Saturday, May 16, 2015

Trust and responsibility

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
May 17, 2015

Mark 16:15-20

At some point an appendix was added to the original gospel of Mark in which this final mandate of Jesus is recorded: "Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature." The gospel must not remain within his small group of disciples. They are to go out and travel to reach the "whole world" and bring the Good News to all the peoples, to "all of creation."

Undoubtedly, these words were heard with enthusiasm when Christians were fully expanding and their communities were multiplying throughout the Empire, but how do we hear them today when we see ourselves as powerless to retain those who abandon our churches because they no longer feel a need for our religion?

The first thing is to live based on absolute trust in God's actions. Jesus taught us so. God continues to work on the hearts and minds of all His sons and daughters with infinite love, even though we consider them to be "lost sheep." God isn't blocked by any crisis.

He isn't waiting for us to put our plans for restoration or our innovation projects into action in the Church. He is still acting in the Church and outside of the Church. No one is abandoned by God, even though they might have never heard about the Gospel of Jesus.

But all this does not dispense us from our responsibility. We must begin to ask ourselves new questions: Through what paths does God go looking for men and women of the modern culture? How does He want to make present the Good News of Jesus to the men and women of our time?

We are to ask ourselves something more yet: How is God calling us to transform our traditional ways of thinking, expressing, celebrating, and incarnating the Christian faith such that we propitiate the actions of God within modern culture? With our inertia and inaction, don't we run the risk of becoming a deterrent and cultural obstacle to the incarnation of the Gospel in contemporary society?

Nobody knows how the Christian faith will be in the new world that is emerging, but it will hardly be a "cloning" of the past. The Gospel has the power to inaugurate a new Christianity.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Pope Francis and Luís Espinal

by Victor Codina, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Blog de Cristianisme i Justícia
May 12, 2015

UPDATE: Since Fr. Codina wrote this article, the Secretary of the Bolivian Bishops' Conference, Fr. José Fuentes, has officially confirmed that the Pope will stop and have a moment of silent prayer near the place where Luis Espinal was killed, to remember him.

The fact that on the agenda of the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis to Bolivia, it is being contemplated that on the afternoon of July 8th during the descent from El Alto to La Paz, the Pope would stop briefly on the road, relatively near Achachicala, the place where the murdered body of Luis Espinal was found, has certainly drawn attention.

And although many have heard of Luis Espinal and many centers bear his name, the under-40 generation doesn't know what happened in 1980 or who Lucho Espinal really was.

Luis Espinal was born in St. Fruitós de Bages (Barcelona) in 1932 in the midst of a poor and very Christian era. After he finished high school, he entered the Society of Jesus in 1949. He completed his studies for the priesthood and was ordained in 1963. From '64 to '65, he went to Bergamo, Italy to specialize in Communications. There he began writing his famous "Oraciones a quemarropa" ["Point-blank prayers"].

After returning to Spain, he began working in film and TV. These were the years of the Franco dictatorship and they censored his program called "Cuestión urgente" ["Urgent Matter"] . Then he resigned from TV and accepted the offer to go work in Bolivia. He arrived in Bolivia in 1968, the year of the meeting of the Latin American bishops in Medellin, when the Church of Latin America began to be sensitive to poverty and injustice. From the political perspective, Espinal coexisted with democratic and dictatorial governments: R. Barrientos, L.A. Siles, Ovando, J.J. Torres, the Banzer dictatorship from '71 to '78, Pereda Asbún, D. Padilla, Guevara Arce, Natusch Busch and Lydia Gueiler, during whose weak government Espinal was killed in March. In July, Garcia Meza made the coup d'etat.

Why did they kill him? Espinal was a communications professional -- he wrote in the press, he did film critiques, he had radio and TV programs, he taught film at the university, he wrote 12 books on cinema, he worked on the production of the film "Chuquiago", he edited “Aquí” ["Here"], a magazine on social thought. But Luis Espinal didn't limit himself to being a mere communications professional; he used the media as a means to denounce injustice, poverty, the lack of freedom of the dictatorship, the massacres, the exiles, the complicit collaboration of many with the dictatorship, drug trafficking, the guilty silence of members of the Church. In December '77, he joined a hunger strike by women miners to demand amnesty for political prisoners of the Banzer dictatorship. On the night of March 21st, 1980, when leaving the cinema after seeing the film "Los desalmados" ["The Heartless"] for his later critique on the radio, he was violently put into a jeep by a group of murderers led by Arce Gomez. They took him to the Alto slaughterhouse where he was tortured and killed with 17 bullets. His body was found by a peasant in a landfill in Achachicala. About 80,000 people attended his funeral. That same day, Mons. Romero was murdered in El Salvador.

About his life and his death there is a real conflict of interpretations. While for some he was killed for meddling in politics and being revolutionary and Marxist, those who knew him well believe he was a prophet and defender of justice and the poor, based on faith in Jesus of Nazareth and following him. He died for that, as did many prophets and Jesus himself. And though he never wanted to be a martyr, he can be considered a martyr of faith and justice. He gave his life for others.

To better understand Lucho Espinal's stance, it's good to remember that in 1974-75, the Society of Jesus, in its General Congregation 32 convened by Father Pedro Arrupe, redefined the mission of the Jesuits as service of faith and the promotion of justice, an option that should permeate all its life and apostolic ministries. And with great foresight, they said they would not work for the promotion of justice without paying a price. Since then until today, more than 50 Jesuits from Asia, Africa and Latin America have been murdered for defending a faith linked to justice. Among them, Luis Espinal.

But Jesuit Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio attended that General Congregation 32 as Provincial of Argentina. As Provincial and then as Bishop and Cardinal of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio was very sensitive to the issue of justice and the poor, and once elected Pope he assumed the name of Francis, dreaming of a church that is poor and for the poor, prophetically denouncing the injustice of an economic system that puts money above human beings. This Pope, who unblocked the beatification process of Mons. Romero of El Salvador, could not remain indifferent to the life and death of Espinal. And as a Jesuit, he understands that his murder is part of the social cost of the option for the poor and justice, as happened to Jesus.

In this brief stop near Achachicala, Pope Francis wants to bless a place watered by the blood of a witness to the gospel and confirm the conviction of the Bolivian people who see in Espinal a martyr for democracy and a champion of freedom and human rights.

The Holy See gives a green light to the beatification of Enrique Angelelli

by Valores Religiosos (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
May 11, 2015

The Vatican gave the green light to the cause of beatification for martyrdom in odium fidei (in hatred of the faith) of Bishop Enrique Angelelli of La Rioja, killed by the dictatorship on August 4, 1976. The formal petition to open the cause had been made on January 7th by the current bishop of La Rioja, Marcelo Colombo. And on April 21st, the Vatican gave its approval, as was revealed yesterday by Avvenire, the newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference, and pointed out by Elisabetta Piqué in La Nación.

On July 4th last year, the former commander of the Third Army Corps, Luciano Benjamin Menendez, and the former commodore, Luis Fernando Estrella, were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Angelelli, a deed that during the dictatorship was passed off as an accident.

The inquest was impelled in part by Pope Francis himself, who sent two secret documents that were a significant contribution to the cause. One document was a letter from Angelelli to the then apostolic nuncio Pio Laghi, in which he warned that he was being threatened, and another with the detailed account of the July 18, 1976 murder of two priests who were very close to the bishop, Gabriel Longueville and Carlos Murias.

Avvenire recalled that Angelelli was the first bishop killed during the dictatorships that emerged in Latin America in the 70s, like Oscar Arnulfo Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who will be beatified on May 23rd. The son of Italian immigrants, Angelelli had participated in the Second Vatican Council and was appointed by Pope Paul VI as bishop of La Rioja, one of the poorest provinces.

Bergoglio was in La Rioja on June 13, 1973, with other Jesuit priests, the same day that Angelelli was stoned in Anillaco. The next day, the bishop preached at a spiritual retreat for them and the current pope saw "a pastor who conversed with his people," as he said in 2006.

Two months later, he accompanied Father Pedro Arrupe, superior general of the Jesuits who, on seeing the work of the bishop and the political and social scene in which it was unfolding, said: "This is what the Church has wanted since Vatican II." In August 2006, 30 years after the death of Angelelli, the then Cardinal Bergoglio presided over a Mass in La Rioja and reappraised the pastor's life and the circumstances of his death, thus blurring the car accident theory.

"He was a witness to the faith by shedding his blood. Somebody was happy that day. He thought it was his triumph, but it was the defeat of the adversaries," he said in a homily in which he highlighted [Angelellli's] "apostolic courage and endurance to cope with the difficulties of preaching the Gospel." Bergoglio also vindicated Carlos de Dios Murias and Gabriel Longueville, the priests who were killed on July 18, 1976 in Chamical, and layman Wenceslao Pedernera, terminated a week later. "They gave their blood for the Church," he said, at a time when the Church had not taken steps to demand clarification of what happened.

This homily was a break and coincided with the reopening of the trial, after the voiding of the full stop and due obedience laws.

Not deviating from love

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
May 10, 2015

John 15:9-17

The evangelist John puts into Jesus' mouth a long farewell speech in which, with special intensity, some fundamental features are gathered that his disciples are to remember throughout the ages to be faithful to him and his plan. In our times, too.

"Remain in my love." That's the first. It's not just about living in a religion, but living in the love that Jesus loves us with, the love he receives from the Father. Being Christian isn't first of all a doctrinal matter but a question of love. Throughout the centuries, the disciples will know uncertainty, conflicts and difficulties of all kinds. The important thing will always be not to deviate from love.

Remaining in Jesus' love isn't something theoretical or vacuous. It is "keeping his commandments," which he himself sums up next in the mandate of fraternal love: "This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you." Christians find many commandments in their religion. Their origin, nature, and importance are diverse and not equal. With the passing of time, the rules multiply. Only of the mandate to love does Jesus say, "This is my commandment." In any era or situation, the important thing for Christianity is to not get away from fraternal love.

Jesus doesn't present this mandate to love as a law that is to rule our lives, making them harder and more burdensome, but as a source of joy: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." When real love is lacking among us, a void is created that nothing and nobody can fill with joy.

Without love it isn't possible to take steps towards a more open, cordial, joyful, simple and lovable Christianity where we can live as "friends" of Jesus, according to the gospel expression. We won't know how to generate joy. Even unwillingly, we will go on cultivating a sad Christianity, full of complaints, resentment, laments, and uneasiness.

Our Christianity often lacks the joy of what is done and lived out with love. Our following of Jesus lacks the enthusiasm of innovation and has too much of the sadness of what is repeated without the conviction that we are reproducing what Jesus wanted from us.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Padre Chiqui, Jesuit in Peru: "Pope Francis is a free man who wants people not to be afraid to be so"

By José Manuel Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
May 9, 2015

Father José Ignacio Mantecón is a Jesuit, a native of Spain -- Zaragoza specifically, and everyone here calls him Padre Chiqui, because he's tiny, because he has always been the shortest -- in the family, at school, on the soccer team and in the novitiate. However, the passion he has brought for thirty years to Peru is huge -- working with transvestites, in the world of gangs, educating through sport, music, painting ...

Reaching, through education, employment and recreation, the "tattoo on the heart" of the "least", the ones he has managed to reintegrate into society. The latter also concern Francis, a pope who, according to Chiqui Mantecón, speaks freely of freedom. We'll talk with him about how the values of the Gospel are expressed many times without words.

Tiny but scrappy, as to your work, what you've achieved.

Doing more or less isn't what matters, but being faithful to what you're doing. Everyone talks about success when they do something and being successful doesn't concern me at all. Excellence, and that stuff, I think are less important than faith in what you're doing in itself, regardless of the results produced.

For thirty some odd years -- a lifetime -- you've been devoted to what we in Spain know as "bands" (bandas). Gangs (maras) in Latin America.

The truth is that I've done a bit of everything. When I came to Peru, I started working at the Fe y Alegría Foundation, in working class schools. After three years, I went over to El Agustino, which is a district with many inhabitants and many problems of poverty, violence...It's the neighborhood with the highest rate of tuberculosis.

One of the poorest areas of Lima?

It has evolved a lot but when I came there, it was. There was a very serious poverty situation. I came to work in the parish, but I've been more in the street than in the church. I've worked with a Christian community of transvestites which, although something strange, was a very important experience in my life because it taught me to love those who are different. I worked with them to recover their dignity as people, after AIDS had killed many of those girls, when there were no concepts of prevention, of following a treatment, or anything.

Did you begin an apostolate with transvestites?

I also got into a movement we did with the youth, of rock music. A very important movement was created from which the best rock musicians in the country have emerged. Hundreds of young people were involved in that. I sang and played with them.

What did you play?

The guitar. But mostly I organized things. They were trying through rock fused with chicha, which is music of the working class neighborhoods, to collect their experiences and launch them out there. For years we gave a concert that became famous throughout Lima.

Did you use music to bring dignity to the lives of the neighborhood kids?

It was a way of vindicating being from El Agustino, because people were afraid of this neighborhood. There are still many people who don't go to El Agustino because they say it's very dangerous. A kid, going to look for work in Miraflores, would never say he's from El Agustino, because they would look down on him and take him for violent. Then, the music, and the recognition that music got and even its professionalism, helped them a lot to feel proud of where they lived and be able to express what they had.

Rock music with Peruvian roots.

Fusing the ancient and the modern is always good.

And you were always with them.

Yes, I didn't have much time to go out and play because instead of practicing, my afternoons would be spent organizing concerts for them.

How many kids did you change?

One hundred, two hundred.

Did you practice in the parish?

I gave the movement its first drum set, because you could get guitars but a drum set was impossible. A friend of mine gave me the money and I was able to buy a very poor one. But all the drummers of El Agustino practiced there...So we held the first concerts in the various chapels the parish had. The parish, fortunately, has always been a house of faith open to the world.

Did you Jesuits always have it?

From the beginning.

And your choice was to make it open, even to the transvestites.

They managed to make it their own, by participating, although initially it was very hard. Then, when I started working with gang members, it was the same. I've always had a lot of support from the parish, for always meeting on its premises.

The hierarchy never balked?

No, although I suppose there might be many people who don't like what I'm doing. If they were to take me to task directly, it wouldn't matter much to me either.

Have they given up on you?

Maybe. But the Society of Jesus has always respected what I've been doing in El Agustino very much and, little by little, in the rest of the Peruvian province.

Not the Jesuit hierarchy, the diocesan one -- the bishop, the vicar general..Does the Cardinal view you favorably?

I don't think so, but it doesn't worry me. For example, I have worked with diocesan priests -- they've called me to support them in areas where there were similar problems, stupendously.

Because then they tried to bring the model you planted in El Agustino to other places.

To Ayacucho, also with the Jesuits, to work with the gangs after all the political violence -- the domestic war that took place -- that had strengthened them. The violence in Ayacucho was a very serious problem. I went over there, worked with the kids who were interested...

Are there fruits from this work you've done with the gang members?

Yes, because in the end people, when they feel loved, respond. Although there's everything. In El Agustino, when I began there were 37 very violent gangs. They confronted each other and, as a result, deaths from bullets, machetes, stoning. I had been to eight or nine wakes of kids I knew...I had no idea what to do. I don't think anyone did in this country. What we did was to try to find a way towards the problems around us, getting involved with those people. If we hadn't joined them, we wouldn't have found solutions, we wouldn't have known anything.

How did you connect with them? Because it can't be easy putting yourself between the gangs...

Well, I already had the image of the rock-and-roll priest and I had played soccer with various El Agustino teams and in the district league. Also, right at that time I was chaplain of Alianza Lima, a very good and popular soccer team in Lima. So those gang kids were also part of the fan club of that professional team. At least, being from Alianza, I wasn't an enemy. They had seen me in the club and I could pass as another fan. That's how I came into contact with them.

There were four ways to leave the streets -- one was education, because most of the kids had dropped out of school. Another, work. After that, recreation (in our case, sports, soccer). And the one we added was works of reparation of the community -- those who had damaged private properties or broken public ones, had to find the way to change their image in the public eye.

Then, when I was in Colombia and even in Los Angeles, California -- which is the gang capital of the world -- I saw that the things we had begun to work on, were what was working everywhere else.

Here we created an educational program so that those who had dropped out could learn to read and write because they were illiterate. Then we put together a sports club. I remember that I went to Lima city hall to tell them what we were doing and ask for help. They told me that in Lima there were gangs everywhere but that they couldn't collaborate because they didn't have money for that stuff. It was a blessing that they told me that because, to compensate, they offered me a trainer for the kids. Luck would have it that the trainer, as well as knowing about soccer, was a born educator who understood that sports offers marvelous tools to work on everything that was lacking -- rules, discipline, relationship with authority, overcoming frustration in the face of defeat, which is what used to make the boys blow up before...

In addition to this teacher, who got along great with the kids, we had an experience with a television program that was being made, that recorded our gangs to show how sports was getting them out of the world of violence. Then a businessman, who is the richest man in this country, Carlos Rodriguez Pastor, president of supermarkets, one of the largest banks, hotels ... saw that program and, as he likes sports a lot too, talked with the kids. He told me they needed work, but he wasn't going to give it to them, because it would be a failure for them and for him, because they wouldn't be able to do it, and I demand my workers make good. So he and his wife devised a program to prepare them for employment. Saturdays from 9:00 to 15:00, he used to come to El Agustino to work with groups of thirty kids.

The businessman himself?

Yes, and his wife. They did a beautiful program.

For how long?

A long time -- hundreds of groups went through it. After eight Saturdays of training, a group would go out and present themselves to the businesses.

This personal involvement by a businessman isn't usual...

So it was. And, when they found work, it was positions with paid vacations, health insurance and other social benefits.

What were the job opportunities?

Some worked carrying mail in a bank building, others as gardeners, others as stock clerks in a supermarket, as ushers in the movie theaters...everything. All these things, of course, broke the logic of violence that was in the district. And in those days, the heads of Alianza and Barras, which was the other university soccer team, lived in El Agostino and organized deadly confrontations. But suddenly, those who were separated by bullets were united by the Saturday employment programs.

A kind of miracle.

Especially because, according to the National Police, El Agostino came to be a gang-free territory.

And now?

There aren't any gangs, which doesn't mean there isn't violence.


How did you keep growing?

We created a series of associations. The first was the Martin Luther King [Association] for job training in the different parts of the district. Former gang members who needed to work were calling me. I was coordinating and accompanying those efforts, following the model we talked about earlier. When that began to work well in El Agustino, the attorney general put forward a program of the Public Ministry to work with Barras in Villa Salvador, another district of Lima where I had also worked with people from the university team.

They've even called you from other countries?

Yes, I've been to El Salvador, Jamaica, and Colombia for this purpose. To San Diego and Los Angeles, as I already said, which is where the gangs have the most power.

In El Salvador, did you meet a Spanish Passionist [Fr. Antonio Rodríguez Tercero, aka Padre Toño] who is also very involved...?

They told me a lot about him! But I couldn't meet him, unfortunately.

They threw him out...I don't know if he's been able to return for the time being but he had to go to Spain.

Yes, according to what I've been told, he's a great person.

During this whole process, have you ever felt in danger?

I've never been afraid.

Didn't the kids ever come into conflict violently with you?

I've been in the middle of complicated situations, but I've never had any problem myself.

Did they ever raise transcendental questions? Did they talk about God?

I think the first thing we must do is not to return -- because the dignity of a person is never lost -- but raise the  level of dignity -- against their own shame, the abuse and judgment of others ...-- of these people who have always been singled out by society. Once that dignity has been regained, you can begin to manage other things. But if people don't feel worthy, there will never be an opportunity to talk about God or anything. This process takes years ... we must learn to be with people where we need to be so that things will be as they should. People have to recognize their dignity to respect the worth of others. To have decent health care for all, employment, quality education, everyone has to be committed to human rights, from politics or faith, but always firmly.

I hope, in my work, to show forgiveness even to enemies, the beatitudes in which I believe, the respect of Our Father (of whom we are all brothers and sisters). I hope to make the people I interact with feel them. Only when you've gone down that dignification road can you see Jesus, and not before. With the cross in front, you don't get to social commitment. Gospel values are expressed many times without words.

With those values, do the kids see you as someone authentic?

I think I'm a friend of many of them. For others, I might have been only the possibility for leaving this world. I do things because I have to do them, not because I think they'll thank me for it.

You came to the border before we talked about borders. You've been on the peripheries, existential ones too, that Pope Francis is now talking about.

Maybe, but I don't attach any importance to it.

Aren't you gratified that the Church leadership has begun to speak the same language of respect for human dignity?

I think that after many, many, many years, the Gospel is now beginning to come into the Vatican, and that's an important step.

So what does the coming of Pope Francis mean?

That the Church has begun to open its structures or leave them. Things that had been neglected a long time, like the lost sheep thing, are making people approach the Church passionately. That basic problems like justice are put in the forefront and not just sex, as it seemed a few years ago, is a change that goes back to Jesus. And therefore it gives one hope.

Is there a kind of quiet revolution going on?

I don't know, but I'm calm. I bless the fact that the Pope is someone who wants to give meaning again to the Gospel, or rather, to make the Church truly change according to it. Apart from the guidelines of the hierarchy or political leaders, when the people's conviction in favor of mercy corresponds with a clear path in the official Church -- of compassion, a desire for justice for all ...-- change will be able to take place.

That is, the fact that Pope Francis says from above that this is the path, makes your work easier.

Of course. His style helps a lot.

I guess that soaks into people more.

Of course it does.

But there may be difficulties. Is there resistance to that fine rain that comes from above and also from below soaking into the structures?

I suppose there would be a lot of resistance because he's suggesting things that go totally against some movements that have a lot of power within the Catholic Church and that have had huge support from the hierarchy. Even in things that are as basic as dress style -- that the Church hierarchs, albeit out of shame, cut down on their gold and finery, is a change they aren't going to make by choice.

In the land of liberation theology, do you feel close to that ideological current?

Obviously. I think there's no other here. There couldn't be. I think that, of all the books I studied in Theology, there was a very tiny one, by a French theologian, that was called Jésus, homme libre ["Jesus, a free man" by Christian Duquoc]. I remember that reading it had a tremendous impact on me. I think that one of the things that makes Pope Francis revolutionary is that he is a free man who wants to make people feel free to seek their path. There has been much fear of freedom in the Church -- there still is in the big movements--, as the other book, Fear of Freedom, said.

The one by Eric Fromm, a classic.

It's that the word freedom came out and then someone said, "but not license!". Let's not mix things -- let's talk freely about freedom! Forget license, because freedom will make you a better person. Jesus was above all a free man, but he came for others -- to teach us to be free. Sometimes I think that the Church has been much more rooted in the Old Testament than in the New Testament -- we're still talking about the Ten Commandments, and not the only one that Jesus left us, which is to love your neighbor as yourself!

And we have a lot of Pharisaism. The Pharisees, whom Jesus criticizes a great deal -- it's one of the greatest insults in the Gospel, made of the Ten Commandments a series of hundreds and hundreds of laws and prohibitions. It seems that those who came later liked that a lot... because they made Canon Law, which is a whole lot more prohibitions. Jesus said it clearly: I give you one commandment, which is also new: Love one another as I have loved you. To be a Christian, you don't need all that Canon Law has put into our heads.

Do you identify more with the Prodigal Son than with the older brother who stays home and then protests?

I identify more -- or I would like to come to identify -- with the father, who's a paragon of mercy and purity. There's a book written by a Jesuit, Gregory Boyle, who has worked with the gangs in Los Angeles for many years, going into that world with impressive programs of employment, recreation, education...He wrote it after being at more than a hundred wakes of kids who died violently, and it's called Tattoos on the Heart, because one of the programs they have there is to remove tattoos. Of course, they go around with their whole head and even their faces tattooed and, after having been able to leave drugs, weapons, and prepare themselves for a job, they aren't hired if they present themselves that way, tattooed, at interviews. It's a very long, hard, and expensive job, but they're removed. However, he's talking about the tattoos on the heart which we have to reach as well. Those tattoos are those of shame from always having been the despised (the son of the prostitute, the heroin addict...who's never going to change). All those stigmas that are stored up in the heart, getting so much into the person's life that they become tattoos that are very hard to erase. The subtitle of the book is "The Power of Boundless Compassion."

Here you also connect a lot with Pope Francis who, with the Year of Mercy, continually speaks to us about the tenderness of God.

Discovering compassion and forgiveness changed my life. They have impressive power to change many sad lives.

I guess you know examples of people who, even with those tattoos on the heart, were able to find their personal dignity again.

Of course. For example, one of the gang members who passed through the youth center, drug addiction, robbery...is now one of our collaborators -- he works in the social-sports schools we have with the Real Madrid Foundation for adolescent boys. They're people for whom the least bit of education -- learning to read! -- changed their lives. They've come to be people who are recognized in society despite their past. There are many cases, but there are also others who fell by the wayside.

Since we're talking about Real Madrid, I guess you're a Madrid supporter.

I have been since I was a boy, but I love it when Barça [Barcelona] plays -- I love the sport everywhere.

Do you follow the Spanish League much here?

Yes, it's a point of reference.

What agreements do you have with the Real Madrid Foundation?

One of the gang kids, who was on the football team, told me you have to work with the children, because if they had had something like that when they were children, they wouldn't have gotten into that path of drugs and crime. So we started to work with the children, and saw that the Real Madrid Foundation had schools worldwide, but not in Peru. They were told that here in El Agustino was Chiqui, working with teenagers through sports, in case they wanted to collaborate. They came, we talked and we were thinking the same thing: let's start with the school.

How long ago?

We're in the fifth year and we have some four hundred adolescent boys in that school which isn't to turn out talent or great players, but to use sports as an instrument to compensate for the shortcomings their families and the street left them. It serves as an education.

I've read that you've even gone with some of those boys to Madrid.

Yes, to some tournaments. From my experience with the gang members, I think the whole life of these guys who end up in violence, drugs, etc, is circumscribed within the triangle of school, family and the street. Fortunately, in our country there are few children who go directly from the family to the streets -- most go to school, despite the dropping out. Most who come to these situations of violence, have big abuse problems of all kinds, not just crime and drugs. The violence is within the family. In the best of cases, the parents work twelve hours -- there's no room for affection or for education. Then, when these children go to school, they bring the problems with them. Here in the public schools, there isn't a single psychologist, there are no programs to assist these children, so what happens is that, if they don't drop out, they're expelled for their behavior. What's left? The street.

We've discovered that the street becomes their educational space. So what I'm involved in now is filling the streets with attractive spaces for teenagers and young people, where they can do sports, painting, ceramics ... Children can't go through adolescence without playing. The alternative education program we have is that. But it's not enough to give them a ball to play with or that a teacher teaches them to paint -- the people who work there have to have a deep conviction that they are, in addition to facilitators or teachers, educators who have to work on the deficiencies that are in the families. The street can be revolutionized through education, working from there with the families -- we also have, within the soccer school, a school for parents: sexuality, relationships, how to educate -- based in the houses where the children go to do paintings and ceramics.

Now we're starting a new project -- Symphony with Peru, which was picked up from the Venezuelan experience, the child and youth orchestras -- which was created to assist children in more complicated situations. We're starting here in Peru to shape our orchestra with the well-known tenor Juan Diego Flores. A few months ago we started with a group -- a choir that will become a symphony orchestra.

You're looking non-stop for projects that fill these realities with content, turning the street into a school.

Aesthetic education is fundamental. Art and music, like sports, work the soul like pottery is worked in our alternative basic education workshops. We're in this because we have to flood El Agustino with these spaces, which also change the image of the district. When the community sees that the children are being tended to, it begins to be concerned about the district.

And to collaborate.

Obviously, to make the places where we are clean, for example. Usually children count for nothing in Peru, but now we're making them begin to work for them. Let's hope it bears fruit.

What do you need? A lot of funding, I guess.

Economic aid, of course. As far as people, we have a house for volunteers. When the Jesuits leave El Agustino for other places, the volunteers come and have very lovely experiences. Especially, we have a relationship with América Solidaria, a Chilean organization, that's now in the third year of sending volunteers for a year. They're professionals who come to work with us, also from Colombia and Spain, from the Comillas Pontifical University. Many guys have come from Zaragoza who've brought us a lot from their professions, helping us to be better organized and solidify the project.

You're taking advantage of all possible synergies within and outside the Society [the Jesuits].

Logically. You have to join together.

Do you have volunteers from here too?

Of course. Very good people are collaborating too. There are programs that function almost solely and exclusively with volunteers since the educational program, despite being a model in the country, doesn't have the means to pay salaries. We do personal tutoring, in groups, debates and even psychological support with volunteers. There are people who haven't missed a day of class in five years.

Is Spain far from you now?

If it weren't for sports, it would be very far away. It's what I follow the most and because of it, I go there from time to time, as I've already said.

Do you still have family there?

My parents are dead now but I have my brothers and sisters, cousins, friends...I entered the Society of Jesus at seventeen and I never went back to Zaragoza, but I lived eight years in Madrid while I was studying Theology and Philosophy, and I have friends there. I worked in Alicante for six years and I also have wonderful people there who I always go see.

Is there a web site where people can go to see what you're doing?

I'm disastrous at those things. Our organization is called Encuentros: Servicio jesuita para la solidaridad ["Encounters. Jesuit Service for Solidarity"] and it can be found on the Internet, I guess.

I've seen that by putting "Padre Chiqui" in Google, videos also come up.

The only thing I use the computer for is e-mail. And because it's now very hard to write a letter and send it the old way...I got caught up in it late. Getting into those things, what laziness! I don't know anything about social networks.

It's a pleasure to have met you and to hear about your adventures. From Spain we will follow you and support you as we can.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Not deviating from Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
May 3, 2015

John 15:1-8

The image is simple and highly expressive. Jesus is the "true vine", full of life, the disciples are "branches" living from the sap that comes from Jesus, the Father is the "vine grower" who personally cares for the vineyard so that it bears abundant fruit. The only important thing is that His plan for a more humane and happy world for all become a reality.

The image highlights where the problem is. There are dry branches through which the lifeblood of Jesus doesn't circulate. Disciples who don't bear fruit because the Spirit of the Risen One doesn't run through their veins. Christian communities languishing because they're disconnected from him.

So he makes a statement loaded with intensity -- "the branch can not bear fruit unless it remains on the vine" -- the disciples' life is sterile "unless you remain" in Jesus. His words are categorical: "Without me you can do nothing." Isn't the true root of the crisis of our Christianity being revealed to us here, the internal factor that splits its foundation like no other?

The way many Christians live their religion -- without a vital union with Jesus Christ -- will not stand for long. It will be reduced to anachronistic "folklore" that will not bring anyone the Good News of the Gospel. The Church can not carry out its mission in today's world if we who call ourselves "Christian" don't become disciples of Jesus, inspired by his spirit and his passion for a more humane world.

To be a Christian today requires a lived experience of Jesus Christ, an inner knowledge of his person and a passion for his plan, which were not required to be a practitioner within a society of Christianity. Unless we learn to live from a more immediate and passionate contact with Jesus, the decline of our Christianity could become a deadly disease.

We Christians today are worried and distracted by many issues. It can not be otherwise. But we must not forget the essential. We are all "branches". Only Jesus is "the true vine." The decisive thing right now is to "remain in him," applying all our attention to the Gospel, nurturing in our groups, networks, communities and parishes living contact with him, not deviating from his plan.