2/27/2013 4:38:58 PM
As Pope Benedict steps down, speculation stirs that the next pontiff could be a man of color or from outside Europe.
While many qualifications trump nationality when it comes picking the leader of 1.1 billion Catholics, an end to the European dominance of the Holy See is still an enticing suggestion. On his Sirius XM radio show last week, Cardinal Timothy Dolan mused that it was “highly possible” there might be a pope from the Americas or Asia or Africa. The former cardinal of Washington told the National Catholic Reporter that he thought the church was ready for a pope outside the West. The Pew Research Center found that most American Catholics (60 percent) think it would be good for the next pope to come from the developing world, hailing from South America, Africa, or Asia.
For some, a pope from the Global South would offer a new perspective, energizing a church faced with the challenges of the modern world. The move could signal an overcoming of past injustice, a herald that all parts of the church hold equal weight within the body. “I think it would send the message to the global church that they recognize the present and future of the church, and that they want to give voice and authority to what’s increasingly becoming the majority,” says Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, a professor of religion at the University of Miami who specializes in theologies of the Americas. “It says you are really a part of the authentic church, not just the colonized church.”
Like many global religious bodies, the Catholic Church now sees its most fertile reach outside historical power centers in Europe. Vibrant religious growth in the Global South means the largest share of Catholics now live in Latin America and the Caribbean, with the fastest church growth happening in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, as recorded in a new Pew study. Just 24 percent of Catholics reside in Europe, a marked decline from a century ago, when the continent was home to 65 percent of the world’s Catholics. Today Brazil boasts the largest number of Catholics—more than 126 million—with Mexico, the Philippines, and the United States following in the rankings. Even in the United States, the face of the church has changed: just 20 years ago, white Catholics outnumbered Hispanic Catholics in the U.S. 5-to-1; now that gap is just 2-to-1, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
The church’s shifting demographics are, in some ways, the remains of colonialism, the product of churches following empires and globalization, bringing the Christian faith with them. Yet such subjugation has a way of being thwarted; religious doctrines are not delivered by rote, but rather evolve and transform, creating new forms of religiosity. Out of this problematic legacy some of the most dynamic theologies have emerged—making another argument for a theological leader from the church’s more recent provinces.
I cannot help but think of Latin American liberation theology, which emerged out of this ethos in the late 1960s, a seeming fulfillment of Vatican II’s call to update and “throw open the windows of the Church” to meet modernity. After Latin American bishops met in Medellín, Colombia, in 1968, the Rev. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a Peruvian priest considered to be the movement’s founder, later wrote, “Liberation theology is closely bound up with this new presence of those who in the past were always absent from our history. They have gradually been turning into active agents of their own destiny … changing the condition of the poor and oppressed.”
Liberation theology grappled with social justice, poverty, and the gap between rich and poor—not the spiritually poor, but the materially poor so often found in the Global South. It was a daring edge of theology, beginning on the margins for those on the margins, one that talked back to power and hierarchy. Arising alongside feminist theology and black liberation theology, this Latin American school multiplied, conversing with theologies and postcolonial thought around the globe. Today we speak of liberation theologies in the plural, with words from womanist and mujerista thinkers, from the theology of the minjung in South Korea and the Dalit in India, and from a growing cadre of perspectives.
Despite its influence, liberation theology has struggled as a movement. Its Marxist communitarianism looked a lot like communism, an anathema to the Polish-born Pope John Paul II who worked to fell the Iron Curtain. His contemporary and successor Joseph Ratzinger criticized elements of the movement and censured well-known liberation theologians in his role as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). Even Gutiérrez, when asked about the movement’s reputed decline in a 2003 interview with America magazine, acknowledged that “liberation theology is linked to a particular historical moment.” “Any new insight within a particular field of knowledge initially receives a lot of attention, but then it slowly gets incorporated or assimilated into the normal ways of doing things,” he said.
Its assimilation could be taken as a sign of success. The “preferential option for the poor”—language from Latin American liberation theology—is now a repeated refrain of Catholic social teaching. The newest head of the CDF, German Archbishop Gerhard Müller, is said to be sympathetic to liberation theology and even co-authored a book with Gutiérrez. Benedict, like many Catholic theologians, has been a staunch defender of the poor and a loud critic of economic oppression in his teachings and encyclicals.
The Global South could be considered an important source of innovative theologies and the place where the Catholic Church is most alive. But would a pope from the region be able to bring that vitality to Vatican City? “Representation by a member of the Global South in the papal office need not necessarily mean a true representation of the concerns of the Global South,” says Susan Abraham, a postcolonial theologian at Harvard Divinity School. As she explains, “The cardinals have been appointed to toe a particular stance in regards to the Vatican.” Regardless of nation of origin, the next pope will have been made a cardinal by John Paul II or Benedict XVI. He will be one of their guys. He will not be so much a dramatic change as a continuation of their leadership.
The next pope’s election is also still a political process, and the odds heavily favor a European papabile. While there are contenders for the papacy from the likes of Brazil, the Philippines and Ghana, journalists like CNN’s Eric Marrapodi and Dan Merica, along with Religion News Service’s David Gibson, have demonstrated why some of these candidacies are longshots. Often that reasoning results from sheer numbers: Of the likely 115 cardinals who will choose the next pope, 61 come from Europe, 28 from Italy alone.
In 2005, during his first general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the new bishop of Rome explained why he had chosen the name Pope Benedict XVI. It referenced Pope Benedict XV who led the church during World War I, as well as St. Benedict who helped spread Christianity across Europe. “St Benedict is therefore deeply venerated, also in Germany and particularly in Bavaria, my birthplace,” he said. “He is a fundamental reference point for European unity and a powerful reminder of the indispensable Christian roots of his culture and civilization.” A son of Europe, Benedict felt called to rebuild the declining church in Europe. Perhaps the next pope will feel the same. Or perhaps he will be called to champion the church elsewhere, maybe even in his own place of origin in the Global South. Only time and the College of Cardinals will tell. Until then, we wait.
Tiffany Stanley is managing editor of
Religion & Politics
, where this article first appeared.
Image courtesy Sergey Gabdurakhmanov, licensed under Creative Commons.
11/10/2011 11:05:49 AM
How long does it take to change how the world thinks about human history? French priest Father Patrick Desbois has been trying to broaden our collective understanding of the Holocaust for the past eight years—and despite diligent work, constant advocacy, and a spiritual impetus, the light at the end of the tunnel remains dim.
Recently profiled in Jewish lifestyle and culture magazine Moment, Desbois contends that people generally simplify the Holocaust as “trains taking people to death camps.” He gives a number of reasons why, including the iron-fisted Soviet control of Eastern Europe, complicit actions of non-Jewish Europeans, and that Western Jews were more likely survive and tell their story. Although a brutal element of the Nazi war effort in Central and Western Europe, ghettos and gas chambers weren’t nearly as common on the Eastern front. In the bread basket of Europe, guns were the executioner’s weapon of choice, and “the rule became one Jew, one bullet.”
Much of Desbois’ work in the past decade has been to find the sites of mass graves—no easy task. Traveling across the Ukranian and Polish countryside, he and a team of researchers have found and interviewed nearly 2,000 witnesses of Nazi atrocity. Many describe how, fearing for their own skin, non-Jews helped exterminate large numbers of their countrymen. Some participated in the Berlin-ordered “Sonderaktion 1005,” a tactic to destroy evidence of the mass shootings in case Western nations heard of the genocide. Some would “exhume and burn the bodies buried in mass graves,” others would help pile up corpses to conserve space. (33,771 people, for example, were killed during one massacre at the Babi Yar ravine near Kiev.) Desbois’ investigation is also running against the clock—the clock of decay. Many of the executed (the ones that weren’t exhumed) have been buried for more than 60 years.
In addition to correcting history and ensuring victims are properly buried, Father Desbois sees broader implications in his work. “I have the conviction that we cannot build a modern Europe, and perhaps a modern world,” he told Moment, “above thousands of mass graves of Jews, who have been killed like animals, buried like animals. We cannot build democracies above mass graves. Otherwise, what can we say to Rwanda, to Darfur, Cambodia? What can we say to other countries if we don’t bury the victims?”
I’ve glossed over or completely left out many fascinating facets of Desbois’ life and work—including his family’s history with the Holocaust and his run-ins with Holocaust deniers. All in all, an excellent profile of an individual wearing out the soles his shoes for social and historical justice.
, licensed under
9/21/2011 2:08:10 PM
This article originally appeared on EcoSalon.
This year, to mark International Peace Day on September 21st, an innovative project will be distributing 10,000 pairs of crutches in a single day from various locations across the West African country. The event is being called Operation Rise.
Founder Lisa Schultz, who runs an online creative community called TheWhole9.com, was so moved by photos of Sierra Leone’s amputee soccer team she founded The Peace Project, which started as an international art competition about peace. When Lisa arrived in Sierra Leone to create “The Peace Wall,” she noticed many people in need of crutches.
“I was heartbroken to see so many men, women and children that were either crawling around on the ground or almost unable to move because they didn’t have crutches or because what they were using was so makeshift or broken down,” Schultz says.
She decided that something should be done and Operation Rise was born.
“I realized the incredible energetic shift and social and psychological impact getting 10,000 people on their feet on one day would have on the morale of the country. And I knew that to engage people worldwide in caring about a problem caused by a war that ended 10 years ago, we had to do something big that would engage their imagination,” Schultz adds.
She and her team went on to raise roughly $250,000 for Operation Rise from crowd funding, fundraising events, private donors, corporate donors and family foundations.
Sierra Leone’s civil war ended a decade ago and since then the country has been fairly peaceful. It remains, however, very near the bottom of the United Nations’ human development index. Providing decent, accessible and affordable healthcare is one of many challenges for the government. Reliable statistics are difficult to come by, but there are many thousands of people in Sierra Leone crippled by either war wounds or polio.
After meeting the country’s director of UNICEF on a plane, Schultz realized she needed further help from the organization to clear crutches and other mobility aids through customs and Sierra Leone’s Community Association for Psychosocial Services, a group that works with victims of the civil war.
“I know that being able to take care of oneself and one’s family is the first step to sustainable peace and that personal mobility is the first step in that,” she says.
To ensure the project is sustainable Lisa is putting in place repair facilities throughout Sierra Leone to provide a low cost way to manufacture crutch tips prolonging the lives of the crutches and the freedom and accessibility they provide for their owners.
Images: Lisa Schultz images by Stephen D. Lawrence, amputee soccer images by Pep Bonet/NOOR
7/26/2011 12:39:56 PM
How should a civil society manage its juvenile delinquents, those that “grew up on the streets and have only known a life of crime, slums, and jail”? Imprisonment and other costly government-funded programs are the most commonly used options. But Shimon Shocken, an IT professor from Ra’anana, Israel, sees a different path to delinquent recovery—a dusty, rocky, uphill trail best traversed on the saddle of a mountain bike.
DavidBoernerprofiled Shocken’s program, which pulls 10 youths out of their detention facility every week to participate in some physically demanding mountain biking, Israel’s new national pastime. Widespread Israeli interest in mountain biking helped Shocken raise the initial capital for the program, according to Boerner, as well as the $15,000-per-year operating costs. Most of the donations come from family foundations, individuals, and private businesses. The generous support is almost counterintuitive.
“One might think juvenile delinquents like these should be punished, rather than allowed to go on [a] mountain bike ride each Tuesday,” writes Boerner. But Shocken contends that his program has a much lower-than-average rate of recidivism than other programs for juvenile delinquents. As Shocken told Dirtrag:
In the last four years 50 kids have gone through the program and been released. Only five of them went back to jail, which is extremely good. Normally, 50 percent will end up back in jail within a year.
Source: Dirt Rag (print only)
Image by Teosaurio, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/12/2011 1:10:48 PM
A yak prances across the stage, tossing its horns playfully, led by a wide-eyed boy with a dranyen guitar slung across his back. Together they’re journeying to Lhasa, the “place of the gods,” one of the epicenters of Tibetan spiritual life. The boy—named Tenzin—has recently left the familial comforts of village life to focus his mind at a monastery. He’s quite afraid, yet courageous.
Tenzin’s coming-of-age story is the subject of “KIPO!: A Circus of Spirit, Song, and Dance from Tibet, the Land of Snow,” a richly cultural production playing in Minneapolis, Minn., in coordination with the recent visit of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. The ongoing performance is a collaboration between the Minneapolis-based TigerLion Arts troupe and the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts, an organization founded by the current Dalai Lama to “preserve the rich cultural heritage of Tibet.” Education is a primary mission of both organizations, and during KIPO! the audience gets a primer on the diversity of Tibetan culture and spirituality.
As Tenzin travels through the countryside, he encounters every stripe of Tibetan society: He helps plant crops with barley farmers, follows a band of highland wanderers, and prostrates himself beside an elder monk. All of these interactions are colored by traditional songs and dances, many taught to him by the strangers he meets on his path. Tenzin stomps along to the Drum Dance Festival of central Tibet, lends his voice to the poly-harmonic ballad at a marriage celebration, and looks on with awe at the uncannily spiritual Black Hat Dance. After crossing the Himalayan mountain range with some 80,000 other Tibetans in 1959 after the Chinese army’s invasion, Tenzin sadly watches the Skeleton Dance, a burial ritual meant to help shuttle the souls of the dead into the next life.
Tibet’s loaded wardrobe is also on display throughout Tenzin’s quest. The short pants, embroidered boots, and fur-lined tunics meant for day-to-day wear share the stage with women’s tasseled, vibrant aprons and elaborate, ceremonial headgear.
KIPO! (which means “happy”) ends on an uplifting note. After trudging through snowy mountain passes and losing family members to the invading army, Tenzin and his fellow Tibetans find a new home in Dharamsala, India. Here he puts his guitar-plucking skills and freshly learned dance moves to good use by joining the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (for a straightforward production, it gets a little meta at the end). He spends the rest of his days teaching others about his culture that was almost lost. If you’re in the Minneapolis area through Saturday, May 22, it would be worthwhile to hear his tale.
Images courtesy of TigerLion Arts.
5/9/2011 9:23:20 AM
A week after the country celebrated the death of Osama bin Laden, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and his followers quietly occupied a hockey arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to meditate on the power and possibilities of peace. It was a welcome break from the saber rattling, and a reminder that truly inspiring, lasting leadership requires love and compassion.
To begin the day’s festivities, which included two speeches and a private luncheon at the University of Minnesota, the Dalai Lama delivered a 90-minute tutorial on the central tenants of Tibetan Buddhism. Sitting on a makeshift throne and surrounded by some two dozen monks, he and his longtime interpreter, Geshe Thupten Jinpa, covered a lot of philosophical ground—in particular, an in-depth discussion of the Four Noble Truths.
The central message, however, was as simple as it is elusive: Only when we transcend the concept of self can we begin to eliminate the ignorance that breeds our suffering. “The notion of ‘I am’ is the source of all problems,” His Holiness said. “It is the source of all other false views and perceptions.”
Consciousness has no beginning or end, the audience learned, since it evolves over an individual’s past lives. Proof that there is no such thing as a static, personally defined “self.” Only when a person recognizes this truth can he or she become truly compassionate toward the suffering of fellow beings. “Pain brings anger. Pleasure brings attachment,” said the 75-year-old teacher, draped in red and yellow robes. “A serious practitioner [of the Buddhist faith] meditates on impermanence—from that evolves mindfulness . . . Once you develop some awareness about overcoming adversity, then you can see that same potential in others.”
Throughout the morning, His Holiness frequently broke into his unmistakably mischievous laugh, particularly infectious because he is usually laughing at himself. His heartiest chuckle came after he leaned into his microphone to tell the crowd, eyebrows raised for dramatic effect, that in “one of my many, many, many previous lives I was the President of Egypt.”
It had been 10 years to the day since the Dalai Lama visited Minnesota, which has the second-largest Tibetan population in the United States. On Saturday, His Holiness, who is preparing to turn over his political power while remaining Tibet’s central spiritual leader, sat for a 30-minute press conference, an unusual gesture. Asked specifically about the death of Osama bin Laden, he allowed that the act might appear understandable given the circumstance, but then reiterated his absolute belief that “violence is wrong” and leads to “unexpected consequences.”
Later that afternoon, the Dalai Lama held a private meeting with nearly 200 Chinese students from the Twin Cities area. The dialogue, during which His Holiness argued that China needs to ease up on censorship and asked all in attendance to open their minds to new possibilities, was reportedly respectful and ran 45 minutes longer than the allotted hour that was scheduled.
The crowd that gathered for the first event Sunday, which attracted a more concentrated number of Buddhists, was smaller than the near sell-out crowd in the afternoon. And it’s a good guess, given the Twin Cities progressive roots, there were a few Westerners in attendance whose knowledge of Buddhism begin and end with yoga and meditation. For those casual viewers, His Holiness had a parting word of advice: “You can only eliminate suffering through your own practice . . . but eliminating stress, anxiety, and suffering is not for the self, but to serve others.”
4/28/2011 1:21:25 PM
Using statistics collected by the Pew Foundation, Good and Column Five have plotted the shifting sentiments of Americans toward Islam—specifically, what proportion of our population regards Muslims as inherently violent. For anyone who watches this topic, the stats probably aren’t shocking. What’s most interesting, though, is how drastically people’s beliefs and assumptions about other groups can change in light of foreign affairs and a few short years. In 2003, for example, 25 percent of Americans felt that Islam “is more likely to encourage violence,” but by the summer of 2007, the percentage has increased to 45 percent. After a few years of decline, the number of American fretting of Muslim violence has increased again to 40 percent.
Image by david_shankbone, licensed under Creative Commons.
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