Thursday, July 17, 2014

The importance of the small

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
July 20, 2014

Matthew 13:24-43

Christianity has been greatly harmed over the centuries by triumphalism, the thirst for power and the desire to impose itself on its adversaries. There are still Christians who long for a powerful Church that fills the temples, conquers the streets, and imposes its religion on the whole society.

We must reread two little parables in which Jesus makes it clear that the task of his followers is not to build a powerful religion but to put themselves at the service of the Father's humanizing project (the kingdom of God), sowing small "seeds" of Gospel and inserting themselves into society as a little "leaven" of human life.

The first parable talks about a mustard seed that is planted in the garden. What's special about that seed? That it's the smallest of all but, when it grows, it becomes a bigger shrub than the other shrubs. The Father's project has very humble beginnings, but we can't even imagine its transforming power now.

Jesus' actions in Galilee, sowing gestures of kindness and justice, are nothing grandiose or spectacular -- no one is aware of what's happening, either in Rome or in the Temple in Jerusalem. The work that we, his followers, perform today is insignificant -- the centers of power are unaware of it.

We Christians ourselves might even think that it's useless to work for a better world -- human beings commit the same horrors as always over and over again. We aren't able to grasp the slow growth of the kingdom of God.

The second parable speaks of a woman who puts a bit of yeast into a large batch of flour. Without anyone knowing how, the yeast works silently in the dough until it's completely fermented.

That's how it happens with God's humanizing project. Once it has come into the world, it quietly transforms human history. God doesn't act by imposing Himself from outside. He humanizes the world by drawing the consciences of His children towards a more dignified, just and fraternal life.

We are to trust in Jesus. The kingdom of God is always something humble and small at the beginning, but God is already working among us, promoting solidarity, the desire for truth and justice, the yearning for a happier world. We must collaborate with Him by following Jesus.

A less powerful Church, more devoid of privileges, poorer and closer to the poor, will always be a Church more free to plant seeds of the Gospel, and more humble in order to live among the people as the leaven of a more dignified and fraternal life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Sister Teresa Forcades i Vila: "In my heart, I'm an anarchist"

By Patrick Schirmer Sastre (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Frankfurter Rundschau (in German)
July 13, 2014

In Spain, Sister Teresa Forcades i Vila fights against the outdated world view of the Church. In Berlin, she rests a little from the struggle and teaches.

The academic quarter is long past, as the last students are entering seminar room 406 at the Humboldt University School of Theology on Wednesday morning. It's about the French philosopher Simone Weil, an intellectual and mystic who worked during her short life for justice in society. The teacher wears simple clothes and a nun's veil, gray hair poking out from under it. "Why are you interested in this course?," she asks, this question seeming really serious. The students are looking for words that sound better than "I need the certificate." For many, it is a regular seminar first of all.

But the woman with alert eyes and a pleasant voice who speaks rapidly in German, is no ordinary teacher. Certainly, no ordinary nun. She is one of the many interesting people who come in these times for a while to Berlin, quiet and inconspicuous in workshops, working in university positions, who one meets on the street without even realizing what exciting stories they bring. In Spain, in fact, Teresa Forcades i Vila is one of the most controversial figures in the Catholic Church.

It all began in 2009. A clip by her appeared on the video platform Vimeo. In it, Forcades, who had previously published critical theological and pharmacy books, explained her concerns about the vaccines that were being administered because of the swine flu that was emerging at that time in Mexico and the United States. Over a million people watched the video. It was the beginning of her fame, which allowed her numerous television appearances, invitations to conferences, and other publications. Sister Teresa Forcades is a YouTube star, if you will, who became known worldwide through the Internet.

She has been in Berlin since October. For two semesters, she has taken on an assignment as assistant professor of Theology and Gender Studies. From her office on the fourth floor of the School on Burgstraße at Hackeschen Markt, she overlooks the Spree and Museum Island. Books on the shelves, a laptop on the desk. Hardly any religious symbols can be found here. It is the space of a scientist.

Challenging conservative forces

Forcades, who is 47 years old, spoke almost mantra-like for the first video about the dangers of the vaccinations. From the health risks such as narcolepsy -- sleeping sickness -- to the patent policy of the pharmaceutical industry in the case of swine flu -- "four large companies were given the task of producing the vaccine then. At the same time, it was announced that they would not be able to produce enough vaccine in a short time," she says. "Were a pandemic to have come, millions of people would have died senselessly."

And the pharmaceutical industry is not the only target of her public accusations. There are also banks and governments because they have subverted the foundations of democracy for profit, says Forcades. She also challenges the strong conservative forces in her own church when she fights for the rights of homosexuals and calls for a greater role for women. So she is committed to, among other things, the decriminalization of abortion, an issue that is being hotly debated because of legislation that was just introduced by the government in Spain. That she is Catalan and has become one of the most famous advocates for independence in the autonomous region, doesn't make her stand any easier for Spain's conservatives.

These are not particularly new complaints or demands that Forcades is putting forward. She has certainly been talking about them in one way or another. It probably says more about our time than about Teresa Forcades that people sit up when a nun is openly committed to equality, justice, and humanity in the Church. That it is considered exceptional when one of its members is clamoring for what should be part of the core competencies of the Church to be employed, shows its credibility dilemma. The fact that she is alone in her attitude doesn't apply for Forcades, however. She is no exception. "The last 30 or 40 years, you can easily get the impression from the management level of the Church that the Catholic Church is generally very conservative," she says. "I think this is wrong. Most people in the church are committed to social justice and have a progressive world view."

To understand how Forcades has been able to be who she is, you have look at her theological home. The Benedictine monastery of Sant Benet de Montserrat is located approximately 40 kilometers north-west of Barcelona. Three kilometers away is the more famous 13th century monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. The sanctuary is considered the theological center of Catalan culture, particularly because during the Franco dictatorship, Mass continued to be celebrated in Catalan there. Moreover, the monastery houses an important library with over 200,000 sources. In her struggle with the decision about monastic life, access to this scientific and literary treasure was a crucial point, says Forcades.

That she would end up there was not self-evident. She was born in Barcelona in 1966. Her parents are not religious. At 15, she discovered the Bible. "It was my way of rebelling." She studied medicine in Barcelona, worked three years in a hospital in New York State in the United States, and got a masters degree in Theology at Harvard. In 1997, she decided to enter a convent. The beginning was hard. Forcades devoted herself to prayer and work, following the principle Ora et Labora. In the monastery workshop, she worked on small ceramic figures, which were to be sold. Her back hurt. She lost weight. She felt underutilized. One day, a sister asked: "Teresa, can you imagine still making ceramic figures here in ten years?" No, she couldn't. "There were two options: Either I myself would change and find fun in this life at some point. Or the monastery would change."

Forcades prevailed. She was allowed to get a doctorate in medicine, then she earned her doctorate in theology. Back then, it was a completely new idea at Montserrat that not just monks were allowed to deal with scientific theology. She has now paved the way for other sisters. Her academic achievements are probably a component of her success. The fact that her theories are well-researched and factually supported, is certainly an advantage in a political environment in which half-truths and religious zeal ring out from all sides. Nevertheless, she has repeatedly been accused of being motivated by conceit.

"Of course I didn't go into the monastery to appear on television," she says, as if this idea were not absurd in itself. The popularity she has now attained makes her feel uncomfortable. "Sometimes I wonder how it would be if I didn't enjoy the protection of the monastery. I think I would die."

In Berlin, she can move back and forth without being detected. Like so many other luminaries of science who work here without attracting a lot of public attention. For her, it's a contrast to her everyday life in the actually secluded monastery in Montserrat, where she takes up to 30 media inquiries daily. Where she has assistants among the sisters who help her cope with the mountain of letters, e-mails, and calls. Exhausting not only for herself. "Some of the sisters find what I'm doing terrible." They sometimes ask whether she couldn't finally stop with all the politics.

It's not her first time at Humboldt University. Since 2009, she has completed two semesters as a lecturer. Since then, she says, it has become a dull, neoliberal city. Nevertheless, not only because of the simplicity of the people but also as a theologian, she enjoys Berlin. She appreciates existence in the Diaspora. "Catholics working here are a minority. This teaches one humility, which we could learn a lot from in Spain." Teresa Forcades sees herself only sometimes as a rebel. "In my heart, I'm an anarchist, but that doesn't mean that there must be no rules." Laws are important, but they would have to serve the people, promote their freedom, not exclude anyone. Man must always come first. This, she says, is the idea that drives her. The guiding thread among such diverse topics as theology and medicine. But above all, she later emphasizes, it constrains her criticism of the interpretation of Scripture. "Dogmatic aspects, such as the Trinity or Christology, I've never doubted. Otherwise, I wouldn't be in the right place."

As utopian as some of her goals might sound in the context of the current situation of the Catholic Church, they are fueled by her faith. "God gives us a pact which we can accept or decline," says the nun. "The Christian religion, when properly understood, is based on voluntariness. Therein lies its great power. We live in a world in which most of us have little say. Those who enter the pact end up with a new sense of responsibility. And with strength to deal with adversity fearlessly."

It is this feeling that gives her the strength to follow her political path. Life is short and it's a matter of improving it for people. When Teresa Forcades says that, it doesn't sound poetic. It's more like Social Realism.

"Come By Here": Rev. Judy Lee and the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community

"This is the story of becoming one church with the homeless and poor in a small city on the West Coast of Florida. When asked "What is church?" one homeless man replied simply, "It is friends." A woman almost whispered, "Be a family for us and love us, that is church." Another answered thoughfully, "Church is the power of people together." A man replied using church as a verb and not a noun, "to bring the 'haves and have-nots' together and the blacks and the whites -- it's the way it's supposed to be."...Church and pastoral ministry starts with people in relation to one another not with abstract thoughts and theories/theologies..."

Thus begins Rev. Dr. Judith Lee's book, Come By Here: Church With the Poor (America Star Books, 2010), which has just been translated into Spanish as Ven Aquí: La Iglesia de Los Pobres (America Star Books, 2014).

Come By Here chronicles the Brooklyn-born former social worker's journey to the Roman Catholic priesthood and the ministry she now shares in Fort Myers, Florida, with her partner, Rev. Judy Beaumont, ARCWP. It tells the story of a church that began as a ministry to the homeless -- the "Church in the Park" -- and evolved into the Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community, a house church in a poor, predominantly African American area of downtown Fort Myers.

The book also highlights Lee's concept of church, vastly different from the top-down paradigm promoted by the official Roman Catholic Church from which she has been excommunicated by virtue of her ARCWP ordination, an excommunication she does not accept saying that no one can cut her and her fellow Roman Catholic women priests off from Christ and the church. Says Lee: "We return to the teachings of Jesus and the structures of the early church. None of the worship or service described here takes place in an institutional church building. It takes place where the people are, in a city park, in the woods and streets, hospitals and eventually in a 'house church' where the other side of the house is a guest home for those moving out of homelessness...This is a story of a discipleship of equals finding out what that means together. The people served are the elders and prophets of this new church and the pastor/priest is the servant-leader, a guide and to that extent a shepherd..."

As we listen to Pope Francis describe how much he yearns for a "poor Church and for the poor", Rev. Lee's book throws down a challenge to the institutional Roman Catholic Church to do more than just that -- to become a church not just for but with the poor. Describing her ministry, she says "it is emerging church and church that has emerged from the ashes of dying institutional churches that fail to make church with the poor and outcast even while they may set aside alms for them, or serve food to them in a soupl kitchen." And, quoting Dorothy Day, she concludes that there is "plenty of charity but too little justice."

Finally, for those who want to follow the ongoing story of Rev. Lee and her Good Shepherd community beyond this book, Lee maintains her own blog, judyablfollowingSheWhoIs, where she shares her reflections on both her own ministry and that of the Roman Catholic women priests in Colombia whom she mentors for the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

No Freedom in Chicago

Fresh from the "Fortnight for Freedom", a special period around Independence Day designated by the U.S. Catholic bishops to highlight religious liberty, we get the news that the Archdiocese of Chicago has decided to do its own repression of freedom. The Archdiocese's censor ordered the director of its publishing house, Liturgy Training Publications, to withdraw Dr. Margaret Nutting Ralph's Scripture commentaries that it had commissioned for its Sourcebook for Sundays, Seasons, and Weekdays 2015. Dr. Ralph had previously written commentaries that appeared in LTP's 2011 and 2013 editions of Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word.

And the letter Dr. Ralph received from LRP was not vague as to the reason she was being censored: "The request was made because of your recent presentation at Call to Action." The noted religious educator and director of the Master in Pastoral Studies Program for Roman Catholics at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, had presented a workshop at the November 2013 CTA meeting on contextual vs. literal interpretation of the Bible. The application of Scripture to several hot button issues came up, including homosexuality, contraception, and, briefly, women's ordination. In a brief press statement, CTA called LTP's censorship "unfortunate" and praised Dr. Ralph as "a prominent scripture scholar and exceptional educator" who deserves gratitude and respect.

Dr. Ralph, who served 16 years as Secretary of Educational Ministries for the Diocese of Lexington, told National Catholic Reporter that she was not even allowed to know who had censored her work. She wrote a letter of protest to the Archdiocese that has remained merely acknowledged, but not answered. The only explanation she was given was that the Archdiocese wanted to avoid the perception that it was not firm on doctrine, especially with respect to women's ordination and that, merely by accepting CTA's invitation to give a workshop, she had "passively supported this unorthodox group's whole agenda."

Dr. Ralph is the author of numerous books, including Why the Catholic Church Must Change: A Necessary Conversation (Rowman and Littlefield, 2013) and And God Said What? An Introduction to Literary Forms in the Bible (Paulist Press, 2003). As usual, we suggest supporting the censored author by buying her books. In this case, and because this censorship is an egregious challenge to Dr. Ralph's freedom of association, we would also encourage readers to respectfully consider whether or not they wish to continue purchasing from Liturgy Training Publications at all.

Should anyone wish to contact the Archdiocese of Chicago and/or LTP to express their disagreement with this decision, here is the relevant contact information:

Mr. John Thomas, Director
Liturgy Training Publications
3949 South Racine Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60609-2523
Phone: 1-773-579-4900
Toll Free: 1-800-933-1800
Online message form:

The Most Rev. Francis George
Archbishop of Chicago
Archdiocese of Chicago
PO Box 1979
Chicago, IL 60690-1979
Phone: 312-534-8200

Monday, July 14, 2014

Joint Declaration of the Bishops of the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras on the Child Migrant Crisis

Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano (English translation by John Donaghy*)

Mexico City, July 10, 2014
CEM B. 142 / 2014

Profoundly moved by the suffering of thousands of children and adolescents who have migrated from Central America and Mexico to the United States and who now find themselves waiting to be deported, we, the bishops of the United States, Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras, moved by the love of Christ, let all of them and their families know of our prayers, solidarity, and commitment.
These children left their countries pushed by the misery, the violence, or the desire to be reunited with their parents or family members who have migrated and, after confronting every type of deprivation and danger, now are living a terrible humanitarian crisis. This dramatic situation affects all of us and makes us commit ourselves to “globalize solidarity,” recognizing, respecting, promoting and defending the life, dignity, and rights of every person, independent of their condition as migrants.

In this sense we view hopefully the Managua Extraordinary Declaration, in which the member countries of the Regional Conference on Migration – Belize, Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the Untied States, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, and the Dominican Republic – have recognized their regional co-responsibility and have committed themselves to implement comprehensive and articulated measures to guarantee the better interests of children and adolescents, as well as family unity, to disseminate precise information in regard to the "dangers of the voyage" and the non-existence of  “permits” for those who arrive in the United States, to struggle against the organized criminal groups of illegal trafficking and human trafficking, and to improve migration practices.

An important aspect of the Declaration is the joint commitment to eradicate the structural causes that provoke the irregular migration of underage children, creating programs of social and economic development in the communities of origin, as well as programs of reinsertion and reintegration for those who return. Also, it recognizes that these child and adolescent migrants could obtain refugee status or complementary protection.

In this tenor, it is positive that Mexico has implemented the Coordination for Comprehensive Attention to Migration on the Southern Border and the creation of Comprehensive Care Centers for Border Transit in order to facilitate the secure admission of persons and goods, and to avoid the problems that have come about because of the migration disorder in the zone.

The Catholic Church, which has for many years been advocating with the governmental authorities of the US, Mexico, and Central America on behalf of migrants, will continue this labor. It will also continue working in human promotion, especially of  children, families, and the poorest, to restore the social fabric and offer welcome, attention, and services to migrants in the numerous centers created for them. The Church expresses it willingness to collaborate in order to make real the agreements of the Managua Declaration, convinced that a policy of dissuasion without national and international guarantees is ineffective and inhumane.

Therefore, we support the request that Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, has formulated to the Migration Committee of the US House of Representatives [House Judiciary Committee] to issue a declaration of a humanitarian crisis to give a comprehensive response to the problem by creating public policies which provide basic services and protection to migrants, examining the roots of the exodus of migrants, assigning federal resources to invest in the countries from which these migrants come in order to avoid the need to migrate, and providing programs of family reunification for migrants.

We bishops, your servants. reiterate the urgency of respecting the human dignity of the undocumented migrants, strengthening governmental institutions so that they may be authentically democratic, participatory, and at the service of the people, combating firmly the reprehensible activity of criminal groups and of organized crime whose inhuman action we strongly condemn, guaranteeing the security of citizens, and investing in Central America. In this sense, we call upon business owners, especially Catholics, to invest in and contribute to the promotion of justice and equity. We urge parents to not put their children in danger through undertaking the dangerous journey to Mexico and the United Sates. And we ask society in general to assume the role which it has in this sorrowful problem.

In the face of the humanitarian drama which we are suffering, we ought to listen to Pope Francis who with profound realism has warned: "Today in many places we hear a call for greater security. But until exclusion and inequality in society and between peoples are reversed, it will be impossible to eliminate violence...It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future...Inequality is the root of social ills."

Imploring the intercession of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, we ask our Lord Jesus Christ to protect our children and their families in this difficult time and to give all of us the wisdom to find workable solutions, and the boldness and strength to act accordingly.

+Óscar A. Cardenal Rodríguez Maradiaga,S.D.B.
Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
President of the Honduran Bishops Conference

+J. Francisco Cardenal Robles Ortega
Archbishop of Guadalajara
President of the Mexican Bishops Conference

+Romeo Tovar Astorga
Bishop of Santa Ana
General Secretary of the El Salvadoran Bishops Conference

+Eugenio Lira Rugarcía
Auxiliary Bishop of Puebla
Secretary General of the Mexican Bishops Conference

+ Domingo Buezo Leiva
Bishop Vicar of Izabal
Secretary General of the Guatemalan Bishops Conference

+ Eusebio Elizondo
Bishop of Seattle
President of the Committee on Migration and Refugees of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops

+ Guillermo Ortíz Mondragón
Bishop of Cuautitlán
President of the Pastoral Section of the Ministry of Human Mobility of the Mexican Bishops Conference

* John "Juancito" Donaghy is an American Catholic lay missionary working in the diocese of Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras. You can read more about his work on his blog.

Two more women answer the call "to be the compassion of God"

On Sunday July 13, 2014, while the eyes of the world were turned to Brazil and the World Cup final, two more women were added to the ranks of the ordained in a ceremony held at St. John United Church of Christ in Indianapolis, Indiana. ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan presided at the ordination of Mary Weber as a Roman Catholic woman priest and Andrea "Annie" Watson as a deacon.

Mary Weber

Interestingly, both women are former nuns -- Mary Weber was a member of the Sisters of Providence and Annie Watson, of the Sisters of Mercy -- who left the consecrated life to become wives, mothers, and grandmothers. Weber is now retired but prior to her retirement, she worked as a licensed social worker, an accredited hospital administrator and as a pastoral associate. She is now a volunteer chaplain at a nursing home where she has ministered for 10 years. She plans to establish a house church and assist at an inclusive community already established in Indianapolis. Annie Watson is a retired special education teacher and advocate for special needs children and adults in Kentucky. She has served as a religious educator, youth minister and pastoral care minister.

Annie Watson

Bishop Meehan based her homily on the Beatitudes. "In the Beatitudes," she said, "Jesus reveals that God is a God of compassion who calls us to be the compassion of God. The Beatitudes are a call to action to serve the excluded and oppressed and to transform unjust structures that cause poverty, abuse and inequality in our world. Jesus led a paradigm shift away from a religion that focuses on rules and rituals to one that emphasizes living compassion and doing justice. Jesus led by example, crossing boundaries and creating a community of empowerment that included lepers, tax collectors, women, children and the walking wounded of his time. He embraced all especially the poor, the hungry the grieving, the oppressed, while promising abundance, liberation, comfort, and peace in God's tender love."

And after reviewing the RCWP tradition into which the two women were being ordained, Meehan issued a challenging call: "As you are ordained today, Mary and Annie, may you be the compassion of God as you live the Beatitudes. May you foster vibrant, mystical and justice seeking communities of faith. May you reflect the feminine face of God, healing, loving, and serving the people of God. May you be the power of love, embracing all in the cosmic dance of creation."

Photos courtesy of Bridget Mary's Blog