Here are some pictures from the CTEWC Planning Committee's meeting with Pope Francis
Father James Keenan with Pope Francis
Linda Hogan with Pope Francis
Antonio Autiero with Pope Francis
Kristin Heyer with Pope Francis
Emilce Cuda with Pope Francis
Roman Globokar with Pope Francis
Alojzy Marcol (1931–2017) and moral theology in the service to a life of faith
By Konrad Glombik
Alojzy Marcol died on 25 March 2017. He was a retired professor of moral theology at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Opole and a lecturer and rector at the Seminary of Opole diocese in Nysa for many years.
Alojzy Marcol was born on 4 June 1931 in Nędza near Racibórz in Upper Silesia. After primary school and high school final examination, he studied philosophy and theology at the Seminary of Opole Silesia in Nysa and Opole between 1952 and 1957. On 32 June 1957, he was ordained a priest by Bishop Franciszek Jop in Opole. In the autumn of 1957, he began his studies of moral theology at the Catholic University in Lublin, where he received his master’s degree. In September 1960, Alojzy Marcol began his lectures of ethics and moral theology at the Seminary of the Opole diocese in Nysa. Two years later, in November 1962, he became a PhD of theology on the basis of the work on objectivity of moral values by Johannes Hessen written by Professor Władysław Poplatek at the Catholic University in Lublin. The reviewers of his doctorate were Professor Stanisław Olejnik and Bishop Karol Wojtyła. Between 1977 and 1983, Alojzy Marcol was the rector of the Higher Seminary of the Opole diocese in Nysa. In 1983, he became a professor of moral theology at the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw. His habilitation took place in May 1987 on the basis of a study on the narrative theology of Joseph Wittig. Since 1974, Marcol was a member of Societas Etica and the Association of Moral Theologians and Social Ethicists of the German-speaking circle. From 1990 to 1996, Marcol was a president of the Association of Polish Moral Theologians. After the foundation of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Opole in 1994, Marcol became a professor of moral theology in Opole and was the chair of the Department of Moral Theology, Social Ethics and Spirituality which he led up until his retirement in 2002. As a retired professor, Marcol taught moral theology at the Higher School of Philosophy and Theology in Heiligenkreuz near Vienna. He died in Nysa where he lived and was buried in his home town of Nędza.
Alojzy Marcol was a teacher and educator for many generations of priests of the dioceses Opole and Gliwice and a professor and promoter of 18 doctorates by Polish moral theologians. As a theologian, Marcol worked during and after the Second Vatican Council and conducted his teaching and publications in the spirit of the council. The historical text like the thinking of Johannes Hessen, the narrative theology by Joseph Wittig and the protestant ethics are among the themes of his many publications. He published two important handbooks: on Catholic sexual ethics and on the sacrament of penance and reconciliation and the script on the methodology of the preparing of master works, which became popular throughout Poland. Other interests of his study were the theme of social ethics as in the ethics of war and peace and global ethos as well as political ethics and bioethical themes. He translated two books by German theologians into the Polish language: Political ethics by B. Sutor and Which certainty gives me the conscience? by E. Schockenhoff. Marcol was, in this way, a bridge between German and Polish theological thinking. At the Opole Faculty of Theology, he organized international conferences on bioethical questions which brought together famous moral theologians, especially those from the German speaking countries, and in Warsaw he was the editor-in-chief of the journal Studia Theologica Varsoviensia. For many years, Marcol was a member of the Bioethics Commission of the Regional Medical Chamber of Opole.
Professor Marcol was a trusted adviser and a relevant reviewer for many Polish moral theologians. He was respected in the community of his own diocese, amongst the Polish moral theologians and recognized and treated as a partner in the society of German theologians. His well-balanced opinions were understandable by lay people and theologians, by people without theological education and by physicians. He not only shunned liberal opinions but also despised some conservative points of view. He kept balanced positions in his teaching and his activities and respected every human being.
Marcol was sure that a moral theologian ought to conduct his study according to the teachings of the Church and felt obliged to be focused on the actual situation of modern receivers. The transmission of this moral message has been taking place between these two poles in a field full of tensions. The moral theologian cannot allow to forfeit his beliefs and neither can he tolerate that as a result his firm lecturing would close the gate to a life of faith. The moral theologian should look for ways that make it possible to accept the Christian message so that it proves to be useful in a daily life (A. Marcol, W kręgu wartości chrześcijańskich. Wybór artykułów, Opole 2006, s. 119). This was the belief of Alojzy Marcol which characterized his life and his activities. This conviction is a message of his life for the next generation of moral theologians.
Left to Tell , Left to Heal (each other) through Story and Testimony: Her-Stories of African Womens’ Quest for Justice and Healing in contexts of transition
By Teresia Hinga
One of the most moving and profoundly thought-provoking books that I have ever read is Imaculee Ilibagiza's Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst The Rwandan Genocide:
This is the story of Immaculee, a survivor of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. In the book, she narrates in heartrending details her intimate experiences of the horror that comprised the genocide as neighbors killed neighbors, families killed families and spouses killed each other. The book also narrates how, despite having lost all members of her family in the genocide, Immaculee found it in her heart to forgive. Furthermore, in the midst of the pain and heartbreak, she found a mission to model and tell her story of forgiveness to others as a means of teaching them the possibility and imperative of forgiveness, as the only way out of the vicious cycles of violence that sadly peaked in Rwanda in 1994 leaving close to a million people dead and thousands deeply traumatized and wounded not only physically but also morally and spiritually. In efforts to explain her new found sense of Mission, Immaculee recalls how in one instance she encountered children who, like her had lost their entire family in the genocide. Aged three and four, the two were the youngest in a genocide refugee camp where Immaculee was helping out. Meeting these two children led her to realize that there was a reason she had been spared (not just rescued) from death herself. She had a mission to teach and model forgiveness. In her words:
"I will never forget the two brothers, ages three and four who came to us (to a camp) from Kigali. Their parents had hidden them in the ceiling .. the parents were murdered and children were retrieved a few days later… they were the youngest children on the camp with no relatives, no parents to mind them .. so I temporarily adopted and cared for them .. I feared that their future would be filled with sadness, abuse, and denied opportunities----the kind of lives where bitterness and hatred easily take root."
She continues: “I saw the circle of hatred and mistrust forming in those innocent eyes, and I knew that God was showing me another reason He'd spared me. I vowed that one day when I was strong and capable enough, I would do everything I could to help the children orphaned by the genocide. I would try to bring hope and happiness to their lives and steer them away from embracing the hatred that had robbed them of their parents, and of a family's love." (Left to Tell page 165).
Immaculee had come to the realization that “that the violence will not be over until the cycle of hatred in the country is broken.” She concluded that since “ there are now thousands of wounds to heal from the war, the country could experience violence unless people learn to forgive.” Immaculee saw the nascent hatred in the two young boys “who did not understand where their dead parents have gone” and she worried that (though) they are innocent now, everything will change when they realize the hatred that has ruined their lives. She was convinced that the circle of hatred and mistrust" must be broken.
For her, the genocidal atrocities did not result from “essentially bad people.” In her view, the killers are good people whose hearts were in the grips of evil.” Helping loose that Genocidal grip from people’s minds and hearts became a lifelong commitment. She was convinced that indeed she was left to tell her story and to heal the wounds of the spirit which ran deep. Such wounds were enduring and could fester if not dealt with systematically.
My memories of this book, which I had read some time back and which I have several times assigned my students to read, were activated when in November in 2015, a group of women colleagues from the US asked me to join them on a study trip to Africa where we would collaboratively conduct ethnographic research in efforts to map African women’s involvement, engagement with and moral agency in situations of transitional justice. The women researchers were determined to get the story from women themselves and so we (7 of us including a Gertrude, a professor and veteran of feminist liberation struggle in South Africa) embarked on a 3 week study tour of 3 countries: South Africa, Rwanda and Kenya, countries where, at least de jure, transitional justice efforts were afoot.
My rather quick and easy acceptance of the invitation to join this group, was motivated in part by a strong curiosity and desire to check out whether indeed, Immaculee's story of unconditional forgiveness of those who murdered her family and her mission to model and teach forgiveness to others was a viable strategy for a continent which, according to Desmond Tutu has no future without such forgiveness. I was curious to know: Was Immaculee a lone ranger in her mission or is there evidence that there are others like her, whose cumulative and multiplicative impact could be tapped, encouraged and scaled up to enhance chances of a better future and better flourishing in Africa and beyond?
Space does not allow me to give a detailed account of the itineraries and the emotional roller coaster effect of some the moments in this intentional journey. Our journey into the three countries in transition, South Arica, Rwanda and Kenya, was dejure a journey of discovering African women and their quest for healing and justice in the three countries: Defacto, however the journey became also one of mutual and self-discovery. We (the Researchers) were meeting each other for the very first time during the trip and so we were as new to each other as we were new to the African women we met in the three countries. Our stories (the researchers’), often ended up blending into each others’ stories and in several notable instances, the stories of pain, resilience and hope told by the African women were strong echoes of “the researchers” own stories and vice versa. It became clear, at least to me, that in the very sharing of stories, a strong basis for empathy, compassion and potential solidarity became organically woven into the whole project. Unpacking the impact and implications of the mutual story- telling is a larger project that must await another day and venue
Suffice it here for the purposes of this brief (I guess brief is in the eye of the beholder) report to highlight several moments of encounter in the trip and to lift insights from these encounters that suggest hope for a continent navigating the impact of multiple and intersecting crises, including the crisis of violent conflict which became sadly epitomized in the Rwanda genocide. The stories that the women told were as harrowing as the ones narrated by Immaculee tales of pain and betrayal, not only by social structures which are manifestations of what Paul Farmer calls “pathologies of power” or what Elisabeth Fiorenza calls Kyriarchies, systems of deadly domination. In South Africa, many women still wrestle even 20 years after the “dejure” demise of Apartheid, with the impact of multiple instances of racism and its legacy: extreme poverty and homelessness, which still haunts many in the townships. In Kenya, the flourishing of many is subverted by the impact of what have been labeled "historical injustices,” including landlessness, haunts many and robs them of means of survival or mobility. Neocolonial realities compound the poverty and its feminization. Violent conflicts seem ubiquitous and women and children tend to be caught in the crossfire as was the case during the genocide in Rwanda and during the 2007 PEV. As recently as last week, many women and children were seriously, even fatally, wounded during the episodes of violent jostling for water and pasture by livestock herders in Northern Kenya, a jostling exacerbated by the ongoing serious drought.
Notwithstanding the pain and the tears that flowed often during the narration of the harrowing stories, I came back from the trip with a sense of hope. Our encounters and conversations revealed not only the pain the women were going through but also a resilient hope in these women who were determined to assert moral their agency in diffusing the desperate and painful contexts that bred the vicious cycles of violence. I came back with a sense of hope because as we found out through the encounters with women, Africa has a significant number of people, who individually and/or collectively have embraced the view that indeed there is no viable future without forgiveness. Indeed among the women we encountered, there were many Immaculee’s (or more accurately groups if Immaculees) who though deeply hurt and traumatized, considered themselves left to tell each other stories of resilience and hope and who encouraged and mentored each other en route to healing. Here I highlight a few cases in point:
In South Africa:
- Institute of Healing Memories : Our first stop in South Africa was at the Institute of healing memories. Founded by Anglican Priest Fr Michael Lapsley. Alongside his colleagues who included some young Black men and one Muslim woman who run workshops facilitating healing of memories through storytelling, Fr Michael, (who himself lost both arms to a letter bomb sent to him due to his participation in the liberation struggle), explained that the motto for the Institute is that “every story needs a listener”. Through the institute, Michael and his colleagues seek to facilitate healing in Post-Apartheid Africa and Beyond. The institute facilitates mutual Listening to people's stories of woundedness and resilience. Many of the stories told are by women. He has also worked with war veterans abroad and victims of trafficking as categories of people who need a healing and listening ear! Here is a link to the Institute’s website: http://www.healing-memories.org
- Circle Of Concerned African Women Theologians: Our group also visited with chapters of the Circle of Concerned African Women Theologians at the University of Western Cape and the University of Stellenschboch. At the university of Western Cape, the meeting was facilitated late by Prof Saronjini Nader a longstanding member of the Circle who had just joined the University of Western Cape from Kwazulu Natal. A major concern of the Circle is the Persistent gender-based violence in church and society. Sarojini is a major player in the Circles Campaign and advocacy against such Violence and at Kwazulu Natal participated in the “Tamar Project," a platform for Highlighting and advocating against gender-based violence. The group’s meeting and engagement with the Circle in the Cape-town Area were coordinated by myself with the help of Nontando Hadebe, the incumbent coordinator of the Circle in the Southern African Region.
- The Grail Women’s Group: A Third visit on August 5th was with the Grail women group. This particular visit was simply a delight … Ruth, the Convener of the group and our host, was an excellent facilitator of storytelling and though we were meeting the group for the very first time and from across the seas, by the end of the session, we were all relaxed (at least I was) in the presence of each other and were able to share, our stories and reflections laughing, crying, joking …
Several moments were even more outstanding for me as I recall this visit with the Grail women movement in South Africa:
a) The meeting was de facto A Theology/Spirituality of the Body in Action: The session was hands on! (literally). We all got a hand massage as an introduction to the group. The Grail women were clearly not satisfied with a mere handshake by way of welcome. It reminded me that much violence has been done to women/s bodies and that therefore the healing touch has to address women’s wounded bodies. It reminded me also that much of the harm done to women is due to a disdain to their bodies (taboos against menstruation, veiling and surgical modifications of their bodies to suit culturally determined ideals of beauty). It was therefore most refreshing to be invited to a few moments of bodily “indulgence “. celebrating and enjoying our embodied selves as a part of our spirituality. It reminded me of an emerging theological discourse called “theology of the body" to which many are beginning to tune in.
b) The Fragrance of Diversity: Ruth, the director of the group led us in an exercise in which we were asked to introduce ourselves and also to mention our favorite smell while holding a twig from a local flower species and passing this along after the self-introduction. This exercise reminded me of the tremendous diversity that characterizes womankind /humankind. Each of us told of a different favorite smell. More frequently, metaphors used to describe diversity are visual (eg the rainbow metaphor describing the diversity of the people in South Africa) Other times the metaphor is audio (when we are called to respect and engage each other as we speak “ in a different voice”). Diversity expressed with the metaphor of smell was refreshingly creative … ( it was intriguing to note that people did not give what was possibly routine smells (fragrances like rose etc.) Someone claimed her favorite smell was curry! ….this too was a memorable moment.
c) An Exercise in Ubuntu: Walking the labyrinth in Pairs see Photo) reminded me of the African perspective on the Human person, of human nature and Human destiny. The received wisdom is that a person (Omuntu) is a person through Others. The African belief says Mbiti ( citation) on) is that “I am because we are “ (Elsewhere the belief is that ”I think therefore I am (Descartes).” The ideal in African thought is that we rise and grow and are healed and saved together. We all belong to the bundle of life as Desmond would say. And when one hurts, we all hurt. Walking the labyrinth together reminded me of this aspect of afro-theology, cosmo-vision and ethics
d) Naming and Responding to Intergenerational Woundedness: The group facilitated our awareness of the intergenerational woundedness in the context of South Africa and beyond o elsewhere ) and therefore the need for generational healing. Many of the stories narrated by women during individual interviews and small groups drew attention again and again to the inter-generational nature of the wounds. Some women mentioned the violence done to their mothers as the reason they left home and are still angry; other times mothers expressed anxiety about their daughters falling into the same traps and cycles of violence that the mothers currently find d themselves in. The Grail is commendably encouraging inter-generational soul searching as a step towards more authentic healing …I was touched by this emphasis.
e) I could go on: We sat in a Circle, that palpable metaphor of inclusion and solidarity; We sang together and we broke bread together (i.e. cookies and tea), we listened to each others stories of hope and resilience. All in all, this was an outstanding model and approach to the much-needed healing and reconciliation in South Africa and beyond. It had a palpable woman’s touch. It was a joy to be in such a welcoming and safe space…Thanks Ruth and the Grail Movement Women and thanks Amy and Deidre our US team conveners for facilitating the visit by the US team to the Women of the Grail Movement.
Examples of the spirit of forgiveness and women's agency in facilitating healing were palpably evident in:
- The reconciliation villages which were truly awe-inspiring. These villages, facilitated by Rwanda Prison Christian ministries, were created to address the fact that both perpetrators and victims of genocide were wounded. Their Ubuntu had been radically compromised (some speak of “Moral and spiritual Injury" of perpetrators who had killed in cold blood and victims who harbored hateful thoughts of revenge). To meet members of these villages and to hear their heroic stories and testimonies about their intentional efforts to live alongside each other in solidarity and in search of healing for their deep-seated wounds was profoundly humbling . Their efforts to interrupt potential vicious cycles of violence by cultivating and modeling solidarity with each other was indeed incredible and inspiring. The villagers and their testimonies reminded me of a documentary entitled “As we forgive” that had been done around these villages. The villagers were commendably living the Lords prayer: In their action and words they were saying, “Forgive us (Lord) as we forgive.” Some testimonies were of perpetrators who had written letters asking for forgiveness from their victims or families. One of the leaders of the village we were told was a repentant perpetrator. He too was left to tell and to share his story as a means of healing himself and as an example to others who might be in the grips of murderous hatred of the perceived other. His testimony was a call to repentance as a step towards reconciliation and healing
- Rwanda Women Arise Group: In Rwanda, we specifically visited and listened (to at least 50) Rwanda women in various capacities and places. We met Muslim women, Mormon women, women at the university and women activists as well as women in the Reconciliation villages mentioned earlier. Of special interest to me was our encounter with a group of Pentecostal women who named themselves “Women Arise.” Instead of granting individual interviews to record as was the case in most instances, in typical Pentecostal fashion, the women simply presented a "Praise, Worship and Testimony" (i.e. story telling) session. One by one, members of the group stood up to “give a testimony from their real life experiences." Some revisited the painful encounters during the genocide while others spoke of contemporary encounters with domestic violence and “intimate “terror “ perpetrated by family members. Each story, long or short was listened to, a pertinent and encouraging Bible story was read in response and a pertinent encouraging commentary followed by a song, acknowledging the pain but also pointedly urging each woman to arise and stand tall despite their circumstances. The group provided victims much-needed safe space to tell their stories and also offered other testimonies of resilience by role models. They literally urged each other to arise and not stay downcast. Their was a community of mutual solidarity and healing. Like Imaculee, they were left to tell each others encouraging stories of hope and resilience. They were a community of Wounded Healers .
Visiting with Women of Life-bloom: Peer Mentoring and Support for “Sex Workers”
While we did not conduct any ethnographic work in Kenya, the group did take time to visit with yet another community of wounded healers; Namely the Life bloom group of women as peer mentors and advocates for women caught up in the violence and indignity of sex work to which many are pushed by desperate conditions of impoverishment . Rather than a condemnatory approach to such workers, the mentors, erstwhile sex workers themselves accompany their peers in their (not so easy) journeys into reform and transformation through mutual self-empowerment, refurbished sself-esteem and mutual encouragement. It was most humbling and inspiring to see the determination and resilience among the women who had a remarkable sense of solidarity and community.
The whole three week journey of exploration and mutual self discovery culminated in a one day symposium entitled: “Weaving Just Peace: African Women’s Transformative Leadership in Contexts of Transition,” which I convened and which was suitably hosted by The Women and Gender Studies Department at Kenyatta University (where I did my undergraduate studies and where I subsequently taught between 1978 and 1994). It was gratifying to note that some of my students in those pioneering days are now professors at Kenyatta University and are founding members of the Women and Gender Studies program. Some of the recent graduates from the program included several PhD and Masters research male students.
I also noted with appreciation that many of the papers presented in the symposium were themselves testimonies and stories of women’s resilience, courage and agency in the rather precarious and delicate processes of transitional justice. We heard the stories of moral exemplars like Wangari Maathai but also listened to papers from a representative of life Bloom telling their story in their own words. The US group had commendably sponsored one of the Rwanda women survivors turned scholar and community activist to the symposium and she spoke passionately about the task ahead for Rwanda and indeed the whole Continent hopefully transitioning into non-violent and safe space for all . . Gertrude, a veteran of the feminist struggle against Apartheid was one of our key note speakers and she spoke the story of courage and resilience on behalf of the women of courage in South Africa, then and now. Our second Key note speaker narrated her own story of courage and agency as she lamented the enduring tensions among ethnic communities to which she belongs. She celebrated her rather successful role in mediating conflict resolution between the groups As a Member of Parliament She particularly celebrated her success in the proposing anti FGM law that is now operational in Kenya.
All in all, what had initially seemed a very daunting project (visiting three countries in three weeks!) proved to be, in my humble view, truly worthwhile. Being eye/ear witness to the great work that women are doing towards healing and justice in the continent was inspiring and contributory to the sense of hope I spoke of earlier. That the women have to work so hard and against many obstacles and at times severe backlash remains a major issue of ethical concern for me and for many who consider the many debilitating battles that women have to fight (e.g. against bodily mutilation or rape, or abduction and kidnapping of themselves or their children, extreme impoverishment and denial of their rights in many levels) a major ethical challenge.
One hopes (sometimes against hope) that their courageous battles will cumulatively yield significant results.
One hopes and wishes that others, in Church and society would heed the call to become “feminists” (For me , Feminism means : Recognizing that women are People and Treating them as such ) and join the women in the struggle towards social, moral and ethical transformations necessary for a more livable continent and indeed world. Accompanying rather than subverting women efforts towards justice and healing would be the ideal.
Below is a Group Photo of the Participants at The Symposium on 15th August 2016
(Notice the Representatives of the Braham Kumari Sisters who are also contributing to peace making and peace building in Kenya by encouraging mindfulness and meditation . In the aftermath of the 2007 PEV, they facilitated a nationwide campaign for people to write “Letters to God” It was a creative way of allowing people to vent in a peaceful way. It was a strategy designed to interrupting the cycle of violence …)
“Quien no conoce el bosque chileno, no conoce este planeta”
por Claudia Leal Luna
En diversos pasajes, tanto de su prosa como de su poesía, Pablo Neruda describe la opulencia del bosque chileno, la manera en que su silencio vivo y significante permea nuestra identidad cultural, y cómo su presencia ha delineado nuestra historia como pueblo, personal y colectivamente. “Bajo los bosques, junto a los ríos, todo le habla al ser humano” - constata el poeta en el volumen autobiográfico Confieso que he vivido – en el cual se explaya sobre su infancia en la Araucanía, acompañado de la lluvia y los árboles. Nunca desaparecerán de su vida estas imágenes, en sus viajes busca los bosques, y cuando escribe vuelve a ellos para hablar de casi todo, de la fuerza terrestre y de lo ignoto, de la ternura y del amor cósmico.
Ya consagrado y convertido en una celebridad, recuerda con su amigo Rafael Alberti paseos en común a la sombra de bosques milenarios donde “cada ramaje se diferenciaba de otro”, donde “las hojas parecían competir en la infinita variedad del estilo”. No creo exagerar si digo que muchos hombres y mujeres de este rincón del mundo, que apenas salidos de la adolescencia debimos abandonar la vida de provincia para estudiar y trabajar en la capital, imaginamos nuestra vida del mismo modo que Pablo, cuando dice: “Mi vida es una larga peregrinación que siempre da vueltas, que siempre retorna al bosque austral, a la selva perdida”.
En este escenario – que además de territorial es cultural y espiritual – y que he intentado sucintamente describir, algo ha sucedido, algo que no terminamos de entender y cuya solución – si es que la hay – tomará el tiempo de dos o tres generaciones a las cuales tendremos que pedir humildemente perdón. Como muchos de ustedes ya sabrán, el verano que acaba de terminar en Chile quedará marcado para siempre como aquel en que vimos quemarse – en un porcentaje que ronda el 50% – los bosques de la zona central de nuestro país; son unas 500.000 hectáreas de plantaciones nativas o cultivadas las que en cuestión de pocas semanas fueron arrasadas, pero también más de 3.000 casas quemadas, y once personas muertas luchando contra el fuego.
Nubes tóxicas se instalaron en nuestras ciudades y pueblos enteros no podían irse a dormir sin pensar que tal vez el fuego podría llegar a acercarse demasiado. No hemos tenido siquiera el tiempo de pensar en los miles de animales que murieron y el impacto que eso podrá tener en nuestra diversidad biológica y ecosistemas. Es verdad que nuestra naturaleza es telúrica, y que terremotos y volcanes nos han habituado - psicológicamente, al menos - a los desastres y a todo lo que ellos implican, vulnerabilidad y reconstrucción son datos de la causa en nuestras vidas, pero esto es distinto.
Las razones de esta penosa catástrofe son diversas y de muy distinto tenor; ellas van desde las condiciones climáticas adversas (consecutivas olas de calor y fuertes vientos muy poco habituales en estas latitudes), las sequías continuas y prolongadas de los últimos años que han sometido a nuestros bosques a un alto stress hídrico, hasta la increíblemente precaria preparación política y estratégica que tenemos todavía para eventos de este calibre, pasando – me avergüenza decirlo – por casos donde en el origen del fuego hubo intencionalidad deliberada, cuestión todavía por indagar judicial y socialmente.
La verdad es que ya hemos dejado de hablar del tema, ha dejado de ser urgente y en un año electoral estamos bien distraídos en muchas otras cosas, las siluetas de los árboles muertos en medio del humo han desaparecido de los noticiarios de la televisión y de las conversaciones de la radio, pero queda la certidumbre fantasmal de que nuestros hijos no verán los bosques que desaparecieron, los mismos que nosotros recorrimos tantas veces, no sentirán bajo sus pies la fuerza maternal de sus raíces gruesas, ni sobre sus cabezas la sombra fresca y ligera que humedece la fatiga abrasadora, y que quizás, solo con mucho trabajo y algo de fortuna, nuestros nietos podrán hacerlo, quizás...
Las bases de la justicia intergeneracional de una sociedad se ponen a prueba, de la manera más crítica y sensible, de frente al desafío del desarrollo sustentable y del fomento de una cultura de respeto a todos los seres vivientes, no solo porque en esta comprensión de la vida y en su puesta en práctica está en juego la supervivencia de la especie humana, sino porque esa supervivencia necesita del sentido que esos seres nos proveen.
Lo importante no es solo asegurar la preservación de la vida, cuestión que ya representa un enorme reto, sino gestionar delicada e inteligentemente las fuentes de significado que deseamos heredar a nuestros hijos y aquellos que les sucederán, especialmente los discursos relativos a las relaciones de los seres vivos entre sí y con su Creador. Tendremos que repetir muchas veces hasta llegar a comprender de verdad, junto con el Papa Francisco, que la crisis ecológica no está aislada de las demás: la espiritual, la ética, la económica, entre varias otras que conforman una sola experiencia global de crisis (Laudato Si, 139), cuya salida está mediada, en último término, por la posibilidad de un diálogo sobre la justicia y la dignidad.
Autores como Erich Fromm y Hans Jonas, entre otros, nos han ayudado a reflexionar sobre la madurez moral, y ambos coinciden en que el horizonte ético más alto está dado por pensar activa y amorosamente en quienes no vemos, en aquellos a quienes ni siquiera podemos aspirar a conocer. Pienso que ya estamos trabajando en esto y que hay buenas expectativas; trabajo en un campus universitario donde cada día circulan 14.000 personas y las iniciativas de reciclaje y vida saludable están a la orden del día.
Hoy me pregunto, sin embargo, si podremos cultivar de la manera más seria esta virtud, la de la generatividad, no solo respecto de los niños que tras unos pocos siglos caminarán por nuestras calles, sino también a propósito de los bosques que están por venir, espero que sí.
 Pablo Neruda en Confieso que he vivido.
The Lasting Legacy of Amoris Laetitia
Thomas A. Shannon
Professor Emeritus of Religion and Social Ethics
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
The long-awaited Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis summarizing the two Synod meetings on the family has been published and reactions have been mixed, with many commentators focusing on discerning the degree of his fidelity to traditional doctrinal positions. Most have agreed that the letter repeats traditional teaching but allows for discernment about particular situations to be made at the local level. And clearly, discussions and debates about those local resolutions will continue.
But there are other dimensions of this Exhortation that are significant in helping to understand, specifically its strong continuity with the theology of Vatican II. In particular, there are three themes from Vatican II in this Exhortation that have long-term significance.
One of the contributions of Vatican II was complementing the work of Vatican I by developing the teaching on the bishops. The document Lumen gentium helped to clarify and establish the relation between Pope and bishops. One of the structures that emerged from this teaching was reestablishment of the Synod of Bishops. Clearly, an Ecumenical Council could not be a frequent event and the Synod was seen as a mediating structure between such a Council and the Papal Office. The Synod was a means of the bishops discerning and discussing key topics and advising the Pope. Lumen gentium presented it this way.
22. Just as in the Gospel, the Lord so disposing, St. Peter and the other apostles constitute one apostolic college, so in a similar way the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, and the bishops, the successors of the apostles, are joined together. Indeed, the very ancient practice whereby bishops duly established in all parts of the world were in communion with one another and with the Bishop of Rome in a bond of unity, charity and peace, and also the councils assembled together, in which more profound issues were settled in common, the opinion of the many having been prudently considered, both of these factors are already an indication of the collegiate character and aspect of the Episcopal order; and the ecumenical councils held in the course of centuries are also manifest proof of that same character. And it is intimated also in the practice, introduced in ancient times, of summoning several bishops to take part in the elevation of the newly elected to the ministry of the high priesthood.
Paul VI called Synods to discuss problems, but eventually, the Synods fell into disuse or basically were called to reaffirm specific issues in the Papal agenda. Recent Synods were not noted for discussions or advising but affirming a predetermined agenda.
This has changed with Pope Francis and how the Synod on the family was structured. There was a pre-Synod process of preparation of the agenda for the Synod on the family. This included asking Bishops what concerns they had as well as sending surveys to Bishops who in turn frequently sent them to parishes to solicit other perspectives. On this basis an agenda was prepared. But then something unusual happened. At the Synod the Pope asked the Bishops to say what was on their minds, to say what their real concerns were, what problems they faced, and how they thought they should respond to them. The Pope strongly stated that he did not want them to guess what they thought he wanted them to say but rather to speak freely and identify their concerns. This took a while, but the bishops began to say what they thought, to the delight of some and the horror of others. But speak they did, to each other and to the press, in the meeting room of the Synod, and with each other in various language groups. This went on for two sessions, with summaries being provided and documents produced after the end of each session. Also publicly available were the summaries of the various language groups and the interventions of several of the laity and religious who spoke at the Synod. Eventually, all paragraphs of each of the reports were voted on and the two reports were presented to the Pope.
That Francis listened to the Synod is clear from reading the footnotes of the Exhortation. The vast majority cite the Synod reports. The Exhortation is a marvelous synthesis of the Reports as well as Francis' own concerns about the family and how the family is to be affirmed and treated. The thought of Francis is clear in the Exhortation, but his thoughts are clearly expressed within the framework proposed by the Synod. As Francis states it:
2. The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in today’s world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family. The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions. The thinking of pastors and theologians, if faithful to the Church, honest, realistic and creative, will help us to achieve greater clarity.
An important conclusion to draw from this is that the use of the Synod will be an important part of Francis' papacy. And with this use of the Synod is also a push to decentralize how authority is exercised in the Church. And such a push also emphasizes the significance of the role of the local Ordinary. And this then leads to the second theme: the importance of the local church--whether this be on a national level, the diocesan level, or the parish level.
The Significance of the local Church
A critical starting point for this discussion is Paragraph 4 of Gaudium et spes from Vatican II which Francis quotes in the Exhortation:
Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization. For thus the ability to express Christ's message in its own way is developed in each nation, and at the same time there is fostered a living exchange between the Church and the diverse cultures of people. To promote such exchange, especially in our days, the Church requires the special help of those who live in the world, are versed in different institutions and specialties and grasp their innermost significance in the eyes of both believers and unbelievers. With the help of the Holy Spirit, it is the task of the entire People of God, especially pastors and theologians, to hear, distinguish and interpret the many voices of our age, and to judge them in the light of the divine word, so that revealed truth can always be more deeply penetrated, better understood and set forth to greater advantage. (4)
This reasoning was continued in Octagesima Adveniens, the Apostolic Letter Paul VI wrote to Cardinal Roy on the 80th anniversary of the encyclical Rerum Novarum.
In the face of such widely varying situations, it is difficult for us to utter a unified message and to put forward a solution which has universal validity. Such is not our ambition, nor is it our mission. It is up to the Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation which is proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel's unalterable words and to draw principles of reflection, norms of judgment and directives for action from the social teaching of the Church. ... It is up to these Christian communities, with the help of the Holy Spirit, in communion with the bishops who hold responsibility and in dialogue with other Christian brethren and all men of goodwill, to discern the options and commitments which are called for in order to bring about the social, political and economic changes seen in many cases to be urgently needed. (4)
Here Paul acknowledged the reality of the complexity of the world and that communities closest to the problems should be at least the first to begin grappling with the problem. Solutions proposed from on high with little knowledge or sensitivity to the local context may not be the best way to resolve a problem. In many ways, this is nothing other than the application of the traditional principle of solidarity. But perhaps it has never been stated so baldly with respect to papal teachings.
The Exhortation reiterates this teaching:
3. Since “time is greater than space”, I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary for the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth (cf. Jn 16:13) until he leads us fully into the mystery of Christ and enables us to see all things as he does. Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. For “cultures are in fact quite diverse and every general principle... needs to be enculturated, if it is to be respected and applied”.
The role of the local community is a recent emphasis on the life of the Church. Clearly, there have always been local synods that have significantly impacted the life of the Church. Consider, for example, the lasting significance of the Baltimore Catechism. And we also have the importance of various Bishop's Conferences. Again consider the profound importance of the USCCB's letter "The Challenge of Peace" that significantly influenced national debates over the strategy of nuclear deterrence. Various themes in their other letter "Economic Justice for All" continues to influence discussions of justice in contemporary social policy debates. But such initiatives fell into disuse, discouraged by a heightened centralization of authority within Rome. Fewer issues tended to be resolved at the local level and more and more questions were sent to Rome for resolution. Again, Francis is reversing this tide by returning to the practice of calling synods to gain the bishops' perspectives on various topics and expecting bishops to resolve their own issues. This is clearly recognizing the appropriate role of the bishop as well as the relation of the bishop to the papal office and the role of the local community.
Moral Decision Making
A third theme in the Exhortation relates to moral decision making. This theme also has clear roots in Vatican II. In Gaudium et Spes, the Council Fathers shifted the center of moral decision making from rules or a biologically deterministic view of natural law to the person. In the discussion of decision making with respect to responsible parenthood, the Council highlighted the centrality of person.
Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. 51
This shift from the structure of law to the person is continued in the document on religious freedom, Dignitas Humanae. Here the focus is on the centrality of the conscience as the locus of moral decision making and the respect that needs to be accorded conscience.
In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. 3
Francis continues this by noting that "We have been called to form consciences, not to replace them." (37). Francis affirms the role and necessity of the whole Church in such a formation of conscience, particularly with respect to the development of a meaningful catechesis on marriage. But along with this is the necessity of each member of the Church, within the context of the ecclesial community, for forming his or her conscience and coming to his or her conclusions about the application of these teachings to his or her life. While not a new teaching in the Church, Francis is developing this orientation, emerging out of the theology of Vatican II, and giving it new vibrancy.
It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being. I earnestly ask that we always recall a teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas and learn to incorporate it in our pastoral discernment: “Although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects... In matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all, as to matters of detail, but only as to the general principles; and where there is the same rectitude in matters of detail, it is not equally known to all... The principle will be found to fail, according to as we descend further into detail”. It is true that general rules set forth a good which can never be disregarded or neglected, but in their formulation, they cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations. At the same time, it must be said that precisely for that reason, what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule. That would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care. (304)
This is not new teaching as is clear from the citation from Aquinas. But it is a teaching that has been marginalized for several years as priority has been given to rules and laws. The Pope's point, and indeed, the point of the Synod, is that one cannot go directly from a law or rule to the very specific context of the person who has to decide. This does not mean that a person can do whatever one wants. But what has to be affirmed is that the person, in the sanctity of his or her conscience, has to particularize and personalize the decision in the light of both the rule and the particularities of the situation. And as Aquinas noted centuries ago, the more specific one gets, the further from the general rule one gets.
The enduring legacy of this Synod and the Apostolic Exhortation derived from it will not be particular conclusions stated in it or specific statements. Rather the legacy will be this three-fold shift in direction initiated by Francis. Implementing these shifts in the life of the Church will not be easy. Many are not used to being given responsibility for resolving problems. Others will be fearful of stepping outside of what were perceived to be clear lines of debate. Still others will find dialogue and listening difficult. But this is the journey on which Francis is sending the church, a direction sustained and upheld by the practice of mercy. The sessions of the Synod provided a model for the whole Church to follow and Francis further exemplified this in how he implemented the advice of the Synod. Indeed, he and the Synod have given the Church a true example of the Amoris Laetitia.
Small-circle Election in Hong Kong
Mary Mee-Yin Yuen
Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor Carrie has been elected Hong Kong’s next chief executive (CE) on 26 March, 2017. However, it was not an authentic election as Lam gained only 777 votes from the 1,194-member Election Committee – around 0.03 per cent of the population – composed mostly of Beijing government’s loyalists. A former chief secretary and deputy to the existing chief executive, Lam is the fourth Hong Kong’s chief executive since the change of sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997.
Unlike democratic elections in many other countries, the Hong Kong’s chief executive election has been considered as a small circle election which involved only a very small number of people. Only some of the 240,000 people from selected sectors had votes in December last year to choose a 1,200-member election committee. The committee is composed of four main sectors with representatives from the professional sector; the industrial, commercial and financial sectors; and the social services, religious and other sectors. The fourth sector includes legislative members, District Councilors, members of the Heung Yee Kuk rural group, and Hong Kong representatives to China’s decision-making bodies. The makeup of the committee has been criticized for over-representing sectors close to Beijing, whilst under-representing sections of the populace which are more pro-democratic.
Two other candidates in the CE election are the former financial secretary Tsang Chun-wah John and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing. Although all three candidates are regarded as pro-establishment figures, it is widely believed that Beijing government has its own choice before the election.
The State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the election had been “open, fair and orderly”, and that Lam “fitted” Beijing’s requirements for a chief executive. However, Lam was heavily rumored to be Beijing’s favored candidate over the past two months before the election though she was behind in public popularity polls. Some electors claimed that before election day they were pressured by the Hong Kong-based Chinese liasion office to vote for her.
Critics called the election result “a defeat of the people’s majority views.” Tsang was popular among the public for his more successful public relations campaign and his image of inclusivity. In spite of the small-circle election, Tsang did not merely appeal to the members of the Election Committee, he also appealed to other Hong Kong people through offering the vision of unity, trust and hope, attempting to gain popular support. Many people think that he can bring reconciliation in a splited society though they may not fully support his policy platform. This brought a new experience and standard of election campaign to Hong Kong people, in spite of the small-circle election nature. However, Tsang was said to have lacked the central government’s full trust despite his high public popularity, thus, he could not gain much support from the pro-establishment camp in the Election Committee. The election result shows the gap between the choice of Hong Kong people and members of the Election Committee, reflecting the absurdity and ridiculous of the small-circle election.
The Civil Human Rights Front, a non-governmental organization organised a rally to protest on the day before the election against Hong Kong’s small-circle leadership race. They claimed that Beijing blatantly meddled in the election. The group calls for full democracy and genuine universal suffrage.
This election is the first CE election after the Occupy Movement in 2014. On 31 August, 2014, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress passed a decision that the chief executive in 2017 can be elected by one-person-one-vote, but only after a “broadly representative” nomination committee. The decision triggered a week-long class boycott, which developed into the 79-day Occupy protests demanding fully democratic elections.
This election was expected by some people to be a chance of healing the wounds of Hong Kong created in the past five-year rule of the existing chief executive C.Y. Leung and the rift among people after the Occupy protest or the so-called Umbrella Revolution. Lam is seen as inheriting the ruling strategy of Leung whereas Tsang is regarded as a person who can bring reconciliation and dialogue among people of different political stances. However, the election result brought disappointment to many people.
In the Catholic social tradition, democracy and equal political participation are highly valued and small-circle election is not preferred. In the social encyclical Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II highlights that, “The Church values the democratic system inasmuch as it ensures the participation of citizens in making political choices, guarantees to the governed the possibility both of electing and holding accountable those who govern them, and of replacing them through peaceful means when appropriate. Thus she cannot encourage the formation of narrow ruling groups which usurp the power of the State for individual interests or for ideological ends (no. 46).”
Therefore, Hong Kong people should insist on the goal of striking for authentic universal suffrage and continue to cultivate a culture of democracy with relational virtues although we know that the road to democracy is a long and winding one. We must not lost hope in spite of the dim light in front of us. We need wisdom to discern how to move forward.
With low popularity, Lam has to face questions over her governance and the many challenges for the coming five years – from the rising tide of anti-mainland sentiments to skyrocketing property prices and political tensions.
It is interesting to note that Lam, as a Catholic, claimed that she stood for election because of calling from God. Although Lam was seen as a person under Beijing’s or pro-Beijing’s control, during the election campaign, she insisted that she was willing to listen to people’s opinions and became more humble. When the result of her winning came out, she said that she would try her best to unite people of various political standpoints, mending the rift and disentangling the frustration of Hong Kong people. I hope that she would keep her promise and uphold the Catholic values of common good, solidarity and subsidiarity as they are imperative in building a good society.
Laudato Si’ and Catholic Dialogue on Integral Ecology
In his social encyclical Laudato Si’ On the Care of our Common Home (2015), Pope Francis urgently appeals for a new dialogue about how to redefine our notion of human progress (cf. LS, 3; 13-14; 194). In response to this appeal, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) based in England and Wales, has facilitated an international dialogue with its partners in Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Kenya, Colombia, Bangladesh, and its UK stakeholders, about Laudato Si’ and about how a new model of development could be built. The process took place between October 2015 and February 2017, and was led by CAFOD’s theology team, of which I am part.
Inductive and inclusive methodology
The methodology of the dialogue can be synthesised as follows: firstly, participants were invited to ‘see’ what is good – from God’s viewpoint as informed by biblical stories of creation, from the Church’s perspective as informed by Laudato Si’, and from their own experience and context. A similar process was conducted to ‘see’ what is damaging the ‘seen’ goodness, particularly in the name of progress. Secondly, participants were asked to revisit Pope Francis’ ‘judgement’ on what hinders and promotes development, and then to provide their own judgement, including their perspective on ‘integral ecology’ (the integration of the ecological and social aspects of development). Finally, after listening to the proposals for action in Laudato Si’, participants reflected on what they believe they ought to do differently in four aspects of life: ‘myself’, ‘my family’, ‘my community’ and ‘my nation/world’. In order to explicitly include the spiritual aspect highlighted in Laudato Si’, they celebrated God’s gift of creation and the role they play in it as responsible stewards.
Coming from Latin America, I was not surprised to see the method ‘seeing-acting-judging-celebrating’ in action. But what did surprise me was the fact that the method has inspired people from completely different backgrounds who are involved in one particular process: redefining the idea of progress so as to respond to an unprecedented socio-ecological crisis.
Initial findings from the dialogue on progress
Discussing all the findings of these dialogues will require more than one blog (the extensive final report will be shared with all Caritas agencies worldwide). Yet, it is worth sharing some initial reactions to the process. First, in terms of the discussion on ‘what hinders’ and ‘what helps’ development, it was notable that five major topics emerge across all workshops in response: technology, politics, urbanisation, economics and culture & nature.
As these themes were discussed in the light of the teaching in Laudato Si’, it is fascinating to compare how the issues are perceived by the Pope and how they are experienced in the local contexts of workshop participants. For example, while Pope Francis is concerned with the structural problems behind technological development ̶ because it is controlled by those with economic power ̶ participants accentuate the advantages of technology for the poor.
While Pope Francis sees politicians as key drivers for change, participants are far more sceptical about their roles, especially due to corruption. Where the Pope underlines the structural issues behind urbanisation and violence, participants focus on the day-to-day problems city dwellers suffer due to insecurity and violence; however, they also point out the opportunities that cities provide to fulfil people’s dreams.
With regard to economics, participants agree with the Pope about the need for urgent change. However, different approaches for achieving future change emerge: one involves complete and immediate change; the other is a more gradual – though still radical – approach.
In terms of culture, participants agree with and add to the Pope’s analysis of the devastating effects of a consumerist and individualistic culture, as well as the threat from a global culture which does not respect diversity. However, a key difference rapidly became evident under the theme of culture: the link between gender equality and development. Whilst for participants across all workshops gender equality is an absolutely vital element of sustainable development and integral ecology, this topic is completely absent from Laudato Si’.
Initial reflections on what actions are needed
For participants, a first fundamental step to change the current development model is related to “time”. We need more time for personal and community reflection on how we relate to each other and to nature; more time to discuss what is the best way of moving forward; and, strikingly, more time for contemplation, since we need to slow down if we are to re-define our priorities, plans and development programmes.
A second step to forge a new model of progress, for participants, is the need for joint actions. This collaborative understanding of promoting development applies to all relationships, from inter-personal to national and international. It also implies that there are different individual and national responsibilities, according to positions of power and what resources are available. But joint actions cannot forge sustainable development if they are not rooted in actual dialogical processes where the voices of the powerless ̶ and the cry of the earth ̶ are truly heard. Moreover, shared actions comprise the need to rethink our lifestyles, seeking a simpler way of living and using natural resources wisely, or what Laudato Si’ calls an “ecological conversion”.
Desire for radical change
Unanimously, participants acknowledged that the current model of development must change, and in a radical way, although the sense of urgency for this change was more noticeable in Latin Americans and African participants. But they all agreed with Laudato Si’ with regard to seeking for change through dialogue and participation, not by imposition. Still, they emphasised that if the marginalised voices are not heard, the process cannot be called dialogue. Participants’ desire for transformation and their enthusiasm was contagious. It was enlightening to hear their analysis, rooted in their particular contexts. Also, their proposals were feasible and significant enough to encourage everyone present, and to stimulate analogous thinking elsewhere. As a theologian, I have never experienced such engagement with a papal document.
Some vital and challenging questions arose from the dialogue. For example, from a personal perspective, am I ready to create the time and space I need to check that my current priorities reflect my own deepest values? Am I being the person that I really want to be? Or has the current rapid pace of life got the better of me? And from a collective perspective, if we really want to help create the structural changes needed to forge integral development and integral ecology, are we prepared to face our cultural blind spots (corporate and national) that restrict actual change? Where are we going to find the motivation for the radical change that is needed so as to care for our common home?
In short, from this series of workshops, in which we have dialogued with partners from different countries on how to redefine the notion of progress (cf LS, 148), we have taken more than a confirmation about the importance of the latest Papal encyclical. We have been enthused, and have learned something about “how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously” (LS, 46).
Public Dialogue and the Role of Media: Examples from Brazil and the USA
Alexandre A. Martins, MI
Approximately 2 months ago, I was invited by a professor in Brazil to write an article about democracy and submit it to a thematic issue of a journal that he was editing. Although my area of expertise includes social political issues focusing on public healthcare, including issues of just health and bioethics, I never had to write specifically about democracy. However, this invitation was a temptation that my vanity couldn’t resist, but fall into this ‘sin,’ ironically enough in the middle of my Lenten exercises. The current contexts in Brazil and in the USA were responsible for this ‘sin’ when the democratic institutions have been spotlighted before the rise of nationalism and far right policies. As you can see, I blame these contexts for my weakness; hopefully for forgiveness from my readers, if this article is accepted for publication.
This invitation has given me a great opportunity to reflect on democracy having the background of the current sociopolitical situation in Brazil and the USA, countries that have been my home in the last four years. I do not want to anticipate some ideas from this ongoing work, but I do want to emphasize the role of media in public dialogue, an essential element for a democratic government. In my research for that article, I came across Amartya Sen’s, 1998 Noble Prize in Economics. He stresses the idea that a democracy is a ‘government by discussion’ in which public reasoning has a central role for leadership and the understanding of justice (Sen, The Idea of Justice, 324). He adds that a functioning democracy must have “regular elections, opposition parties, basic freedom of speech and a relatively free media” (Ibid., 342). This is a complex debate, but I want to call your attention to the role of free media for democracy as a government by discussion. In his book, Sen provides an example to illustrate the importance of media in a democratic government. In 1943, in India under UK’s rules, a terrible famine killed thousands of people in Bengal. The British-owned media imposed silence about this issue that prevented a public discussion on the famine in London and even in New Delhi colonial administration. People outside of Bengal did not know what was going on. Public debate did not occur. Consequently, the government did not feel pressured to act immediately and effectively to address the famine. Sen’s conclusion is that a democratic government with critical discussion and parliamentary pressure would not allow the government officials to forget the poor people of Bengal (Ibid., 338-40).
It is media’s essential role to create awareness of what is going on and to raise a critical public debate that pressures the government officials and policymakers to act. Media control is the first step of a dictatorial government and the silencing of minority voices of oppressed groups. Throughout history, we have had several examples of this control. For Brazilians, military regime’s actions against free press are still fresh in memory. Today, something really interesting is happening in democratic governments and their relationships with the media. Curiously enough is the case of Brazil and the USA, in which media has taken different approaches.
It seems to me that both cases are very complex, but it is very curious that the mainstream media in Brazil and the USA have taken different sides. Briefly, I will describe what I mean.
Historically, the Brazilian mainstream media has always been under the control of political and businesses elites. Consequently, it has always supported neoliberal policies that might have kept its hegemonic power (of course, with few exceptions, especially during the dictatorship period). In the recent parliamentary coup against the first Brazilian female president and member of the Workers’ Party, the mainstream media had a fundamental role in leading people against the government, especially focusing on the corruption of some members of the Workers’ Party in the federal government. At the same time, this media ignored the corruption with evidence, sometimes well proven, of members of the right wing opposition parties. This created a huge polarization that made the “Brazilian mass” think that the Workers’ Party was the reason for all problems in the country. After impeaching the president, things did not get better and scandal after scandal involving members of the new administration (a coalition of rightist parties) did not stop appearing. But now, the mainstream media stopped talking about the issues. Moreover, neoliberal policies, some of them even against constitutional rights of the Brazilian people, had been passed by the congress without a public debate, with a choking silence from the media. Today social media, such as Facebook, has filled this gap. But in a country like Brazil, this is not enough because TV, especially the largest broadcasting network Globo, is still the main vehicle of information. It is clearly media manipulation. The impact on this in the administration of the country is tremendous because it keeps people in ignorance and far from public debate. An example of this manipulation is the coverage of protests. During a period of Workers’ Party administration (2015-16), the Globo made commercials and many of its celebrities to invite people to march in the streets against the government. In the days of protests, Globo broadcast live everything that was going around the country against the president. On March 15, 2017, millions of Brazilians, led by school teachers and public transportation workers, using social media, promoted a national day of strike and marches against the (already in final phase) neoliberal bill to reform the social security program. Not Globo nor any other mainstream broadcasting network said a single word about these protests, creating an impression that nothing was occurring in the country.
In the USA, it seems to me that the relationship between the political interests of the current federal administration and the mainstream media has acquired a different form. In this country, mainstream media (with few exceptions) has clearly criticized the new administration. President Trump, himself a self-declared media star (and experts said he was a beneficiary of the use of media in his own favor during the election), has promoted a true fight against the media, stamping in the country’s main news network as fake news. It seems like a joke, but it is true that Trump has affirmed, any news that does not say something positive about him is fake news. He has also forbidden some mainstream media networks to be in some press conference spaces in the White House, such as CNN and the New York Times. Like Brazil, the USA has lived in a context of intense political and ideological polarization. However, mainstream media has played a different role in both countries. Trump’s fight against media put at risk one the pillars of modern democracy, that is, the public debate that media can help promote. But for doing that, media must be free from neoliberal economic interests (like those in Brazil) and from attempts to destroy credibility promoted by public administrators. These attempts can be the first steps towards state controlled media that US democratic leaders have always been a voice against such control.
This topic – public debate, the role of media, and democracy – is complex and impossible to properly address in a short paper. The cases in Brazil and the USA also deserve much more attention and studies. My intention here was only to share some ideas and insights in order to begin a dialogue. But I also intend to raise a question, considering that the main readers of this short article are Catholic theological ethicists. Does our Catholic social tradition have something to enrich this debate and contribute to the promotion of a public dialogue in order to promote a ‘government by discussion’ centered in justice?
Please, any insights are welcome. Perhaps I will write part two of this article in dialogue with the Catholic social perspective and your comments.
Reconciliation in Ordinary and Extraordinary Times
Mary Jo Iozzio
I was driving back to Boston from North Jersey recently after another heart-wrenching set of tasks related to my mother’s death and sorting through her personal effects. Sooner rather than later her condominium space will be occupied her sister, my Aunt Janet. On the familiar drive, I use the time for reflection and conversations with God, admiring the scenery, the changes of seasons revealed in the flora, and the watchful eyes of majestic birds and occasional deer. In the background favorite music plays and breaks into my thoughts, inspiring introspection and an examination of conscience. Perhaps because it is Lent, that examen turned in an ordinary kind of way to reconciliation and my hopes that I have been reconciled with family, friends, co-workers, others I encounter including the drivers in their cars near and far; I wondered if and hope they too have been reconciled and received consolation. Then I turned to the nation and, with uncharacteristic pessimism, my reflection ended with doubts about prospects for either hope or reconciliation. I am unaccustomed to such negative headspace and want to move on, yet, the daily barrage of hate speech, distrust, and insults left and right toy with my sympathies and antipathies. Befuddled, I mull what manner of reconciliation mocks thus?
In these tumultuous and extraordinary times in the US, reconciliation may be needed arguably now more than ever. With daily expressions of contempt challenging calls for justice and mercy, many wonder how to negotiate the acrimonious impasse between a populist, autocratic president, democratic rule, and prosperity (an agenda for peace has all but disappeared). Today’s political climate is unbelievably remarkable, bitter, and threatening against a nation often admired internally and abroad for its protections and exercise of constitutional rights as well as its promises of a better tomorrow. However, regardless of party affiliation, civility is required in the commons if the nation is to surmount this impasse. Reasoned considerations of the issues that prove especially divisive and seemingly irreconcilable –healthcare, migration and immigration, sex and gender, race, military funding and endless war, foreign policy, national security, gun control, social security, religious freedom, housing, education, climate change, poverty, etc.—must not be relegated to news outlets, twitter feeds, or late night comedy, they must be engaged from the grass roots all the way to Congress and the White House.
One way forward can be found in the work of Constance FitzGerald, OCD, who notes the particular urgency for an integration of contemplation and social commitment, a socially conscious and adept education, conversion from the dangerous temptation to give up, and the failures of imagination in the presence of personal and societal impasse (“Impasse and Dark Night,” 1984). FitzGerald questions optimistically, “What if, by chance, our time in evolution is a dark-night time—a time of crisis and transition that must be understood if it is to be part of learning a new vision and harmony for the human species and the planet?” FitzGerald instructs her US audience to embrace impasse in what can be a movement toward reconciliation. While impasse imprisons participants in their respective ghettos, she reminds us it is only in the process of bringing the impasse to prayer that we will be “brought to paradoxical new visions and freed for nonviolent, selfless, liberating action, freed, therefore, for community on this planet earth.” Impasse challenges and, post frustration, can inspire the development of something new, more rightly ordered, and reconciling thereby.
Where, then, are we to turn to address the experience of this dark night? We have the tradition of sacramental reconciliation for our personal sins. Yet, given Catholic Social Teaching illuminated by Liberation Theology, we can and must broaden the sacramental exercise to include social sin, the avalanching effect of personal sins operating in institutional settings that have been subsequently and purposively embedded in the construction of policies that prejudice and divide us. Following that confession, we can move forward in the hope that we would not only avoid the near occasion of sin but that we would positively engage our neighbors in the reconciling work of justice and mercy for all. Reconciliation of the social sins that divide us beckons beyond the confines of affiliation comfort zones. Reconciliation requires encounter, especially between others with whom we have little common experience or thinking about the future of today’s fractured nation and of the relationships known (or acknowledged) and unknown (or, worse, denied) with our sisters and brothers on the other side of US Border Patrol. In The Atlantic, Eric Liu advises these deliberately reconciling encounters follow three humanizing steps: compassionate listening, volunteer service, and smarter arguing (Post Election Reconciliation, 11/1/2016).
Liu and FitzGerald offer hope, but hope, like faith without works, requires positive engagement across this extraordinary suffocating impasse. Morally imperative, sacramentally attentive, and in keeping with Lenten observances, Pope Francis reminds us in his Ash Wednesday Homily (3/1/2017) of the singularly common origin of those with whom we agree and disagree from the dust of the earth:
True, yet, we are dust in the loving hands of God … giving us that breath of life that saves us from … the stifling asphyxia brought on by our selfishness, the stifling asphyxia generated by petty ambition and silent indifference –an asphyxia that smothers the spirit, narrows our horizons and slows our beating hearts. The breath of God’s life saves us from this asphyxia that dampens our faith, cools our charity and strangles every hope. To experience Lent is to yearn for this breath of life that our Father unceasingly offers us amid the mire of our history.
During these ordinary and extraordinary dark nights, let’s strive in ways ever bold to breathe concern for others with justice and mercy.
IT STOPS WITH ME!
Shortly after the American election last year, I was having dinner in a restaurant in London with my husband and sister-in-law. We were chatting with the Iranian restaurant owner about the uncertainties generated by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as a result of the Brexit referendum, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. We talked about the growing hostility towards migrants across the western world, and the sense of a deepening political crisis that leaves us feeling helpless and afraid. He shook his head. ‘Where will it stop?’ he said. It was a rhetorical question, but I surprised myself by my response. ‘It stops here,’ I said, jabbing my finger at myself. ‘It stops with me.’
This hubristic declaration may have been fuelled by a few glasses of wine, but it stirred my conscience so that it has become something of a personal mantra. As I travelled to work on a London bus the next morning in the usual cosmopolitan mix of passengers, I reflected on what it would mean to live in a way that would entitle me to say ‘It stops with me’. I realized it would take a heroic act of commitment to apply that principle across every aspect of my life, but I began to see that I could begin with small daily acts of kindness, patience and welcome. A smile or word of friendship might brighten a refugee’s day. A moment’s eye contact and a brief chat might make all the difference to somebody begging in a doorway.
As the western liberal democracies implode, our options for changing society for the better through the ballot box have become limited almost to the point of non-existence. In Britain, the Labour Party is disintegrating, apparently more concerned with its own internal politics and rivalries than with its wider policies and political responsibilities. The British electorate is faced with a choice between an increasingly ruthless and isolationist Tory Government headed by an unelected Prime Minister, and the Far Right nationalism of UKIP. Meanwhile, Brexit might lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Scotland might have a second referendum, seeking independence in order to remain in Europe. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland are facing a crisis over the Good Friday agreement which was brokered by way of the common EU membership of both countries. They now face the prospect of being divided by a European border with potentially devastating implications for the peace process.
Meanwhile ‘across the pond’, as we say in the UK, President Trump’s cavalier disregard for the responsibilities and dignity of the presidential office is plunging us into a dystopian post-truth world of ‘alternative facts’ and dangerous populist rhetoric. It is hard to forget that one of those pudgy presidential fingers hovers only five minutes away from the nuclear button.
‘It stops here’. What a ridiculous thing to say in such a world – and yet, what change might be possible if every one of us said that and tried to live it to the best of our ability? Edmund Burke’s saying has been widely quoted, that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. After the tyrannies, genocides and ideologies of the last hundred years, we know all too well what happens when good people allow themselves to be intimidated and silenced by tyrannical and undemocratic regimes.
‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’. That is supposed to be an ancient Chinese proverb. (I sometimes think that every unattributable quotable quote is put in the category of ancient Chinese proverbs!) Lighting candles is a powerful symbolic act. No wonder it finds a place in so many religious rituals and traditions. Lighting one candle from another reminds us that light and warmth can be shared and spread without any loss to the original source. The candle flame burns just as brightly after it has lit others around it, and together they create a radiant glow that pushes against the gathering gloom and holds it at bay. I think of the Easter vigil, when we process into the darkened church behind the paschal candle, each carrying an unlit candle. As we pass the candlelight between us the church slowly fills up with the light that spreads out from the flickering flame of the Easter candle.
Jesus tells us that ‘where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.’(Matt. 18:20). I think of that small huddle of terrified disciples gathered in the upper room after the crucifixion. Nobody would have believed that those disillusioned and frightened disciples and their crucified leader would be the start of the greatest religious transformation in the history of humankind. A small candle glow of hope was kindled in their hearts when they encountered the risen Christ, and as it passed from person to person it began to light up the world. A similar thought occurs to me when I think of Ann Frank, a young Jewish girl writing a diary full of teenage hopes and dreams in her hiding place in an attic in Amsterdam, while the vast might of Hitler’s armies rolled across Europe. Ann Frank died in a Nazi concentration camp, but today her diary remains one of the world’s most widely read and best loved books, while Hitler’s Mein Kampf is at most a historical curiosity and at worst a text read only by zealots and fanatics.
As Christians, we are called to believe that the Holy Spirit is with those who are small and weak and powerless in the eyes of the world, and that Christ’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). If we extend the metaphor of the candle flame, we might take comfort in the promise that, however feeble our efforts, ‘a smouldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.’ (Isa. 42.3, Matt. 12.20) Each of us is called to become the small flame of hope that shares its light with those around us.
Yet our religious communities are not immune from the divisive and disruptive upheavals of recent events. The political landscape is fissured by deep fault lines that divide families, neighbourhoods and communities, including religious communities. In the United States, President Trump’s election has had this divisive effect, and in Britain so has Brexit.
‘It stops here.’ If that is to become a rallying call, we must forge new alliances across cultural, religious and national boundaries, in order to create communities of resistance wherein fresh political visions might be nurtured. Those of us who believe that a different world is possible can and must stand together, as women around the world did when we took to the streets in the name of human dignity and equality in January 2017.
Perhaps, as we gather in resistance and hope, we might take Leonard Cohen’s Anthem as our own, as a tribute to a great poet of resistance and hope who died in November last year. ‘But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud,’ sings Cohen, ‘and they’re going to hear from me.’ The chorus to that song has brought consolation to many in situations of failure and loss: ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ Those lines remind me of the Japanese art of Kintsugi – which is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold. This transformation of broken shards into works of art, allowing the cracks and fractures to become spaces of healing beauty, is the challenge we face today, as we survey the demolished ruins of modernity’s dreams of progress and seek to put the broken pieces together in new configurations of grace.