Friday, September 4, 2015

Healing our deafness

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
September 6, 2015

Mark 7:31-37

The prophets of Israel often used "deafness" as a provocative metaphor to talk about the closure and the resistance of the people to their God. Israel "has ears but can not hear" what God is saying. Therefore, a prophet calls everyone to conversion with these words: "Deaf ones, listen and hear."

In this context, the healings of the deaf, narrated by the gospel writers, can be interpreted as "tales of conversion" that invite us to let ourselves be healed by Jesus of deafness and resistance that keep us from hearing his call to follow. Specifically, Mark provides in his account highly suggestive refinements for working on this conversion in the Christian communities.

  • The deaf person is oblivious to everyone. He doesn't seem to be aware of his condition. He does nothing to approach the one who can heal him. Luckily for him, some friends care about him and bring him to Jesus. That's how the Christian community must be -- a group of brothers and sisters who help one another to live around Jesus, letting themselves be healed by him.
  • Curing the deafness isn't easy. Jesus takes the sick man with him, retires to one side and focuses on him. Recollection and a personal relationship are necessary. In our Christian groups, we need an atmosphere that allows believers to have a more intimate and vital contact with Jesus. Faith in Jesus Christ is born and grows in that relationship with him.
  • Jesus works hard on the ears and tongue of the patient, but it's not enough. It is necessary that the deaf person collaborate. Therefore, Jesus, after lifting his eyes to heaven, seeking for the Father to associate himself with his healing work, yells at the sick man the first word that anyone who is deaf to Jesus and his Gospel must hear: "Be opened!"

It's urgent that we Christians hear Jesus' call today too. These are not easy times for the Church. We are asked to act with lucidity and responsibility. It would be disastrous to be deaf to his call today, ignoring his words of life, not hearing his good news, not reading the signs of the times, living locked in our deafness. Jesus' healing power can cure us.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Abortion and the Year of Mercy: Why we're not overwhelmed

"...The tragedy of abortion is experienced by some with a superficial awareness, as if not realizing the extreme harm that such an act entails. Many others, on the other hand, although experiencing this moment as a defeat, believe they they have no other option. I think in particular of all the women who have resorted to abortion. I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal. I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision. What has happened is profoundly unjust; yet only understanding the truth of it can enable one not to lose hope. The forgiveness of God cannot be denied to one who has repented, especially when that person approaches the Sacrament of Confession with a sincere heart in order to obtain reconciliation with the Father. For this reason too, I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it. May priests fulfil this great task by expressing words of genuine welcome combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed, besides indicating a path of authentic conversion by which to obtain the true and generous forgiveness of the Father who renews all with his presence..."

from Pope Francis' Letter of the Holy Father according to which an Indulgence is granted to the faithful on the occasion of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (1st September 2015)

While everyone is getting excited about this proclamation, I believe it's critical to remind readers that it does not represent a significant change in Church policy towards abortion. In many diocese, particularly in the United States, abortion is so widespread that bishops have already delegated to all priests working under them the authority to lift the excommunication, hear the woman's confession and absolve her from the sin of abortion as long as she is duly penitent. Pope Francis is merely extending that practice to the entire Catholic Church worldwide and only for one year. This can hardly be qualified as revolutionary. In fact, it is perhaps more of an indication of a revolution in Pope Francis' thinking from his originally stated intentions to leave such decisions to the local bishops. The pope is now more willing to impose a practice worldwide on matters that he would have previously left up to the local churches.

This being said, the tone of the letter and particularly the pope's acknowledgement that most women do not choose to resort to abortion except under considerable pressure, should offer hope to women that they will find a more sympathetic ear and let them know that reconciliation with the Church is possible.

Now, I would like to suggest that Pope Francis do something truly revolutionary in this area, which would obviate the need for this special "permission": remove abortion from the list of automatically excommunicable offenses. Strike Canon 1398 -- "A person who procures a completed abortion incurs a latae sententiae excommunication" -- and move abortion back where it belongs in Canon 1397, so that it is not treated any differently than any other form of homicide for sacramental purposes. Such a change would not detract from the serious nature of the sin of abortion but it would create a policy that does not have the side effect of treating women differently and more harshly than men.

Article 2272 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church -- "Formal cooperation in an abortion constitutes a grave offense. The Church attaches the canonical penalty of excommunication to this crime against human life. 'A person who procures a completed abortion incurs excommunication latae sententiae,' 'by the very commission of the offense,' and subject to the conditions provided by Canon Law. The Church does not thereby intend to restrict the scope of mercy. Rather, she makes clear the gravity of the crime committed, the irreparable harm done to the innocent who is put to death, as well as to the parents and the whole of society" -- would also have to be modified accordingly.

It is morally and ethically illogical that killing a baby in the womb (abortion) is considered differently than killing that baby immediately after it has emerged from the womb (infanticide). If Pope Francis could correct this teaching, we would really have a reason to rejoice. Until then, nothing has fundamentally changed.

Documentary about excommunicated Brazilian priest wins RNA award

Alex Ferreira (photo) of DOCFilms (Brazil) has won a first place Excellence in Short Religion Video Award from the Religious Newswriters Association for his documentary "O Excomungado" ("The Excommunicated One") about the excommunication of controversial Brazilian priest Roberto Francisco Daniel, aka "Padre Beto." Fr. Daniel was suspended a divinis and later excommunicated in a rapid fire process when he refused to remove and recant online videos in which he expressed views contrary to the current teaching of the Catholic Church on issues such as gay marriage. The film alternates clips of interviews with Padre Beto and with a spokesman for the Diocese of Bauru, and shots from the ex-priest's daily life, his final Mass, and protests in support of him, as well as news clips about the controversy. The filmmaker also includes "man on the street" interviews with local Catholics about Padre Beto.

Ferreira, who was born in Bauru and has a masters in sociology of art from the Sorbonne, has extensive radio and TV experience in Brazil, France, and the United States. He told the local press that he was moved to cover Padre Beto's story because "the issue is important since it goes back to intolerance and religious fundamentalism, which is present in ten out of ten wars in the world today."

Ferreira is presently working on another documentary "As Vozes de Deus", sponsored by The International Humanist and Ethical Union. He says that "when the news ran around the world that a priest was excommunicated for preaching humanist ideas -- 414 [years] after Giordano Bruno -- a caution light went on in developed societies. International organizations dedicated to monitoring freedom sounded the alarm. People were interested in finding out what happened. Why was freedom of expression being curtailed? The impact was enormous. So this was an international agenda. I was just in charge of telling the story."

Padre Beto continues to teach, preach, and publish in the secular media and institutions and through his own web site. His latest books are Palavras de Vida and Verdades Proibidas.

O Excomungado

Pe Beto SITE from DocFilms on Vimeo.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The case of Jesuit Vicente Cañas, killed in 1987 in Brazil, is reopened

by Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
August 23,2015

The Jesuits have always been present on the "frontiers." In fact, the first Jesuit pope often repeats that we need to be present at the peripheries. One of those Jesuits committed to the causes of the excluded was Vicente Cañas Costa, born in Albacete on October 22, 1939, and killed in Mato Grosso, Brazil, on April 6, 1987.

Father Vicente, who was part of CIMI (Indigenous Missionary Council, per its acronym in Portuguese), started in 1974 to have first contacts with the Enawenê-Nawê indigenous people who were living in voluntary isolation in the state of Mato Grosso. In 1977, he decided to live among them, along with fellow Jesuit Tomás Aquino Lisboa, learning their language, assuming their customs and way of life, being known as Kiwxi and considered another member of their people by the natives themselves. For ten years he worked on the preservation of their territory and demarcation of indigenous land and issues related to health.

The missionaries were concerned about the abuses of the landowners in the region who were arriving, occupying large tracts of land and killing the natives who were there. We are talking about the period of the military dictatorship, in which the persecution and attempted extermination of the indigenous people was cruel and constant. In this situation, the presence and especially the actions of the Jesuits, made the landowners uncomfortable, and so, ten years later, they ordered him killed.

The order came from the owner of the Londrina Hacienda, Pedro Chiqetti, who had misappropriated a large area within the indigenous land of the Enawenê with the collaboration of the chief of police of the city of Juína, who hired the thugs to carry out the assassination.

Vicente Cañas was in a shack away from the village where he kept "white stuff" -- radio, clothes, utensils, tools -- and where he stayed quarantined when he returned to the village after some time off, in order not to spread diseases from elsewhere to the indigenous. That was the situation that the six sent by the landlord took advantage of to commit the heinous murder. They beat and stabbed him to death, wanting in this way to cast blame on the indigenous, arguing that they might not have been happy with his presence among them.

After a time without any signs of life, his fellow Jesuit went looking and found his mummified body which would be buried by the natives in the land where he had spent the last years of his life.

The murder trial took place 19 years later and no one was convicted for lack of evidence, as many people were afraid to testify and face the same fate of Father Vicente, which is not surprising in many regions of Brazil, where life is worth nothing and ending it is all too easy and cheap.

The news is that the Federal Regional Court of the 1st Region of the State of Mato Grosso has decided to hold a new trial, because in the one carried out at the time, the jury did not consider substantial evidence in the process.

In fact, the chief of police of Juína, Ronaldo Antonio Osmar, one of those involved in the murder, was the one who led the later investigations, manipulating the evidence so that the accusation would fall on the indigenous, as the prosecution acknowledges today. Add to that the disappearance of expert evidence, such as the skull itself of the Jesuit missionary which "mysteriously" disappeared from the Instituto Médico Legal in Belo Horizonte where the forensic analysis was taking place, to be found days later in a plaza of the city.

The Federal Public Ministry has just denounced in recent days that "the jury really looked the other way in the face of the body of evidence, ignoring the statements gathered in the instruction stage, only dealing with the interrogation of the accused, who denied involvement in the episode the whole time, which was to be expected."

Hopefully reopening the trial can help public clarification of the truth. Regardless, we can say that Vicente Cañas was a martyr in the cause of the poor, of the always persecuted indigenous peoples. His faith led him to live on the periphery and give his life for a better world for all, for the Kingdom.

There's more information in Portuguese in this article from CIMI: TRF-1 determina a realização de um novo júri para delegado envolvido no assassinato de Vicente Cañas

Marriage and Eucharistic Communion in poor countries

By Ángel Arnáiz Quintana, OP (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Fe Adulta
August 30, 2015

How can a priest deny Communion to someone seriously ill with cancer because he hasn't fulfilled the rite of marriage in the Church, even though he is an exemplary father and an admirable husband?

How can the bread of life be denied to thousands, millions of peasants on the Latin American continent and throughout the world because they don't have this Church rite, though they are fathers and mothers who love their sons and daughters and sacrifice themselves for them, and are wonderfully humane as spouses?

Why condemn immigrant couples who can't get married in a Church ceremony because they don't have their baptism papers in order because of an infernal war years ago now?

Can't a medical doctor take the sacramental Body of Jesus when she lovingly fulfills her work with the sick and is faithful in her marriage, even though she didn't get married by the Church in the official rite for the various reasons there may be?

Where is the merciful love that Jesus proclaimed as the greatest Christian commandment -- "Be merciful as your Heavenly Father is merciful?" Where is the cry of the prophets -- living, experiential knowledge of God I desire, and not sacrifices (liturgical rituals today), mercy instead of burnt offerings (laws devoid of human content)? Where are the beatitudes?

How are the Catholic churches in the rural parts of every continent not going to empty out if they are considered sinners or, at least, unworthy to approach Jesus? But weren't they the preferred ones of Jesus of Nazareth? Weren't the beatitudes addressed to them before anyone else? Didn't Jesus surround himself with sinners and people who hadn't even been married civilly, as we would say today? Didn't the Apostle explain that Christ liberated us so that we might be free?

One humiliation after another -- a married life, a family one so marvelous in human Christian values -- the limitations of that life are not unknown too, obviously -- is not worthy to receive Jesus' sacrament of love.

It doesn't matter that you have a devoted generous love, faithful love, with no other relationships, a permanent love, lived for life here on earth, that is, the characteristics of true Christian love.

That's how they've been held for centuries -- colonized, humiliated, marginalized -- and that's how those who want to be among the faithful of the Church are kept, deep down.

It's more important to fill a church with flowers, musicians, carpets, vestments and words even though the consistency of that love isn't even known. The ritual is worth more than tried and tested everyday life. We shouldn't be surprised that good people are absorbed by religious groups that speak directly to them and accept them without so many barriers. At this rate, the Catholic Church will be devoid of the poor, the favored of Jesus.

I'm speaking to you from crucified Central America, from a tiny little country, El Salvador, but it's a cry of a whole continent. Don't be deaf to its voice.

Image: Fr. Quintana, a missionary from Spain now working in El Salvador, prepares to bless the new community center of the Asociación de Comunidades Unidas para el Desarrollo Económico y Social del Bajo Lempa.

Not clinging to human traditions

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
August 30, 2015

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

We don't know when or where the confrontation took place. The evangelist is only interested in evoking the atmosphere in which Jesus moves, surrounded by teachers of the Law, scrupulous observers of tradition who blindly resist the novelty that the Prophet of Love wants to introduce into their lives.

The Pharisees, outraged, observe that his disciples are eating with unclean hands. They can't tolerate it. "Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders?" Although they're talking about the disciples, the attack is directed at Jesus. They're right. It's Jesus who is breaking that blind obedience to traditions to create around him a "space of freedom" where what matters is love.

That group of religious teachers hasn't understood anything about the kingdom of God that Jesus is proclaiming to them. God doesn't reign in their hearts. The Law, rules, uses and customs marked by tradition still rule. For them, the important thing is to observe what has been established by the "elders." They don't think about the good of the people. They don't care about "seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness."

The error is serious. Therefore, Jesus responds with harsh words: "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."

The doctors speak reverently of "the tradition of the elders" and attributed divine authority to it. But Jesus calls it "human tradition." God's will must never be confused with what is the fruit of men.

It would also be a serious mistake today if the Church were to remain a prisoner of the human traditions of our ancestors, when everything is calling us to a profound conversion to Jesus Christ, our only Master and Lord. What must concern us is not preserving the past intact, but making possible the birth of a Church and some Christian communities able to copy the Gospel faithfully and make the plan of the Kingdom of God real in contemporary society.

Our first responsibility is not to repeat the past, but to enable the acceptance of Jesus Christ nowadays, without concealing or obscuring him with human traditions, however venerable they may appear.