As a lay missionary in western Honduras, I’m grateful for “Still ‘Presente’?” by David Golemboski (1/21), especially for the emphasis on economic issues in Central America. The economic issues are harder for U.S. Catholics to deal with, especially the social and political aspects that involve U.S. trade policy and the actions of major corporations.
I am involved in two “sister parish” relationships. People do seek relationships and the sharing of faith; but without some careful analysis, this can become another way for U.S. Catholics to be “good neighbors,” emphasizing the personal but not really facing the fact that the neighborhood needs to be changed and that U.S. policy has negative effects on the neighborhood.
Many of the base communities in Central America are not those of the 1970s and 1980s, which incorporated a strong social analysis. The hierarchy is generally much less inclined to speak out forthrightly on the issues. There are exceptions, of course, including several Guatemalan bishops.
In the long-term, more needs to be discussed, researched and done. It won’t be like the solidarity of the 1980s, nor should it be. But I do believe that a liberation approach, one that recognizes and encourages the participation of the poor in the church and the nations, is critical for real change to happen.
Santa Rosa de Copán, Honduras
I heartily concur with the sentiments of your editorial “Conflict of Interest” (1/7), which scrutinizes the machinations of the Corrections Corporation of America.
Anyone seeking to re-enforce such suspicions of for-profit prisons should read Michelle Alexander’s powerful book, The New Jim Crow. In it Ms. Alexander, a civil rights attorney, demonstrates how mass incarceration has been propelled by the so-called war on drugs. Spawned under the watch of Ronald Reagan, the war on drugs fostered discriminatory procedures and laws that disproportionately penalize African Americans.
At the same time, it is no accident that many benefit from the war on drugs. Police agencies are rewarded in proportion to the number of drug-related arrests. Furthermore, private investors have now found that constructing new prisons can be quite lucrative—and, sadly, they benefit most when the prisons are full.
It is ironic that programs in crime prevention and rehabilitation are deemed entitlements, while astronomically expensive and highly unwarranted mass incarceration is deemed to be in the public interest.
East Northport, N.Y.
Redemption Is Possible
“That Man is Me,” by the Rev. Charles Klamut (1/7), reminds me of Christ’s injunction: “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). Only the grace of God acting through Monseigneur Bienvenu, the bishop of Digne, could have reached a man as embittered, as numb, as fatalistic as Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
God’s grace is not the cold predestination of Calvinism, but an offer of freedom from the powers of this world. Without this grace, many of us would be powerless and inexorably condemned by a seemingly arbitrary and often merciless fate.
I pity poor Javert’s inflexible adherence to the laws of man. The law is made by men. We all have to respect it, but we must not allow it to become a good unto itself. There is a higher law. Javert was imprisoned in a purely human and technical concept of justice. Pure justice, untempered by mercy, can be a terrible thing. For Javert, it all ends in despair, in the Seine.
The French Revolution was a horrible historical episode that turned into an example of human will run amok. The story of Valjean, however, is real to us. It is the redemption of someone beyond redemption—the story of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary.
My experience was like that of Father Charles Klamut, described in “That Man Is Me.” In 1946, as a sophomore in a Catholic high school, I read Les Misérables. The story of Monseigneur Bienvenu left an indelible impression on me about how a sincere follower of Jesus ought to live—an important influence in my life, although I chose the route of marriage and an engineering career.
The book was recommended by my mother, who, despite having to quit school after eighth grade, was exceptionally well educated. Since the book was still on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (it was finally removed in 1959), my book report raised some eyebrows among my teachers, Sisters of St. Joseph, but it was still accepted.
Could Victor Hugo ever have imagined that 150 years later his work would still be an inspiration, and to such a huge audience?
A Special Gift
Thank you, Marlana Portolano, for your article “Sign of God” (1/7) about Joseph Bruce, S.J., a deaf priest who ministers to a deaf congregation in Maryland. The Milwaukee Archdiocese recently ordained and assigned the Rev. Christopher Klusman to St. Roman Parish and to the deaf ministry at St. Matthias Parish. My parents, who are deaf and Catholic, are absolutely thrilled. We had the privilege of being at his first Christmas Mass, where he signed with great fervor and the parishioners responded in kind.
For my parents and other deaf, a deaf priest is a special gift. After 80 years, my folks are finally having confession, Bible classes and the Eucharist in their own language by one of their own. The response to Father Chris has been overwhelmingly positive from the deaf and hearing members. Indeed, more deaf shepherds are needed.
College Park, Md.
End Petroleum Subsidies
Re “City Limits,” by Kyle T. Kramer (12/24): Industrial agriculture and manufacturing have been necessary conditions for the abnormal growth of cities. But industrial processes would not be sufficient were it not for the petroleum windfall.
Cheap oil has fueled the transportation networks required to secure inputs and discard resources disguised as wastes. But the inevitable end of cheap oil spells disaster for metropolitan areas, a disaster that could be avoided by a preemptive attack—not on Iraq or Iran or God’s children elsewhere on God’s good earth, but on petroleum subsidies.
The phasing in of a carbon tax would sound a strategic retreat from metropolitan areas back to sustainable and distributed economies. Otherwise, the city is bound to implode to a size that nature, standing in for God, will nurture. Escaping survivors had best learn how to farm again without the use of inorganic fertilizers and chemical pesticides applied to expansive monocultures zoned far from human habitation.
“After Ideology,” by Ivan J. Kauffman (12/10), reminded me of the process our U.S. bishops created for writing the pastoral letters on peace and the economy in the 1980s. By engaging with experts across all divides, they were able to produce living documents that at their root were transformational.
This approach came to a grinding halt with the attempt to write a pastoral on women in the church. Rome intervened, and that was the end of this socially fruitful and collegial approach. Ever since then, it seems, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops remains ruled by fear of this kind of intervention—and not without some cause.
Perhaps it is time for some leadership to emerge once again within the U.S.C.C.B. that will resurrect that process. Their impulse was a good one: Engage the best thinkers and practitioners across the divides within church and society in a process that, in its very nature, holds the promise of transcending and transforming.
Grateful for Chaplains
Re the letters to the editor from Ben Jimenez, S.J., and Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J. (12/10): Permit this defense of the military chaplaincy. Chaplains exist for the military personnel—and their dependents—to remind them that morality may not be forsaken either in the field or at the garrison gate.
Organizationally, chaplains are part of the commander’s “special staff” for formal advice and counsel. But they are also the links in an informal chain from troops to successively higher headquarters.
A chaplain’s field visit was always publicized and well attended. I remember Mass on the hood of a Jeep, below deck on a transport and in a tent under lantern-light. For troops, these events seemed like touchstones to their earlier civilian formation. For those chaplains, I remain grateful.