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Dear Friends:

Today’s reading from Zechariah 9: 9-10 and Matt. 11: 25-30 evoke this wonderful story, shared by bishop Carlos Pellegrin, from the diocese of Chillán, Chile:

Once upon a time, there was a little donkey who lived just outside of Jerusalem. He did what . . . well, I guess what all little donkeys do: carry loads and people, pull merchandise, etc.

One day, a group of strange people came to town. They were not from Jerusalem, from Judea: they were Galileans. They took the little donkey and saddled him with colorful and cushiony blankets. There climbed unto the little donkey’s back a young man, with a serene, joyful countenance, somewhat beclouded by sadness. The little donkey though he heard the name “Jesus” addressed to his rider. Then, they took the little donkey by the bridle, and led him and the young man riding upon him through one of the gates, into the Holy City.

Then the little donkey noticed something awesome: a huge throng of people gathered, with palms and blankets, cheering and applauding in his direction. The little donkey was befuddled. What was going on?

Then, confusion ensued. The little donkey thought all the joyful acclamations and the Hosannas were for him!! Mind you, the poor little donkey was used to being mistreated, overloaded with merchandise and people, perhaps beaten and insulted. This was something unspeakably new! He became so excited that he began prancing and jolting, and almost threw Jesus off into the ground. He had never been acclaimed, praised, with waving fronds and palms, before – ever!!

Then one of the Galilean foreigners came to him, patted him softly, and spoke to him gently: “Now, there, little donkey, these cheers and shouts of joy are not for you. They are for the guy you bear on your back – a prophet mighty in deed and words, called Jesus, from Galilee, from Nazareth!” Disappointed and deflated, but obedient, the little donkey calmed down and trotted, bearing his rider, the true object of all the commotion, into Jerusalem . . . and into oblivion.

The Gospels do not tell us what happened to the little donkey afterwards. We read about Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem: the Last Supper, the Passion, the Resurrection experiences . . . but the little donkey is consigned into historical nothingness. We may guess that he went back to . .  . well, to being a little donkey, to carry people and merchandise, to being abused, insulted and beaten . . . BUT,

He most assuredly never thought of it, but, for one shining moment in those sweltering days of the Jerusalem spring of the year 30, for one luminously splendorous instant, he found himself at the center of human history, humbly, silently, riding into grace, redemption and glory.

I need hardly tell you, dear friends, that “little donkey” is a much less dignified, far less flattering rubric than “missionary disciple,” or “Eucharistic minister,” or “preacher,” or “professor of theology (exegesis, philosophy, whatever).” We would recoil and take offense if anyone, out in the streets, in the classroom or the parish, were to call us “little donkeys.”

But, in light of today’s readings, as we are fed at the table of the Word, that’s all we are called to be, regardless of other ministerial, academic or pastoral titles we may secretly be proud to bear: little donkeys, called by the God, Lord of history, to bear Jesus to others. Like the little donkey of the story, it is entirely possible that parish bulletins, diocesan proclamations, not to mention history books, will never speak of us again.

BUT, Like the little donkey of Bishop Pellegrin’s story, we deliver Jesus into the Holy City of other people’s hearts, especially the Holy Sanctuary of the poor, the hungry, the victims of racism, all the crucified of history, trusting that He whom we bore on our backs, will most definitely call us, as Matthew’s Gospel tells us, to soothe our pain, to kindle hope into our anguishes and despairs, to call us, as the little donkey was, for a few precious moments, to a passionate, vulnerable, risky, liberating communion with He whom we deliver through the gates of all the hurting and broken Jerusalems of the world.

Oremus pro invicem.




Dear Friends:

“Human beings can be beautiful, or more beautiful,

They can be fat or skinny, they can be right or wrong,

But, illegal? How can a human being be illegal?

Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)


There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice,

But there can never be a time when we fail to protest”

Elie Wiesel (quoted from “Give Us this Day”)


“I wish a Church which is poor and for the poor . . . The poor have much to teach us.”

Pope Francis, “Evangelii Gaudium,” 198


For I was hungry . . . for I was thirsty . . . for I was an alien . . .

And you . . . ?  Matt. 25: 31-46


July 4th – This nation was born (like many others were) as a protest against injustice and oppression. After a period of tentative survival as a loose conglomeration of states which did not perceive themselves as a nation, after the failure of the Articles of Confederation to provide a sense of national identity, a group of visionaries produced one of the most remarkable documents of all times, truly an expression of a people willing to live as a “polis,” as social and political community, guided by their concern for the Common Good. On September 17, 1787, the Constitution of the United States was ratified.

But this original text, dense and plethoric with promises as it was when it appeared, was deemed insufficient. On December 15, 1791, the U.S. Congress ratified the first 10 Amendments, the Bill of Rights. Over time, from 1791 through 1992, other 17 Amendments were added.

Are the Amendments to be regarded, as many have done, as corrections to deficiencies in the 1787 original Constitutions? I would rather see them as a deeper exegesis of the implicit spirit and nature of that first, convulsive and subversive text. The Amendments attempt to flesh out the promise and the hopes of the Founding Fathers (or “Brothers,” as Joseph Ellis would have it).

But there always was the questions of the “illegals” – Elie Wiesel knew what it was like to be illegal. On September 15, 1935, when Hitler pushed through the Nuremberg Laws, all Jews in German-controlled territories became illegal. Stripped of their citizenship and of the opportunities to pursue mainline professions, they became pariahs, “illegal” waste, discards, in the land many of them had inhabited for generations. For Wiesel, that meant, eventually, a journey of death and unspeakable pain through three concentration camp: Auschwitz, where his mother and younger sister, Tzipora,  died, Buna, and Buchenwald, where his father was also murdered . . . and the cry many others raised to the heavens, that never ceased to torture this noble and inspired soul: “Can we believe in God after Auschwitz?” – “The death of my God and my soul,” as he would later define it.

For the newly-conceived nation across the Atlantic, the question of the “illegals” meant facing the following fact (I trust you do not have allergic reactions to numbers): In 1790, Congress ordered the first U.S. Census to be taken. The project yielded the following somber and sobering reality: of the 3, 893, 635 people dwelling in the newly-independent former colonies, 694, 280 were slaves. The nation was born with 17.2 % of its population living in bondage, with no social or political identity, and legally classified as chattel, as property, not as human beings.

There were anointed people who did not fail to protest. On May 29, 1856, at the foundation of the new Republican Party in Bloomington, Abraham Lincoln delivered his “lost speech” (no transcripts of the whole speech survive, but we have fragments preserved by local scribes). Lincoln claimed that “the Union must be preserved in the purity of its principles as well as the integrity of its territorial parts.” Lincoln would follow through, as President, with his demand when on January 1, 1863, he proclaimed the Emancipation Act.

From April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865, all hell broke loose over the land – literally. It took a Civil War that claimed the lives of 620,000 people (conservative estimate) and many thousands more maimed or lost, to bring about the XIII Amendment, ratified on December 6, 1865, abolishing slavery forever.

The 4th of July, Wiesel, Abraham Lincoln, the Holocaust, slavery – how do they connect to one another, if indeed they do? How fitting are they as substance for reflection on Independence Day, if indeed they are?

History is not driven by blind, tragic fate, the “Ananke” of the ancient Greeks. For those whose hearts and souls are defined (in the midst of their imperfections) by the Jewish-Christian Scriptures and Tradition, there is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Jesus Christ, who somehow, in and through the horrors of the Holocaust and slavery, remains the true Lord of history.

But God, the God who was “murdered” in the souls of so many victims of the brutalities of our age, is also a subversive God, a God who calls frail and finite people to clamor for justice, to protest, to raise their voice for the voiceless, to never let a nation (or a world) dismiss or turn a blind eye to the slaveries, the Holocausts, that still happen today, in a vaster and vaster scale.

I see, with undefinable pain and hurt, how so many (NOT ALL!!) Catholic parish communities here in South Florida ignore the cry of the victims, all around them – So many of those who fill their opulent churches, graced with marble altars, at the 10 AM Mass every Sunday, and then turn around and demand that “those filthy migrants” be sent to the hellhole they came from, who argue (as this “good Catholic” lady, regular communicant, fiercely and viciously told me) that those migrants are bringing diseases already eradicated (a false rumor, as the CDC in Atlanta later reported) – send them back to die of those diseases in the desert, she said (!!!!)

A close friend of hers, who coordinates a Bible study group (!!!!) wrote a letter expressing her glee at the U.S. apostasy from the Paris Agreement – the fact that, as pope Francis unceasingly affirms in Laudato Si (61 X), the poor are the front-line sufferers of ecological disaster does not matter at all to this Catholic Bible-thumper.

During his days at the concentration camp of Buna, Elie Wiesel and the other prisoners were forced to watch the hanging of three men, accused of sabotage. One of them was a very young, angelic-faced boy. After the hangings were seemingly over, Wiesel approached this sweet-faced boy – he was still alive! “And so he remained – Wiesel continues – for more than half an hour, lingering between life and death, writhing before our eyes. And we were forced to look at close range. He was still alive when I passed him. His tongue was still red, his eyes not yet extinguished.”

“Behind me, I heard the same man asking: ‘For God’s sake, where is God?’ And from within me, I heard a voice answer: ‘Where He is? – This is where –  hanging from this gallows . . .  That night, the soup tasted of corpses.”

As we celebrate the 4th  – and surely, there are good reasons to celebrate!! – as we smell the ever-inviting burgers or whatever food we consume today, as the Republic we celebrate is given over to the oracles of racism, xenophobia, unbridled greed and arrogance, and allowed to unravel at a record pace, perhaps Wiesel’s recollection would be a subversive reminder – as subversive as the document signed on this date, in 1776 (for the sake of being pedantic, it was actually signed two days earlier), and that other wonder of American foundational political genius, the Constitution – that, indeed, the corpses of the victims of hatred, racism and individualism are still hanging in their gallows, that the counter-witness so many parish Catholics give kindles that never-ending anguished clamor: “For God’s sake, where is God” – and the answer thunders ominously: “This is where – hanging here from the gallows.”

Not as an act of unwelcome masochism on such a festive day, but as a healthy protest, as a Fundamental Option for spiritual integrity, we should allow at least one of our burgers today to taste like corpses.

Oremus pro invicem






Dear Friends:

Tonight, May 27, I am a happy man. I will enjoy a sweet and peaceful sleep.

Tonight, I was invited by the leader of the Guatemalan Prayer Group, at my Franciscan parish of St. Mark’s, to share a reflection with them. It was a long night. The prayer meeting ran from 8 PM to 10 PM. I shared with them NT texts on the humanity of Jesus: Jn 11: 33-38, Mark 15: 39, 1 Cor 1: 18-28, and other related periscopes.

There were about 35-40 people participating in the celebration. They were all pure indigenous Maya Canjobal or other kin groups, most likely from the jungles of El Peten, or perhaps moving across the border with Mexico into Chiapas. I was the only Caucasian-looking person in the assembly.

The meeting started with a wonderful symphonic cacophony of loud, very loud individual prayer by 18 leaders of the group, praying in 18 different ways. Then Gaspar, the leader, introduced me. He said: “Our brother Sixto, is here with us tonight. He is the servant (“siervo”) sent by God to convey His Word to us.”

The SERVANT!! I was struck by that word. It was again invoked when they call me forth to speak. I have never been introduced like that to a community I am invited to speak to. It is usually “Doctor this,” or “Professor that,” but, SERVANT? SIERVO? I could not get it out of my mind and heart.

I felt a rush of peace and joy welling up inside my heart. What a gift, what a joy, to be called SERVANT! What a glorious, paschal title! SERVANT!! For, let us not make any mistake (God knows how often I have made that mistake!): any other self-perception we may have of ourselves, is a chimera, a motion from the evil spirit, as St. Ignatius of Loyola would say. Anything else is nothing but a cheapened version of Docetism – As we know, “Docetism” was a doctrine that made its disastrous presence felt in the early Church. Docetism argued that the humanity of Christ was an optical illusion (from the Greek “dokein,” to appear, to have an optical illusion).

Docetism and its related heresies against the humanity of Christ (Apollinarism, Monophysitism, Monothelism, and others) have never fully disappeared. As Karl Rahner has reminded us, they survive and even flourish in our parishes, whenever well-meaning but fundamentally ignorant parish Catholics recoil at the thought that Jesus could really suffer, could come close to despair, could feel anger at injustice, etc. It’s a convenient heresy. A unilateral emphasis on the divinity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity, is often invoked to justify clericalism, power-plays and racisms within the Church.

I need not insult your intelligence by reminding you how the 3rd , 4th, and 6th Ecumenical Councils (Ephesus, 431; Chalcedon, 451;  Constantinople III, 680-681) responded, swiftly, deeply and prophetically, to this dangerous mutilation or denial of the humanity of Jesus

That is all we are called to be: SERVANTS! To all, but preferentially to the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the despised migrants, the discarded . . . Servants!!

Again, my friends, let me reiterate this: tonight, I am a very happy man. I had a badly needed reminder, a moment of paschal conversion. I AM A SERVANT!! What a glorious title!

Tonight, I will sleep sweetly and peacefully, reclining my head within the Heart of Jesus, reposing in the fold of Mary’s mantle, in the cradle of her arms.

Oremus pro invicem





Many moons ago, a wise and holy Jesuit spiritual director told me the following: “Suppose you live in a country where Christianity were proscribed, where engaging in public manifestations of your Christian faith, expressing truly Christian opinions, acting according to the Gospel, were a capital offense. Imagine further that you are arrested, accused of being a Christian, and dragged before a court of law. As he assesses the accusation, would the judge find enough evidence to convict you of the crime of being a Christian?

These days, as we all know, this hypothetical situation proposed by my Jesuit spiritual director, overflows the realm of hypothesis: it is quite real and concrete in some parts of the world: Christians are being killed in Syria (some of them, as photos have shown, by crucifixion), and other places where radical anti-Christian religious sentiment fuels acts of violence and cruelty.

My spiritual director’s challenge, however, was addressed not so much to martyrdom in faraway places, but to tragically specific and real situations in our Catholic parish communities, in countries where the law of the land grants religious freedom. It is not a matter of feeling a gun pressed to our head, or a knife tickling our jugular vein, as a voice thunders: “Renounce your Christian faith, or you die!” No, it’s not that easy. It is rather more complicated, more insidious.

A simple parable should suffice: Let’s assume I live in such a place of anti-Christian proscription, that I am arrested accused of the crime of being a Christian, and as I stand before the judge, I hear his sober comment:  “I see no evidence that says that you are a real Christian. I see that you were baptized, that you attend the 10 AM Mass every Sunday, but that, of course, is not enough to qualify you as a true Christian. You were a month old when you were baptized, you go to the over-crowded 10 AM Mass to keep appearances, or because your spouse nags you into it, or perhaps, most likely, because it’s what you are supposed to do as a Catholic, it’s the routine. BUT,

“All the witnesses who have deposed in your case, all those who know you and who have, freely or under torture, shared their personal experiences with you, the conversations held with you outside the 10 AM Mass, or at work, or in casual social occasions, they tell of the way you speak about foreigners, the poor, the homeless, the migrants and refugees (particularly, the migrants and refugees! Some of the things you have said-Wow!!!), the things you do – OR RATHER! Perhaps not so much, or not only, the things you have said or done, but the things you HAVE NOT said or done, your lethal silence in the face of injustice, hunger, poverty, homelessness, racism aimed at migrants and refugees, your option for the those standing on the left in Mtt 25; 31-46 (“For I was hungry, and you did NOT feed me . . . For I was an alien, and you did NOT welcome me . . . “) – NO, you (and your whole Catholic community) did not speak when Onñesimo López Ramos, the 18-year old Guatemalan migrant, was beaten to death by three racist, self-styled “Guatemalan Hunters,” on April 18, 2015. Good citizens don´t do that, after all, shouldn´t all those migrants go back to the hellhole they came from, instead of contaminating our neighborhoods and opulent Catholic parishes?”

“Well done! Only the followers of that Jewish criminal, Jesus of Nazareth, those who profess to live by that Handbook of Crime, the so-called Gospel, speak out against injustice, racism, poverty . . . not good citizens like you.

“You can go free! You are innocent of the crime of being a Christian. The evidence says so, in eloquent and compelling fashion! This court offers its apologies to you, for being falsely accused of such a heinous crime. You, most definitely, ARE NOT a Christian. You do not disturb anyone, subvert any unjust social order, confront inhuman and immoral laws and executive orders. You have not been beguiled by the seduction and the fascination of Jesus´ criminal teaching.

“After all, He did break the law, did He not? Imagine, breaking bread with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes! – Teaching that the law was made for man (human beings), not man for the law! Why, eyewitnesses have deposed that in your parish, they wouldn’t allow that rabble within a country mile of the church door, would they? Go in peace, you are absolved of this most despicable and abominable crime: being a Christian!”

I have often meditated on my spiritual director’s prophetic challengw. In this Paschal season, I pray to the Lord Jesus that He may see fit to make me a criminal at the service of the Gospel, to try to live, however sinfully and imperfectly, the Gospel of crime, the Gospel that commands justice, mercy, compassion, love, preferentially to our fellow criminals, to the rabble: the hungry, the poor, the homeless, the despised. A criminal for the sake of the Kingdom – no greater grace can we hope for! I ask for this grace, through the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God, the Mother of the suffering, the Mother of criminals!

Oremus pro invicem






       EXULTET! Rejoice, rejoice, indeed, as we are moved to wonder at the infinite love that Jesus’ Paschal Mystery has lavished upon us, at the wonder of the holy “opposites” that the Exultet conveys: “O felix culpa, quae talem ac tantum meruit habere redemptores” (O happy guilt, that has merited for us such a redeemer!), “O certe necessarium Adae peccatum, quod Christi mortem deletum est” (O necessary sin of Adam, destroyed by the death of Christ),  “O inaestimabilis dilectio caritatis: ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti!” (O priceless charity of divine love: to redeem the servant, you handed over the Son)

    How awesome,these seemingly irreconcilable contrasts, that bespeak, in and of themselves, the depths of Salvation History! How can anyone redeem the slave by handing over His own Son? How can sin, guilt, be “happy” (felix)? How can sin be “necessary”? – Of course, this is the language of poetry, BUT it conveys depths of theological wonder, of unthinkable love, in a way that defies academic discourse, and can only be conveyed by the inexhaustible possibilities of poetry! It is nothing more and nothing less that the genius of a true mystic, a Doctor and Father of the Latin Church, Ambrose of Milan (historians have proposed other authors), seeking, fumbling in the dark for words that can do justice to the Love that is given to us in this Holy Night –      Quite obviously, no human words can ever grasp Holy Mystery – from the inspired jewels of the New Testament Resurrection Narratives, so diverse, so richly different in their Christologies, and abover all, in their Ecclesiologies, to Augustine and Maximus the Confessor (580-662), to Karl Rahner, the Christian community has been jolted, time and again, into remembering that Love itself is Holy Mystery, and that mystery, as Gabriel Marcel reminded us, is not a problem to be solved, but a reality we can only participate in, a reality that defines and suffuses our most intimate self –
      Yes, indeed, EXULTET! – Rejoice, for tonight the dawn of a Light so bright, so splendid, has allowed earth to sprout forth its most precious fruit, has allowed heaven to embrace the earth, Life to conquer the ravages of death, and Love to banish hatred –
       Yes, in the face of hunger, poverty, racism, hatred, marginalization, we can still cry EXULTET! for we know that death, poverty, hunger, discrimination will NOT have the last word – That oppression and hatred have already been judged and destroyed by this Holy Night, by the Paschal Vigil, where all the pathways of Salvation History converge, where hope for the final triumph of Love blossoms ever anew
      Oremus pro invicem



     The article included below, from the Ignatian Solidarity Network, reminds us that we, too, are an active, guilty party of the detachment that crucified Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Messiah. We constitute a Church of Judases, we crucify Jesus, over and over again, whenever:

     – We keep silent about the assassination of Onesimo Lopez, the 18-year old Guatemalan immigrant, bludgeoned to death by three white racist teenagers, on April 18, 2015 – From the local bishop down through the parish communities, a lethal, crucifying, thundering silence, screaming out to all migrants: “Crucify them” was heard.

     – We ignore and even oppose Pope Francis’ pleas to transform our opulent parishes into shelters for refugees and immigrants.

     – We embrace the social and political rhetoric of hatred, racism and xenophobia.

     – We applaud executive orders that result in the destruction of our common home, the environment, the good Earth created and loved by God.

    – We refuse to notice, and even react in hatred and violence at the sight of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the despised migrants, the discarded.

     -We buy into the anti-Francis rhetoric that accuses him, and all contemporary disturbing, subversive prophets like him, of socialism, communism, heresy, and the like.

        Sadly, I look around, I look at the Catholic communities around me, and, on the one hand, I rejoice at those who risk their reputation and even their physical integrity for speaking out against the blatant injustices we are witnesses to, every day – but I also feel the awful pain of frustration at the majority of our parish Catholics who betray their baptismal commitment, and instead, sell their souls and their baptismal consecration for the thirty pieces of silver that buys them popularity, wealth, power, at the expense of the victims of history.

     With rare and difficult-to-find exceptions, we all are a Church of Judases, a Church that crucifies. We crucify the same Jesus who hangs from crosses above the main altar of our churches. We dip our morsels into the same bowl with him-and then we go out into the night, to sell him out, to crucify him  (Jn 13: 26-30).

      For we are a silent Church, a Church that opts for silent arrogance, hatred and racism, in the face of injustice, rather than speak and thunder forth the subversive, disturbing words of the Gospel.We are a Church that betrays and crucifies the Incarnate Son of God.



BY MICHAEL IAFRATE | April 12, 2017

Leonardo Boff once wrote that, just as Jesus died a fully human, political death, Judas was no mere “puppet” in some divine plan, but a “concrete agent, responsible for [his] own decisions.” The church’s traditional name for today, Spy Wednesday, underscores the politics of Judas’ actions—and our own—to betray Jesus and his movement.

In Laudato Si’, we read that Christ is crucified today in the suffering of the poor and of the Earth (No. 241). The Catholic Committee of Appalachia makes this concrete in our recent “people’s pastoral,” drawing attention to “specific crucified places, wounds of Christ in our world… that cry out to be heard and felt.”

Places like Appalachia—crucified on the crosses of poverty, mining, fracking, and poisoned ecosystems—have their own specific Herods who crucify and their own specific Judases who betray. And despite popular rhetoric, these concrete agents are often not “outsiders” but people very close who “dip their hands into the dish with us.”

So many of us are capable of “handing over” the poor, and Earth itself, to death. We are told to trust those who serve us in politics, and yet, as Boff says, “Jesus, we must remember, was sentenced to death in a courtroom.” The poor are condemned there today as well. Likewise, Pope Francis reminds us that church leaders—the apostles’ successors—are no different from the rest of Jesus’ followers in our common capacity to crucify him when we fail to speak against injustice and instead buy into and benefit from it.

Appalachian scholar-activist Helen Lewis writes of the redbud—or “Judas trees”—that blossom at this time of year:

Holding fast in the arms of the mountains, […]
The redbuds… protest the devastation of their living place.

They are also called Judas trees.
Named for the Judas who hung himself in shame from a redbud tree
And dangled the blood money from the branches.
The Flowering Judases blush with shame.

They shout “Shame” to the Judases destroying God’s creation[,]
Crying out for the wilderness: 
Wake up, the earth is being destroyed.
Change your ways of thinking, acting, being.
You are part of all living creatures.

For Lewis, creation itself revolts and shouts “Shame!” to its crucifiers. Followers of Jesus, too, can reject death-dealing silence and speak a prophetic word to shame the crucifiers and “rouse” the crucified (Isaiah).

Silence crucifies, but a prophetic word brings life!

Michael Iafrate

Michael Iafrate is Co-Coordinator of the Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) and served as the lead author of CCA’s “People’s Pastoral,” The Telling Takes Us Home: Taking Our Place in the Stories that Shape Us. He is a West Virginia native, a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University (’99 and ’03), and is completing a dissertation in theology for the University of St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. His writing has appeared in National Catholic Reporter and Religion Dispatches and in the collections Secular Music and Sacred Theology, edited by Tom Beaudoin (Liturgical Press, 2013) and the forthcoming Music, Theology, and Justice, edited by Michael O’Connor, Christina Labriola, and Hyun-Ah Kim (Lexington Books, 2017). He is also a singer-songwriter and old time musician.



St. John of the Cross

“Sayings of Light and Love,” 59


Bl. Charles de Foucauld

Letter to Marie de Bondy,



     Relentless, passionate, driven by radical and subversive love of Jesus Christ and all men and women, with that “simple eye,” as St. Ignatius of Loyola put it, focused on the demands of justice and mercy, our uncomfortable prophet, Pope Francis will not allow us to breathe, relax and take it easy, when atrocities of endless violence, racism and xenophobia continue to be visited upon refugees and migrants by our opulent societies – Dare they call themselves Christian, when they turn a deaf ear to the cries and pleas for mercy of the crucified victims of history? They – We! particularly the “good Catholics” of our parishes’ 10 AM Mass – will hear Jesus’ favorite disparagement to the self-righteous leaders of his time: “Hypocrites! (17X in the Gospels), bleached sepulchers, snakes, brood of vipers!” (Mt 23: 27-33).
      KINDLY READ BELOW – and do keep in mind the uncompromising demands of the Gospel, whenever we choose to disregard Pope Francis’ plea to transform our parishes in sanctuaries for immigrants and refugees – many, praise God, have already done so – many more, the majority, have chosen to evade to dangerous, passionate, subversive, insane demands of the Gospel’s invitation to justice, mercy and love. We may hope that Jesus’ words in that ever-perturbing text of Mt 25: 31-46: “For I was an alien . . .” will not be lost in a void.

Read: Pope Francis’ new interview on the struggles of migrants and refugees

This interview with Pope Francis was published today in the Italian journal Libertàcivili. The conversation, which took place on March 28, focuses on the plight of refugees and the creation of a new Vatican department to guide the church’s response to this humanitarian crisis.

Your Holiness, on July 8, 2013, you made this statement while visiting Lampedusa: “I had to come here to pray,” you said, “to make a gesture of closeness but also to reawaken our consciences.” On April 16, 2016, you repeated this statement in Lesbos, adding your prayers to those of Archbishop Ieronymos of Athens and Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople. How can ecumenical and interreligious dialogue—not only among the three religions of the children of Abraham but also with all the others—contribute to a correct understanding of the problem of migration, with its burden of human suffering, as we look for possible solutions to welcoming those who arrive in Europe?

The visit to Lesbos and the prayers with Archbishop Ieronymos and Patriarch Bartholomew are a sharing of brotherhood, of closeness to the cries of the many innocents who ask only for a chance to save their own lives. Sharing in brotherhood with other religions appeals to our consciences not to turn our backs on the hopes and calls for help of our brothers and sisters in need.

Migration, if handled with humanity, is an opportunity for everyone to meet and grow.

Migration, if handled with humanity, is an opportunity for everyone to meet and grow. We cannot lose our sense of fraternal responsibility. The defense of human beings knows no barriers: We are all united in wanting to ensure a dignified life for every man, woman and child who is forced to abandon his or her own land. There is no difference of creed that can outweigh this wish—in fact, quite the contrary.

It is precisely in these contexts that we can be brothers working toward good—the same good—every day. If the same unity were embraced by those who govern different countries, as well, then maybe we could take some more concrete, global steps in support of migrants and refugees.

The island of Lesbos, like Lampedusa, shows the world the faces of innocent people who flee from wars, violence and persecution. Men, women and children traveling alone arrive tired, exhausted, hoping to save their own lives with dramatic journeys via land and, unfortunately, also via sea.

In Europe and around the world we are living through a critical moment in the management of migration policies. Those in power must be both far-sighted and coherent in watchful respect for fundamental human rights, as well as trying to end to the causes of forced migration which oblige civilians to flee.

The directives of your Motu Proprio (Aug. 17, 2016) for the creation of a new social Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development within the Catholic Church came into effect on January 1. For the social teaching of the church, the dicastery—which takes over the remit of various pastoral councils—is the new organizational destination of a long historical journey. What mission have you entrusted to the new dicastery, with regard to migrants and refugees?

Yes, I set up the Migrants & Refugees Section of the new Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development with a start date of Jan 1. 2017.

The multitude of migrants, refugees, displaced people and victims of human trafficking requires particular care. This is why I decided to take care of them personally, at least for a while, and why the section reports to me directly.

The section’s main mission is supporting the church and its leaders—at the local, regional and international levels—to accompany people through each step of the migration process, with particular attention to those who are forced in different ways to move or flee, or who experience disadvantage and suffering in countries of origin, transit or destination.

I am thinking of all those who flee from conflicts, persecutions or humanitarian emergencies, whether natural or caused by human intervention

I am thinking of all those who flee from conflicts, persecutions or humanitarian emergencies, whether natural or caused by human intervention. I am thinking about victims of human trafficking, about undocumented migrants, about migrant workers in exploitative situations and about women, young people and children migrating in situations of vulnerability.

By their very nature, migrations are phenomena that cut across the borders of individual nations and even continents. In this sense, considering demographic projections for the coming decades, there is talk of a Eurafrican continent—momentous transitions, which call into question cultural identities, values and historical baggage. Different national policies must be tied together with international cooperation: This is a necessity you often mention. Having received much, Europe must learn to give. How do we make the move from awareness to action?

Undoubtedly international cooperation is needed in the management of migration policies, which must be respectful both toward those who welcome and toward those who are welcomed.

Like many other countries that have experienced both immigration and emigration, I think European nations must learn from their past. How difficult things were, in the post-war era, for millions of Europeans who took off, often with their entire families, and crossed the ocean to arrive in South America or the United States!

It was not an easy experience for them, either. They suffered the weight of being seen as foreigners, arriving from afar with no knowledge of the local language. It was not an easy process of integration, but it always ended in success!

Therefore, it is important to be aware of the contributions migrants make to their countries of arrival. Europeans contributed greatly to the growth of transatlantic societies. It is the same story. Any exchange of culture and knowledge is a source of wealth and should be valued as such. As I said on November 1, on the way back from my trip to Sweden, we must not be scared, because Europe was formed from a continuous integration of cultures—of many cultures.

[W]e must not be scared, because Europe was formed from a continuous integration of cultures—of many cultures.

If we can view migrants as an added value to our society, then we will be able to practice real welcome and to give what we have received in the past. We have a lot to learn from the past. It is important to act with awareness, without feeding the fear of foreigners.

On Feb. 21, I explained to participants at the Forum on Migration & Peace that we must promote welcome and hospitality toward refugees and displaced people, supporting their integration and bearing in mind the mutual rights and responsibilities of those who welcome and those who are welcomed. Integration—which is neither assimilation nor incorporation—is a two-way process, essentially based on mutual recognition of another person’s cultural wealth. It is not the flattening of one culture against another, and neither is it mutual isolation, which carries the dangerous, or even deadly, risk of ghettoization.

As for those who arrive—who are responsible for not shutting themselves off from the culture and traditions of their host country and for respecting its laws first and foremost—we absolutely must not neglect the familial aspects of integration. Hence why I feel I have to keep reiterating the need for policies which favor and prioritize family reunification.

As far as indigenous people are concerned, they must be helped: They need to be appropriately sensitized and supported to be positively predisposed towards the process of integration, which is not always simple or immediate but is always essential and indispensable for the future. This is why we also need specific programs favoring meaningful encounters with new arrivals.

As for the Christian community, the peaceful integration of people from different cultures is, in some way, a reflection of its Catholicism

As for the Christian community, the peaceful integration of people from different cultures is, in some way, a reflection of its Catholicism: a unity which does not override ethnic or cultural diversity constitutes a dimension of church life, which in the Pentecostal spirit is open to all— open to embracing everyone.

On Sept. 22, 2016, during an audience with a delegation of Italian journalists, you called for the development of a true culture of encounter. There is no difficulty, you said, which men of good will cannot overcome. In 1991 the Caritas director in Rome, Msgr. Luigi di Liegro, inaugurated an annual dossier of immigration statistics because, he said, real information on dynamics of migration is the only thing that can defeat all the existing prejudice, clichés and closure. For the sake of truth, how do we keep this debate alive in the context of modern-day communications, so extraordinarily amplified by new media?

Mass media should feel obligated to explain the different aspects of migration, schooling public opinion on the causes of this phenomenon. Human rights violations, violent conflicts of social disorder, lack of essential goods, natural catastrophes and catastrophes caused by humans: All these things should be clearly explained in order to support a real understanding of the migration phenomenon and, consequently, a correct approach.

Often, mass media themselves use negative stereotypes when talking about migrants and refugees. Just think of the unfair use that is often made of terms to describe migrants and refugees. How often do we hear people talk of “illegals” as a synonym for migrants? This is unfair: It is information based on the wrong premise, which pushes public opinion to develop negative judgments.

Not to mention, of course, the sensationalism favored by most modern-day media. A bad news story has more impact than a good news story, and so it is more profitable to talk about a few crime cases involving migrants than to tell the many stories of integration promoted by migrants themselves.

Better information could break down the barriers of fear and indifference. The other, the different, is scary when it is unknown. But if we talk about it, and introduce it to people’s homes via images and stories, presented in its most positive, human aspects, then knowledge goes beyond stereotypes and the encounter becomes authentic. And when we get past fear, doors are opened, and welcome is spontaneous.

As I said to E.U. heads of state and government on the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome, openness towards the world requires a capacity for dialogue as the basis of encounters on all levels—from dialogue between member states, and between institutions and citizens, to dialogue with the many migrants who arrive on E.U. shores. We cannot simply manage the major migration crisis of our times as if it were just a problem of numbers, economy or security. The issue of migration poses a deeper question, which is cultural first and foremost.




St. John of the Cross

“Sayings of Light and Love,” 59


Bl. Charles de Foucauld

Letter to Marie de Bondy,