Cultural challenges: Anti-Semitism, Hispanic Catholicism
Study of anti-Semitism: A benefit for all readers
A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism, by Phyllis Goldstein. Facing History and Ourselves (Brookline, Mass., 2011). 405 pp., $17.95.
Phyllis Goldstein's "A Convenient Hatred" is a major work of history that illuminates perhaps the most persistent and tragic source of hatred and violence in the history of Western civilization. It has behind it the resources of a major international research and educational organization, Facing History and Ourselves. A substantive foreword is provided by Sir Harold Evans, head of the Reuters news agency.
Goldstein aims for and achieves an admirable objectivity, which makes the study accessible for readers of all faiths and backgrounds. She begins in the centuries before the rise of Christianity, with anti-Jewish canards in ancient Greek and Roman literature stemming from the Jews' refusal to worship pagan gods (and the Roman emperor as a god) and their persistent revolts against Greek and Roman domination, revolts which ended only with their decisive defeat in the second century of the Common Era.
As the church gradually separated from the synagogue during the patristic period, Christians, most notoriously St. John Chrysostum, picked up the nergative stereotypes of Jews common in ancient literature, adding to them the notorious "deicide" charge --- the absurd notion that Jews were collectively guilty for the death of Jesus. This despite the fact that, as the Gospels record, only a few Jews, mainly the chief priest of the temple, were actually involved and the fact that Jesus' crucifixion was extremely unpopular in Jerusalem, and unknown to most Jews in the then-known world until centuries later.
Goldstein misses, at this point, the true significance of the writings of St. Augustine on the Jews. While presuming the deicide charge, Augustine also noted that Jews give witness to the validity of their Scriptures (which Christians called the "Old Testament" although its message about the One God of Israel is ever new and challenging), without which the message of the "good news" of the New Testament makes little sense.
She also misses the significance of the fact that the popes adopted Augustine's protective view of Judaism so that it alone among all the religions of the ancient world survived.
Goldstein provides the invaluable larger context, historically, in which these can be understood. That larger context was increasingly grim for Jews as the centuries progressed, especially after the First Crusade in which thousands of Jews were murdered, and the institution of ghettos, forced conversion, the blood libel and violation of the Eucharist charges, pogroms, and expulsion from all of the nations of Western Europe save for the Italian peninsula, where papal protection prevailed.
Goldstein rightly spends a good percentage of her time on the events leading up to the Holocaust in Europe and on increasing anti-Semitism in the Arab/Muslim world today. The latter began before the existence of the state of Israel and independently of Zionism.
She concludes with a call to Jews, Muslims and Christians alike to view each other with mutual respect, citing Elie Wiesel that "although we today are not responsible for the injustices of the past, we are responsible for the way we remember the past and what we do with that past." The volume includes helpful illustrations and bibliography.
---Eugene J. Fisher
Impact, challenges in U.S. of Hispanic Catholicism
Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century: Present and Future, edited by Hosffman Ospino. Convivium Press (Miami, 2010). 445 pp., $22.99.
Latino Catholicism: Transformation in America's Largest Church, by Timothy Matovina. Princeton University Press (Princeton. N.J., 2011). 312 pp., $29.95.
Ministering to Hispanic Catholics in the United States is a work in progress. Defining it is like trying to pinpoint the elusive colors of a chameleon leaping through autumn foliage. While much attention is focused on the challenges posed by the massive flow of Spanish-speaking immigrants crossing the southern border in recent decades, Hispanic Catholics are far from a monolith.
They include second- and third-generation bilingual families struggling to scamper into the middle class and adapt to U.S. traditions while retaining ties to their ancestral culture and language. Added to the mix are predominantly English-speaking Hispanics who trace their families back centuries to the Spanish colonial era, before their ancestral lands passed to Mexico and then the United States. And let's not forget Hispanics who have intermarried in the growingly multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual United States.
When it comes to developing ministerial approaches, one size does not fit all. Nor is there agreement among Hispanics as to what are the best roads to evangelization.
Clearly, though, Hispanics are transforming U.S. Catholic life. Anyone who has participated in a charismatic renewal event or has taken a cursillo (short course in Christianity) is a witness to the growing Hispanic influence. They are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. Catholic population and should be a sizable majority by mid-century. In addition to the growing Spanish Masses across the country, they are injecting U.S. Catholicism with pilgrimages, processions, rituals, popular piety, social activism and a conviction that faith needs to be expressed emotionally and dynamically.
"Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century" and "Latino Catholicism" outline the challenges, complexities and controversies facing a U.S. institutional church formed and led by English-speaking European descendents as it strives for religious unity while acknowledging a mushrooming cultural diversity. The books speak of Hispanic ministry in terms of multiple strategies, approaches and visions to reach the multidimensional Hispanic population.
While both overlap in themes, "Hispanic Ministry" is more for lay and clerical ministers. It is a collection of six essays --- each in English and Spanish --- developed from a series of talks by Hispanic ministry experts at a 2009 symposium. It looks to the future, stressing what needs to be done based on where Hispanic Catholicism is now.
"Latino Catholicism" provides more historical context and perspective on how the situation got to where it is. Timothy Matovina, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame, offers a crash course on Hispanic Catholics and their impact. The book's chapter on the importance of popular religiosity in Hispanic worship and devotion --- and the controversies it causes in multiethnic parishes --- is especially good.
Both books excellently frame issues, problems and the evolving institutional church's attitudes and activities toward the growing Hispanic population. Neither claims to have the answers in this dynamic, still fluid situation.
One of the key controversies the books deal with is whether new immigrants should be assimilated or integrated into U.S. society and church. Assimilation refers to the "melting pot" image used with previous immigration waves where the aim was to blend them into a homogeneous unity with native-born citizens. Integration uses a "stewing pot" symbol where immigrants add their flavor to the mix while retaining their cultural and ethnic individuality.
Another hot button issue discussed is comprehensive immigration reform, including a possible path to legalized residency for people who entered illegally. This is supported by many church officials and large segments of the Hispanic community, but also has its critics.
The books also delve into the successful and aggressive evangelical Protestant proselytizing among Hispanics; the very low percentage of Hispanics in lay and ordained ministry in comparison to their percentage of the Catholic population; and the communitarian dimension of Hispanic Catholicism which often overflows into social and political action.
A major fault is the lack of detailed discussion of the gang phenomenon and its devastating effects on Hispanic youths. The issue is mentioned in both books but never developed.
The starting point of the books is Hispanic perspectives on issues. But they also elaborate on the criticisms and controversies swirling around these topics so that readers clearly know that situations are still in flux and far from resolved.
--- Eugene J. Fisher is distinguished professor of Catholic-Jewish studies at St. Leo University in Florida.
---Agostino Bono, a retired CNS staff writer, covered Hispanic affairs.