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November 11th, 2002
A Chilean Community's New Home for Poor Seniors

Pride pulsated through my veins, turning me into a third-grader with Attention Deficit Disorder as I anticipated the inauguration of the Casa Acogida (“Hospitality House”). The house is a project that was four years in the making—an alternative to the substandard rooms (wooden walls and dirt floors) that elderly adults who come to my center often call home. Full of vivid colors and intricate ornaments, the house is a refurbished beauty that ten abuelos will eventually call their own. The only missing aspect of the project is a non-elderly resident in charge of the daily routine of the new community.
The Hogar de Cristo (“Christ’s Home“), the social service agency where I…

November 7th, 2002
Beyond Empty Calories to Real Spiritual Sustenance

Oatmeal is not a favorite food of two-year-olds. Mine wasn’t too thrilled to see it arrive on the breakfast table this morning. He ate grudgingly, intermittent spoonfuls hitting the table and floor. I cajoled it into him, bite by bite, nudging the bowl back every time he pushed it away.
It would have been a lot less hassle just to slap a box of Reese Puffs or a couple of those frosted toaster treats in front of the kid. Or any other of those morning-time goodies that fill our supermarkets, such as breakfast pizza or one of those frosted, sugar-dipped, marshmallow-laden “cereals” always prancing across our TV screens. All fast, easy, and purportedly tasty, at least to kids.
Junky breakfast food…

November 5th, 2002
Meditations on Who Wears—and Irons—the Pants

Are we allowed to say “housewife” anymore? I doubt it’s ever been a flattering word — brings to mind frumpy ladies in hair curlers with ambitions no grander than getting good deals on rump roasts at the local supermarket. My overachieving parents raised me to look upon the fate of housewives, homemakers, as rather unfortunate. Having a successful career was a very important thing. Much of the other stuff could be muddled through. Suppers could be thrown together; nannies could be hired. From my mother, there was always this unspoken but unmistakable plea that I should never marry the type of man who expected cooking and cleaning and having his pants ironed.
My mother cried through my entire…

November 3rd, 2002
Salma Hayek as Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Julie Taymor's Mesmerizing Film

Salma Hayek beautifully portrays the joys and anguish of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo in Frida (Miramax).
The film reveals the gutsy-ness, persistence, brilliance, and pain of one of Mexico’s most renowned artists.
A promising and charming 18-year-old university student, Frida’s life takes an unexpected tragic turn when a 1925 trolley crash leaves her spine broken and leg mangled. Up to her chest in a body cast, her family is uncertain Frida will ever walk again. Determined to live?even from the confines of her bed?Frida energetically paints self-portraits by looking into a mirror her parents rig for her.
In time she succeeds in walking again. And soon Frida persuades established muralist Diego…

November 3rd, 2002
A U.S. Military Training Center Taught Latin America's Most Notorious Torturers and Assassins

At the School of the Americas protest in Fort Benning, Georgia, on November 16th and 17th, people wore T-shirts that borrowed the words of President Bush: “All known terrorist training camps must be shut down–start with the SOA.”
Since 1990, people gather every November in outrage at the existence of this Army training school by U.S. design, with U.S. government funding and–since 1984–on U.S. soil. The existence of a school whose lessons have largely been how to destabilize, torture, and kill, is especially repugnant in the current American climate of anti-terrorism.
SOA graduates from Latin American and Caribbean countries–too many to count–have given the orders for or carried…

November 1st, 2002
Shedding Light on All Souls Day

This year, to shed some light on All Souls Day (November 2), I had planned to write a beautiful, lovingly heartfelt tribute to my deceased uncle who was a Franciscan priest. If anyone deserves the full Busted Halo treatment, it is he. My tribute was going to be extremely uplifting, very Catholic, quite educational and inspirational. Then I had a dream, and my plan went south.
I dreamt of my dead grandmother on my mom’s side. In my dream, I went to hug her and tell her I loved her, and when I pulled back, she bit my nose. Hard. I’ll spare you the details of the dream, but let’s just say that when I woke up, I was less than thrilled at this R.E.M.-sleep raid on my face. Needless to say, I plan to take this up with…

November 1st, 2002
Electric Cars and Public Health, Yesterday and Today

Can a government honestly say it’s an advocate for the public’s health while siding with the auto industry against electric cars quotas?
It’s doubtful given the ill effects of smog and pollution from gas guzzling automobiles. Nonetheless, the White House is now supporting the automobile industry in its legal bid to eliminate requirements that auto manufacturers sell electric cars in California.
Here’s irony for you: California is home to some of the nation’s most smog-choked communities. Want more irony? Leaders in Washington have been clamoring about dwindling oil reserves and voted for a war on oil-rich Iraq (Iraq possesses huge areas of promising but unexplored oil…

November 1st, 2002
In Mexican Tradition All Souls Day is Dia de los Muertos

This autumn one group of Americans has chosen their Halloween costumes and bought candy. Another group is painting skulls and looking through scrapbooks for favorite pictures of dead relatives.
All Souls Day is the Catholic holiday commemorated on November 2, following All Saints Day the day before. But in Mexican and Mexican-American culture, Nov. 2 is also known as Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos?a celebration to honor relatives and ancestors who have passed away.
Dia de los Muertos honors the continuous cycle of life and death, says Marisol Torres, an art teacher at Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles. People of all ages make papier-mach? skulls, bright yellow tissue flowers, and Mexican decorative…

November 1st, 2002
Choosing Catholic or Public for Your Kids

My friends tell me that in their youth there was a pretty radical rivalry between Catholic school kids and public school kids in “CCD.”
I’ll take their word for it, because Latino kids like me were on “holy over-drive”
—we went to both! My mom was not taking any chances, and come to think of it, maybe she was right. I did choose to become a theologian.
But let’s say you don’t envision a life pouring over ancient religious texts for your children. How do you make certain that their education is the best it can possibly be? Which is better, Catholic school or public school?
When I became a mom, that question gained new meaning. It is not a question I can answer with a simple,…

October 31st, 2002
Halloween and a Childhood Discovery

When I was about ten years old growing up in Havana, my friends and I made an awesome discovery.
We had been rehearsing for the Christmas pageant in the church basement, and one day during our explorations between scenes we opened a previously unseen door to the unexpected. In the room, in the half-light from the high basement windows, we could see faces.
Yikes We jumped back in the doorway. Some of the figures were standing, others leaning, some were missing their hands, all of them stared at us with impenetrable glass eyes.
These statues stored in our church basement probably spanned 300 years, each shrouded in inscrutability. In Latin America, Spanish Catholicism had mingled with the indigenous and given us this…

October 31st, 2002
A Chicken, a Plastic Pumpkin, and the Challenge of Loving Your Neighbor

In a family room filled with children and toys—dolls, blocks, puzzles and board games—was my brother Manny’s big orange plastic Halloween pumpkin.
Living in a Midwestern suburb in Illinois, this pumpkin’s toy life was predictable and ordinary. A place to store hot wheel cars or markers. And our Catholic school lives and weekly Mass attendance were predictable and ordinary too, punctuated with the usual celebrations of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter.
That is until my parents announced our move to Miami, Florida. The five of us kids packed our clothes, books, and toys, including the pumpkin.
There were plenty of new things to see and do in Miami—sand to run in, ocean waves…

October 31st, 2002
The Redemption of Jack O'Lantern: A Fable

Jack O’Lantern sat in the glow of Hell’s ember, carving yet one more pumpkin in replacement of the rotting moldy one currently housing the Devil’s coal. Having been rejected by Heaven and doomed by Hell, Jack had walked the Darkness between them for uncountable years with only the light from Hell’s fire to guide his way. He had lost his soul, but he still retained the gift God gave him—his artistic talent.
Over the years his pumpkin lanterns grew devastatingly beautiful, but Jack couldn’t see it. So instead, his astounding artistry contined to be displayed in the toilet paper designs left on neighborhood trees and in the spray paint designs covering the windows of local businesses.…

October 26th, 2002
A Spiritual Break for the Chronically Busy

We each have a breaking point. I reached mine one recent Sunday morning when, just before noon, I realized that I’d been awake for four hours and doing homework for four hours. I was reading about Lectio Divina (spiritual reading)—the practice of reading Scripture and meditating on a passage—and finding myself uninspired. Then came the advice: one should engage in Lectio Divina every day, for half an hour. I considered this momentarily, and then readied my hi-lighter, and wrote, “Ha! Ha! Ha!” in the book’s margin.
Get lostEver felt this way? You’re a student, or parent, or overworked employee, and the endless advice from physical and spiritual gurus drives you to vomit?…

October 25th, 2002
All I Needed to Know About the Eucharist I Learned at Dinner

Eucharist, a word Catholics, Orthodox, and Episcopalians/ Anglicans often use for communion and for the Mass, sounds pretty technical to many people these days. Yet in its origins in ancient Greek (the verb eucaristein…), it was a common way of saying to give thanks, to be grateful. The best synonym for Eucharist would be Thanksgiving.
And so maybe it’s not surprising that one of my most important lessons in Eucharist came at the dinner table of some friends, a table not so unlike the ones that we all spread out for the holiday feasts.
The year before I entered the seminary I had just moved to Northern California for a temporary job, not far from the house my college friend Christine was sharing with her mother

October 18th, 2002
Can John Edward Give Us Peace about the Dead? Do We Need Him to?

Talked to any dead friends or relatives lately?
John Edward says he does it all the time.
You’ve probably heard of Edward, who hosts the syndicated Crossing Over. A self-described “medium,” he stands in a gallery of audience members eager to receive messages from loved ones who have died. Some have been informed of foul play; others are delighted to be assured that their loved ones are aware of a new baby or a new tattoo or old guilt.
There’s no doubt that something is going on with Edward; he seems to know too much about too many people he’s never met. He’s sweet, likable, gracious, and seems to genuinely care about the audience members with whom he communicates. His calm demeanor,…

October 17th, 2002

No one comes running to meet me when I get home from work. The house is disappointingly dark and silent, the loves of my life hours into sleep. Since there’s no one around to talk to, I turn on the television and sigh as I sit in the dark flipping through infomercials and bad late-night movies.
Getting home at one in the morning is something I tolerate, for now, because my prospects of finding similar kind of work, with normal hours, are limited. But I’m waiting for the day I can be one of those nine-to-five lucky people. They may have to put up with rush-hour traffic and eight a.m. meetings, but at least they get to be more or less in tune with the world. I feel so out of synch with the natural rhythm of things, eating…

October 16th, 2002
Falling in Love and Serving the Poor in Latin America

When I first looked into her eyes, I fell harder for her than for anyone I had previously met. She had the most beautiful brown eyes, perfectly complementing her gorgeous smile and adorable features. I found myself constantly wanting to be near her, hold her, appreciate her company. I never expected such ridiculous circumstances to occur. I never imagined that I would travel thousands of miles, leaving my friends and family behind, to fall head-over-heels for a two year old.
Alison, however, embodied everything that made Nicaragua so captivating for me. I left the comforts of Xavier University in Cincinnati during January of my junior year completely clueless of what I had done. From the moment I stepped into…

October 1st, 2002
Ten Spots They'll Never Find Our Secure and Undisclosed Vice President

Any cop will tell you it’s the guilty who run at the scene of a crime.
Believe that and you’ll find Vice President Dick Cheney’s disappearances during recent terrorist alerts puzzling. During last month’s “code orange” terrorist alert Cheney was once again whisked off to what the White House calls “secure and undisclosed” locations, thus leaving the press (and the largely unprotected public) curious as bees.
But not to fret. Following is a list of “secure and undisclosed” locations where no one will ever think to look for Dick Cheney:
1. In Kosovo cleaning toilets for the Halliburton Company. The Dallas-based company Cheney headed for five…

October 1st, 2002
The Legacies of Two Men Who Died Young

My friend Dave Connors was 25 when he died of complications from heart surgery. For as long as I knew Dave, he was hampered by physical ailments, but I never sensed he was in any serious danger—even when his condition became grave. Dave was one of those even-tempered people who never got too high or too low.
Dave almost died when he was 22. He had a defibrillator (much like the one Vice-President Cheney has) attached to his heart and it gave him a few more good years. That was a wake up call for me. Suddenly my friend, my young friend, could die.
Until his life was threatened by his illness, I had wasted a real opportunity to get to know Dave. It didn’t seem possible that someone my own age could die. Fortunately for me,…

September 30th, 2002
Wherever You Go, Longing for Somewhere Else

I cried in the frozen foods aisle last night.
I lived with my parents in Cincinnati for two years while I finished my master’s degree and could not wait to leave. This is not to say I don’t respect and love my parents, both fine people in their own rights, or that I don’t love and respect Cincinnati, the Bengals not withstanding. However, when you and nearly everyone you know has grown up within a fifteen-mile radius of where their great-great-grandparents first stepped off the flatboat, at some point you begin to seek out other, less bowling-alley-intensive vistas.
I was in Florida working for NASA within four months of graduation. People schlep school buses and Radio Shack warrantees for entire…

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