Sunday, May 31, 2015

The year sprints to an end

The year has passed very quickly and many institutions are getting ready for a summer break. The trauma of this past winter is still in the consciousness of many people and it seems like a cruel irony that, just as we go into the fullness of summer, we lose minutes of daylight in a mere three weeks. Nature keeps us moving along.

I said mass in Spanish for the school this past week and I'll do it again on Tuesday. I'm getting much more comfortable with the language though my comprehension and grammar must grow. I'm speaking more sentences than usual and I will be able to immerse myself more fully in language studies this summer.

We had a procession to the Mary statue today, which was quite lovely. When we safely arrived back into the church, much needed rain fell upon our parched earth.

This week will be devoted to our final touches on the Brahm's Requiem concert. I'm very excited for it.

Many aspects of my life are finally being connected. Small steps that make me feel more deeply rooted and grounded in the community are happening. Every day, something more happens that creates an easier existence. I like that.

Last Tuesday, I spent some time with church musicians and pastors as we talked about maintaining high levels of musical standards. This Tuesday, I will speak ever so briefly at a gathering of Muslims and Christians before our potluck gathering. I'm happy to keep alive my work in Jordan back here in the States.

I'm looking forward to next Sunday. In one church we will have a Tri-lingual mass (English, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin), but the early mass will be special. An 84 year old woman told me today that she is getting an honorary diploma at the school where she worked as a lunch aid for many years. I told her we would bless her at mass. She burst into tears with the news.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fruits of the Spiritual Exercises

A few years ago, I directed a 30-day retreatant and encouraged his artistic expression through prayer. He sent me notification of his upcoming gallery exhibition. With pride in his good word, I post the words of his flyer.

I want to call my first exhibition “Heavenly Dreams” because when we plan, God smiles and you know what happens.

God loves our dreams and He loves when we put our trust in His loving hands. You might not believe it, but I never painted in my life.

In 2012 I went for a 30 day silent Ignatius Retreat in beautiful Gloucester, Massachusetts on the east coast. On the third day of the retreat, an UNKNOWN POWER brought me to the art room and I took a piece of paper and began to draw all of my feelings and emotions. When I presented this art to my spiritual director, he strongly encouraged me to continue expressing my emotional outlet through art. On that day I was not aware that it was the beginning of my new journey.

An explosion occurred. I realized that through colors, brushes, and scissors, my creative work allowed me a new way to communicate with God. I tell Him what I cannot express with words. He is doing the same through me. Right now painting becomes my way of prayer and meditation. I am amazed at the depth and new meanings of the stories I come to understand when I put them on canvass. I realized that through my paintings, my communication skills with my people, believers and nonbelievers, has reached a much deeper and more spiritual level.

I want to thank God and St. Ignatius Loyola (the best psychologist and spiritual director in our western civilization) who opened a completely new exciting chapter in my life. I want to thank my parishioner and friend, Frank Santos who introduced me to the best local artist, AnnLee Brook, who has become my mentor, teacher, and good friend. I am constantly learning from her and she always inspires me to explore and reach unknown areas of art.

In conclusion, I pray for each of you who looks upon my artwork, that the genuine and merciful hand of God will touch and transform your life. In these moments of reflection and meditation while you are experiencing my art, it is my hope that it will help you to be healed and make you free from wounds, pain, and suffering. I hope that you will find and experience NEW LIFE and NEW LIGHT in the LOVING and MERCIFUL HAND OF GOD. And… not be afraid to listen to your heart and be prepared for surprises. This is what happened with me and you see the results. St. Ignatius, pray for us.

Five things to look for in the encyclical on environment

Thomas Reese  |  May. 29, 2015Faith and Justice

Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment is being translated into multiple languages and will be published probably in June. Here are five things to look for in the new encyclical.
First, the encyclical will accept the scientific consensus that global warming is happening and that it is due to human activity.
The pope has already said he accepts this scientific conclusion, and a recent Vatican summit on the topic concluded, "Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality."

A number of papal critics have already attacked this point of the encyclical noting that popes are not infallible when it comes to science. This is of course true, but it is ironic that the church is being attacked for agreeing with science after centuries of being accused of ignoring science. Galileo must be turning over in his grave.

It is also ironic that this is the first pope in history to have a scientific education. He was trained as a chemist and worked as a chemist before entering the seminary. He has more scientific training than most of his critics.
Second, the encyclical will embrace the environmental movement without endorsing every position it has taken.
For decades the church and the environmental movement were at odds because environmentalist attacked the church for opposing artificial birth control.
While still supporting programs to control population growth, fewer environmentalists publicly blame the church for high birth rates. They can see that no matter what the church says, Catholics tend to follow their own consciences and reduce the number of births. Education and cultural factors have a greater impact on population rates than church teaching.
As a result, environmentalists and church officials will politely disagree about birth control while working together to save the planet.
This truce is very important because religion is one of the few factors that can motivate people to sacrifice their self interest for a greater good. People are not going to sacrifice their life styles for the polar bears. Religion has a long history of motivating people to sacrifice their personal comfort for a religious goal. The Catholic church also has a long history of encouraging simpler life styles.
In addition, the church's blessing of the environmental movement will help it to move to the mainstream. With the Catholic Church's support, it cannot be dismissed as simply being a bunch of tree huggers and Gaia worshipers.
Third, the encyclical will insist that environmental issues are not simply political and economic issues, they are moral issues.
If oceans rise and flood islands and coastlands as in Bangladesh, millions of people will become environmental refugees. If the glaciers in the Alps and Himalayas disappear, water supplies will be terminated for farmers and millions of people.
The death toll from environmental causes at the end of this century could eventually dwarf that of the two world wars in the 20th century. If the potential human suffering that will result from climate change is not a moral issue than nothing is a moral issue.
Fourth, the encyclical will bring a theological lens to the environmental debate.
Beginning with Genesis, it is clear that the world is God's creation, a gift that must be treasured not raped and pillaged. The world reflects the grandeur of God; it is an object of contemplation through which we come to understand God. Destroying it is a sacrilege.
The encyclical may even cite Romans, chapter 8, "that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now," as an image of an evolving universe where we need to be on the right side of God's plan.

Fifth, the encyclical will insist that the burden of climate change or of attempts to deal with climate change should not be borne solely by the poor.
When the U.S. and the rest of the first world have the greatest carbon footprints, it is unconscionable to tell poorer nations that they have to stop cutting down rain forests and stop having babies so that we can sustain our first world life style. Everyone has to sacrifice, and those who have benefited most from the carbon-based economy must sacrifice the most.
There are two things we should not expect from the encyclical.
First, there will be few policy recommendations.
The pope is a prophet, not a policy wonk. He reflects on the word of God, looks at the world, and calls for conversion and change, but it is up to environmentalists, economists, business leaders, and public officials to come up with the concrete solutions to the environmental crisis we face.
Second, we should not expect miracles from the encyclical.
The entire world with not change after the encyclical is issued. The encyclical is part of a larger conversation that the people of the world must have. The pope has put a spotlight on this discussion and enriched the vocabulary, but it will take lots of discussion and work to turn things around.
The pope's encyclical will be his invitation to all of us to join in this conversation and this work. 
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Murder Mystery Dinner

Have you ever played a Murder Mystery Dinner game? I recommend it. It is a very fun way of passing a four and a half hour Italian meal with friends. I attended one last night and had a blast. Fortunately, my character was not the murderer. I knew that right away because I really had no motive even though several of my family members thought I could have murdered my father. All the clues pointed to someone else and one clue was quite damning. I trusted my gut and accused the right man.

If you can get eight friends who are willing to participate, I'll cook and host the game. We had so many laughs. Prior to the game, it was a whole mystery to me. I now just want to bring this fun to others.

I could not have started my Memorial Day weekend any better than I did. The many laughs last night and then I went to a Middle Eastern cafe with a friend this morning. All the delicacies reminded me of the best of Jordan. Yummy.

When I arrived home, for some reason I took a nap. Maybe it was because I looked at all the work I needed to do and needed some inspiration. I started organizing and cleaning and I worked for six straight hours. My room is tidy and organized. I had to rearrange it last week and now I have it settled. I even wrote out the Spanish masses that I'll say for the school. All is good. When I looked at the clock, it was already 7:00 p.m. By 8:00 p.m., I started painting to make my day very complete. I enjoyed painting some tulips. Excellent day.

Now I'm ready for two masses in the morning, then I'll visit my family to celebrate my mother's birthday and Memorial Day. The weather is supposed to be just superb. I feel accomplished.

It has just been a good week. This area is filled with amazing people who are so friendly. I was on the subway on my way to a concert this week and a woman reached out to me and said, "It has been a long, long time since I saw a priest on the subway. Now I feel safe. I know I will get home because you are here." She told me all about her work with minority kids and their art projects as her organization tries to build esteem. So many people have their kindness spill out. Even after the Boston Pops concert, where I was given a free ticket through the generosity of a mutual friend, many people came up to speak with me as if I was a friend. It is quite touching. I find that I do much praying for the people I meet each day during my evening examen.

Humor: God's beautiful creation


Frank, ... You know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there on the planet? What happened to the dandelions, violets, milkweeds and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar from the long-lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honey bees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But, all I see are these green rectangles.

It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers 'weeds' and went to great lengths to kill them and replace them with grass.

Grass? But, it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees; only grubs and sod worms. It's sensitive to temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it-sometimes twice a week.

They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

Not exactly, Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

No, Sir, just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And, when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

Yes, Sir.

These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it, so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stroke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn, they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. It's a natural cycle of life.

You better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them into great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

No!? What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter to keep the soil moist and loose?

After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

And where do they get this mulch?

They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

'Dumb and Dumber', Lord. It's a story about....

Oh never mind, I think I just heard the whole story from Frank.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Junípero Serra, saint or not

Thomas Reese  |  May. 15, 2015Faith and Justice

The upcoming canonization of Junípero Serra is causing controversy as his supporters view him as the Franciscan who brought Christianity to California Indians, while his opponents see him as a co-conspirator with the oppression of the Indians by the Spanish empire. Pope Francis will canonize him at a Sept. 23 Mass in Washington, D.C.
Who was Serra? What should we think of him?
For answers, I went to Robert Senkewicz, professor of history at Santa Clara University and an expert on early California history. He is the author of a number of books on early California, including the just-published Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary, which he wrote with his wife Rose Marie Beebe.

NCR: Who was Junípero Serra?
Robert Senkewicz: Junípero Serra was an 18th-century Franciscan who was a very successful philosophy teacher on the island of Mallorca. In the middle of his life, he volunteered to go to the missions of the New World, where Franciscans had been working since the early 1500s. Serra arrived in Mexico City on Jan. 1, 1750.

He spent eight years working in an area of Mexico about 100 miles north of Mexico City called the Sierra Gorda among the Pame Indians who had been evangelized a little bit earlier.
Then he spent another eight years working in various administrative positions at the missionary headquarters in Mexico City. During this time, he was also a member of the mission band that would go around and try to increase religious fervor in various Catholic parishes where they were invited by the local bishop.
When the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767, he was sent to be the head missionary taking over the former Jesuit missions in Baja California. The very next year, the Spanish government decided to move the frontier northward from Baja California to Upper California, or Alta California.
Serra enthusiastically volunteered for that and he accompanied the expedition that went from Baja California to Alta California. He spent the remaining 15 years of his life as the president of the Alta California Missions. Under his presidency, nine missions were founded.
What was the purpose of the missions?
They inevitably had a double purpose. Under the Spanish system, the missionaries were paid by the government, so missionaries were both church and state functionaries.
From the point of view of the church, the purpose of the missions was to spread the Gospel to those who had not been baptized.
From the point of view of the state, the missions were institutions aimed at assimilating the native peoples, making them citizens of the empire. That meant, among other things, learning European-style agriculture, becoming a Catholic, and living in a congregated pueblo-type arrangement, just like people in Spain.
A great deal of the tension in the mission system stemmed from this double purpose, for these two aims did not always coexist easily with each other.
What about the religious aim? How did he try to convert the Indians?
Serra’s preferred missionary strategy was to try to create a community in which native peoples would gradually come to understand the truth of the Gospel.
In our book, Rose Marie and I argue that some Lenten sermons Serra gave to a group of Poor Clares in 1744 in Majorca outlined that strategy. In those sermons, he used as his refrain a line from Psalm 33, "Taste and see that the Lord is good."
He says that God is like a culinary sweet, a piece of candy. If you've never tasted it, you don't know what you're missing. But once you taste it, you acquire an increasing desire for it.
That's how he thought the conversion process was going to work. The native peoples would gradually be exposed to a Christian community and they would gradually come to see that their deepest desires were being fulfilled as members of this community.
Why did the Indians actually go to the missions?
Native people entered the missions in California for a variety of reasons. No doubt some were genuinely interested in Catholicism. Others presented their sick children for baptism in hopes that the priest might be able to cure them.
Some came because there was food at the missions. That was important because what was going on in California was that the Spanish military and missionaries brought large numbers of horses, mules, burros, sheep and goats with them. These animals inevitably and quickly destroyed the plants, acorn and berries that had sustained a traditional way of life for centuries. They also drove away the game the native peoples had traditionally hunted.
The presence of the Spanish colonial enterprise very quickly rendered it almost impossible for the traditional native ways of life to be maintained. So, some people came into the mission system because their traditional ways of life and sustenance was being destroyed by the  colonial invaders.

Did Serra realize this?
Probably not.
How did this religious aim of the missions square with the other aim, the imperial aim?
Serra knew he was part of the Spanish empire, and he believed in the empire. But he and other missionaries thought that an important part of their role was to protect native peoples from the worst tendencies of the empire.
In a manner of evaluating colonialism that goes all the way back to 16th-century Dominicans Antonio de Montesinos and Bartóleme de las Casas, missionaries generally thought that they were protecting native peoples from potential exploitation by soldiers, ranchers, miners and settlers.
So, they generally tried to keep the native people separated from these other groups. In doing so they cut some corners. Generally speaking, they did not do a thorough job of explaining to the native peoples that baptism was, from their point of view, a lifetime commitment and that entering the mission system was a one-way street -- you were able to go in, but you would not be permitted to leave.
Would you say then that the Indians were enslaved by the missionaries?
Coercion and force were part of the mission system, but I wouldn't say that they were enslaved. Slavery is a specific legal system. To use it in an American context equates with the way Africans were treated in the American South, and it was a very different kind of situation. Indians were definitely regarded as inferior. But they were regarded not as property, but as people.
What was Serra’s attitude and behavior toward the Indians?
His attitude and behavior were frankly and explicitly paternalistic. Along with probably 99 percent of the people in Europe at the time, he thought that non-Europeans were inferior to Europeans. There was a big debate in the early Spanish empire about whether or not the native peoples were fully rational beings or not.
By the time Serra got to the New World, many Spanish thinkers believed that the native peoples of the Americas were in a state of "natural infancy," that they were children. Serra shared that view and he basically had a paternalistic attitude towards them.
That paternalistic attitude could, at times, result in a behavior which anybody today would find very hard to justify. If people left the mission without permission, they were pursued and hunted by soldiers and other Indians. If they were brought back, the normal punishment was flogging. What the Spanish military and missionaries thought they were doing was punishing children to make them understand how they should behave.
Were Indians converted at the missions?
It's pretty clear that at the beginning the native peoples did what Europeans, the so-called "barbarians,"  had done a millennium earlier. They interpreted Christianity through their own traditional ways, through their own traditional deities and spirituality. So, what resulted in the missions was a mix, a syncretism, a new melding of traditional indigenous California spirituality and imported Spanish and Mexican Catholic spirituality. 
Over time, some missionaries understood this and accepted it. Others were very impatient with it. Serra was most likely somewhere in the middle.
Did Serra like the Indians?
As we were researching the book, we came to the conclusion that Serra himself was personally a much more complex individual than either his proponents or his detractors acknowledged. He could be very conflicted.
On the one hand, he really enjoyed being with native peoples who were not baptized because that was the reason  he had come to the New World .
For instance, he kept a diary of his journey from Loreto in Baja California up to San Diego in 1769. For him, one of the most emotional days of his life was in a place in Baja California where a group of native unbaptized people came out of the woods and presented themselves to the priest. This was the first time in his life that he had personally encountered a large group of unbaptized Indians. He was overwhelmed.
In his diary he said, "I kissed the ground and thanked God for giving me what I have longed for so many years." It was really a tremendously emotional experience for him. After 19 years in America, he was finally going to get to do what he came to do: preach to the unbaptized.
I think that some native peoples that he met could pick up that he really wanted to be there. He really enjoyed being with native peoples because he felt that his identity as a missionary was the most important thing for him. 
After all, he had been an extremely popular teacher and preacher. He probably could have become Franciscan provincial of Mallorca. He gave it all up because he found that the academic life wasn't giving him satisfaction. He wanted to do direct pastoral work. He was excited and happiest when he was doing that.
It is always extremely difficult to intuit the thoughts, motives and genuine behavior of native peoples through the writings of colonial officials, but I think it is reasonable to surmise that some native people, especially in the area around which he spent most of his time, Carmel, understood and appreciated him. He was a man who was happiest when he was out there directly engaged in pastoral work.
He was most unhappy when he had to deal with soldiers and governors. Serra never met a military governor that he liked. He dealt with three of them and disliked each one more than the previous one.
He also tended to be unhappy when he had to deal with his religious superiors back in Mexico City. He would sometimes think that they didn't understand what he was trying to do. His superiors often thought he was too impatient and too reckless in establishing so many missions so quickly. Maybe that criticism came with the territory. Indeed, the Jesuit missionary in Arizona, Eusebio Kino, experienced similar strictures from his own superiors.
At one point, Serra complained about all this: "I'm spending half of my life at a desk writing reports." He was clearly upset at all of the effort he had to put into such activity.    
What made him happiest was being a missionary among unbaptized people. What made him especially happy was when he could do that directly one-on-one with native peoples. When he described that  human interaction, he tended not to acknowledge the fact that he was part of a larger colonial system that could be, at times, very brutal and very bloody.
Did the Indians like him?
Some of them certainly did. The California native culture was not a written culture. It was an oral culture. So scholars try to infer how the native peoples are reacting through obviously biased reports of Spanish writers. Even with that, I think that some of them really did like him, and they were fond of him. They kept calling him Padre Viejo, the old priest.
He kind of liked that. He was considerably older than most of the other Spaniards or Mexican the natives were encountering. He was also shorter and more frail than most of them. I think some of them sort of adopted him almost as a mascot.
In December 1776, for instance, he was traveling through the Santa Barbara area, and there was a huge rainstorm. So the small party that he was with had to leave the beach where they were traveling and go up to the foothills because the waves were coming in. They got bogged down in the mud.
Suddenly, and out of nowhere, a group of Chumash Indians appeared. They picked Serra up and carried him through the mud so that he could continue his journey. They stayed with him for a couple of days, and he tried to teach them to sing some songs. That was the kind of thing that he just loved.
Other native peoples, for instance the Kumeyaay  who in 1775 led a rebellion in San Diego that destroyed the mission and killed one of the priests, clearly didn't like the mission system at all. In fact, after that episode, Serra wrote to the viceroy and asked that, if he were to be killed by an Indian, that Indian ought not be executed but forgiven.
So, some did like him, and some thought that he was somebody who was destroying their way of life. The native response to the Spanish occupation of California was similar to the native response to many other incursions of European colonialism in the Americas. Definitely more negative than accepting, and complex and mixed.
Were Indians exploited to support the mission system?
Yes. As the mission system developed over time it became a different kind of place after Serra's death in 1784 as a result of a couple of circumstances.
In 1810, the independence insurgency in Mexico under Miguel Hidalgo and Juan María Morelos broke out. If you were the viceroy at the time, you were going to do everything that you could to defeat this insurgency. So the supply ship, which every year had come up from Mexico to California, stopped coming because all resources were being diverted to fighting Hidalgo and Morelos.
All of the sudden, California was not getting its regular replenishment of supplies. The institutions in California that were best equipped to deal with this situation were the missions because by that time, they were pretty skilled at growing food.
They also had  blacksmiths, carpenters and other skilled personnel. Some of these skilled laborers were Indians, who had learned from Mexican craftsmen at the missions, and who would pass on those skills to their own children. So the missions became the economic engines of California from about 1810 increasingly onward.
The result was the missions began to reach farther and farther away from the coast to get more native people to keep up production levels. By the early 1820s, the missionaries were almost ranchers as much as they were missionaries. They were selling their hides and tallow to American and British merchants who were trading up and down the coast.
The missionaries would have definitely not described themselves as ranchers, but I think that’s what happened. And ranching concerns and missionary activity did not always coexist well together.
For instance, peoples' freedom of movement within the mission compound became more restricted. An example was that young girls and women were locked up at night because the missionaries thought, not without reason, that some soldiers would rape them if they were unprotected.
But putting so many individuals together in an enclosed and often cramped space created a very unhealthy environment. Young girls and women were especially vulnerable to imported diseases to which they had not developed any immunities. For this and other reasons, such as heavy workload, the death rate in the missions was very high and it increased over time.
Obviously, the missionaries didn't know about germ theory, or anything like that. But, they knew people were dying in great numbers because they were doing the funerals, and they kept very full records of all sacramental matters. Some were extremely upset, while others appear to have contented themselves with the assurance that this simply meant that more souls were going to heaven. It is very jarring and infuriating to read those words today.
Did the Franciscans or the church get rich through the missions? Did any of the profits from the missions go back to Mexico or Spain?
In the quarter century after 1810, the missions generated considerable income. But close study of the financial system and of the mission account books indicates pretty clearly that the overwhelming amount of this income, more than 90 percent, went directly back into mission enterprises, especially clothing for the native peoples and liturgical, catechetical and sacramental supplies. Very little was retained in Mexico City or went back to Spain.
The accusation, made by some opponents of the missions at the time and occasionally repeated since, that the church in general or the missionaries in particular enriched themselves, appears to be unfounded.
What happened to the Indians and the mission land when the Mexican government ended the mission system in the 1830s?
The padres always said, "The land belongs to the Indians, and we hold it in trust for the Indians." According to various laws, that was the technical reality. But the land was actually divided among the leading California families by the Mexican government.
So, Indians became ranch hands on the ranchos. On the ranchos, many Indians became valued laborers, because of the skills they had learned at the missions. However, their lives were sometimes quite similar to what they had known at the missions. The major difference was that they could leave if they wanted to.
Given all of this, what about the issue of Serra’s canonization?
I’m an historian, not a theologian. But I have tried to follow the debate and I do know a number of native Californians who are very opposed to the canonization of Fr. Serra. Many of their arguments are deeply reasoned, well articulated, passionate and personal.
I think that many of the arguments rest upon two concerns. First, the concern that canonizing Serra is by implication approving the entire mission system, including all of the punishments, diseases and deaths that were a part of that system. The second concern is that to canonize Serra is to justify and whitewash the church's role in colonial expansion -- as it were, to bless the European expansion into the Americas and the horrible loss of native lives and land that was part and parcel of that process.
On the first point, we have a section in our book about how, under the influence of the Spanish revival movement in southern California in the late 19th century, Serra became a virtual symbol for everything that happened in pre-US California. Serra was made into such a symbol by a group of Anglo boosters to further their own aims.
I personally don't think it is legitimate to make Serra a stand-in for the entire 65 years of mission experience in California. The system developed after his death in ways he did not plot or intend. So I do not personally believe that in canonizing him the church intends to say that it is blessing everything that happened in the missions from the time they were started until the time they ended. I don't think that canonization means that the person is perfect or that everything that happened after his death, even some perhaps unforeseen or unintended consequences, were necessarily good and beneficial. If those were the criteria, probably no one would ever be canonized!

On the second issue, the notion that the church should not have been involved in colonial expansion, I think that veers too easily into a simplistic way of looking at history. The study of the past is always a dialogue between past and present, and I fear that this notion is too exclusively focused on the present to the neglect of the past.
As I said before, the missionaries generally thought that they were representing the "softer" side of colonialism, that they were protecting the native peoples from the more oppressive parts of the system. The Catholic Church and Serra were definitely part of the colonial process. While I can understand 21st century people saying that religion should stay out of colonial land grabs and refuse to justify them, we can’t simply export that view back to the 18th century. The cold hard fact was that some European power was going to come into California, and the only question for the church was whether it wanted to try to influence that process from the inside or whether it wanted to remain outside that process and give up any influence at all.
Indeed, we do know what did happen when religious groups were not present to try to protect native peoples and were not involved in colonial expansion into native territories. The example of Indian removal from many regions in the 19th century U.S. is a grim instance. In fact, if there was genocide against native peoples in California, it happened during the gold rush, in the 1850s, when Americans offered bounties for Indian scalps and the native peoples of Northern California were brutally decimated and oppressed.
Whatever their faults, no Spanish or Mexican missionary in California ever came close to uttering the refrain that was heard among 19th-century North Americans, that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian." And nothing on the scale of Sand Creek or Wounded Knee ever occurred in connection with the California missions.
I don’t know what Pope Francis intended by announcing the canonization of Serra. But I can  understand that, in Junípero Serra’s willingness to sacrifice the comforts of a very successful career, to forego climbing the academic and ecclesiastical ladders, to travel halfway around the world in order to live the rest of his life among people he had never seen but whom he deeply and genuinely loved, and to go without many advantages he could easily have gained, one sees qualities that are very consistent with what the church has long held up as indications of sanctity.
[Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese is a senior analyst for NCR and author of Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Follow him on Twitter: @ThomasReeseSJ.]

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Up to my elbows in Pastelles

This afternoon I gained greater appreciation for the sophistication of Hispanic food. I learned how to make one thousand pastelles from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Before I arrived at the church, I had no idea whether a pastelle was a dessert or an entree. I was given a knife and a hairy potato-like squash to shave. We would be carving many root vegetables. The hairy potato looked so odd and barely edible and it produced a purplish color that made it look a little bruised. We diced three industrial-sized boxes of these potatoes (papa.)

Dicing the bananas was easy, but I only had one to do before I was given an autumn squash that had an exterior that was (muy dura) very hard. My fingers are raw from cutting so many of those roots. I could tell the mujeres (women) allowed me to do a little more on my own. They took the easier roots.

After two hours of dicing, we cleaned those massive bins of diced vegetables before running them through a grinder that created huge bowlfuls of goop. Then we added lots of salt, paprika, pork sauce, beef broth, and lots of other previously-unknown-to-me spices. My job? Mix those bowls well.

My elbows were covered in goop as I mixed six of those bins. I could hear the suppressed laughs while the women admired my technique. If I had been in Amman, the Filipinos would not let me do a thing, but these Spanish-speaking women have no problem doling out jobs. I stirred and stirred until they said "basta." My biggest surprise was they did not use eggs.

What they did next was very interesting to me. They laid out waxed parchment paper, applied a few spoonfuls of the mixture onto paper, added a little pork mixture, and topped it with olives and garbanzo beans. They then folded the mixture into a rectangle and then wrapped it as if they were gift-wrapping it with string.

The process from that point gets fuzzy. I think they are freezing the pastelles until Saturday's Spring Fling, but eventually these items have to be dropped into boiling water for 45 minutes to an hour. If water seeps in, the pastelle is tasteless, but these are so elegantly wrapped that no water will touch the mixture.

I can't wait to see how they turn out on Saturday. The mystery of it intrigues me. I liken them to a British or Australian meat-pie (pasties.)

Well, I had done much of the cleaning and it was abundantly clear that the master chefs had taken over so I simply said, "See you on Saturday" and returned to the Jesuit residence. I now appreciate the extraordinary effort to make these pastelles because so much hard work is needed. These women are certainly proud.