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Friday, March 22, 2013

Francis on Jonah, Japan and the Missional Church

I have begun a series of posts digging into an amazing interview that Bergoglio gave in 2007 to the international magazine 30 Days. In my first post I drew on an excerpt that spoke to his understanding of change in order to suggest that there are substantive reasons to believe that he will indeed be a pope who brings not only reform of the Curial bureaucracy but reform doctrinally as well. This is not to say that he will be some sort of anti-Benedict, but that he will be dramatically different.

In this respect I would point to another section of the 30 Days interview where Bergoglio draws on two stories, one from the biblical Jonah and another from the experience of the church in Japan, to pointedly question the clericalist direction of both the laity and the hierarchy. His reasoning suggests a missional pope completely willing to upend the status quo if it is coming between the mercy of God and the needs of the world. (The words in bold are the interviewers)

I have told my priests…:«If you can, rent a garage and, if you find some willing layman, let him go there! Let him be with those people a bit, do a little catechesis and even give communion if they ask him». A parish priest said to me: «But Father, if we do this the people then won’t come to church». «But why?» I asked him: «Do they come to mass now?» «No», he answered. And so! Coming out of oneself is also coming out from the fenced garden of one’s own convictions, considered irremovable, if they risk becoming an obstacle, if they close the horizon that is also of God.
This is valid also for lay people…
BERGOGLIO: Their clericalization is a problem. The priests clericalize the laity and the laity beg us to be clericalized… It really is sinful abetment. And to think that baptism alone could suffice. I’m thinking of those Christian communities in Japan that remained without priests for more than two hundred years. When the missionaries returned they found them all baptized, all validly married for the Church and all their dead had had a Catholic funeral. The faith had remained intact through the gifts of grace that had gladdened the life of a laity who had received only baptism and had also lived their apostolic mission in virtue of baptism alone. One must not be afraid of depending only on His tenderness… Do you know the biblical episode of the prophet Jonah?
I don’t remember it. Tell us.
BERGOGLIO: Jonah had everything clear. He had clear ideas about God, very clear ideas about good and evil. On what God does and on what He wants, on who was faithful to the Covenant and who instead was outside the Covenant. He had the recipe for being a good prophet. God broke into his life like a torrent. He sent him to Nineveh. Nineveh was the symbol of all the separated, the lost, of all the peripheries of humanity. Of all those who are outside, forlorn. Jonah saw that the task set on him was only to tell all those people that the arms of God were still open, that the patience of God was there and waiting, to heal them with His forgiveness and nourish them with His tenderness. Only for that had God sent him. He sent him to Nineveh, but he instead ran off in the opposite direction, toward Tarsis.
 Running away from a difficult mission…
BERGOGLIO: No. What he was fleeing was not so much Nineveh as the boundless love of God for those people. It was that that didn’t come into his plans. God had come once… “and I’ll see to the rest”: that’s what Jonah told himself. He wanted to do things his way, he wanted to steer it all. His stubbornness shut him in his own structures of evaluation, in his pre-ordained methods, in his righteous opinions. He had fenced his soul off with the barbed wire of those certainties that instead of giving freedom with God and opening horizons of greater service to others had finished by deafening his heart. How the isolated conscience hardens the heart! Jonah no longer knew that God leads His people with the heart of a Father.
A great many of us can identify with Jonah.
BERGOGLIO: Our certainties can become a wall, a jail that imprisons the Holy Spirit. Those who isolate their conscience from the path of the people of God don’t know the joy of the Holy Spirit that sustains hope. That is the risk run by the isolated conscience. Of those who from the closed world of their Tarsis complain about everything or, feeling their identity threatened, launch themselves into battles only in the end to be still more self-concerned and self-referential.
What should one do?
BERGOGLIO: Look at our people not for what it should be but for what it is and see what is necessary. Without preconceptions and recipes but with generous openness. For the wounds and the frailty God spoke. Allowing the Lord to speak… In a world that we can’t manage to interest with the words we say, only His presence that loves us, saves us, can be of interest. The apostolic fervor renews itself in order to testify to Him who has loved us from the beginning.  

Francis and the Mystery of Reform

After Benedict's resignation and before Francis’ election I did a post that I must admit at the time felt very much against the tide. In that post I suggested that there is a deep mystery to the process of reform and I dared to hope that a reformist pope could be elected from a conclave of cardinals who had all been named by John Paul or Benedict. I don’t often write much worth remembering, but I think these quotes are worth recall:

Those who are certain of the theological direction of the next pope would do well to remember that even a cursory look at the life of Ratzinger/Benedict (RB) shows the difficulty in predicting the future choices and attitudes of leaders of the Church. Surprise and irony abound…All of which is to say that Catholic people and institutions change and develop and reverse course in ways that are hard to predict. Reformers can become consolidators, and the men who they appoint can become reformers. It is the cycle of Church History that those consumed with the present can sometimes forget, thereby closing themselves off to the possibility of surprise and reform.

We are of course only just into the papacy of Francis and too much can be read into what everyone seems to agree was an extraordinary opening week of ministry, but when it comes to Francis and reform there is way more than just a week that can be pointed to as signs of deep change coming. There are decades of service in Latin America that give much reason to believe that what we have seen in the opening week of his papacy is NOT stylistic but reflective of substantive change to come.

There are many incidents that could be pointed to from the ministry of Cardinal Bergoglio, but for now I want to draw attention to a 2007 interview that has received inadequate attention. I would suggest that this interview displays a Cardinal bursting with reform rooted in his Latin American context and grounded in his deep love for Christ. I will do a series of posts from this interview and I hope that these words will receive a wider hearing and will be considered by those like John Allen who seem to want to tap down expectations of change.

Here, then, is Bergoglio on what I would call the mystery of true of reform:

Precisely if one remains in the Lord one goes out of oneself. Paradoxically precisely because one remains, precisely if one is faithful one changes. One does not remain faithful, like the traditionalists or the fundamentalists, to the letter. Fidelity is always a change, a blossoming, a growth. The Lord brings about a change in those who are faithful to Him. That is Catholic doctrine. Saint Vincent of Lerins makes the comparison between the biologic development of the person, between the person who grows, and the Tradition which, in handing on the depositum fidei from one age to another, grows and consolidates with the passage of time…
The early theologians said: the soul is a kind of sailing boat, the Holy Spirit is the wind that blows in the sail, to send it on its way, the impulses and the force of the wind are the gifts of the Spirit. Without His drive, without His grace, we don’t go ahead. The Holy Spirit lets us enter the mystery of God and saves us from the danger of a gnostic Church and from the danger of a self-referential Church, leading us to the mission.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Billy Graham, John Paul II and the Hope of Missional-Ecumenism

I have posted recently on Pope Francis' missional vision and his embrace by leading evangelicals. These stories call to mind the extraordinary relationship between another recent pope and evangelicals. I refer to the relationship between John Paul II and Billy Graham, a relationship that began when John Paul was still Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, Poland. It is a story told beautifully by David Scott, beginning with this nugget:

When Karol Wojtyla stepped out on the Vatican balcony on October 16, 1978, as the new Pope John Paul II, waving to the crowds in St. Peter's Square on the first day of his auspicious papacy, the person preaching for him in his home pulpit back in Krakow, Poland, was none other than Billy Graham. Behind that fact is a surprising story of the late pope's personal involvement with American evangelicals. With his passing, it is time to tell that story.
In the mid-1970s, American mission organizations like the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association began taking the gospel behind the Iron Curtain to Eastern Europe. After Graham's first "communist" crusade in Hungary in 1977, he was invited to the predominately Catholic country of Poland by the tiny Protestant community there, which amounted to less than 1 percent of the population. Just as in his 1957 New York City crusade, Graham wanted to work with as many Catholics as possible.
Initially, the Polish Catholic church rebuffed him. Wojtyla was the exception, giving Graham the invitation he needed for his crusade in a country where evangelicalism was considered cultic. The two men made plans to meet for tea, but by the time Graham arrived, Wojtyla had been summoned to Rome. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Francis and Liberation Theology (UPDATE)

This post has been updated to include quotes from a deeplythoughtful interview with “Father Jon Sobrino, the Spanish-born Jesuit who has lived worked, and taught in El Salvador since the late 1960s.” Below the interview is the original post containing key questions to be asked while considering liberation theology and Pope Francis.

During these days, have you spoken with people who know Bergoglio closely?

Yes, I’m not an expert on the life, work, joys, and sufferings of Bergoglio. And so that I don’t fall into any type of irresponsibility, I have tried to connect with persons in Argentina, whom I will not quote, above all those who have had direct contact with him. I expect understanding of the limits of what I am going to say and I apologize for any errors I might commit. Bergoglio is a Jesuit who has held important posts in the [Jesuit] Province of Argentina. He has been professor of theology, superior and provincial. It is not difficult to talk about his external work. But of the more internal, one can speak only delicately and now respectfully and responsibly. Many companions have spoken of him as a person with deep convictions and temperament, a resolute and relentless fighter. If they make him pope, he will clean up the Curia, it has been said with humor.

His austerity has been highlighted.

Also, they remember him for boundless interest to communicate with others his convictions about the Society of Jesus, an interest which could become possessiveness, even to the point of demanding loyalty to his person. Many recall his austerity of life, as Jesuit, archbishop, and cardinal. Examples of this are his residence and his proverbial travelling by bus. When he was bishop, many priests remember how he was close to them and how he offered to stand in for them in their parish work when they needed to go away for rest. His austerity was accompanied by a real interest in the poor, the indigenous, trade union members who were attacked; this led him to firmly defend them in the face of successive governments. Moral issues have been very close to him, certainly abortion, which led him to directly confront the president of his country.

They have recalled his option for the poor.

In all that, one can assess his specific way of making an option for the poor. Not in actively going out and risking oneself in their defense in the time of repression of the criminal military dictatorships. The complicity of the hierarchy with the dictators is known. Bergoglio was superior of the Jesuits in Argentina from 1973 to 1979, in the years of major repression of civil-military genocide.

Are you talking about complicity?

It doesn’t appear just to speak of complicity, but it seems correct to say that in those circumstances Bergoglio distanced himself from the Popular Church which was committed to the poor. We wasn’t a Romero – celebrated for his defense of human rights and assassinated while exercising his pastoral ministry. I don’t have enough knowledge, and I say this with the fear of being mistaken, Bergoglio did not present himself like Bishop Angelleli, Argentinian bishop assassinated by the military in 1976. Very possibly this took place in his heart, but he was not accustomed to make visible in public the living memory of [Bishop] Leonidas Proaño [of Ecuador], Bishop Juan Gerardi [of Guatemala], Bishop Sergio Mendez [of Cuernevaca, Mexico]…

Nevertheless, he also has a pronounced solidarity?

Yes. On the other hand, since 1998, as archbishop of Buenos Aires, in various ways he accompanied the poorly treated sector of that great city – and with concrete deeds. An eye witness speaks of how, on the first anniversary of the tragedy of Cromagnon [when a fire during a rock concert took the lives of 200 young people], Bergoglio was present and forcibly demanded justice for the victims.  At times he used prophetic language. He denounced the evils which grind the flesh of the people and he named them concretely: human trafficking, slave labor, prostitution, drug-trafficking, and much more. For some, the major force to carry forward his present ministry is his openness to dialogue with the marginalized and from their suffering.

The words of Sobrino are very helpful because it is quickly becoming received wisdom and unvarnished truth that Pope Francis was, during his decades in Argentinia, “opposed to liberation theology”, as the New York Times puts it in an article. This characterization is quickly becoming accepted by defenders of Francis on the Right and critics of him on the Left. It is a dismaying sign of the need to box people into tight categories and safely consign them to familiar stereotypes. But does it make sense of the fullness of Bergoglio’s ministry to say, to again quote the Times, that The future pope came down hard on Jesuits in his province who were liberation theology proponents and left it badly divided”? I have been curious what Jesuits themselves think about this and even asked Fr. James Martin on facebook this morning if America magazine, the Jesuit weekly, had any plans for an article on this. Well, sure enough, America’s website is up with a helpful examination of “Pope Francis and Liberation Theology”. The author, Fr. Daniel P. Horan, offers three questions that should be a part of any thoughtful writing on Bergoglio and liberation theology:

First, what do we mean when we use a hegemonic and singular umbrella term like "liberation theology?" Are we referring to the particular texts that arose in the 1960s and 1970s from the academic and professional theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez and Leonardo Boff? Both of whose work, by the way, varies in style, method, and outcome. Do we mean the pastoral legacy of the slain Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero? Do we mean the Jesuits and diocesan priests who took up arms in El Salvador against the will of Romero who, according to the critiques of now-Pope Francis, might also be labeled "opposed to liberation theology" in this context? What exactly do we mean?
Second, how are judgements made about what it means to "support," "oppose," "reject," or "be hostile toward," liberation theology in its manifold iterations? Without a very clearly defined notion of what it is we mean when we talk univocally about a broad (and continually growing) academic and pastoral field of social-justice concerns and contextual theology, it is nearly impossible to make an accurate statement about whether one is for or against this or that.
Third, what does someone's lived experience say about the person we claim is for or against a given theological or pastoral opinion?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Francis Among the Evangelicals

Among the developing stories surrounding the extraordinary selection of Bergoglio is the glowing response his selection is receiving in evangelical circles throughout the Americas. Christianity Today (CT), the flagship publication of evangelicalism in America, has run three high-profile pieces detailing the reaction of leading evangelicals who have worked with or are familiar with Bergoglio’s decades of ministry in Latin America. The cumulative effect of these reports is nothing short of historic given not only the historic enmity between evangelicals and Catholics generally but also the deep divisions between the two groups in Latin America. Here is a sampling of the response:

What was your reaction when you heard that Bergoglio had been selected as pope?
It was exciting because of Argentina, because of his personality, and because of his openness toward evangelical Christians. I got kind of emotional, simply having known him.
He came in second to Pope Benedict XVI in the last election and pulled out of the vote voluntarily, because he thought, 'We shouldn't be doing this, vote after vote.' I said to him when I saw him afterward, 'What a pity! I thought I would be able to say I know the pope as my friend.' I said he'd probably get elected the next time, but he said, 'No, I'm too old.'
It was a total surprise [yesterday], because I also thought he was past the age. Since last time he didn't win, I figured he wouldn't win this time. But here we go: He got elected. He's not too old.
You count the pope as a personal friend. What can you tell me about his character—as a man, and a Christian, not just as a Cardinal?
You know he knew God the father personally. The way he prayed, the way he talked to the Lord, was of a man who knows Jesus Christ and was very spiritually intimate with the Lord. It's not an effort [for him] to pray. He didn't do reading prayers; he just prayed to the Lord spontaneously. It is a sign that good things will happen worldwide in the years of his papal work.
He's very warm and gentle and spiritual. He may not go around smiling all the time—he's not a Hollywood actor—but he's a very warm person; you don't feel cold and distant from him. He's always been warm. He likes to mingle with people.
He's gentle in his conversation. He's always asking people for prayer. It's surprising that he did it in public [at his first address], but anybody who knows him, [knows that] he always would say, 'Please pray for me.' He really meant it. He said it always.
What can you tell me about Bergoglio's leadership style?
He's a very Bible-centered man, a very Jesus Christ-centered man. He's more spiritual than he is administrative, although he's going to have to exercise his administrative skills now! But personally, he is more known for his personal love for Christ. He's really centered on Jesus and the Gospel, the pure Gospel.
We'll see what the effects will be for international relationships and openness, because he's not a manipulator. He's a straightforward, straight-shooting person. He says what he thinks and he does it sincerely.
Although he's gentle, he has strong moral convictions and he stands by them even if he has to confront the government. And he's done it before. With the evangelical community, it was a very big day when we realized that he really was open, that he has great respect for Bible-believing Christians, and that he basically sides with them. … They work together. That takes courage. That takes respect. It takes conviction. So the leaders of the evangelical church in Argentina have a high regard for him, simply because of his personal lifestyle, his respect, his reaching out and spending time with them privately…
Not many decades ago, there was a confrontational attitude [between Catholics and evangelicals] and it was not pleasant…
So, tensions will be eased. There will be no confrontational style….He has proved it over and over in his term as the cardinal of Argentina. There was more building bridges and showing respect, knowing the differences, but majoring on what we can agree on: on the divinity of Jesus, his virgin birth, his resurrection, the second coming.
Do you have any personal stories or memories of him that really exemplify his relationship with evangelicals?
One day I said to him, 'You seem to love the Bible a lot,' and he said, 'You know, my financial manager [for the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires] … is an evangelical Christian.' I said, 'Why would that be?' And he said, 'Well, I can trust him, and we spend hours reading the Bible and praying and drinking maté [an Argentine green tea].' People do that with their friends, share and pass the mate, and every day when he was in town, which was often, after lunch he and his financial manager would sit together, read the Bible, pray, and drink maté. To me, he was making a point [about his relationship with evangelicals] by telling me that: trust and friendship.

In a move that Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano called "unprecedented and shocking," before Francis offered the world the traditional papal blessing, he asked those watching to first pray for him.
Such a request is one of Bergoglio's trademarks, said Juan Pablo Bongarrá, president of the Argentine Bible Society.
"Whenever you talk to him, the conversation ends with a request: 'Pastor, pray for me," said Bongarrá. He recalls when Bergoglio once attended a weekly worship meeting organized by Buenos Aires's charismatic pastors. "He mounted the platform and called for pastors to pray for him," said Bongarrá. "He knelt in front of nearly 6,000 people, and [Protestant leaders] laid hands and prayed."
Prayer came up frequently as several of Argentina's leading evangelicals, known for their unity efforts in Buenos Aires, described their thoughts on the new pope.
"His election has been an answer to our prayers," said Norberto Saracco, rector of Buenos Aires's FIET seminary and co-leader of the capital city's Council of Pastors. "Bergoglio is a man of God. He is passionate for the unity of the Church—but not just at the institutional level. His priority is unity at the level of the people."
Relations between evangelicals and Catholics are much better in Argentina than in other Latin American nations, said Saracco. Bergoglio has played a central role in Argentina's CRECES (Renewal Communion of Catholics and Evangelicals in the Holy Spirit) movement over the past 10 years, and has strongly supported the Bible society. "He has very good and friendly relations with leaders of other religions," he said.
Bongarrá said Bergoglio respects and promotes interfaith dialogue. The two men have worked regularly together since 2001 when members of the National Evangelical Christian Council met with members of the Bishops Conference and issued a joint statement on the eve of the nation's financial crisis.
Bongarrá last met with Bergoglio before Christmas when he wanted Catholics to participate in the Protestant churches' "Christmas Is Jesus" campaign. They shared lunch at Center Baptist Church and discussed "how to fight against the secularization of society," he said.
"We evangelical leaders that know him are very happy with his election," said Bongarrá. "Bergoglio is a great man of God. We [evangelicals] have had a good relationship with him for many years. We think that a new time is coming for the Catholic Church, because our brother wants to promote evangelism."

Though the pope doesn't speak for Protestant Christians, he holds an important role as one of the most public faces of Christianity, said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
"Around the world, there are millions of people who don't grasp the differences between Protestants and Catholics," he said. "To them, Christians are Christians and the pope speaks for Christians."
However, American evangelicals will benefit from Francis's conservative stance on issues such as abortion and gay marriage, said Anderson. Meanwhile, the new pope's focus on poverty and his ascetic personal habits could also start a needed discussion about the global poor.
"There's been a lot of talk [in America] about the middle class and the rich, but little about the poor," said Anderson. "Perhaps Pope Francis can bring us back to the biblical and Christian care for the poor and vulnerable."

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Francis and the “Dirty War” (UPDATED)

A whole lot of discussion happening today over Argentina’s “Dirty War” and the level of involvement that Bishop Bergoglio/Pope Francis had in resisting and/or collaborating with it. Into the midst of this debate comes an extraordinary article at the New Republic by Sam Ferguson, a visiting fellow at the Schell Center for International Human Rights at Yale Law School and a former Fulbright Scholar. Alone among the reports I have seen, Ferguson has gained access to the transcript of Bergoglio’s testimony “as a witness in the criminal trial of eighteen officers who had worked at the notorious Naval Mechanics School, where the country's military junta detained political prisoners—including a pair of Jesuit priests who'd been kidnapped shortly after the regime took power in a 1976 coup.”

Ferguson’s summary of Bergoglio’s testimony is an important contribution to the story. He includes a quote from Argentine Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who was jailed and tortured by the Argentine dictatorship. Esquivil says Bergoglio "was not an accomplice of the dictatorship. … There were bishops who were accomplices of the Argentine dictatorship, but not Bergoglio."  Others are not so sure. Luis Zamora, the human rights lawyer who questioned Bergoglio during his four hour testimony, believes Bergoglio “’completely failed’ in his explanation of the past. He added that those who say Bergoglio was an insignificant figure in the Church at the time are mistaken, as evidenced by his ability to arrange meetings with…the country's two most powerful military men.”

These issues are not simple to understand or to judge. As Eduardo Penalver said in a post at Commonweal: “we can probably look forward to a steady stream of articles on this issue in the coming weeks and months.” Hopefully they will be as informed and judicious as Ferguson’s essay.

An a significant development to the story one of the two Jesuit priests who'd been kidnapped, Rev. Francisco Jalics, has spoken for the first time publicly about the incident and in a way that supports Bergoglio's testimony. From the Associated Press' moving story:


A Jesuit priest whose kidnapping by the Argentine military junta decades ago led to strong criticism of the newly elected pope said Friday that he and the pontiff have reconciled.
The Rev. Francisco Jalics, who now lives in a monastery in southern Germany, said in a statement that he had talked with the Rev. Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was named Pope Francis on Wednesday, long after the 1976 kidnapping of himself and fellow slum priest Orlando Yorio.
Bergoglio has said he told the priests to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused. Yorio, who is now dead, later accused Bergoglio of effectively delivering them to the death squads by declining to publicly endorse their work.
"It was only years later that we had the opportunity to talk with Father Bergoglio ... to discuss the events," Jalics said Friday in his first known comments about the kidnapping, which occurred when the new pope was the leader of Argentina's Jesuits.
"Following that, we celebrated Mass publicly together and hugged solemnly. I am reconciled to the events and consider the matter to be closed," he said...
Jalics, in his mid-80s, is currently out of Germany and could not be reached for comment beyond the statement. But Thomas Busch, a spokesman for the Jesuits in Munich, said the conversation between Jalics and Bergoglio took place in the year 2000.
In his statement, which was posted on the German Jesuits' website, Jalics did not elaborate on what the two talked about regarding the kidnapping.
"I cannot comment on the role of Father Bergoglio in these events," he said.
But he added: "I wish Pope Francis God's rich blessings for his office."

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/15/3287440/priest-kidnapped-by-junta-reconciled.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy

Commonweal has published a very helpful summary of the story of the two priests, offering needed context and an informed judgment in Bergoglio's favor. Here is key excerpt:

The two Jesuits were doing more than just visiting—they were involved in activities that, from the Junta’s point of view, were clearly subversive. Bergoglio says he warned them that they were risking arrest, if not worse, and urged them to be more prudent. According to an AP report, “Bergoglio has said he told the priests to give up their slum work for their own safety, and they refused.” And they were kidnapped—or, if you prefer, extrajudicially arrested.
What now seems clear is that both men were freed after Bergoglio took measures to protect them. On one occasion he persuaded Videla’s personal chaplain to call in sick so Bergoglio could say Mass in the president’s home, where he pleaded for the two priests, most likely saving their lives.
It’s known as well that Bergoglio regularly hid people on church property and once gave his personal ID to a man with similar features, allowing him to slip across the border.
Verbitsky’s telling seems to imagine some great power held by the Jesuits in that country. What has been too little noted in all the furor since Bergoglio’s election as pope is the relative impotence of the religious communities in Argentina during the dirty war, as compared with the vastly superior influence of the country’s ultra-conservative bishops. Mignone’s book names no fewer than twenty-five bishops and two cardinals whom he considers indifferent, if not hostile, to concerns for human rights. There are even bishops he terms "integrist." The "good" bishops he numbers at seven or eight. In that climate, the relatively young Jesuit provincial had his work cut out for him.
And although Mignone doesn’t say so, Bergoglio, Pellegrini, Angelleli and other churchmen were fortunate to have as papal nuncio Archbishop Pio Laghi (1974-80), later nuncio to the United States. It was to Laghi’s office, not to that of the archbishop or of the bishops’ conference, that loved ones of the disappeared turned for information and help. (See “Tennis with Tyrants,” Commonweal, May 20, 2011.)
Bergoglio’s essential responsibility as provincial of the Jesuits, given the dramatic context of a murderous regime and bands of hardly nonviolent “subversives,” was to protect his men. When some of them courted confrontation with the regime, we have every reason to believe he did what he could to rein them in. With Jalics and Yorio he tried, failed, but finally succeeded in saving them. 

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/03/15/3287440/priest-kidnapped-by-junta-reconciled.html#storylink=cpy#storylink=cpy

A Palestinian Gandhi

As long-time readers and friends will remember, last September I had the opportunity to participate in a marvelous gathering of Evangelicals for Peace. Among the many blessings of that daylong meeting at Georgetown was the chance to hear in person from Sami Awad of the amazing Holy Land Trust. Awad is a Palestinian Christian and a genuine proponent of non-violent protest. He is a singular figure in the Palestinian community and many refer to his as a modern day Gandhi.

My friend Aaron Taylor and the good folks at Middle East Experience have will be featuring Sami in a live interview/call next Friday, March 22nd. To register to participate in the call visit this link. This promises to be a great opportunity to interact with a genuine faith hero.

(UPDATE) Positive Reaction from Jewish Leaders to Pope Francis

Jewish reaction to the naming of Cardinal Bergoglio as the new pope has been positive.

JewishJournal.com reports that he is remembered fondly for his compassionate response to Jews in Argentina:
As archbishop of Buenos Aires, Bergoglio attended Rosh Hashanah services at the Benei Tikva Slijot synagogue in September 2007.
Rabbi David Rosen, the director of interfaith affairs for the American Jewish Committee, told JTA that the new pope is a "warm and sweet and modest man" known in Buenos Aires for doing his own cooking and personally answering his phone.
After the bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center in 1994, he "showed solidarity with the Jewish community," Rosen said.
In 2005, Bergoglio was the first public personality to sign a petition for justice in the AMIA bombing case. He also was one of the signatories on a document called "85 victims, 85 signatures" as part of the bombing's 11th anniversary. In June 2010, he visited the rebuilt AMIA building to talk with Jewish leaders.
"Those who said Benedict was the last pope who would be a pope that lived through the Shoah, or that said there would not be another pope who had a personal connection to the Jewish people, they were wrong," Rosen said…
Israel Singer, the former head of the World Jewish Congress, said he spent time working with Bergoglio when the two were distributing aid to the poor in Buenos Aires in the early 2000s, part of a joint Jewish-Catholic program called Tzedaka.
“We went out to the barrios where Jews and Catholics were suffering togeher,” Singer told JTA. “If everyone sat in chairs with handles, he would sit in the one without. He was always looking to be more modest. He's going to find it hard to wear all these uniforms.”
Bergoglio also wrote the foreward of a book by Rabbi Sergio Bergman and referred to him as “one of my teachers.”
Last November, Bergoglio hosted a Kristallnacht memorial event at the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral with Rabbi Alejandro Avruj from the NCI-Emanuel World Masorti congregation.
He also has worked with the Latin American Jewish Congress and held meetings with Jewish youth who participate in its New Generations program.
“The Latin American Jewish Congress has had a close relationship with Jorge Bergoglio for several years," Claudio Epelman, executive director of the Latin American Jewish Congress, told JTA. "We know his values and strengths. We have no doubt he will do a great job leading the Catholic Church."
In his visit to the Buenos Aires synagogue, according to the Catholic Zenit news agency, Bergoglio told the congregation that he was there to examine his heart "like a pilgrim, together with you, my elder brothers."
"Today, here in this synagogue, we are made newly aware of the fact that we are a people on a journey and we place ourselves in God’s presence," Zenit quoted the then-archbishop as saying. "We must look at him and let him look at us, to examine our heart in his presence and to ask ourselves if we are walking blamelessly."
Renzo Gattegna, the president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, offered Italian Jewry's congratualations to the new pope with the “most fervent wishes” that his pontificate could bring “peace and brotherhood to all humanity.”
In particular, Gattegna voiced the hope that there would be a continuation “with reciprocal satisfaction” of “the intense course of dialogue that the Jews have always hoped for and that has been also realized through the work of the popes who have led the church in the recent past."

In a separate article, JewishJournal.com reports that international Jewish leaders are also hopeful that the new pope will prove to be a friend of Jews around the world as we was a friend of Jews in Argentina:
“In the Jewish community in Buenos Aires, the widely shared impression is that he’s very friendly, that the cardinal was determined to have a cordial relationship with the Jewish community,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said…
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, who met Bergoglio in 2008, expressed optimism that Francis would continue the work of building relationships between the Catholic Church and world Jewry.
“He always had an open ear for our concerns,” Lauder said in a statement. “I am sure that Francis I will continue to be a man of dialogue, a man who is able to build bridges with other faiths.”
Bergoglio’s reputation in Argentina is not that of a reformer. He is known to be socially conservative, upholding the church’s traditionally held positions on gay rights and abortion. He has not said much publicly about Israel in the past, but Hier said he is hopeful that Francis will emerge as a supporter of the Jewish state.
“We very much see him as a pope in the tradition of John Paul II and John XXIII,” Hier said. John Paul II established formal relations between the Vatican and Israel; John XXIII is believed to have influenced the drafting of “Nostra Aetate,” the 1965 declaration that stated Jews could not be held responsible for the death of Jesus.


Religious News Service filed a report highlighting the significance of the pontiff's age and memory of the Holocaust:

“We welcome Pope Francis I to his new role as leader of the Catholic Church,” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said in a statement. “Catholic-Jewish relations had remained a focus of Pope Benedict XVI and we look forward to continuing the solid foundation that already exists for interfaith dialogue.”
Other Jewish leaders and scholars noted that Francis’ relatively advanced age — 76 — is important to the Jewish community, in that the Holocaust happened during his lifetime and can conjure memories for him of the horrors to which anti-Semitism can lead.

Argentine Anglican Archbishop on Pope Francis

Many will be wondering the impact that Pope Francis will have on relations between Christians. A very positive reaction comes from Anglican Archbishop Gregory Venables who has known Cardinal Bergoglio for years. He posted the following last night from Buenos Aires:

Many are asking me what Jorge Bergoglio is really like. He is much more of a Christian, Christ centered and Spirit filled, than a mere churchman. He believes the Bible as it is written. I have been with him on many occasions and he always makes me sit next to him and invariably makes me take part and often do what he as Cardinal should have done. He is consistently humble and wise, outstandingly gifted yet a common man. He is no fool and speaks out very quietly yet clearly when necessary. He called me to have breakfast with him one morning and told me very clearly that the Ordinariate was quite unnecessary and that the church needs us as Anglicans. I consider this to be an inspired appointment not because he is a close and personal friend but because of who he is In Christ. Pray for him.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Missional Pope?

I believe that where Pope Benedict grew attention from theologians in the Christian world, the new pope will be an object of admiration and analysis for those involved in the missional action of the Church. What a cursory examination of Cardinal Bergoglio’s career demonstrates is a profound desire to see the gospel unleashed as Good News for all, and a willingness to stand in prophetic word and action to bring that Gospel to all. Here are some of the highlights from speeches and articles.

From a February 2012 interview with Vatican Insider:

the entire continent is a missionary state…the paradigmatic aspect remains: all ordinary activities of the Church take place in view of the mission. This signifies very strong tensions between centre and periphery, between parish and district. We need to come out of ourselves and head for the periphery. We need to avoid the spiritual sickness of a Church that is wrapped up in its own world: when a Church becomes like this, it grows sick. It is true that going out onto the street implies the risk of accidents happening, as they would to any ordinary man or woman. But is the Church stays wrapped up in itself, it will age. And if I had to choose between a wounded Church that goes out onto the streets and a sick withdrawn Church, I would definitely choose the first one…

We seek to make contact with families that are not involved in the parish.  Instead of just being a Church that welcomes and receives, we try to be a Church that comes out of itself and goes to the men and women who do not participate in parish life, do not know much about it and are indifferent towards it. We organise missions in public squares where many people usually gather: we pray, we celebrate mass, we offer baptism which we administer after a brief preparation. This is the style of the parishes and the diocese itself. Other than this, we also try to reach out to people who are far away, via digital means, the web and brief messaging.”

From a 2011 article on his concerns for Argentina:

Bergoglio raised his voice to accuse the Argentinean capital of becoming a “meat grinder,” presiding over a Mass for the victims of human trafficking, slavery-like working conditions, and the cartoneros, who live by digging through garbage. “For many, Buenos Aires is a meat grinder which destroys their lives, breaks their will, and deprives them of freedom,” he cried during the Eucharistic celebration held at the Constitución train station. Recalling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Bergoglio condemned the fact that “in our city there are people committing human sacrifice, killing the dignity of these men and these women, these girls and boys that are submitted to this treatment, to slavery. We cannot remain calm.” Buenos Aires is “a factory of slaves, a meat grinder,” where “mafia leaders” are defended, who “never show their faces and always save their own skin - perhaps for that recipe, so much our own, that we call bribes.” The cardinal urged his fellow citizens to report “breeding grounds for submission, for slavery,” “altars where human sacrifices are offered and which break the will of the people,” asking that “everyone do what they can, but without washing their hands of it, because otherwise we are complicit in this slavery.”…
The cardinal asked priests not to be “puritans” and to stop centering their homilies on moral aspects, but instead on the gospel of Jesus Christ. “We speak of morals because it is easier,” he emphasizes. “Furthermore - and this is bad taste - we deal with themes related to matrimonial morals and those tied to the sixth commandment because they seem more colorful. Thus we give a very sad image of the Church.”…

From a September 2012 article about one of his speeches: 

“I say this with sadness and if it sounds like a complaint or an offensive comment please forgive me: in our ecclesiastical region there are presbyteries that will not baptise children whose mothers are not married because they have been conceived outside holy wedlock.”

This unique call for an end to the use of sacramental blackmail to subdue the hopes of those who want their children to be baptised, was pronounced Sunday by Fr. Bergoglio in his homily, during the closing mass for the Convention of the ecclesiastical region of Buenos Aires. The convention examined the issue of urban pastoral care.

In this “hijacking” of the sacrament that marks the beginning of Christian life, the Jesuit cardinal sees the expression of a rigorous and hypocritical neo-clericalism which also uses the sacraments as tools to affirm its own supremacy. For example by rubbing the fragility and wounds of faithful in their faces or by dampening the hopes and expectations of those who supposedly do not fulfil the “requirements” in terms of doctrinal preparation or moral status. Not only are such pastoral models misleading, but according to Bergoglio, this modus operandi distorts and rejects the dynamics of Christ’s incarnation, which is reduced to a mere doctrinal slogan to serve the interests of religious power. “Jesus did not preach his own politics: he accompanied others. The conversions he inspired took place precisely because of his willingness to accompany, which makes us all brothers and children and not members of an NGO or proselytes of some multinational company.”…
But according to Bergoglio, by clericalising the Church, the hypocrites of today “drive God’s people away from salvation.” They are the followers of the “Pharisees’ hypocritical Gnostisism,” which Jesus always turned his back on, “appearing among the people, the publicans and the sinners.”