I am a Venezuelan missionary priest working in the United States, and I make frequent visits to my home country because of my ministry. I deeply agree with your editorial on Venezuela (“A Future With Mr. Chávez ,” 3/16). I would like your readers to focus their attention not on whether Hugo Chávez is a democratic ruler or a dictator, but instead on what U.S. policies toward Venezuela and Latin America are needed to avoid the same errors made in the past. As your editorial states, “What is required now is a new policy that is balanced and realistic.”
(Rev.) Alejandro López-Cardinale
I eagerly read your editorial on Venezuela (“A Future With Mr. Chávez ,” 3/16), expecting to find an enlightened Catholic position from the brothers of the murdered Jesuits of El Salvador. But I was disappointed by your narrow definition of what constitutes a democracy. You appear to give more weight to the rights of the rich to their already-substantial private property than to the rights of the poor to food, health care and education.
Hugo Chávez has brought more “good news to the poor” in Venezuela than have any of the oligarchs of the past century. You do him a disservice by dismissing him as a “dictator.”
Toronto, Ont.Future Shock
How refreshing to read Mary M. Foley’s article on lay pastoral leadership (“Exceptional Pastoring ,” 3/9), and what a contrast her story offers to the depressing stories of parishes closing for lack of priests! Some of these parishes are vibrant, financially viable communities, but they are closed because some bishop decrees that only a priest can be the leader of a parish community.
The future is clear. Either the church will keep retreating and shrinking as the number of priests declines, or the role of the laity will expand to ensure that the mission of the church will be carried on. May the Holy Spirit help us.
Amherst, Va.Identity Crisis
I could not help but smile as I read Mary M. Foley’s article. It was one that several women in my diocese could have written. It is an exciting time to be a woman in the church; we are modern-day pioneers.
With the U.S. bishops’ document, Co-workers in the Vineyard of the Lord, an invitation was made to the laity to discern vocations to lay ecclesial ministry, either as parish life coordinators, pastoral associates or directors of religious education.
Foley’s article addressed the fears of many who think the identity of both priests and parishioners is threatened by these new vocations. We must never forget that we are all in this together as followers of Christ. God bless the bishops and priests who have a new vision for the church.
Manhattan, Kan.Embracing God’s Gifts
Re Mary M. Foley’s story on lay pastoral leadership: It is a tragedy that the church cannot embrace gifts of leadership and service that are so selflessly given by talented and gifted women. What are we Catholics afraid of? Are we so narrow-minded that we think God parcels out gifts of ministry and leadership only to a few men? If we do, then we limit God’s kingdom among us.
As a cradle Catholic, I am always impressed by those who come to the faith as adults by the use of their intellect and, of course, the grace of God. Like Walker Percy and G. K. Chesterton, Karen Sue Smith (“Bon Appetit! ” 3/16) expresses her convictions eloquently.
Joseph Hamel, M.D.
Minneapolis, Minn.Open Book
Thanks to Barbara E. Reid, O.P., for her excellent reflections in the Word  column. I find her articles thoughtful, inclusive, prayerful and scholarly. And thanks to the editors for selecting such a fine person to open up the Scriptures for us each week.
Barbara Sheehan, S.P.
Re your editorial on a truth commission to investigate the Bush administration (“Truth and Prosecution ,” 3/23): For God’s sake, you’ve gotten your precious left-wing administration. Tell yourself “All’s well that ends well,” and let the poor man rest in peace.
Thank you for “Animal Welfare ,” by Kate Blake (3/23). I agree with Blake about the need for ethical treatment of animals, and I hope that readers will take her words to heart. I am a strict vegetarian, and I hope that all animals will be treated with kindness and compassion and cared for as God’s creatures. Anyone disputing that we should treat them any differently from the way we treat all natural gifts from God, with care and love, and who feel that this is somehow a sacrilege, should consider the life and words of St. Francis of Assisi, who loved all living creatures.
Leonardo, N.J.Nasty, Brutish and Short
I very much agree with Kate Blake’s reflections on treatment of animals (“Animal Welfare ,” 3/23). I found her article supportive of my own attempts to wean myself “off the grid” of the industrial food complex, especially where it colludes in systems that brutalize animals. We cannot escape our connection with creation.
New York, N.Y.Time to Move on
I found “Then There Was One ,” by Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M., M.D. (3/16) a very interesting story about the future of Catholic health care, but I drew completely different conclusions than the author. I see a parallel between the situation of Catholic health care institutions and the mounting financial struggles of Catholic elementary schools and high schools. I think it is time to question the value of these systems in light of contemporary reality. We are not an immigrant church any longer. We do not have many nuns who work for low wages anymore.
In my experiences with hospitals, Catholic ones are not different from others. Yes, they have well-crafted mission statements, but not everyone on staff is capable of or even interested in living them out. It is time we realized that the parish is the fundamental entity of Catholicism, and focused our resources there. A new form of health care ministry, and certainly a new form of education, can be brought to life in that setting.
Cincinnati, OhioRethinking Mission
Re the insightful article by Daniel P. Sulmasy, O.F.M., M.D., on the decline of Catholic health care in New York: I wonder if the time has not come when the Catholic health care system should rethink its medical mission, downsizing from the kind of institutions that can compete technologically with other hospitals that enjoy a stronger financial base. That way, they can devote themselves to meeting the type of median health care needs that are the concern of the average Catholic, and indeed of the average person.
Sebastian MacDonald, C.P.
Chicago, Ill.New Undertakings
Thanks to Daniel P. Sulmasy for a fine analysis in “Then There was One .” I am convinced that even though we are no longer an immigrant community, our Catholic institutions still have a role to play, especially in a society that is dominated by huge corporations (the recent banking scandals are a case in point). Our educational and health care institutions are both important social forces and means by which we form the laity more deeply in their faith.
In all our sponsored ministries, we need to move beyond a false inclusivism that prevents us from saying anything substantive about our own faith tradition or allowing it to make a difference in the way we “do business.” This is an entirely new undertaking for us. Catholics have not been accustomed to exercising this kind of responsibility for our ministries, but they are going to have to learn to do so.
Charlie Bouchard, O.P.
St. Louis, Mo.