Friday, September 21, 2012

That We All Might Be One In Diversity

The word synod, from the Latin sinŏdus, and this in turn from the Greek σúνοδος (sínodos), which in Koiné Greek (the popular Greek language, spoken by most, as distinct from classical Greek, of the philosophers) literally means 'walking together', and today, designating in the Catholic Church (according to Canon 342 in the current Code of Canonical Law) an assembly of bishops, of a deliberative nature rather than consultative, chosen from the different regions of the world, which meets on determined occasions to promote a close union between the Roman Pontiff and other bishops in the world on subjects of current interest in the life of the church and the world.

A Synod, then, is a consultative body of bishops called by the Pope generally every three years, and on special occasions when the Pope considers it to be necessary. There are synods on pastoral subjects, but there are also continental gatherings such as the Synod of the Church in America or in Asia.

Next October the Catholic Church will celebrate a Synod —of ordinary character— on the New Evangelization. It will be Synod XIII of the Catholic bishops, and it constitutes a unique opportunity for Catholics of all races, tongues, peoples and social condition to reflect on the challenges of this particular time in the history of humanity and the life of Christians and people in general in the current social setting, in terms of the evangelistic task of the Church in the world.

On Saturday, December 3, 2005, the Holy Father Benedict XVI, in a discourse to the second group of bishops of Poland in a visit “Ad limina, spoke of the New Evangelization, in reference to the homily of the Blessed John Paul II before the workers of Nowa Huta, during his first visit to his home country, remembering the words: “From the cross of Nowa Huta the new evangelization has begun”. It was on that occasion that John Paul II proclaimed the need of a “New Evangelization” and coined this term to designate all that the Catholic Church needs to do so that —with new ardor, new methods and new expressions— it might adequately accomplish the task of impregnating our current reality with the criteria of the gospel.

The coming Synod seeks to develop guidelines for presenting our faith in this particular hour: how to experience it, how to make it known and how to evangelize today’s world with its interpersonal relationships, micro and macro economics, political and cultural interests, artistic and athletic, cultural and technological, local and international realities, community and global realities, etc.

Underlying the intention of this Council is the same idea developed by John Paul II in the celebration of the 500 years of evangelization in America. Thus the Hispanic community residing in the United States should concern itself anew about its “Catholic” presence in this nation, its Catholic identity that impregnates the history of our Hispano-American origins and the particular challenges posed by our condition as Catholic migrants, as well as those posed to the Catholic Church in this great nation.

Some of these great challenges and concerns, both to Hispanic- and Anglo-Americans, to the Anglo-Catholic and to the Hispano-Catholic, among the purely Hispanic and the purely Anglo and North American population has to do with communion and participation, with Jesus’ desire made known in the Gospel of John: “That they all may be one” (John 17,21). Unity that is realized in full participation and integration, not in the assimilation of the Hispanic culture by the dominant culture.

Even though there is much to be done in this field, much has already been accomplished through a large measure of sacrifice: in the year 1970, Msgr. Patricio Flores was named as the first bishop of Hispanic origin in the USA, currently bishop emeritus of San Antonio, Texas. Yet currently we have 47 Hispanic bishops.

Very well, we not only need to see the recognition of Hispanic bishops, we also need to see the recognition of Hispanic academics in the universities, and promote the development of political leadership inspired by the instruction of the Church achieved through the support and concourse of everyone, among many other areas, of humanitarian migrant laws, treatment that is equitable and just for the poor and marginalized according to the gospel, which among us today have faces and proper names: millions who are poor, impoverished, marginalized and excluded by the societies from which they came, as well as in the one where they have arrived —for lack of documents— where they are exploited, persecuted and condemned to live in conditions inadequate for inhabitants of this nation that is recognized as a free and democratic society, especially when they are considered to be children of God.

All of this should contribute to the fulfillment of the vision and dream of John Paul II: to become in fact, not three Americas, but ONE AMERICA, united and for everyone. An America with different faces, languages and colors, with different creeds and ideologies, with different flavors and customs, but with a common destiny: to build a more fraternal society, more united, more human and more just. A society in which no one is excluded and all fit, for all of whom the greater realization of their best and most human longings is possible.

Thus the subject chosen for the Synod of this coming October on the New Evangelization involves us and acquires in our Hispanic context in the United States its own profile and interest: that of discovering what is truly Hispanic, North American and Catholic as a possibility of convergence, integration, unity and mutual enrichment with our differences, rather than an obligatory separation and cause for rejection and discrimination due to the things that are not common to us all.

Common to us all is the same divine origin, the same tendencies toward that which is noble, good, beautiful and true. Common to us all is the planet where we live and the dreams of a better world. Common to us all as believers in Christ (whether Hispanic or non-Hispanic) is the dream and the task of building unity —in diversity— lived out and preached by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Half Century Since Vatican II

Pope John XXIII signs the bull convoking the Second Vatican Council.
Dec. 25, 1961. (CNS photo)
Fifty years ago the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council was inaugurated. In reality, this was the twenty-second ecumenical council (that is to say, of a universal character) in the history of the Catholic Church. Vatican Council II was called by Pope John XXIII on January 25, 1959 and, without a doubt, was one of the great historical events marking world history and that of the church in the Twentieth Century. The Council consisted of four sessions: the first was presided over by the same Pope in the fall of 1962. He was unable to conclude this Council due to his death a year later, (on June 3, 1963). The other three sessions were called and presided over by his successor, Pope Paul VI, until its conclusion in 1965. The official language of the Council was Latin. Vatican Council II was also the Council with the greatest and most diverse representation of languages and races, with an average attendance of some two thousand council fathers coming from all corners of the earth, and included the attendance of members from other Christian religions.

The Council was called for the principal purpose of promoting the development of the Catholic faith, achieving a moral renewal in the Christian life of the faithful, adapting the ecclesiastical discipline to the need and methods of our time and accomplishing an improved relationship with other religions, especially from the Orient. The goal was thus to produce an aggiornamento or actualization of the Church with the passing of human history, renewing the elements having the greatest need of such, reviewing in depth the form and contents of the evangelistic task of the Church in the world. Therefore, Vatican Council II sought to provide an open dialog with the modern world, updating the life of the Church, with new conciliatory language while facing problems that are both ancient and current.

The multitude of representatives from so many and such distinct corners of the Church in the world allows us to suppose that the sessions, discussions and documents emanating from the Council contain a diversity of vision concerning the life and activities of the Church in the world.

However, we propose —in the brevity of this article— to underscore the central themes of Vatican Council II:

  • The need to return to the Source: to the Good News lived and proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth during his public ministry and the Christian experience of the early days of the Church as lived by the first Christian communities. Following twenty centuries of world history it was time for a reflection, a review, a pruning and an updating to determine all that was pertinent and that which was not pertinent to the integrity of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  •  All the baptized members of God’s people are called to holiness. And, in Vatican Council II, the comprehensiveness of the Church overcomes the geographical limits to become the place of salvation for all men and women of good will, all those who live in Christ without understanding the fact because they live a life of love and service for the building of more fraternal societies.
  • By the same token, the Church sees itself as Mother and Teacher, but above all, as the site for compassion and mercy in the world to gather and protect within its bosom all people, especially the smallest, the weakest and poorest of the world; in the same way that Jesus constituted in his time the site of mercy, sacramental sign and historical presence of the Father’s love.
  • In Vatican Council II, the Church sees itself more as a community of communities, of fellowship and participation and retreats from the Roman imperial model and pyramid and renews its awareness of its special power and role in the world for serving in the example of her Lord.
  • The centrality of Sacred Scripture and, especially, of the gospel (Good News) which is Jesus himself: the norm of our life and activity as disciples. For this reason the approach and study of theology and, more concretely, of Sacred Scripture has become possible, promoting and encouraging the evangelistic and missionary task of the Church.
With these and other subjects, all of them important and some of them new, the Vatican Council proposed enormous changes to the inner life of the Church, of its members and in the way the Church presents itself to the world. At the same time, contrasts and tensions appeared between those who desired and still desire –conservatively– greater commitment to the customs and traditions and those who prefer a walk of the Church that is more consonant with the rhythm of humanity in history.

Suffice it to recall here the introduction of the native language of each place for the liturgy of God’s People and all the changes arising in the divine worship, the creation of collegiate bodies in the life of the Church like the Synods, the Episcopal Conferences, the Parish Councils, etc., for the purpose of “democratizing” the participation in the life and activity of the Church for all the people of God.

The context in which the council sessions were carried out is part of a greater context: that of the decade of the 1960s marked with all kinds of spiritual convulsions throughout the planet: the perception of human history as a “graveyard of hopes”, the feeling of a non-existent future since science and modern technology did not solve the great problems of humanity (hunger, misery, injustice, divisions, inequity) while fostering new ones (contamination, weapons race, etc), youth rebellion, protests, leftist revolutionary movements, guerrillas, sexual liberation movements, etc. This new spirit of humanity affected and still necessarily affects the life of the Church and of all its members, for the Church —inserted in the world— cannot hide from the light and darkness of the world where it lives and which it seeks to illuminate with the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The celebration of these fifty years since the Council urges us to return to the documents of the Council to understand and live them out and, above all, to return to the spirit of renewal that gave impulse to the mind and heart of those who called it and made it possible, to return to the great lesson left us by Vatican Council II: the need for the Church to better understand the history of the world and of humanity where it finds its destiny in its life and its task to be faithful to Him who clarifies our life, the mystery of every person and of all humanity.

Friday, September 14, 2012

National Hispanic Heritage Month

On September 17, 1968, the Congress of the United States authorized the President of the United States (then Lyndon B. Johnson), to proclaim National Hispanic Heritage Week. This proclamation urged the people of the United States, especially the educational entities, to observe the week with appropriate ceremonies and activities. President Gerald R. Ford, in 1974, issued a proclamation that particularly urged schools and human rights organizations to participate fully in the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Week.

Twenty years later, on August 18, 1988, President Ronald Reagan reiterated Ford’s call for a broader recognition of all residents of Hispanic origin. To this end, the Congress approved Public Law 100-402, extending the celebration for a period of 31 days, to be known as NATIONAL HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH, (from September 15 to October 15 of each year). The United States continues that month-long celebration of the culture and traditions of the residents of this country who have roots in Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking countries of Central America, South America and the Caribbean, and honors the accomplishments of the Hispanic or Latin community who reside in this nation.

As a Hispanic community, we remember and enjoy festivities revolving around our origin, history, culture, the values of our identity and reality in this nation. It is a privileged time each year in which we review our Hispanic state in this nation: our common objectives (where they exist), our efforts, activities, desires, longings, and ideals; our participation in the history and progress of the country; and, above all, the accomplishments that our Hispanic presence has achieved in the overall concert of this great nation’s life.

The Hispanics of several generations have proceeded from the many different corners of Latin America. We have brought with us the richest and most varied cultural expressions, (originating from our historic associations with Spain or Portugal), and most especially, our Catholic faith. We constitute a veritable multitude in this nation. The National Census of the year 2000 found 56 million persons of Hispanic origin living in the United States, making us the largest minority, representing 15% of the total population.

Our numerical growth greatly increases, at the same time, the problems that we as a community must face and resolve equally increase. Looking beyond ourselves to the rest of the very diverse population of the United States, we see the issues that result from our multiculturalism in every field of life: academic, economic, political, cultural, artistic, athletic, religious, etc.

Some of the great problems we face include: a lack of understanding of our own inner being; a knowledge of who we are and of our Hispanic communities (which lack integration and unity); our limited or absent sense of belonging to the Hispanic community present in the United States; our lack of leadership and of interrelationship between the leadership of our varied communities; our lack of common objectives (especially political); the absence of a common vision which could give strength in a unified struggle to reach common goals and achievements in the life and growth of this nation. We don’t even share a common name to define and identify us as a community in relation to the rest of the nation.

Consequently, the recent study done by the PEW Hispanic Center reveals that:

Most Hispanics or Latinos prefer not to be called either “Hispanics” or “Latinos”.

• Approximately 51% of Hispanics in the nation prefer to be identified according to their country of origin.

• Only 49% of those surveyed said that they identify themselves as a Hispanics and/or Latinos.

• Barely 21% said they preferred to be described as Americans.

• 79% of those surveyed said that if they had to do it again, they would come to the United States.

Moreover, in the last five years, in particular, the immigration debate in the United States has been poor, embarrassing, unfavorable and unfair to the Hispanic community. We have been mistreated, legalization processes have been hindered, and social opportunities have been denied, preventing the Hispanic community from being integrated into the national life of this country.

This failure in immigration policy, especially with regard to the Hispanic community present in this nation, gives rise to many different theories, but is due in large measure to our lack of unity, internal understanding and cohesion, as well as the shortage of Hispanic leaders who should represent our needs, concerns, longings, urgencies, and desires.

Given the large number of Hispanics, it is of the utmost importance to both the Hispanic community and the nation, that we not be assimilated, thus losing our identity, but to be integrated with all of our historic riches and our cultural and Christian values within all the fabric of the United States.

The Catholic Church in the United States is being enriched by the increasing number of faithful Hispanics. The nation’s current debate of the immigration laws offer the Church to be “Mother and Teacher” to the Hispanic community and is given the opportunity to advocate for a reform of the laws that are more just and humane. The leadership offered by Archbishop Jose Gomez of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, and Chairman of the Immigration Committee of the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, is most promising in helping to achieve a body of laws that will reflect the values of liberty and justice which are the foundation of our nation.