National Catholic Reporter

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Peace & Justice

The urgent need to return to being the church of the poor


[Editor's Note: This article was written in 2009 for the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bishop Helder Camara, and it is published here with permission from the author. It was translated from the Spanish by Jesuit Fr. Joseph Owens]

Today, March 24, marks the 30th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination while celebrating Mass in a hospital chapel in San Salvador. Read the full report by


editor Pat Marrin here.

Envisioning the Church as "poor and powerless" has never prospered much among us. Not even Vatican II, as important and decisive as it was in other matters, made it a central concern. The Latin American bishops' conference at Medellín (1968) did indeed make it a key issue, and the Puebla conference (1979) also stressed it, even in the face of serious opposition. For the last three decades, however, the abandonment of the vision has been only too apparent. As Fr. José Comblin says: "After Puebla there began the Church of silence. The Church began to have nothing to say." Although the Aparecida conference (2007) slowed down the decline a bit, the Church has still not experienced that "turning around of history" that Fr. Ignacio Ellacuría said was needed in order to heal a society that is gravely ill. The conclusion is that we need to return to being a Church of the poor and to work hard for that. In El Salvador, since the death of Archbishop Romero, the erosion has been clear, as has been the need for ecclesiastical regeneration.

Lent in a warmaking empire



We live in a warmaking empire, where war is being waged indiscriminately in order to control and acquire resources -- namely oil in Iraq, and natural gas and oil in Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea. The U.S. continues to create mass violence in Afghanistan, bringing death to countless innocent Afghan civilians and nearly 1,000 U.S. soldiers.

The United States has also increased its military intervention in Pakistan and Yemen. According to the Pakistani newspaper, The News (Feb. 2, 2010), U.S. drone attacks killed 123 civilians in January 2010.

Learning in community


MILWAUKEE -- When Leah Todd steps off the elevator in her dorm after a long night of studying at the library, she has only one thing on her mind: sleep.

But before she can drag her feet to her room, Todd sees several of her neighbors sitting in the lounge talking about their day. She breathes a sigh of relief.

She is home at last.

A journalism and philosophy double major, Todd is one of 44 Marquette University sophomores participating in the inaugural Dorothy Day Social Justice Living/Learning Community.

Lessons from Abroad to America on Universal Health Care


When the President’s extraordinary discussion of health care at Blair House was concluding, it was just beginning here in Malta. For several intensely interesting hours thereafter, the U.S. Embassy engaged in an equally extraordinary bit of reverse public diplomacy; that is, America was the student, and this ancient island civilization was the teacher.

As America’s Ambassador here with a penchant for trying to combine an inquisitive academic mind with newly grafted diplomatic effort, I invited the “best and the brightest” of the Malta medical fraternity (and they are legion, including having one of their own as cardiovascular chair at Mayo) to do a thorough public comparison of the universal health care system in Malta with the President’s far more modest, but important, effort at providing health care to millions of uninsured.

Malta has had universal health care for generations, and the discussion took place in the sprawling and new teaching hospital – Mater Dei. That’s right, in Catholic Malta, the public hospital is not at all bashful about acknowledging the mother of God – in name, and as discussed, medical deed.

Religious groups urge health care action



As President Obama prepared to meet with members of Congress Feb. 25 in a nationally televised health care summit, the head of the Catholic Health Association, dozens of Catholic theologians and a wide coalition of religious leaders called on legislators to take action together on meaningful health care reform.

On the eve of the summit, U.S. bishops reminded congressional leaders that they have long taught that "health care is a basic human right."

“The price of inaction is simply too high to pay,” Daughter of Charity Sr. Carol Keehan, CHA president and CEO, said in a statement Feb. 23.

In a letter to Obama and congressional leaders the same day, more than two dozen leading Catholic theologians and other scholars joined the Catholic Alliance for the Common Good, Sojourners and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in calling reform legislation a task of “great urgency.”

The economy's immoral, people are angry. Now what?

News Analysis

NEW YORK -- Ever since the Great Recession began in the fall of 2008, Christians and other faith leaders have criticized the speculative excess and greed that led to the crisis.

A consensus on what to do about it, however, has yet to emerge.

The parameters of the critique were recently staked out at the Trinity Institute's “Building an Ethical Economy” conference here, at Trinity Episcopal Church in the heart of Wall Street. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams bemoaned the damage that results from “an economic climate in which everything reduces to the search for maximized profit and unlimited material growth.”

Williams focused less on short-term action and more on how communities of faith need to examine language and self-image in order to contribute to building an ethical economy over the long term.

There have been no shortage of suggested solutions. Last July, Pope Benedict XVI proposed a macro solution to the financial crisis, calling for a new world financial order that would reform the United Nations and other international institutions in order to give poorer countries more of a role in international policy.

The medical care that is not care


My daughter-in-law practices medicine in Denver. She tells me of an uninsured man with an incarcerated hernia who came to the emergency room in need of immediate surgery. They could not find a surgeon willing to operate on an uninsured patient. The emergency room physicians reduced the hernia -- a temporary fix at best -- and the man went home.

While this man and others struggle to get health care, I stand with my 91-year-old mother struggling to stem the tide of tests, procedures and hospitalizations. If many young people seldom see doctors for even simple preventative treatment, many old people become professional patients whose last years are spent in waiting rooms and labs, in hospital beds and inside MRI tubes.


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