Francis in South America: building a culture of encounter from the periphery

Andean[Austen Ivereigh] Pope Francis’s intense 8-day apostolic journey to three poor South-American countries, which begins this Sunday, will be one of his most significant yet — a chance to evangelize from the peripheries in his own continent.

Although not the first visit to Latin America as pope — he travelled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in July 2013 for World Youth Day — it is his first to Spanish-speaking South America. Just as he went to Turkey, Albania and Bosnia before visiting large countries in Europe, he has chosen Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay before the wealthier nations of South America — Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay — which he is expected to visit next year, as well as, at some point, Peru, Venezuela and Colombia.

Info-papa-Francisco_LRZIMA20150410_0005_14The trip (itinerary here) will involve two days in each country, and in each country visiting two places: the capital and one other. He will arrive in the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, on Sunday, before going to Guayaquil, on the ocean, on Monday morning, before returning to the capital. On Wednesday he will fly to La Paz, the Bolivian capital, before going in the afternoon to Santa Cruz, in the Bolivian lowlands, where he will stay. On Friday he will go to Asunción, the Paraguayan capital, and the next day say Mass at the shrine of the Virgin of Caacupé, about 40 kilometres away.

The agenda is packed with liturgies, meetings with civil society leaders, visits to “places of pain” — an elderly home, prison, and paediatric hospital — as well as meetings with authorities, time spent in a slum, and hosting a huge world meeting of popular movements. He is expected to give 22 speeches and homilies, and will speak in Spanish throughout — with smatterings of indigenous languages. Given his propensity for spontaneity, however, no one is betting on Francis either giving the text he has been prepared, or limiting himself to that number.

Three nations

logo BoliviaWhat Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay have in common is that they are poor, geopolitically unimportant, yet are rich in geography and culture. His journey next week will take him from sea level (Guayaquil, in Ecuador) to the world’s highest airport (El Alto in Bolivia, which is at 4,100m) as well as to the subtropical lowlands of Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and Asunción, Paraguay. All three countries have large indigenous and mestizo populations: in Ecuador and Bolivia are millions of Quechua and Aymara speakers who lived under the Inca empire before the arrival of the Spanish in the sixteenth century, while Paraguay is the homeland of the Guaraní-speaking people, famously organized by the Jesuits in the great ‘Reductions’ of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

354D30BC-2B46-4A8C-B3A8-B61AAE82FED4Pope Francis knows all three countries from his time as a Jesuit provincial in Argentina. Bolivia and Paraguay were at one point part of the same Jesuit province as Argentina, and he used to send students to the Jesuit ‘Javier’ college in Guayaquil, Ecuador, where he will be having lunch on Monday. As cardinal archbishop, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was very close to the Paraguayan, Bolivian and Ecuadorian migrants who make up the majority of the slum dwellers in the Buenos Aires villas miseria.

A legacy of conflict

All three countries are coping with the legacy of wars and border conflicts. Paraguay, which was a relatively important country in the early nineteenth century, was dismembered and shrunk to a third of its size after neighboring Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay united to crush it in the so-called War of the Triple Alliance of the 1860s. Pope Francis has spoken in the past of the way the country lost nine-tenths of its male population, and only survived because of its women. Paraguay later went to war with Bolivia in the 1930s over the Chaco, while Bolivia, for its part, lost access to the sea following the War of the Pacific with Chile. Both of these last two border conflicts remain, as does Ecuador’s longstanding frontier dispute with Peru. Pope Francis is likely to use this visit as an opportunity to give messages about Latin-American continental unity — a theme close to his heart.

logo EcuadorAll three nations are deeply Catholic, with overwhelming Catholic majorities, and are also highly practising — Paraguay, for example, has a Massgoing population of over 70 per cent. Yet pre-Columbian beliefs are also strong, especially in Ecuador and Bolivia, where attempts to re-evaluate Inca cultural and religious legacies are often accompanied by a left-wing, anti-colonial discourse. Evo Morales, who is serving  a third term as Bolivia’s president, has said in the past that he is only a Roman Catholic in order “to go to weddings”, and when asked if he believed in God, responded that “I believe in the land. In my father and my mother. And in Cuchi-Cuchi”. Yet he has built a relationship with Pope Francis in their shared efforts to secure better conditions for landless workers, just as Rafael Correa — Ecuador’s Quechua-speaking socialist president — has given speeches at the Vatican on the moral dimension of climate change.

Mission builds culture

logo ParaguagOne of the Pope’s concerns in this visit will be to show that the Gospel — whatever the mistakes of Spanish missionaries in the past — builds and protects cultures, as the Jesuits did among the Guaraní, rather than displacing them. The theme of mission will be strong on this visit, especially at the big Mass at the Bicentennial Park in Quito, Ecuador, on Tuesday, where crowds of over a million are expected. The Mass will involve many different ethnic groups, who will be represented in the Offertory, and the liturgy will be strong on Aymara and Quechua, even including music composed for the funeral of the last Inca emperor, Atahualpa, who was tricked by the conquistadors into surrendering Cuzco. In Paraguay, the liturgies will have plenty of Guaraní, and music from the age of the Jesuit Reductions will be played at the meeting at the López palace on Friday.

Two documents will underpin the trip. The visit is being framed, above all, by Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis’s apostolic exhortation of November 2013, in which the theme of joy and mission and evangelization are paramount — as reflected in the mottos for the visits chosen by each country. The other key document is the one that came out of the Latin-American bishops’ meeting in Aparecida, Brazil, in 2007, in which evangelizing through charity, missionary discipleship and concern for the poor and the environment are key concerns. Another recurrent theme of the visit will be mercy, which Pope Francis has chosen for next year’s Jubilee. In his video message to the three countries, Pope Francis spoke of wishing to “bring to you the tenderness and caress of God, our Father, especially to your children most in need, the elderly, the sick, the imprisoned, the poor, to those who are victims of this throwaway culture.”

One of the most significant themes of the Aparecida document — as result especially of the contribution of Argentine theologians coordinated by Cardinal Bergoglio — was popular religiosity, which Francis (unlike many liberation theologians in the 1970s) sees as the place where Christ encounters the poor, often through traditional Marian devotions. He will make a private visit to the image of the Sorrowful Mother in Quito, and will address clergy and religious at the shrine of El Quinche.  In each of the countries, Francis will be meeting “God’s holy faithful people” – the ordinary poor — at the shrines, the week framed by huge Masses at the Divine Mercy sanctuary in Guayaquil on Monday and the Virgin of Caacupé in Paraguay on Saturday. (The latter is close to Argentina, and therefore will attract many of the Pope’s compatriots). The combination of Francis’s extraordinary popularity, his connectedness with the poor, and the bright colours and costumes of the indigenous peoples in all three countries, means that the Pope’s “people time” will be must-watch TV — especially at the vast Mass ending his visit on Sunday in Paraguay.

Building bridges

Another theme will be the “culture of encounter”, the phrase connected with Pope Francis’s attempts to build a pluralistic politics of inclusion in countries where corruption and populism often drive out policies geared to the common good. In the meetings with civil society leaders — at the San Francisco church in Quito, in the cathedral in La Paz, and in the San José school in Asunción — Francis is likely to focus on the foundations of a renewed Latin-American politics. He is also likely to use these meetings — as well as the speeches to the dignitaries — to remind his audiences of Latin America’s joint continental destiny, the dream of the patria grande, or greater fatherland.

With the the suffering, the young, and the disenfranchised

The visits to the places of pain and poverty will also form an essential backdrop to some of the Pope’s key messages. The nursing home of the Missionaries of Charity in Quito, the notoriously large and violent prison of Palmasola (with 5,000 inmates, one of the largest in the world) in Santa Cruz, and the visit to sick children at the Niños de Acosta Nu in Asunción will be opportunities for allowing the suffering to speak — and Francis to listen to the experience of pain. His visit to the large riverside slum of El Bañado in Asunción will also be a significant moment, in which he will draw attention to some of the themes in Laudato Si’ about the fragility of the poor and the planet.

These are young populations for whom education is a vital commodity, and the Church is a key player. Expect important messages, therefore, at the Pontifical Catholic university in Quito, the Don Bosco school in Santa Cruz, and the meeting with young people at the Costanera in Paraguay.

With the popular movements

with MoralesOne of the most significant and unusual moments of the trip will be on Thursday afternoon in Santa Cruz, when Pope Francis will lead the Second World Meeting of the Popular Movements at the Expo Feria. The first was in October 2014, when Francis gave one of his most challenging speeches. Among those attending will be the cartoneros, the garbage workers whom Francis was close to in Buenos Aires, as well as ragpickers from the slums of India, workers from South American cooperatives, even indigent can-and-bottle collectors from New York. There, along with Evo Morales — attending in his role as leader of a social movement, rather than as president — Francis will likely repeat his call for the poor and powerless to organize to secure what he has called the “sacred rights” of land, housing and work.

“He believes in the organization of the poor by their own kind and struggling for social justice,” said Juan Grabois, an Argentine human rights activist who is organizing the meeting. “He wants to hear what they want to say, instead of listening only to political leaders.”

cartoneroSThe Meeting of Popular Movements will almost certainly provide an opportunity for Pope Francis to bring home his Laudato Si’ messages, applauded by crowds of the very people his encyclical describes as impacted by the consumerism of the wealthy world.

Here we will see Pope Francis as modern popes have never been seen: as community organizer, leader of the disenfranchised, and slum prophet.

Briefing press on the visit, Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi said the meeting would likely produce a document that Francis will take with him to the United States, and which he will no doubt refer to in his addresses to the UN and to Congress.

Pope Francis’s visit to the margins, in other words, will produce challenging messages for the powerful and privileged, as well as hope to the poor.

Posted in Pope Francis, South America

US bishops’ president reacts to Supreme Court ‘unjust and immoral’ ruling on same-sex marriage

Archbishop Kurtz

Archbishop Kurtz

In a statement issued today, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, reacted to a 5-4 ruling by the judges of the Supreme Court which in effect grants a constitutional right to a same-sex marriage (SSM). The ruling (here) effectively redefines marriage in 50 states. Some 36 states and the District of Columbia already allow SSM, 20 of them following the Supreme Court’s 2013 Windsor decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state where gays could wed. Over the next decade, 15 more states and the District of Columbia legalised same-sex marriage, via court rulings or legislative acts. However, a ruling by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2014 upheld bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee, which persuaded the justices to take up the case, Obergefell v Hodges, it decided today.

Archbishop Kurtz said:

Regardless of what a narrow majority of the Supreme Court may declare at this moment in history, the nature of the human person and marriage remains unchanged and unchangeable. Just as Roe v. Wade did not settle the question of abortion over forty years ago, Obergefell v. Hodges does not settle the question of marriage today. Neither decision is rooted in the truth, and as a result, both will eventually fail. Today the Court is wrong again. It is profoundly immoral and unjust for the government to declare that two people of the same sex can constitute a marriage.

The unique meaning of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is inscribed in our bodies as male and female. The protection of this meaning is a critical dimension of the “integral ecology” that Pope Francis has called us to promote. Mandating marriage redefinition across the country is a tragic error that harms the common good and most vulnerable among us, especially children. The law has a duty to support every child’s basic right to be raised, where possible, by his or her married mother and father in a stable home.

Jesus Christ, with great love, taught unambiguously that from the beginning marriage is the lifelong union of one man and one woman. As Catholic bishops, we follow our Lord and will continue to teach and to act according to this truth.

I encourage Catholics to move forward with faith, hope, and love: faith in the unchanging truth about marriage, rooted in the immutable nature of the human person and confirmed by divine revelation; hope that these truths will once again prevail in our society, not only by their logic, but by their great beauty and manifest service to the common good; and love for all our neighbors, even those who hate us or would punish us for our faith and moral convictions.

Lastly, I call upon all people of good will to join us in proclaiming the goodness, truth, and beauty of marriage as rightly understood for millennia, and I ask all in positions of power and authority to respect the God-given freedom to seek, live by, and bear witness to the truth.

Posted in Uncategorized

Laudato Si': a landmark in modern church teaching that will shape a new future

ecology2[By Austen Ivereigh] When it appears tomorrow, Laudato Si — “Praised Be You” — will captivate and divide the world by issuing the most robust challenge to the contemporary myth of progress in recent times.

Any other document this long discussed, anticipated and even in recent days leaked would normally be still-born. But this is no ordinary document. Pope Francis’s eco-encyclical has a power, depth and beauty that will catch society unawares. Long after the headlines, it will be judged one of the landmark church documents of recent decades, and possibly the most radical and prophetic encyclical since Rerum Novarum in 1891 sparked the modern tradition of Catholic social teaching.

handsThe analogy with that encyclical is striking. When Leo XIII issued his lament for the impoverishment of the working classes, blaming the idolatry of the market and the callousness of the industrial age, many influential Catholics believed he was insane. What possible competence could a pope have in the area of wages, unions, and the market? Surely this was a technical matter, in which popes are incompetent? Leo XIII’s bold answer was that human dignity was a moral matter, because God’s creatures deserved better than to live in slums and be treated as a less important commodity than material things and money.

Some leading Catholics in the United States are saying that the Church should stick to religion and leave science to the scientists (and yes, the economy to the capitalists). In the case of Rerum Novarum then and Laudato Si’ now, the self-interested claim to an area of life as a religion-free zone is rejected by a pope speaking out of two millennia of personal and communal reflection and experience.

Francis and lambLaudato Si’ is Pope Francis’s signature document. It expresses his soul. If Evangelii Gaudium was his call to the Church to recover its mission, Laudato Si’ is a letter to the whole of humanity, addressed not just to all people of goodwill but to all members of the globe. It is a call to conversion of minds, hearts, and lifestyles. It is urgent, compelling, and direct. It will be impossible to ignore.

It has been on the Pope’s mind from the start of his pontificate, from the night of his election when he chose to name himself after St Francis of Assisi. Soon after, he mentioned to Cardinal Peter Turkson, who heads the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, that he was thinking of an encyclical on the environment. A month later, he asked Turkson: “how is it going?” The following time, he just said to him: “Write”.

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Turkson’s team consulted widely. They did not want to make the mistake of allowing the encyclical to be identified too closely with particular groups of people, or individual thinkers: the widely reported influence of Professor Stefano Zamagni, the Bologna economics professor, on Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate (2007), allowed some critics to undermine the encyclical’s legitimacy. Yet it is clear that the longstanding work of the Pontifical Academy of Science in this area, as well as the conclusions of the reports by 800 scientists on the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), have been influential. Laudato Si’ hears  the conclusions of science, and allows itself to be affected by it; one of those presenting at tomorrow’s press conference tomorrow at the Vatican will be Professor John Schellnhuber, the founding Director of the Postdam Institute for Climate Change, who has been active on the IPCC.

Professor Schellnhuber

Professor Schellnhuber

Yet while it acknowledges and reflects the overwhelming consensus that the globe is getting warmer because of a model of growth that rests on frenetic consumption and greed, Laudato Si is not taking a position on  complex scientific questions in which it has no competence. What the encyclical says will be unsurprising in this area, for it reflects what is already well known; and the science, as such, occupies relatively little space in the document. Just as important is the attention given to the experience of the poorest of the world of rising seas, unstable seasons, deforestation and pollution. The evidence in the encyclical of the deteriorating quality of life across the world will be hard to refute.

What Laudato Si’ does is link that devastation and deterioriation to a model of economic growth underpinned by compulsive consumerism, which both creates and is the fruit of a technocratic mentality that seeks to manipulate the world and its resources. At the heart of that mentality is a false idea of dominion. What it produces is vast waste, exploitation, and a throwaway attitude towards the planet and human life itself. It begins with addiction to consumerism, and ends in embryo experiments and abortion. It rejects life as gift, and even the gender of our bodies.

The notorious Fray Bentos paper factory

The notorious Fray Bentos paper factory

As cardinal archbishop of Buenos Aires, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was keenly aware of the way these issues interconnected. The Uruguayan paper mill at Fray Bentos which polluted the River Plate, the deforestation in Tartagal in northern Argentina that produced devastating floods, the shrinking rainforests of the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, and the people-trafficking that supplied the sweat shops and brothels of Buenos Aires — these were part of the same sickness.

His own integrity in this area is unquestionable. He traveled by public transport, recycled clothes, lived sparsely and simply and loved to be with the poor and the outcast. He lived as a bishop in a major modern city more or less as St Francis of Assisi did in medieval Umbria. If anyone can speak to us with authority on this issue, it is the Pope. He has walked the walk and talked the talk for decades.

What Laudato Si’ is concerned with is not the science of global warming, but the mentality that has created it and the moral failure that lies behind humanity’s inability to act. As the Global Catholic Climate Change Movement puts it: “Until the moral implications of anthropogenic climate change are clearly established and accepted, it is unlikely that societies can or will transition in an appropriate timeframe to sustainable technologies, economies, and lifestyles.” Laudato Si’ makes ecology a moral matter.

Metropolitan John of Pergamon

Metropolitan John of Pergamon

Also at tomorrow’s press conference will be Metropolitan John Zizoulas of Pergamon, one of the outstanding theologians of the Orthodox world, representing the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. The encyclical’s debt to longstanding Orthodox reflections on the environment give the theology a broad flavour. But it is to the great monastic and conventual traditions typefied by St Benedict of Nursia and above all St Francis of Assisi that the encyclical looks for its profound spirituality and theology.

Laudato Si’ is a moving lament for a lost connectedness, and a passionate plea for the restoration of relationships: with God, with each other, and with the earth. It hears the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor as a joint summons to conversion, and in its core idea of “integral ecology” it charts a pathway back to healing and renewal. Along the way, it both hails and critiques the ecological movement, seeking to connect it with the transcendent.

ecology1The encyclical divides into six chapters. The first, “What is happening to our common home?” is a broad and alarming look at the symptoms of sickness in the world. The second, “the Gospel of Creation”, considers the world as it should be, in the way that God intended it. The third, “The human roots of the ecological crisis”, sees in what it calls the “technocratic paradigm” the origins of the degradation. The fourth chapter, “integral ecology”, charts a way back: a new (or recovered) way of seeing and understanding the world, an awareness of the interconnectedness of Creation. The fifth chapter, “Lines of approach and action”, suggests ways forward — concrete steps that can be taken by nations and leaders — while the sixth chapter, “Ecological education and spirituality”, focusses on the individual believer and their families and communities, and what he and she can do in their daily lives. It is a chapter that will form the basis of many future retreats and days of recollection for parishes and schools.

ecology3Laudato Si’ has the potential to create a movement of action and ideas that will last long after this pontificate. It will profoundly challenge the western world, cutting across the polarities of left and right, liberal and conservative, exposing the individualism at the heart of contemporary elite narratives. It will challenge free-market libertarians to care for the earth, and liberal ecologists to care for the unborn. It will trigger a new kind of orthodoxy, one defined as much by the way we live as what we think.

It will not be universally welcome. Like Humanae vitae in 1968, it will provoke some to say that this is a matter for conscience, not papal authority; like Rerum Novarum, it will cause many to declare the pope meddlesome and incompetent. Like the prophets of all time, it will be greeted in some quarters with derision and contempt.

Yet to most Catholics, and to most people of goodwill, it will ring clear and true. It will speak to the hearts and minds of our generation, and prick millions into prayer and into action.

It will help shape a new future, and bring new hope.

(See backgrounders by Crux and Reuters, Financial Times, Washington Post and article by George Monbiot in today’s Guardian.)

Posted in Uncategorized

New Vatican tribunal to deal with bishops who cover up abuse

[By Aaron Taylor] Following this week’s announcement that the Holy See will establish a tribunal to punish bishops who cover up child abuse, Pope Francis has accepted the resignations of two bishops from the United States accused of just that.

John C. Nienstedt, Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and his auxiliary, Bishop Lee Anthony Piché, both resigned under a provision of canon law which requests early resignations from bishops who are unable to fulfill the duties of their office “because of ill health or some other grave cause.”

Nienstedt’s resignation comes as criminal charges are filed against the Archdiocese, which is accused by prosecutors of failing to respond adequately to “numerous and repeated reports of troubling conduct” by Fr Curtis Wehmeyer, now serving a prison sentence for child molestation.

News reports have raised serious doubts about the veracity of sworn depositions Nienstedt has given relating to the Archdiocese’s handling of abuse allegations, and he was last year also the subject of an internal church investigation relating to “multiple allegations” that he engaged in sexual misconduct with seminarians, priests, and other adult men.

The bishops’ resignations were submitted shortly after the Vatican announced it will establish a canonical tribunal designed to punish bishops for “abuse of office” if they fail to respond appropriately to allegations of child abuse. The tribunal will be a sub-department of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and Francis has made an exception to a Vatican recruitment freeze, in order to allow the new tribunal to hire well-qualified staff.

The tribunal does not take the place of any criminal proceedings brought against bishops by civil authorities. If a bishop’s mishandling of abuse claims constitutes a crime or a tort, he should be held accountable by local civil authorities. The tribunal is an internal church court: it will establish disciplinary penalties imposed by canon law, punishing bishops not instead of but in addition to civil penalties.

For an example of how the tribunal may work in future, take the case of Robert Finn, former bishop of Kansas City-St Joseph. Finn was criminally prosecuted and convicted in 2012 for failing to report suspected child abuse. He continued, despite a widespread outcry, to serve as bishop throughout his court-supervised probation and for several years afterward, until his resignation earlier this year. This is the kind of situation that the new tribunal, if it works well, could help the Church avoid. Whereas processes in church law have always existed (even if not properly employed) to deal with priests who commit abuse, there has never previously existed an adequate mechanism to punish bishops who cover it up.

The idea for the tribunal was suggested to the Pope by the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors which he established last year. A way of holding bishops to account for covering up abuse has long been requested by victims’ groups. Reactions to the move from victims’ groups this week ranged from skepticism to cautious optimism. “At best, most church abuse panels have been ineffective distractions. At worst, they’ve been manipulative public relations moves. We suspect this new one won’t make a difference either,” said Barbara Blaine, President of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests), while Terence McKiernan who runs the online resource called the establishment of the tribunal “a promising step.”

In effect, comments John Allen, Jr. at Crux, “the tribunal is an answer to the most critical question many abuse victims and other observers have asked for years about the Church’s official embrace of zero tolerance: What happens when a bishop ignores it?”

In another indication that Francis is determined to make episcopal accountability for the abuse scandals a signature reform of his papacy, the prosecutor of the Vatican City State announced this week that former papal nuncio to the Dominican Republic Jozef Wesolowski will face a criminal trial on abuse charges (see previous CV Comment on the Wesolowski case here and here).

Posted in abuse