence, and every people. Nothing human can be alien to it.

Religion can't seclude itself in the private arena, just to prepare souls for heaven. God also wants the happiness of His children here on Earth, even though they are called to the fullness of eternity. No one can demand that we relegate religion to the secret privacy of the individual without any influence in social and national life, without being concerned about the institutions of civil society, without commenting on the events that affect citizens.

Authentic faith always involves commitment to changing the world, transforming values, leaving something better behind our passing through this world. It is incumbent on Christian communities to analyze the situation of their country objectively and draw out the practical implications from the social principles.

6. Hearing the cry of the poor (186-191)

One consequence of the above is that we Christians are invited to hear the cry of the poor, as God heard the cry of the Israelites in Egypt (Ex. 3:7-8,10), as the New Testament urges us to hear the cry of the workers who were denied their wages (James 5:4). How can he who closes his heart against his brother in need remain in God's love? (1 Jn 3:17). The Church, guided by the Gospel, hears the cry for justice, which means solving the structural causes of poverty, promoting the comprehensive development of the poor, offering the most everyday gestures of solidarity and support.

But solidarity is much more than sporadic generosity. It's creating a new guiding mentality in terms of community, the priority of the life of all over the appropriation of goods by some. It's recognizing the social role of property and the universal use of goods as primary realities before private property. This solidarity must generate new attitudes without which even structural changes aren't viable in the long term.

Francis' doctrine, purely an updated reflection of the social doctrine in Church tradition, may seem new and even shocking to many. Could it be that we've forgotten the most essential facts of Jesus' gospel such as brotherly love and the communion of goods?

7. A poor Church and for the poor (192-209)

Hearing the cry of the poor becomes part of our flesh when we shudder at the pain of others. All Scripture is a call to compassion and mercy, brotherly love, justice, and humble service to the poor. Let's not worry just about falling into doctrinal error. Let's also worry about whether our defense of doctrinal orthodoxy has become passive, insensitive and complicit in intolerable situations of injustice and the political regimes that maintain them.

God's heart has a preferential place for the poor. Salvation came through poor people like Mary and Jesus of Nazareth. The gospel was proclaimed to the poor and Jesus identified with them (Mt. 25:35). Therefore the Church's option for the poor is primarily a theological category rather than a sociological, philosophical, cultural or political one. We Christians are called to have the same attitude as Christ (Phil. 2:5). The option for the poor is implicit in our Christological faith in that God who became poor for us so as to enrich us with his poverty (Benedict XVI at Aparecida). This is why Pope Francis wants "a poor Church and for the poor." (198)

The poor also have a lot to teach us and their sense of faith evangelizes us. We are to let ourselves be evangelized by them. We must look contemplatively towards the poor. We must value them in their culture, their way of being, their kindness, their faith, not as instruments of political ideology. We must closely accompany them on their path to liberation. Thus it will be possible for the poor to feel at home in the Church. This option for the poor must translate above all into privileged and preferential religious care towards them.

Without the preferential option for the poor, the proclamation of the Gospel could be misunderstood and become simply verbiage, like that to which the communication society has accustomed us. Nobody, no Christian, should say that they stay away from the poor because their life choices keep them busy with other business, professional, academic or even church matters. No one can think they are exempt from concern for the poor and social justice. Love of God and neighbor, zeal for justice and peace, the gospel sense of poverty and of the poor are required of everyone.

At this point, Francis fears that these words will only be the subject of a few comments with no practical impact. But he relies on the openness and good disposition of Christians to welcome this new proposal communally.

8. Popular piety as a theological locus

When a people has inculturated the Gospel in its culture, it always transmits the faith in a new and dynamic way. Thus the people are continuously evangelized and because of this, popular piety has great importance as an expression of the missionary activity of the People of God, always under the action of the Holy Spirit.

Popular piety, sometimes looked at with distrust, in fact reflects the thirst for God among the poor and the little ones, is able to manifest faith with generosity and sacrifice, and in Latin America is a precious treasure where the soul of Latin American peoples is manifest -- a spirituality and a popular mysticism embodied in the culture of the simple people. It expresses faith more symbolically than intellectually, emphasizes more the mode of belief in God (credere in Deum) than the contents of faith (credere Deum), but is a legitimate way of living the faith and feeling part of the Church.

To understand this reality of popular piety, one should approach it with the attitude of the Good Shepherd, with affectionate connaturality. Thus we will be able to understand the faith of the poor -- of the mother who prays the Rosary with her sick child, of a humble candle lit in the home to ask for the protection of Mary, of the loving gaze of the crucified Christ. They are not only a natural quest for divinity, they are expressions of a theological faith animated by the Holy Spirit. Expressions of popular faith have much to teach us. They are a real theological locus to which we must pay attention when we think about a new evangelization.

9. Poverty can't wait (202-208)

The structural causes of poverty must be addressed. Aid is not enough in urgent situations. Inequality is the root of social ills and the world's problems aren't solved without attacking the autonomy of the markets and financial speculation. Economic activity should be directed towards the dignity of persons and the common good and you shouldn't feel irked by talk of ethics, world solidarity, the dignity of the powerless, and a God who demands commitment to justice.

We can't rely on the unseen forces or the invisible hand of the market. Something more than economic growth is required, although that is presupposed -- decisions, programs, mechanisms and processes aimed at a better distribution of income, creation of sources of employment, and social promotion of the poor, are needed.

We need entrepreneurs who let them themselves be challenged by a broader meaning of life. We need politicians able to heal the deep roots of the evils of our world, politicians who really feel the pain of society, of the people, the life of the poor. Government leaders and financial powers that be must raise their eyes and broaden their horizons, ensure dignified work, education, and health care for all citizens. Why not go to God to inspire their plans and make them open not only to charity in micro-relationships (friendships, family, small groups) but also in social, economic and political macro-relationships, to the highest political vocation of seeking the common good?

Church communities who want to live peacefully without cooperating so that the poor might live with dignity, will end up mired in spiritual worldliness, even though it's concealed through religious practices, unproductive meetings and empty speeches, even though they are talking about social issues or criticizing the government...

The pope doesn't want to offend anybody but rather to help those who are enslaved by a selfish, individualistic, and indifferent mentality so that they can free themselves of these unworthy chains and attain a more humane, noble, and fruitful lifestyle and mindset that would bring dignity to their journey through this earth.

10. Under the action of the Risen One and his Spirit (275-280)

Lack of deep spirituality produces pessimism, mistrust and fatalism in many. Many believe that nothing can change, that it is useless to make an effort. But if we think that things won't change, remember that Jesus Christ has triumphed over sin and death. Jesus Christ lives and has power. Christ, resurrected and glorious, is the deep source of our hope. His help will not fail us.

His resurrection carries a force that has permeated the world. There are outbreaks of resurrection where everything seemed dead; there are dark things, but good and values tend to come back to spring forth and spread. Each day, beauty is reborn in the world, which rises transformed through the storms of history.

Certainly, there are difficulties and experiences of failure. Everything doesn't happen as we might wish in evangelization, but we don't have to throw in the towel, dominated by chronic distrust and spiritual acedia. We are not to seek our own success or careerism since the gospel, which is the most beautiful thing the world has, will be buried under many excuses then.

By faith we are to believe that He marches victoriously through history in union with His own, that the Kingdom is present in history as a small seed, as yeast, as wheat that grows amid the chaff, and that it can always pleasantly surprise us. And all this because the Lord has already penetrated the hidden plot of the story and Jesus didn't rise in vain.

No effort is wasted, no act of love towards God is lost. Our mission isn't a business deal or project, or a humanitarian organization, or a successful show, fruit of our publicity. The Spirit works when, where, and as it likes. We must trust in the Spirit that comes to our aid. We must invoke it. It can heal all that weakens us. It plunges us into a sea where we sometimes even feel dizzy because we don't know what we'll find. But we must allow ourselves to be led by it, stop calculating and wanting to control everything, allow it to illuminate us, guide us, direct us, push us wherever it wants. It knows what is needed in every epoch and moment. That is being mysteriously fruitful.

In sum, the denunciation of unjust poverty as well as the option for the poor and for a poor Church and for the poor, spring necessarily from our cheerful faith in Christ and in his Spirit that fills the universe and renews the face of the Earth.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Christianity of Mary Magdalene

By Juan Jose Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Redes Cristianas
April 19, 2014

In her early 15th century work, The Book of the City of Ladies, the French writer Christine de Pizan noted the disparity between the negative image men have of women and what she knew about herself and other women. The men stated that women's behavior was full of every vice, a judgment that in Christine's opinion showed mean-spiritedness and lack of honesty. She, instead, after talking to many women of her time who told her their most intimate thoughts and studying the lives of prestigious women in the past, acknowledged their gift for words and a special aptitude for the study of law, philosophy, and government.

The situation at that time is repeated today in most religions which are patriarchally configured and have never gotten along well with women. The latter are not usually considered religious or moral agents, therefore they are put under the guidance of men who will lead them along the path of virtue. They are denied the right to freedom, it being assumed that they will make poor use of it. They are vetoed when the time comes to assume leadership responsibilities because it is understood that they are irresponsible by nature. They are excluded from sacred space as impure. They are silenced because they are believed to be chatterboxes and say unsuitable things. They are the object of every sort of violence -- moral, religious, symbolic, cultural, physical, etc...

However, religions could hardly have been born and survived without them. Without women it's possible that Christianity might not have emerged and perhaps would not have spread like it did. They accompanied its founder Jesus of Nazareth from the beginning in Galilee to the end on Golgotha. They traveled the towns and villages with him, preaching the Gospel (the Good News), helped him with their assets, and were part of his movement.

Feminist theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza has shown in her book In Memory of Her that Jesus' first followers were Galilean women freed from all patriarchal dependency, economically autonomous, who identified themselves as women in solidarity with other women and who met to hold meals in common, experience healing, and reflect as a group.

Jesus' movement was an egalitarian collective of followers with no gender discrimination. He did not identify women with maternity. He opposed the Jewish laws that discriminated against them, such as the repudium and stoning, and he questioned the model of the patriarchal family. In him, the option for the poor and emancipation from patriarchal structures were harmoniously combined. Women were Jesus' friends, his right-hand people and disciples who were with him until the most dramatic dying moment of the crucifixion, when the male followers abandoned him.

In Jesus' movement, women regained the dignity, citizenship, moral authority and freedom they had been denied by both the Roman empire and the Jewish religion. They were recognized as religious and moral agents without any need for mediation or patriarchal dependency. One example is Mary Magdalene, a figure of myth, legend, and history, and an icon in the struggle for women's emancipation.

Both secular feminist movements and theologies from the perspective of gender appeal to her, whom they consider a vital link in building an egalitarian society that respects difference. I think Mary Magdalene is like the profile Virginia Woolf sketches of Ethel Smyth: "She is of the race of pioneers, of pathmakers. She has gone before and felled trees and blasted rocks and built bridges and thus made a way for those who come after her."

Women were the first people who experienced the resurrection, while the male disciples were incredulous at first. That's the experience that gave birth to the Christian Church. One more reason to state that without them, Christianity would not exist. Quite a few leaders of the communities founded by Paul of Tarsus were women, according to the principle that he himself established in the Letter to the Galatians: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female."

However, things soon changed. Peter, the apostles and their successors, the pope and the bishops, appropriated the keys to the kingdom, made off with the staff of office -- which had nothing to do with the shepherd's crook to herd the sheep, while they imposed on women veils, silence, and monastic and domestic cloister. This happened when the churches ceased to be house communities and became political institutions and The Church.

When will such great injustice towards women in Christianity be repaired? You would have to go back to basics, more in tune with the emancipation movements than with the Christian denominations of today. It is necessary to question the supremacy -- the primacy -- of Peter, which involves the concentration of power in one individual and prevents women's access to shared leadership responsibilities.

You have to recover the discipleship of Mary Magdalene, "Apostle to the Apostles" as Elisabeth Schüssler calls her in a pioneering article by the same title in feminist research on the Christian Testament, referring to the recognition she was given in Christian antiquity. It is necessary to revive, to refound Mary Magdalene's Christianity, inclusive of men and women, in continuity with the prophets and prophetesses of Israel and with the prophet Jesus of Nazareth, but not with the apostolic succession, which has a marked hierarchical-patriarchal accent.

A Christianity forgotten among the fenced in ruins of the city of Magdala, birthplace of Mary Magdalene, which I visited three years ago, seven kilometers from Capernaum, where Jesus of Nazareth resided during the time of his public activity. In the excavations that are taking place in Magdala, an important synagogue was discovered in 2009. There is the subversive memory of the original Christianity led by Jesus and Mary Magdalene, which was defeated by official Christianity.

But from that Christianity buried under those ruins is emerging a vigorous, defiant, and empowered liberating Christianity through the egalitarian movements that are emerging on the margins of the great Christian denominations, as the first movement of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and the other women who accompanied him during the few months his public activity lasted, rose up on the margins.

It is necessary to inherit the moral and spiritual authority of Mary of Magdala as Jesus' friend, disciple, successor, and pioneer in equality. In short, Jesus of Nazareth, Mary Magdalene, Christine de Pizan, Virginia Woolf, the feminist movements, the denominations' grassroots communities and feminist theology are moving in a similar direction. That's the way new alliances in the struggle against gender violence and the social exclusion of women, created from below and not from power, must go.

Juan José Tamayo is a member of the Comité Científico del Instituto Universitario de Estudios de Género of the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid and author of Cincuenta intelectuales para una conciencia crítica (Fragmenta, Barcelona, 2013) and Invitación a la utopía. Ensayo histórico para tiempos de crisis (Trotta, Madrid, 2012), which has a chapter devoted to feminist utopia.