Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Oscar Romero - Martyr of Latin America

By Fr. Jose Oscar Beozzo with introduction by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardoboff.com (em português)
February 9, 2015


Fr. Jose Oscar Beozzo is known as one of the most serious Brazilian historians and theologians. Here he draws the profile of the Archbishop of San Salvador, Dom Oscar Arnulfo Romero, killed as he was raising the consecrated chalice. Initially he was considered a conservative bishop, but he was moved by witnessing the indiscriminate killings by the forces of repression of his country of the people, the peasants and members of the church base communities, and even nuns and priests like Fr. Rutilio Grande. He became a great defender of human rights and the rights of the poor which, according to the Bible, are God-given rights. As the latter have no one to defend them, God Himself takes them under His protection and stands at their side.

I met Dom Romero personally at the time of the big meeting of the Latin American bishops (CELAM) in Puebla, Mexico, in 1979. I remember that, calling me aside, almost pleading, he asked me: "Father Boff, help us make a theology of life since in my country death is absolutely commonplace; every day more and more innocent people are being killed." He succumbed to that banality of death. He died for the cause of justice, one of the greater goods of the Kingdom of God. He didn't die because of local politics. Rather, because of his courage to denounce on his Sunday radio program the torturers and assassins of so many poor people and peasants.

Pope Francis coming from the cultural melting pot of this Church that is committed to the invisible and the victims of repressive violence, understood the meaning of his life. He opened the door to his beatification and later canonization. Dom Romero is an example of deep personal holiness, political holiness (which seeks the good of all, especially the underprivileged), of a pastor who had the courage to give his life for his persecuted brothers and sisters.

Leonardo Boff

On Tuesday February 3rd, Pope Francis declared that Mons. Oscar Romero, an archbishop from El Salvador, suffered martyrdom because of  "hatred of the faith" and that he was not killed simply for political reasons.

The pope's words, almost 35 years after the archbishop was shot to death on March 24, 1980, while he was celebrating Mass in the chapel of Divina Providencia Hospital  in San Salvador, open the way for his rapid beatification and canonization.

The process had been blocked in Rome by those who labeled his death  the result of his political choices and not because of his prophetic gospel witness in favor of the least and the poor. The pope already took a first step in that direction when shortly after his election, on April 21, 2013, he ordered the reopening of his process in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.

For hundreds of thousands of Christian communities on the continent, Oscar Romero was considered a saint from the day of his martyrdom and invoked as Saint Romero of Latin America in deep and rightful recognition by the "sensus fidelium" of his saintliness and the meaning of his death -- his striving for peace, his struggle against poverty and injustice and above all, his stated opposition to the infamous "low intensity" war. The war, in tiny El Salvador which, at that time, had slightly more than 5 million inhabitants, left more than 70,000 dead and 1.5 million refugees, mostly exiled in the United States.

Mercedes Sosa, in the well-known Latin American song "Solo le pido a Dios" ["All I ask of God"] sings with passion:

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que la guerra no me sea indiferente
Es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
Toda la pobre inocencia de la gente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to war / It's a big monster and tramples hard / On all the poor innocence of the people]

And it continues in other stanzas:

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que el dolor no me sea indiferente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to pain]

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que lo injusto no me sea indiferente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to injustice]

Sólo le pido a Dios
Que el futuro no me sea indiferente

[All I ask of God / Is that I not be indifferent to injustice]

Romero was not indifferent to the pain of poor people, or to war, or to injustice, or to the lack of hope and a future that had befallen his people.

The poet bishop of São Felix do Araguaia, Dom Pedro Casaldaliga, the day after the assassination of Oscar Romero, promptly associated his death with martyrdom and the blood shed by Christ himself on the cross, ending by invoking him without any hesitation whatsoever:

"San Romero de América, pastor y mártir nuestro". ["Saint Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr."]

I've reproduced below the relevant page of his diary, "En Rebelde Fidelidad" ["In rebellious fidelity"], from March 1980:

"Day 25

Yesterday, Monseñor Oscar Romero, the good shepherd of El Salvador, died, murdered. While he was celebrating the Eucharist. His blood has been mixed forever with the glorious blood of Jesus and with the blood, still profaned, of so many Salvadorans, so many Latin Americans.

Romero, flower of a peace that seems impossible in this suffering Central America.

The impression one has, with no possible doubt, is that the Empire killed him. His death was a killing for hire, a currency, a dollar. His voice was too powerful and free and it had to be silenced. He knew it and was prepared for that sacrifice.

It was on the eve of the Annunciation. The Angel of the Lord came early to announce, with this death, the coming of a season of life for El Salvador, for Central America, for the whole continent.

Saint Romero of America, our shepherd and martyr.

A clear lesson for all pastors...

It is not possible for the God of the poor not to collect this oblation."

Other faiths haven't waited for this tardy Roman recognition to include Oscar Romero in their own liturgical calendars as a martyr, an example of life and holiness, and an inspiration for their faithful. Thus, the Anglican Church in England enrolled Romero as a martyr in the calendar of its "Common Worship." The same thing happened in the Lutheran Church in Germany.

When Benedict XVI, as the first pope to do so, entered the imposing west portal of Westminster Abbey in London on September 17th, 2010, he had to pass under the statue of Oscar Romero sculpted next to the ones of the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and other 20th century martyrs represented there (photo above).

Renowned artists and popular artisans were quick to portray Romero as a saint. Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner (1980), when painting the Latin American Way of the Cross (photo above) and the large panel of the "new heaven and the new earth" for the Lenten Campaign of the German Church, portrayed the Risen Christ walking ahead of the multitude of those who had washed their robes in the Blood of the Lamb, led by Oscar Romero and Enrique Angelelli, Bishop martyr of La Rioja in Argentina, followed by the procession of lay people, priests and women religious who have shed their blood for the faith and for justice in Latin America, in the years of military dictatorship rule.

In 1986, liberation artist Cerezo Barredo, when painting the panel behind the altar of the Igreja dos Mártires da Caminhada in Ribeirão Cascalheira, the place of martyrdom of Fr. Penido Burnier, SJ, put him next to Romero and the Risen One and with other farm laborers killed by the latifundio, their wives who were tortured by the police, and many other anonymous martyrs of the Latin American Church. In another panel on Romero, Cerezo reproduces the prophetic words of the Archbishop shortly before his assassination: "If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people."

Claudio Pastro, who has been illustrating the Basilica of Our Lady Aparecida, patroness of Brazil, the seat of the 5th Latin American Bishops Conference in 2007, included in the blue and white tile panel that covers the chancel of the main entrance of the church, next to two martyrs of yesteryear, those of today, including the indigenous Márçal Guarani, Archbishop Romero and Sr. Dorothy Stang, an American missionary murdered February 12, 2005 in the Brazilian Amazon. Sister Dorothy was killed by gunmen for defending the small farmers of a sustainable agriculture project from the ravages of the big timber companies. The latter, under the complacent gaze if not the conniving of the authorities, fell trees to feed the lucrative trade of illegal timber exports to Europe.

The artists and popular feeling and piety were early to recognize the new forms of sainthood that go from the fight for the lives of the little ones who have suffered injustice, from denouncing the profits of capitalism and empires, to uncompromising advocacy for water, for the earth, for forests as common goods necessary for life and not just "commodities" mostly at the service of profit.

When the young bishop of Ivrea, Betazzi, then auxiliary bishop of Bologna, intervened at Vatican II, with healthy applause from the Council hall, to request the immediate canonization of John XXIII by the Council Fathers, he was wanting to consecrate an entire program, a project and a dream of a new church and a new humanity. In this sense, Cardinal Lercaro commented that this proposal for the immediate canonization of John XXIII by the Council represented the reception of conciliar decisions in the life of the Church. The proclamation of John XXIII's saintliness was not just "exemplary holiness (like other saints), but a programmatic holiness of a new era of the Church, personified in the holy pastor, doctor and prophet recognized as its forerunner."

Romero's holiness is also a programmatic holiness that goes back to the gospel preferential option for the poor, to a faith active in the world and to prophecy as the unwavering task of pastors and of all the baptized in a nominally Christian continent, who coexist in apparent indifference with the secular inequality and injustice that have marked our societies from colonial times to today.

Fr. José Oscar Beozzo


[1] En rebelde fidelidad: Diario de Pedro Casaldaliga - 1977/1983. Barcelona: Desclée de Brouwer, p. 18.

[2] http://servicioskoinonia.org/cerezo/imagenes/MinoRomero2006port.jpg

[3] Cited by G. Alberigo, Breve História do Concílio Vaticano II. Aparecida: Editora Santuário, 2006, p. 150.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Withdrawing to pray

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
February 8, 2015

Mark 1:29-39

Amid his intense activity as an itinerant prophet, Jesus always takes care of his communication with God in silence and solitude. The gospels have preserved the memory of one of his customs that made a deep impression -- Jesus used to withdraw at night to pray.

The episode Mark tells us about helps us to know what prayer meant for Jesus. The day before had been a hard day. Jesus "had cured many who were sick". The success was great. Capernaum was shaken up. "The whole town gathered around Jesus." Everyone was talking about him.

That same night, "at dawn" -- between three and six in the morning, Jesus gets up and, without warning his disciples, withdraws to an open place. "There he began to pray." He needs to be alone with his Father. He doesn't want to let himself be confused by the success. He is only seeking the Father's will -- to know well the way he has to go.

Surprised by his absence, Simon and his companions run to look for him. They don't hesitate to interrupt his dialogue with God. They just want to keep him. "Everyone is looking for you." But Jesus doesn't let himself be programmed from outside. He only thinks about his Father's plan. Nothing and nobody will turn him from his path.

He has no interest in staying around to enjoy his success in Capernaum. He won't yield to people's enthusiasm. There are villages that have not yet heard the Good News of God. "Let us go...to preach there also."

One of the most positive features in contemporary Christianity is seeing how the need to care more about communication with God, silence and meditation, is awakening. The most lucid and responsible Christians want to drag today's Church towards living in a more contemplative way.

It's urgent. Christians, in general, no longer know how to be alone with the Father. Theologians, preachers and catechists talk a lot about God, but seldom speak with Him. Jesus' custom has long been forgotten. In the parishes, there are many work meetings but we don't know how to retreat to rest in the presence of God and be filled with His peace.

We are fewer and fewer to do more things. Our risk is falling into activism, burn out and inner emptiness. However, our problem isn't having a lot of problems but not having the necessary spiritual strength to face them.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Back to the "banality of evil": reflections on "Charlie Hebdo"

By Ivone Gebara (English translation by Rebel Girl)
January 29, 2015

When Hannah Arendt published Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1963 and focused on the issue of the "banality of evil" based on the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann, many intellectuals and readers found her reflection meaningless. Long before the publication of the book, even when her writings were just newspaper articles published in The New Yorker, they generated a lot of debate and controversy. Some thought that speaking of the "banality of evil" was disrespectful in light of the crime of extermination of so many Jews. Eichmann, in fact, was a banal man who fulfilled his duties such an extent that he didn't hesitate to fulfill them in the extermination camp, obeying orders. At the time the readers didn't understand Hannah and today, we are still equally ignorant about the expression "the banality of evil" and current events. What she wished to reaffirm is that doing evil is the responsibility of human beings and that there is no higher power or diabolical nature that forces us to kill, rob, appropriate what doesn't belong to us, or deem ourselves superior to one another.

The banality of evil is actions that destroy the life we live and observe on the visible surface of history. It is manifest through a chain of relationships and decisions, micro-powers that end up becoming macro-powers and forces of annihilation. The banality of evil is alienation in the face of fundamentalist orders, be they right-wing, centrist, or left-wing. The banality of evil is our daily lives full of hatred against things small and large.

Today, following to the extent possible the incidents surrounding the attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and the multiple demonstrations around the massacre perpetrated there, some thoughts inspired by Hannah Arendt come to my mind.

Not only is it necessary to reaffirm the "banality of evil" but also affirm that certain uses of defense against evil are also evil. Freeing oneself from evil through evil means, freeing oneself from dogmatic religious intransigence through humorous or political intransigence, freeing oneself from blame by affirming the right of freedom of the press, continuing to develop prejudices about those who are "different" puts us again in the dualism of the innocent and the guilty. And thus, we are again at a dead-end, always accusing each other, always looking for enemies and seemingly giving a hand to those who appear to be champions of democracy.

The "eye for an eye" which we are experiencing today means the restoration of the law of barbarism; it signifies a collective regression in the quality of our humanity. We know well that although there are different levels of responsibility and complicity, there are no longer those who are purely innocent or guilty. We are immersed in the trivialization of evil by the media and in the banalizing of violence. In other words, the press that reaches the general public runs on, and persuades, based on dualisms -- good and evil, guilty and innocent, good citizens and bad or delinquent citizens, and so on. You already know beforehand who will be condemned. The day's news report leads us to the good and the wicked and incites the will to administer justice with our own hands. We don't need to think or ask ourselves questions, nor do we cast suspicion on the truth of the reports. Thus the immediate apparent evil, which points to the guilty one(s) and accuses them of being terrorists, criminals, and traitors to the homeland, is accentuated.

There isn't a critical analysis. No broader history is presented to be considered. There is no collective responsibility to be taken on and weighed. Hannah Arendt explained that banalizing evil was more than considering evil as part of human essence, something that could be explained based on the character of human beings or a perverse and corrupt nature. Hannah said that evil was something committed on the surface of deeds through mechanisms of relationships that we impose on one another. It is the evil of arbitrariness before which everyone makes their own laws according to their interests and commits atrocities and crimes because of them with huge historical consequences, proximate as well as remote.

It is the evil of blind obedience where the excuse that innocently states "I did it because they commanded me to" rules. The will of the actor becomes subordinate to the will of others, accepting the orders of a nameless machine capable of exterminating many names. Totalitarian regimes disguised as democracies seem to be the most dangerous in our time. They create webs of complicity that don't appear clearly, without explaining the reasons for their proposals and actions, without accounting for their initiatives and ends. Clearly they are saying something with this chosen silence. For example, they say they are defending democracy. But what democracy? They preach rights, but whose rights? They talk about liberty, fraternity, and equality. But what do these consist of? To whom do they apply and how do we experience them today?

All this is very vast, like the "vast world" of Fernando Pessoa. So I want to think about the little [specific] things. I am thinking about the wives, the mothers, the sons and daughters, and the tense relationships between the different countries as a result of the actions of those who carried our the assassinations in Paris.

I am thinking of the growing prejudice and hidden aggression that some maintain against others. But, ultimately, who killed whom? How many victims are there? Surely there were more deaths and injuries than those recorded by newspapers and "intelligence" systems. There were many people involved in the games of power and counter-power, not only the day of the tragedy, but much earlier. However, this is beyond the emotion of the moment, the noise of bombs the commercial press needs.

For close friends, for families, expressions such as "defending the freedom of the press" mean nothing when the body of the beloved is motionless, when the child of my loins has been assassinated, when the word "papa" will not be uttered while looking at him by the sons and daughters who are left behind. This pain is often forgotten or remembered only when it can have an "effect" of media sensationalism. But for those who remain and have lost the ties of friendship, parentage, affection and understanding, there are no clear labels that express the aching void that overwhelms them. And we know that this ache will be the primordial pain in the heart of the world.

The "extermination camps" of the Second World War still cause chills in many of us and they still inspire written pages and films in many people. However, the present day suffering born of an old, prolonged spiral of violence, the loss of loved ones, epidemic hunger, daily violence, before being transformed into past history, is immeasurable. We are not aware of its intensity and variety. It lacerates so much and perhaps much more than the bullet that ends lives. It opens wounds whose quickly flowing blood is hard to stop, leaving indelible marks on those whose present history is marked by the killing of one another, by mass flight, by the scourge of fear on many faces. Both the one who is regarded as the assailant and the assaulted one have their worlds of close relationships and the latter are violently transformed.

The many "pieces of me" that go "beyond good and evil," that can't be influenced or debated, that don't listen to or obey any calling, any supplication of love, any passion, any higher order, remain in the ineffable memory of their neighbors. Yesterday's grief reawakens and prolongs today's suffering, anonymous unimportant suffering, perhaps even without political consequences for the intensification of wars. Suffering that can even be the detonator for new battles, reoccurring vendettas in the archives of history.

I remember an American mother who lost her only son fighting in the war against Iraq. She rejected the honors they wanted to grant him. She didn't want awards for her grief, she did not accept the trivialization of her suffering, she didn't want to be rewarded for the loss without return, she didn't demand useless apologies. There is much more pain than we imagine and much more dignity than we reckon. But it's hard to understand why we aren't able to change "swords into plowshares," why we need to kill each other to maintain the stability of the world economy, and why we aren't able to move beyond the limits of nation states and religions.

The traps of barbarism seem to grow, causing distortions, concealing facts, feelings, emotions. Vengeance small and large is the most common currency of exchange. You offended my people, spoke ill of my father, stole my car, burned my house, criticized my religion ... So I'm killing you, you wretches! Banality of evil, banality of good.

What would good really be? The traps that are set for us to act impulsively and superficially appear to be the raw material of many news items. They generate the "first fruits" -- the orientation of the reporting, the hunt for bandits, the exciting confrontation of danger, exposure to the shots of illegal bands, legal and illegal police ... All appear like groups of boys playing the good guys, fighting bandits, carrying lethal weapons. Boom, boom, boom, boom ...

Mother help me, Mother, Mother, Mommy...Where are you, Mom? The cry for the mother accompanies the last breath of the son who has gone. One more has died ... the one who has been left lying on the floor is "my son" shouts a woman ... And the one who killed him and was later eliminated by the police is "mine" shouts another. All dead, stupidly dead, general slaughter. The news made the front page and the newspaper today raised its sales.

We get out of the red because the blood of marginal criminals puts the monthly accounts in the black. The hearts of the women, grieving because they are mothers, remain red from the blood. The screams calling out for help still echo in their ears. Despite the silence of the dead, they are there like an echo near the eardrum, like a pain in the gut, like tears inside that can't be held back. But that's nothing, some say, soon it will pass ... The world will not change because we are still wolves towards one another.

Today, the reliable strength of the government to which power is delegated, no longer works. Every group and even, sometimes, every citizen feels they have the right to intervene in the public order according to their instincts. There is a travesty of good and a pretense that together we are seeking justice, a semblance of order established by weapons and guaranteed by hidden missiles. The production of weapons of war remains our trade, our profit and our defense! Blessed war that helps us sell so much! ...

We no longer want to be disciples of solidarity, or justice and peace, even recognizing its fragility. We don't want to look for love and respect for neighbor as the administrator of our relationships. We have lost the foundation of common good amid so much arbitrariness and corruption.

I think I feel a bit lost...I have to light a lamp in full daylight. Perhaps old age has made me more limited and disbelieving. I no longer see clearly where the path of human dialogue, caring for one another, bread shared, cirandas (rhyming songs danced in a circle that encourage us towards good practices), respect for differences, is going.

I'm tired of the hypocrisy of politics and those who dare to speak in the name of their god. We are spellbound by the cheap happiness of consumerism, by the irrationality of many faiths, by the order and disorder of the hegemonic media, by the black gold, yellow gold and white gold that run the world. And yet, despite all this ... Imagine this. Today, I bought ice cream for a street kid who asked me smiling, "Lady, will you buy some chocolate ice cream for me?"

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Two "rebels" ordained

On January 3rd, Georgia Walker (photo below) became the first woman Catholic priest to be ordained in 2015 and the first in the conservative Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. During a ceremony presided by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, the 67 year-old convert to Catholicism who had originally thought of joining the Sisters of St. Joseph but left during the discernment process, joined the ranks of several hundred women worldwide who no longer want to wait for the institutional Roman Catholic church to grant them full equality.

According to ARCWP, Rev. Walker has held a variety of positions in the health care industry and has a degree in sociology. She taught sociology for many years at three universities in Kansas and at the federal prison in Leavenworth. She is now the co-founder and executive director of Journey To New Life, an agency that specializes in serving former convicts who suffer from addictions, mental illness and chronic health conditions. Over the last twenty years she has also done accounting for numerous parishes, schools and social agencies. She currently serves on the Board of Peace Works-Kansas City, often engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience and she volunteers with local Catholic Worker houses. She has been convicted of trespassing at the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City and at Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo. Now Rev. Walker wants to work in prison ministry.

Four days after her ordination, Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn issued a formal decree stating that Georgia Walker had been excommunicated latae sententiae. Perhaps the speed of the order reflects the fact that there isn't much love lost between Rev. Walker and Bishop Finn. They had previously tangled over the firing of a food pantry employee in the diocese for her marriage to her lesbian partner. Rev. Walker spearheaded a petition campaign that gathered more than 30,000 signatures calling on the diocese to reinstate Colleen Simon. Along with the petition, Walker delivered a personal message to Bishop Finn: "...The Roman Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph yearn to have a bishop-shepherd who leads with compassion, understanding, dialogue and peace. We pray for one who hears the voice of conscience and follows gospel values of Jesus of Nazareth, who was welcoming, inclusive, collaborative, forgiving and loving. We are weary of actions that reflect inflexible church rules despite the devastating consequences in the lives of sincere human beings striving to respond to God's call to ministry...Please pray about that as you ponder why the parishioners of this Diocese are leaving the church in droves!...Respectfully, I ask that you resign from your position so that we can participate in a more loving and inclusive Roman Catholic Church!" Simon has since filed a lawsuit against the diocese for "fraudulent inducement" arguing that her relationship was known when she was hired.

Given the history, Rev. Walker's response to the excommunication decree should come as no surprise either. "What the official church does to me is not relevant," Rev. Walker said. "They can't take away my baptism, they can't take away my calling to the priesthood. All they can do is deny me their sacraments. But now, I am a priest and I can provide those sacraments. Not just to myself but to others."

Two weeks later, more ordinations. On January 17th in a ceremony in Orlando, Florida, Bishop Meehan ordained one woman, 80 year-old Rita Lucey of Orlando, to the priesthood, and Jim Marsh of Albany, NY and St. Petersburg, FL, Kathryn Shea of Sarasota, FL and Mary Catherine White of Gorham, NH to the ARCWP diaconate (photo above).

Rev. Lucey has a bachelor's degree from Barry University, Miami, and a Masters in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University. As a military wife, she volunteered with the Red Cross in military psychiatric hospitals stateside and overseas. During that time she was also a catechist and then for many years a director of religious education. Later she volunteered with Hospice of the Comforter for 25 years until the facility was sold in 2013. Like Rev. Walker, Lucey has also been involved in civil disobedience. She trespassed at Fort Benning, Georgia during the SOA Watch protest to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, for which she spent six months in federal prison in 1998. She is an active member of Pax Christi, is a board member of the local chapter of Amnesty International, and past president of the local chapter of the United Nations Association. She has been dubbed by the media the "Rebel Granny" because she has four children and nine grandchildren.

Rev. Lucey told the Orlando Sentinel that she doesn't accept the institutional Church's arguments against women's ordination. "I see that as a man-made thing rather than a revealed truth. It's a patriarchal interpretation of the Scriptures that definitely has sexual bias." Nor is she afraid of excommunication, saying that she remains Catholic through her baptism, confirmation and faith. "Jesus was a good Jew who didn't leave his Judaism any more than I have left my Catholicism in my heart and soul," Lucey reasons. "I asked myself, 'What are you doing this for at this age?'? I know why I'm doing this -- because the spirit is calling me. Women can be priests. We are called to the priesthood."

Going after Jesus

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
January 25, 2015

Mark 1:14-20

When John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee and began to "proclaim the Good News of God." According to Mark, he doesn't exactly teach a doctrine so that his disciples would learn it and spread it correctly. Jesus proclaims an event that's already happening. He is already living it and wants to share his experience with everyone.

Mark sums up his message thus: "This is the time of fulfillment" -- you don't have to look back now. "The kingdom of God is at hand" -- since he wants to build a more humane world. "Convert" -- you can't go on as if nothing were happening; change your way of thinking and acting. "Believe in this Good News." This plan of God is the best news you could hear.

After this solemn summary, Jesus' first act is to find collaborators to carry out his project. Jesus "passes by the Sea of Galilee." He has begun his journey. He's an itinerant prophet who's seeking followers to make a fascinating trip with them -- opening the way to the Kingdom of God. He's not a rabbi sitting in his chair, looking for students to form a religious school. Being Christian isn't learning doctrines but following Jesus in his life project.

Jesus is always the one who takes the initiative. He approaches, fixes his sight on those four fishermen and calls them to give a new direction to their lives. Without his intervention, no true Christian is born. We believers are to experience more faithfully the living presence of Christ and his eyes on each one of us. If not him, who can give a new direction to our lives?

But what's most important is hearing his calling within: "Come after me." It's not one day's work. Listening to that call means awakening trust in Jesus, reviving our personal allegiance to him, having faith in his plan, identifying with his program, reproducing his attitudes in ourselves...and winning more people for his plan that way.

This could be a good motto for a Christian community today: Go after Jesus. Put him in front of everyone. Remember him every Sunday as the leader who goes before us. Generate a new dynamic. Focus everything on more closely following Jesus Christ. Our Christian communities would be transformed. The Church would be different.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dignified sexuality and responsible fertility: What does -- and doesn't -- hold from "Humanae Vitae"

by Juan Masiá Clavel, SJ (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Convivencia de Religiones Blog
January 8, 2015

(Question 41 of the current Lineamenta for the 2015 Synod deals with how to "effectively promote [openness to life] and the dignity of becoming a mother or father", and it adds, as a minimal reference, "in light, for example, of Humanae Vitae").

I would answer that question by saying simply three things:

1) Let's review what the criteria for dignified sexuality and responsible fertility are: mutual respect of the individuals, just reciprocity in the relationships and responsibility in welcoming life (which excludes both procreation at all costs and uncompromising rejection of it -- both irresponsible).

2) That what needs to be rediscovered, in order to make this review in its light, is not Humanae vitae, but the Second Vatican Council's criterion on responsible fertility (Gaudium et spes, 47-52).

3) That it be made clear, when talking about the Church's teaching on these issues, what holds and doesn't from Humanae Vitae. What holds are its two main criteria on dignity and responsibility in the marriage relationship and the acceptance of life. What doesn't hold and must be overcome: its narrow interpretations of sexuality and its negative conclusions about birth control methods. That is, all that remains of Humanae Vitae is what is not originally its own, but of Vatican II from which Humanae vitae unfortunately backpedaled.

The aforementioned question 41 alludes generally to that very controversial encyclical which has caused so much loss of credibility in the Church.

The question is inspired by paragraphs 57 and 58 of the Relatio Synodi, which seems to echo the abundant negative reactions to the Lineamenta of the previous year, and is limited to recommending "appropriate teaching regarding the natural methods for responsible procreation," inviting us to "return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae...which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods in regulating births."

(A Vatican-style diplomatic formulation which leaves room for assenting to the principles and dissenting from the conclusions. It would be preferable to acknowledge the limitations of the earlier teaching, which should always continue to develop and evolve historically, and admit that it forces us to combine assent to valid criteria with disagreement with its applications).

The Lineamenta for the 2014 Synod insists on reaffirming Humanae vitae. The summary of the responses (Instrumentum laboris, 2014) showed negative reactions to these questions. The current survey for the 2015 Synod appears to have taken that into account and opens the door for more open, positive, and advanced answers.

One third of the answers proposed here, at the beginning of this post, is what some of us have been presenting in moral theology classes for the last three decades, recognizing that this opinion is not in accord with the one expressed in the documents of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

A brief summary -- a mere thematic index -- of what holds and doesn't from Humanae vitae is as follows (which I've developed in greater detail in the essays Tertulias de Bioética, Trotta, 2006, and Cuidar la vida, Herder y Religión Digital, 2012).

What holds of Humanae vitae: two major excellent premises.

What doesn't hold: two controversial minor premises and two deficient and inconsistent conclusions.

1. Two major premises that are still valid: A) the criterion of mutual respect for the dignity of individuals in the marriage relationship and dignified and just sexual intimacy; B) the criteria of openness to welcoming life and responsible birth, with decisions made in conscience and shared between the spouses.

2. Two minor premises that ought to be corrected: A) the narrow interpretation on the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of each and every act of intimate union; B) the erroneous interpretation on the natural and the artificial, as if everything artificial were anti-natural, forgetting that, as Saint Thomas says, "it's quite natural for human beings to resort responsibly to the artificial."

3. Two deficient and inconsistent conclusions: A) the indiscriminate rejection of methods improperly deemed "unnatural" because they are artificial, and the naively optimistic recommendation of so-called "natural methods" as if they couldn't be irresponsible or infringing on the dignity of the couple when both don't agree with their practice; B) the regulatory imposition of openness to life as indispensable in every act of intimate union or as if that end were an indispensable condition for the legitimacy of said union.

(This is nothing more than the index of a one semester course on the good and bad points of Humanae vitae. Each of these three points could be completed with the writings of reputable moralists like Bernard Häring, Marciano Vidal and Javier Gafo.)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Teresa Forcades: "The story of Jesus is very close to the radical Left -- arrested, tortured and falsely accused"

By Irene Ramentol (English translation by Rebel Girl)
El Critic (in Catalan)
December 24, 2014

Teresa Forcades (Barcelona, 1966) is a Benedictine nun, a theologian, and a medical internist. Co-founder with economist Arcadi Olives of Procés Constituent, she sees the remote possibility of building unity on the left in the short term in Catalonia. Despite being a discomforting figure for the conservative sector of the Church, she claims to have received the harshest pressure in the field of health as a result of her criticism of the pharmaceutical companies over the influenza A and HPV vaccines. Her religious vocation began from "falling in love" at 15 after reading the Gospels and since then she has thought of activism as an inseparable part of the faith.

"Religion is the opiate of the people." Surely this phrase from Marx resonates with you...

It's a phrase of the young Marx, when he was 25. Other philosophers had already said it, but he picked it up and from there it had more impact. Normally, it's usually cited as meaning that religion is a bad thing. And obviously Marx is criticizing it but in the context of that criticism, what he's saying is that religion, in fact, is useful to console the people. The problem, according to Marx, is that consoled people don't have the necessary strength to change the structures. And so that's when he's making the radical criticism, saying that this consolation that oppressed people seek out and that is good to have, they must find it within. You shouldn't look for justice in the afterlife, outside of history. The Gospel of John speaks of a theological notion we call realized eschatology. It says that all these promises of God in Christianity are not just for the afterlife. True Christianity says that the just will never be disappointed, that there is a final justice. That this reality in which the one who has more power oppresses the one who has less and where injustice reigns, that God doesn't want it and that there is a possibility of living with justice, without violence, without tears and pain. All this is true. But this isn't truly faithful to the gospel if we don't think it begins now. And that hope has to be through action, not inaction.

Whether or not it's still a consolation, the fact is that religion has been losing followers. Are we more unbelieving?

In this country, we brought it on ourselves. The Catholic Church -- not all of it -- supported one of the most criminal dictatorships of the 20th century for 40 years. It's true that the case of Catalonia was a little different because there were entities such as the monastery of Montserrat which sheltered intellectuals and many other churches that hosted clandestine groups working for democracy. So here we've had a diverse history. But hierarchically for the most part, it was supporting a dictatorial regime. And this is one of the elements that explains the alienation of many people who might agree with this spirit of social justice but have decided to seek it outside of religion. Another element is that today the possibility of giving religious meaning to our lives is much wider than before. We have access to impressive texts from the point of view of religious depth. This has contributed to a lot of people tending towards religious syncretism. They're interested in spirituality but don't want to be boxed into one institution. It's a religious restlessness that wants to break down the institutional boundaries. And we need it, that restlessness, because some of those boundaries make no sense.

Why believe in an "Almighty" God who allows so much misery in the world?

That's a classic question. In theology, it's called theodicy. Indeed we might think that if God is omnipotent, then He's responsible for everything that happens. The God in whom I believe is a God who, when making creation, took a step back, as philosopher Simone Weil explains it. He didn't make creation as an appendix of Himself. He created something that was capable of loving Him freely. So He drew back to create a space where a reality was possible that would only be in God if that reality wanted it.

Free will ...

Yes, but not just that. For me, it is the radicalness of self-determination. What comes from God is always an offer. He invites us to say yes or no. And not just in an existentially complex way. Every day we choose. And this choice exists not because God is impotent or not powerful, but because He is powerful and has chosen freedom. And the corollary is how we are to behave with one another, or the Church with respect to the world. You can't go imposing; you have to go with a plan that radically respects the self-determination of the other. If not, it would be inconsistent.

Can you grasp social reality and participate in change from monastic seclusion? It seems contradictory from the start, given that the main social problems don't occur there -- evictions, unemployment, ...

...or private property, which we don't have either. We're like a neo-rural community where they don't wait for society as a whole to change to try to live differently. In our community, when you enter, if you have any possessions, you donate them. If you work and earn some money, you also give it to the common fund from which you can avail yourself when you need it. I obviously find it very positive to touch on some aspects in which it's possible to live differently. Now, does this lead to an inability to influence social struggles? I hope not. For me, personally, it brings some time constraints, but I would have them if I had a family too. However, I think this experience that an alternative organization is possible gives me strength to participate in social struggles.

Everything you're talking about clashes with the ostentation that there is in the Church...

As in society, I believe that in the Church change never comes from above. Now the Catholic Church has a Pope whom you must acknowledge has made some very important gestures and changes. He has acted, for example, against corruption in the Vatican bank, a major scandal. But what this Pope is doing isn't revolution in the Church. He's clearing blockages with strength that comes from below. With this change of papacy, I think institutional steps to remove excess ostentation are beginning to be taken. But, even more than ostentation, what would please me would be that any privileges the Church might have would be eliminated.

Is any revolution within the Church a dream?

The spontaneous answer is "no". Moreover, it's necessary. In the case of the Church, the revolution should be anti-clerical and against the misogynist structure if we want a radical break with the structures that aren't serving the people. Clericalism has nothing to do with the Gospel or with the communities. It means that between God and the people there are mediators who are the clerics. In Matthew's gospel, when Christ died, it says that at that moment the veil of the temple, which marked the separation between sacred space and what isn't, was torn from top to bottom. That separation, not only in the texts but also in history, has brought social divisions. So what is more symbolic than that at the moment of Christ's death, it says that this division has ended? Here is something so radical that 21 centuries later, we still haven't understood it. And, on the other hand, the revolution must be against discrimination against women. Today in the Catholic Church, there's a link between the fact of being ordained as a priest and having access to decision-making positions within the Church. Because we women presumably can't be ordained, that means we can't have access to the places where decisions are made that affect us all.

And what would have to happen for those patriarchal roles to change?

The first is that women should be persuaded themselves. I always try to get away from victimhood. I agree that we all have to do it, but the driving force must be women. In my own community, if you ask my 30 sisters what they think about women's ordination, most would not agree with it. For me, it's theologically obvious and also humane. But when I realize it isn't for everyone, I feel a mixture of sadness and anger at the same time because I think it's not that we're being oppressed from above -- it's that we have a job to do at the ground level. And I think likewise in the social environment. Of course there's big capital; obviously the power is there. But the crucial point of the revolution isn't the presence or absence of external repression -- it's the presence or absence of consciousness, subjectivation or activation of political subjectivity.

Having studied it, what's women's role in religion?

In the case of Christianity, there are passages of the sacred texts that are clearly and explicitly discriminatory, such as the passage of the First Letter to Timothy that says women must keep silent in church, that they are not allowed to teach, and that, if they haven't understood something, when they get home, they are to ask their husbands. Or the text of Ezekiel where God says that menstruation is unclean. What can you do with these texts? I think they're useful for not idolizing the Bible, being able to assume responsibility for one's own faith and one's own interpretation, knowing that we made the decision to give more importance to some texts than to others and to reject some of them. In the other great religious traditions (Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism), the same thing happens.

Is the current political left alienated from Christianity?

When I hear the word "left", I can't help but wonder what that is. I'm aware of the whole European tradition that sees the Left as a reform of capitalism. But when I use the word "Left", it's to indicate an alternative to capitalism. If I'm thinking about that Left, I think it's quite alienated from Christianity. Because they're anticlerical and the Catholic Church today is clerical. But there can't be a story closer to the radical Left than Jesus. Arrested by the police of his time, he was tortured as many people still are today and he was murdered, executed by the state with a false accusation. Obviously, those of us who call ourselves followers of that Jesus don't usually have such a story. Some do. We have Pedro Casaldàliga and other figures, but it's clear that most of us have accommodated. And what I would like is to contribute to throwing this accommodation off center.

The dogmas of the institutional church are increasingly removed from society. Just the opposite of what you support. What makes you stay?

I wasn't born into a religious family. I was 15 years old when I read the Gospels for the first time and they made an impact on me. So I started from something that is deep in me. It's like falling in love. From this first impact, I read liberation theology and I was fascinated by everything they said. Then I went to Sant Pere Claver parish in Barcelona, Poble Sec. There they were consistent with what I was reading. And all this was weaving an indelible biography. But in fact, until today, I haven't felt that church membership closed the door on my working honestly for what I think must be worked for. Of the three places -- the university, the hospital and the community -- where I have spent or spend the most time, the monastery is where I feel the most free. At the university, you have to watch the sacred cows because if you trample on their toes, you end up on the outs. In the hospitals, I'm not saying anything has changed but when I lived in the United States, I felt completely stifled. Therefore, this comparison between a repressive church and a society that has already overcome it, is not my experience.

You speak of falling in love. Is faith irrational for you?

No, but it isn't rational. Is love irrational? It can be sometimes, but that which is not, is rational. Love can't be fit into a box, it can't be conceptualized, can't be reduced to a cognitive argument. Is poetry irrational? No, but it's not rational. It's an activity of the human spirit that energizes the freest part of it. Religion is the same.

Have you ever received pressure because of your political activism?

For political activism itself, no. I received a letter of admonition from Cardinal Rodé, but that was on the subject of abortion. I've also had some censorship when I've been prohibited from speaking. That happened in Tarragona when I spoke critically of the beatification last year of the martyrs of the Civil War. I was to have made a speech and the archbishop of Tarragona forbade it. But where there has been more attempts at censorship against me has been on the medical side. At one conference I was told they could no longer invite me because two drug companies had withdrawn funding. And another was this very year when I was to talk in Lleida about the papillomavirus vaccine and there was pressure even from the Ministry. So I don't deny problems within the Church, but I still see much lack of freedom outside it.

The bishop of Solsona believes that abortion is not a "right", but a "terrible and abominable crime." What do you think?

I recognize that there is an ethical conflict on the issue of abortion. One of the fundamental and non-negotiable rights is the right to life. But the right to self-determination is as fundamental as the right to life. While the issue of abortion is sometimes raised as if there were no conflict, I think it does exist. Because I recognize not just one principle, but two. The Catholic teaching says that this conflict must always be resolved so that life comes first. But I have found examples where, in the face of this clash of rights, the Church allows the right to self-determination to come first. In the case, for example, of a child who needs a kidney transplant and his father has a compatible one. It is a real example. Ninety thousand people in the United States each year await a kidney transplant. In these circumstances, the Catholic Church says the father has to decide. So that's hypocrisy.

What do you think about the Church enjoying exemptions from the real estate tax?

I think it's good. Non-Catholic faiths and non-profit entities and NGOs don't pay it either. But actually I think today there's a privilege problem for the Church in Spain because there are some subsidies that come indirectly to certain schools. I don't know if this tax is the best example.

Incidentally, does the Sant Benet monastery pay the property tax?

It doesn't pay it, like the rest of the monasteries and churches.

Let's talk about Procés Constituent. It was born with the aim of bringing together groups from the alternative left to Catalonia to form a joint candidacy. The space, however, is even more fragmented with the emergence of Podem. Will the mission fail?

Getting that broad unity doesn't look good at the moment. But the primary purpose of Procés Constituent remains the same, that is, knowing whether there is a majority in Catalonia that wants to change the course of antisocial policies. I'm convinced that there is. So we need to find the formula. That's not easy, as I can testify. But the first step for me would be for us to end up going with a political party if we can't all go.

Will that happen?

I don't know. We will decide at the assembly. So far, with the various actors with whom we are having discussions, we've received this offer. All of them would agree to a bilateral alliance and thus the way is open.

Who are they all?

Regarding the negotiations, what I can say is that with both ICV-EUiA and CUP -- in the case of Podem, there haven't been formal negotiations in Catalonia because they aren't constituted yet -- there's the prospect of making some type of agreement. What we haven't specified are the conditions. Once we have, we can discuss it in the General Assembly. If unity then becomes possible, we'd be delighted. That's why we were born.

What's certain is that you will be in the next election...

You see that my personal position leans towards that. But that is my position. The supreme body of Procés Constituent, the General Assembly, is who decides. I, too, once we have specified the conditions, will think about my final position, because based on that, I can opt for one stance or another. For me it's no desideratum to go with one party or another. I will evaluate any alliance based on how solid the possibility is that that alliance will be a first step toward a broader future entity.

Do you see yourself as a deputy?


In the event that, once the elections have been held, a sum of all separatist forces were necessary, would Procés Constituent agree to join a coalition government?

In my opinion, it's impossible to govern together with a neoliberal government. The government has to decide whether to continue with the cutbacks or not. I'm in alliance with anyone who wants to stop the cutbacks but not with anyone who wishes to continue them.

Do you have faith in the political process Catalonia is going through?

I have faith in God. In God and in people. I do think that the Catalan process has revolutionary and popular empowerment potential. But all that potential is still hard to evaluate because so far we have rebelled against power with power. The process has begun from below, but there has been an interaction with the government that has not been adversarial. At the most, "President, put out the ballot boxes" but this is a request rather than a demand. Therefore, this conflict between what is popular and what is a network of special interests, which is what we want to change when we're talking about a break, we still haven't played that card deep down. That 2,400,000 people took to the streets doing civil disobedience on November 9th is key, but it was just civil disobedience supported by the powers.

Lately you've been at the center of a new controversy for arguing that diseases such as malaria and Ebola could be treated with an accessible low cost product, the so-called miracle mineral supplement (MMS) or chlorine dioxide . Some people have criticized you on the grounds that it's a risky product and is not scientifically proven. What's your experience with MMS?

I have it at the monastery and I've taken it successfully with no side effects when a cold or allergy starts. With colleagues in the monastery who have come from Kenya, I have seen that it has made fever pass that they said was malaria and one of them took MMS in Kenya and her mother successfully gives it with no side effects to anyone who has malaria. Yes, there have been studies, but much more research would be necessary because it has great potential. What makes no sense is that people who sell it and pass on the information I am giving now are being persecuted. Why persecute them rather than promote it? The suspicion is that MMS has the potential to displace many drugs. If proven effective, this would directly affect the interests of some of the most powerful companies in the world, which are the pharmaceutical ones. With Josep Pàmies, an expert on this issue, and other colleagues, we have prepared a conference on January 9th at the Marist Col·legi de la Immaculada in Barcelona to talk about everything.

The drug companies in the case of MMS, the influenza A and HPV [vaccines], and the big American and European companies in the case of the TTIP. You're arguing that citizens' rights are threatened by private interests ...

Currently, political power has economic power over it. This is anti-democracy. Because democracy is not just voting. It's obvious that voting is essential. But you need something before and after so that we can talk about real democracy. Previously, we need a debate. If they tell me, for example, that the HPV vaccine is excellent and has no side effects and then ask me my opinion, I would say go ahead, because there would have been no prior debate and I wouldn't have been able to hear critical voices. Now we are going again to the scenario of elections with a very short time framework to be able to debate, consider and weigh the options as they would merit. And the quality of democracy is measured by the quality of the debate prior to decision making. But that is not enough to talk about real democracy. You have to be able to revoke. So first deliberate, then vote and then third, if we were wrong, revoke. Not have to wait four years to change a political situation, because that is mortgaging four years of democracy.

We've talked about social justice but based on Christianity, and even more these days, there is much talk of charity. Some criticize this term because, in their view, it's substituted for the concept of solidarity that calls for a fair distribution based on common interests.

I would defend the notion of charity because the way I understand it has to do with freedom and dignity. However, I also see the paternalistic version. Some people may say we don't touch the structures that generate poverty, we give alms to the poor and we let them know it's alms. This is the big difference between the Right and the Left. Right-wingers are people who think that it's good that competitiveness exists in the social sphere. And then they use the charitable institutions to help people who may have a competitive disadvantage. However, a leftist, for me, doesn't believe in competitiveness as a fundamental value, but in solidarity because they take the disadvantaged person's perspective.

And in this obvious context of injustice, are you never invaded by a crisis of faith?

I've never had a crisis of faith. I've had moments of discouragement. But times of doubting that God exists, no. Sometimes I've thought, God calls me to be in the monastery but I can't anymore. During the novitiate I had those moments because I felt that I had been put in a pit in which I didn't see how my life would be 10 years later. I spent some long months badly. And now, with the political process, sometimes when you see that because of problems, including personal ones, a step that would have been good becomes impossible, there are moments of discouragement too. But that is human.