Saturday, September 30, 2017

Jesus hated borders

by José María Castillo (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
September 26, 2017

A border is the line that separates and divides one nation from another, one country from another, and often one culture from another. Therefore borders separate us, perhaps divide us, and often alienate us from one another. Hence, so often, borders make us oppose each other. It's inevitable.

You'll say I'm exaggerating the negative. It's possible. But no one can deny that history is full of peripeteia and unfortunate events related to what I've just pointed out.

That said, because of my professional formation (or deformation), when I see a problem or a situation like the one we're experiencing right now in Spain, in Europe and the world, I dip into the Gospel and ask myself, "Does Jesus of Nazareth teach me anything that will help guide me in what is happening?".

Jesus gave nationalist signals. When he sent his apostles to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, the first thing he told them was not to go to the pagans or to the Samaritan cities (Mt 10:5). And to the Canaanite woman who asked him for healing for her sick daughter, he said that he had only come for the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 15:24). Scholars of these stories look for explanations for these strange episodes. Because, among other things, we know very well that Jesus greatly valued the Samaritans (Lk 9:51-56, 10:30-35, 17:11-19; Jn 4). And it's that, apparently, in Jesus' mind the "lost sheep" were precisely among his people, in Israel. Hence his emphasis that the apostles attend first of all to those who are lost and astray. Jesus' mentality wasn't nationalist. Not at all. It was a humanitarian mentality.

So it draws one's attention that the first time, according to Luke's gospel, that Jesus went to his hometown (Nazareth), they asked him to do the reading in the synagogue. And nothing else occurred to him but to, when reading a text of the prophet Isaiah (61:1-2), just mention the "year of favor" and skip the "day of vengeance" bit. Which caused the confrontation (according to the most correct translation. J. Jeremias) of the people (Lk 4:22). And the worst was that, instead of calming his fellow citizens, he went on to say that God prefers strangers (a widow from Zarephath and a politician from Syria) (Lk 4:24-27) to his Nazareth nieghbors. That made the people furious and it was truly a miracle that they didn't shoot him down (Lk 4:28-30). Jesus hated borders to the point of risking his life to make it clear that he didn't support borders that separate and divide us.

But this isn't what's most striking. One of the most surprising things in the gospels is that the three most notable compliments Jesus gave about faith, he didn't give to his apostles or to his compatriots or his friends. He gave them to a Roman centurion (Mt 8:10), a Canaanite woman (Mt 15:28), and a Samaritan leper who came to thank Jesus, as opposed to the nine Jewish lepers who were just satisfied with fulfilling "their law" (Lk 17:11-19).

Jesus, on dying, "handed over the spirit" (Jn 19:30). Did he leave this life? Of course he did. But something much deeper: he "handed over" ("paradídomi") the "Spirit". For the 4th gospel, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, everything happened in that moment (H. U. Weidemann). And from that moment, which changed History, the myth of the Tower of Babel, the many languages, our divisions and inability to understand one another and live together as one and in peace, ended. It's the pinnacle of the Gospel. And if the God thing is good for anything, what good is it to us if each passing day it becomes more unbearable for us to live united together? Is it that Spain and Catalonia are more important than the Gospel of Jesus? From what we're seeing, for many Christians and quite a few priests, that's how it is. Or that's the impression they're giving.

Interview with Dom Pedro Casaldáliga

by José M. Vidal (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
September 26, 2017

He was always like a small thin reed, but with iron health and steel nerves. Today, at 89 years old, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga (Balsereny, 1928), the poet-bishop of the marginalized, remains a reed but doubled over by Parkinson's. From his wheelchair, he administers his silences and husbands his words which, from time to time, continue to flow like prophetic darts -- laconic and right on. He doesn't want Catalan independence, he asks young people to move on to action, and he asserts that Francis is "a blessing from God".


Padre Angel (L) and Dom Pedro Casaldaliga (R)
 in the chapel in Sao Felix do Araguaia, Brazil



Don Pedro, do you like to receive visits?

Some, yes.

As a Catalonian and Catalonia International Prize winner, what do you think of the [independence] process?

We'll see what happens with independence. I would prefer that it not be. There are wise people who are going to approach the matter differently. It's not a natural process. It makes no sense.

Did you know Tarancón [Cardinal Vicente Enrique y Tarancón]?

Yes, when I was a seminarian in Barbastro and he was bishop in Solsona. He was a worthy figure with the vocation of intermediary during that difficult time in Spain.

Where do your hope and strength come from, despite everything?

Relying on somebody.

Who is that somebody?

It could only be Him.

What nourishes your hope?

The Resurrection of Christ.

If you could change just one thing in the world, what would it be?

That everyone who has power would stand in the right place: life.

And what would you change in the Catholic Church?

Put power in the people's hands. Otherwise, it becomes a problem. In the Church, the crucial thing is giving one's life for others and a gospel devotion to the Beatitudes.

Did you have problems with the hierarchy?

Yes, I did.

What did you do and what should be done in those cases?

Continue to stand firm on the side of the poor and always bear witness.

Would you order the churches to be open 24 hours?

Yes, so the people might come in, sleep, eat, and pray, if they want.

Some advice for young people.

That they remain rebels with hope, despite the despair. And always on the side of the poor and excluded. We've been talking about consciousness raising for years. That time is over. It's time to act and respond to specific calls.

What do you say to Father Ángel [García Rodríguez] who came to see you from Madrid?

That he keep on being a prophet and looking out for peace, which is lived out and is a process.

What do you think of Pope Francis?

A blessing from God.

Are you, like him, a blessing from God?

We're all blessings from God, if we are listening and if we are committed to interchange and dialogue. Because the problem is how to live daily life in the midst of this violent world.

Do you regret anything?

Not having enough attitude of dialogue.

What are you most proud of?

The many people who still accompany me on the journey and having given my life to the excluded, the marginalized, the little ones.

Your favorite saints?

Saint Francis of Assisi (when I went to Rome, I wanted to go to Assisi to see Father Arrupe, but I couldn't).

And poets?

Antonio Machado, Saint John of the Cross (his "Spiritual Canticle" comes first), Espriu, Neruda and Maragall.

Thank you very much, Dom Pedro.

You're welcome. We have talked. Now it's about doing.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ivone Gebara: "The hierarchy thinks that the Gospel message is a sealed package to deliver to the faithful"

by Luis Miguel Modino (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Religión Digital
June 25, 2017

Ivone Gebara is one of the main references of feminist theology of the last decades, not only in the Brazilian arena but in the world. She defines herself as a feminist liberation theologian and is aware that this stance determines how she understands Christianity.

Her critical attitude has caused rejection in many church environments, often coming from people who do not inquire into the presuppositions that are the basis of the theological reflection of the Brazilian nun, who has always made clear on which side she stands, that of the marginalized groups within society and the Church itself.

In this interview, Ivone Gebara shows her thoughts regarding the female world within the Catholic Church, which she accuses of being influenced more by cultural models than by Jesus Christ's own message, implying that the attempts at change Pope Francis has wanted to carry out in reference to women are actions which, in her opinion, won't give rise, for now, to anything novel.

Why is it so hard in the Catholic Church to assume a theological view from the female perspective?

The Church has no difficulty in assuming the feminine from its model, that is, from its view of human relationships and the place it has determined that women occupy. In that view, there is an almost ontological priority of men in relation to women, since they are the first image of God, the one which can represent Christ.

This theology is still the current theology and it wasn't necessarily created by the Church, but by the Greco-Roman culture that marked the formation of Christian theology. Cultural processes are very slow and involve a complexity of behaviors and motions that don't always submit to our rationalizations.

I think it will take a long time for egalitarian anthropological change to take place in the world and in the Church.

From your point of view, what were the causes of the attempt to subject women within Christianity and later within Catholicism throughout history?

I think we copied the models of other cultures and we made those models the will of God and of Jesus. And unfortunately most of the theology teaching still administered in the Institutes and Faculties of Theology, and also in the parishes, is done from a hierarchical view of human beings, not just of gender, but of race and social classes too.

The Church doesn't change independently of the world. The Church as an institution would hardly assume a position of justice and gender equality different from that of the world. It even goes to fight the world, believing that it's obeying divine will. It doesn't ask itself whether there is in fact such an unequal and unjust divine will, whether in fact that view doesn't imply maintaining a now ultra-outdated model of power with very marked totalitarian features.

Isn't subjecting women an attitude contrary to the new that Jesus wanted to establish?

Jesus wasn't a feminist. Feminism is a contemporary movement. But in Jesus' tradition, in Jesus' Movement, we find an egalitarian ethical dimension along the lines of individual rights that is an inspiration to the feminist theologies of our time. But it's necessary to have our eyes and ears open to perceive that in the Gospels.

The arrival of Pope Francis brought a new church policy in regard to women. Do you think it's enough with those new attitudes or is something more radical needed? What do you think of the proposal to ordain women deacons?

I don't think Pope Francis has brought a new church policy regarding women. He's brought many important things, but not with respect to women. The female diaconate project is still in the "bain-marie", and I don't think it has the chance to get off paper and out of the meetings in which the same things are discussed eternally.

The Pope rejects the word "feminism", the expression "gender relations", the term "feminist hermeneutics" of the Bible, patriarchalism and other interventions that are important to feminist liberation theology.

He thinks a theology should be done for women, which shows great naiveté in relation to what we have already done in half a century of activity in different parts of the world. I believe that the changes have to take place in the communities, in the barrios, in the daily life of the people before appearing as decrees of the Pope or some bishop.

Can a Church where women are not on an equal plane with men enter into dialogue with today's society?

I believe it's very hard to enter into dialogue with the problems of the world today. And this in part because the hierarchical Church, the one that holds the authority over the Catholic communities, thinks that the message of the Gospel is a sealed package that it's responsible for delivering to the faithful.

They don't open the doors to think about Jesus' heritage for the world of today starting from an ethos of diversity, but at the same time centered on love and respect towards people. The Church's success, with rare exceptions, is still in mass devotion, in miracles, in sanctuaries, that is, in that which is expressed as religiosity that is given for people's consumption.

I don't think this is very educational, especially in current times. It hardly meets the needs of an orphaned people for leaders and care for one another. A people where the hunger for peace and health almost necessarily leads to expecting from superhuman powers what the powers of the earth could offer.

Unfortunately the Pope goes on creating the beatified -- men and women saints -- perhaps even half forced to do so by the conservatives who surround him. But it doesn't seem to me a good path for the growth of collective responsibility in a cruel world like ours.

Lately, you've addressed issues related to ecotheology. Should Christianity deal with this dimension as a fundamental aspect of reflection?

I've worked on several issues of ecotheology, but along an ecofeminist philosophical line, starting from which I stress the interdependence of all things. This undoubtedly requires an interesting interpretation of the Bible and different theological work.

I think the current theology of our Churches barely fixes things. In other words, it includes a fashionable theme in a theological structure from the past as if the urgent revision of concepts were not needed.

Has the encyclical Laudato Si' helped in this theological viewpoint? From it, is there more awareness of the importance of reflection on these aspects?

The encyclical Laudato Si' seems to me a document with important information on issues relating to ecology and especially climate problems, but its theology is inadequate.

In other words, its theology doesn't take up the appeals that the encyclical itself states are being made by the world today. There is an unevenness and a clash of discourses within the text itself.

We have a long way to go and every day it's necessary to take whatever steps are possible.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

New reference book on liberation theology

by Jacques Berset (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Cath.ch (en français)
June 21, 2016

The very first Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération ["Historical Dictionary of Liberation Theology"] has just come out at Editions Lessius, in Brussels. This compendium of over 650 pages is coming out in a context of globalized socio-cultural and economic realities, while liberation theology (LT) was born in Latin America in the atmosphere of revolutionary effervescence of the 1970s.

LT, which aims at an integral liberation of man, seemed to have wilted long ago, but this book brings it back into the spotlight. This new dictionary shows that the evolution of LT is still in progress. Developed at the beginning by the Peruvian priest and theologian Gustavo Gutiérrez, to whom the paternity of this theological approach developed in contact with the poorest and with their participation has been attributed, LT has become widely diversified in the meantime.

The preferential option for the poor

Some one hundred specialists of 28 nationalities have collaborated in the development of this dictionary which has 280 entries. These entries are the key themes, countries and people -- whether the theologians who have theorized LT or the actors who were inspired by it and put it into practice. For the authors of the book, LT is one of the rare theologies that has always wanted to act on the peoples' history.

A large panorama of LT, from its origins to the present day, closes the book, which is edited by Maurice Cheza, a specialist in Third World theologies, Luis Martinez Saavedra, a specialist on LT in Latin America, and Pierre Sauvage, a specialist on LT in Latin America and its reception in the Western world. They have benefited from the assistance of Alzirinha Rocha de Souza, an expert on LT in Brazil, and Caroline Sappia, a an expert on LT in South America and its reception in the French-speaking world.

One discovers through the pages that for decades LT has been addressing problems that have long been left in the shadows, always starting from the preferential option for the poor. It deals with the emancipation of women, black and indigenous people, and the question of the preservation of creation, namely ecology, thus addressing many perspectives.

The South has transformed the North

Along with Father Gustavo Gutiérrez, received into the Dominican order in 2004, the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff is considered one of the most prominent representatives of Latin American liberation theology. But the book makes it possible to discover many other less well-known players in our latitudes and from very diverse socio-cultural contexts.

The reader may be surprised to find entries on North America (Canada and the United States) and Europe (Belgium, Spain, France, Switzerland). In fact, these countries have formed a great number of theologians and pastoral agents close to LT in Latin America. Many of their trainers went to countries in the south, especially in Latin America, some stayed there, notably as Fidei Donum priests. Those who returned were inspired by what they had found, trying to form basic ecclesial communities (BECs) in Europe and in North America, or groups of the same style.

With Pope Francis, a new wind is blowing on the Church

Pope Francis' presence on the throne of Peter has, from the start, made a new wind blow in the Church. The Argentinian pontiff immediately wanted to be a shepherd among shepherds "permeated by the smell of their sheep." He encouraged them, from his first Chrism Mass at the Vatican on March 28, 2013, to serve the poor and the oppressed. For some time already, LT no longer provokes the same Roman mistrust, and the new generation of theologians has been clearing new fields of reflection and action.

Indeed, the time of the Instruction on Certain Aspects of the "Theology of Liberation", written in 1984 by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is long past.

Christ, a social and political liberator?

The future Pope Benedict XVI then denounced "that current of thought which, under the name 'theology of liberation', proposes a novel interpretation of both the content of faith and of Christian existence which seriously departs from the faith of the Church and, in fact, actually constitutes a practical negation." Remarks that were very well received and especially utilized by the powerful supporters of the status quo, both in the countries of the North as well as those in the South.

For the Vatican, in an era that had not emerged from the Cold War, it was a question of warning against the deviations caused by the introduction of elements of Marxism into the interpretation of social reality. It also criticized "rationalizing" interpretations of the Bible, tending to reduce the story of Christ to that of a social and political liberator.

A theology of freedom

The same Cardinal Ratzinger would, in 1986, publish a new Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation that, while not annulling the earlier one, completed and nuanced it. Rome was rereading LT in a positive manner by introducing the spiritual dimension of a theology of freedom. The intervention of certain leading figures of the Brazilian episcopate of the time, supporting the most visible protagonists of LT, had not remained without effect! In the same year, John Paul II would even say in a letter to the Brazilian episcopate that "liberation theology is not only timely but useful and necessary!"

This Dictionnaire is intended for those who are passionate about history and theology, for those who are interested in the history of ideas as well as that of those women and men involved in the transformation of a fundamentally unjust society, sometimes at the risk of their lives. The general public has here a practical instrument for accessing the essential elements of liberation theology, which has been widely diversified and refined in a constantly changing context.

Reservations and reluctance within the Vatican

The work highlights these rising generations who are working on new issues and are henceforth benefiting from some recognition from the Vatican. It is enough to recall the fundamental role played by Pope Francis in the canonization process of Msgr. Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of San Salvador, who was assassinated by the right-wing death squads on March 24, 1980. The prelate, killed "in hatred of faith", according to the formula defining martyrdom, was beatified May 23, 2015 in San Salvador, mainly thanks to the personal commitment of Pope Francis ... and despite the reservations or even the reluctance (*) of certain ecclesiastical circles, both in El Salvador and in the Vatican.

(*) "There were many in Rome, including some cardinals, who did not want to see him beatified. They said that he had been killed for political reasons, not religious ones." Msgr. Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the postulator for the cause of of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, in the Jesuit magazine America on April 17, 2017.

Bibliographic Details:

Title: Dictionnaire historique de la théologie de la libération
Author: Maurice Cheza, Luis Martínez Saavedra, and Pierre Sauvage (eds)
Publisher: Editions Lessius
Publication Date: March 2017
ISBN: 9782872993130
Number of pages: 656
Language: French

Read the Foreword here. (MS Word; in French)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

SAVE THE DATE: 37 Congreso de Teología

The Asociación de Teólogos y Teólogas Juan XXIII will host their 37th Theology Congress September 7-10, 2017 in Madrid, Spain, on the subject "Women and religion: From discrimination to gender equality". This congress is in Spanish.

LOGISTICS:

Date: September 7-10, 2017

Place: Salón de Actos de Comisiones Obreras, calle Lope de Vega, 40, Madrid, Spain

Registration: You can pay in advance through an electronic funds transfer. See Inscripciones page for instructions. You can also pay at the door in cash on the first day of the conference. Participants are responsible for their own accommodations, travel, and food. The cost of registration in euros is:
  • Full Congress: 30€
  • Saturday and Sunday: 20€
  • Sunday only: 10€



PROGRAM:


The program has not been finalized but here is what we know:

Lectures:

  • 1st: "Critical analysis of patriarchal society" - Soledad Murillo (University of Salamanca and UN consultant)
  • 2nd: "Bodies, sexuality, and women's rights" - Justa Montero (Asamblea Feminista de Madrid)
  • 3rd: "Priesthood of women, patriarchy and power in the Churches" - Lidia Rodríguez (University of Deusto)
  • 4th: "Sexual identities and Christianity" - Krzysztof Charamsa (Polish theologian; former member of the International Theological Commission)
  • 5th: "Liberation theology and gender" - Marilú Rojas Salazar (Comunidad Teológica, Mexico)
  • 6th: "The urgency of a political spirituality" - Emma Martínez Ocaña (Theologian and psychotherapist)
Roundtables:

  • Women's movements:
    • In Latin America -- Ana Marcela Montanaro (Carlos III University of Madrid)
    • In Africa -- Alicia Cebada (Carlos III University of Madrid. Responsible for training programs of Fundación Mujeres por África)
    • In Spain -- Beatriz Gimeno (LGBTI feminist activist)


  • What are we doing/what are they doing with our bodies?
    • Wombs for rent -- Laura Freixas (Writer)
    • The prostitution system -- Laura Nuño (King Juan Carlos University)
    • Diversity and sexual dissidence -- Violeta Assiego (Lawyer and LGBTI activist)
Communications:
  • Men and women in MOCEOP -- Ramón Alario and Teresa Cortés
  • Women in the Anglican Church -- Deborah Champman (Anglican priest)
  • Women's Movements in Islam -- Artiqa el Yousfi (Asociación ONDA)


Photo: Speakers (Top L-R): Soledad Murillo, Krzysztof Charamsa, Justa Montero. (Bottom L-R): Emma Martínez Ocaña, Marilú Rojas Salazar, Lidia Rodríguez

Saturday, June 17, 2017

François Houtart and Miguel D'Escoto -- Servants of the Oppressed

by Frei Betto (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Gente de Opinião (em português)
June 12, 2017

François Houtart passed away on June 6th in Ecuador. He was 92 years old and had the revolutionary enthusiasm of a youth of 20. Our last encounter was in March 2017 when I gave a series of talks in Quito at the invitation of President Rafael Correa. François went with me the whole time. We went together to Pucahuaico, where the body of Monsignor Leônidas Proaño, an indigenous bishop identified with liberation theology, is buried. The chapel at the foot of the Imbabura volcano was full of native and working class people. Houtart presided at the Eucharistic celebration.

The next day, Rafael Correa offered us lunch. He had been François' student in Louvain, Belgium, where Houtart taught Sociology and Religious Studies for years to students from the periphery of the world, among whom were the Colombian Camilo Torres and Brazilian Pedro Ribeiro de Oliveira who told us:

"In 1975, I went back to Belgium to begin my doctorate. The first working meeting with Houtart, my adviser, dismantled everything I had prepared for the thesis on popular Catholicism. He said it was insufficient because it did not have a sociological explanation. To add to my astonishment, he added: 'As you should not be unaware of, only Marxist theory is really explanatory. The rest are merely descriptive.' I stumbled out of there, not understanding how a priest, who had been an expert at the Council [Vatican II], even collaborating in the writing of Gaudium et Spes, had become a Marxist without leaving the Church. Gradually I understood it: he was actively opposing the US war against Vietnam, and so he had discovered in the theory of class struggle a theoretical tool capable of elucidating what was at stake in that war, the anticolonialist movements of Africa and Asia, and the Latin American dictatorships. The best part is that he convinced me once and for all. The last time we participated together in a Sociology of Religion conference, we were the only sociologists to use Marxist tools to explain religious facts. I joked with him, asking him to take a long time to die, so I wouldn't be alone using Marx to understand religion ... "

François was tall, he had very clear eyes and smiled easily, even when expressing, at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2005, pertinent criticisms of the Brazilian government in the presence of President Lula. A slow speaker, his scientific reasoning was didactic, since he had left Europe to live in Latin America and to devote himself to the social movements of countries of our continent, Africa and Asia. In 2016, he advised the national congress of the MST [the Landless Workers' Movement] in Brasilia.

We stayed together on several occasions when attending events in Brazil, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. I always wondered how a man over 80 years of age found so much enthusiasm to travel around the world, often carrying a heavy suitcase with books of his, without ever complaining about lodging in a native tent high in the Andes, in an MST settlement in Brazil, or in a rice planters' hut in Vietnam.

In his years of study in Rome, François had as a colleague a young man named Karol Wojtyla. He told me that the Polish seminarian had an obsession with learning languages. He used the holidays to travel to the regions of Europe where he would learn a new language. On one occasion he accompanied Houtart to Belgium, interested in improving his French and learning Flemish.

One night, Wojtyla returned to the house in heavy rain. His Polish shoes had been ruined by the water. François found a Belgian seminarian who, as he wore the same size as the Pole, could give him a new pair. Decades later, now a priest, the donor of the shoes wanted to be received by Pope John Paul II. The bureaucracy alleged lack of time. When he sent a note to the pope, reminding him about the shoes, the doors of the Vatican opened.

In 2016, Houtart invited me to Ecuador for a seminar on Pope Francis' socio-environmental encyclical Laudato Si'. From the work together in those days came the publication, signed by both of us, Laudato Si - Cambio Climático y Sistema Económico ("Laudato Si': Climate Change and the Economic System" -- Quito, Centro de Publicaciones, Pontifícia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, 2016).

During the trip we made last March to the Andean region of Ecuador, François told me about his participation at the age of 15 in the resistance against the Nazi occupation in Belgium. He and a friend decided to build a homemade bomb to derail a train of Hitler's soldiers. They were unsuccessful and the attack cost him a tug of his ears from his mother. He also told me that he had more than ten brothers and sisters. A decade ago, with everyone alive, they gathered to commemorate the 1,000 years of the sum of their ages.

During John Paul II's visit to Cuba in January 1998, Fidel invited Houtart to advise him, accompanied by Pedro Ribeiro de Oliveira, the Italian theologian Giulio Girardi, and myself. These were days of intense community work.

Worker training

 In 2016, François sent me an interesting account about his formation, which I'm transcribing here in Spanish:

"During my seminary years in Malines (Belgium), I participated in numerous meetings of the JOC ["Jeunesse Ouvrière Catholique" -- "Young Christian Workers"] in Wallonia and Brussels, during vacations. That's where I found out about the situation of the working class of that period (1944-1949). Just after the post-war period, Europe's reconstruction effort was accompanied by over-exploitation of labor, and the social conditions of young people were particularly scandalous."

"The regional and national JOC congresses provided information on the broader framework of the economic and social situation. In addition, I was able to visit different factories and coal mines. The Belgian JOC put me in touch with the movement in France, the Netherlands, England, Germany and Spain, and little by little the international dimension also became an important part of my introduction into the world of work."

"On many occasions, I met with Monsignor Cardijn (founder of the JOC) and was very impressed by his combativeness, his insistence on the incompatibility between social injustice and the Christian faith, and his knowledge of the lives of young workers. I also discovered the pedagogical method -- not starting from above imposing knowledge, but from below, discovering reality: seeing, judging, acting."

"This experience prompted me to ask, after my priestly ordination, to begin studies in Social and Political Sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain. I spent 3 years there, staying in permanent contact with the JOC, following certain sections, traveling through Europe for meetings with the movement. My undergraduate thesis was devoted to the study of the pastoral structures of Brussels, having discovered, on the one hand, their absence in the working class environment, and on the other, the identification of Christian religious culture with bourgeois culture, creating a divorce from the working class and, in particular, young people."

"During the last year of my studies in Louvain, I was the chaplain of the Young Workers Home in Brussels, a service of JOC for youth who had faced Juvenile Justice."

"On the European level, I had the most contacts in France, particularly in the Paris region -- St Denis and other suburbs. I became friends with some worker priests, and I even stayed in their homes."

"After getting a scholarship at the University of Chicago (1952-1953), to continue studying Urban Sociology and the Sociology of Religion, I lived in a parish where I worked as chaplain for JOC in the city. It was also the occasion of many meetings with JOC in the United States. During Easter vacation in 1953, I went to Havana to attend a JOC Congress of Central America and the Caribbean where Cardijn was present. I was able to have meetings with the local sections and meet with the national chaplain of Cuba. That put me onto the Latin American problem which I had wanted to know about for some time. After the congress I accompanied the JOC chaplain of Haiti to Port-au-Prince and I spent a week in the country in visits and meetings with the Haitian movement."

"Then I gave classes for a semester at the University of Montreal, and also participated in the activities of the movement. From there I moved again to Latin America and for 6 months I traveled to almost all the countries, from Mexico to Argentina, always with JOC, thanks to contacts made during the international congresses. It was a great learning experience, discovering the continent from below. Once more I discovered the chasms between the rich and the poor and the unbelievable exploitation of urban and rural young people. I was struck by the role of the priests attached to the movement in the renewal of a Church so alienated from the people and so close to the social elites and oligarchies. They were active in all fields: social, liturgical, pastoral, biblical. Many of those priests belonged to religious orders and quite a few of them had studied in Europe."

"That contact with Latin America was what made me begin, in 1958, a socio-religious study about the continent as a whole, with teams in each country, several times with members of JOC. It ended in 1962 and was published in some forty volumes, which led the Latin American Bishops' Conference to ask me for a synthesis in three languages to distribute at the entrance to the Second Vatican Council to all the bishops and to be with them as a peritus during the 4 years of conciliar work."

"Meanwhile Cardinal Cardijn had asked me if I would agree to be the international chaplain of the movement, which obviously interested me a lot, but my bishop, Cardinal Van Roey didn't approve this idea."

"Then, having worked in Asia during vacations at the University of Louvain, where I was teaching Sociology of Religion, I also got in touch with JOC in Sri Lanka, India, Vietnam, South Korea and the Philippines. With my colleague, Geneviève Lemercinier, we took charge of a training seminar on social analysis for JOC activists in Hong Kong. In South Africa, in the middle of the apartheid era, I participated for 3 days in a national meeting with young white, black, and mixed race workers, which was prohibited in principle, in a convent of the Oblate Fathers in Bloemfontein."

"Everywhere in Latin America, Asia and Africa, I met in the following years with former members of JOC, both in trade unions and in development NGOs, or in progressive and also revolutionary political parties, like in Nicaragua or Bolivia."

"The lessons I've learned from JOC have been numerous and fundamental. First was knowledge of the working world, its struggles, its organizations. Then the method -- seeing, judging, acting -- which gives a very effective reflection framework for the analysis of realities and for the implementation of an action that is adapted to them. If I studied Sociology and if I continued the research work constantly, it was to refine the "seeing" in very different and complex societies. This also allowed me to discover that society could be read from above, but also from below, and that the Gospel option was to read the world with the eyes of the poor and oppressed. There is no neutral science, especially within the framework of the human sciences."

"The pedagogy of JOC and its adaptation to a specific environment of young workers, often hardly literate, has taught me to use simple language, to correctly structure the reasoning so that it is understood -- in a word, to get off the academic pedestal and also learn from those who have practical knowledge that is often despised by so-called 'wisdom'."

"Finally, it's also JOC that has led me to delve deeper into the social dimension of the Gospel, and to understand that what the Lord asks for is love in practice. It's not just about a personal attitude, but this love implies building a just society and following the example of Jesus in his society, where he proclaimed the values of the Kingdom of God -- love of neighbor, justice, equality, mercy, peace -- and fought all the oppressive economic, social, political and even religious powers. Not in vain did he die (executed) on the cross."(Quito, 01.03.16)

His passing

Nidia Arrobo Rodas, who worked with François at the Fundación Pueblo Indio del Ecuador [Ecuador Indigenous People's Federation], tells of his final moments:

"Our dear François went as he lived, with total serenity, whole, lucid, diaphanous, on his feet...The night before, after an Act of Denunciation at IAEN (Instituto de Altos Estudios Nacionales) about the Tamil genocide, we ate supper as usual, the "soup" he liked so much, and for him it was vital to have it in communion in our mini-residence at nightfall and, as usual, he went off to sleep...Of course he kept working in his room...We don't know until what time...Because even at eleven at night we were still receiving his emails."

"At dawn, we guess he got up to go to the shower and his strength failed him...He had gotten out of bed, he had sat down in his recliner very near his bed, and with his hand on his heart he stayed sleeping in the deepest sleep of his life, very placidly, without making any noise, very quiet...A massive heart attack...At half past seven in the morning...he awoke in God."

"Precisely in April we had gone to the cardiologist, at my request, because he was feeling very agitated and like he was lacking oxygen...The cardiologist asked him to have surgery on his coronary artery because it had narrowed and the pacemaker was no longer responding as it had when it was put in four years ago. He said: François, the surgery is imminent...He chose to have it in Belgium at the suggestion of the cardiologist himself...But as much as he insisted, he didn't make the decision to travel right away: 'I have many commitments, I have to end the Houtart professorship in June and then I'll go," he told me. Again I told him it was a long time to wait...But he was the absolute master of his will and his decisions...He chose to finish everything he had planned here and travel to Belgium in June for his surgery which, as he would say sportingly, was a very small thing."

"With this, he had tickets bought and bags ready, to travel yesterday (June 9), but first to Bogotá, then a week in Cuba, then a week in Brazil and arrive at the end of June in his Belgium ..."

"I knew he chose freely to live with us, he felt happy, he was happy...and I think that deep in his heart he wanted to end his days right here."

"The final celebration took place -- at my request -- in IAEN, that  Wednesday, exactly at five in the afternoon, the day and time he was to have ended his professorial program this year."

"We are desolate...We were happy with his jovial presence, full of friendship, fineness of spirit, delicacies and incredible details; but at the same time I know he was happy in our midst...He always said so and this fills me with joy and gratitude."

"Nonetheless we feel he is among us, he is alive, goes on, and will go on living and resurrected in the liberation struggles of all the impoverished all over the world, and in the birth pangs with which the INDIGENOUS PEOPLES and our Pachamama moan."

"As is noted in his will, we cremated him...and as soon as possible his ashes will rest with those of his mother in his native Belgium."

Miguel D’Escoto

Two days after Houtart left us, I lost another friend, also a priest and a revolutionary like him, Father Miguel D'Escoto, dead at 84 years. Minister of Foreign Relations of Sandinista Nicaragua from 1979 to 1990, he presided the UN General Assembly in 2008 and 2009.

A diplomat's son, D'Escoto was born in Los Angeles in 1933. He became a priest through the Maryknoll order and was one of the founders of the New York publisher Orbis Books that in 1977 in the United States published my book Cartas da prisão under the title Against principalities and powers.

It was D'Escoto who received Lula and me in Managua on the occasion of the first anniversary of the Sandinista Revolution in July 1979. He took us to the house of Sergio Ramirez, then vice-president of the country, the night of July 19, when we then met and talked at length with Fidel Castro.

In January 1980, he came to São Paulo in the company of Daniel Ortega, president of Nicaragua, to participate in the first world congress on Liberation Theology. He was one of the Sandinista Night speakers at TUCA, the theater of the Catholic University of São Paulo.

On Sunday November 29, 1981, in Managua, we met again in his house which belonged to the executive who presided over the Nicaraguan Central Bank at the time of the Somoza dictatorship. Daniel Ortega, the Secretary-General of the Sandinista National Liberation Front René Nuñez, Fathers Gustavo Gutiérrez, Pablo Richard, Fernando Cardenal, Uriel Molina, and the Social Welfare minister, Father Edgard Parrales, were there.

D'Escoto had just come back from Mexico and he described in detail the recent conversations about Central America between President López Portillo and General Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State. In the minds of the guests, an undisguised satisfaction at the efficiency of Sandinista espionage within the Mexican government.

We talked about the circumstances of the Church, the international campaign against the Revolution and the Sandinista Youth, now under the care of Fernando Cardenal. I was worried about the mechanistic nature of the Marxism that had spread among the Sandinista youth, mere apologetics from old Russian manuals. I stressed the importance of the priests in power -- D'Escoto, Parrales and the Cardenal brothers -- publicly explaining their life of faith. I feared they would project a more political than Christian image.

On Saturday November 16, 1984, in Managua, I returned to D'Escoto's house. I asked him why he hadn't gone to the OAS meeting in Brasília. "In order not to give credit to the OAS," he answered, "which continues to serve as a tool in the hands of the United States against the sovereignty of the people of Central America."

We celebrated the Eucharist under the wicker porch in the backyard. We read and meditated on the Gospel of Matthew 4:25 ff. D'Escoto blurted out: "My body and mind are tired, because they no longer follow the fast pace that circumstances impose on me. I dream of enjoying solitude, taking time for myself and not having to be always on the phone. However, I know that for the moment, this is just a dream. From my intimacy with Jesus, I take the strength that sustains me."

At the end of the celebration, he said to me: "I want two things from you: I am reading with great pleasure Dom Pedro Casaldáliga's latest book. I know he'll be going to Spain soon. Ask him to come through Nicaragua first. And ask Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns to come to Daniel [Ortega]'s inauguration next January 10th."

"Why don't you call Dom Paulo now?," I suggested.

We tried but the cardinal of São Paulo wasn't home.

Eleven days later I personally gave the message to Dom Paulo Evaristo Arns. The following year, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga visited Nicaragua.

In March 1986, I met him again in Havana with Rosario Murillo, current vice-president of Nicaragua and wife of Daniel Ortega, and Manuel Piñeiro, head of the Americas Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba. We talked at length about the situation in Nicaragua and the explicit support bishops Obando and Vega were giving to Reagan's aggression policy. D'Escoto was of the opinion that the priests, religious, and laity should courageously confront the archbishop of Managua, leaving, if necessary, for ecclesiastical disobedience. The latter led to the suspension by Pope John Paul II of his priestly functions, a measure repealed by Pope Francis.

In January 1989, in Havana, we saw each other at the commemoration of the 30 years of the Cuban Revolution. He entertained himself in a long conversation with Leonardo Boff about the theology of the Trinity. "It is the basis of my spirituality," I heard him say. And he lamented the situation of his country: "The hardest thing for the people of Nicaragua isn't American aggression, but the lack of support from the Church."

We had other meetings later,such as during the period he presided the UN General Assembly, which led him to disbelieve entirely in the effectiveness of this important institution manipulated by the interests of the White House.

With the disappearance of François Houtart and Miguel D'Escoto, the cause of the poor and liberation theology have lost something in Latin America. They have left us a legacy of how to live the Christian faith in a world divided between a few billionaires and multitudes of destitute people, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus in this troubled beginning of the twenty-first century.

Frei Betto is a writer, author of Paraíso perdido – viagens ao mundo socialista (Rocco) among other books. Photos: Frei Betto with François Houtart (top) and Miguel D'Escoto (bottom).

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Teresa Forcades: "I left Harvard University for the convent"

by Antonio Gnoli (English translation of this e-mail interview by Rebel Girl)
La Repubblica (in italiano)
June 12, 2017

It isn't easy to imagine what a nun's life might be without thinking of the condition in a certain sense of exclusion in which it is mostly poured out. So when I first met Teresa Forcades and heard her speak not of God but of men and women, not of souls but of bodies, not about abstinence but about sexuality, I felt disconcerting wonder. It was as if an actually loving conscience were hiding in the cycle of religious words. Teresa Forcades is a Benedictine nun of Catalan origin. She is just over fifty years old and observes the rules of the cloister, with some room devoted to socializing. She is a doctor (she studied in the United States), a theologian (Ph.D. in Barcelona and Berlin), she is interested in psychoanalysis and feminism.

How did you move from medicine to theology?

"I would have willingly served as the medical officer in any small village in Catalonia, where there's greater contact with people. But when I finished university, I felt a need for recollection. For about a year, I retreated alone in a country house."

How did you spend the day?

"The hours were marked by a simple order: eating, sleeping, meditating. I had the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola with me. But I wasn't ready for a different life. I was young, still eager to deepen the study of medicine. I was preparing for admission to an American university. I was accepted and spent a certain time in a hospital in Buffalo. It seemed like a secure career but fate had other things in store."

What?

"I met Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, a Roman Catholic theologian and feminist, naturalized American. She was the one who drew me to theology and feminism. But it was difficult to keep the hospital together with new interests. I had also applied to Harvard and the university had accepted my resume. I found myself in a complicated situation: I didn't want to give up my theology studies."

Did you have to choose between the Church and the University?

"More precisely between a final interview that would have then allowed me to get into the best hospitals or..."

Or?

"In that period -- it was 1995 -- I returned briefly to Spain, to the monastery of Montserrat. I was confused and restless. But that place felt familiar to me."

Was it a Benedictine monastery?

"For cloistered nuns. I spent a few weeks in prayer. One day, I was summoned by the abbess who told me she knew about my past as a doctor, especially as an infectious disease expert. She asked if I could explain to her and her sisters what the AIDS virus, which in those years claimed many victims, was. We organized the meeting on an afternoon during which I also wanted to talk about homosexuality and how in people's minds the wrong message was being passed that the illness was to be attributed to the sin of being gay."

How did the nuns react?

"To my great amazement, very well. There were many questions and the discussion continued during dinner. It seemed to me that I had found my world. The next day, I expressed to the abbess my intention to enter the convent. She started to laugh. She wasn't expecting it. I was convinced that I preferred Montserrat to Harvard. She tried to curb my enthusiasm. She advised me to go to Harvard and, if after the two-year scholarship, I still felt the "call," we would talk about it again. Time didn't affect that decision. In fact, I took the vows in 1997."

And how did your parents react?

"My father was incredulous, my mother very angry. Only my sister firmly supported the decision. As for my friends, almost everyone thought I was crazy. Leaving the prospect of Harvard for the convent was an inconceivable choice."

Is yours a bourgeois family?

No. My father was a salesman and my mother, a nurse. They separated when I was eleven years old. I was the first of three sisters. One day, my father, while accompanying us to school, told us that he had fallen in love with another woman."

How did you take it?

"I kept silent. It was a strange reaction. It seemed like a huge gesture to me but at the time I feared for him."

What year was it?

"It was 1977. The caudillo Franco had died a couple of years earlier, after a very long agony. Spain seemed like an immobile country. Isolated from everything. I remember that when I went to Paris in 1978 with my sisters and my mother, I felt a sense of freedom and was moved by everything I saw there."

Do you have any memory of the Franco dictatorship?

"As Catalans, my people were not in favor of the regime. In the family, the story of my two grandfathers circulated. The paternal one had fought for the Left. The maternal one was a doctor and during the civil war he was arrested by the Republicans. He didn't have Franquist sentiments, but the fact that he was one of the authorities in the country convinced the "reds" that grandfather was an enemy of the people and as such he was to be shot."

Was he executed?

"My grandmother wept and begged the commander. She handed over the family jewels and said she was expecting a child (she was pregnant with my mother) and that if the father were shot nobody could take care of their livelihood. This was to save his life."

How did you experience your role as a novice?

"At the beginning there was enthusiasm. Then the doubts began, accompanied by a feeling of oppression, boredom, a lack of perspective."

Were you realizing the difficulty of those vows?

"I felt the comfort of prayer and the simplicity of that world, governed by a harmonious silence. And yet I seemed to sink into despair. It was as if I didn't have the strength, the conviction, the tenaciousness to sustain that choice. I wondered if God would help me. I saw happy people around me and in contrast, I experienced a sense of deep uneasiness."

Did you know what was wrong?

"I didn't get any cultural stimulus around me. I had been around the world and discussed with the most open minds, learned languages. Suddenly I found myself in a kind of dead calm."

Did you doubt your vocation?

"I was in crisis. I had not yet taken the vows. It happened at that time that I fell in love with a young doctor. It was a test of my true feelings. I had to choose between God and the world. It was at that point that I felt the strong need to become a nun."

What does it mean to be called? I'm asking you because maybe in that "voice that's calling" there might be suggestion, misunderstanding, self-projection, with the use of weapons and murder.

"There can be all that; only time determines the degree of authenticity of that voice."

Don't you feel the weight of exclusion?

"On the contrary, I feel at the center of everything I do." What do you mean by centrality?

"I don't mean domination or control of an environment. I'm thinking rather of radicalism without dogma. Every time you search for a center, you're looking for a void."

Doesn't it risk being an illusion?

"I imagine the center not as a principle of stability but of rupture."

Perhaps both are needed.

"Stability and rupture can also alternate. Like order and disorder. History teaches it. But I think my life is resting in an invisible center that can not be defined. And that's why I would call it a mystical experience."

I read in your Siamo tutti diversi! ("We Are All Diverse!", published by Castelvecchi) that you connect the experience of a void back to Lacan's thought.

"It might be surprising that a nun reads Lacan and draws any useful hint from his thought. I've been dealing with psychoanalysis and in particular the notion of the 'unconscious subject'. Freud argues that the inner authenticity of a person has been repressed."

That can thus be liberated?

"It's the role that psychoanalysis should play. We're talking about a modern ideal -- liberating man's strengths! From the moment he substituted himself for God, man has developed an infinite desire for himself. In theory, he thinks he can do everything."

And in parctice?

"Society, the State, the Church are the institutions that oppress him. So the subject finds that he has no authentic interiority. That's why Lacan says that interiority is a void and that this void can be represented as the subject's death."

Does the subject's death come after the death of God?

"There would not be that without this."

Yet we want to become authentic people.

"In the worldly horizon, our identity comes from outside -- like desires are, it is induced. In childhood, it comes from the relationship with the mother. We think that our authenticity results from this original relationship, but this isn't so. The mother passes away and we seek a new identity that we will find in something else or some other situation. This is what drives Lacan to say that there is no authenticity in us. We are only inhabited by a void."

Is desire also a form of void?

"The desire that takes place in the void is precisely what I call mysticism. But it's an undetermined desire."

Desire always arises as a form of absence.

"But it is almost always caused by what is missing from outside -- a pair of brand name pants, an elegant jacket, a custom-built car. I don't mean desire in that sense. Augustine went so far as to say that everyone desires God, but not everyone gives the same name to [that desire]."

What does it mean to desire God in the era of His death?

"For me it means defending the truth."

Everyone argues, religiously, that they want to defend it, even with the use of weapons and murder.

"That's not the truth; it's just fanaticism. On the other hand, truth can't be a relative concept, so each one has his own good truth ready to use."

So?

"The truth for me is all that it is not. But the point is that one must argue that "is not" every time." Don't you feel privileged?

"In what sense?"

I'm thinking of the simplicity of your sisters, the fact that they don't own or use sophisticated instruments, that they don't deal with philosophy and homosexuality, that they respect the cloister.

"I'm very envious of the sisters who live in their cloister permanently. I wouldn't talk of privilege, but of a disposition to complete an action. As for the cloister, after the Council of Trent, the partial one was introduced. The monastery community decided on the dispensation, how to apply it and when to revoke it."

How is your life in the monastery?

"It's divided into equal proportions between work and prayer."

What do you mean by work?

"I mainly engage in intellectual activity -- I translate, write articles, teach. This year my lesson is divided into two parts: the need of the soul, which is inspired by Simone Weil's book The Need for Roots, and feminist theology in history."

You've talked about "queer theology." What does that mean?

"Queer is a term that started to circulate in the nineties. It can mean 'crossing', 'passage', 'transition'. Then it took on the meaning of bizarre, strange, extravagant."

It has been brought back to the transgender universe.

"That's true and it's a possible variation. What I mean is dealing with a theology out of the pre-established schemes. Theology is not the conceptual defense of God's existence, which could create many misconceptions. No. It's a form of co-creation."

Meaning?

"I think God didn't just create the world and us in seven days. Co-creation means that we continue to do his work with other tools."

But we aren't perfect.

"Creating is also risk-taking. Without risk, says Weil, there is no freedom. God has created unique pieces. It is up to us to continue to be so."

For you, does that mean being a nun?

"It means that too."

You could be approaching heretical thinking.

"I have never been indoctrinated in conservative Christianity. Each passing day we should be willing to learn something new."

Don't you fear excommunication?

"I'm prepared, I don't fear it. Excommunication has been the worst thing of Catholicism. Equal to the Greeks' ostracism."

Are you happy?

"I am every time I go back to the monastery. Every time I do something that helps to change things. Augustine has said, 'God created us without us, but he did not will to save us without us.' Happiness is also this awareness of our being human for and with others."