Wednesday, January 27, 2016


Forget the orange jumps suits and sandals, the uniformed armed guards, the sterile locked room… because for a couple of hours it is Beth-El Sanctuary.  You can sense Father Abraham’s spirit of faith supporting action.

   Once a month, Joanne and I visit the Kenosha Detention center for immigrants. It’s a cleansing but overwhelming experience.  The visiting program, the Interfaith Committee for Detained Immigrants, is sponsored and run by the Mercy sisters of Chicago.

   The prisoners are marched into the room and we sit around tables for discussion.  My first impression is – they are young men - these are just kids – what are they doing here?

   The discussions are serious – do you have family here – do you expect to be deported – what about your children?  There is not much Joanne and I can do; I often try to lighten the conversation and sometimes it’s an embarrassing failure.  A couple of weeks before Christmas we were talking to an inmate named Nicholas and a couple of others.  They talked about their families.  With an attempt at humor I said,

          How can we celebrate Christmas when Nichols is in jail?

          Get it – St. Nick? No one laughed including Joanne.  I thought I’d try again when our supervisor came to our table.  She listened to the ‘joke’ – tears came to her eyes, and she walked away.  To see Dads locked in prison at Christmas time is just painfully sad; a poor attempt at humor doesn’t help.  As always we prayed – faith and hope of liberation were still there despite imprisonment caused by of a broken immigration system.

“From the depths I call to you Yahweh, Lord listen to my call for help…” Psalm 130

   When the prisoners come to the table we introduce ourselves.  A young beardless man presented himself:

          I am Inocensio.
          Yes, I said –  as everyone, but what is your name? 
          Inocensio, (he said again– I got it)
          I’m Bill - good to meet you.  

Inocencio had signed deportation papers, but wants to see his mother before he leaves for his home country.  She is in Chicago and dying of cancer.  The Mercy Sisters promised to help.  We prayed.

“Yahweh, be my judge!  I go my way in my innocence, My trust in Yahweh never wavers.” Psalm 26

   I talked to the Center’s Chaplain, who is Muslim, about the dispute over prayer times at Ariens Manufacturing in Brillion, WI.  Muslim workers from Somalia walked off the job because of restrictions on prayer.  The chaplain was clearly moved.  He said he would do the same as the workers if he were in a similar situation.  “To pray is who I am – it’s a matter of identity.”  There are no prayer restrictions at the detention center.  

“O God, you are my God – for you I long! For you my body yearns, for you my soul thirsts.”  Psalm 63 

   I find it difficult to go to the immigration prison; I couldn’t do it alone, but it is a valuable religious experience.  It’s a time of energizing awareness – “concientizacion” in Spanish.  Prayer, justice and faith are intertwined. All the motivation a person might need in the struggle - jihad - to change the cruel and unjust immigration system is right there at Beth – El.

“To Yahweh belong earth and all it holds, the world and all who live in it; Yahweh founded it on the seas, based it firmly on over the rivers.” Psalm 24


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

PLANET EARTH - ON ALERT by Joan Bleidorn

The Paris Climate Conference held in September 2015 is now over and the end result was that all 190 countries were in full agreement that the planet was in dire straights due to climate change.  It was agreed that global warming was caused primarily by human beings and their overuse of fossil fuels.  It was unanimously agreed that the science on this was in, and that all of us sharing this endangered planet must pull together, if we want to survive and leave a habitable place for our children and grandchildren.  These 190 countries agreed to make every effort to limit global warming to 1.5 degree Celsius. This was an amazing accomplishment, which may not have occurred had the commitment been in the form of a treaty.  The measures taken by each country would be voluntary, but the incentive was there. President Obama knew that a treaty would be rejected by an obstructionist Congress.

The major responsibility for change must come from the wealthiest nations whose carbon footprint on the planet is the heaviest.  The inhabitants of poor nations are not to be held accountable for planetary damage, since their use of resources is at a bare minimum.

Young people, especially in the U.S. are stepping up to the plate to eliminate fossil fuels through the divestment movement.  College students all across the country are becoming increasingly active, and putting pressure on colleges to divest from fossil fuels. We are talking big money here, that could be put to better use by reinvesting in renewables like wind and solar power.  The activism of young people, including young children, is increasing, since they are well aware that they will be the ones inheriting a trashed planet, If things do not change.

We now clearly understand that since a mere 3% of the world's water supply is fresh water, it must be carefully conserved and not squandered. Fracking is a drastic misuse of our precious water, with huge amounts being pumped a mile underground, along with dangerous chemicals, to force natural gas to the surface.  In addition to the squandering of our water, fracking lays the foundation for earthquakes.  We now have some 7 billion people inhabiting a planet that can comfortably accommodate 4 billion.  The population is expected to skyrocket to as high as 14 billion, within decades.  We cannot survive without water; it is essential to life. But in spite of water shortages, corporations like Nestle can gain control of vast amounts for bottled water, to sell to those who can pay.  The poor are left without.  Meanwhile, Nestle leaves as a disastrous legacy millions upon millions of plastic bottles, which further damage the environment.  The lack of access to clean water for all threatens the stability of the planet.

Climate change brings extremes in weather, with floods in some areas, and drought in others.  These extremes will mean crops will fail, and there will not be enough food and water to sustain life, with resulting conflicts and wars. This is one of the major causes of the tragedy now occurring in Syria, a country that has seen years of drought, crop failures, and now faces mass starvation, while the rest of the world stands back and can't seem to consider anything other than a military solution.  War is never the answer. We will see increasing numbers of refugees fleeing devastated countries, in search of a safe place to live, unless we commit ourselves to doing our part to limit global warming.

It is said that a meat eater riding a bicycle does more damage to the environment than a vegetarian driving a Hummer.  This is no exaggeration. It takes massive amounts of our precious water to grow the grain to feed the cows which provide us with meat.  In Kewaunee County, Wisconsin alone, there are some 15 farms each with 10,000 cows, totaling some 150,000 cows per day eating grain and creating massive amounts of cow "poop", which then further damages or environment through methane in our soil and water.  This is one county alone, in Wisconsin.  If you want to do something really effective to protect the planet, cut down on the amount of meat you eat, or if you are really committed, cut it out completely. You could well experience a great boost to your health and well-being. It's worth a try, and you might find some garden and veggie burgers are actually very tasty.

The pollution caused by automobiles has hit the news within the past few weeks.  In Delhi, the pollution was so great, that all cars were pulled off the roads for a time.  In Beijing, the same unbearable pollution forced the authorities to close the schools for several days, and force cars off the roads.  In some cities, only a certain number of cars were allowed on the road, because life had becoming unbearable because of polluted air.  You know there is something drastically wrong when you can't go out-side without wearing a mask. 

Driving less is an immeasurably good way to help lessen climate change.  Cities like New York are so well equipped with mass transit that many New Yorkers, or even most, can get along without a car.  They are walkers, bikers, and heavy users of mass transit.  They are, incidentally, for the most part, much healthier than the rest of us in other cities in the U.S.  They walk, while many of us drive everywhere.  We could start small, and leave our car in the garage one day a week if possible, and move up from there.  Everybody could benefit, if there are fewer cars on the road, with cleaner air, fewer accidents, and less stress on the road. Take the bus. You'll like it.  You don't have to circle round and round on busy downtown streets, trying to find a parking spot, where you shell out $6.00 or more, hoping you won't find a parking ticket waiting for you when you get back.  Life can be less stressful.  Try it.  Pretend you are a New Yorker.

Pope Francis in his encyclical LAUDATO SI, warns us about the consumerism in our society, and we know he is talking about us American shoppers whose     basements, attics, and closets are stuffed with 'bargains' we got at the Mall.  Two for price of one, when we don't even need one. We might want to divest ourselves of this excess, and find we have gained living space that was formerly housing unneeded 'stuff.'  I think they call it downsizing.  It's worth a try.  We might even find breathing easier, as some of those bargains at the Mall contain some of the 7000 dangerous chemicals found in the average home.

What exactly is a somewhat spoiled middle class American adult to do to help lessen an undeniably heavy carbon footprint on the planet? Many of us are eager for change, eagerly waiting for someone to do something, someone else, oblivious to the fact that that someone must be US, and it must be NOW.  Otherwise, we cannot in good conscience look our children and grandchildren in the eye, knowingthey will be the ones to face the consequences of climate change. Do something. Anything. Start small. Good luck!

Joan Bleidorn, a Canadian-born United States citizen, is an activist in the Peace movement and advocates for immigrant and worker justice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


Woodcut by Carlos Hermosilla Alvarez
Chilean, 1905 - 1991
Juan XXIII, 1978
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Joel H Rosenthal
Collection of the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University

   Marquette’s Haggerty Art Museum holds a beautiful and intricate woodcut portrait of Pope John XIII by Chilean Carlos Hermosilla Alvarez. (1905 -1991)  The woodcut was displayed at the Haggerty in an exhibition titled, “Que es hispanico?” (What is Hispanic?), from September to December this last year.  

   As described in the Haggerty brochure by Scott Dale, the artist is a “Chilean poet, humanitarian, beloved art professor, realist, print maker, and graphic artist.” The bold portrait expresses fortitude and hope emerging from tragedy yet human potential.  The background of the portrait shows the crosses of Calvary, the suffering face of the crucified Jesus, Vatican’s St. Peter’s and Pope Benedict XV.  The title of John XIII’s encyclical Peace on Earth appears in Spanish – Paz en la Tierra.  The ‘z’ in Paz is reversed – it must be that typos in wood cuts are irreversible.  Carlos Hermosilla Alvarez experienced what he expresses in art. Scott Dale reports that Hermosilla Alvarez suffered physically from various serious ailments.  The artist, like the poet Pablo Neruda, also had to endure the violent, U.S. sponsored regime of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

   We can relate to the artist’s message today.  The crosses in the background and the suffering face of Jesus mirror the suffering of undocumented children and families torn apart by a broken immigration system. Alvarez experienced the injustices and suffering perpetrated on the Chilean people after the September 11 golpe del estado in 1973 by Augusto Pinochet.

   The forgotten Pope Benedict XV appears in the background. Scott Dale in the Haggerty brochure says John XXIII referred to Benedict XV as “the most sympathetic of the popes he had met.” Their common bond is understandable.  John XIII as a chaplain and hospital orderly experienced the horrors of World War I.  Benedict XV did what he could do to alleviate the suffering and offered a peace proposal that was rejected by the warring nations.  Even French Dominican A.G. Sertillanges, O.P. preached against the peace proposal,[1] but after the war U.S. president Wilson used it as a model for his fourteen point path to peace.[2]  

   John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris, written just before he died, (Peace on Earth, 1963) continues his struggle for peace by setting a strong theme for Vatican II. The woodcut has the Spanish title in the background of the portrait – Paz en la Tierra. In Pacem in Terris, John sees the way to peace through justice.  He elaborates on previous papal encyclicals by stating that workers have the right and duty to form unions.  Also the public has the duty to support unions. (1:44)  This is certainly in opposition to the Pinochet regime.

    St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican as a background for the woodcut is a reminder of the Vatican II Council.  John XXIII in his opening speech emphasized mercy rather than condemnation. This too is the theme for the present pope.  Francis has called for a holy year of mercy.    

   Documents of Vatican II attempted to break down barriers so all could cooperate and work for peace.  It offered reconciliation with atheists, Protestants, and non-Christians.  Dictator of Spain, Franco, favored by Pius XII, received a cold shoulder from John XXIII and the Council. The Vatican’s cooperation with the injustice of fascism was ended. John XXIII on his death bed said:

The secret of my ministry is in the crucifix….Those open arms have been the program of my pontificate: they mean that Christ died for all, for all.  No one is excluded from his love, from his forgiveness.” [3]

   John XXIII and Vatican Council II attempted to change the identity of the Roman Catholic Church from self-absorbing righteous piousness to ecumenism in search of justice and peace.

[1] Thomas F. O’Meara, O.P. and Paul Philbert, O.P., Scanning the Signs of the Times, ATF Ltd. Hindmarsh. SA 5007, 2013, p.3.

[2] Greg Tobin, The Good Pope, HarperOne, 2012, p. 45.

[3] Thomas Cahill, Pope John XXIII, Penguin, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England, 2002.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


   For the most part Roman Catholic theology has shied away from fundamentalism, but when it has fallen into the mire of literal interpretation of scripture the results have been disaster. The worst of course is the reading of the New Testament as blaming the Jews for Jesus crucifixion by the Romans.  A root cause of the holocaust is distorted Christian theology.

   An editorial in the National Catholic Reporter “US church leadership is in transition” (NCR, Dec. 4-17, 2015) urged U.S. bishops to get in line with the leadership of Pope Francis.  In support of the argument, NCR resorts to a fundamentalist analysis:

"Francis’ approach should have the ring of familiarity to anyone who wanders through the stories of our sacred texts and is taken with Jesus’ risky encounter with the masters of law of his own time."

I am not a scripture scholar, but I find the NCR use of the “sacred texts” troubling.   

Petersdom von Engelsburg gesehen.jpg

   Vatican II document “Nostra Aetate” (1965) states:

"Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be represented as rejected by God or accursed, as if that follows from Holy Scripture." #4

Despite Vatican II and “Nostra Aetate,” the NCR editorial is an indication that there still is a problem.  I have heard many homilies that underline the gospels narrative of Jesus’ antipathy to the Pharisees indicating a “risky” clash of ideas.

   The gospels are not historical works but an interpretation of Faith with a prime reference to Jesus of Nazareth. After the destruction of the Temple by the Romans (70 C.E.), the gospel writers found themselves in competition with the rabbinic movement.  Which Jewish sect would prevail?   Originally the Jesus vs. “masters of the law” stories in the New Testament may have been simply rough politics.  After Emperor Constantine’s Council of Nicaea (325 C.E.) declared Jesus God and man, politics moved to dogma.

Add c"Rome-Capitole-StatueConstantin" by I, Jean-Christophe BENOIST. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons -

    What do we know about the historical Jesus’ attitude towards the law of his faith?   Jesus as an associate of John the Baptist may have been a strong advocate of the importance of the law.  The Gospel of Matthew relates the story of Jesus the law giver – he places stronger demands than people are accustomed to, and he also said, “till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one stroke will disappear from the law.” (Mt. 5)  Discussions and debates about the law are not uncommon among rabbis; to say that they were “risky” requires fundamentalist conflation with the passion stories.

   Then there is the story in all three synoptic Gospels of Jesus’ encounter with “masters of the law” (Mk. 12:28-34, Lk. 10:25-28, Mt. 22:34-40).  The question was “What is the greatest commandment of the Law?”  All agreed – “God is one - love God and your neighbor as yourself.” (Duet. 6:4, - Lev. 19:18)  Jesus and his disciples would have had this memorized since childhood.  The story has a ring of truth.

In consideration of politics of the present - again “Nostra Aetate” #3…

"Although in the course of centuries many quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this most Sacred Synod urges all to forget the past to strive sincerely for mutual understanding.  On behalf of all mankind, let them make common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace, and freedom."  

File:Benito Mussolini Face.jpg
Benito_Mussolini_Face.jpg ‎(200 × 303 pixels, file size: 13 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg)

   It’s a sad situation; if it is acceptable for liberals to refer to questionable stories to support their cause, why not give the same license to conservatives to condemn some other Semitic people who might be Muslims?  Pius XI in tearfully lamenting Mussolini’s anti-Jewish laws, and perhaps his own complicity, recognized that, with Abraham as father, “Spiritually we are all Semites.” *

Pope John XXIII - 1959.jpg
Pope John XXIII

   And therefore the narrow-minded racism of contemporary politics prompts us to remember Pope John XXIII’s Vatican II. (1962 – 1965)  The Council emphasized ecumenism – the universality of humankind - during the most dangerous part of the cold war.  Perhaps this was an important reason the world survived.  Current times demand a revived ecumenism if we are to survive the new surge of nationalism and violence based at least partly on religious fundamentalism.  The closing of the Chanukah celebration provides a lesson for all from the Jewish Scriptures: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit said the Lord of Hosts.” Zechariah 4: 1-7.

*David I. Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini, Random House, New York, 2014, p. 120