Tuesday, December 27, 2016

José María Castillo: "Seeing Jesus' humanity is how we see, find, and know God"

by Jesús Bastante (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
December 26, 2016

"The economy doesn't fix this. Politics either." Theologian José María Castillo is referring to the multiple crises we are suffering today. Not just the lack of solidarity or democracy, but above all the deficit in mercy towards the suffering. A situation in the face of which, he points out, "there has to be another system." Specifically the one of the Gospel, whose strength he explores in his book, La humanidad de Jesús ("The humanity of Jesus", Trotta, 2016).

Today we are joined by a good friend, whom you surely know, who needs no introduction but, just in case, he is José María Castillo.

Good morning, José María.

Delighted, Good morning.

Madrid isn't Granada, but it's nice to come here once in a while.

Madrid has a singular charm and enjoys such a large, ample and important offering that it's like a very powerful magnet that attracts one.

José María Castillo is one of the best theologians in our country. We are lucky and honored that he has been a collaborator of Religión Digital for many years.

It's been at least ten years. Or maybe more.

Laying down the law and, most of all, helping us to think. And giving us subjects, which he talks about through his blogs, with his posts and also through his writings, through his books.

We've come here today to talk about one of them, La humanidad de Jesús, which he has published through Trotta. You presented it yesterday in a talk-colloquium at the ABC cultural hall, which was packed.

I would like to talk about the subject that the book is about. About Jesus' humanity. Because they've always talked about this divine Jesus, who is sublimated and makes us closer to God, and lately it seems that his more human side has been reviled. The one of the Jesus who ate, got sad, and laughed with his friends. Who passed through this world and walked with the disciples from Emmaus, with Lazarus, with his disciples. Who felt tragedy, betrayal. Who had all the good and all the bad of human beings. Even until he came to die.

Why this disappearance of the human Jesus in some cases?

As I indicated yesterday in my lecture, and it was the first thing I wanted to highlight, it's that, strangely, relations between the divine and the human have not always been easy. On the contrary they have been a motive, occasion and cause for tension, misunderstanding, difficulty, estrangement, and separation.

It's enough to think about this: the divine is translated, in public social experience, into the sacred. The human is translated, in public social experience, into the profane.

It is noteworthy that the sacred has always claimed to be above the profane. Having a more determining power than secular or civil power. Having authority, prestige, credibility, argumentation, etc., everything always above. From the moment things are put like this, tension is inevitably created.

Among other things because Jesus had all those things you've described. And he also had his human side. Of a person who was born, grew up, and lived in a family.

Of course, that's what's remarkable, because the gospels don't specifically emphasize that Jesus was a "holy or consecrated" person. We are used to celebrating the Feast of Christ, Eternal High Priest. Christ --  Jesus -- wasn't a priest. On the contrary, he came into conflict with the priests. And such a conflict, that the priests ended up killing him.

Defenders of the law and of the norm who are also here in our Church today.

Of course, because they couldn't stand him. They couldn't bear him and saw in him a menacing threat to their cause, their power, and their interests. That's why, yesterday, I stressed how the deep reason for Jesus' humanity is because it is in and through humanity that the divine is revealed to us Christians. Why? Because the divine is the transcendent. And the transcendent is not within our reach, we can't get to know it or know of it. This is possible because the divine -- the transcendent by definition -- is what is incommunicable with the immanent, with what is human. So, through what is human in Jesus, in him, we discover the divine.

I put forward yesterday, and I'll repeat them here because they seem eloquent to me, two texts from the Gospel of John. At the end of the prologue, in chapter 1, verse 18, we find: "No one has ever seen God." It's a way of saying that God is not within our reach. We can't know Him. His only son, that is, Jesus, is the one who has made Him known to us.

And even clearer and more eloquent, the text of chapter 14, after the Last Supper. In that farewell discourse, the apostle Philip suddenly interrupts Jesus and says, "Master, Lord, show us the Father. Show us God and that will be enough for us." And Jesus responds, "But Philip, you still don't know me?".

And I said last night, and I repeat, that if I had been there, I would have said, "Yes, I do know you; I'm not asking about you, but about God."

And Jesus continues, without heeding Philip, "Philip, whoever sees me is seeing God."

Therefore, Jesus is the revelation. The explicit manifestation of God. And seeing Jesus' humanity is how we see, find, and know God. This is the main argument of the book.

Someone could accuse you of denying the Trinity.

One thing has nothing to do with the other, because the Trinity thing is a later elaboration. In the New Testament it isn't clear, although it talks about the Father and the Son. But the title, Son of God (many people don't know this or don't take it into account), was an imperial title that the emperor Augustus adopted. The whole dynasty of the Antonines. They adopted the Son of God title as an imperial title. Hence, the title, applied to Jesus, doesn't mean that he was the son of God, as we understand it, of the same nature. It was an elaboration against Arius, in the 4th century, in the Council of Nicea.

In the end, in the Church, we have been laying on these types of elaboration by virtue of confrontations between different theological or thought currents. And we come to the twenty-first century, and in the end, the idea you might have of Jesus, maybe it doesn't look too much like the idea or the reality that those who knew Jesus experienced.

The one that many people have isn't -- nor can it be -- similar. Because in people, when mixing the divine and the human, the divine gains more force than the human. So, in a human image, they worship Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The most grotesque -- and I always tell this story -- is that I know of a very famous Jesuit, he died already many years ago, who was a great catechist and who was giving a class to the Jesuits themselves. He was explaining the story of Jesus walking on the sea at night, in search of the disciples, when the Gospel says they were frightened, and that Jesus told them, "Be not afraid, I am your Lord Jesus Christ."

That's nonsense -- How was he going to say of himself, "I am your Lord Jesus Christ"?

Moreover it would have frightened the disciples even more.

It was laughable. But it's that many people don't dare say the word "Jesus." There is something mysterious about this. Why the resistance? They speak of Christ, the Lord, Jesus Christ, our Lord Jesus Christ. But not Jesus.

It's a cultural issue. In fact, there are many countries where my name, Jesús, is practically never given to a child. And evidently, Jesus Christ -- I think there must be very few people or any in the world who are named that. But I think the term, in some cultures, is almost prohibited. As if it were something irreverent.

Or that distills a certain mysterious reverence. For example, I have thought a great deal about blasphemy against the Virgin, against God, against Christ, even against sacred objects -- the host, the pyx, the pallium ... all this. Against Jesus, I have never heard a blasphemy.

And to what is this due -- that those who don't believe see him as a model and to those of us who believe, he frightens us because we don't know how to define him well or can't understand him?

Jesus is a reality that impresses us, but at the same time he's so close, so human, so like us, and so much like what we need ...

Yesterday they asked me, "But what did Jesus' humanity consist of?".

Well, being a Jew, a Galilean, from a poor and humble village in those days (now it's a more important city), who one fine day left his home, left his family, and went off to hear John the Baptist. He got in the line of those who were going to be baptized -- those who John the Baptist called a brood of vipers, he received the baptism and had an inspiration there. He felt something. He experienced something that made him see many things that we neither see nor comprehend, nor can we see or comprehend them.

Then he began to work. And to what did he devote himself? He didn't put up a spirituality center or a house of formation, he didn't set up an office of spiritual direction or create a chair in Theology. None of that. It simply says that when he was aware that they had killed John the Baptist, he went to Galilee, where John had been killed, where the danger was. Where there were movements in which those who ended up being the Zealots some years later were beginning to rise up against the domination of the empire there. But he didn't start to fight against Rome, in that sense. Jesus was convinced that the truly crucial thing wasn't changing the rulers but changing the ruled.

Make us protagonists, co-participants and co-responsible.

And that we, by changing, would take responsibility for the situation we have, for why we have it, and for what we want. Let us be clear.

For example, it draws my attention that when it was announced to Jesus that Herod had beheaded John the Baptist, Jesus didn't organize a demonstration or go out with signs...

Or go to Herod's palace.

Or to the Great Square of Jerusalem, or of any other city. Nor when they announced to Jesus that Pilate had beheaded some Galileans while they were making a religious sacrifice that had to be in the temple, did Jesus tell them, "Pilate is a scoundrel," "This is exploitation," "We're oppressed, we have to rise up"...Jesus said to them, "All of you, since you haven't changed, you're going to end up the same."

Jesus paid his taxes knowing they were unjust. I know there are people with a leftist social mentality who get nervous when they hear this, they feel bad. But I have to say it, first, because it's in the Gospel. And I have opted for the Gospel for many other more private, more personal, deeper reasons that I'm not going to be explaining here. But there's something that does give me a lot to think about. And it's that you can see that the economy, as it's working, doesn't fix this world; rather, on the contrary, it's making us worse off every year. There's more distance between rich and poor. And more and more poor.

The economy doesn't fix this. Politics doesn't fix it either, because it's in the hands of the economy. And if the economy doesn't fix it, politics does it even less. There has to be another force, another mechanism, another system. And I haven't found one other than the one I read about in the Gospel.

And they'll tell me, "Well, we're fixed, now we'll all go to Church for the priest to tell us the Gospel." That's not it! The priest is the first one who needs to change and convert to the Gospel because the Gospel -- and pay attention to this -- isn't primarily a religion book. It's a life project.

Jesus' life project, and a model of values to build society and build the kingdom, here too.

Obviously. And in that is Jesus' humanity. Jesus was convinced that it was by becoming deeply human, that we would, first, fix this world and second, become more divine.

Now Christmas is coming. When I was a child they taught me a phrase that has always stayed with me because I think it's a great truth -- I don't know what you'll think -- that God became man so that we men might be a little more of God.

It's a conventional phrase that's very good. But the reality is that Jesus becomes human so that we will all be more human. Even God had to humanize himself to fix this world.

And what's that? A symptom of God's weakness or a sign of love -- recognizing that something has become bad and that He has to send His son -- or however we want to call him -- so that the whole world might truly believe?

We see that religion as such, the religious factor as such, consists of beliefs, and especially of some rituals, which is the oldest part of the religious factor, and some rules. All around the sacred.

The divine is more complicated because we mustn't forget (many people don't know this, can't imagine it or expect it), that God is a very late product in the history of the religious factor. He's among the last to appear. Such that if homo sapiens, human beings, are some 100,000 years old, there have been vestiges of rituals since the beginning. For some 90,000 years, probably, rituals have been functioning.

Without God figuring in.

The God thing is very late. He appears, I don't know, 10-, 12- or 15,000 years before Christ.

But as a feeling of something higher, not someone?

There was a higher reality that slowly became outlined. Because, of course, since God is transcendent and is not within our reach, what we do is picture that ultimate reality.

And is representing him as a single figure against polytheism an evolution?

No. Polytheism is a different way of representing God. Specialized gods -- some in illnesses, others in calamities. But they are human representations. They are all human representations.

How has Jesus come to the 21st century? How is he understood? And all this, has it been thanks to, or despite the Church?

The Church thing was an organizing system that was established after Jesus died.

And that's where the other side, Paul's, comes from.

Jesus didn't found the Church. Nor did he found the clergy, or the priests, or any of that. It's not mentioned. All that began to take shape and function starting with Paul, who is the first about whom we have data that he made this work. He was founding CHURCHES [in Spanish "IGLESIAS"]. It's remarkable that they adopted that word that came from the Greek.


The ekklesia was a political institution the Greeks invented. It was a democratic assembly to make decisions. What happens, is that such as the Greeks experienced it, it was very restricted. Because women were excluded, slaves, children, and young people too. The participants in the ekklesia were very few in the Greek political culture.

But it's remarkable that the Christians, when they started to get together, instead of taking a religious name, adopted a political name -- ekklesia.

And they were doing it constantly, because the figure of the bishop, the diocese, all those terms...

Are civil names. An episkopos was an overseer. A presbyteros was a senator. However, the New Testament doesn't use the word "priest." Ever.

The word does appear with the representatives of the temple. With the Jewish priests.

Sure, it's applied to the pagans or the Jewish priests of the temple. But to the Christians, never.

I want to clarify two things that it's important that I not leave out. It's about the humanity of Jesus. How his fundamental concern was not a "religious" concern, but a "secular" one. What he cared about and why.

First and foremost, health. Something that concerns us all. Hence the amount of stories of healings.

Everybody asks: Did Jesus perform miracles? We can't know because it's a literary genre of that time to explain that he cared about people. About those who were suffering. And when he would see a person suffering, he would remedy that if he could. Because he went to his town, to Nazareth, and the Gospel of Mark says that he couldn't perform any miracle there. And why? Well, because they didn't believe and he always attributed the healing to faith -- "Your faith has healed you."

And second, he worried about the suffering because of the lack of food and of means of living.

Which leads to coexistence in community, because almost all meals or meetings with people, have an agape. And that leads us to think later of the Eucharist itself.

On almost all occasions, Jesus appears eating or healing people who were suffering from illnesses. They are stories that are repeated constantly.

And Jesus' third concern: human relations -- "Get along well", "Know how to forgive", "Understand one another", "Bear with each other", "Accommodate one another", "Know how to please each other", "Spread happiness to the people who live with you."

This is precisely the message that is contained in the Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, which is possibly the most universal of all, and the seed of other declarations that have been made throughout history, including the Declaration of Human Rights.

Obviously, because that leads us immediately as you've said to two issues that are wholly fundamental and that today are very absent, unfortunately.

On the one hand is the problem of corruption and it's that money, the eagerness for money and the power it has, has turned us all around. It has upset the coexistence, the politics and organization of society. Nobody trusts anybody. It's a terrible thing, and then we want to solve it with charity and beneficence. Which is necessary, of course, if there are people who are hungry. But it's also true that if you ask someone "What do you live on?" and he answers, "Well, I live on charity," that's humiliation. It's humiliating to live on charity. What people want is to earn their living and their money honestly. And to have dignity.

And second, the issue of human rights. Human rights assumes equality in dignity and in rights in the first article. We have created a society proclaiming human rights and creating more inequality at all levels and in every possible arena. This is such a strong, such a determining contradiction.

I want to stress something I said last night in my lecture and that I'll repeat here: a person who is responsible for this being thus and who, therefore, is the cause of suffering, can not believe in God.

The rulers we have, who know that the decisions they're making cause suffering, can not believe in God no matter how much they go to Mass, and no matter how much they belong to respectable institutions. The religious, the bishops and priests, the laypeople...All sorts of people who through their behavior, their conduct, their silence, are responsible for the fact that there are so many people suffering, can not believe in God. They believe in the representation of God they have made because it suits them.

And because it helps them to justify their actions or their ideas.

Right. That's it.

The core of the issue is reduced to that. Also to stress one thing that Professor Reyes Mate picked up from the book: that the determinant of God is mercy. Not mercy towards sin, but towards suffering. The blissful history of sin and the importance of sin, we owe to St. Paul.

Have we sacralized sin?


Have we made it more important than suffering?

It has been made more important than suffering. And to avoid sin and punish sinners, much suffering is caused and much violence is generated.

In that sense, I suppose the Pope would agree with you. He's getting brickbats for trying to open, even minimally, the field of mercy to families in special circumstances, so to speak. Or to women who have had to have abortions, or conflict situations. Brickbats are raining down on him from all sides, strangely from within the Church itself.

Which is exactly what happened to Jesus. The most religious, the most observant people, those most of the temple, were the ones who persecuted him the most and they didn't stop their persecution until they killed him. Well, the same thing is being repeated today, it goes on today.

With the difference that Francis -- and we're very pro-Francis here -- is still part of an institution that still accepts some issues as untouchable facts.

I'm very pro-Francis. They ask why he doesn't change more positions and why he doesn't suppress certain classes, or why he doesn't make certain decisions...

If I were in his skin, I might see that I had to do the same. Because the whole setup that is the Vatican State and everything in there is much more complex and more difficult to clean up and solve than we imagine.

We shouldn't envy him, as they say in my town.

In any way. And in that sense, I see that Francis is a man for whom the Gospel and Jesus' humanity is central, in which I think the future of the solution is. And if this approach doesn't work, it's because we're the ones who don't believe.

That we're afraid of returning to Jesus, taking away all the supposed support we have around us. Going back to Jesus has to be very complicated -- interpreting Jesus, understanding Jesus and experiencing him here. It's what you also said yesterday, that the true believers are those who try to live as Jesus would live.

Right, as he would live today. And that is what I think Francis is trying to do. He is doing what he can. Sometimes even being indiscreet, for example, in his way of expressing himself. Some have accused him of that, and sometimes they're right -- some phrases, especially, that have some validity in Latin America that they don't have here. Or a meaning that they don't have here. But I think the path goes there. And what gives me more hope, because he's of an advanced age now and his pontificate can't last very long, is that if this change that has taken place in the papacy keeps up and continues onward, the Church, in a few years, will be more different than we can imagine.

We trust in that and we trust that we will all look a little more like Jesus. To start now, when we finish the interview, we'll do the three things you said: We'll care about our health, we'll foment human relationships, and we'll eat. What do you think, José María?


We'll tell you the results of this meal. "La humanidad de Jesús" by José María Castillo, published by Trotta. It's always a genuine pleasure, you know. And we're glad to see you so well, so active, and so content.

And we'll go on.

Spreading that joy. Many thanks.

Thanks to you for the good you're doing, which is huge.

We try to. May we never lack support like yours to go on doing it and carrying it forward. Thanks.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas in spite of everything

By Victor Codina (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cristianisme i Justícia Blog
December 23, 2016

For a long time, in the bosom of the Christian people, very critical voices have risen up about Christmas -- the orgy of consumption, frantic purchase of gifts, food and drink, the chubby Santa Claus seeming to marginalize the Infant Jesus, carols being used as commercial propaganda, the Tree supplanting the manger, city lights having become marketing and a tourist attraction, there is leadership by people and institutions in charitable works at Christmastime... Christmas has become a solstice party ...

And all this as if in a bubble of well-being, on the margins of a world of violence and poverty, refugees and wars, with the heart anesthetized to the suffering of others.

True Christmas is different. What has happened is what is said of ants who, to be able to store wheat, cut off its germinal point. The West has tamed and perverted Christmas; it has ripped out its gospel nerve. All this is true and must be denounced prophetically. This bourgeois style of Christmas is the very opposite of the first Christmas. Today, Jesus is born again in Aleppo and Haiti, in the migrant and refugee camps of Lesbos and Lampedusa, in the victims of the Berlin bombing, in the new Christian martyrs of Egypt and the Middle East.

But what if, in spite of everything, the Christmas feast were to keep the mysterious light of Bethlehem on, because the darkness can never overcome the light? That families get together and often reconcile at Christmas, gifts to the little ones, especially the poor children, visits to prisons, hospitals and nursing homes, mangers in churches and families, a truce, sometimes, in the wars ... are these not a sign that, in spite of everything, the light and warmth of Christmas still linger amid the embers of so many ashes? Where does this sudden goodness that floods our hearts and sometimes our eyes these days spring from? No doubt this goodness is born from the manger of Bethlehem, the Child, the shepherds and angels who sing peace. And we also remember the old biblical prophecies that proclaim a new world, where the wolf and the lamb will graze together and a child will play with the serpent. The spirit of Christmas is never completely extinguished.

Because Christmas is not just a memory of the past but God the Father's plan for humankind -- a dream of filiation and fraternity, harmony and peace, love especially towards the least and marginalized. It is up to each and every one of us to make Christmas every day of the year so that the grain of gospel wheat does not lose its germinal power and produces true fruit. That is why, in spite of everything and in the midst of these ambiguities, Merry Christmas, the real one!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas in times of Herod

By Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
LeonardoBoff.com (em português)
December 20, 2016

This year's Christmas will be different from other Christmases. It is usually the feast of family fellowship. For Christians, it is the celebration of the Divine Child who came to take on our humanity and make it better.

In the present context, however, in his place has appeared the figure of the terrible Herod the Great (73 BC- 4 BC), linked to the slaughter of the innocent. Zealous for his power, he heard that in his kingdom, Judea, a child-king was born. That's when he ordered all boys under two years old to be slaughtered (Mt 2:16). Then we hear some of the most painful words in the Bible: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation; Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more." (Mt 2:18)

This story of the murder of innocents continues in another way. The ultracapitalist policies imposed by the current government -- taking away rights, lowering wages, cutting basic social benefits such as health care, education, safety, pensions, and freezing for 20 years the possibilities for development -- have resulted in a perverse and slow slaughter of innocents from the large and poor majority of our country.

The legislators are not unfamiliar with the lethal consequences stemming from the decision to consider the market more important than people.

Within a few years, we will have a super-rich class (today they are 71,440, according to IPEA, therefore 0.05% of the population), a middle class frightened by the risk of losing their status and millions of poor people and pariahs who will go from poverty to destitution. This means starving children who die from undernutrition and absolutely preventable diseases, elderly people who no longer get their medicines and access to public health, doomed to die before their time. This slaughter has those responsible for it. Most of the current legislators of the so-called "death PEC ["Proposta de Emenda Constitucional" - "Proposed Constitutional Amendment"]" can not be exempt from the stain of being the current Herods of the Brazilian people.

The moneyed and privileged elites were able to return. Supported by corrupt parliamentarians, with their backs to the people and deaf to the clamor of the streets, and by a coalition of forces that involves vigilante judges, the Public Ministry, the Military Police and part of the Judiciary and the corporate, reactionary and putschist media, not without the backing of an imperial power interested in our wealth, they forged the removal of President Rousseff. The real engine of the coup is financial capital, banks and rentiers (not affected by fiscal adjustment policies).

Political scientist Jessé Souza rightly denounces, "Brazil is the scene of a dispute between two projects: the dream of a big and powerful country for the majority, and the reality of a predatory elite that wants to drain everyone's work and plunder the country's riches for the pockets of half a dozen. The money elite rules by the simple fact that it can "buy" all the other elites."(FSP [Folha de São Paulo] 4/16/2016).

The sad thing is to realize that this whole process of plunder is a consequence of the old politics of conciliation between the owners of money among themselves and with governments, which has been in existence since the time of the Colony and Independence. Lula-Dilma were not able or failed to overcome the fine art of this dominant minority who, on the pretext of governability, seeks conciliation between themselves and with the rulers, granting some benefits to the people at the price of keeping the nature of their process of wealth accumulation at very high levels untouched.

Historian José Honório Rodrigues, who has thoroughly studied class conciliation always with backs turned on the people, rightly affirms: "The national leadership, in its successive generations, has always been anti-reformist, elitist and personalistic ... The art of stealing practiced by these minorities and not by the people, is noble and ancient. The people don't rob, they are robbed ... The people are cordial, the oligarchy is cruel and pitiless...; the great success of the history of Brazil is its people and great disappointment is its leadership."(Conciliação e Reforma no Brasil ["Conciliation and Reform in Brazil"], 1965, pp. 114,119).

We are experiencing the repetition of this evil tradition, from which we will never be liberated without the strengthening of an anti-power, coming from below, capable of overthrowing this perverse clique and establishing another type of state, with another type of republican politics, where the common good is imposed over private and corporate good.

Christmas this year is a Christmas under the sign of Herod. Nonetheless, we believe that the Divine Child is the liberating Messiah and the Star is generous to show us better ways.

Leonardo Boff has written Natal: o sol da esperança, Mar de Ideias, Rio, 2007.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Latin American Prelates and Theologians Remember Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, the retired cardinal archbishop of Sao Paulo, died this week at age 95. He was well known as a staunch defender of human rights, even facing down Brazil's military dictatorship. Here are some of the tributes that have come in (English translations as needed by Rebel Girl):

Pope Francis (in Spanish):

I receive with great sadness the news of the death of our venerated brother, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns. I express also to the auxiliary bishops, the clergy, the religious communities and the faithful of the archdiocese of São Paulo, as well as to the family of the deceased, my condolences for the passing of this intrepid pastor who in his ecclesial ministry revealed himself to be an authentic witness of the Gospel amid his people, showing to all the path of truth in charity and in service to the community, in constant attention to the most disadvantaged.

I thank the Lord for having given the Church such a generous pastor, and raise fervent prayers that God may grant eternal joy to this good and faithful servant of His. I convey to the archdiocesan community that mourns the loss of its beloved pastor, to the Church of Brazil, which found in him a sure point of reference, and those who share in this hour of sadness that announces the resurrection, the comfort of my Apostolic Blessing.

Dom Pedro Casaldáliga (in Spanish):

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, a fraternal protector on the journey!

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns, at the end of a long journey presents himself to us as a pluralistic prophet who had timely words in all sectors of society as a Franciscan bishop confronting injustice, comforting the poor, denouncing and announcing.

A prophet of our America who was able to respond to all appeals, in favor of human rights, living the Gospel in ecumenical dialogue in the various situations of life he had to take on.

The Prelature of São Félix do Araguaia owes a huge debt to Dom Paulo and he will continue to be a fraternal protector on the road.

Leonardo Boff (in Spanish):

Farewell to an endearing friend of the poor and of liberation theologians

These were the words read to the people at the Mass before the burial of Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns on Friday in the Cathedral of São Paulo.

Dear confrère, friend of the poor and my friend, teacher and promoter of my life as a theologian, Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns.

Dying is not dying. It is responding to a call from God. God has called you and you have gone contentedly to meet Him. There, I am sure, you will have met thousands of poor people, refugees, tortured and assassinated people whom you defended and protected and for whom you came to risk your own life.

I will never forget the time in Petrópolis at the beginning of the 1960s when together on weekends we would perform ministry on the margins in the barrio of Itamarati, your love for the poor on the hillsides, your affection towards the children.

I will never stop thanking you for the courage with which you stood up for liberation theology and myself in the dialogue we had with then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger immediately after the interrogation to which I was subjected in Rome. In my presence, and jointly with Cardinal Dom Aloysio Lorscheider, you stated that the theology we theologians were doing in favor of the poor and with them was good for the communities and represented an asset of the local church that ought to be supported by its pastors. That is how you justified your presence in Rome.

You always encouraged and supported me in my theological activity. Until now I have kept, like a sacrament, the note you left in my hand before I boarded the boat that took me to study in Europe.

"Dear confrère Fray Leonardo, I want you to know this: We want to give you the best because the Church in Brazil needs the best. You also know that you have been sent in the name of God. Live and study because of Him and for Him.
Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum, in vanum laborant qui aedificant eam." -- "If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do the builders labor."

I want to be faithful for the time remaining to me to this mandate of useful work in the service of faith and the liberation of the suffering of this world, the safeguarding of life and the protection of Mother Earth.

If it is true what the poet says that "dying is closing one's eyes to see better," then now, dear Dom Paulo, you will be seeing God, whom you always served, face to face, participating in the fiesta with all the liberated and the blessed in Heaven.

With all my prayers before the Lord, and with fond memories, I ask that from there with the Father and Mother of goodness, you look upon us all and help us follow the luminous example you have left us.

Your old pupil and friend
Leonardo Boff
Petrópolis, December 15, 2016.

Frei Betto (in Portuguese)

The man who didn't know fear

January 20, 1970. Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns finally got permission to visit the Dominican brothers incarcerated in Tiradentes Prison in São Paulo. A Franciscan, the auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Agnelo Rossi was responsible for Prison Ministry. Before the director of the prison, we told the prelate about our arrests, torture, interrogations and the threats we had received.

October 21, 1970. Pope Paul VI declared that the method of torture was spreading throughout the world like an epidemic, without referring directly to Brazil. He mentioned, however, "a big country" in which "torture, that is, cruel and inhumane police means to extort confessions from prisoners" was being used. He added that such means "should be openly condemned."

October 22, 1970. On deplaning at Guarulhos, coming from Rome, Cardinal Agnelo Rossi, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), declared that "religious persecution doesn't exist in Brazil and, yes, there is a defamation campaign being directed from outside against the Brazilian government." According to the cardinal, when condemning torture, the pope wasn't referring to Brazil. In the afternoon of the same day, Dom Rossi was dismissed by the Vatican from the Archbishopric of São Paulo and named prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples in Rome. In the same act, the pope named Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns to succeed him at the head of the Archdiocese of Sao Paulo.

October 23, 1970. In Tiradentes Prison, we received a visit from Dom Paulo. He granted us the honor of his first pastoral visit as the new archbishop. From there he left for the retreat that preceded his inauguration, on November 1, 1970.

November 21, 1970. We were woken up at six in the morning for Dom Paulo's visit. He had come to celebrate with us in Tiradentes Prison. The altar, an empty apple crate, the chalice, an American cup, the church, a narrow cell, the faithful, mostly prisoners.

January 1971. Dom Paulo denounced the arrest of Father Giulio Vicini and pastoral agent Yara Spadini. Found with protest manifestos against the death of the worker Raimundo Eduardo da Silva who had been taken to the Military Hospital available to law enforcement authorities, they were tortured in the DEOPS [Brazilian Department of Social and Political Order]. The archbishop invaded the division and was able to see the two, who showed him the marks of their abuse. Outraged, he ordered posted in all the parishes of the archdiocese a note in defense of the prisoners and denunciation of the tortures they had suffered.

May 5, 1971. At the Palace of Planalto, General Médici received Dom Paulo, who told him about cases of torture. The dictator, with his characteristic harshness, didn't back down and reiterated: "They exist and will continue because they are necessary. And let the Church not get involved, because the next step will be the arrest of bishops ..."

December 23, 1971. In the afternoon, during visiting hours, Dom Paulo went to Tiradentes Prison. He went around to every one of the cells. We gave him a big leather cross -- the Jail Commendation -- pyrographed with verses of the Gospel, excerpts of the Document of Medellín, and the names of all the assassinated revolutionaries. We engraved: "The Good Shepherd is he who lays down his life for his sheep."

May 22, 1972. Dom Paulo, our mediator in the collective hunger strike, was in the State Penitentiary, where we were mixed with the common prisoners. We were not allowed to see him. According to the director, we could only talk to the lawyers. However, we learned that the archbishop warned him that it has been historically proven that measures of prison isolation usually precede physical elimination ...

In a meeting with Judge Nelson Guimarães of the Military Court, the archbishop questioned him: "Do you know that you are responsible for the life of the prisoners?" The hearing judge nodded: "I take responsibility if they die." Dom Paulo replied: "My son, you take it two or three days. Then you don't take it any more. Your conscience begins to torment you. And what accounting will you give to yourself and to God?" The judge replied with his head bowed, "You're right."

Vladimir Herzog committed suicide. Dom Paulo decided to celebrate a solemn Mass in the Metropolitan Cathedral [of Sao Paulo] in tribute to him. Jews who supported the dictatorship tried to move the cardinal: "Why a Mass for Herzog? He was Jewish!." Dom Paulo responded, "Jesus was too."

Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns was one of the bravest men I have known. Imbued with the faith that characterized his patron and model, Francis of Assisi, he never thought of his own success. His life devoted to his neighbor, was brought to the public, with rich detail, in the work "
Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns — um homem amado e perseguido" ["Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns — a beloved and persecuted man"] by Evanize Sydow and Marilda Ferri.

If the history of Brazil's independence can not ignore Tiradentes, or the ecological movement, Chico Mendes, or the resistance to the dictatorship that governed us for 21 years, it is largely due to the unique figure of Dom Paulo. The same loving care that St. Francis devoted to the poor and to nature, Dom Paulo extended to the victims of repression.

The book
"Brasil: Nunca mais" ["Brazil: Never again"] is an irrefutable radiography of the dictatorship, thanks to the initiative of Dom Paulo and Pastor Jaime Wright, who promoted an inquest into the archives of the Military Justice. They analyzed the content of more than one million pages of political trials. Amnesty still prevents torturers from paying for their crimes. But, thanks to these two ministers, state terrorism and the suffering of thousands of victims will not be erased from the Brazilian memory.

Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns prayed with his life the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, adapted to our times: "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is...repression and poverty, let me bring freedom and justice."

Eduardo de la Serna (in Spanish)

A prophet walked among us!

On February 12, 1992, I was in Rome looking for material for my doctorate. On the advice of Orlando Yorio I went to live in the house that the Brazilian Episcopate had there for its priests, but that is also open to priests of other nationalities (Pio Brasilero College). There, as well as making good friends, I was able to meet many Brazilian bishops when they came to Rome for some business, meeting (or lobbying). They would stay there.

I'm pointing out February 12th because it's my birthday and on that very day Paulo Evaristo Arns was visiting and he came by my room to greet me. It's the only time in my life that I saw that "monument" of a bishop.

There he told me that when he began with the group Clamor (to the best of my knowledge the first Human Rights organization that received information about and denounced Rights violations in Argentina), he received a letter from Cardinal Primatesta, then president of the Argentine Bishops Conference. In the letter, the Argentine cardinal told him to abstain from meddling in the affairs of another particular church. Notable contrast between two cardinals! A compassionate father, firm fighter and defender of the victims, a prophet and, on the other hand, an accomplice in pain and suffering, a friend of dictators, a voice that was silent in the face of death and killers! A notable contrast! I knew other things about the Argentine cardinal too that aren't worth recalling here, in fact I don't know who mourned his passing (maybe some business accomplice, for example). Looking at history from the victims, an enormous gulf opens up between these two personalities now that each one "remains" (by their own choice) on one side. My grateful memory goes to that great Franciscan who yesterday passed into the fullness of Life; the others, though they enjoy the timorous silence of their "younger brothers," will pass into the history of shame. Simply that.

Many years later I went to a theology conference in Brazil and I wanted specifically to go into the Sao Paulo cathedral to render homage to this great man. He was already retired and in poor health. Even his sister had died in Haiti, also fighting for the lives of the poor and the victims. But I wanted to go in to see the "
cathedra" from whence the Word of God resounded for our suffering times. On the right of the great altar was the Virgin of Aparecida, the Jesuit José de Anchieta, the founding saint of Sao Paulo, and on the other side,Josemaría Escrivá de Balaguer, the founder of Opus Dei. Something had changed! A lot! I celebrated the fact that Dom Paulo Evaristo's illness did not allow him to see that. At the same time I was concerned when Cardinal Archbishop Odilio Pedro Scherer, from that city, "rang out" among the papabile. They were the palpable fruits of "the Church that John Paul bequeathed to us."

Dom Paulo: Thank you! and Pardon! Simply this. You will remain in the memory of the Holy Fathers of the Latin American Church; you will go on being an icon of hope.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Teresa Forcades "Faith and Freedom": Book and 2017 Forum

Sr. Teresa Forcades, the Benedictine nun from Barcelona who is both a medical doctor and a theologian, has published her first book in English, Faith and Freedom (Polity Books, 2016). Available in hardcover, paperback, and various electronic formats, the book organizes Forcades' reflections on a variety of topics around the monastic day and Liturgy of the Hours, as follows:

the biblical genesis and the Enuma Elish / creation vs. emanation / tzimtzum and perichorese / Augustine's notion of freedom

liberation theology / the case of Guatemala / a critique of capitalism / my political experience

public health systems / privatization and the WHO / the undue influence of pharmaceutical companies / medicalization

my experience of femininity and of feminism / the mother as object of desire / sexism in today's society / feminist theology

Chapter 5 - VESPERS: FAITH
faith and reason / the gospel of Judas / Gertrude of Helfta / María Jesús of Ágreda

the testimony of a monastic sister / Lacan's subject vs. the Christian person / Jesus' parables / forgiveness and freedom

Two of Forcades' prominent British theological colleagues have reviewed the text, Dr. Tina Beattie opining that Forcades "offers a lucid and inspiring reflection on the mutually enriching relationship between contemplation and action, the spiritual and the political, faith and feminism," and Dr. Sarah Coakley adding that the nun "combines fearless intellectual analysis, radical resistance to injustice, and an unwavering commitment to the mystery and power of Christian forgiveness."

The new book is also the structuring element for a forum Sr. Teresa will be offering next year in Canada. Scheduled for March 31 - April 1, 2017, the Canadian Forum on Theology and Education will take place in Oakville, a suburb of Toronto. Sr. Teresa is the only presenter. Details are available on the Forum's website and Facebook page, but the essential information is as follows:

Date: 3/31/2017 - 4/1/2017

Place: St. Volodymyr Cultural Center, 1280 Dundas Street West, Oakville Ontario L6M 4H9

Registration: $220 includes parking, brunch, dinner, wine and cheese on March 31st, and parking, breakfast, refreshment break, and lunch on April 1st.

Housing: The Forum has arranged special pricing with two local hotels - $123.17/night

For more information: Contact John Quinn at johnquinn@cfotae.ca or 905-934-9115

Last year, the Forum featured Forcades' fellow Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittister OSB and Diarmuid O'Murchu MSC. Past presenters have also included Fr. Michael Crosby OFM and Kenneth L. Parker.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Christmas 2016 - New Year 2017

By Pedro Casaldáliga (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
December 1, 2016

Que sea Navidad, la verdadera.
Las barbas crecidas y blancas,
y los supermercados del consumismo,
deben quedar al margen.

Y nosotros debemos plantarnos en medio del egoísmo
y negarnos a la profecía absurda,
para abrir espacio al llanto y al canto de la solidaridad
y al grito de los pequeños y excluidos.

Que sea verdad todo lo que decimos en la liturgia y el folclore.
Que sea una Navidad de las raíces de Belén,
el Misterio de la Encarnación llamándonos a hacer Reino cada día.

Que sea Navidad, que no nos perdamos la Navidad.

Let it be Christmas, the real one.
The long white beards
and the supermarkets of consumerism
should be left aside.

And we must stand in the midst of selfishness
and refuse the absurd prophecy
to make room for the sobs and songs of solidarity
and the cry of the least and the excluded.

Let everything we say in liturgy and folklore be true.

Let it be a Christmas from the roots of Bethlehem,
the Mystery of the Incarnation calling us to build the Kingdom every day.

Let it be Christmas, let us not lose Christmas.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Women deacons and subordinates

By Juan José Tamayo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Periódico
September 28, 2016

Pope Francis has created a commission, formed by six men and six women and presided by the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Spanish archbishop Luis Ladaria Ferrer, to study the female diaconate in the Catholic Church. Four continents have been excluded from the commission -- Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania. There are 12 European members and one woman from the United States.

My opinion is that it is a commission as unnecessary as it is ineffective. Unnecessary because the study has already been done by exegetes, men and women theologians, and historians of Christianity. The conclusions have broad consensus among the researchers: Jesus of Nazareth formed a counter-hegemonic egalitarian movement of men and women who accompanied him along the roads of Galilee, sharing his itinerant lifestyle and assuming responsibilities with no discrimination whatsoever.

In the first centuries of Christianity there were women priests, deacons and bishops who exercised ministerial functions and leadership tasks until the Church became hierarchical, clericalized, and patriarchal and they were reduced to silence. Theologian Karen Torjesen's book, When Women Were Priests (HarperCollins, 1995) demonstrates it with all kinds of arguments -- archaeological, historical, theological, hermeneutical. The commission seems ineffective to me if the will is lacking to incorporate women into leadership roles, into direct access to the sacred without patriarchal mediation, and into the elaboration of doctrine and morals. And that will is lacking today. I am referring to the facts. In his encyclical, Inter Insigniores, Pope Paul VI shut and bolted the door to women's access to priestly ministry, alleging that Jesus Christ only ordained men.

His successors have repeated this very fallacious argument like a mantra. John Paul II, advised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, radicalized that closure by stating that the matter was settled definitively. Benedict XVI, knowledgeable as the theologian he was, about the existence of women deacons, priests and bishops in early Christianity, showed himself equally obstinate and followed the same path of obstruction to the priesthood of women. Pope Francis has ratified it again by citing John Paul II's forceful exclusionary statement.


I am against the female diaconate because, if it is put in place institutionally, women would continue to be subordinate and at the service of the priests and bishops, not of the Christian community. I think it's time to move from the subordination of women to equality, from their submission to empowerment, from their dependency status to autonomy, from being decorative objects to active players. And that is not what is achieved with the female diaconate, but the opposite -- women's status as minors continues under the illusion that an important step forward is being taken and that they are being given prominence, when what is being done is perpetuating their state of humiliation and servitude. For a real change in the inferior status of women to occur, they need to be recognized as religious, ecclesial, ethical and theological players, which isn't happening now.

For that to happen it is necessary to look to the past, certainly, but not with the yearning to uncritically reproduce tradition, but rather with the aim to creatively recover the role that women played in Jesus' movement and in the early centuries of the Church. But, above all, we must look to the present and future to implement within the Church the principle of gender equality and non-discrimination that rules, however imperfectly, in society. One man, one woman, one vote; one Christian man, one Christian woman, one vote. All are equal through the common dignity that we men and women have, and that makes Christian men and women equal through baptism.

Any gender discrimination is contrary to human rights and the principle of brotherhood-sisterhood that should rule in the faiths. Without equality, the Church will continue to be one of the last -- if not the last -- bastions of patriarchy remaining in the world. In other words, it will remain a perfect patriarchy. And for that, it will not be able to appeal to Jesus of Nazareth, its founder, but to religious patriarchy, based on sacred masculinity, which appeals to the manly character of God to make man the only representative and spokesman of the Divine. As the feminist philosopher Mary Daly states,"If God is male, then the male is God." Pure patriarchy!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Message of the 36th Theology Congress of the Asociación Teólogica Juan XXIII

Asociación Teólogica Juan XXIII (English translation by Rebel Girl)

From September 8th to 11th, 2016, we held the 36th Theology Congress which brought together people and groups from different continents, peoples, cultures, and religions to reflect on the subject "Migrants, refugees, and borders: From exclusion to hospitality." Social activists involved in the refugee camps and border areas participated in it, bringing their experiences. Representatives of oppressed and neglected peoples joined us. We had specialists in international relations, migratory processes, human trafficking, gender theory, as well as men and women theologians who gave critical analyses of the situation and offered liberating interpretations of the religious texts.

1. In the world, there are 200 million migrants, 60 million displaced persons -- 2 million of them refugees and 40 million internally displaced, and 4 million victims of trafficking. The most vulnerable people are the boys, girls, women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, intersex persons, submitted to all sorts of indignities: sexual harassment, physical assaults, human trafficking, organ trafficking, forced labor, prostitution, gender violence. They are nameless and faceless people without any recognized identity. They experience social, political, moral and legal solitude. They are denied dignity and the right to life, as is demonstrated by the thousands of people who have died in the legitimate attempt to cross borders.

 2. In Pope Francis' words, these people are considered "surplus population," product of the "throw-away culture" that makes us incapable of feeling compassion before the cries of others. They are victims of a system based on the Money God, of perverse capitalism, and Mafia-like capital accumulation. Those who benefit from this situation are a political, economic, patriarchal, colonial, racist and anti-environmental elite who set in motion three big businesses: security, the political economy of migration, and the management of people in movement.

 3. Despite the discrimination they suffer, immigrant, refugee and displaced women have shown a great capacity for resistance, resilience, and empowerment.

 4. The welcoming countries are mostly the countries of the south, while most of those in the north have closed and bolted their doors. They protect their borders with fences, concertina wire, police and military force, denying the right to asylum. They follow mistaken security policies, do not comply with international protocols and their own commitments, and don't demonstrate the will to be welcoming.

5. The lack of solidarity of the Northern governments contrasts with the solidarity shown by an important part of society that is adopting attitudes of hospitality, and with the work of the social movements, non-governmental organizations, and cooperating individuals, who are working together in the refugee camps and on the borders.

6. Pope Francis is adopting exemplary attitudes of accompaniment and welcome, at the same time as he is denouncing the hypocrisy of the European rulers and economic and financial powers. Addressing them during his visit to Lampedusa, he uttered the word "shame." He told the European parliamentarians that it was intolerable that the Mediterranean was becoming a vast cemetery and that those who arrive daily on our shores are being denied welcome, often dying in the attempt in the barges. To act this way is to deny their dignity and favor slave labor.

7. The pope's hospitable attitude contrasts with the insensitivity of an important sector of the Spanish Catholic hierarchy towards the tragedy of migrants and refugees, whose problems seem to be alien to them and not a priority on their pastoral agenda. In addition to insensitivity, there are bishops who, acting under a misuse of freedom of expression, adopt racist, xenophobic, exclusionary and inhospitable attitudes when they irresponsibly warn of the refugee "invasion", question whether all people who cross the border are "squeaky clean" and state that few are coming to Europe because they are being persecuted. One even said that the arrival of the refugees is the Trojan Horse of European societies and, specifically, the Spanish one, and that welcoming refugees could look very good, but "you have to know what's behind it."

These statements are made from legal impunity and the enjoyment of all kinds of privileges from the state -- educational, social, fiscal, economic, financial. Privileges that distance them from the Gospel as the liberating message of Jesus of Nazareth.

8. We want to energetically denounce such declarations that show a total absence of mercy and a lack of sense of hospitality. They are far from the hospitable message of the Bible which asks us to love migrants, not abuse or oppress them "because you were migrants in the land of Egypt" (Ex. 22:21) and they are contrary to the welcoming practice of Jesus of Nazareth, himself persecuted, migrant, and identified with migrants (Mt. 25:31-45).

9. In the name of the God of Life and Peace we condemn terrorism, in this case the terrorism that claims to be based on religious motives and kills in the name of God, causing the exodus of entire populations to flee the terror.

10. We demand that the Nations:
  • comply with international protocols in the matter of immigration, refuge, and displacement;
  • open safe routes that keep people from falling into the nets of the mafias;
  • not participate in the business of arms sales which are used to support terrorism and dictatorial governments;
  • fight institutional racism; deny legitimacy to corrupt and autocratic rulers;
  • support the humanitarian organizations that are working on the ground;
  • further development policies in the countries of origin;
  • fulfill their promises of refuge;
  • promote intercultural, interfaith and inter-ethnic dialogue.

11. The Congress wants to express its solidarity with oppressed and neglected peoples like the Kurds, the Palestinians, and the Saharans, who are being denied their right to independence and subjected to all sorts of indignities. All of them have numerous migrants, refugees, and displaced persons.

12. We who have participated in this Theology Congress commit ourselves to:

  • fight against the ideology and the economic system that are causing the exclusion of millions of people;
  • denounce the systematic violation of the human rights of "people in movement" by the governments;
  • work for a different and more hospitable world to be possible;
  • follow the solidary practice of Jesus of Nazareth;
  • make a new theology of migration;
  • move from exclusion to hospitality.

In Madrid, September 11, 2016

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Teresa Forcades, the revolutionary Catalan feminist theologian, says: "We are all different!"

by Sabina Caligiani (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Female WOR{l}D (in Italiano)
September 23, 2016

That women of all times have left an unmistakable and indelible mark on history beyond recognition in their returns, is beyond any doubt, and today, increasingly, the feminine is emerging in the international cultural scene. It's the case for Teresa Forcades, a feminist theologian among the most original and trendy of the Catholic world in talking about burning issues such as the role of women, divorce, abortion, and homosexuality which she addresses from a theological point of view.

A Benedictine nun from Catalonia, she has been out of the cloister for a year, with Vatican dispensation, to also deal with politics, to support the independence of Catalonia with the movement she founded, "Procés Constituent." Actually, she feels she is a revolutionary against violence, in sustaining the concept that society should be changed radically and recognizing the work of feminist pioneers, strenuous fighters for their rights in society and in the Church.

Teresa Forcades talks about this in her interview-book, "SIAMO TUTTI DIVERSI! Per una teologia queer" ["WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT!: For a queer theology"], by Cristina Guarnieri and Roberta Trucco (Castelvecchi, 2016), which will be launched on October 3rd at Casa Internazionale delle Donne in Rome at 7:30 p.m. Present at the event will be theologian Marinella Perroni, former president of the Coordinamento delle Teologhe italiane [Association of Italian Women Theologians], whom I have asked for a personal reflection about this publication.

Photo: Theologians Teresa Forcades (L) and Marinella Perroni (R)

Can you explain the origin and meaning of "for a queer theology"?

In reality it's not easy, because it's a term that, wishing to embrace the maximum of diversity, has in itself the impossibility to be confined in one definition. I would say that the application of queer theory, that is, an anthropological and social perspective able to explain sexuality and gender differences critically, to theology leads to deepening and at the same time making more specific the human reality with ever greater respect for all differences. This implies attention to the human subject, a partner in the revelation of God and in the relationship with God, considered from their real sexual diversity, no longer forced, that is, into stereotypical male-female duality, but open to a diversity of inclinations (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender). It is, basically, an application of the criteria of liberation theology, a liberation understood as a promise from God and as a practice of freedom before God, for all individual human subjects understood and respected based on their most profound particular traits, those related to sexual development.

How and when did you meet Teresa Forcades? Can you briefly outline the spiritual and human profile of this singular Benedictine nun?

I don't really remember exactly. I got to visit her monastery of San Benet in Montserrat, near Barcelona, several times. But, above all, I've shared with her the engagement in ESWTR (European Society of Women in Theological Research), the association of European women involved in various capacities in theological research.

In her book "La teologia femminista nella storia" ["Feminist theology in history"], Teresa Forcades speaks of women's right to self-determination in general, the role of women in the Catholic world, and her thoughts on gender are expressed...

Teresa is capable of neat and clear judgments, but she can accompany them with careful nuancing. It would do injustice to her thought, which ranges competently in two major areas of knowledge -- medicine and theology -- and which always moves in a politically inflected horizon, if it were reduced to a few lines. With her, you have to engage and debate. You may not agree, but from the encounter with her, one always comes out with an increased desire to move forward in reflection. Even with respect to the feminism-(Catholic) Church relationship, Teresa has always tried to open roads, never close them. The fact that sometimes she has found herself a bit farther ahead a bit earlier than others, is only because she intuits the roads along which our future will pass.

In your opinion, how fair is Teresa Forcades' analysis of feminist theology in relation to still unresolved matters, whether within the Church or in the contemporary political debate?

What could be fairer today than openly confronting -- within the Church and theology too -- the problems that are crucial for a truly human quality of our lives? There's no need to lock Teresa Forcades in her answers, as debatable as those of any woman (or any man) who today tries to remain faithful to the gospel in a Church that is so hard to open up to the complexity of the human being. Rather, there is a need to be challenged by her questions and share with her the desire to always seek new answers.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Francis, Jesus and women

By Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
O Globo (em português)
August 6, 2016

Pope Francis has named a commission to analyze whether women should have access to the diaconate, as already occurs with single and married men. In the hierarchy, the deacon occupies a grade below the priesthood. He can preside at marriages and baptize, but he can't celebrate Mass. There were women deacons in the early Church.

In many countries, including in Brazil, there are already women religious who, authorized by the local bishop, preside at marriages and celebrate baptisms, although they aren't women deacons.

Francis is very clever. Instead of imploding the building with dynamite, he prefers to demolish it brick by brick. It's what he's doing by fiddling around with issues that, for centuries, have been frozen by the taboos surrounding traditional Catholic doctrine -- remarriages, access of the divorced to the sacraments, homosexuality, mandatory celibacy, corruption in the Roman Curia, strict punishment for pedophiles, etc.

There is no biblical basis for excluding women from the priesthood or even from the right to be bishops and popes. The big obstacle is the patriarchal culture that was predominant in the early centuries of Christianity and is still in vogue in the Catholic Church.

Matthew points out five women in Jesus' genealogical tree: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Mary, and, implicitly, Solomon's mother, the one "who was the wife of Uriah." It isn't quite an ancestry of which any of us would be proud.

A widow, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law and beget a son of the same blood as her late husband. Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho. Ruth, David's great-grandmother, was a Moabite, i.e. a pagan in the eyes of the Hebrews. The one "who was the wife of Uriah," Bathsheba, was seduced by David while her husband was at war. And Mary, mother of Jesus, didn't escape others' suspicions either because she appeared pregnant even before she married Joseph. As you see, the Son of God entered human history through the back door.

Jesus was accompanied by the Twelve and some women: Mary Magdalene, Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's procurator, Susanna, "and several others," says Luke (8:1). Therefore, Jesus wasn't a chauvinist at all. And in Bethany, he used to frequent the home of his friends Martha and Mary, Lazarus' sisters.

The first apostle was a woman: the Samaritan who dialogues with Jesus by the side of Jacob's well and then goes out to proclaim that she has met the Messiah. The first witness to the resurrection was Mary Magdalene. And by healing Peter's mother-in-law, Jesus showed that the priesthood and celibacy are not associated. Peter was married and that didn't keep him from being chosen as the first Pope.

Misogyny is, in the Catholic Church, an unjustifiable syndrome, especially when we consider that in rural communities and those on the urban outskirts, it's mainly women who lead the pastoral activity. Today, fortunately, a number of married women, including in Brazil, hold the title of doctor in theology.

The theology of my confrere Thomas Aquinas dates from the thirteenth century and still serves as the foundation for official Catholic doctrine. Today it requires updating, like on the aspect of women, considered to be ontologically inferior beings to men. Which is why the freed slave can be a priest, but not women.

There is not one case in the gospels where Jesus repudiated a woman -- as he did with Herod Antipas -- or uttered curses upon them, as he did with the scribes and Pharisees. With them, he showed himself merciful, warm, and affectionate, and he extolled their faith and love.

The time has come for the Church to assume its feminine side and open all of its ministries to women. In the end, half of humanity are women. And the other half are children of women.

Frei Betto is a writer, author of "Um homem chamado Jesus" ("A man called Jesus" -- Rocco), among other books.

Reinstituting women deacons

By Msgr. Felipe Arizmendi (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Sol de México
August 11, 2016


"After intense prayer and mature reflection, His Holiness has decided to institute the Commission for the Study of the Diaconate of Women," the Holy See press room announced. Thus he fulfilled what he had offered to the International Union of Superiors General, who made the proposal to him. What does this mean and what does it imply? Will it be a path for women to be able to be ordained priests?

In the first centuries of the Church there were women deacons. Saint Paul mentions one: "I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. Receive her well, as should be done among Christians and holy brothers and sisters, and help her in everything she needs, since many are in debt to her, and I as well." (Rom 16:1-2)

What did they do? As the baptism of adults by immersion was the custom and they would go down into the water without any clothes to dress in a white tunic afterwards, it wasn't proper for this celebration to be performed by the bishop, the priests, or the male deacons, therefore women deacons were established to baptize the women. Also, when there were complaints from the wives that their husbands had hit them, the women deacons would have to check the women's bodies to prove the wounds and bruises. It wasn't prudent for the men to make such a review. Moreover, it was customary to anoint the sick on the parts of their body that were hurting. It was appropriate for such service to be given by the women. Over time, these customs changed and women deacons disappeared. There is no evidence that they received sacramental ordination, but it was a service that they gave in the community.


Is it appropriate for them to be instituted again today? Before Vatican Council II (1962-65), the diaconate was only for celibate men being prepared for the priesthood. The Council re-established the permanent diaconate "not unto the priesthood, but unto a ministry of service" (LG 29), to provide some services such as administering baptism, assisting at weddings, proclaiming the Gospel and preaching at Mass, giving the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament, celebrating the funerals of the dead, giving various blessings. This diaconate was conferred on married men and there are currently thousands throughout the Church. They don't celebrate Mass or hear confessions or anoint the sick sacramentally. Whether the diaconate can also be conferred upon women is being studied.

What could they do? The same thing as male deacons. However, for these celebrations you don't need women deacons. The bishop can authorize women catechists, the wives of permanent deacons, nuns, and other adequately prepared women to perform them. In compliance with the norms of the Church, I have delegated two indigenous women to baptize and preside at marriages in remote places where the presence of a priest is rare and there are no male deacons.

The potential women deacons getting to be ordained priests is completely excluded. That has been finalized since 1994 by Pope John Paul II: "Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4).


Let us ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten the Pope to decide what is most appropriate. Meanwhile, let us continue giving women their rightful place in the Church and in society.

Msgr. Felipe Arizmendi Esquivel is Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Mexico

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How Helder Câmara carried out the Pact of the Catacombs in Recife

by Eduardo Hoornaert (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Blog de Eduardo Hoornaert (em português)
July 3, 2016

Right at the beginning of the book of Exodus are the following words:

"The messenger of Yhwh appeared (to the shepherd named Moses) in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush (thicket, briar, brush) (Ex. 3:2-3).

God calls out from the fire: Moses, Moses.

And Moses: Here I am.

God says: Do not come near. Remove the sandals from your feet, for this land is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.

Yhwh says: Yes, I see the oppression of my people in Egypt, I have heard their cries against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Now, the outcry of the children of Israel has reached me, I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them.

Now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt." (v. 5-10).

Here, at Fronteiras, the same God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses called Helder Camara by name.

"Helder, Helder."
"Here I am."

"Take off your sandals, because Fronteiras is hallowed ground. I have seen clearly the oppression of my people in the Northeast, I have heard their cries about the authorities, yes, I know their sorrows. Now, the cry of the children in the Northeast has come to me, I have seen the oppression caused by the highest authorities of the land."

Even today, these words resonate through the Church of Fronteiras, which is sacred territory. For over thirty years (between 1968 and 1999) there lived a man who knew how to listen to the words. God's call is still burning for those who have the eyes of Helder Camara, the ears of Helder Camara, the heart of Helder Camara.

Rome 1965

The big picture

In 1965, about 2,500 Catholic bishops are gathered in the Vatican, in the ample wealthy spaces of St. Peter's Basilica. They are of the most varied tendencies. There are a majority who don't know what they're doing in Rome. I know of a bishop who, during the intervals between sessions in the Basilica and during meal times (all for free), played chess with a colleague. Others must have played cards or were reading something. Anyway, most weren't surprised to be in the opulence of the Vatican and even thought it fitting for their episcopal dignity.

I will describe in brief lines the various tendencies that manifested themselves among the bishops, based on the book O Pacto das Catacumbas ["The Pact of the Catacombs"] by José Oscar Beozzo, that has just been released by Edições Paulinas.

The main group of bishops on the right enjoys the (implicit) sympathies of the Roman Curia and the major European media, controlled by political and economic forces that prefer a conservative Church. It's called the Coetus Internationalis Patrum (CIP: International Group of Fathers), which has as its reference point the French bishop Marcel Lefebvre and as more visible leadership, the Brazilian bishop Geraldo Sigaud. According to Beozzo, "Coetus" brings together more or less 300 Council fathers, but their power is much greater.

It's more difficult to name the left wing movements. Names appear of charismatic leaders who so to speak symbolize certain positions. Such as the Concilium journal group with Yves Congar, the "Ecumenical" group with Cardinal Bea, the "joys and hopes" group (which gave its name to the conciliar document Gaudium et Spes) with François Houtart, the "Opus Angeli" group (acting out of "Domus Mariae") with Helder Camara, and so on. Names like Dell'Acqua, Capovilla, Colombo, Suenens, Lercaro, Liénart and Doepfer also coalesce positions. These names give some context to the currents, blocs, and groups which often overlap, mingle, combine and, at times, coalesce.

But there's one group that stands out for the firmness of its position and depth of its questioning -- the "Church of the Poor." It doesn't appear in high profile in the history of the Council because it operates discreetly, almost timidly. Only in the third session, in November 1964, did it publicly propose two documents that received the support of more than 500 Council fathers -- "Simplicity and Gospel Poverty" and "That the evangelization of the poor be given first place in our [Episcopal] Ministry." Beozzo speaks here of the establishment of a "conciliar network," that is, a link that pervades the various segments of the episcopal universe meeting in Rome and that consists basically of support, at least formally, given to the words of Pope John XXIII in a radio address before the opening of the Council (September 11, 1962): the Church must be "in particular the Church of the poor." With those words, the term "the poor" gains an epistemological status which it preserves for decades in Church circles, mainly in Latin America. In the "Church of the Poor" group, the name that most stands out is that of the French worker-priest Paul Gauthier, founder of "Companions of Jesus the Carpenter" in Nazareth. In Rome, the meetings of that group usually took place in Fr. Gauthier's apartment or at the Belgian College.

What unites the "Church of the Poor" bishops is a common affection, a shared sensibility. In an ecclesiastical Rome made of power symbols, i.e. at the Vatican, these bishops don't feel good. The image of the "catacombs" comes up, which suggests an "underground" persecuted Church.

Three weeks before the conclusion of the Council, on November 16, 1965, some members of the "Church of the Poor" gathered in the catacomb of Saint Domitilla in Rome. Two months earlier, on September 12, Pope Paul VI was in the Saint Domitilla catacomb, showing symbolic support for the idea of a "Church of the catacombs." But it becomes something specific with the concelebrated Mass, presided by Msgr. Himmer, bishop of Tournai in Belgium. The bishops present signed the so-called "Pact of the Catacombs" with one another, a lifelong commitment "to proclaim good news to the poor." All very discretely, almost clandestinely. Just three weeks later, on the day of the closing of the Council (December 8, 1965), the French newspaper Le Monde publishes, without much emphasis, a note about "a group of anonymous bishops who have committed themselves to giving external witness to a life of strict poverty." The note is signed by journalist Henri Fesquet, observer of the Council on behalf of said newspaper.

Years later, through research conducted among the papers of Bishop Himmer, we have managed to recover the list of participants, as Beozzo reveals in a note found on the Internet. There are 39 signatories, almost all bishops. There are a few priests (such as Father Luiz Gonzaga, consecrated bishop a few days later, and Paul Gauthier). The presence of a woman is recorded, Marie Thérèse Lescaze, a French Carmelite residing in Palestine, a participant in the group surrounding Father Gauthier. Eight Brazilian bishops sign the document (some at the time, others later): Antonio Fragoso of Crateús, EC, Francisco Austregésilo Mesquita Filho of Afogados da Ingazeira, PE, João Batista da Mota e Albuquerque, Archbishop of Vitoria, ES, Luiz Gonzaga Fernandes (who is to be consecrated auxiliary bishop of Vitória some days later) Jorge Marcos de Oliveira of Santo André, SP, Helder Camara of Recife, PE, Henry Golland Trindade, Archbishop of Botucatu, SP, José Maria Pires, Archbishop of Paraíba, PB. Helder was not present at the time, although Beozzo writes that he was the author of the text, as Beozzo stresses. In the nineties, it was mainly bishops José Maria Pires, Valdir Calheiros, Antônio Fragoso and Adriano Hipólito who remembered the Pact.

Ten signed from other countries in Latin America: Manuel Larraín of Talca in Chile, Marcos Gregorio McGrath of Panama (Diocese of Santiago de Veraguas), Leonidas Proaño of Riobamba, Ecuador, Alberto Devoto of Goya, Argentina, Vicente Faustino Zazpe and Enrique Angelelli, bishop of Rioja assassinated by the military government, from Argentina, Juan José Iriarte of Reconquista, Argentina, Alfredo Viola, bishop of Salto, Uruguay, and his auxiliary, Marcelo Mendiharat, Tulio Botero Salazar, archbishop of Medellín and his auxiliary, [Miguel Antonio Medina] Medina, from Colombia. From Italy, Luigi Betazzi, auxiliary at that time to Cardinal Lercaro in Bologna, signed. From France there are the following names: Guy Marie Riobé, bishop of Orleans, Gérard Huyghe of Arras, and Adrien Gand, auxiliary bishop to Cardinal Liénart in Lille.

In Msgr. Himmer's papers other names yet appear, from different countries: Georges Mercier, bishop of Laghouat in the Sahara, [Maximos] Hakim, Melkite bishop of Nazareth, [Grégoire] Haddad, Melkite auxiliary bishop of Beirut, Gérard-Marie Coderre, bishop of Saint-Jean-de-Québec in Canada, Rafael Gonzalez Moralejo, auxiliary of Valencia in Spain, Julius Angerhausen, auxiliary of Essen in Germany, [Anibal] Muñoz Duque of Pamplona, Raúl Zambrano of Facatativá and Angelo Cuniberti, apostolic vicar of Florence. From Africa, Bernard Yago, archbishop of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Joseph Blomjous, bishop of Mwanza in Tanzania, signed; from Asia, Charles Joseph van Melckebeke, Belgian bishop of Ningxia in China, expelled and living in Singapore. There were also bishops from Vietnam and Indonesia.

The symbols of the Pact, such as exchanging the "jewel ring" for the simple "fisherman's ring", simplifying liturgical vestments and abandoning the traditional pompous style, meant a very specific lifetime commitment in terms of housing (abandoning the episcopal palace), transportation (simple automobiles), personal wealth (not having personal money in the bank). Finally, the bishops united by the Pact committed themselves to living as the common people lived in the country where they were residing.

All this happened very discretely, almost clandestinely, which shows the strong resistance in the episcopal body in general to the idea of a "Church of the poor." Today the Pact is still influencing the style of the Catholic episcopate. People are more attentive to the way in which the bishop behaves, beyond words and speeches. This is a definite gain, and in this sense we can say that the Pact is the most important event that occurred within the Second Vatican Council.

How Helder Câmara perceives this scene

Since before the Council, Helder Câmara, Auxiliary Bishop of Rio de Janeiro, stands out. In a questionnaire sent to all the bishops by the Vatican, most bishops say that the big problem in the world is the opposition between capitalism and Communism, between the United States and the Soviet Union, between religion and secularism and even atheism. The big enemy is atheist Communism. Helder's response is entirely different: the big problem is that two-thirds of humanity live in poverty, have problems of hunger, endemic disease, housing. It should be said in so many words that Helder Câmara is one of the very few men in the Council who have "vision", as the theologian Congar wrote. Helder's Circular Letters begin with the following words: "The Council is going to be very difficult." That says it all.

Here I make a note: You may be surprised that I don't use the term "Dom" when talking about Helder Camara. In this, I am following point no. 5 of the Pact of the Catacombs, which reads, "We refuse to be called in speech or writing by names or titles that signify grandeur and power (Your Eminence, Your Excellency, Monsignor ...). We prefer to be called by the gospel name "Father". See Mt 20:25-28, 23:6-11, Jn 13:12-15." Or simply "brother."

I consulted Book 3 of Volume 1 of the Letters and some topics caught my attention:

1. In the Circular Letter of November 16-17, 1965, written on the eve right after the signing of the Pact, there is nothing about the Pact of the Catacombs. Only sparse references to "concelebrations" appear. It is that Helder has other commitments at the time; he isn't in the Saint Domitilla Catacomb then.

2. Only more than ten days later, in the Letters of 11/29-30 and 12/01-02 (Letters I, 3, 301 and 304) are the 13 points of the Pact talked about.

3. In general, the information is somewhat divergent. On p. 301, it is written that all 2,500 Council fathers received a mimeographed sheet about the poverty group, drafted at the house of Père Paul Gauthier. It seems that 500 reacted positively (testimony of Antônio Fragoso), but we don't know what the specific result of this was in those bishops' lives upon returning to their dioceses. But others reacted negatively. On p. 322, Helder writes that some bishops made a "mockery" of the papal gesture in exchanging the diamond ring for the "fisherman's ring." This shows that there was also resistance to the idea of episcopal poverty.

4. On p.322 it is written that, during the last days of the Council, Helder forwarded the text of the Pact to the pope.

The impression one is left with from reading these letters is that the bishop, in the last weeks of the Council, was involved in many things. He would like to know if the Pope accepts the three strong documents that he has written at the end of the Council. That's what occupies Helder's mind during the last weeks of the event.

What is very clear is that Helder shows aversion to Roman pomp. For him, the Vatican is a papal court, the most impressive court in existence in the whole Western world. There are mind-blowing images scattered throughout the pages of the Circular Letters. The bishop sees Emperor Constantine (4th century) crossing St. Peter's Basilica on a horse at full gallop. In another vision, the pope throws the tiara into the Tiber and walks berserk through the streets of Rome, where he meets prostitutes and thieves. He imagines the Pope giving the Vatican to an institution (UNESCO?) specialized in managing museums and going to live in an apartment in Rome. He dispenses with ambassadors at the Vatican and the Vatican nuncios. He dispenses with the Vatican. Thus he can quickly undertake the reform of the Roman papal Curia (the papal court).

I strongly advise reading these circulars, because each one brings a surprise. When you least expect it, an absolutely brilliant sentence appears, in many different senses. For example, his assessment -- historically impecable -- of the 4th century Council of Nicaea (I, 3, 265), or when he complains that with cardinals it is "humanly impossible" to work (I, 3, 268), or when he writes that quoting texts from Isaiah is very beautiful, but the people don't understand words like Zion, Israel etc. and that you need to say things with words that people understand. Sparks of an exceptional spirit that appear here and there in the Letters.

Recife 1968

Firstly, there is the São José dos Manguinhos Episcopal Palace on Avenida Rui Barbosa, a manor built by Viscount of Loyo, Recife, a successful Recife merchant in the 19th century (Dom Pedro II handed out the titles of Earl, Baron, and Viscount left and right to better control his immense empire), with many mango trees. There is, next door, the São José dos Manguinhos Church, as there usually is in rich people's manors. In the early 20th century, the Archdiocese acquires the manor and transforms it into an episcopal residence. Everything in the traditional ecclesiastical style.

There is, secondly, more towards the historic centre of the city, the Church of Nossa Senhora da Assunção das Fronteiras, on the edge of an estate granted by the King of Portugal in 1656 to the mestizo soldier Henrique Dias, a fighter alongside the Portuguese in the war against the Dutch that resulted in the restoration of Pernambuco. Emperor Pedro II visited the site in 1859 and gave it the title of Imperial Chapel. The Archdiocese of Olinda and Recife regained this Chapel after the war of the guilds. But, in 1968, that's all in the past. The Fronteiras Church serves as a chapel for women religious and has, like all chapels, a sacristy and a base for the chaplain.

The scenic contrast between Manguinhos and Fronteiras is reminiscent of the contrast between the Vatican and the Catacombs. Helder leaves the Manguinhos "latifundio" to go live "in my house", in Fronteiras.

Reading the Circular Letters of the year 1968 was a surprise for me. Even knowing the works of Helder Camara because of having worked with him for over 16 years (between 1964 and 1980), reading the Circular Letters was a surprise to me. What wealth! So many new things!

Here I make one more observation. I appreciate the invitation of you who gave me the opportunity to get into these circulars. Thank you especially to the compilers, transcribers and editors of the Letters: Luis Carlos Marques and Roberto de Araújo Faria (vol. I), Zildo Rocha (vols. II, III, IV) and Daniel Sigal (vols. III and IV), who have done and continue to do work of inestimable value.

The circulars of the year 1968 are found in Books 1 and 2 of Volume IV. It's the year of the move from the Manguinhos Palace to the sacristy. A move that not only has consequences for the bishop's personal life, but also for the life of the Archdiocese.

In personal terms, Helder dispenses with the private car, the private secretary, ready meals on time, the Manguinhos cook. Henceforth, his menu is precarious. In the morning, the Fronteiras Sisters fix him breakfast. At noon, he eats lunch at the Colégio das Damas on Avenida Rui Barbosa, and at night he's on his own. His bedroom includes a bed and a chair. He comments: "I live with two dead and a Living One (Jesus in the tabernacle). There is a lounge to receive people and write his circulars by night. It has a round table, three chairs and, in the back, a stretched out hammock. On the walls, a few souvenirs of trips and some strong texts.

1. In the January 5 to 6, 1968 circular (no. 344), Helder shows himself to be enthusiastic about the move (p. 295), planned for the day of Saint Sebastian (1/21), which doesn't happen because of the failure to remove two graves and arrangements behind the altar (p. 317). He knows that this move is leading to a remodeling of the functions of some buildings of the Archdiocese. The bishop's dream is that both Manguinhos (which he calls "the latifundio", "too much of a house for a single tiny bishop", see p. 383) and the old episcopal palace in Olinda will hereinafter be referred to as "Houses of the People". Camaragibe, "the aircraft carrier" (p. 312), would be sold and the financial fund thus created would be used "in large part for a low-income housing scheme."

But his aides don't have such lofty ideas. In fact, the bishop's plans to move involve a complex accommodation of buildings. There is also, at the same time, the decision that touches the lives of seminarians. From now on, the program is that they live in "small communities among the people." All this messes with Manguinhos, the episcopal Palace in Olinda, the Olinda seminary, the building on Rua do Jiriquiti, Camaragibe. While the aides are pondering the real possibilities, Helder continues speaking of Houses of the People. He dreams of giving homes to shelter homeless people. Why maintain two throne rooms at the Manguinhos "latifundio" while homeless people are sleeping on the veranda? The bishop is saddened when his aides are forced to find a guard to monitor the lives of those who sleep on the veranda; he's afraid that this guard will come to use violence and might come to shoot at someone.

2. Ten days later, in Circular 348 (1/16-17/68), he writes that the core team of the seminary now lives "on high" (the first floor) of the House of the People, with some teachers, while the colonial Seminary of Olinda has turned into a Training Center for Leaders for Northeast II (Eugênio Sales style). What complicates everything is that Rome doesn't like the idea of seminarians living "among the people." Cardinal Garrone writes a letter to that effect and sends Monsignor Pavarello to Recife to verify the situation "in loco." This Monsignor stays a long time and reaps much information.

3. On the night of March 13 to 14 (Circular 375) comes the definitive news: when the day breaks, I'm moving to Fronteiras. This is a "complete sign": "selling Manguinhos and investing the money for the advancement of God's children dehumanized by destitution." In the same letter appears a first description of the new dwelling with an assessment of what the bishop likes most -- doors without locks, windows without bars, a small entryway through the garden, "under construction", the wooden bed (the Manguinhos one was gilded bronze), the company, at bedtime, of two dead (tombs) and a Living One (tabernacle).

4. On the 14th day of March of 1968, at 19 hours, Helder enters the new house (p. 40). From now on, his daily routes change: from Fronteiras to Manguinhos, from Manguinhos to Damas (on the same avenue, for lunch), from Damas back to Manguinhos and at the end of the day from Manguinhos to Fronteiras. His transportation depends on taxis, but in reality there is no taxi driver who wants to charge him for the trip (p. 52). This information is repeated on 5/22-23/68.

5. Fifteen days later, in the 3/27-28/68 circular (IV, 1, 59) comes a new proof that the bishop likes the new house: in the bedroom, the little window with a bolt that shows where the Tabernacle is (where the Living One dwells), the embrasure above that "leaves a patch of sky to view, like a beautiful little star" (later he points out that embrasure to me and says "how easy it is to throw a bomb through there"), the window without bars that gives on another garden, behind the living room, the round table where he can write his circulars during the evenings, the roses in the garden, the three thermos bottles (hot tea, cold drinks, water) that the sisters leave ready, as well as glass jars with cookies, etc. Anyway, Helder likes the new abode. This is very clear.

In all this, the bishop follows to the letter the first commitment of the Pact of the Catacombs: "Regarding housing, food and means of transportation and everything concerning these things, we will seek to live in accordance with the ordinary manner of our people (Mt 5:3, 6:33f, 8-20)." For me, he is one of those following with greatest fidelity the commitments made in the Pact, although comparative data is needed to substantiate this opinion. We have only partial information (from Antônio Fragoso, José Maria Pires, Valdir Calheiros, etc.).

Today we are on hallowed ground

Today we are here at Fronteiras, on hallowed ground, 50 years after the Pact of the Catacombs in Rome and 47 years after Bishop Helder Camara moved here. We feel responsibility, because many among us, like myself personally, have been eyewitnesses to what I have just related through reading the circulars. One way or another, the words of John's Gospel apply to us:

He came as a witness,
to bear witness to the light
(Jn 1:7)

Helder Camara is for us like the one sent by God in the prologue of the Gospel of John. He bore witness to the light and we must bear witness too, as the Gospel itself says:

And you too will be witnesses,
because you have been with me from the beginning
(Jn 15:27).

This is the evidence of one who saw it -- true evidence (Jn. 19:35).

Our meeting here is not just a commemoration, it's a responsibility. We have to "bear witness" these days about what happened here between 1968 and 1999, and is still going on in our lives. From now on, it's not about the physical person of Helder Câmara, but his spirit that is still alive and pervades the place where we are. What can we do?

1. I will explain through history. The Vatican is not the Catacomb and Manguinhos is not Fronteiras. What does the Vatican symbolize? Historically there is no doubt: the Vatican symbolizes the misuse of money from the poor. Pilgrims, over many centuries, have deposited huge sums of money in the so-called tombs of Peter and Paul in Rome. This has been, until today, the base of the Vatican -- not just of the splendid palaces, but also the vast court of monsignors, eminences, the purple-clad and mitred. Much of this wealth is being shamefully diverted in many cases, as recent facts have proven. What does Manguinhos symbolize? Opulence surrounded by poverty, honorific titles, arrogance. I don't know of any scandals linked to Manguinhos, but even so I think it is a counter-sign in gospel terms, a bishop residing in a palace.

What was a catacomb, historically? It was a worthy tomb for all slaves, whether Christians or not. That was the policy of the managers of the catacombs like Calixto, who came to be elected pope in the 3rd century. To opt for the Catacomb is to opt for a lifestyle that gives a chance to all, above any cloister. You understand that I'm talking about something practical. When Helder opted for Fronteiras, he really chose a way of life that doesn't fit in with a palace, honor, prestige, but with a commitment to the weakest of society.

2. Of course, everything depends on the specific conditions of our lives. We are not bishops or priests. Perhaps we aren't Catholic either and yet we are witnesses of Helder Câmara and the Pact of the Catacombs. The symbolism is clear; it means a way of living and acting that stands out from a lifestyle oriented towards profit and accumulation of money. Each and every one of us can do something. There is no rule that applies to all. Each and every one of us must see what we can do. The bishops left the palace, some got around without a private car (as Helder did), sometimes they dispensed with their cook (as Helder did), they renounced honors and personal bank accounts. And we, what do we do in practical life?

It's not easy to live out the Pact of the Catacombs today. Two things, I think, can help us: (1) spirituality; (2) participation in a group of Christian inspiration.

1. Spirituality

When Volume I, 1 of the Circulares was launched, Zildo Rocha gave a beautiful address titled "The role of the vigil in the spirituality of Dom Helder." In it, Zildo asserted that all of Helder's days rested on two points -- the Mass and the vigil. Two moments that put the bishop's life "in a perspective of eternity" and put us in the face of God. José Comblin said the same thing here in this place in 2001: Helder is first and foremost a mystic. Reading the circulars has convinced me of the same. Each letter begins with a spiritual reflection. I don't know if he's commenting on past liturgy or the next day's liturgy, I didn't check that. But I have noticed that, for him, spirituality comes first. Without talking with his father God, his brother Jesus, his guardian angel Joseph, Helder would not have endured so many defeats, so much failure. His day was an offshoot of the Mass and the vigil.

I see Helder entering the synagogue in Nazareth and unrolling the text of Isaiah, as is reported in Chapter 4 of the Gospel of Luke:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me;
Through Him I have been designated (the Anointed One, the Messiah, the Chosen One) to proclaim good news to the poor.
Sent by Him, I declare freedom to the prisoners,
To the blind that they will see again,
To the oppressed that they will be forgiven.
(see Isaiah 61:1-2 and 58:6)

When Jesus says he's with the "poor in spirit" (Mt 5:3), he's refering to Isaiah 57:15:

I am with the defeated
The humiliated spirits
I revive the spirit of the humble
I revive the heart of the defeated.

That is the biblical spirituality of Helder Camara, which gave him the strength to bear an episcopate full of problems with the political dictatorship (one priest dead, others exiled) and at the same time with the Vatican (a dubious Pope Paul VI, irresolute colleagues in the episcopate).

In the Fronteiras living room, I read the following framed message:

When the night is darkest
Closer is the dawn.

2. Participation in a group of Christian inspiration

Psychology teaches that without a group, lasting action cannot be sustained. That's what Helder experiences after the sensational success of his journeys in the first part of the 1970s. Everywhere massive enthusiasm at the time. Then nothing. It was hard for a man of stage and microphone, the center of the scene and large gatherings, to realize that his ideas about unification of the universities around ideas of liberation, etc. were coming to nothing, just as Vatican II in many respects came to nothing. "How hard it is to break structures," he complained. It was in such disillusionment that Helder discovered the strength of minorities, of the "Abrahamic" minorities. This is a happy expression because it encompasses many movements -- in addition to Christianity, it goes to Judaism and Islam, and even beyond. Physical groups (such as Igreja Nueva ["New Church"]) or virtual groups, such as those that are forming around Alder Calado in Paraiba, Adital in Ceará, Somos Iglesia in Chile, Amerindia, and many others, which are getting bigger and bigger.

Also a word about groups formed by women. We must not forget that we owe the Circular Letters to the fact that Helder, since his days in Rio de Janeiro, always related to his "Mecejana family", a group of women such as Cecilia Monteiro [his secretary], Marina Bandeira [member of the CNBB National Justice and Peace Commission and Camara's collaborator] and others. To this day, the clerical Church has been skidding because it doesn't understand the power of women, which has manifested itself so clearly by the worldwide acceptance of birth control pills since 1961. The Synod which was held in October went nowhere because the Synod Fathers still don't understand the power of women, or rather, they don't understand that women also reveal God. If they, since 1962, haven't listened to the priests anymore, it's because something is wrong with the priests' teaching. The popes are distressed, but they should learn from Helder Camara who showed that women help free the Church from the pope.

To conclude, I repeat what I said at the beginning: Fronteiras is not a museum, it's not just a place of memory. Fronteiras is the burning bush. Here burns the flame that turned Moses into a liberator of his people and Helder Camara into a bishop on the Borders, that is, without borders. It's not just a place to visit, it's a place that reminds us of the truly important things in our lives.

Translator's Note: Dom Helder Camara's circular letters have been published in their original Portuguese in multiple volumes by Companhia Editora de Pernambuco in Brazil. See the Instituto Dom Helder website for price and contact information for hard copies. The collections are also available electronically via Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes and Noble (Nook).

  • Volume I: Conciliar Circulars (3 books - Oct. 1962-Dec. 1965)
  • Volume II: Interconciliar Circulars (3 books - Apr. 1964-Sep. 1965)
  • Volume III: Post-conciliar Circulars (3 books - Dec. 1965-Jul. 1967)
  • Volume IV: Post-conciliar Circulars (4 books - Aug. 1967-Jan. 1970)