Friday, June 12, 2015

Gustavo Gutierrez: "Romero chose a way of proclaiming the gospel that led him to pay with his life"

By Roberto Valencia (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Faro
June 4, 2015

Theologian Gustavo Gutierrez returned for four days to El Salvador for the beatification of Oscar Arnulfo Romero. True to himself, he stayed away as much as he could from flash bulbs, skullcaps and decked out churches, staying in central San Salvador in a humble room in the annex to El Rosario church, run by the Dominicans, the order he belongs to.

Gutierrez was born on June 8, 1928, and he's going on 87 but he didn't want to miss the historic opportunity to be in San Salvador the day the upper hierarchy of the Catholic Church corrected a complicit silence that had lasted decades, and raised to the rank of blessed the greatest of its 20th century martyrs. "His martyrdom will shed light on many things that have happened in Latin America," he says.

Founder and chief spokesman for liberation theology, a concept that still raises hackles in certain ecclesiastical and political circles, Gutierrez surprises in this interview with words at the opposite pole of confrontation, with an explicit call to look to the future without dwelling on the wounds of the past -- "It is best to look forward. Romero is now blessed. What's going to happen from now on?"

Did you think your eyes would ever see Romero beatified?

Well...there have been many moments of skepticism, seeing so many people opposed to the process, but there were also moments of hope.

When did you begin to see it clearly?

With Francis. Since he took charge, one felt a gospel freshness and knew the beatification would go forward. Francis is someone who goes to the sources and, from there, proclaims, preaches, and naturally you have to recognize that, being someone from the same continent, he had more knowledge of Romero than any other pope could have.

Were you on the stand on May 23rd?

No, no, no...I don't have those kinds of connections, although I don't think I would have gone on the stand if they had invited me either.

In March 2008, Leonardo Boff said Benedict XVI would beatify Romero, but would do so because it was advantageous.

The thing to understand is that the beatification was very advantageous, of course it was, but advantageous in the sense of healthy. It's healthy for the Church to recognize Romero's martyr status.

Wasn't it healthy 10 or 20 years ago?

But it's irrelevant to go into that. What I do see is that this recognition of martyrdom will shed light on many things that have happened in Latin America because there have been more martyrs.

Don't you fear the opposite -- that the figure of Romero will be sugar-coated?

It's very hard to make predictions. I try not to think like that. What can happen in the future? I hope that when Romero's witness is used, his struggle for justice, against the oppressors, against inequality, isn't left aside. I'm going to use his witness in that sense. How will we be in 10 years? How will the figure of Romero have been used? Well, in 10 years we'll see.

Do you feel that, with the beatification, the "preferential option for the poor" has been vindicated somehow?

Yes, but I don't care for the word 'vindication'. I think we've entered a stage where what preferential option for the poor is is better understood, and where we are reviewing all the mistakes that might have been committed too, with the idea of always looking forward. Romero's witness has already marked us in the past in the whole continent, Romero has already helped many people understand things, and that is what I hope will be spurred by the beatification.

Can you share with us your views on what Romero meant in life for the continent?

Romero is a martyr; he gave his life for proclaiming the gospel. Romero was afraid they would kill him, he knew that could happen, but he was clear that he couldn't leave his people. That's the basic witness. Moreover, a saint -- because martyrdom is a way to attain sainthood -- is a model whom the Church identifies to show the Christian people what a person who followed Jesus is like. That's why this witness is so important for the Church in Latin America, and those to come, like Enrique Angelelli, like Gerardi...

Father Rutilio Grande.

Yes, but I was mentioning bishops because of the impact of assassinating a bishop. There are tons of Rutilios in Latin America. And I'm not trivializing him. What I mean to say is that there are many people who have given their lives, one way or another, and the greatest scandal is that all this has occurred on a Christian and mostly Catholic continent.

To whom would you attribute the main credit for the beatification?

First, the person himself. Romero had various options for proclaiming the gospel and he chose one that led him to pay with his life. But people live in community, and of course the courage of the Salvadoran people and Romero's love for those people contributed to the decisions he made in his life, and therefore to his beatification. Then, as a Christian, I also believe that there is intervention by the Holy Spirit. It's a set of things, but the starting point is him.

Can you help us draw a profile of Monseñor Romero in life? What did he stand for exactly?

El Salvador was beginning to resound across the continent because of its political situation, and Romero was the main reference point. His sermons were heard on the radio in several countries, and even circulated in print. The bombs they put on the archdiocesan radio had a lot of impact abroad.

Did you know him personally?

My first contact with him was in August 1972 during a theology course for Central American bishops that CELAM (Consejo Episcopal Latinoamericano) organized in Antigua, Guatemala. It was four weeks, if I remember right. The facilitators were Boaventura Kloppenburg, Segundo Galilea... and they assigned me a week to talk to them about liberation theology.

Your book had just been published.

Yes, in 1971, but the publication date is somewhat symbolic, because we had been working on liberation theology for years. That's where I met Romero.

Was there a chance to interact? They say he was very reserved.

Of course. We were a small group, all gathered in the same building; we would meet to eat, to have supper.

In 1972 he was auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, still a deeply conservative Romero.

I wouldn't say conservative. I think he was a traditional man, but in the good sense of the word. I think there's a difference. He was trained in Rome, with certain values...

It's not just a question of values. In those years he clashed constantly with the progressive sectors of the Salvadoran Church.

Yes, but I think the only people able to change are honest people. Romero changed, yes, but he was always honest, before and after coming to the archdiocese.

And after that meeting in Antigua?

We crossed paths occasionally. I remember we saw each other in Puebla in 1979. I also came to his funeral ... a terrible day! I was to say a prayer at the Mass, but couldn't even do it because of what happened in the plaza.

What happened that day? Tell us your version.

I was on the steps of the cathedral, and the people, in the square. We were in the middle of the homily and huge noises were heard, like explosions, and people started running and were crushed between each other. It was terrible.

How did you react? Did you go into the cathedral?

I didn't have the chance to think about it; they put us there. After the explosions, there were people who jumped the fences. I was pushed into the cathedral, and like me, a whole scared crowd. That plaza, I'll never forget it, was filled with clothing, shoes, blouses...with a breeze that lifted the things up. Spectacular, that.

How long did you stay in the cathedral?

The whole morning, because we foreign delegations declined to leave before the Salvadorans, as those from the government were demanding. We thought that if we left first, something might happen to the people who had taken refuge, and so everything was delayed, and we even had time to bury Romero once only a few people remained. Then we went out three by three with our hands on the back of our necks; I got to leave with Sergio Méndez Arceo and Samuel Ruiz, two Mexican bishops. We went out and now I don't even remember how I got to UCA, where I was staying.

Let's come back to the present. Why do you think Romero's beatification took 35 years and Escrivá de Balaguer's 17?

Those kinds of comparisons don't matter to me, but undoubtedly in Romero's case one influence was that there were so many people speaking against him, so many Salvadoran bishops and lay people who were asking that he not be beatified, people who were weighty. Clarifying all that rejection took time.

Don't you think that the Catholic Church as an institution took too long? The Anglican Church has exalted him for 15 years...

That doesn't matter now.

Even the United Nations...

Doesn't matter now.

Are you sure it doesn't matter?

I am a sectarian anti-nostalgist and this "and if I" or "if I had" doesn't move me. Let's work now, ok? We believe in the future.

The day of the beatification, I read this sign at the event: "The oligarchy ordered him killed and now they're coming to worship him."

Could be, but locking oneself in this is also believing that people are immobile, that no one has been able to change in 35 years. Why not? That way of keeping people fixed must be changed -- and I'm not saying that everyone has changed, because I'm convinced that some might be cozying up to Romero now for convenience, but you can't generalize that way either.

Did you like the "Martyr for Love" slogan chosen by the Salvadoran Church?

I know there's been controversy about this. They could have chosen another slogan, but love is the center of everything and of course it includes justice. But I don't think it's appropriate to go back, but that it's best to look forward. Romero is now blessed. What's going to happen from now on?

The guest stand was elitist, nothing to do with the spirit of Romero's homilies. Doesn't that raise doubts for you?

Yes, but it's done. If anyone doesn't agree, it's okay to say it, but I think you have to put a period on it and move on. Nothing is gained by scratching around there.

You're being very diplomatic, Father.

No, no, it's isn't being diplomatic but having hope and wanting to move forward. What you've raised deserves to be criticized and you, as a journalist, may disagree with how the beatification unfolded but you shouldn't lose sight of the fact that Romero has been beatified. That's what's most important: Building.

Romero's homicide remains absolutely unpunished. How do you build when the truth is still being denied?

And there's no peace without justice, no love without justice. The day of the funeral, I remember that a nun from a private school was crying because many of her students, influenced by their parents, didn't care about the archbishop's death, and were even rejoicing at his death. That happened. And I hope the guilty are judged, but this shouldn't keep us from seeing that, from a Christian perspective, all us human beings can change.

You're such an optimist.

I'm concerned about the idea of forging things. What is having hope? Well, creating hope factors. You can't have hope when you stay locked up in your house. We must denounce and correct the past, the truth about the murder must be known, just like the real causes of poverty in the country, but you also have to propose and build alternatives.

How can Salvadoran society benefit from Romero's beatification?

The situation in El Salvador isn't going to change in a week -- this is nothing magic -- but Romero is a man who gave his life for his people. That is, that it is possible to do so. He is a witness to love, but a love, as we've already said, that includes peace and includes justice. I think commitment like the kind he had to his people is an example to follow.

Small seeds

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
June 14, 2015

Mark 4:26-34

We are drowning in bad news. Radio and television stations, news bulletins and reports dump an avalanche of news about hatred, war, hunger, and violence on us, scandals great and small. The "sensationalism sellers" don't seem to find anything more noteworthy on our planet.

The incredible velocity with which the news is spread leaves us stunned and disconcerted. What can one do in the face of so much suffering? We are better and better informed about the evil that is plaguing humankind and we feel more and more powerless to confront it.

Science wants to convince us that the problems can be solved with more technological power and has thrown us all into a gigantic organization and rationalization of life. But this organized power isn't in the hands of people but in structures now. It has become an "invisible power" beyond the reach of any individual.

So our temptation to feel inhibited is great. What can I do to make society better? Aren't politicians and religious leaders the ones who have to promote the changes needed to move towards a more dignified, humane, and happy coexistence?

It isn't so. In the gospel, there's a call directed at everyone to sow small seeds of a new humanity. Jesus isn't talking about big things. The Kingdom of God is something very humble and modest at the root. Something that could pass as unnoticed as the smallest seed, but that is called to grow and bear fruit in unexpected ways.

Perhaps we need to learn to value little things and small gestures again. We aren't called to be heroes or martyrs every day, but we are all invited to put a bit more dignity in every corner of our little world. A friendly gesture to the bewildered one, a welcoming smile to a lonely person, a sign of closeness to someone who's starting to despair, a little ray of joy in a burdened heart...they aren't big things. They're small seeds of the Kingdom of God that we can all sow in a sad and complex society that has forgotten the charm of simple and good things.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Teresa Forcades 3: Running for Office

Religión Digital (English translation by Rebel Girl)
June 9, 2015

Sister Teresa Forcades will be exclaustrated, i.e. she will leave the convent of the Benedictines of Montserrat, with permission from the Vatican and the Bishop of Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Agustí Cortés, next Monday the 15th, to run in the regional elections on September 27th.

According to sources close to the nun, the Procés Constituent movement, which she herself promoted with economist Arcadi Oliveres, will hold an assembly on Sunday the 14th where it will be decided whether Forcades will head her own slate or join the CUP [Candidatura d'Unitat Popular] one, the two proposals that have received the most votes from followers of that movement. In any case, sources close to the nun say that the latter is not her choice.

The same sources explained to EFE that the "exclaustration" authorized by the Vatican and the bishop, means that Forcades will not stop being a nun, as would have happened with a dispensation, and that she will be able to return to the convent when the one-year term -- renewable up to three -- ends.

Forcades' idea is to run in the 9/27 regional elections and -- as the legislature announced by the President of the Generalitat, Artur Mas, would be only 18 months -- return to the convent of Sant Benet de Montserrat in two years.

"Teresa Forcades wouldn't stop being a nun, she would maintain all the prerogatives and be able to return to the convent whenever she wishes, leaving it with the same permission as if it were to care for a sick relative," the same sources explained, stating that the Benedictine traveled recently to Rome to get the Vatican's consent and that she has also received Bishop Cortés' approval.

Before making her exclaustration official, the nun will attend the Procés Constituent movement assembly on Sunday, where representatives of other political parties are expected to attend as guests and which will decide how they will present themselves in the upcoming regional elections.

Participants will have to choose between a "broad social spectrum" ticket headed by Forcades or joining the CUP one.

The Procés Constituent Assembly will be held all day on Sunday at the Escolapios de Terrassa school (Barcelona) and it appears likely that the option of the nun leading the ticket will win, given the support and encouragement that she is receiving at public events she holds, according to sources.

"Her talks are very successful and there are many excited people who have asked her to present herself," said one of her collaborators, who recalled that over 47,500 people have joined the Procés Constituent movement.

The nun's exit from the convent also coincides with her trip to Gaza on a humanitarian convoy to bring medical supplies to the Palestinian territory.

Teresa Forcades 2: Going towards Gaza

Religión Digital (English translation by Rebel Girl)
June 1, 2015

Sister Teresa Forcades will be one of four Spanish women who will sail towards Gaza on one of the boats of the "Freedom Flotilla III" [for Spanish participation in the flotilla, see Rumbo a Gaza], which is scheduled to arrive in Palestinian waters in late June in order to "denounce and break the blockade" by Israel against the Palestinians.

Forcades' name was announced on Monday during a press conference in which this Benedictine nun, who has denounced Spain's actions not only for its silence about the "blockade" but because it is giving "support" to the Israeli military industry of which it is a client, was present.

The Spanish boat "Marianne", which is carrying a symbolic cargo of solar panels and medical supplies, leaves this Monday from the port of Bueu (Galicia) for Lisbon, from which it will begin its trip towards Motril (Granada), where it will arrive on the 7th and leave two days later for Italy. Two other boats will leave from the Mediterranean, so the flotilla will include at least three vessels.

This is a joint action by an international coalition involving citizen initiatives in Canada, Greece, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, South Africa and associations bringing together activists from other European countries.

Forcades was introduced as "a nun, a doctor by profession, a theologian" and "her confrontation with pharmaceutical companies" was highlighted in her resume -- the nun is known for her activism against [the H1N1 and HPV] vaccines.

The activist nun explained and criticized the arms trade between Spain and Israel, emphasizing that our country serves as an "entry point" to Europe and Iberoamerica for Israel's arms industry.

In her speech, Forcades noted that in Gaza the population of Christians has settled down to "one percent" when it was 10% for years. The nun blames Israel despite acknowledging that in that country the percentage is much higher -- 2.5% according to her own data.

"Most Palestinian Christians are outside of Gaza," she said, then lamenting that "people who could serve as a bridge are being eliminated," before commenting on the actions of "the Israeli soldiers."

In presenting the initiative, journalist Olga Rodríguez highlighted the situation in which more than 1.8 million Palestinians live -- in the "biggest open-air prison."

Another journalist, Teresa Aranguren, spokesperson for Rumbo a Gaza, said that the work of the Flotilla is not only trying to reach Gaza, but "the most important journey is towards the minds and consciences of the people of the West" so that Israel "ends the systematic violation of the rights of the Palestinians."

Palestine's ambassador to Spain, Musa Amer Odeh, characterized the blockade as "illegal" and deemed that the Palestinian people "need a solution based on international law."

Teresa Forcades 1: A new book about Simone Weil and Dorothy Day

Lately, I've been feeling like this blog should be titled "All Teresa, All the Time" but there's just a lot to report right now, starting with...

In addition to the Spanish edition of Sr. Teresa Forcades' summary of her political views on various issues -- Está en nuestras manos ("It's in our hands" -- Dau, 2015) -- which we covered in the last blog post, Sr. Teresa will have a new book coming out this month in both Catalan and Spanish about Catholic writers and social activists Simone Weil and Dorothy Day. The Catalan edition, titled Per amor a la justícia. Dorothy Day i Simone Weil is published by Viena Edicions. The Spanish version, which will be officially launched in Madrid on June 16th, is titled Por amor a la justicia. Dorothy Day y Simone Weil and will be published by Ediciones HOAC. HOAC, by the way, stands for Hermandad Obrera de Acción Católica, as in Catholic Action, and Spanish speaking progressive Catholics owe it to themselves to check out HOAC's various titles.

According to the publicity blurb for the book launch:

"In this book, Teresa Forcades brings us close to two women who faced without subterfuge the task of giving meaning to their lives, who took responsibility for them and conceived them as lives in the service of justice.

Dorothy Day and Simone Weil's Christian experience is deep and both write about it beautifully, passionately, and with surprising originality. Since their childhoods, so different, they were sensitive to Christian religious things, even though they declared themselves atheists in their adolescence and early youth and criticized Church institutions for favoring the privileged and leaving the dispossessed to their fate, particularly the working class. In their youth, they experienced deep personal encounters with Jesus, which marked a turning point in their lives. Both put human work at the center of their spirituality.

Day and Weil combined political involvement and mystical experience without "mixing them" (a danger of fundamentalism, whether religious or secular) and without separating them (as do those who think faith is one thing and business something quite distinct). Their testimony continues to challenge us, both the light and the shadows.

In the course set out in their lives and thinking, one can highlight the centrality of their work experience and their relationship with the labor movement, the liberating meaning they give to manual labor, their different experiences of Church, love and freedom based on their womanhood, their identification with the Jesus of the excluded, their different positions on pacifism, ending with their involvement in politics and their vision of the revolution.

Is it possible to separate the experience of the Christian God -- the experience of Jesus -- from public social commitment to justice? Day and Weil's answer is a resounding "No." Their public commitment doesn't advocate violence or seek to impose their beliefs -- it is grounded in working for social justice and nonpartisan political involvement from below, sharing the life of workers and the excluded.

This is a book written with great clarity, which allows us to draw closer to the fullest extent to these two women passionate about Jesus the Worker and justice. It is an especially crucial book for anyone who today feels the passion for justice against inhumane Capitalism."

Now I'm waiting for my copy to arrive from Spain...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Forcades sees the Church as "patriarchal and misogynist" and calls for an end to capitalism

by EFE (English translation by Rebel Girl)
La Vanguardia
June 7, 2015

Barcelona (EFE).- The nun Teresa Forcades, a driving force behind the Procés Constituent movement, in coalition with the candidacy of Ada Colau in Barcelona, and who is postulated to lead a leftist coalition slate in the upcoming regional elections, advocates changing the capitalist system so that there would be more social justice and criticizes the operation of the Catholic Church.

Está en nuestras manos ["It's in our hands"] is the title of the new book by Forcades (Barcelona, 1966), a theologian and medical doctor, who has decided to jump into politics and has summarized her social, political, economic, and religious thoughts in her new book, which Dau just published.

"The time has come to build an alternative," writes Forcades, who wants to become the Ada Colau of Catalonia. "The system, as it is operating, -- according to Forcades -- is gradually leading us to an increase in precarity. It's on a path of progressive deterioration. The change can't just be in appearance."

The nun tears the capitalist system apart and asserts that "with capitalism we have a model that has been incapable of responding not only to the basic expectations of many people, but to its own promises of progress." "For most people, there is evidence that it has been a failure, that it's no longer enough," concludes the religious in her book, warning that "there are many people who are organizing from the grassroots to carry out profound change."

After analyzing some of the reasons for the economic, political and social crisis, Forcades, who founded Procés Constituent in 2013 with economist Arcadi Oliveres, wonders: "Can we talk about a free market when in reality capitalism, historically, has always gone hand in hand with political power?".

"Often we find the same family or related families -- some in government and others leading the business. These agreements between economic and political power aren't transparent, they aren't known or voted on by the public," the nun denounces.

"We're in a so-called democratic system, but we can only participate through the political parties, which need huge resources to operate and are basically financed by the great economic powers," the religious reproaches.

For Forcades, "change for greater social justice doesn't depend on the god of capitalism but on us. From the social movements there needs to be two important tasks. First, the work of ideological criticism, of explaining the aspects of the current reality that shouldn't have to be. Side by side with real and forceful social action."

According to the Benedictine woman religious, the social movements "shouldn't have as a goal just regaining freedom and lost privileges, but real social change made among all. It's necessary to open a constitutional period."

The nun also lashes out in her book against the media -- "Currently," she writes, "information answers to a capitalist model of consumption that causes the news to be treated so rapidly that it doesn't allow for the reflection or internalization necessary to give a critical response."

Forcades also proclaims the nature of her nationalism: "You have to increase diversity in the world not as a form of rivalry where the smaller and more at odds the better, but as nuclei, nations, nationalities and peoples where the more self-managed and independent the better so that they are responsible for their affairs." "I am a feminist by conviction because I support the freedom and equality of all human beings," proclaims the Benedictine, who says she "honors" her religion "and it is very important" to her but that she doesn't "idolize it."

Also, she recalls that "in capitalism, economic, political, military power and even Christian religious power have always been allies." "The Catholic Church to which I belong, mine, is patriarchal and misogynist" and, as the nun reports, reserves for women "a secondary role characterized by submission and service."

She also characterizes as "scandalous" certain actions by the Church in the current crisis context and cites the case of the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) before wondering "if the Vatican should have a bank. And yes, put to the question, whether the Vatican, in its current form, should exist."