Dominican Republic

'Unless Somebody Steps in to Help...'

Illustration by M.P. Wiggins

TO ENTER la fortaleza where Jhonny Rivas was being held prisoner, I had to hand over my passport and undergo a thorough search, which included squatting naked on top of a mirror laid on the floor. I wanted to turn around indignantly and go home. Instead I faced the two female guards, girls really, one with braces, the other with the acne of a teenager. Por favor, I appealed. They exchanged an unsure glance, no doubt worried about el capitán strutting outside, then gestured for me to put my clothes back on. At the door, I embraced them.

Blessed are those who don’t follow unrighteous rules, for they shall be hugged.

I confess that I often practice my own beatitudes lite. It’s where I often want to stop, at the easier, feel-good variety of activism. But the beatitudes are as morally rigorous as those daunting Ten Commandments, albeit working through positive reinforcement—blessings rather than “thou shalt nots.” If you truly embrace them, they keep pulling you further and further out of the comfort zone of the self that always wants to stop at having done its part.

Which is why I had come reluctantly to visit a Haitian prisoner, whom I had never met. Why at every inconvenient step, I wanted to turn back.

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July 2015
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Taking Lent to Repent

A cross of palm fronds. Image courtesy Ricardo Reitmeyer/

A cross of palm fronds. Image courtesy Ricardo Reitmeyer/

Ash Wednesday begins Lent, a 40-day season in the church’s life leading up to the death and resurrection of Christ on Easter. It is traditionally meant to be a time of reflection, reevaluation, and renewal in our lives, both for the community of faith and in our relationship to the world. But the “R” word that is most characteristic of Lent is “repentance.” And repentance, biblically speaking, is not about the fire and brimstone television preachers but rather about the gospel call to turn around and go in a whole new direction.

Already in these first few days of Lent, I am reminded of how difficult confession, humility, and repentance are in our culture. Humility is something Americans are not particularly good at. Neither are we strong in the areas of self-examination, deep reflection, and repenting for things we have done wrong and then no longer doing them.

We tend to believe if people are poor, there really must be something more wrong with them than with those of us who are not. If black young men are having trouble with police, many white people suspect it must be the things that they are doing more than any problems with the systems we perpetuate.

Our family was just away for a week in the Dominican Republic on baseball service and mission trip, where our boys’ baseball teams do “spring training” with Dominican players and coaches. Spending a week in Consuelo with the Dominican players and the adults in their lives, and meeting the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception who helped host us, provided a glimpse into their lives and a kind of poverty that most American young people have never seen.

We played on their rural “fields of dreams” cut out of sugar cane instead of corn, to wonderfully energetic community stadiums in what is truly a baseball culture. In one game, our high school team got to play the Detroit Tigers Dominican Academy teenage players. It was great baseball — but also a “life-changing experience,” as was told to me by many of our players and their coaches. In addition to the baseball skills, reflection, listening, learning, and asking big questions about how our lives affect others were the lessons of the week.

Pope Francis Orders Accused Envoy Jozef Wesolowski Put Under House Arrest

Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski during a 2011 ceremony in Santo Domingo. Photo via Orlando Barria/CNS/RNS.

Pope Francis had ordered the arrest of a former Polish archbishop accused of child sex abuse in the Dominican Republic because the case was “so serious,” the Vatican said Sept. 23.

Jozef Wesolowski, who was defrocked by a Vatican tribunal earlier this year, is under house arrest inside Vatican City due to the “express desire” of Pope Francis, the Vatican said in a statement.

“The seriousness of the allegations has prompted the official investigation to impose a restrictive measure that … consists of house arrest, with its related limitations, in a location within the Vatican City State,” the Vatican’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said.

Wesolowski was removed from his position in the Dominican Republic and recalled to the Vatican in August 2013 amid claims that he had abused boys in Santo Domingo.

The former archbishop is awaiting trial on criminal charges at the Vatican and could eventually face charges in the Dominican Republic and in his native Poland.

Vatican's UN Envoy Says Bishop's Defrocking Shows Church Takes Abuse Seriously

Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, permanent observer to the UN office in Geneva. Creative Commons image by Jean-Marc Ferré, UN.

The defrocking of a former Vatican ambassador is a “sign of the seriousness” with which Pope Francis and the Vatican are approaching the clergy sexual abuse scandal, according to the Holy See’s representative to United Nations agencies in Geneva.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi was tasked with defending the Catholic Church’s record when he presented reports to the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child and the U.N. Committee Against Torture in Geneva earlier this year.

During questioning, Tomasi was asked whether the Vatican would agree to extradite Archbishop Jozef Wesolowski, a Polish archbishop and papal envoy, to his native Poland after he was recalled from the Dominican Republic last September on claims of sexual abuse.

A Different Kind of Spring Training

Baseball illustration, joephotostudio /

Baseball illustration, joephotostudio /

This Holy Week, I realized God's hope in a place other than church.

Proclaiming that the tomb is empty – that Jesus has risen from the grave – is the most powerful witness any Christian can offer. But if our Easter celebration stops at proclamation then we’ve shortchanged the world of the hope and joy it sorely needs. The resurrection must also be about embodiment. It should change the way we live and move and have our being. Easter should transform and strengthen us to participate in God’s reconciling work in the world.

That’s why I chose to spend this Easter worshipping in a very different way and in a very different place. There was no midnight watch service or large family dinner, but there were countless moments of hope and an abiding trust in the possibility of new life.

(VIDEO) Stories That Change the World

Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic

Still from video on Fundsazurza in the Dominican Republic

Stories are what change the world, more than just ideas. And that’s what I am seeing and hearing on the road — stories that will change people for the common good. Nobody outside of Washington trusts Washington because there are no more human stories — just money and the calculations of power.

But even Washington can be affected by the stories outside of Washington — take immigration reform for example, which will happen despite the political paralysis. People of faith are telling their stories of conversion to what their Bibles say about “the stranger.” They are telling stories of new relationships with their “undocumented” brothers and sisters. And their stories are changing Washington.

So rather than just offer you more “ideas” about the common good, we are going to offer you some stories about how ordinary people are creating it. 

Some talented young filmmakers have created stories to inspire you. This first video tells in beautiful scenes, the story of how a group in the Dominican Republic is using a recycling program to fund senior services. It’s about community and about serving our neighbors. It is a real inspiration for working within our own spheres of influence for the good of all.

Watch. Listen. And then create your own story for the common good.