Friday, August 8, 2014

Teresa Forcades: "People can't be on the second tier, and money, first"

By Paula Coll Ortega (English translation by Rebel Girl)
The Prisma
August 3, 2014

She's a doctor, a theologian, and a Benedictine nun, in that chronological order.

After studying medicine, she traveled to the United States to the State University of New York to specialize. In that country, she studied theology at Harvard University and, upon returning to her land in '97, she entered the monastery, where she still remains. Thus, being a nun, she finished two doctorates -- one in Medicine (2004) and the other in Theology (2007).

What's certain is that she has been wedded to the Church for 17 years, during which she has received a lot of criticism for her revolutionary views and social activism.

She has made televised appeals urging society to promote an indefinite general strike and controversial statements about Hugo Chavez's cancer, attributing it to his political commitment, having "put his biological life in jeopardy for the sense of a full life."

However, despite the fact that her opinions might seem contrary to the Catholic Church, her reality is focused on the idea of self-criticism of the latter rather than disengagement from it.

Thus she says that structural reform within the Church is needed, that we must choose a different system than capitalism, and that Catalonia shouldn't pay its foreign debt.

She's the controversial Catalan nun, Teresa Forcades, known for her feminist positions and for her criticism of what she calls the "structural misogyny" of the Catholic Church. She believes there's a contradiction when interpreting certain religious texts since in the Gospel women are not at all inferior to men. Her latest project is the creation of a social movement called "Procés Constituent a Catalunya", which promotes change in the political, economic and social model, seeking independence and the end of capitalism.

Teresa Forcades was invited by Catalans UK to the British capital to give a speech at Queen Mary University. The Prisma talked with her.

You're a doctor, a nun, a theologian and now you've entered the world of politics. How do you unite these aspects?

They're united by certain basic anthropological questions about the meaning of life and the experience of love and freedom, be it medical, theological or political anthropology. From the medical point of view, being in touch with sickness, you wonder about many things. You meet people who are young, healthy and strong, but suddenly they get sick and die. That opens up many questions.

There's also a theological perspective that makes you think about the meaning of life and this is tied to the medical issue. My political involvement comes from the extraordinary situation we're experiencing in Europe in these times -- a situation of rapid and progressive decline in human rights. If in your work, you're concerned about the meaning of life and social justice, when that deteriorates, it's normal that there are people who come asking you to be involved in a concrete way, not in a political party but in a grassroots movement. That's what happened in my case.

You're a nun but in many respects you're opposed to the Church. In fact, you've said that human rights aren't respected in the Church.

Within the Catholic Church, which is mine, there's a structure with a more visible part which includes the magisterial role and also the bishops who speak up...but the Church's greatest vitality is in the grassroots community.

If I felt I was opposed to the Church, I wouldn't be part of it. I'm not opposed but I am critical of certain aspects. The Church, as an institution, needs this internal criticism. It's criticism I do from within, and I don't do it by saying "the Church has problems" but rather "in the Church, we have problems."

That's why self-criticism is important and there are quite a few problems. As we have a pope who says so too, it seems that one can say more now. Many years ago, with Vatican II, in the '60s, there was an attempt to bring the Church up to date. There were some years of openness but later there was a backlash. We'll see if with this new impetus, we'll have a forward surge again. We need radical structural reform in the Catholic Church.

You're the author of La teología feminista [en la historia] ["Feminist theology in history"]. How do you explain that women are inferior in society, especially in the Church?

There's "structural misogyny" in the Catholic Church. It isn't that certain bishops have problems with women but that there's a sexist structure, a structure that keeps us women, merely because that's what we are, from access to positions of greater responsibility or church representation.

We have to change that urgently, but it isn't the only thing we have to change because there's also a pyramidal, authoritarian structure, contrary to the spirit and letter of the Gospel which proclaims that "the last shall be first."

The Gospel teaches us a more horizontal concept and historically, it has been applied sometimes in small communities and the Church as a whole ought to apply it.

The problem of abuse of power in the Church has existed since the beginning. We could ask, "then, how can you be part of that institution?"

Because, while this is so, the church is the place that has inspired the most women throughout history to take their own initiative, propose social projects based on their personal experiences, and it's where the legacy and memory of these women has most been preserved.

The Gospel is a source of freedom, inner joy, and equality. Based on the Gospel, without feeling inferior or superior to anyone, I can confront social authority or ecclesial authority if necessary. When the white traders, who were Christian, came to Africa and used violence, they killed many people and took others to North America to enslave them. Before they were slaves, they didn't know anything about Jesus Christ, so it was their "masters" who told them who Jesus Christ was, presenting him as the true God who wanted them to be slaves.

But when they learned to read, they took the Bible and said, "It doesn't say that here. Here it says that Jesus Christ is on our side." These texts also contain many contradictions, things I don't think are the will or word of God. For example, there's the issue of stoning adulteresses or women being silent in church, that the Gospel then corrects. Therefore they're texts that we have to interpret. These texts have demonstrated throughout history in the case of women and slaves, that they are able to reach the hearts of those who are in situations of discrimination and inspire their struggle for liberation.

What do you think about homosexuality?

The Catholic Church today has changed its magisterial position and is in an unstable position. I didn't like its earlier position but it was consistent since it said, "Homosexuality is a sin", "It's a sin to feel desire for a person of the same sex and it's a sin to express that desire through a homosexual act."

But because medicine, years ago, stopped labeling homosexuality as a mental illness, the Church remained alone, having to take responsibility for labeling as sick an experience that modern science no longer considers pathological. So it has rectified itself and current teaching doesn't dare say that having a homosexual desire is a mortal sin in itself.

So why an "unstable" position?

When I say it has an unstable position it's because while the desire in itself is not considered bad, expressing it is forbidden. That's cruel. Having homosexual desires, that in itself isn't contrary to the will of God, but with that desire, you can't seek physical intimacy with the person you love, you can't kiss that person, you can't unite sexually with them.

Celibacy for those of us who have taken a vow of chastity isn't a simple subject either, although there's a lot of literature on how it should be supported so it doesn't end up being crippling for the person. Being able to live fully a life in which the sexual side isn't expressed is considered a grace from God. If that's so, then how can you say to a person who hasn't felt this calling and who, on the contrary, has his own sexuality stimulated by a person of the same sex, that he can't embrace that person?

What's the way to go?

This calls for evolution and, in fact, it's happening, albeit quietly. Many chaplains are saying, "Don't tell but I bless you in your homosexual love; go in peace." It seems obvious that the evolution is towards an open presence and there are many church groups such as ACGIL (Asociación Cristiana de Gays y Lesbianas -- "Christian Association of Gays and Lesbians") in Catalonia, for example, that are convinced that God not only tolerates their homosexuality but that it's a blessing, a reality desired by God to teach all of us what's essential in love and Christian marriage. By calling marriage a "sacrament", we're saying that that union makes God's love visible, but what's most important about God's love is that it's a gratuitous love, not a love based on complementarity. What's sacramental in my love for my partner isn't complementarity -- which doesn't exist in the Trinity -- but gratuity. I love you and I can't explain why. It's a reality that makes you fully an individual. Homosexual unions help make visible what's most crucial in Christian sacramental unions -- having children. The Catholic Church has admitted this historically, even though it has never been against menopausal women getting married.

In homosexual unions, the possibility of having children doesn't exist biologically. You can adopt, but no baby will come from two men or two women. Nor from a menopausal woman. So, why does the Church allow menopausal women to marry?

What's your political activity today?

I'm involved in the political movement "Procés Constituent a Catalunya", which was formed a year and a half ago to work for a Catalan republic defined by a program of breaking away from the false democracy model of neoliberalism. In the neoliberal model that dominates nowadays, we talk about democracy but in reality it's the economic powers that be that make the decisions. In Procés Constituent we're against the idea that after the fall of the Berlin Wall "the end of history" has come and we should consider the current political vista definitive. The theory of the "end of history" says that capitalism has won and that even though we've seen that it has very serious problems, "there's no better system."

When one criticizes capitalism, a fear usually emerges -- "You're criticizing capitalism. What do you want? The Soviet Union model? State centralism?". I don't want people to be in the background and money first. We don't need reforms; we need a democratic breakthrough and we'll only get it if the people are ready to organize from below.

How has this proposal been received in Catalonia, in Spain, and internationally?

In Catalonia, 47,000 people have joined and there are over 100 local and 12 regional assemblies. For the time it's been in existence (one year), the movement has been able to make a place for itself in the Catalan political panorama, but only when the elections come will we know if we've achieved our objective or not.

At the Spain level, it's very good news that "Podemos" has appeared because until now we didn't have any emerging national level party in Spain with the same orientation. "Podemos" is proposing a break with the neoliberal model and the right to self-determination of the Catalan people. On both things, we agree. That's very important.

At European level, the division is being established between the north and south of Europe, where neocolonial mechanisms are being created. We must end the South's clear economic dependence on the North. It's the same mechanism that has been at work in Latin America in recent years. I think we still have time to react, but we must be vigilant because since it could last a few more years...Currently, you're either unemployed or you have to work in precarious jobs for a pittance and without standing out through political activism because otherwise you get fired. You're demoralized when you've studied a career, have a few plans, and see how your daily life is.

What's happening with the free trade agreement?

It's one of the subjects we address very seriously -- denouncing that treaty with the United States and Europe.

It's a frontal attack on democracy. The worst is that they talk about "Investment Protection", to say it's a free trade agreement.

But it's really about giving rights to corporations to sue sovereign democratic governments when they pass laws that affect their interests.

That is, if they pass an anti-tobacco law, the tobacco company can sue. With Investment Protection, the company has come to your country to sell its packs of tobacco and get profits.

Therefore, since you've passed this law, that company earns less and sues you, and you have to pay them. This arbitration isn't made in a court in the country being sued or in the country where the company is.

So it's made in an ad-hoc international arbitration tribunal, paid for by the company itself. That is, the three judges of this tribunal charge their fees to the company itself. This is a corruption of the judicial system. It's not that these judges are corrupt as individuals, but the system is a direct attack on judicial freedom. We must unite to protect democracy.

Catalan independence is a controversial matter. What do you think about it?

There have been European countries in recent years that have obtained this independence but within a global context that looks out a lot for their interests.

If Catalonia, apart from wanting independence, has a plan for an anti-capitalist breakthrough (such as we're advocating in Procés Constituent), it's clear that the powers that be in Europe won't be enthusiastic about it.

The first thing Angela Merkel will ask is whether independent Catalonia will pay its debt, and I want us to tell her "NO" because it's an illegitimate debt. Our allies will only be Europe's discontented majorities, organized in a peaceful and democratic political alternative.

In the midst of the crisis

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 10, 2014

Matthew 14:22-33

It isn't hard to see in Jesus' disciples' boat, buffeted by the waves and overwhelmed by the strong headwind, the image of the Church today, threatened from without by all sorts of adverse forces and tempted from within by fear and lack of faith. How do we interpret this Gospel story from the crisis in which the Church seems shipwrecked today?

According to the evangelist, Jesus approaches the boat, walking on the water. The disciples aren't able to recognize him in the midst of the storm and the darkness of night. He seems like a "ghost" to them. Fear has them terrified. The only thing real is that mighty tempest.

This is our first problem. We are living out the crisis in the Church by spreading discouragement, fear, and lack of faith to one another. We aren't able to see that Jesus is approaching us precisely from this strong crisis. We feel more alone and defenseless than ever.

Jesus says three words to them: "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid." Only Jesus can speak that way to them. But their ears only hear the roar of the waves and the force of the wind. This is our mistake too. If we don't hear Jesus' invitation to place our unconditional trust in him, to whom shall we go?

Peter feels an inner urge and, sustained by Jesus' call, jumps out of the boat and goes toward Jesus walking on the water. So we are to learn today to walk toward Jesus in the midst of the crisis, leaning not on power, prestige, or past assurances, but on the desire to meet Jesus in the darkness and uncertainty of these times.

It's not easy. We too can vacillate and sink like Peter. But, like him, we can also experience that Jesus reaches out and saves us while saying to us, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?".

Why do we doubt so much? Why are we learning hardly anything new from the crisis? Why do we go on seeking false security to "survive" within our communities, without learning to walk with renewed faith towards Jesus in the very midst of the secularized society of our time?

This crisis isn't the end of Christian faith. It's the purification we need to free us from worldly interests, deceptive triumphalism and distortions that have alienated us from Jesus over the centuries. He is acting in this crisis. He is leading us to a more gospel-centered Church. Let's rekindle our faith in Jesus. Let's not be afraid.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Theology and Church: When women write to the pope

By Carlo Molari (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Adital
August 1, 2014

The contribution women are making to theological reflection in the Catholic sphere has become increasingly important in Italy. One particular sign of this was the International Theological Congress in Rome organized by the Coordinamento Teologhe Italiane [Coordination of Italian Women Theologians] on the 50th anniversary of the start of Vatican II, from 4 to 6 October 2012 on the subject "Female theologians reinterpret Vatican II: Accepting history, preparing for the future."

Two hundred and twenty five women theologians from 23 different countries participated in it. Now the proceedings have been published by Paoline editions (Avendo qualcosa da dire ["Having something to say"], Milan, 2014, edited by Marinella Perroni and Hervé Legrand, with the contributions of several theologians, including Cettina Melitello, who examined "La teologia delle donne: quale incidenza ecclesiale?" ["Women's theology: What impact on the Church?", pp. 48-60].

Lately, other books by Italian women theologians have been published that we should mention because of the richness and depth that characterize them, such as Le ribelli di Dio. Donne e Bibbia tra mito e storia ["The rebels of God. Women and the Bible, between myth and history"], by Adriana Valerio (Feltrinelli, 2014); and two books by Benedetta Selene Zorzi: Antropologia e teologia spirituale. Per una teologia dell'io theology ["Anthropology and spiritual theology: Towards a theology of self"] (Ed. San Paolo, Cinisello Balsamo, 2014); Al di là del gênio femminile. Donne e genere nella storia della teologia cristiana ["Beyond feminine genius: Women and gender in the history of Christian theology"] (Ed. Carocci, Rome, 2014).

However, the impetus for reflection that I intend to propose, comes from a smaller initiative, but one rich in significance. It is an expression of the enthusiasm stirred up by the gestures and words of Pope Francis, which have encouraged hope for renewal and opened a flood of petitions to the Church.

The book Caro Francesco. Venticinque scrivono donne al Papa ["Dear Francis: Twenty-five women write to the Pope"] (Ed. Il Pozzo di Giacobbe, Trapani, 2014) brings together 25 letters written in a confidential manner by 25 women. The subjects are summarized in a single word and develop quite varied reflections, in alphabetical order, from "A" for ambiente ["environment"] to "V" for vita religiosa ["religious life"].

The only male interjection is the introduction requested from the emeritus bishop of Caserta, Raffaele Nogaro, because of his social sensitivity and the support he has given to the innovative pastoral options made in Caserta by the Ursuline nuns, who seem to have originated the initiative.

The women writers bring together a variety of memberships and professions in search of new forms of solidarity and justice. The great diversity in training and origin shows the various ways in which womanhood can be lived out in convergent ways.

There is also an echo of the painful choice of 17 nuns who were expelled from their order in 2010 and are still living "in exile and with all its related precarity, thanks to stronger fraternal love and with help from Above and Below, the dynamic fidelity of the 'first times' ... With all the 'experience' of pain and joy that entails." (Maria Stella Fabbri, "Vita religiosa", p. 150).

The term that returns many times in these pages is "fear", "fear of women". Daniela Esposito, in the item titled "Liberazione" ["Liberation"], laments that in the preparatory document for the Synod on the Family, there is total silence about "gender violence, whether physical, sexual, economic (...) within the family. This scandalous blindness (...) is worrisome because the massacre of women, minute by minute, is demonstrated by statistics and only reinforces the idea that the 'concealment' of the feminine derives from men's fear of it. I believe it was this fear, natural to men, that, over time, became responsible -- not consciously -- for everything. Thus it is a necessary priority to free the world and the Church from fear of women." (Liberazione, ibid., p. 74). The question addressed to the Pope is clear: "Don't you think the time has come for the Church to open its arms to women in a gesture of love, for it to finally break free of fear and be a witness to Jesus' teachings?" (ibid., p. 75).

Therefore, others ask that "the clergy also [be] trained and educated. Seminarians will be afraid of women if they see in them a possible tempting Eve, who runs the risk of taking them away from their path of celibacy. If sexuality is freed from legalistic oppression, it could help candidates to the priesthood appreciate the otherness and difference of women as values to be acknowledged and welcomed..."

"Dear Pope Francis, the Church should not be afraid of women; help her in this way, continuing in your courageous decisions and, above all, giving confidence to women." (Donna, Adriana Valerio, ibid, p 44). It is precisely fear that leads to exclusion and marginalization.

Furthermore, when a woman is abandoned or a fugitive, she becomes a person one should be afraid of, whom one should fear (p. 122). The pages devoted to trafficking in women for prostitution very well express the passion and the enthusiasm with which some women religious "have tried to give concrete answers to the many female victims of human trafficking, especially for sexual exploitation." (Eugenia Bonetti, Schiavitù, p. 129).

What emerges most often from the letters is a lament for lack of power within the Church. That is, the fact that decisions relating to women are made by men, and women have no possibility to decide whatsoever.

With an incisive expression, echoing a quote from Sartre (Nausea, 1938), Anna Carfora invokes "the paradox of religion as a woman's thing run by male priests" (Clero, p. 27).

This phrase is even more significant because it was written by an educator of future priests as professor of church history at the Theological Faculty of Southern Italy, the S. Luigi di Napoli branch.

Carfora specifically takes up the denunciation of "the insidious and subtle temptation to careerism." "In fact, the clergy-power combination still persists. The clergy entrusts to itself the responsibility for, and management of doctrine and orthodoxy, of liturgy and ecclesiastical organization, law and government." (p. 27)

The Pope has spoken of "authority of women in the Church -- an authority, therefore, that doesn't come from being a priest." She wonders if "the scope of this statement" has been fully understood, "the decisive blow to the heart of clericalism that it entails." (Clero, p. 27)

There is spontaneous gratitude to Pope Francis for the path undertaken -- the path of inclusiveness, "the ability to enter into a relationship simply of human beings with other human beings", and "overcoming the fear of dissolving like yeast in dough. The yeast disappears, it isn't recognized, but thanks to the yeast, the dough becomes better."(p. 28)

The women are asking to be heard, demanding that space be created in the Church "for a presence that isn't decorative or advisory, but speaking and decision-making in all bodies in which the faithful leadership of the people of God is implemented." (Adriana Valerio, Donna, p. 43).

"The traditional ecclesiological models, therefore, should be revised according to the principles of communion and apostolic co-responsibility." (ibid., p. 43)

Marinella Perrone, starting from Pope Francis' December 13 homily last year, drew the contrast between clericalism and prophecy. The prophet has "piercing eyes" (Profezia, p. 116), but this is not "a gift, but a skill that is acquired through listening to the Word of God. Not a quality reserved for some, but the vocation of all the baptized, prophecy comes from the discipline of listening."(p. 116)

"It's the church as a whole that needs to regain prophetic strength -- every believer must be called to his or her commitment to witness, every theologian must find the courage to think about the faith and speak words of encouragement and incentive, every bishop must take responsibility for building and looking out for the communion of God's people." (p. 117)

The proof suggested by the pope in his homily is significant: "When there is no prophecy among the people of God, the void it leaves is occupied by clericalism." (quoted on p. 118) Perrone comments that, "Clericalism, that is, that lethal mixture of power and the sacred, has become a real plague. It distorts the mind, affects behavior ... It's hard, but that's how it is, and we have all seen this in recent years -- clericalism has grown in proportion to the decline of prophecy. Through this -- and only through this -- true reform of the Church will come." (ibid., p. 118)

Quoting the Pope that "those who have fallen into this worldliness look on from above and afar, they reject the prophecy of their brothers and sisters, they discredit those who raise questions, they constantly point out the mistakes of others and they are obsessed by appearances" (Evangelii Gaudium 97), Marinella Perrone notes that "in Europe there have been two ecumenical councils of women ... But all of this ... is looked down upon by those who feel they hold the keys to legality. Looking at our Church with "piercing eyes", then, means to me today believing that finally it is possible that attention be paid not only to the prophecy of the brothers, but also the prophecy of the sisters."

It is this hope that she, on behalf of all women, has entrusted to the Pope "with great gratitude." (ibid., p. 119)

Carlo Molari is a priest and former professor of theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana and Gregorian universities in Rome. He is past president of the Associazione Teologica Italiana. This article was originally published in Rocca, 7/15/2014. It is available in the original Italian here and in a Portuguese translation by Moisés Sbardelotto on Adital.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mercedes Budallés -- Reading the Bible in the Key of Life

By Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
August 2, 2014

Mercedes Budallés defines herself as a missionary among the people. She carries out her missionary work from her base in an old Cistercian monastery in the city of Goiás, from which, based on her vast biblical knowledge, she teaches classes on biblical theology in various study centers, works with CEBI (Centro de Estudios Bíblicos - Center for Biblical Studies) and is national adviser to the base ecclesial communities, among other things.

She came to Brazil 38 years ago as part of a religious order that she later left, along with many of her companions. In her opinion, the reason was the order's failure to adapt to the culture and the Brazilian situation. That happened in 1986, when the country began a new democratic phase after more than twenty years of military dictatorship. It was at this time that she joined a new group that was emerging -- those under the aegis of Carlos Mesters, Leonardo Boff, Oscar Beozzo, and Jose Comblin, among others, who wanted a new style of religious life to come into being. This new process wasn't easy since it didn't meet the criteria called for by Canon Law.

In this interview she talks about Pedro Casaldaliga and their 10-year coexistence, her views about the Bible, based on popular interpretation in the base ecclesial communities. But above all, she lets the passionate testimony of someone who has been able to assume Jesus' project as a life experience, shine through her words.

For ten years, Mercedes lived in the Sao Félix do Araguaia prelature where Pedro Casaldaliga was bishop for over 30 years. What does Pedro Casaldaliga mean in your life?

What has marked my life after those ten years has not been the persona or figure of Pedro, whom I appreciate, but the Church of Sao Félix do Araguaia. I am not a fan of creating idols, and while knowing his importance in guiding the Church, if it had not been for the team around him, the prelature would not have been the Prelature of Sao Felix do Araguaia.

He's a very intelligent person, a poet, which helps a lot, with a long-term vision, a prophet, although he himself told me, "I'm not a prophet or a saint or anything you say; I'm a poet."

What marked my life was Pedro's personal freedom since he let the decisions be made in meetings with all the agents, where everything was discussed and voted on, everything was set in motion, looking for who would be doing each thing, showing what the Church ought to be.

It was a very rich experience and when those of us who lived there a while meet, we remember those moments. My concern when I left, was training. There, everyone had the same rights and obligations, from the bishop to the latest arrival, everyone with the same salary -- minimum wage --and that gave us a lot of freedom, but at the same time, those who were coming in, who were people from the area, didn't understand that, since their knowledge and motives were different.

So a group of us chose to take those people to study at the university, but the problem was that they didn't go back since life in Goiania, Cuiabá and São Paulo (big Brazilian cities) was easier and more attractive to the young people. In the face of this problem, we decided that the training should be from a group with the same mystique as the prelature, with visits from Pedro in which we would celebrate together, resulting in a lovely experience. In fact, Sao Félix do Araguaia remains united today.

In your opinion, what has Pedro Casaldaliga meant for the history of the Church in Brazil?

Pedro, as I've said, is someone with a very broad vision. The chapel in his house is open; the walls are little more than one meter high. I remember the day of the inauguration -- since before that, our chapel was under a big tree -- when Dom Tomás Balduino (the bishop of the indigenous and the landless who died recently) was present, we were reminded that the chapel was open to the world, open to the Great Homeland, to Latin America.

Pedro was a very open man, very progressive socio-politically speaking, which made us all feel free; we lived spontaneously, without any secrets. At the entrance to the house, a very poor house, there was a stone and under the stone were the letters, the CNBB (Brazilian Bishops Conference) documents, those of the Vatican. All of us pastoral agents had the right to read everything that came, we would discuss it, nothing was kept back, there was great freedom, everyone could say what they thought. But at the same time, when Pedro talked, he would influence people because of his far-reaching wisdom and ability. But at the end, everything was voted upon in the small community and in the prelature which met three times a year for theological and socio-political training meetings and for a retreat period in which all the pastoral agents participated.

You also work at CEBI. What is CEBI?

I got to know the Center for Biblical Studies (CEBI) from the Bible circle books by Carlos Mesters and a one-month course. I had studied theology in Spain and the people's biblical interpretations surprised me because it seemed like that answered something in me. When I did that intensive course on Saint Matthew, in the state of Espírito Santo, with Carlos Mesters and Marcelo Barros, my reaction was that I had found the sign I was looking for. Afterwards, I did the 6-month intensive course at CEBI, always reading the Bible with the communities and after a period of much pastoral work and commitment, I went to Jerusalem for two years and specialized in the Bible. But it was always from a popular reading of the Bible.

Is CEBI ecumenical?

CEBI was born ecumenical and all those who interpret the Bible from a liberation theology perspective are still part of it. This ecumenical path has been difficult since normally there are more of us Catholics. In our meetings, this means that when preparing the times of prayer, of worship, this Catholic majority makes that the brothers and sisters of other denominations have to recite prayers (rezar) rather than pray freely (orar), although that doesn't stop us from showing our great concern to value what is different, which is what's important.

Does the fact that CEBI is ecumenical create problems?

There was a time when, when Dom Pedro and Dom Tomás Balduino would come from the CNBB meetings, we would ask them what the problem was this time, since there was a bishop who persecuted CEBI a lot. The core of the problem was liturgy, but apart from that, we didn't have any problems among the participants in CEBI. The problems were in daily life given those who had relatives in other denominations and who started to want to convert one another -- that's something else. But among the participants, there was never a problem, on the contrary. In fact, my academic credentials were revalidated at the university of the Methodist Church, where there were Lutheran and Anglican professors and ones from other denominations.

In that sense, could we say that being an ecumenical space was an advantage?

Yes, because one meets people who, while being from other denominations, think and join with us and that gives freedom and great joy. We end up thinking we're the owners of the truth and that's not written anywhere, not even in the Bible.

Speaking of the Bible, what's the role of the Bible in the base ecclesial communities?

I'm suspect when I say this because I'm a biblical scholar, but it's the most revolutionary tool that can be used in the life of the communities, since the Brazilian and Latin American people are deeply religious and the fact that the Holy Book offers an answer to the problem you're experiencing, is very important to them.

We have a framework, which began to be built from the feminist reading of the Bible, where it is noted that the focus of Bible interpretation is life. Now, you may begin by reading the text or not trusting the text, because the translations don't always show the idea of the original text. That someone realizes that the translations are different and that this is the result of ideological issues, opens their eyes. From there, you have the right to be suspicious, to deconstruct, construct and update the text. You can start anywhere you like.

The other day a man asked me, "Mercedes, when we change bishops or priests, do we have to change Gods?" He's making an interpretation from an event that happened in his life. The motive came from the fact that the previous bishop used to say that God was merciful and forgave compassionately and the current bishop talks about indulgences. He went to ask the priest what was this about indulgences and, looking it up in the Catechism, he answered that it was the remission of temporal punishment [for sins that have already been] forgiven (no. 1471). When he talked about this at home, his son said that God charged interest and adjustment for inflation. Life and religious biblical interpretation in the case of the biblical text go together and you feel that with the biblical instrument you are discovering what is written in the Bible. "I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly," but what is abundant life?

I have many examples, like the one of the child in catechism who, after studying, drawing, and dramatizing the text of the Prodigal Son, asked, "Mercedes, where was the mother of the young troublemaker?" -- a normal question for him which shows the cultural environment, his age, and other things...

Given this, I handed the question back to them: Did he have a mother or not? "He didn't, silly. Can't you see that she's not there?" To which another replied, "He must have had one; we all do." And I let them talk. Suddenly one of them said, "Yes, she's there, because at home, whenever a father is waiting for a child who did something he shouldn't, the mother is off to the side."

Instantly, a child gave me three keys to interpretation, language -- a woman who is present, but doesn't appear, because that's how it is at home. In that sense I say I was converted, from the interpretations that the people, even a child, are capable of doing. And this helps to transform lives, helps transform the struggle for land. How many texts we've used that have encouraged the struggle for land! So I still think it's a revolutionary instrument, because it opens our eyes to the fact that God, the God of Life, is the One we're seeking to build the Kingdom.

As someone who came from Europe, from a different social and ecclesial situation, did living in Brazil change how you view life? What has the Brazilian Church contributed to your faith experience?

I came to Brazil in 1976, during the period of the military dictatorship, with a very firm position on the part of the Church based on liberation theology. I had read some texts. I didn't understand it well, but they met my aspirations as a missionary.

When I experienced the first moments of the base ecclesial communities in the Tocantins region where I lived, I began to realize that this kind of church, of pastoral work, concern for the poorest, met my personal aspirations.

From my own experience, I feel that Europe receded a lot while we here were progressing along the path of the early Christian communities, of the first followers of Jesus. The institutionalization of the Roman Church has been something that has prevented experiencing the transparency of the Gospel, while in countries of the so-called "Third World," this is experienced daily. The faith of the people is transforming our own faith.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Pope revokes suspension of Fr. Miguel d'Escoto

Religión Digital (English translation by Rebel Girl)
August 4, 2014

Pope Francis has ordered the revocation of Father Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann's suspension a divinis, as well as his return to the Maryknoll order, according to Vatican Radio.

The 81-year-old priest had been penalized during the 80's for his involvement in Nicaragua's Sandinista government. The priest complied with the sentence from the beginning, not carrying out any pastoral activities. In recent years, D'Escoto had left his political involvement.

A few months ago, Father D'Escoto wrote a letter to Pope Francis asking to "be able to celebrate the Holy Eucharist before dying." The Pope responded positively to this request, and ordered the Superior General of the congregation to accompany Father D'Escoto in the process of return to priestly ministry.