Ash Wednesday by Louis Untermeyer

… The candles hiss; the organ-pedals storm;
Writhing and dark, the columns leave the earth
To find a lonelier and darker height.
The church grows dingy while the human swarm
Struggles against the impenitent body’s mirth.
Ashes to ashes. . . . Go. . . . Shut out the light. …

Read Louis Untermeyer’s complete Ash Wednesday poem.

Celebrating Women: Pat Gaffney on 30 Years with Pax Christi UK

From Pax Christi Peace Stories (March 1, 2019)

Pat Gaffney, Pax Christi UK

Pat Gaffney is graduating/retiring as the General Secretary of Pax Christi UK this year. She wrote the reflection below on her nearly 30 years in that role. I have had the honor of working with Pat since 2016 on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative–though, after meeting we quickly found lots of connections, including that she’s the godmother of the children of my highschool ceramics teacher! Pat and I have spent hours on Skype and even spent a week in London together, Pat’s home town. She is a phenomenal woman and friend. Sharing these stories of women doing gospel work over the long haul is how we extend God’s circle of hospitality and justice. Sign up for more Pax Christi Stories.Rose Berger

FROM PAT GAFFNEY:

1 April 1990: the day my contract with Pax Christi began. 29 years on, I am still here (how did that happen?) but preparing to move on and create space for some new thought and energy. This article takes a long view of our work over this period, of changes within the global and domestic arenas, and in technology. Our movement has undertaken so many challenges with a spirit of ingenuity, flexibility and faithful persistence to Gospel peacemaking.

1990 was a good time to come on board. Talk was of a Peace Dividend. With the Cold War behind us, new opportunities were unfolding for economic and social growth. Spending on defence would decline and investment in arms conversion would follow. The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp had helped to get rid of cruise missiles. Pax Christi’s valiant East-West group, coordinated by Peggy Attlee, having worked towards one Europe, was prepared for the new challenges of creating a common home. In the summer of 1990 our British section of Pax Christi hosted in Clifton Diocese an international ‘route’ for young people, with the theme, Let’s build a Europe of Peace.  Sadly, many of those hopes crashed on 2 August when Iraq invaded Kuwait and what was to become protracted war in the Gulf and Middle East began. Goodbye peace dividend.

patgaffney

As a ‘new’ person four months into the job, the prospect of sliding into war was daunting! Thankfully, friends in the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Christian CND, the National Peace Council (NPC) and Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) were ready to create common plans. Could we de-escalate the tension by urging our Government to prevent a full military response from the USA? Setting up communication systems was key. Pax Christi at that time had one temperamental computer, an old but sturdy Adler   typewriter, and a photocopier. My first big purchase was a FAX machine – essential for getting out press  notices, sharing drafts of leaflets, sending letters to Government and so forth. By Spring 1991 we had established the Christian Coalition for Peace in the Gulf and a ‘Call for Action’ supported by church leaders, religious communities and groups around the country. In response to military attacks and then years of sanctions against Iraq, weekly vigils were held nationwide. The NPC ran a conference that became a springboard for much joint work, including the creation of the Peace Education Network (PEN) and a more focused response to the UK’s arms trade to the region – in particular that of British Aerospace.

Continue reading “Celebrating Women: Pat Gaffney on 30 Years with Pax Christi UK”

Working Women in the Bible

“The Bible mentions women who worked in commercial trade (Prov. 31:16a24Acts 16:14), in agriculture (Josh. 15:17-19Ruth 2:8Prov. 31:16b), as millers (Exod. 11:5Matt. 24:41), as shepherds (Gen. 29:9Exod. 2:16), as artisans, especially in textiles (Exod. 26:1 NIVActs 18:3), as perfumers and cooks (1 Sam. 8:13), as midwives (Exod. 1:15ff), as nurses (Gen. 35:8Exod. 2:72 Sam. 4:41 Kings 1:4), as domestic servants (Acts 12:13, etc), and as professional mourners (Jer. 9:17). Women could also be patrons (Acts 16:40Rom. 16:1-2), leaders (Judg. ch 4-5; 2 Sam. 20:16) and ruling queens (1 Kings 10:1ffActs 8:27). One Bible woman even built towns (1 Chron. 7:24). Many women, and men, worked from home, yet the Bible nowhere criticises women who worked outside the home, in the public sphere.”–Marg Mowczko

Women Speak Frankly at Vatican Summit on Sex Abuse

Sister Veronica Openibo, Society of the Holy Child Jesus, Nigeria (ALESSANDRA TARANTINO / AP)

La Croix International provided excellent coverage of the Vatican summit on sexual abuse. Below is a snippet from Women at Vatican Summit Call Bishops to Complete Transparency (Feb 25, 2019). The links lead to presentations by Sr. Veronica Openibo, Linda Ghisoni, and Valentina Alazraki. I recommend reading their primary source presentations.–Rose Berger

From La Croix International:

Three women — a religious nun, a canon lawyer and a journalist, took Catholic bishops to task for their silence and cover-up in an attempt to keep the scandal of clerical abuse under wraps at the recent Vatican sex abuse summit.

“How could the clerical church have kept silent, covering these atrocities?” Nigerian Sister Veronica Openibo, leader of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, told bishops Feb. 23 at the Vatican summit on child protection.

“We must acknowledge that our mediocrity, hypocrisy and complacency have brought us to this disgraceful and scandalous place we find ourselves as a church,” she said.

Sister Openibo, a member of the executive board of the women’s International Union of Superiors General, was one of 10 women religious participating in the summit.

She also told African and Asian bishops present that they must not justify their silence about clerical sexual abuse by claiming that they are involved in combating serious issues of poverty and conflict.

“Let us not hide such events anymore because of the fear of making mistakes. Too often we want to keep silent until the storm has passed! This storm will not pass by,” Sister Openibo said.

Linda Ghisoni, a canon lawyer, is undersecretary for laity at the Dicastery for Laity, the Family and Life was the first woman to give a major presentation at the Vatican summit on child protection and clerical abuse crisis.

Addressing the summit Feb. 22, Ghisoni said the Catholic Church should re-examine how the “pontifical secret” is applied in clerical sex abuse cases so there is greater transparency in the cases and it is not invoked “to hide problems,” The secret ensures cases are dealt with in strict confidentiality.

“A bishop cannot think that questions regarding the church can be resolved by him acting alone” or only with other bishops, she said, urging bishops not to resist having regular audits of diocesan safeguarding policies and of the ways they or their review board have handled allegations.

Mexican journalist Valentina Alazraki, the Vatican correspondent for Mexico’s Noticieros Televisa since the pontificate of Paul VI said bishops if they are truly serious about fighting clerical sex abuse, must join forces with journalists and not view them as enemies plotting against the Catholic Church.

“But if you do not decide in a radical way to be on the side of the children, mothers, families, civil society, you are right to be afraid of us, because we journalists — who seek the common good — will be your worst enemies,” she said.[]

Read the whole article here.

Dismantling the Catholic Clerical Closet

Welcome to my world: Notes on the reception of Frédéric Martel’s bombshell by James Alison is an in-depth and profoundly pastoral response to Frédéric Martel’s recently released 500-page book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality and Hypocrisy.

I have found Fr. Alison’s writings over the years to be exceptionally insightful and humanizing. I’m sure most won’t read Martel’s investigative project, but Alison’s important analysis can be read and wrestled with. I found his challenge to the response “Well, I can’t see the problem with having all these gay men as priests, Bishops and Cardinals, just so long as they honour their commitment to sexual continence” to be mind expanding.–Rose Berger

Welcome to my world: Notes on the reception of Frédéric Martel’s bombshell by James Alison

So, the other shoe has finally dropped. The veil has been removed from what the French rather gloriously call a secret de Polichinelle ? an open secret: one that “everybody knows” but for which the evidence is both elusive and never really sought. The merely anecdotal is, at last, acquiring the contours of sociological visibility.

The structure of the clerical closet

Frédéric Martel’s book In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality and Hypocrisy is the first attempt of which I am aware at a properly researched answer to the question: “How and why is it that the principal institutional obstacle to LGBT rights at the worldwide level appears itself to be massively staffed by gay men?”

This is not, by any standards, a stupid question. The search for evidence involved Martel in several years of investigative journalism. He made multiple trips worldwide, spent months of residence both in Rome and within the Vatican, all under his own name. And he conducted hundreds of interviews with those involved in one way or another. From sex-workers to Cardinals, by way of journalists, doctors, police, priests, diplomats and lawyers. The harvest of evidence yields a picture: that of the systemic way dishonestly-lived homosexuality creates a self-reinforcing culture of mutual cover-up. In other words: the structure of the clerical closet.

Some of what we learn is both new and genuinely shocking: the relations between General Pinochet, right-wing gay Catholic circles in Chile and Angelo Sodano (who appointed many in the now disgraced Chilean hierarchy); the ability of the Argentine military junta of the 1970s to blackmail the then Nuncio, Pio Laghi, owing to his use of “taxiboys”; whether learning about the state of sexual abuses in the Archdiocese of Havana was the last straw for Pope Benedict, triggering his abdication; Alfonso López Trujillo’s links with drug traffickers in Colombia, as well as his sexual violence towards “rentboys” in Medellín; and so much more, both financial and sexual. Some stories were known in their countries of origin ? at least to local journalists, if not more publicly ? but this is the first time all this evidence has been linked together worldwide.

While there are some monsters in Martel’s pages, as well as much that would scarcely be striking if it were not lived out in the midst of the otherwise bureaucratic lives of higher-up Church officials, this is not an especially salacious book. All the potentially sensationalist elements are played down in order to bring out the workings of a system which those involved think they are running, but which in fact runs them, sadly and cruelly. Martel is clear that he comes across many gay men, but very few paedophiles, and, unlike some of those he interviews, he is perfectly aware that these are two quite different things.

This is emphatically not a book about clerical child abuse; nevertheless, the systemic nature of the mendacity that is revealed does have important consequences for understanding how the cover up of child abuse has been so prevalent. The same systemic mendacity throws light on how and why a whole generation of senior clergy, from the end of the Second Vatican Council onward, failed to engage with the public learning process concerning homosexuality, though this public learning has, to a greater or lesser extent, characterised all of us, in all cultures, over the last fifty years or more. Survey after survey has shown that the senior clergy’s recalcitrant failure to learn in this sphere has played as great a role in their loss for the Gospel of entire generations of the faithful as their tendency to cover up for priestly abusers. … Read the rest of the article.

Thich Nhat Hanh: A Flower Opens

 

 

 

Late at night,
the candle gutters.
In some distant desert,
a flower opens.
(From “Disappearance” by Thich Nhat Hanh)

In 1966, Thomas Merton met Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, Zen Master, peace activist, and poet from Vietnam. He came to the U.S. as part of a reconciliation journey, to show Americans a face of Vietnam we were not getting in the news. Because of Nhat Hanh’s tireless work for peace and reconciliation between deadly enemies, he was exiled from Vietnam in 1966. He relocated to Plum Village, at a retreat center in southern France.

In 2014, Nhat Hanh suffered a massive stroke that has left him unable to speak or walk, but it does not seem to have hampered his spiritual path. In October 2018, he returned to his home country of Vietnam to “live his remaining days” at Tu Hieu Pagoda, a Buddhist temple in Vietnam, where he was ordained at age 16.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s health is “remarkably stable,” a representative from Plum Village told Lions Roar, a Canadian Buddhist publication. The 92-year-old beloved Buddhist teacher is receiving Eastern treatment and acupuncture and regularly goes out for strolls around the temple grounds in his wheelchair.

“When there’s a break in the rains,” wrote a Plum Village representative, [he] comes outside to enjoy visiting the Root Temple’s ponds and stupas, in his wheelchair, joined by his disciples. Many practitioners, lay and monastic, are coming to visit Tu Hieu, and there is a beautiful, light atmosphere of serenity and peace, as the community enjoys practicing together there in Thay’s presence.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most famous Buddhist teachers in the world and is credited with helping to popularize mindfulness in the West. Known for his anti-war activism, in 1967, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by his friend Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is important to remember our elders. To walk in the path of the saints, do not simply do what they did; instead, dream what they dreamed.

Pietro Ameglio: What Mexico Needs in the Time of AMLO

[With gratitude to Gandhian nonviolent strategist Pietro Ameglio for his reflection below. Pietro and I have worked together on the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative.–Rose]

BY PIETRO AMEGLIO

(Cuernavaca, Mexico) — January 2019 marked 25 years since the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas, Mexico, an historic event of the greatest relevance in the contemporary global context, with roots that stretch back centuries and repercussions that will reach far into the future.

It is a truly original experience of building struggle and massive social organization that seeks to confront and slowly replace capitalist social and productive relations, burdened as they are with racism, plundering and exploitation, with others that are more egalitarian, communitarian and rooted in social justice.  

Zapatismo is a social construct that operates simultaneously in the short, medium and long term.  For millions of us in the world, the Zapatista process changed our lives. It helped us to think upside down, to not be so defenseless in the social order. We can’t help but feel gratitude toward these women and men, girls and boys, whose influence has been felt in many processes of humanization all over the planet. And the best tribute that we can offer them is to not give up our resistance efforts and to always maintain critical thinking.

We can start with reflection on ourselves and our allies, knowing that we all make mistakes. From there we can build a continuous process of reflection and action rooted in “proper disobedience to any inhuman order” (J.C. Marín), confronting any kind of blind obedience to authority, wherever it may come from.

In Mexico we are in the first months of the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), who came to power promising deep change with a focus on the needs of the poor majority.

Currently we are engaged in a major debate regarding the astronomic levels of violence in the country and the new government’s “pacification” plans. Are they focused on peacebuilding, which gets at the root issues of truth, justice and reparations? Or are they more aimed at calming the waters – an urgent task! – but in such a way that the storm continues below?

In this regard, one element of López Obrador’s plans is troubling. In 2006, former President Felipe Calderon gave the task of fighting drug cartels to the armed forces. Since then, organized crime-related homicide rates in Mexico have skyrocketed, with the total number killed exceeding 150,000. Now AMLO has called for the creation of a National Guard to complement the armed forces in the fight against organized crime. But the new 50,000-strong force initially would be drawn from the ranks of the armed forces and federal police.

This has led to a heated debate about whether the creation of a National Guard signifies the increased militarization of the country (of course it does; why else was the December “National Conference on Peacebuilding and Security” held at the Colegio Militar, the primary military educational institution in Mexico?) and if it is simply inevitable, given the dimensions of the war we are experiencing.

In between his election and inauguration, AMLO convened a series of Listening Sessions on Pacification and National Reconciliation (Foros de Escucha para la Pacificación y la Reconciliación Nacional). Their supposed intent was to gather input for the shaping of the new government’s policy. But what good were they if the citizen input was ignored and we are told that there is no practical alternative to a militarized approach to the violence? So the forums appear to be just more political theater, when the decision had already been made, and not entirely by Mexico alone.

It may be that the new government could not adequately assess the full scope of the war we are facing before taking office, especially in terms of the corruption and weakness of state institutions. Nonetheless, pacification requires actions that show a true intention to get to the roots of the problem of violence: the deep-seated criminal associations among government functionaries at all levels, elected and appointed members of the three branches of government, businesspeople, criminal gangs, legal and illegal armed forces, and parts of civil society.

Given the evidence we see every day, it is imperative that all those involved in such collusion be deposed, arrested, and punished and that their money-laundering operations be cut off. When we start to see this kind of action, we can begin to think that a real process of pacification may be underway.

In addition to such action, we will also need to see government action that empowers and legitimizes the different kinds of community guards or police that are subordinate to the communities themselves and that actually have been able to control or even eliminate the manifestations of organized crime that were devastating them. These local or regional organizations, self-organized from below, are the only ones that can affirm that they have been able to confront organized crime with positive results, including greater humanization with regard to both the communities and the criminals, and to return peace to their territories. So they should be supported and held up as an example, especially in the regions of greatest violence. Or do we know other means of containing such massive violence and impunity?

When we begin to see  initiatives like these, in the quantity and quality that the war in Mexico requires, then we will be able to have a rigorous debate about militarized or justice-based  approaches to peacebuilding. That is the true reality check that the country urgently needs.

In the mean time, a significant portion of Mexico’s population has accepted the war, with its endless turf battles among criminal organizations for monopoly control of territory, as the norm and as their principle source of employment. In fact we are talking about a huge capitalist enterprise that creates many thousands of jobs. And with the global economic crisis, those dependent on organized crime for a job are not inclined or do not even know how to change their employment. So we can expect a continuing increase in the spiral of war, as the daily news shows.

In January and February, the Fourth National Search Brigade for Disappeared Persons is taking place in the state of Guerrero. The Mexican government’s own tally of the disappeared is more than 34,000, a phenomenal number.

In the face of recent governments’ demonstrable unwillingness to resolve those cases, family members of the disappeared and their allies have organized their own search efforts, uncovering hundreds of clandestine graves all over Mexico.

These brigades, born of desperation, are a practical response to a human catastrophe and also a moral challenge to society to not accept this situation as normal and to join them in demanding the historical truth, justice, and reparations for the victims and their families.

In this strategic nonviolent offensive, the family members are exercising their social, moral and autonomous power directly, without requesting permission while seeking as many civil society and official allies as possible. We hope that with the new government, there will be better conditions for them to reverse the abandonment they have suffered.

This direct action by the families of the disappeared, like the autonomous government model built by the Zapatistas with their Councils of Good Government, is based on the direct exercise of power by the people. It is also similar to the massive Yellow Vest protest movement that has swept France since November, where important decisions are made in communal assemblies and in direct vote referendums.

Enough of spurious and anti-popular liberal representations. These are clear examples of the urgent need to organize and demonstrate in the streets with relentless persistence.[]

Pietro Ameglio is a Professor of Peace and Nonviolence Culture at the UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and an activist in nonviolent struggles in Mexico. Translation from Spanish to English by Phil McManus.

 

Original Letter of the Holy Father Pope Francis to the US Catholic Bishops

Pope Francis’ Good Shepherd pectoral cross

This original translation of Pope Francis’ letter (1 Jan 2019) to U.S. Catholic bishops can be found here.

OFFICIAL TRANSLATION

Letter of the Holy Father Pope Francis to the Bishops of the United States of America

To the Bishops of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Dear Brothers,

During my meeting on 13 September last with the officers of your Conference of Bishops, I suggested that together you make a retreat, a time of seclusion, prayer and discernment, as a necessary step toward responding in the spirit of the Gospel to the crisis of credibility that you are experiencing as a Church. We see this in the Gospel: at critical moments in his mission, the Lord withdrew and spent the whole night in prayer, inviting his disciples to do the same (cf. Mk 14:38). We know that, given the seriousness of the situation, no response or approach seems adequate; nonetheless, we as pastors must have the ability, and above all the wisdom, to speak a word born of heartfelt, prayerful and collective listening to the Word of God and to the pain of our people. A word born of the prayer of shepherds who, like Moses, fight and intercede for their people (cf. Ex 32:30-32).

In that meeting, I told Cardinal DiNardo and the other bishops present of my desire to accompany you personally for several days on that retreat, and this offer was met with joy and anticipation. As the Successor of Peter, I wanted to join all of you in imploring the Lord to send forth his Spirit who “makes all things new” (cf. Rev 21:5) and to point out the paths of life that, as Church, we are called to follow for the good of all those entrusted to our care. Despite my best efforts, I will not be able, for logistical reasons, to be physically present with you. This letter is meant in some way to make up for that journey which could not take place. I am also pleased that you have accepted my offer to have the Preacher of the Papal Household direct this retreat and to share his deep spiritual wisdom.

With these few lines, I would like to draw near to you as a brother and to reflect with you on some aspects that I consider important, while at the same time encouraging your prayer and the steps you are taking to combat the “culture of abuse” and to deal with the crisis of credibility.

Continue reading “Original Letter of the Holy Father Pope Francis to the US Catholic Bishops”

Richard Rohr: Do You Worship the Past or the Eternal?

… Religion tends to prefer and protect the status quo or the supposedly wonderful past, yet what we now see is that religion often simply preserves its own power and privilege. God does not need our protecting. We often worship old things as substitutes for eternal things. Jesus strongly rejects this love of the past and one’s private perfection, and he cleverly quotes Isaiah (29:13) to do it: “In vain do they worship me, teaching merely human precepts as if they were doctrines” (Matthew 15:9). Many of us seem to think that God really is “back there,” in the good ol’ days of old-time religion when God was really God, and everybody was happy and pure. This leaves the present moment empty and hopeless—not to speak of the future.

God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. This is the generative force implanted in all living things, which grow both from within—because they are programmed for it—and from without—by taking in sun, food, and water. Picture YHWH breathing into the soil that became Adam (Genesis 2:7). That is the eternal pattern. God is still breathing into soil every moment!

Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows for sure. Evolutionary thinking must agree to both knowing and not knowing, at the same time. This is hard for the egoically bound self. It wants to fully know—now—which is never true anyway.–Richard Rohr, Everything Changes

Third Sunday in Advent

“Christ used the flesh and blood of Mary for his life on earth, the Word of love was uttered in her heartbeat. Christ used his own body to utter his love on earth…In this the Christian life is a sacramental life. This Advent God invites you to touch, and taste, and smell. Listen to your body this Advent. Stretch your senses and taste and see that the Lord is good.”Caryll Houselander, woodcarver and mystic

“When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him with this question, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’ Jesus said to them in reply, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.’”Matthew 11:2-6

This is Guadete Sunday. We light the third Advent candle as a sign of joy. It is to remind us that when we dream like God dreams—wild visions flowing over with grace, and justice, and mercy—then our road will be lit by this third candle.

Sometimes it is hard for us to feel the scriptures in our bones until we see them acted out. In Venezuela I met a nun who for twelve years had worked in a poor neighborhood located on a steep hillside high over Caracas. Her name was Sr. Begoña. She had been a religious Sister of the Sacred Heart for many years in Spain before moving to Venezuela.

Sr. Begoña talked about the change that she had seen in the self-image of the poor since the government began prioritizing social programs for “the least of these.” Initially, she was very skeptical of the Venezuelan president. He had a military background and she’d grown up in Spain under General Franco. She had no use totalitarian leadership. She was also skeptical of how successful government programs could be in helping the poor. Would they create dependence? What happens when a new administration comes into office? “But,” said Sr. Begoña, “I have lived in this neighborhood for a long time and the poor were for the government programs and for the president. I decided that I would take my chances with the poor, with the people. They were first to understand the new national project.” She said that if the government programs were a mistake she would still rather err with the people than against them.

Not long after making this decision, the neighborhood people invited her to a big march in support of the national agenda to give preferential option to the poor. The day arrived and hundreds from her neighborhood walked the two hours down the hillside into the Caracas city center. Along the way they were joined by thousands of other very poor people from the slums that ring Caracas. There was singing and chanting and laughing—a palpable energy of joy, hope, and possibility. “I always wondered what it meant in the Gospel that the blind saw, the deaf heard and the lame walked,” said Sr. Begoña, “but on that day I was walking with poor people who were blind and deaf and lame. Suddenly, I began to understand—because they were seeing and hearing and walking.”

Where do you see the gospel brought to life?

Ad……vent. A d v e n t (slowly breathe in on the “Ad” part and out on the “vent” part)…There! You prayed today. Keep it up!

With gratitude to Pax Christi USA where some of these reflections first appeared in print.

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