Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Being Local, Thinking Global

About two years ago the Daughters of St. Paul throughout the world began a process of “redesigning” the presence of the congregation in the 55 nations and territories where the 2,600 of us are established. It was occasioned by concerns over dwindling human and financial resources in many locations, as well as by the unprecedented pace of media development. On the other hand, new opportunities (and challenges) have arisen, not the least of which is renewed interest of local Churches in our mission, plus a steady influx—and even an increase—in Pauline vocations in some places. We have now begun taking initial steps toward a revitalization of several aspects of our life and mission.

The first step for us in the Western Hemisphere, was a pan-American FSP conference in Brazil last year. It led us to launch a remarkable missionary initiative, that can only be attributed to the Holy Spirit working through our desire for an organized, collaborative effort between North and South, in carrying out the Church’s call for a new evangelization.

The following article by Hosffman Ospino, PhD, is the first in a three-part series on this initiative. He outlines the Church’s vision of a unitary project for “the American continent,” first proposed by John Paul II. Next week I will explain the Pauline project in greater detail. Finally, the third week, Father Joseph A. Benson of New Orleans will reflect on what that project entails from a parish perspective. As the U.S. observes National Hispanic Heritage Month between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15, I hope that such a series will lead to fruitful soul-searching, conversation, and commitment.

Dr. Ospino’s expertise has been indispensable in establishing a socio-ecclesial reference point for U.S. Paulines to strategize together with a team of our sisters from Latin America. Originally from Colombia, he teaches pastoral theology and religious education at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, where he is also the Director of Graduate Programs in Hispanic Ministry. He is the editor of Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century: Present and Future (Convivium Press, 2010) and is the author of Peter’s Catechism: Who Do You Say That I Am? Why Did You Doubt? Do You Love Me? (Liguori, 2011). Both books are also available in Spanish.

Globalization, a phenomenon that many invoke to explain, sometimes to justify, what happens in our world, is the perfect opportunity to think deeply about our identity as Christians and as Church in the world. This I have confirmed in my many travels and conversations as a theologian and educator throughout the United States and Latin America during the last decade. From the newly created parish in a city that tripled its population over the last twenty years to whole Conferences of Catholic bishops, ecclesial movements, and religious orders, Catholicism in the American continent—North, Central, South, and the Caribbean—is in a major process of discernment: what does it mean to be Catholic today? No need to digress here about the various definitions of globalization. Suffice it to say that we live in a historical moment in which we are uniquely aware of who we are at the local level because of what happens beyond our immediacy—and vice versa.

Soon after arriving in the United States as a theology student I became involved in various forms of ministry in parishes serving Hispanic Catholics. At first my Colombian identity permeated my thoughts, perspectives, and reflections. That’s who I was; there was where I lived. Soon I realized that I was part of a larger whole. I did not stop being Colombian; I simply learned that I was a Latino in the United States, because this is where I lived. Today I continue to be involved in some projects and conversations in Latin America, an even larger whole, but I do it as a Latino Catholic theologian living in the United States. Globalization demands that all Christians, rooted in the particularity of our own realities, think in global terms. We must become experts in maintaining the balance between the local and the global.

At the end of the twentieth century, which also marked the end of the second millennium of the Christian era, the Church embarked in a process of reflection about what it meant to be Catholic at the continental level. Pope John Paul II led important gatherings of bishops in all continents. The key insights from these meetings are gathered in documents entitled Ecclesia in… (Africa, America, Asia, Europa, Oceania). Ecclesia in America speaks closer to us in the United States. The document is amazingly rich and visionary. Two insights that I think are worth highlighting are that all the Americas are one continent and that cultural diversity in the continent has the potential to enrich our societies and the larger Church. Let’s say more about both insights.

In terms of unity the Pope, in Ecclesia in America, said that speaking of “America” in the singular expresses both an already existing unity, as well as a desire on the part of America’s peoples to forge a still closer bond. He points out that, because her mission is to promote the communion of peoples in the Lord, the Church also longs to do her part to foster this unity (cf. n. 5). While there is still much that is unique to the identity of each nation and culture in the continent, the bonds of unity seem to be stronger, particularly through our shared Christian faith and the realization that only in solidarity our societies become stronger. One could think of multiple realities that embody such unity such as democracy or the market economy or even popular culture. However, these often fall short.

More than a factor, it is a body of people—more exactly a body of Christian believers—who, thanks to their faith and practices, express such unity most clearly: Catholicism. The Church has been an icon of unity in many cultures and continues to be so today. Keep in mind that unity here does not mean uniformity or homogeneity. It rather means a shared consciousness about being one in Jesus Christ, a consciousness that we celebrate (liturgy), teach (catechesis), and live in the everyday (service). In America, the continent, being Catholic means that, regardless of our differences, faith makes us one. It is a bond that is fully expressed in the idea of communion. Communion alive in what we believe; communion alive in the way we care for one another. In America one cannot fully live the Catholic experience “here” without being mindful of what happens to Catholic brothers and sisters in the rest of the continent. Such is the consciousness that fuels the missionary efforts of the Church, justifies that countless women and men spend their lives bringing Christ to each other—from North to South; from South to North—and inspires the generosity of many to make sure that everyone’s most basic needs are truly met.

The second insight proposed in Ecclesia in America, is that thanks to the way the Church is organized in and among nations, cultural diversity in the continent has the potential to enrich our societies and the larger Church (cf. n. 32). What makes being Catholic a very exciting experience in America, the continent, is the richness of its peoples and cultures. One could spend a lifetime contemplating how the Gospel has become incarnate in the various communities in the continent through expressions of popular religiosity, rituals, prayers, practices of faith, stories, etc. In the United States one can still appreciate glimpses of that European Catholicism that traveled across the Atlantic two and three centuries ago. Mexican culture breathes mestizo Catholicism, fruit of the encounter between Spanish Christianity and indigenous traditions. In Ecuador one cannot but stand in awe before the beautiful churches built in colonial times, capturing the spirit of a whole era. In Brazil elements of Portuguese, African, indigenous, and mestizo cultures concocted to produce a uniquely vibrant way of being Catholic. Every one of these general experiences is important to understand what it means to be Church in America—the continent.

But we must also pay attention to the more particular experiences that each nation and culture has developed in response to its own particular reality. I think, for instance, of the great efforts to advance ecumenical and interreligious dialogue in the North, or Central and South America’s amazing examples of theological reflection and commitment to being in solidarity with the poor in light of the Gospel, to mention only two. Many of these experiences, without a doubt, have been the result of how particular faith communities have read and appropriated the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. Globalization has made us more aware of these life-giving expressions of Catholic life, which allow us to affirm better who we are at the local level while appreciating others beyond our immediacy.

The United States is perhaps the closest example to us where the local and the global coincide to shape the experience of being Catholic. Catholicism came to this nation with immigrants mostly from Western Europe and is currently being transformed by immigrants from other parts of the world, mostly from Latin America. That vision of one continent shaped by many cultures described in Ecclesia in America is in many ways a reality in the Catholic experience in the United States. But this presents us with a triple challenge: first, to remain sufficiently open to let the diversity that constitutes our Church today shape how we live our Christian faith as Catholics in North America and Catholics in America, the continent; second, to know better our own histories and contributions; and third, to sincerely appreciate what other Catholics beyond our own context have contributed to the experience of being Catholic in the American continent.

I began this reflection asserting that globalization seems to be the perfect opportunity to think deeply about our identity as Christians and as Church in the world. Now that we have a better understanding of what it means to be Catholics in America, the continent, we are now in a better position to do this exercise of discernment. Many Catholic organizations and religious communities have begun a serious process of engaging this question. It is imperative that they be provided with the resources and the time to do this reflection carefully because, in a global world, the implications of their decisions will affect not only their mission at the local level, but also the mission of the Church in the continent—and beyond.

Dr. Ospino can be reached at

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Afternoon Tea with the Daughters honors Fr. Robert Reed

Sr. Anne Eileen Heffernan, FSP, ably does the honors this week. From our Development Office, she shares her report about last Sunday's much-anticipated event at our Boston convent, that benefits our sisters all over the U.S....and everyone they serve. Read on!

 On Sunday, September 18, the weather was already autumnal—brisk, with a mixture of sun and clouds—as guests arrived at our Jamaica Plain convent to attend our second annual Afternoon Tea, an annual fundraiser for the Daughters of St. Paul Education Fund. The atmosphere was joyful as priests and laity socialized with sisters and each other, inspected the ten enticing raffle baskets (each with a different theme) and purchased raffle tickets.

Tea in a festive setting was followed by a welcoming address by Sr. Mary Leonora Wilson, provincial superior, and a video clip illustrating the importance of the fundraiser, which helps prepare our sisters academically, professionally, and spiritually for our mission. This was the second annual Afternoon Tea held at our Jamaica Plain motherhouse to bestow the Cordero Award on a Catholic who has striven to uplift the human spirit and recognize the dignity of the person in or through the media. The Cordero Award is named after Mother Paula Cordero, the first Daughter of St. Paul to come to the United States, who from the very beginning valued and encouraged the education of our sisters.

This year’s award recipient was Fr. Robert Reed, priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and President of the Catholic TV Network, who oversees the production, acquisition, and broadcasting of diverse, high-quality Catholic programs on a national level.
The proceeds from this annual event contribute to the Daughters of St. Paul Education Fund, which helps prepare our sisters effectively to meet the needs of today's people with the Gospel message. Sr. Mary Leonora recently explained that, in striving to respond to the Holy Father’s call for new evangelization:
“We must go beyond the print media and be proficient in the digital and virtual universes that have become a part of the culture of our society. Our hearts also go out to the unchurched, who may never approach a Pauline Book & Media center, but who, in the core of their being, long for an encounter with a loving and forgiving God. The more prepared we are, the better we can respond to the needs of humanity.”
Cardinal Se├ín O’Malley was present for the reception of the award by Fr. Reed, who thanked His Eminence for encouraging Boston Catholic TV to become a national network. Following the drawing of the winning raffle tickets, the Cardinal imparted the closing blessing. Tours of the publishing house followed. It appeared that a good time had been enjoyed by all.

As soon as we’re able—within the next few weeks—we’ll be sure to let you know if we at least came close to our $50,000 goal. If YOU would like to make a contribution to the Daughters of St. Paul Education Fund, click on the Donate Now button on the right sidebar.

Photos: Sr. Ann Richard Heady, FSP

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Planting the Tree of the Cross

Pilot Printing. Used
with permission.
In the array of religious symbols, few are as ambivalent as the cross. Within a few centuries after Christ, a horrifying method of Roman capital punishment became the universal symbol of Christianity and permeates Western society. Although a growing respect for religious pluralism in our nation allows us to make room for other expressions of faith, American cultural instinct still assigns to the cross its most poignant memorial.

So when did the greatest hope of the human race once again come to mean primarily suffering and shame? We’ve all heard it and have probably said it: “What a cross…he carries (…she is…that would be)!” This aspect of it can’t be denied. In fact, Jesus made carrying the cross daily a requirement of discipleship (cf. Mt. 16:24). But why? Is it because of the suffering it entails, or the salvation?

Today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Cross comes down on the side of salvation. Jesus’ self-emptying in the Incarnation and later on the cross is his supreme act of love for the Father, who sent him to save the world. St. Alphonsus de Liguori declared that “love, not nails, fastened Jesus to the cross.” Jesus himself said, “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (Jn. 10:18). While the cross is no picnic, the message of the Gospel and of this day is that Jesus’ love for the Father and for us, which led him to the cross, released the stranglehold of sin and death, triumphed in the resurrection, and so, by the Holy Spirit, guaranteed undying life for everyone and everything human. No wonder the author of the book of Revelation could cry out in Christ’s name to a hunted, martyred Church, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer….Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).

Using a vivid image, contemporary theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says that Jesus “exploded” sin from within. When I read that recently I couldn’t help thinking of…Harry Potter. Pursued by Valdemort, his nemesis, Harry made it his mission to find and destroy every “horcrux” that contained a piece of Valdemort’s soul (OK, so the theology skips a beat here) to put an end to the death and grief caused by Valdemort’s ambition. Although he didn’t realize it, Harry himself was the last “horcrux.” Valdemort mistakenly believed that if he could overcome Harry, he would be invested with unconquerable life. A matured Harry gave himself into Valdemort’s power in order to save his friends and in dying, became the evil lord’s undoing.

Whether we talk about wars or the petty rivalries in the workplace and the home, human struggles aim for a winner-take-all conquest. This may come as a surprise, but the sacrifice of Jesus did, too. The only difference is that God in Jesus triumphed not over human beings, but over what makes us less human—sin and death. He “made captivity itself a captive” (Eph. 4:8).

The way that that comes to us? Forgiveness. The cross is not only the sign that God reconciled us with himself. It is the act of reconciliation; it brought about that reunification with God and made unity with one another possible. Ever since then, the two aspects of suffering and salvation have always worked in tandem. Jesus planted the tree of the cross on Calvary, watered by the Holy Spirit and his own blood and tended by the Church in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Not surprisingly, the process doesn’t stop there, but out the confessional door, making us ambassadors of reconciliation (cf. 2Cor. 5:16-21).

Oh if ever there was an intersection of suffering and salvation in our relationships it’s in forgiveness! The cross attests that evil inflicts a gaping wound in our hearts that only forgiveness can heal. “Anything but that!” we protest, and so we cast about looking for something or someone else to do the job. Instead, forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves. It doesn’t necessarily change the one we resent, but allows something life-giving to take its place in us, so that we’re no longer burdened by the other person we can’t change.

Indignation and a desire for revenge would not have been enough to fuel the compassion of millions of people we saw, read about, or heard about on 9/11 and in its aftermath. Only a need to give senselessness some meaning, a meaning springing from love. One reader of this blog e-mailed me after the post of May 4, 2011, that commented on the assassination of Osama bin Laden. He wrote:
“Even though the event of 911 was horrific, we should not forget the outpouring of charity, altruism and love for neighbor that overshadowed the evil in the days and months after 911. It’s hard to stay angry, unless you really want to - and love (NOT time) heals all wounds, if we let it” (Kurtis D. Welton).
St. Paul would say: “Where sin increased, grace increased even more, so that just as sin reigned in death, so too would grace reign in reconciliation leading to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:20-21).

Thoughts to help us in the process, from Forgiveness: A Catholic Approach, (which, this week, ranks #16 in’s top 100 Christian best sellers). Go to Embrace Forgiveness on Facebook to read stories, post a question,  and interact with the author, Fr. Scott Hurd:
“‘Forgive and forget’ may sound noble. Unfortunately, it’s just not realistic….Our minds don’t come equipped with a delete button…. Forgiveness may not require forgetting, but it does require letting go.” 
 “‘I would often tell people that the only thing worse than a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart’” (Steven McDonald, NYPD, after forgiving the teen who shot and paralyzed him).
“Guilt does not have to paralyze us. Instead, it can provide the energy that spurs us into action, leading us to seek forgiveness….Simply put, people who know they’re forgiven are much more likely to be people who forgive.”
“God wants to forgive us more than we could ever want to sin….He’s dying to forgive us—which is exactly what he has already done!”

To order copies with prayer below,

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Teens, Technology, and Christian Leadership

Now that school is back in session, our guest blogger is Romeo Marquis, Executive Director of The Learning Curve Consortium. He explores ways in which we can learn together how to navigate the world of communication as Christ’s disciples. Far from being “kids’ stuff,” he says, our approach to media shapes our lives as believing parents, educators, and clergy. As a vehicle for transmitting our values to our young people and to others, it also serves as a model for them in lifelong learning.
“I hate computers, I hate the future, I hate progress, I hate that things are moving so fast that unless you work at it every day you are left so far behind.” So began the journey for a teacher in an online graduate course I recently taught. The story has a positive ending, however. Her final thought in our online forum was, “I look forward to the future now and to my participation in what it has to offer.”

I truly admire teachers who show growth as this teacher did. They work hard and sometimes it can be a real challenge for them to embrace technology, especially if they are not accustomed to working with emerging technologies. The same can be said of parents, pastors, and others who work with teenagers, yet have not kept pace with ongoing changes in the technology field. The danger, of course, is that while they are in positions in which they can have positive influence on teenagers, they will continue to fall behind them in their use of computing devices and the Internet.

Have you already begun a new academic year? So have I, although perhaps not in the same way. As a teacher I belonged to the BT generation – Before Technology. I was also a high school principal for twenty years. I’ve also been a college administrator and online instructor. Today I work mostly with teachers over the Internet. We work to develop the online environment in safe and constructive ways.

I began teaching high school science decades ago when the major piece of technology at my disposal was a slide rule. Remember those? I had a huge one mounted at the top of my chalkboard so I could demonstrate its use to my students. We didn’t even have calculators in those days, either. This was one of the few tools I had that could be classified as “technology.” The others were a 16 mm movie projector and a 35 mm slide projector. At one point I was given an overhead projector. Wow! Those were the days when technology was safe and completely under my control as a teacher. Not so today!

Today I truly enjoy my laptop, my tablet, my smart phone, and just about any gadget I can get my hands on. I suppose I’ve become somewhat of a geek even in my seventies. I use these devices to help teachers bridge the gap between past and present in classrooms. To do that, we have to use the Internet, fully realizing that it can be a risky place. However, it is also rich in resources not only for teaching and learning but also for Christian living.

I am also a lifelong Catholic, a husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. I get concerned when I hear some parents and teachers say that they are too old to learn about these new technology tools. That’s a real problem. When we adults fail to accept today’s digital environment, we inadvertently enable teenagers to enter the high-risk online environment without adult leadership. So now let me set the stage for a multi-faceted view of technology not only as an educational and social tool, but also as a gift from God – a gift not only to teenagers but also to parents, teachers, pastors, and all who are responsible for teenagers in one way or another.

Several years ago I listened to a homily explaining how we Catholics can make this a better world. The priest’s closing remark was, “And it is not about high technology.” To this day I cannot understand the connection between that remark and the rest of the homily. Why do we often blame technology for its dark side? That’s like blaming the snow for a car accident. The snow didn’t cause the accident; the driver who failed to adjust to changing conditions did. As long as we continue to blame inanimate things for our failings, we will never see the true picture.

Technology is a gift; like most gifts, it can be used for good and it can be used for evil. When we focus primarily on its dark side, we tend to come up with an abundance of rules to control it or even to block it. Remember the days when the Catholic Church published the “List of Forbidden Books?” Did that work? The list was discontinued. Today we have the World Wide Web, YouTube, My Space, Facebook, Twitter, Moodle, and more. We have personal computers, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smart phones. All are gifts. We can choose to use them for good or for bad. We can choose to ignore them or even pretend they are not there. Let’s consider an example of such a technology.

In its early days, YouTube was a place where anyone with basic Internet skills could upload their videos for others to see. It didn’t take very long for teenagers to discover that they could find some pretty racy videos simply by entering a key word or two. Over time, YouTube became a legitimate search engine now owned by Google. Can we still find dangerous and untrue information on YouTube? Of course. Suppose your teenager tells you that the Holocaust never happened and that he knows that’s true because his friend showed him a Web site as “proof.”  This example really happened!

Parent, teacher, or pastor, how would you respond if you heard a young person claim that the Holocaust never happened because he read it on a Web site? Many adults react in a kneejerk sort of way by seeking to block certain Web sites or by criticizing today’s technologies, as seen in the example of the homily I already mentioned. Instead, we can search YouTube for lots of helpful information. We can find videos about any topic that interests us. We can watch videos about our faith, we can follow presidential elections, we can watch Vincent Price render his version of “The Raven,” and we can watch videos about Newton’s Laws of Motion. We can also find videos describing the reality of the Holocaust, why it happened, how it happened, and how we can learn from it.

Actually, this really isn’t about YouTube at all. It’s about how we adults can choose to help our teenagers make wise decisions regarding technology – computers, laptops, smart phones, tablets, and the Internet. Albert Einstein (1879 – 1955) once said, “Computers are incredibly fast, accurate, and stupid. Human beings are incredibly slow, inaccurate, and brilliant. Together they are powerful beyond imagination.” What wisdom! How, then, should we approach this gift of technology with our teenagers?

Many adults must catch up to today’s online environment. Sometimes it’s like trying to catch a seventy mile-per-hour bus by increasing our speed from thirty miles per hour to thirty-five. However, we must be prepared to teach and lead by example whether at home, at school, at church, or at work – everywhere. Every adult who has influence over teenagers must accept the challenge described by the teacher quoted at the beginning of this article. That choice on our part is already having a profound influence on the growth of our young people, whether or not we recognize it.

Teacher resource,
grades K-8;
Media Mindfulness,
grades 9-12.
 Our teenagers can choose to apply technology to reinforce human dignity or to deface it. Those choices are best made when they experience human dignity from us adults. The Catholic Church’s stance on technology affirms human dignity. To be convinced of this it’s enough to glance at the fifteen major Vatican documents on communication and its scores of related messages, plus the U.S. bishops’ documents, such as its Social Media Guidelines. In addition, go to the Daughters of Saint Paul Web site to discover an approach that highlights technology and other media in a healthy, wholesome, and Christian manner. A parent or teacher or pastor who embraces and models the positive aspects of 21st century technology in this spirit provides much needed moral leadership to our teenagers.

Fortunately, many adults are changing the way they think about the gift of technology. The good is far stronger than the bad. As we embrace this gift and model its use, we can take real strides to help our teenagers choose the good over the bad. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Parents: Take an interest in how teenagers use their technological tools. Talk to them. “What are you working on?” can lead to a wholesome and productive discussion. Insist that your teenager uses the computer in an open area like the living room, the den, or the dining room, rather than in a secluded bedroom. Make the decision to learn about the tools your young people are using. They are not as complicated as you might think. Ask some of your friends who are already computer savvy to show you what these tools are all about. Maybe your own teenager can give you a few lessons. Learn how to use email and texting. Find out about Facebook and Twitter and other social networking sites. Talk to other adults who use these tools.
2. Teachers and administrators: Insist that computer placement allows for open view of the screens rather than in study carrels with front and side panels. Teach and model critical thinking. Ask teenagers how they make their decisions about Web sites that they use as references. Do they know who the authors are? Do they understand the structure of a Web site address (URL)? Do they know how to determine the validity of a YouTube video before deciding to use it in a homework assignment? Do they understand that anyone can post information on the Web and on YouTube, even if they have little or no expertise? Are they “friending” others in Facebook without knowing who these people are?
3. Pastors: Integrate Web based technologies, human dignity, and the Gospel message. Talk to your parishioners – adults and teenagers. Support technology based workshops for the adults in your parish. Insist on the teaching and modeling of faith based use of Web based technologies in your religious education programs. How else are we to get our young people off to a good start? It’s much easier to help them learn the right habits early than try to have them catch up once they’ve developed bad habits.
Intelligent and wholesome use of Web based technology doesn’t lie in whole scale blocking of information or even denying teenagers the tools they need. Nor does it lie in ignoring Web based technologies. It rests in focusing on Christian values and in affirming human dignity. It rests with parents, teachers, administrators, and pastors, who acknowledge technology as a gift and share that gift through modeling, through healthy discussion, through leadership, and through reasonable supervision. The alternative is to believe that kids will be kids and we don’t need to be concerned. Do we really have a choice? 

Romeo Marquis can be reached at