National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Inside NCR
Issue Date:  November 21, 2003

From the Editor's Desk

The Word in the heartland

Don’t miss the feature about Patricia and Rafael Sánchez. Together, they constitute one of those behind-the-scenes ironies -- and there are so many -- in today’s church. They are part of the ever-expanding brigade of educated lay people who quietly shape the thinking of the church. At some point in the future, the Sánchezes might be more publicly recognized by the church for their invaluable contribution, the major portion of which is the work of a woman and mother.

Rafael Sánchez was back in Kansas two weeks ago doing more scripture sessions with Spanish-speaking church workers in Garden City. Last year, when writer Rich Heffern caught up with them, Pat and Rafael had come together from their home in Hattiesburg, Miss., to offer a bilingual scripture program at the new cathedral in Dodge City. This year only Rafael could get away. He spoke of the deep hunger ordinary people have for the Word at a time in the church when the shortage of priests almost insures that many Catholics will experience eucharistic hunger, especially in outlying areas.

“Outlying,” “priest-shortage” and “Word-hungry” are terms that easily apply to western Kansas, where huge slaughterhouses and packing plants have attracted workers from Mexico, and where the church struggles to meet their profound spiritual and human needs. When lay Catholics are not permitted to preach formally, Pat and Rafael Sánchez for more than 20 years have provided lectionary-based commentaries to some 8,000 U.S. parishes that subscribe to the monthly worship resource Celebration, NCR’s sister publication, an almost embarrassingly rich resource for preachers and liturgists, edited by Patrick Marrin.

It is possible that nearly half the homilies delivered next Sunday in this country will have been inspired by the Sánchezes.

Rafael spent a day of teaching in Garden City, then was driven to tiny Ulysses, Kan., just miles from the Colorado border. Fifty people eagerly awaited him, and at the end of his session begged him to stay longer. Before departing, Rafael said he saw an amazing sight. He was taken to the huge cattle enclosures where some 100,000 cattle are being bulked up and readied for slaughter. The sights, sounds and smells were overpowering, he said. The underside of America’s corporate food system, the real face of immigration, the survival of the church, of rural America, all converge here. Rafael was eager to get home to Hattiesburg. Such spiritual hunger in the heartland. So much still to do to proclaim God’s Word.

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Some might find the ad on Page 11 a bit contentious, but it is a contentious matter when a leading cardinal declares that condoms might actually be abetting the spread of AIDS, a claim that certainly would fly in the face of most medical advice and the experience of those battling AIDS in Africa and elsewhere.

We felt the arguments raised in the ad were a worthy part of the conversation.

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Finally, a brief reports on the warm reception given Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legionaries of Christ religious order, who has been accused by nine former members of the order of sexual abuse ( see story). Maciel has escaped any scrutiny by church authorities ( see editorial) but his story and the accusations against him have been chronicled by two journalists, Jason Berry and Gerald Renner. Some of their work on the Maciel issue has appeared in these pages.

The two have written a book that delves more deeply into the Maciel case, Vows of Silence: Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II (Free Press), scheduled for release in March.

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, November 21, 2003

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