Vie de l'église

Pope responds with ‘open heart’ to LGBTQ parents criticizing controversial Vatican document

Pope Francis has written to a group of Maltese parents of LGBTQ persons, in response to their criticism of a recent Vatican document that condemned gender theory and gender-affirming surgeries. The pontiff told the parents he received their critique with an « open heart. »

On April 30, Francis sent a brief letter to Drachma Parents — an outgrowth of a ministry seeking to provide welcome spaces for LGBTQ Catholics and other people of faith — praising what he described as their « very beautiful and good » work.

Both the pope’s letter and the original correspondence from the Drachma Parents have been reviewed by the National Catholic Reporter, and Drachma has asked that the full contents of Francis’ correspondence remain private. 

In their original April 23 letter to Francis, Drachma alleged that the Vatican text, released on April 8 and titled Dignitas Infinita, makes it more difficult for transgender Catholics and their parents to remain in the church and fails to understand the concrete realities of such families. Further, they argued that the Vatican declaration makes it more difficult for parents to accompany LGBTQ children, fails to recognize the complexity of issues around gender and sexuality and is inconsistent with the pope’s own approach of pastoral outreach.

Their three-page letter began with effusive praise of Francis, including his December 2023 decision to allow priests to bless individuals in same-sex relationships, his support for decriminalizing homosexuality and his own personal outreach to LGBTQ individuals, including inviting trans women for lunch at the Vatican.

According to Drachma Parents, the letter was hand-delivered to Francis by Fr. Andrea Conocchia, an Italian parish priest known for his work among various marginalized groups, including transgender Catholics.

But, the letter argued that there is a « grave risk » that five paragraphs in the 12,000-word Vatican document could undermine these initiatives and « once again push trans people to the periphery and so remove that small shaft of light they might have found to make them feel whole. »

Released by the Vatican’s doctrinal office, Dignitas Infinita (« Infinite Dignity ») was intended to broaden the scope of what the Catholic Church considers to be « grave violations » to human dignity, beyond only questions of sexual ethics. At the same time, among a specific list of violations to human dignity, the text includes gender-affirming surgery, gender theory and surrogate motherhood alongside issues such as war, migration, poverty and sexual abuse.

Among the criticisms raised in the letter to Francis are:

  • Concerns of possible rising homeless rates of transgender children being kicked out of their homes, often motivated by religious convictions;
  • A potential increase in hate speech, discrimination, violence and transphobia as a result of the Vatican’s document;
  • The decision to include gender theory and medical interventions for transgender people as potentially morally on par with poverty, war, human trafficking, the abuse of migrants, abortion, and clergy sexual abuse;
  • A failure to recognize that transgender persons are seeking physical and mental integrity;
  • A lack of scientific or theological studies cited within the Vatican document.

The parents’ letter goes on to call for an international symposium to be organized on the themes of sexual and gender diversity that includes LGBTQ persons and their parents, scientific researchers and theologians to « explore a more inclusive language and a better pastoral framework. »

In an April 30 NCR interview, Joseanne Peregin, a founding member of Drachma Parents, said she had originally hoped the human dignity document would be an opportunity to clarify some of the language the church has used around LGBTQ issues.

In particular, she said the church’s use of the phrase « intrinsically disordered » to describe same-sex relations « creates a ripple effect among many millions of faithful, because the LGBT reality is put in a negative framework. »

At an April 8 Vatican press conference promoting the document’s release, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, head of the Vatican’s doctrinal office, did not disown the church’s past language but said perhaps the description should be « conveyed in other words. »

Peregin said that the pope’s pastoral outreach to LGBTQ individuals over the years has been hopeful and « it had a ripple effect to show people they had a place in the church. » Now, she says she worries this new document will have the opposite effect, especially for transgender individuals and their parents.

« Suddenly, this document makes [parents] question, ‘Should I be walking with my child?’  » she said. « This document may have had good intentions but it misses an opportunity to put a bit more clarity and, like a parent, have the humility to admit that it does not know enough and may still need to learn more. »

At a time when the global church has prioritized synodality and the need to listen to the concerns of all Catholics, she specifically emphasized the need for a global forum within the church specifically on these issues.

« It could be a moment of grace if we have the humility to say, let’s bring research together, let’s try to build some hopeful vision for families, » she said.

‘This document may have had good intentions but it misses an opportunity to put a bit more clarity and, like a parent, have the humility to admit that it does not know enough and may still need to learn more.’

—Joseanne Peregin

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Peregin, who is also a founder and president of the European Network of Parents of LGBTI+ Persons, drew a comparison to when before the release of « Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, » the pope’s 2015 encyclical on the environment, the Vatican consulted with a range of scientific researchers and theologians on the question of climate change.

« We need a wide consultation with leading experts, » on these issues, she said. « It’s a chance to prove how credible you are or not. »

Peregin herself knows firsthand what type of fruits this dialogue can yield, citing her own experience with Cardinal Mario Grech — the now head of the Vatican’s synod secretariat — and his efforts to better understand the experience of LGBTQ Catholics and their families when he was bishop of Gozo, Malta.

As of now, she told NCR she is pleased with the pope’s initial response and hopes that a deepening of the discussion may continue.

« We are determined to continue in our mission to support other parents and continue building a bridge between the LGBT+ community and our Church, » the Drachma Parents’ letter concludes. « Yes, we still call it ‘our Church.’ « 

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Largest hotel worker strike yields major wins, but continues amid LA hotel holdouts

When Unite Here Local 11, the Los Angeles-based branch of the international labor union representing 300,000 U.S. and Canadian workers, announced March 25 an historic labor agreement with 35 Southern California hotels, the victory came with an asterisk attached.

The largest hotel worker strike in modern American history would indeed end at those 35 properties — with others added in the weeks that followed, for a current total of 46 settled contracts. However, employees at several other hotels in the same region — some of which are owned or operated by private equity firms — have yet to settle new contracts. They include Aimbridge properties like the Doubletree Downtown Los Angeles, the LA Grand, and the Hotel Figueroa.

Workers at downtown LA’s Hotel Figueroa have alleged physical attacks and unfair firings in their months of picketing outside the storied property — and were joined April 5 in a show of solidarity by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who advocates union expansion to strengthen the middle class.

Contracts between 61 LA and Orange County hotels and members of Unite Here originally expired the night of June 30, 2023. Since July 1, 2023, more than 10,000 workers at 52 hotels have gone on strike more than 170 times.

« The Catholic Labor Network congratulates the hotel workers of Local 11 on their hard-fought wins in their Los Angeles strike, » said CLN executive director Clayton Sinyai. « This largely immigrant workforce showed that when workers stand together in solidarity, they can win a living wage and job security, even in a high-cost area like Southern California. Now it’s time for the remaining hotels which are holding out to offer the same to their workers. »

Unite Here Local 11 represents more than 32,000 hospitality workers in Southern California and Arizona who work in hotels, restaurants, universities, convention centers, and airports.

« We have won an unprecedented agreement in every way, from wages, pension, and healthcare to job security, to fair staffing guarantees, » said Kurt Petersen, co-president of Unite Here Local 11.

The thousands of hotel workers at the hotels that ratified a new contract will see an immediate $5 hourly wage increase and $10 hourly increase over the life of the contract. Housekeepers’ pay will rise to $35 an hour in advance of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

Tourism workers in LA have demanded the city council institute an « Olympic Wage, » raising their minimum wage to $25 an hour immediately with increases of a dollar each year until the games take place. In Long Beach, California, anticipating the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics, a measure passed March 5 to increase the minimum wage for qualifying hotel workers from $17.55 per hour to $23 per hour on July 1, 2024, with annual increases to $29.50 per hour by July 2028.

Unite Here Local 11 has argued that hotel worker wages have not kept up with « soaring housing costs, » and that the hotel industry — which it said is enjoying « record post-pandemic profits » — needs to provide major wage increases « so that workers can live near where they work. »

The hotel industry, meanwhile, contends that its operating expenses are outpacing growth.

CoStar, a commercial property information and analysis platform, reported in December that U.S. hotel industry operating expenses per available room outpaced revenue growth in 2023, driven by a 12.3% increase in labor expenses. However, it noted that chain hotels absorbed 18% increased labor costs and « still managed to achieve a $10 rate premium in gross operating profit per available room in 2023 compared to the national average. »

A Jan. 9 Stateline report found that hospitality workers — part of « the nation’s lowest-paid industry » — saw pay increase 30% on average over the past four years, « reversing much of the wage inequality that has been growing for decades in the United States. »

Even so, 53% of Unite Here Local 11 workers from an earlier survey said « they either have moved in the past 5 years or will move in the near future because of soaring housing costs. »

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development considers $66,750 per year for a one-person household as the « low income » threshold in LA County. But in order to afford the average $2,781 per month, 788-square-foot LA apartment — while spending no more than the recommended 30% of income — more than $100,000 in income is required.

According to the American Hotel and Lodging Association’s « 2024 State of the Industry » report, hotels in 2023 paid 2.1 million employees $118.01 billion in wages, salaries, and other compensation — an average of $56,195 per employee.

Still, Catholic labor experts see progress.

« In 2023, hotel workers went on strike to win improvements that can make their jobs truly family-sustaining. Not all of the hotels have settled yet, and strikes are continuing, but the workers have made tremendous progress, » Joseph McCartin, executive director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, said. « The overwhelmingly immigrant hotel workers have added their voices to those of auto workers, teamsters, and others who have been making long-needed gains. »

Gerald Beyer, a professor of Christian ethics in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at Villanova University, whose research has often focused on workers’ rights, agreed.

« The union deserves credit for helping workers who labor under difficult conditions, are often undercompensated, and are treated poorly, » said Beyer. « As St. John Paul II stated (in his encyclical « Laborem Exercens »), unions are a necessary ‘mouthpiece for the struggle for social justice, for the just rights of working people in accordance with their individual professions.' »

Their progress, Beyer suggested, also reflects the requirements of Catholic social teaching.

« The treatment of many hotel workers in California apparently now more closely aligns with the Catholic tradition’s insistence on the dignity and rights of all workers — such as the rights to a just and living wage, safe working conditions, health care, adequate rest, retirement savings and the right to form unions, » Beyer noted.

The right to unionize and seek workplace equity — and to strike, if necessary — is fundamental to Catholic social teaching. Pope Leo XIII, St. John XXIII, St. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have all expounded on unionized labor topics, in both official and unofficial pronouncements.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also issued a Labor Day statement in September affirming labor unions’ « essential role » in society and called for them  » to be supported in their work that supports healthy, thriving families. »

In a report delivered Aug. 28, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said her department found unionized workers earn up to 15% more pay than nonunion workers, with a higher rate of benefits. She said the Treasury found unions « could contribute to reversing the stark increase in inequality we’ve seen in recent decades, promoting economy-wide growth, » and even increase worker productivity.

« Hotel workers have historically earned well below a living wage, endured widespread workplace health and safety risks, and were not provided with affordable healthcare plans, » Beyer said. « It appears that with the new agreements ratified by unionized hotel workers in Los Angeles, workers are now closer to attaining wages and benefits that more fully respect their dignity and rights. »


Fruit of Communion

(Fifth Sunday of Easter-Year B; This homily was given on April 27 & 28, 2024 at Saint Augustine Church in Providence, Rhode Island; See John 15:1-8) 

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Vie de l'église

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Heard it through the grapevine

Our Easter readings continually draw attention to our union with the Risen Christ and its implications. This week, we contemplate John’s rich metaphor of the vine and the branches, part of Jesus’ « last discourse » (John 14-17).

Everyone at the table with Jesus knew plenty about grapevines. For those among us who haven’t wandered the vineyard, grapes grow from branches which sprout from a principal vine (trunk).  The branches provide the nourishment for the bunches of grapes. Obviously, everything about the smaller vines depends on sustenance from the trunk. Jesus’ metaphor illustrates his desire to be the source of life and growth for those who remain in him. Something easily overlooked is that by saying his father is the vinedresser, Jesus is describing God as a humble worker — not the master of an estate — and he portrays the Father as working continually, caring for the vine and its fruit. 

To emphasize his vine image, Jesus goes on to invite the disciples, « Abide in me as I abide in you. » This describes the mutual love he and the disciples share, a love that sustains their life and creates the most intimate relationship possible among them all.

The first letter of John interprets union with Christ with the phrase, « believe in his name. » Like what we saw with Peter last week, believing in the name of Jesus is not an intellectual affair or even predominantly emotional. Those who believe in the name of Jesus assume his faith as their own. They believe in and through him, sharing his relationship with God and all of creation.  

All of that can remain theory, nice head knowledge hardly affecting our hands and feet. The Acts of the Apostles puts energy and flesh on this idea through the example of Barnabas. 

When Saul became a believer, many disciples were suspicious. Knowing how dangerous he had been, why would they not suspect that his coming to them was a hoax? They had good reason to be afraid. But somehow, Barnabas saw something different.

Might they have shared some history? Like Saul (Paul), Barnabas was not among the apostles named in the Gospels. Later, when the title « apostle » no longer symbolized a new Israel, it designated someone who had been given the mission and grace to proclaim the Gospel in deed and word. This broader understanding of apostleship included a variety of people, including at least one woman, Junia (Romans 16:7).

Luke had praised Barnabas as a member of the ideal community described in Acts 4:32-37. He explained that, although his birth name was Joseph, the community called him Barnabas, the « son of encouragement. » Skipping the kind of details we might hope for, Luke says that Barnabas, true to his name, « took charge of » Saul, vouching for him and later accompanying him on mission journeys.

Might Barnabas have introduced Paul to his sense of Christ living in him and the limitless breadth of the Body of Christ? For Barnabas, life in Christ seemed to mean that his interior motivation sprang from his union with Christ. He needed no command; he was motivated by a natural and grace-filled impulse.

Recently, Yoli, one of my Peruvian sisters talked about the neighborhood women who continue to organize the ollas comunes, outdoor makeshift kitchens where women prepare donated food for themselves and others who need it. I asked her if the women understood this as an expression of their faith. She said, « I don’t think they think of it as faith, it’s simply their response to a situation of shared need. » 

The women who cook for the neighborhood have imbibed their communal culture. They don’t need a rule or theory to tell them they should take care of their neighbors, they simply do it. As one woman said to me, « When you know what it is to be hungry, you don’t want that for anyone. » I saw the same thing last year in people addicted to drugs who dwelt around a park in Philadelphia. As we shared water and sandwiches with them, people who were alert enough made sure to ask for something for others who were uncommunicative inside their improvised tents. They felt their need.

The Sundays of Easter celebrate the resurrection and the union with God that Christ always offers — with or without our knowing it. Whether from faith in Christ or a natural impulse to love, people like Barnabas, the women, and the addicts I met are fruitful parts of Jesus’ vine. They instinctively appreciate the fact that they share life with others, and like our servant God, they want all to thrive as best they can. To do that naturally is a response to grace that we all need to develop to a greater degree.

Let’s ask Barnabas to encourage us. 

Vie de l'église

‘The Hero and the Whore’ invites us to consider the lens we bring to the Bible

Hernandez simultaneously weaves her personal experiences as a Black and Filipina woman navigating abusive evangelical and familial spaces as a model of how we can adopt new lenses through which to study sacred Scripture. Her words highlight the fact that many of us have been taught to dissect and analyze the women of the Bible in a flat acceptance of thousands of years of patriarchal rule, even though we know that many cultures and civilizations have been led and influenced by powerful women or more egalitarian leadership structures.

Although our society today condemns certain aspects of what was considered permissible in biblical times, we still normalize behaviors that protect men in power from consequences of abuse, oppression and violence perpetuated in their homes, churches and communities.

The impact of only viewing the Bible through a patriarchal lens is that stories of slavery, sexual exploitation, violence and oppression have been studied and taught from theological and academic spaces dominated by patriarchal norms and societal narratives that excuse, abuse and weaponize stigma to keep and hoard power. It’s not just that the stories of these women are unexamined from the perspective of the victims, but furthermore that the complexity and dimension have been flattened to erase and silence the sins that still traumatize society today. We minimize and silence the pain of people who do not identify as male — especially not as straight/cisgender/Caucasian male — which means missing out on the expansiveness and complexity of God.

Hernandez preaches that liberation from oppression comes through storytelling. But it is not just telling the story that brings freedom and healing, it is recognizing that every story can be told from many perspectives. Compassion and empathy beg us to consider every person from the realities of their lived experience, and to wonder how we can extend God’s mercy and grace to better understand a kingdom of liberation.

This reminds me of the practice of lectio divina. For too long the Bible has been used to perpetuate abuse, but it can — and should — be used to heal wounds, too. The Hero and the Whore is an invitation into this kind of prayer, because reading becomes praying when we allow these women to be main characters in their own stories, not just supporting actors.

My only complaint is that this book left me wishing Hernandez had written two books: one, an autobiography of her experience as a Black Filipina in Christian communities and how that impacted abuse and trauma and the process of reconciliation; the second, a theological review of the stories of women in the Bible. Hernandez has a lot more to offer by way of biblical scholarship and I was left wanting her to go deeper into each character analysis.

For now, The Hero and the Whore: Reclaiming Healing and Liberation through Stories of Sexual Exploitation in the Bible is an adequate starting point, but I hope there is more from Hernandez in our future.

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Church in Puerto Rico calls for co-responsibility in the face of dengue epidemic

In response to the public health emergency due to the dengue virus, Archbishop Roberto O. González Nieves of San Juan, Puerto Rico, called on the faithful to take action and « be instruments of everyone’s right to health. »

The archbishop made the call in a pastoral letter published April 11. Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Health declared the public health emergency March 25.

« This emergency declaration, in a singular way, concerns all of us in the Church, » González wrote, saying that the church must respond to prevent the disease.

« We want to make ourselves available as collaborators of the Department of Health, as well as the state medical community, in this very serious matter that concerns us all, because solidarity makes us mutually responsible for protecting life, » the archbishop wrote.

The letter, published in Spanish, said the faithful have a moral and pastoral duty « to be Samaritans in action, » identify vulnerable populations in their parish communities and act as guarantors to ensure preventive measures are taken.

« I ask you to welcome this letter as an urgent invitation to pastoral action, to preserve our lives and those of our neighbor, to be instruments of everyone’s right to health, and to make our parishes Christian communities where the Gospel is lived out, » he stated. He added, citing Jesus’s healing of the sick as detailed in the Gospels, that it is incumbent upon us to « help prevent, mitigate, and assist in curing this dengue illness. »

The latest weekly report from the Arbovirus Surveillance System of the Division of Epidemiology and Research at Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, updated April 18, said the number of dengue cases had risen to 795. This report also stated that from Jan. 1 to April 7, there were 478 hospitalizations, 42 severe cases and no fatalities associated with the virus.

Likewise, the report warned that the regions with the highest number of cases on the island are San Juan (383), Mayagüez (107 cases) and Bayamon (98). The age groups with the highest number of cases, according to the report, are people ages 40 to 59 (157 cases), 10 to 14 (132 cases) and 15 to 19 (123 cases).

The pastoral letter also included information about Aedes aegypti, the dengue-transmitting mosquito, as well as more details about the virus and how to prevent it, ways to identify severe dengue symptoms, and what to do in case of suspected contagion.

The prelate urged the general population to be vigilant and help those suffering from dengue. « You can assist them in various ways, such as eliminating breeding grounds, providing for their food, their medication, being their guardian angels and caregivers, and, if necessary, seeking medical services. »

The archbishop cautioned archdiocesan offices, parishes and schools not to let their guard down and to take joint action in raising awareness about the disease and reporting positive cases to health authorities. He also made available to the government the archdiocesan communication channels to disseminate official information amid this health crisis.

« The evangelical experience reminds us of the importance and responsibility of caring for our health and that of our families. The principle of solidarity calls us to be responsible for the well-being of our neighbor, » González wrote.

« Always the poorest among the poor, the most vulnerable in society, suffer the worst consequences of these epidemics,’ he continued. « Divine Mercy asks us to always keep in mind the suffering flesh of Christ present in the poor, in those who suffer, in children, also in the abandoned and sick. For them, the scourge is twice as bad. »

He concluded his letter by invoking « the maternal protection of Mary, Salus infirmorum, so that she may serve as an example to us that our place in the face of the pain of her sons and daughters is at the foot of the cross. »

Vie de l'église

Why you might have heard Paul Simon’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ at Spanish Mass

One song has stuck with Julio Cuellar Gonzales for practically his entire life. Among his first memories of church in the 1970s in Villa Serrano, a town in the Bolivian region of Chuquisaca, Cuellar remembers singing a specific version of the Our Father.

At the time, Cuellar thought it was written by a priest. He didn’t imagine that the beloved Our Father’s tune was actually written by Paul Simon for Simon & Garfunkel’s 1960s hit ”The Sound of Silence.”

The words were different from the typical Our Father prayer. “Our Father, who art in those who truly love. May the kingdom that you promised us come soon to our hearts. The love that your son left us, may that love dwell in us,” began the song that Cuellar sang in Spanish. In the middle of the song, as a zampoña, a traditional Andean pan flute, played the melody, parishioners said the traditional Our Father together with the words from Matthew 6.

From Villa Serrano, “The Sound of Silence” Our Father followed Cuellar when he moved to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the largest city in Bolivia. “This was one of the people’s favorite songs and ours too,” he said.

Years later, after working as a musician on cruise ships in Mexico and then immigrating to Virginia, he found a Spanish Mass and heard it again. “It connected me to my childhood,” he said.

Pedro Rubalcava, the director of Oregon Catholic Press’ label group, said that “The Sound of Silence” version of the Our Father has been widespread throughout Latin America and U.S. Latino communities for the last few decades. There are variations in the words and instrumentation in different communities.

For Cuellar, even when he finally learned the tune’s origin, it still felt Andean to him: “It sounds to me like the melancholy, the melody, the sweetness of the music of the Andes.”

While there’s no proof that Simon took inspiration for “The Sound of Silence” from the Andes, he later used an Andean tune in “El Condor Pasa,” a single on Simon & Garfunkel’s Grammy-winning 1970 album, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” 

While Simon recorded the vocals with permission over a recording by a French Andean band, Los Incas, believing that the melody came from a folk tune, the melody actually came from Daniel Alomía Robles’ 1913 Peruvian musical theater piece called “El Cóndor Pasa.”

Valdimar Hafstein, a professor of folkloristics/ethnology at the University of Iceland, wrote in a 2018 book, “Making Intangible Heritage: El Condor Pasa and Other Stories From UNESCO,” that, given Robles’ travel through the Amazon and Andes to collect myths and music, part of a widespread tradition of “collector-composers,” it can be hard to describe the tune as either Robles’ original or an arrangement.

When Robles’ son sued Simon because his father’s composition was registered in the U.S. copyright system, Simon settled, with the son calling it “almost a friendly case.”

“The Sound of Silence” Our Father came back into Cuellar’s life when he decided to begin recording Christian music after years of focusing on secular music. “I felt like I had a debt to the Lord for the gift of the music,” Cuellar explained. When he told the Episcopal church where he was a music minister that he planned to make a record, people kept coming up to him after Mass asking for a recording of the Our Father.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Cuellar took walks in the woods around Virginia’s Lake Braddock to connect with God and escape the fear and uncertainty, he was inspired to ask his wife to film him singing the Our Father by a stream.

“We need something that will give us strength,” Cuellar told her. After his friend with experience in video editing helped polish the video, he posted it to YouTube “as a cover” because he wasn’t the author. Among many other versions of “The Sound of Silence” Our Father, Cuellar’s now has more than 23 million views.

“I’ve made music my whole life,” Cuellar said. “I’ve never reached the number of people that I’ve been able to reach with this marvelous work from the maestro Paul Simon.”

“It’s a miracle from God. It’s a message from God what has happened with” the song, Cuellar said.

But not everybody likes the version of the Our Father. Cuellar said that, while the positive comments vastly outnumber the negative, he’s heard people call it a “diabolical song,” criticizing everything from the changed words in the Our Father to the Andean instrumentation. Other people simply say that it’s not appropriate for services.

“I’m a child of God, and the devil doesn’t arrive at my house because God is here,” Cuellar said. “I’m not an expert in Christian music, but I’m an obedient person who tries to listen to the voice of God in the silence.”

“I’ve made music my whole life,” Cuellar said. “I’ve never reached the number of people that I’ve been able to reach with this marvelous work from the maestro Paul Simon. It’s a miracle from God. »

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Rubalcava said that Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez has taught that Catholics should not sing the version for a few reasons. First, the words to the Our Father should not be changed, especially in the liturgy. Secondly, “The Sound of Silence” forms part of the soundtrack for “The Graduate,” a 1967 movie where an extramarital affair is a major storyline.

Ireri E. Chávez-Bárcenas, an assistant professor of music at Bowdoin College and a musicologist who studies sacred song in the Hispanic world, said that the debate around the Our Father with the melody of “The Sound of Silence” draws on centuries-old controversy.

Setting a liturgical or devotional text to a known secular melody has been a “common technique used by the Catholic Church since before the Middle Ages,” Chávez-Bárcenas told Religion News Service in an email, explaining that the technique is called contrafactum.

However, Chávez-Bárcenas said the technique has always been controversial, with the best known policies against it coming during the Counter-Reformation. “In Latin America, Franciscans and Jesuits always advocated for the adaptation of liturgical texts in the local languages, songs, and musical styles,” Chávez-Bárcenas wrote.

“The Sound of Silence” is just one instance of Latino Catholics’ use of pop song melodies for devotional and liturgical music, Rubalcava said, citing an offertory song called “Saber que Vendrás” that uses Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” as its tune, various liturgical adaptations of “Jesus Christ Superstar” melodies and a Marian devotional song “Mi Virgen Bella” that uses the melody of Juan Gabriel’s “Amor Eterno.”

“It’s illegal because you’re plagiarizing, and probably without permission,” said Rubalcava, saying copyright law is another issue with “The Sound of Silence” version of the Our Father.

Rubalcava said that these sacred versions of popular songs are passed from one church musician to another informally without official approval from broader church structures. After the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago was found guilty in 1984 of illegally photocopying the music of a religious composer, the U.S. Catholic bishops have been very serious about respecting copyright permissions, Rubalcava said.

“The Sound of Silence” is just one instance of Latino Catholics’ use of pop song melodies for devotional and liturgical music, Rubalcava said, citing an offertory song called “Saber que Vendrás” that uses Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” as its tune, various liturgical adaptations of “Jesus Christ Superstar” melodies and a Marian devotional song “Mi Virgen Bella” that uses the melody of Juan Gabriel’s “Amor Eterno.”

“It’s illegal because you’re plagiarizing, and probably without permission,” said Rubalcava, saying copyright law is another issue with « The Sound of Silence » version of the Our Father.

Rubalcava said that these sacred versions of popular songs are passed from one church musician to another informally without official approval from broader church structures. After the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago was found guilty in 1984 of illegally photocopying the music of a religious composer, the U.S. Catholic bishops have been very serious about respecting copyright permissions, Rubalcava said.

“The Sound of Silence” is just one instance of Latino Catholics’ use of pop song melodies for devotional and liturgical music, Rubalcava said, citing an offertory song called “Saber que Vendrás” that uses Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” as its tune, various liturgical adaptations of “Jesus Christ Superstar” melodies and a Marian devotional song “Mi Virgen Bella” that uses the melody of Juan Gabriel’s “Amor Eterno.”

“It’s illegal because you’re plagiarizing, and probably without permission,” said Rubalcava, saying copyright law is another issue with “The Sound of Silence” version of the Our Father.

Rubalcava said that these sacred versions of popular songs are passed from one church musician to another informally without official approval from broader church structures. After the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago was found guilty in 1984 of illegally photocopying the music of a religious composer, the U.S. Catholic bishops have been very serious about respecting copyright permissions, Rubalcava said.

Vie de l'église

How clean water and faith go hand in hand

Earth Day is no longer the one day a year we dedicate to thinking about the health of our planet. The urgency of climate change has made concern about the environment a daily consideration. But when thinking of the health of the Earth, we must remember that all our health depends on the health of our water.

Water is also of deep concern to our world’s faiths, as it is the only symbol every world religion shares. Water cleanses, sanctifies and blesses rituals around the world. But it is more than a symbol: clean water is a conduit of care and love.

So many problems in health care can be traced to unsafe water, a leading preventable cause of early childhood malnutrition, cognitive stunting and death. For women and girls in the most marginalized parts of the world, it’s a lifelong issue. A girl will often drop out of school when she hits puberty because she has no sanitation facilities to meet her needs. In many cultures it is the job of women to wake each day before dawn to collect water, knowing that it may bring illness to their families.

Most crucially, lack of access to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene — WASH — is a fundamental problem in tens of thousands of health clinics and hospitals all around the world.

In the most remote places, pregnant women often come in from the countryside as they near labor to give birth at health care centers that have no clean water and often must bring their own. They give birth on unsanitary tables and can’t effectively wash their hands and bodies before cradling and nursing their newborns. Predictably, infections are a leading cause of preventable death for mothers and newborns across low-resourced countries.

These conditions also impact nurses, midwives and cleaners, making it all the more difficult for them to treat women with kindness and dignity when they themselves are working in such undignified and dangerous circumstances.

Faith workers have a particular role to play in making WASH more available to more people. The Catholic Church, the largest unified provider of essential health care in the world, offers a compelling model.

In Nigeria, Daughters of Charity, a nearly 400-year-old order of Catholic sisters, distribute “clean birth kits” to women in their third trimester of pregnancy, along with basic pregnancy care. The kits contain items to help with a hygienic birth — plastic sheeting, gloves, gauze, alcohol swabs, soap, a razor blade, as well as a baby blanket and cap to keep the newborn warm.

In a country with the second highest maternal and newborn death rates in the world, and where preventable infection is the second leading cause of death, Daughters of Charity has raised the maternal and newborn survival rate to almost 100%.

But no kit can contain ample clean water, the dignity of a toilet or a way to cleanse one’s body after giving birth. Focusing on that need, the Vatican’s Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development reached out to bishops in 2021 to seek interest in a pilot project to improve water and sanitation conditions. One hundred and fifty health care facilities in 23 countries were selected and have received technical assistance from Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis, Daughters of Charity and Camillian Sisters. So far all 150 facilities have undergone assessments to identify WASH problems that can be reversed with little or no funding.

Though these projects cost as little as $1,800, other necessary steps can require up to $250,000. Nearly $2.6 million in private donations have been raised so far, spread across half of the health care facilities, but more funds are needed. But what’s needed most is success: With improved health outcomes, better working conditions and ongoing advocacy, donors and Catholic health care systems will be encouraged to broaden this global commitment and inspire other faith-based health efforts to pursue WASH improvements.

And success is possible. At World Water Day in March 2010, 65% of the world’s population had access to safe and sustainable drinking water. Today it’s 75%. New global agreements, such as a recent United Nations Resolution to get WASH and electricity into every health care facility, was recently signed by every member state. That’s a powerful commitment every one of our faith-based global health organizations can utilize to ramp up focus, partnerships and sustainable progress.

The spread of disease and poor health, as well as poverty and food insecurity, is inevitable without clean water. More faith voices are needed, near and far, for us to create pressure on public and private decision-makers to prioritize and budget for WASH. We can make our water measure up to the symbol of life it is meant to be. 

Vie de l'église

Archbishop Wenski: Deportations to Haiti ‘unconscionable’ amid violence, instability

A U.S. archbishop has denounced the Biden administration’s decision to resume deportations of Haitian migrants, given the rampant violence and instability in Haiti.

« These deportations are unconscionable given the realities on the ground, » said Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami in a statement to OSV News April 22.

On April 19, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it had « continued to facilitate removal flights of single adults (and) family units » between April 15-19, with Haiti among the destinations listed.

Some 50 Haitian nationals were repatriated on an April 18 flight, the first such U.S. deportation to Haiti since January.

Wenski — who is fluent in Haitian Creole, and whose archdiocese is home to an extensive and historic Haitian expatriate community — said that the U.S. government’s move equates to « sending people back into a burning house, » since Haiti has been ravaged by « increasing gang violence and (a) growing humanitarian and health crisis, with no real functioning government. »

The nation’s systemic kidnappings, rapes, killings and widespread civil unrest led the U.S. Embassy in March to urge its citizens to leave Haiti as soon as possible.

Conditions in Port-au-Prince have continued to rapidly worsen, with gang attacks taking place throughout the city and the port itself — upon which the island nation is crucially dependent for supplies — strangled by gang feuds, leading the International Organization for Migration’s chief in Haiti, Philippe Branchat, to call Port-au-Prince « a city under siege. »

For years, Haiti has been plagued by multiple, sustained crises such as political instability, natural disasters, foreign intervention and international debt.

In July 2021, Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated; in April 2023, the head of the United Nations office in Haiti warned the nation was sliding into « a catastrophic spiral of violence. »

The Biden administration’s deportation of Haitians is « inconsistent with our international treaties regarding ‘non-refoulement’ of asylum seekers, » Wenski told OSV News.

Under international human rights law — such as the United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol — the fundamental principle of non-refoulement provides that refugees cannot be expelled to territories where substantial threats to life or freedom exist.

« President (Joe) Biden has deported more than 28,000 Haitians to Haiti in the last three years, » said Wenski.

Among those deported was « a convicted drug dealer and one-time insurgent who is now seeking to take power in Haiti’s very complicated political system, » the archbishop added.

He noted that in the past year some 100,000 Haitians have been granted two-year humanitarian parole by the U.S. The program — also available to Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans — provides work authorization for vetted individuals who have an approved U.S.-based financial sponsor, such as a relative, and can pay for their travel to a U.S. airport.

Yet « at the same time, hundreds of Haitians have crossed the Mexico-Texas border, » said Wenski. « Because of the temporary nature of the parole and the numbers crossing the border, Haitians are very apprehensive. »

He said that « what is needed is the renewal and extension of TPS (Temporary Protective Status) for all Haitians in the U.S. without a permanent legal status. »

Under that program, the secretary for Homeland Security can designate a given country for TPS due to temporary conditions — such as armed conflict or environmental disaster — that prevent the safe return of its nationals. Individuals recognized as TPS nationals are not removable from the U.S., for a set period of time, during which they can obtain employment and possible travel authorization.

Wenski said the Haitian community in the Archdiocese of Miami « feels increasingly apprehensive.

« The political solution championed by the U.S. (a commission made up of political parties that would appoint an acting president and prime minister and welcome foreign policemen from Kenya) does not inspire much confidence, » he said. « Haitians fear that things will get worse before they get better. »

Vie de l'église

Ave Maria professor: Earth Day needs Catholics’ full engagement and hopeful vision

Catholic university professor Samuel Shephard suggests that Catholics can bring a unique viewpoint to Earth Day, celebrated April 22, because « as Catholics, we can understand we’re doing that as stewards of creation. »

« When we get involved in Earth Day, we can do the same kind of things that everyone else is doing — they’re talking about, this year, reducing use of plastics; how we think about ethical clothes purchasing; that sort of thing, » Shephard, who teaches biology at Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, Florida, told OSV News. But « when we become stewards of creation, we participate in his loving plan for salvation. So we do the same sort of practical things — but we do it in a kind of transcendent context. »

Earth Day, now a day when the world calls for environmental change and the protection of the planet, was originally envisioned as a college campus teach-in by its founder, Sen. Gaylord Nelson, D-Wis.

At the time of the inaugural Earth Day, celebrated on April 22, 1970, U.S. skylines were thick with smog, gasoline contained dangerous levels of lead, and two-thirds of the country’s lakes, rivers, and coastal waters were declared unsafe for either fishing or swimming. About 20 million Americans expressed the need to do something about it on that first Earth Day.

Within the same year, the Environmental Protection Agency was established by a Republican president, Richard M. Nixon, who earlier declared, « Clean air, clean water, open spaces — these should once again be the birthright of every American. »

While 72% of U.S. Catholics recently surveyed by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate believe « environmental justice is a legitimate issue that needs urgent attention, » only one-third are apparently aware of Pope Francis’ landmark 2015 environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’.

Pew Research Center also reports 41% of regular Mass attendees in 2022 said there is no discussion about climate change in their parish.

Whether the reason is discomfort with the perceived political activism of the environmental movement, or concerns about possible over-divinization of nature, those numbers indicate something of a disconnect between the Catholic Church’s long-standing « care for creation » teaching and the practical ecological activity of American Catholics.

For Shephard at Ave Maria, it’s time that changed. A contribution to this change is a robust, hands-on, university-level course of instruction designed to equip students with the tools they need to be effective everyday environmental stewards.

« The new minor in Agriculture and Catholic Environmental Stewardship (ACES) will draw from both existing curriculum and include two new focused classes that will explore technical, theoretical and highly practical aspects of sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship, » Ave Maria announced in a news release April 9.

Ave Maria University was established in 2003 as a Catholic university and today boasts 1,270 students, who can choose from about 66 majors and minors, and have access to seven daily Masses and 33 faith-based clubs on campus.

Shephard explained what the new ACES minor will include, in addition to ecology, biology and environmental science.

« There’s going to be a class in theology, dealing with Laudato Si’ and all these aspects of what it is to be human and care for nature, » he said. « There’s going to be a class on small business, because I want people to be able to start small enterprises, perhaps growing sustainable food or making ethical clothing. »

« But, » he added, « what I’m really excited about is that, within that context, we’re actually starting a farm here in Ave Maria. We’ve got 55 acres — and it’s going to be partly a community endeavor, and partly a university process. »

Ten acres of the plot will be a « permaculture » organic farm with vegetables and eventually animals. Permaculture refers to the concept of utilizing land, resources, people and the environment in a way that doesn’t produce any waste.

« It’s going to (be) as absolutely natural and holistic and sustainable as we can manage, » said Shephard. « And so the students in the minor will be able to spend quite a lot of time outside, literally digging and growing vegetables and keeping hens, and then maybe selling their produce in the local farmer’s market. I really hope it’s going to be very hands-on, » he shared. « People so far have got quite inspired — and I think that’s what’s attracting them. »

Shephard’s own environmental journey took him from his birthplace on a small island in the northwest of Scotland to the west coast of Ireland’s commercial fishing industry, where he fished for a time with his wife’s family.

Shephard became keenly aware of environmental issues during this time, which motivated him to earn both a graduate degree and a doctorate in fisheries management. The last two decades of his career have been spent working around the world on sustainability issues.

« As a secular environmentalist, I always felt a bit despairing; everything seemed like it was already lost, » Shephard recalled. « But then when I became a Catholic » — he was 23 — « I really felt a lot more hope, and a lot more optimism and inspiration. »

Shephard proposes a sort of « theology of ecology, » emphasizing Catholicism’s rich care for creation tradition.

« The Catholic Church has a really distinct and very beautiful understanding of care for nature, » he said. « I think secular environmentalism just says we’re kind of part of nature; looking after nature — mainly for utilitarian reasons. The church says that we’re, yes, part of nature — but we’re also set apart by intellect and will, and by the fact that we’re made in the image and likeness of God. So that kind of places us right in the middle, but also gives us a unique, transcendent role. »

« Which is quite a terrifying responsibility, isn’t it, in a way? » he reflected. « We can’t just drop that, » Shephard cautioned.

« But I love this idea of creation; I love this idea of being part of God’s plan. It kind of picks us up into something much bigger than ourselves — and points all of the things we do towards a kind of ultimate end point, » he added.

« So we’re not just doing this because we’re flying through space with a set of resources that we have to conserve for the future, but we’re actually headed towards an ultimate destination in heaven; the fulfillment of God’s plan for the human person, » Shephard emphasized. « It’s about as non-trivial as it could get. »

Shephard stressed that Catholic engagement with their role as stewards of creation brings extended value to Earth Day and beyond. He expanded on two foundational ideas.

One is to look to Catholics within the church who aren’t that interested in environmental issues, and say, « We can’t — for reasons of our political alignment, or any other thing — pretend that we don’t have a responsibility here, or/and pretend that this doesn’t matter, » he explained.

« This is absolutely part of what it is to be a Catholic — to take care of the poor; to take care of creation. It’s a matter of justice — of giving due to God, and to our neighbor, » he said.

The other, Shephard said, « is to look to the world and say, our (Catholic) understanding of what nature is, and what the human person is, is actually really powerful — and it can really help as perhaps a uniquely valuable mode of understanding environmental problems and responding to them in a really humanitarian, person-focused, and loving way. »

Francis’ environmental focus — but also that of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI — has, in Shephard’s view, elevated the global environmental conversation.

« I think we have something incredible to offer, » he said. « But it has, until Laudato Si’, gone a little bit unnoticed. »

Reflecting on his pre-Catholic ecological awareness, Shephard is quick to praise the secular environmentalists he met — « They’re really smart, and really motivated, » he said — but his Catholic faith in Jesus Christ now urges him to share his expanded perspective.

« I want to say, ‘Well look — I think what you’re doing is great,' » said Shephard. « ‘But perhaps it can be even better if you understand that what you’re doing is God’s work.' »