Posted in category "Faith"

Pious Trash: President Trump’s National Prayer Breakfast Appearance

Posted by Censor Librorum on Feb 7, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Humor, Pious Trash, Politics, Scandals

The National Prayer Breakfast is a Washington, DC tradition that stretches back to 1953, when president Dwight Eisenhower established it at the suggestion of evangelist Billy Graham.  It is a bi-partisan event with political, business and civic leaders coming together to pray.  Many members of Congress normally attend.

Yesterday’s breakfast had a different vibe.  President Trump used the podium to attack supporters of his impeachment drive.  “As everybody knows, my family, our great country and your president have been put through a terrible ordeal by some very dishonest and corrupt people,” Trump said.  He scolded his opponents by saying impeachment supporters “know what they are doing is wrong, but they put themselves far ahead of our great country.”  He added, “I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.” He went on, “Nor do I like people who say, ‘ I pray for you’ when you know that is not so.”  The last jab was directed at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has previously said she prays for him. 

Pelosi responded in a news conference after the event.  She told reporters it was “completely inappropriate” for Trump to criticize people for looking to their faith as a basis for their decisions–“especially at a prayer breakfast.”  “I pray hard for him because he’s so off the track of our constitution, our values, our country,” she said. “He really needs our prayers.”

I’m not sure all the prayers in the world will help our dysfunctional Congress, and the nasty, pathological liar we have for a president.  President Trump is Roy Cohn resurrected.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Church Militant Comes Out Fighting

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 31, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Celebrities, Faith, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash

Bishop Robert Baron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, and probably the top social media prelate in the world, floated the idea that bishops should consider an official designation for Catholic teachers on social media. He runs the famously successful Word on Fire ministry.

In a January 24, 2020 interview with the National Catholic Register Baron said he believes it is within the scope of a diocesan bishop’s authority to apply a vetting and recognition process for online teachers of the faith, similar to the mechanism Pope St. John Paul II developed in the 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae for colleges and universities.

Bishop Baron called the current era “a golden age of evangelization and apologetics” because the internet makes it much easier to access Catholic content. But be also addressed the downside of social media. “There are, to be blunt,” he said, “a disconcerting number of such people on social media who are trading in hateful, divisive speech, often deeply at odds with the theology of the Church and who are, sadly, having a powerful impact on the people of God.”

In order to stop online misinformation from people or groups claiming to represent what the Church teaches, Barron told the Register that perhaps he and his brother bishops could “introduce something like a mandatum for those who claim to teach the Catholic faith online, whereby a bishop affirms that the person is teaching within the full communion of the Church.” 

This suggestion got an immediate reaction from Michael Voris, 58, who runs St. Michael’s Media and its website, Church Militant.  Church Militant is a gossipy, gadfly site with a focus on LGBT issues and personalities, and church officials he doesn’t consider orthodox enough.  These include Pope Francis, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Voris’ own bishop, Archbishop Allen Henry Vigneron of Detroit.  Voris’ homosexual past was made public in 2016. He said he is chaste now.

“Now, the latest Barron insanity and legalism comes in the form of his reportedly saying, while on his ad limina visit to Rome, that U.S. bishops need to come up with some kind of list or plan to tackle what he believes is a serious division of faith,” Voris begins.  “That’s rich, coming from a man who shot to instant, celebrity-priest stardom by so nuancing the teaching of the Church on the doctrine of Hell so as to empty it of its content.” 

Voris went on to “out” several bishops that he felt could not be fit as judges of Catholic material.  These included Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Patterson, NJ “involved in more gay crap than a gay bar on a Friday night;” and Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington, DC.  “He certainly knows his way around from his days as Bernadin’s gay frontman,” Voris stormed.

But he saved his worst smack for last.

“Or how about Bp. Barron himself, who almost always has in tow a couple of body-builder producers who still to this day have up all over social media some pictures which leave little to the imagination. Hey, the past is the past, but have you ever told them to take them down now, or is that part of the Word on Fire online presence? What would people think if a priest had female workers who had pictures of themselves from a prior life scantily clad? Why does Barron get a free pass on this?”

Stay tuned!

 

 

 

Marguerite Porete and Her Killers

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 20, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Arts & Letters, Bishops, Dissent, Faith, History, Politics, Popes, Scandals

The chronicler William of Nangis describes the trial and execution of Marguerite Porete, 1310: 

“Around the feast of Pentecost is happened at Paris that a certain pseudo-woman from Hainault, named Marguerite and called ‘la Porete,’ produced a certain book in which, according to the judgement of all the theologians who examined it diligently, many errors and heresies were contained; among which errors (were the beliefs), that the soul can be annihilated in the love of the Creator without censure or conscience or remorse and that it ought to yield to whatever by nature it strives for and desires.  This (belief) manifestly rings forth as heresy.  Moreover, she did not want to renounce this little book or the errors contained in it, and indeed she even made light of the sentence of excommunication laid on her by the inquisitor of heretical depravity, (who had laid this sentence) because she, although having been lawfully summoned before the bishop, did not want to appear and held out in her hardened malice for a year and more with an obstinate soul. In the end her ideas were exposed in the common field of La Greve through the deliberation of learned men; this was done before clergy and people who had been gathered specially for this purpose, and she was handed over to the secular court. Firmly receiving her into his power, the provost of Paris had her executed the next day by fire. She displayed many signs of penitence, both noble and pious, in her death. For this reason, the faces of many of those who witnessed it were affectionately moved to compassion for her; indeed, the eyes of many were filled with tears.”

Marguerite

Marguerite Porete was a 14th century French mystic who wrote a book entitled “The Mirror of Simple Annihilated Souls and Those Who Only Remain in Will and Desire of Love.”  Written during the 1290s, the book was condemned by the French Inquisition as heretical.  Marguerite was jailed for a year and a half and asked to recant. When she refused to respond to her inquisitors, she was condemned to death. 

The book provoked controversy, likely because of statements such as “a soul annihilated in the love of the Creator could, and should, grant to nature all that it desires,” which some took to mean that a soul can become one with God and that when in this state it can ignore moral law, it had no need for the Church and its sacraments or code of virtues. This is not what Marguerite taught, since she explained that souls in such a state desired only good and would not be able to sin.

Not much is known about Marguerite’s early life, except that she was born in Hainault in what is now Belgium around 1248 or 1250. She lived during different periods in Valenciennes, Lorraine, Reims and Paris. She seems to have been a stubborn woman, determined to share her ideas despite ecclesiastical censure.  I don’t know why she refused to speak to her inquisitors during her trial and captivity.  It may have been disdain or defiance, or it may have been to induce a similar helplessness and frustration in her persecutors.  She refused to participate in an outcome that they had already decided.

Tina Beattie, professor of Catholic Studies at Roehampton University, London, said: “Little is known about Porete, apart from the record of her trial and what can be gleaned from her writings. It seems likely she was associated with the Beguines, a women’s religious movement which spread across northern Europe during the 13th and 14th centuries. Although the Beguines devoted themselves to charity, chastity and good works, they took no religious vows and their lifestyles varied greatly, from solitary itinerants (of which Porete was likely one) to enclosed communities. The Beguines were part of an era of vigorous spiritual flourishing during the Middle Ages. They were condemned by the Council of Vienne (1311-1312), which also condemned the Free Spirit Movement with which the Beguines were sometimes (and probably erroneously) identified.”

Her Killers – Bishops, Inquisitor, King

Gui de Colle Medio (or de Colmier) was bishop of Cambrai from 1296-1306.  He condemned The Mirror and ordered it publicly burned in Marguerite’s presence in Valenciennes. She was ordered not to circulate her ideas or the book again.

The next bishop of Cambrai, Philippe de Marigny, made her life worse.  His persecutions combined politics and religion.  Philippe Le Portier de Marigny was appointed bishop of Cambrai in 1301 and archbishop of Sens in 1309.  His half-brother, Enguerrand de Marigny, Baron Le Portier, was the chamberlain and chief minister to Philip IV, the king of France.  Enguerrand was influential in obtaining these appointments for his brother. Philippe de Marigny became an important figure in the trials of the Knights Templar, and in the execution of Templar’s grand master, Jacques de Molay. De Molay was burned alive with three other Templar leaders on a scaffold in front of Notre Dame Cathedral on March 18, 1314. He uttered his famous curse, and both King Philip IV and Pope Clement V followed him to death (and judgement) within a year. The new king of France, Louis X, had Enguerrand de Marigny hanged for sorcery in April 1315. 

Marguerite Porete’s main persecutor and tormenter was the Inquisitor William of Paris, also known as William of Humbert. This Dominican priest and theologian was the confessor to King Philip IV.  Appointed Inquisitor in 1303, William also played an important role in the trials and persecution of the Knights Templar. Interestingly, William died in 1314, the same year as Jacques de Molay, King Philip IV and Pope Clement V. Perhaps Molay included him in his curse.

The piety and politics of King Philip IV helped shape the deaths of Marguerite and the Knights Templar.  Many of the enemies of the crown were cast as heretics; a convenient label for a self-appointed defender of the Faith.  William of Paris supported the political machinations of the French king by suppressing the Knights Templar. The King aided the Dominican’s interests in ridding him of Marguerite—an independent and potentially dangerous religious voice.

Arrest and Trial

In 1308 William had Marguerite Porete arrested along with a Beghard, Guiard de Cressonessart, who was also put on trial for heresy.  Their trial began early in 1310 after they were held in prison in Paris for a year and a half.  Under tremendous pressure, de Cressonessart eventually confessed and was found guilty.  Marguerite refused to recant, withdraw her book or cooperative with the authorities, refusing to take the oath required by the Inquisitor to proceed with the trial.  William was not going to have any easy time proving her a heretic. Marguerite had consulted three church authorities about her writing and gained their approval, including the highly respected Master of Theology Godfrey of Fontaines at the University of Paris.  Godfrey’s involvement was an important factor in William’s handling of the trial, requiring him to build his case as carefully as possible.  He consulted over 20 theologians—an excessive number–on the question of The Mirror’s orthodoxy. 

Death

On May 31, 1310 William of Paris read out a sentence that declared Marguerite “called Porete,” a beguine from Hainault, to be a relapsed heretic and released her to secular authority for punishment. He ordered all copies of a book she had written to be confiscated.  William called her a “pseudo-mulier” (fake woman) and described The Mirror as “filled with errors and heresies.” William next consigned Guiard de Cressonessart, a would-be defender of Marguerite to life imprisonment.  Marguerite condemned to be burnt at the stake as a relapsed heretic.  On June 1, 1310 Marguerite was burned alive along with a relapsed Jew at the Place de Greve – today the Place de l’Hotel de Ville – in Paris.

Why Was Marguerite a Target?

 There are several possible reasons why so much effort was made to put Marguerite on trial and kill her.

  • A growing hostility to the Beguine movement by Franciscans and Dominicans. Beguines were lay religious women who were not under male authority and direction and were outside civic and ecclesiastical structures.  In 1311—the year after Marguerite’s death—ecclesiastical officials made several specific connections between Marguerite’s ideas and deeds and the Beguine status in general at the Council of Vienne.
  • The popularity of The Mirror of Simple Souls gave Marguerite a prominent profile other lay writers didn’t possess. She also wrote in French, not Latin.
  • Marguerite’s perceived association with the Free Spirit Movement or Brethren of the Free Spirit. Free Spirits were not a single movement or school of thought, but they caused great unease among churchman.  They were considered heretical because of their antinomian views.  One of beliefs some Free Spirits held is that they could not sin by having sexual relations with any person.  Extracts of The Mirror of Simple Souls were cited in the bull Ad Nostrum issued by the Council of Vienne to condemn the Free Spirit movement as heretical.

Was there a whiff of homophobia in William of Paris’ denunciation of Marguerite as a “pseudo-woman”?

Marguerite Porete’s era is a mirror to our own.  40 years ago conservative political and religious leaders like President Ronald Regan and Pope John Paul II colluded on major political actions and social change. Lay Catholics began to search for new ways to experience a direct relationship to God.  Many of these explorations were condemned since they were outside of traditional structures.  The prevailing norms of sexual and gender expression were openly questioned by ordinary people.  Sex and sexuality are fraught and fearful topics for the Catholic hierarchy, and many bishops tried their best to suppress them.  Their best allies were presidents focused on wealth and expansion.  Today, President Trump sounds and acts a lot like King Philip IV.

We can point to one improvement in the last 700 years.  We can no longer be burned at the stake. 

Further Reading:

The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor: The Trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart by Sean L. Field

Allegories of Love in Marguerite Porete’s ‘Mirror of Simple Souls’ by Suzanne Kocher

A Companion to Marguerite Porete and the Mirror of Simple Souls by Robert Stauffer and Wendy R. Terry

The World on the End of a Reed by Francesca Caroline Bussey

The Heresy of the Free Spirit in the Later Middle Ages by Robert E. Lerner

Courting Sanctity: Holy Women and the Capetians by Sean L. Field

Transmitting the Memory of a Medieval Heretic: Early Modern French Historians on Marguerite Porete by Danielle C. Dubois

Marguerite Porete: The Mirror of Simple Souls by Ellen Babinsky

 

 

Pious Trash: Inconsistent Application of Catholic Moral Teaching

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 3, 2020 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Lesbians & Gays, Pious Trash, Politics

Dr. Jeff Mirus is the chief commentator for Catholic Culture.org, an online publication that addresses current Catholic issues.  While I don’t often agree with his positions, I enjoy his writing and think about what he has to say.  I have changed my position on abortion based on reading his articles and those of other Catholic writers over the years. 

Unfortunately, like Catholic writers on the “Left”, conservative Catholics never vary their sermons. They focus almost exclusively on homosexuality, divorce, abortion and liturgies.  They rarely bother to address or finger-point on other important Catholic moral issues, like accumulation of wealth and possessions, responsibilities for immigrants and refugees, environmental pollution and the hungry and homeless we encounter every day in our neighborhoods and cities.  Jesus did address marriage, but he had a lot more to say about how we need to treat each other, friends and strangers in our midst.  According to Jesus, the salvation of our souls depends on two commandments:  honoring God and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

In a July 8, 2019 article, Dr. Mirus discusses “Truth and the limits of inclusivity.” “Tolerance and inclusivity are now often used to justify the acceptance of immorality,” he says, “such that the only intolerable groups are those which engage in the precise moral reasoning needed to determine what ought to be “included” (and what is “excluded”), based on a proper understanding of human nature and the common good.”  Of course, any reader knows that these are code words and phrases for homosexuality, communion for divorced Catholics and other conservative Catholic bugaboos.

What I miss is the “moral reasoning” by many conservative Catholics when it comes to Catholic/Christian business leaders who pollute or degrade our natural resources and aren’t called to account; partisan Catholic/Christian politicians who don’t act in good faith to help the working poor and destitute; or members of the clergy–bishops, cardinals, and others–who are not exposed as frauds and hypocrites when they preach one morality and live another.

 

Pope Francis’ Little Book of Insults

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 29, 2019 | Categories: Arts & Letters, Dissent, Faith, Humor, Popes

The Truth hurts!

The author missed my favorite:  “The Church is not a museum.”  (Pope Francis’ opening sentence at the Synod on the Family.)

Enjoy the Little Book of Insults here.

 

Pious Trash: The Fake Pachamama Scandal

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 13, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

There is a wealth of Pious Trash in Msgr. Charles Pope’s column, “Church’s Silence Deafens World” published in the National Catholic Register this month.  It was a long discourse on the negative effects of tolerating bad behavior in society and in the church as defined by Catholic conservatives, and a major whine on why isn’t the Pope doing something about it!

The faithful are not discouraged, they are confused and scandalized. Many have been led to think that sins like divorce and remarriage, homosexual acts and idolatry are compatible with the Catholic faith.  They are not! Yet some of the most awful things have been done and said by Church leaders (purportedly or definitively) without any clear explanation, let alone attempts at refutation.  The silence has been deafening. The enemies of the faith are encouraged while the faithful are disheartened.”

I hope Msgr. Pope is not defining “enemies of the faith” as liberal Catholics, feminist Catholics, lesbian and gay Catholics and our defenders, Catholics who have divorced and remarried, and Catholics who are weary and fed up with legalistic and narrow definitions of “faithful Catholics.” 

By idolatry I assume Msgr. Pope is referring to the wooden carvings of Pachamama, a representation of a naked pregnant Amazonian woman that were displayed and part of  some ceremonies during the Amazonian Synod in October.  The Pachamama is a female fertility figure venerated as “Mother Earth” by some native peoples in the Amazon region. The woman who presented it to Pope Francis called it “Our Lady of the Amazon.” It is a symbol of Life. Why is this idolatry compared to our church statuary? Most churches and cathedrals in the U.S. have a statue of the Blessed Mother standing on a snake. She is crowned by real or plastic flowers every May. I remember singing when I was a teenager: Bring flow’rs of the fairest, Bring flow’rs of the rarest, From garden and woodland, and hillside and vale; Our full hearts are swelling, Our Glad voices telling, The praise of the loveliest Rose of the Vale. O Mary! We crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May, O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today, Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May. 

The lyrics certainly represent spring and fertility. The ritual of flowers and the observation has its roots in Pagan Europe.  In addition, every parish church has a statue of their patron saint.  St. Bartholomew holds his skin and a flaying knife; Saint Denis holds his talking head, and St. Lucy holds a plate with her eyeballs. Everyday Catholics are familiar with gruesome martyrdom stories, but I can imagine the wide-eyed reaction from first-time visitors who think displaying such figures is  weird, icky or sick.  To us it’s not idolatry. It’s an artistic representation that’s part of our heritage.

The ongoing sex abuse crisis has ALL Catholics scandalized. This includes not only the priests and religious that used the young and vulnerable for sexual pleasure and release but the bishops and others in the hierarchy who protected and covered up for them, and in some cases, were abusers themselves. On top of the sex abuse lies and hypocrisy, a second scandal involves the millions and millions in contributions and gifts that were used to fund decadent  lifestyles, hush money and settlements that were out of public view.  They were protected by opaque accounting practices and careerist clerics who kept their mouths shut.

Are any priests or bishops willing to forfeit their ecclesiastical careers and name names?  Release hidden records to newspapers and the local District Attorney?  Drag the scum out into the light of day?  The silence is deafening from the men who know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pious Trash: Fr. LaCuesta’s Awful Funeral Homily

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 6, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, Pious Trash, Scandals

“If we Christians are right in believing that salvation belongs to Jesus Christ, that it does not come from us–and that our hand cannot stop what God allows for us, then yes, there is hope in eternity even for those who take their own lives. Having said that, I think that we must not call what is bad good, what is wrong right. Because we are Christians, we must say what we know is the truth – that taking your own life is against God who made us and against everyone who loves us. Our lives are not our own. They are not ours to do with as we please. God gave us life, and we are to be good stewards of that gift for as long as God permits. The finality of suicide makes this all the worse. You cannot make things right again.” 

Read the whole homily here.

Those comforting, inspiring and hopeful words were spoken by a priest, Fr. Don LaCuesta, at the funeral Mass of a high school student who had committed suicide.  Fr. LaCuesta is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Temperance, Michigan. In discussing the service with the priest, the parents had asked that he focus on their son’s life. They also discussed some other arrangements for the service, including having his siblings cover his coffin with the pall.

None of that happened.  Instead, the family got blindsided with a lecture about the sinfulness of suicide and its awful consequences.  The family, relatives and classmates of the deceased were visibly distraught.  Many of them did not know the young man had committed suicide.  The father twice approached the pulpit asking the priest to stop the homily, but the priest refused and continued to the end of his sermon.

Since then, the story has received national attentionArchbishop Allen H. Vigneron, publicly reprimanded and sanctioned him.  The youth’s mother recently filed a lawsuit against Fr. LaCuesta and the Archdiocese which details their grievances. 

I’m not sure why Catholic conservatives always feel compelled to defend their brethren, even in nonsensical situations.  The Catholic World Report recently reprinted a column by Dr. Edward N. Peters about the incident entitled “God Bless Fr. LaCuesta.”  Dr. Peter’s comments certainly earned him Honorable Mention in this week’s Pious Trash award.

 

 

 

 

The Lady in Blue

Posted by Censor Librorum on Dec 1, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History

The Venerable Maria of Jesus of Agreda (1602-1665) was an abbess and mystic.  Her bilocation between her convent in Spain and native peoples in New Mexico, Texas and Arizona is legendary. 

Maria of Jesus spent her entire life within the confines of her family compound in Agreda, Spain. She never left her cloister. When Maria was twelve, her mother converted the home into a convent for herself and her daughters. When she was 25, Maria became abbess of this Franciscan Convent of the Immaculate Conception.

Sr. Maria is mainly known for three parts of her life: an 11-year period of bilocation to New Mexico and Texas; her correspondence of 22 years with King Philip IV and a four-volume work on the life of the Virgin Mary, titled the Mystical City of God.  She said the Virgin Mary herself dictated most of the material.  She was investigated by the Inquisition several times but exonerated. Her friendship with the king may have been an important factor in ensuring that outcome.

Maria said she first visited New Mexico in 1620. It was the first of more than 500 journeys or flights, sometimes as many as four in one day. They continued until 1631.  She did not know whether she traveled in the body or out of body.  They started when she expressed a desire to see and evangelize the native peoples.  They stopped, she said, when they had access to baptism and the Eucharist.

She spoke to people in Spanish but was understood.  She understood the languages native peoples spoke to her.  Because they did not know her name, they called her “The Lady in Blue” because of the blue cape or mantle she wore over her habit.

Sr. Maria was able to describe the plants and animals there, as well as the way people dressed and painted themselves. She described one landscape she visited as a place where two rivers meet.  In San Angelo, Texas, the Middle Concho River is joined by the South Concho River.  The current bishop of San Angelo, Bishop James Sis, said many of the native people in the area who are Catholic have a strong devotion to the Lady in Blue. 

In 1690, Franciscan priest Fr. Damian Massanet helped to create San Francisco de los Tejas, the first mission in east Texas.  In a report to the Viceroy, he relates an incident that took place during the expedition. While they were distributing cloth as gifts to the local people, their chief or “governor” as Fr. Massanet called him, asked for a piece of blue baize.  He wanted to use it as a shroud to buy his mother when she died.  Massanet writes, “I told him that cloth would be better, and he said that he did not want any other color than blue. I asked then what mystery was attached to the color blue, and the governor said that they were very fond of blue, particularly for burial clothes, because in times past a very beautiful woman visited them there, who descended from the heights, and that this woman was dressed in blue and that they wished to be like her.”

Two reports of a nun teaching the native people about Christ and Christianity reached the Archbishop of Mexico, Francisco Manzo y Zuniga about the same time. One report was from Maria’s confessor, Friar Sebastian Marilla, who contacted the Archbishop to learn if Maria’s report to him that she had mystically traveled to the southwest was true.  The other report came from missionaries in the territory who related how the natives sought them out under the direction of a Lady in Blue.  To determine the truth of the reports, the Archbishop assigned Friar Alonso de Benavides to investigate. Friar Benavides had arrived in New Mexico in 1626. He was a Franciscan priest of Portuguese descent. Charged by his order as Custodian (head) of the missions, Benavides toured New Mexico extensively, overseeing the establishment and strengthening of missions. 

In 1629 Benavides was sitting outside the Isleta Mission (south of Albuquerque, New Mexico) when a group of 50 natives from an unknown tribe approached him and asked that he send missionaries to their territory.  The travelers were Jumanos, and they had traveled a great distance from a place called Titlas, or Texas. The Jumanos said a woman dressed in blue had appeared in their midst and had taught them about the Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. She told them to ask for further instruction and baptism from the Franciscan missionaries. They knew where to find the Franciscan friars from the directions given to them by this Lady in Blue. Two missionaries were sent back with the Jumanos.  The friars found the people well instructed in the faith and baptized the entire tribe. 

Friar Benavides included this story in his famous 1630 Memorial, or report, which he personally presented to King Philip IV of Spain. This history of Spanish activity in the southwest included descriptions of the geography, culture of the native peoples, evangelization efforts, and the impact of contact with Spanish clergy, settlers and soldiers.  Benavides praised the abundant wildlife, arable land and potential mineral wealth of New Mexico.  It was a successful fund-raising document. King Philip IV continued to fully fund Franciscan missionary efforts in the region.

Benavides visited the abbess in Agreda in April 1631 and interviewed her over a period of three weeks. He wrote “she convinced me absolutely by describing to me all the things in New Mexico as I have seen them myself…She told me so many tales of this country, that I did not even remember them myself, and she brought them back to my mind.”  He even obtained the habit she wore when she went there.  “The veil radiates such a fragrance that it is a comfort to the spirit,” he wrote. 

Friar Benavides is primarily remembered for his 1630 Memorial which included the first mention of the Lady in Blue; and for bringing the religious statue of La Conquistadora to New Mexico.  On February 12, 1634, he presented Pope Urban VIII with a revised copy of his Memorial. In that edition Benavides urged that New Mexico be given its own bishop and a cathedral built in Santa Fe.  He actively lobbied for that appointment.  Instead, for some unknown reason, he was appointed as the new auxiliary bishop for the Portuguese colony of Goa. Benavides was last seen in Lisbon, taking ship for India.  After that, he disappears from history. He may have died crossing the Arabian Sea.

Another written testimony to the presence of Sr. Maria among the natives in Arizona comes from Captain Juan Mateo Mange, who traveled with Jesuit priests Eusebio Francisco Kino and Adamo Gil on the expedition to the Colorado and Gila rivers in 1699. The explorers questioned some elderly natives and asked whether they had heard stories about Don Juan de Onate, who passed through their region with soldiers and horses around 1606.  The people told the Spanish that they could remember hearing of such a group from the old people who were now dead. They added—without any prompting—that when they were children a beautiful white woman, dressed in white, brown and blue, with a cloth covering her head, had come to their land. She had spoken, shouted and harangued them…and showed them a cross.  Warriors had shot her with arrows, leaving her for dead.  She revived and disappeared into the air. They did not know where she came from or lived. After a few days, she returned again and then many times after to speak to them. 

Sr. Maria only mentions her bilocation in two documents written almost twenty years apart.  The first was a 1631 letter to Franciscan missionaries working in New Mexico to encourage them in their efforts to convert local people. She described her visits to native communities and the resistance to conversion by some members of these communities which feared Christianity as a source of evil. On several occasions the natives turned on her, and shot arrows at her, leaving her for dead. She said she felt the pain of the attacks, but when she would come to herself later in the Agreda convent there was no sign of wounds.

In 1650, Sr. Maria described her mystic journeys in a letter to Bishop Pedro Manero of the Inquisition.  In her letter she attempted to clarify some of the information included in Friar Benavides Memorial (or report) published in 1631. She argued that some of the descriptions he included were not false but had been exaggerated. She always maintained that she was unsure as to whether she had traveled in corporeal form or only in spirit, or whether it may have been an angel disguised as her.

Is there any truth to Sr. Maria of Agreda’s claims?

The native peoples of the southwest U.S. and Mexico had extensive trade and travel networks.  They also had contact with Spanish explorers, soldiers and religious since the 1530s—almost 100 years before Maria’s spiritual journeys.  It is probable they heard stories about Catholic beliefs, practices and veneration of the Virgin Mary. The Blessed Mother is often portrayed wearing a blue cloak in statues and art.  Cabeza de Vaca and his fellow shipwreck survivors, Esteban, Alonso Castillo and Andres Dorantes, sojourned with the Jumanos and other Pueblo peoples in their trek from Texas to Mexico.  They undoubtedly used Catholic prayers and blessings as part of their healing ceremonies as shaman-doctors.

Could the natives have witnessed a Marian apparition, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, or heard stories about Our Lady of Guadalupe?  She was also a beautiful woman dressed in a blue cloak.  She appeared to Juan Diego several times in 1531.  Stories of this apparition could have made their way north to other peoples. 

Another Spanish nun, Mother Luisa de Carrion (1565-1636) also claimed to have undertaken many visits to the native people of New Mexico.  Could it have been her?  In 1629 her cross was carried by Franciscan priest Francisco de Porras to a mission he established at Awatovi among the Hopi.  Mother Carrion fared less well with the Inquisition than Sr. Maria with her bilocation journeys.  She was forced to have her tongue measured “to determine if it was short, like a witch’s.” The political tensions and social fissions Fr. Porras caused by his proselytizing were resented by many tribal elders. Poison was suspected when he died in 1633.

Sr. Maria may have heard stories about New Mexico, the native peoples and Franciscan missionaries from travelers, pilgrims and others who visited Agreda.  I’m sure she yearned to go herself, but she was confined to a convent. In liminal space during prayer, Sr. Maria either took flight in her imagination, or really made the trip herself, bilocating to Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I believe Sr. Maria bilocated at least once, traveling to the Jumanos people of Texas to direct them to the Franciscan missionaries to be baptized.

Who is the Lady in Blue?  Was it Sr. Maria of Agreda; an apparition of the Virgin Mary, or a composite legend with its root in an ancient mystical event?  Whatever the truth may be, she is an incongruous figure: a venerated woman in indigenous folklore, and a useful evangelist who helped promote Spain’s colonial ambitions in the 17th century southwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Christina the Astonishing’s Vision of Purgatory

Posted by Censor Librorum on Sep 10, 2019 | Categories: Faith, History, Humor, Saints

Does Purgatory exist?  Is Hell real?  When I was growing up, I thought so.  I stopped believing in both places as a young adult; now I’m not so sure.

I grew up being taught to pray for people in Purgatory as well as to light candles and have Masses said for them.  The living were responsible for remembering those in Purgatory in prayer and for trying to set them free to get to Heaven. 

The biggest reason I stopped believing was the stupidly of the punishment for sin:  missing Mass on one Sunday, saying the Lord’s name in vain one time—after a life of goodness—could condemn a person to Hell for eternity.  Conversely, a person who lived a mean, cruel, self-centered life could avoid any consequences by one expression of repentance at the end.  If God is merciful—and I believe God is—then it seems more measured to consider the whole span of life. God may not follow my logic.

Was Purgatory as a place conceived as a place of purification?  Purgatory was a relatively new formal teaching for Christians when St. Christina the Astonishing experienced it in the 12th century; but other experiences of Purgatory were also popularized when she lived. 

The idea of purgatory as a process of cleansing dated back to early Christianity as was evident in the writings of St. Augustine and St. Gregory the Great. The 12th century was the heyday of medieval other world-journey narratives such as the account of an Irish knight in “Visio Tnugdali,” and of pilgrims’ tales about St. Patrick’s Purgatory, a cave-like entrance to purgatory on a remote island in Donegal, Ireland.

St. Christina the Astonishing was born in 1135 at Brustem, near Liege, Belgium.  She was orphaned as a teenager and worked as a shepherdess.  She had two older sisters. Sometime in her early 20s, she suffered a massive stroke or seizure. When people found her in the field, she was limp and unresponsive.  Unable to hear a heartbeat or feel breathing, everyone assumed she was dead.

She was carried into church for her funeral Mass in an open coffin. After the Agnes Dei she suddenly sat up and flew up to the rafters “like a bird” and perched there.  All the mourners except the priest and her oldest sister fled.  Christina said that had taken refuge up there because she could not stand the smell of sinful human bodies.  The priest reached out to her and told her to come down. She told him angels had guided her into a dark place where she saw many people she had known in torment.  This was Purgatory.  Then she was taken to Hell, where she saw other people suffering. Finally, she was taken to Heaven and given a choice: stay in Heave or return to earth to offer penances for those in Hell and Purgatory so they might be released.  Her suffering would also help to convert the living.  She immediately woke up when she chose to return to life.

After her experience of death and vision of Purgatory, Hell and Heaven Christina felt called to suffer for others so they could be released from suffering.  She voluntarily lived in extreme poverty, homeless and dressed in rags.  She lived by begging. She often fled to remote areas, climbed trees and rocks. She hid in ovens. Christina avoided human contact as much as possible, saying she couldn’t bear the spiritually stinky smell of sinful people. 

Christina also sought out suffering to increase the penance she felt she must endure.  People watched her intentionally throw herself into fires and remain there for extended periods of time.  She would appear to be in terrible pain, but then would exit the fire completely unharmed. She allowed herself to be attacked and bitten by dogs and would intentionally run through thickets of thorn bushes. In the winter, she would plunge into the freezing Meuse River. The current sometimes carried her downriver to a watermill where the wheel “whirled her around in a manner frightful to behold.” Christina would emerge from all these self-torments bloody but unhurt—no scars, burns or broken bones.  Despite a lifetime of abuse and hard living, Christina died at the ripe old age of 74 on July 25, 1224 at the Dominican Monastery at Sint-Truiden (Saint-Trond). She spent the last three years of her life there, and according to the prioress was generally docile and well-behaved.

People had mixed opinions about Christina.  Was she insane? Was she possessed? Was she a holy woman and mystic sent to warn people about the fires and pains of Purgatory?

Centuries later, we read regularly about people who have near death experiences and believe they have glimpsed the afterlife.  Most of them describe tunnels of light and bliss, but some have described a Purgatory or Hell-like place.  We also know now that people who experience a hypoxic-anoxic brain injury can wake to cognitive, physical and psychological changes. This injury appears to be what happened to St. Christina the Astonishing.  She most likely had a heart attack or massive stroke and oxygen didn’t reach her brain for several minutes or longer, resulting in a deathlike state and permanent brain damage.

Several saints besides St. Christina have had a vision journey to Purgatory and back.  They include St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Lidwina of Schiedam, and St. Maria Faustyna Kowalska, the saint who inspired Divine Mercy Sunday. Several of the “seers” of Medjugorje have visited Purgatory, Heaven and Hell with the Blessed Mother, who regularly sends messages to the seers about these places and the people populating them.  The main message is that they need to believe in them, pray and do penance to help the people who are there.  There is nothing new or original in these visions. We have seen the same scenes in paintings, stained glass windows, catechism lessons, books and TV.

Jesus mentioned Paradise and Gehenna, but never a place like Purgatory. Was it concocted as a way station for pilgrims on their way home or a course correction for the living? Does Purgatory answer a primal need for a connection to the dead; and prayer and penance a way to commune and express our care and love for them?  It is also an outreach to the forgotten—something the Church teaches us to honor in the here and now.

 

 

Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jun 21, 2019 | Categories: Accountability, Bishops, Faith, History, Politics, Popes

On October 15, 2017 Pope Francis announced a special synod on the Pan-Amazonian Region to take place in Rome.  It is scheduled for October 6-27, 2019. 

The synod arose out of Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, “Caring for Our Common Home,” which called for action on global warming, environmental pollution and pinpointed the Amazon region as a chief area of concern.

The Pan-Amazon region spans over two million square miles within nine countries, including Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Columbia, Venezuela, Suriname, Guyana and French Guyana. It is home to 33 million people, among them 3 million indigenous people representing 400 different tribes.  It is the source of one-fifth of the world’s fresh water, one-fourth of all oxygen and more than one-third of global forest reserves.

Taking part in the synod will be bishops from the nine countries encompassing Amazonia, presidents of the seven bishops’ conferences, and representatives of non-governmental organizations that work in the region.  Chief among them will be REPAM, or Red Eclesial PanAmazonica, an ecclesial network of bishops created in 2014 to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon. It is backed by CELAM, the Latin American Bishops’ Conference. Caritas Internationalis is a founding member. REPAM embodies the promise Pope Francis made in the Amazon town of Maldonado, Peru to affirm “a whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

The 16-page preparatory document for the synod was published on June 8, 2018. It is titled “Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”The document was written by the Vatican’s office for the synod with the help of an 18-member council appointed by Pope Francis to oversee the 2019 meeting.  The synod council included three cardinals, 13 bishops, one nun and a layman.  Most members are from countries in the Amazon region.  The document is organized as a Preamble, Section I – Seeing, Section II – Discernment, Section III – Action, and Questionnaires that were widely circulated to provide material for each of the three sections.

The synod’s preparatory document makes clear that central issues will focus on environmental protection, the rights of indigenous people, and evangelization. But what is articulated within these issues will ignite change not only in the Amazon, but throughout the Catholic Church.

It is obvious that most pundits from Europe and North America who follow church happenings did not read this document carefully. If they did, they would be shocked. This synod is not about a group of natives in the Amazon rainforest with a few mentions of climate change thrown in. Pope Francis and the Synod Council are attempting to shift Catholic culture and religious practice from the Eurocentric and clerical sub-culture model to one drawn from values and cultures based in the Southern Hemisphere, with ripples extending to Africa and Asia. Europe’s domination of 1,000 years is ending. 

The clash of values that dominates so much of the Eurocentric Church today will be subsumed into other cultural debates. There, they may find a new voice, fade away or be viewed as irrelevant. How important are religious liberty, same-sex marriage, denying communion to pro-abortion politicians, sex abuse and cover up, women priests, married priesthood, conscience rights, “authentic” Catholic definitions, and “reform of the reform” of Vatican II in Amazonia?  Newer issues like racism, rights of indigenous people, migrants and immigration, gender theory, LGBT civil rights, lay involvement, habitat protection, and economic equity should get more traction, but the results will be a mixed bag of blessings for both progressives and conservatives.

Here is what I see emerging from the Amazonia Synod:

  1. A new emphasis on “Integral Ecology” – everything is connected and environmental abuse as sin
  2. Evangelization to where people are physically and spiritually–however remote
  3. Older married men ordained as priests to administer the sacraments
  4. Increased role in ministry and governance for women
  5. A cultural and spiritual sift away from a Eurocentric Catholicism

Each of the sections of the preliminary document has markers and flash points intimating where Pope Francis and the Church are heading with this Synod.

  1. Identity and Cries of the Pan-Amazonia

“Nonetheless, the wealth of the Amazonian rainforest and rivers is being threatened by expansive economic interests, which assert themselves in various parts of the territory. Such interests lead, among other things, to the intensification of indiscriminate logging in the rainforest, as well as the contamination of rivers, lakes and tributaries (due to the indiscriminate use of agro-toxins, oil spills, legal and illegal mining, and byproducts from the production of narcotics.) Added to this is drug trafficking, which together with the above puts at risk the survival of those peoples who depend on the region’s animal and plant resources.” 

“For the indigenous peoples of the Amazon basin, the good life comes from living in communion with other people, with the world, and with the creatures of their environment, and with the Creator.  Their diverse spiritualities and beliefs motivate them to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night. Wise elders – called interchangeably “payes, mestres, wayanga or chamanes”, among others – promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos. Indigenous peoples are a living memory of the mission that God has entrusted to us all: the protection of our common home.”

2. Toward a Pastoral and Ecological Conversion

 “This social – and even cosmic – dimension of the mission of evangelization is particularly relevant in the Amazon region, where the interconnectivity between human life, ecosystems, and spiritual life was, and continues to be, apparent to the vast majority of its inhabitants.”

“Integral ecology, then, invites us to an integral conversion. This entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults, failures and omissions by which we have harmed God’s creation and leads to heartfelt repentance.  Only when we are aware of how our lifestyles – and the ways we produce, trade, consume, and discard – affect the life of our environment and our societies can we initiate a comprehensive change of direction.”

3. New Paths for a Church with an Amazonian Face

 “The Church is called to deepen her identity in accordance with the realities of each territory and to grow her spirituality by listening to the wisdom of her peoples. Therefore, the Special Assembly for the Pan-Amazonian Region is invited to find new ways of developing the Amazonian face of the Church and to respond to situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries, infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity, and the imposition of cultural and economic models which are alien to the lives of its people.”

“In this sense, Vatican II reminds us that all the People of God share in the priesthood of Christ, although it distinguishes between common priesthood and the ministerial priesthood.  This gives way to an urgent need to evaluate and rethink the ministries that today are required to respond to the objectives of “a Church with a native face.”

“It is necessary to identify the type of official ministry that can be conferred on women, taking into account the central role which women play today in the Amazonian Church. It is also necessary to foster indigenous and local-born clergy, affirming their own cultural identity and values.  Finally, new ways should be considered for the People of God to have better and more frequent access to the Eucharist, the center of Christian life.”

The Synod’s preparatory document cites a wide swath of church documents, three provide the biggest stamp:

1. Laudato Si – (“Praise Be to You”) The 2nd encyclical of Pope Francis has the subtitle, “On Care for Our Common Home.” In it, Pope Francis critiques consumerism and irresponsible development, and laments environmental degradation and global warning. It calls on the peoples of the world to act. The encyclical was published on June 18, 2015.

2. The Aparecida Document – This document summarized the 2007 meeting of CELAM—the regional Episcopal Conference of Latin America and the Caribbean. The meeting was held in Aparecida, Brazil, and was chaired by Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, the future Pope Francis.  In the document, the Latin American bishops expressed what they believed to be keys in keeping Catholicism alive and relevant in Latin American.  Those “keys” included a preferential option for the poor and marginalized, and a serious concern for the environment.

3. Pope Francis’ January 19, 2018 Address to the Indigenous People of Amazonia at Maldonado, Peru – During his trip to Chile and Peru, Pope Francis met and addressed thousands of native Amazonians in an indoor stadium at Puerto Maldonado, a city on Peru’s Amazon frontier. It is the capital of Madre de Dios, a region plagued by illegal mining and human trafficking. In his remarks, the pope noted that the “native Amazonian peoples have probably never been so threatened on their own lands as they are at present.”  He spoke about threats from extractive exploitation, environmental contamination and illegal mining. He also addressed the oppression of native people by certain policies and movements under the guise of preserving nature that deprive them of their land, natural resources and livelihoods.  Pope Francis promised participants to affirm a “whole-hearted option for the defense of life, the defense of the earth and the defense of cultures.”

There are several key players in the development of the Synod Council and preparatory document. Since I don’t read Spanish, and there is very little coverage of South America by U.S. journalists, I may have missed a few names but I believe I netted the biggest fish.

Pope Francis

Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on December 17, 1936, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became Pope Francis on March 13, 2013, when he was named 266th pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Bergoglio, the first pope from South America, took his papal title after St. Francis of Assisi of Italy.  The first Jesuit pope, Bergoglio was ordained in 1969, and from 1973-1979 was the provincial superior for Argentina.  Prior to his election as pope, Bergoglio served as archbishop of Buenos Aires from 1998-2013.  He was named a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2001.  In his six years as pope, Francis has championed the world’s poor and marginalized people, emphasized mercy over rules, and been actively involved in environmental advocacy and political diplomacy.

“We are not faced with two separate crisis, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

 Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri

Cardinal Baldisseri has served as general secretary of the Synod of Bishops since September 21, 2013.  He introduced and explained in depth the Amazonia synod’s preparatory document during the Vatican press conference on June 8, 2018.  Hand-picked by Francis to reorganize the Synod of Bishops, Cardinal Baldisseri is a veteran of the Vatican diplomatic corps.  He has served as apostolic nuncio to Paraguay, India, Nepal and Brazil (2002-2012). In Brazil, he negotiated an agreement regulating the juridical status of the church.

“Although the theme refers to a specific territory, such as the Pan-Amazon region – and this is why we speak about the “Pan-Amazon Synod” – the reflections that concern it go beyond the regional context, because they regard the whole Church and also the future of the planet. These reflections are intended to bridge to other similar geographical realities such as, for example, the Congo basin, the Central American biological corridor, the tropical forests of Asia in the Pacific, and the Guarani aquifer system. This great ecclesial, civic and ecological project allows us to extend our gaze beyond their respective borders and to redefine pastoral lines, making them suitable for today’s times. For these reasons too the Synod will be held in Rome.”

 Cardinal Claudio Hummes

Pope Frances chose Brazil’s Cardinal Claudio Hummes to serve as regulator general of the October synod on Amazonia.  The nomination of the 84-year-old retired archbishop of Sao Paulo was announced at the Vatican on May 4, 2019. The regular is responsible for providing a comprehensive outline of the synod’s theme at the beginning of the meeting and for summarizing the speeches of synod members before work begins on concrete proposals for the pope.  Cardinal Hummes was a former perfect of the Congregation for Clergy and has been a close friend of the pope since Jorge Mario Bergoglio was archbishop of Buenos Aires. Cardinal Hummes currently serves as president of REPAM, or the Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica (or Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network.)  Founded in 2014, REPAM is a network backed by the Latin American Bishops Conference to promote the rights and dignity of people living in the Amazon.  Caritas Internationalis is a founding member.

“Back in 2015 the pope started to tell me, “I’m thinking of convening a meeting of all the bishops of Amazonia. As of yet, I don’t know what type of meeting or assembly, but I think that it could even be a synod.” He said to me, Let us pray about it together, and he began to speak to the bishops, to the episcopal conferences of the Amazonian region, about how to have an assembly, and so in his heart there grew the idea of a synod, and eventually in 2017 he convoked it.  We have worked hard for the synod, and we will continue to do so in this very important service for the future.  The synod serves to find and trace new paths for the Church.”

“We know now there is another step to take: we have to promote an indigenous Church for the indigenous peoples, to help give birth to and nurture the growth of an indigenous Church. The aboriginal communities that hear the Gospel proclamation in one way or another, and that embrace it, which is to say, they welcome Jesus Christ, have to be able to ensure that, through an opportune process, their faith can become incarnate and inculturated in their traditional reality.  Then, in the context of their culture, identity, history and spirituality, an indigenous Church can arise with its own pastors and ordained ministers, always united within itself, and in total communion with the universal Catholic Church, but inculturated in indigenous cultures.”

Cardinal Ricardo Barreto Jimeno

 A Jesuit, and archbishop of Huancayo, Peru since 2004, Cardinal Barreto is vice president of the Peruvian bishops’ conference.  He is also vice president of REPAM (Red Eclesial Pan-Amazonica).  According to Cardinal Barreto, “new paths” will be defined during the synod, directed toward care for creation and evangelization.

Cardinal Barreto has long been a proponent of environmental protection.  Back in 2005 he told his brother bishops during a synod that bread and wine offered at the altar were no good if the land they came from was not properly cared for. “I said that if we offer bread from land that’s contaminated, we are offering God a contaminated fruit. And the same for wine…I remember that the bishops looked at me as if they were saying, ‘What does the Eucharist have to do with ecology?’”

“Too many people think the indigenous in the Amazon are savages with nothing to teach us. ..as one Amazonian indigenous person told me, the savages are the ones who wear suits and ties and have money because they not only exploit natural resources irrationally but also expel (the indigenous people) from their territories and allow those from the outside to attack their culture simply to profit.”

 General Augusto Heleno Ribeiro Pereira

 Augusto Heleno, 72, is a Brazilian politician and retired general. He was military commander of the Amazon and chief of the Department of Science and Technology of the Army.  He was chosen by Brazil’s newly elected president, Jair Bolsonaro, to head the Institutional Security Cabinet, an executive level office of the federal government responsible for assistance to the president on matters of national security and defense policy.

Bolsonaro campaigned on promises to end protections of the Amazon rainforest and limit Brazil’s indigenous peoples’ rights to designate land in the river’s sprawling basin as preserves.  In one of his first acts as president, he gave responsibility for indigenous preserves to the Agriculture Ministry, which is seen as heavily influenced by agribusiness interests.

A major Brazilian newspaper, O Estado de S. Paulo, reported on February 10, 2019 that the synod has become a national concern for the Brazilian government. General Augusto Heleno was quoted in the story as saying, in reference to the synod, “We are worried about it and want to neutralize it.” The government’s strategy for neutralizing the Amazonia synod reportedly includes planting intelligence agents to monitor preparatory meetings and putting diplomatic pressure on the Italian government to intercede with the Vatican to avoid, or at least tone down, criticism of Brazil’s Amazon policies.

“There are foreign (non-governmental organizations) and international authorities who want to intervene in our treatment of the Brazilian Amazon…I’m worried that this Synod is going to interfere in our sovereignty.  We know what we have to do.  We know how to do sustainable development, to stop deforestation.”

 Mauricio Lopez

Mauricio Lopez is the executive secretary of REPAM.  He was the one lay person appointed to the Synod Council by Pope Francis. Lopez grew up in Mexico and was educated in Jesuit schools.  He and his wife, who is Ecuadorian, moved to Ecuador over a decade ago.  In 2009, he took a trip to the part of the Amazon basin that sits on Ecuador’s eastern borders.  “I came by bus from the highest mountains with snow,” he described, and suddenly I entered this beautiful place, where I saw the biggest river, the entrance into the Amazon, and how the flora and fauna were always changing as we went down, down, down. The temperature changed radically, and I felt, too, a change within me,” he said.

“The Amazon reality requires us to be a braver and more prophetic church.”

The Amazonia initiative brings back an echo of my own past. 

Back in the mid-1970s, as a young woman in Alaska, I fought for large tracts of Alaskan lands to be preserved as wilderness areas–national parks, refuges and monuments. I wanted government agencies to insist on environmental protections for areas that were mined, logged or slated for oil and natural gas extraction. The native peoples of Alaska—Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Athabascan, Aleut, Inupiat and Yupik were different, but each group was deeply connected to the land by a deep love for it, cultural heritage and identity.  One connection was through the subsistence lifestyle—fishing, trapping, hunting and harvesting on their ancestral lands.

During that time, I never heard a religious person—priest, religious sister, bishop, pastoral associate, anyone—speak up for Alaska natives or for wise natural resources management.  At that time, the Catholic church made no connection between Nature and Faith.  I missed having my faith strengthen my environmental activism and support for native land rights; and my love for the land and forest strengthen my spirituality and religious conviction.

It now seems like a dream come true; one I have waited almost 40 years to see. Thank you, Pope Francis, and everyone who is making the Amazonia Synod happen.  I’ll be praying for you and us.