Not that there’s anything wrong with that …
A front-page Los Angeles Times headline this week reminded me of that old “Seinfeld” catchphrase.
Here’s the headline that the Times ran with a Column One feature:
Argentina’s ‘slum priests’ focus on helping over converting
They hear confessions from drug dealers and hit men and spend more time on problems practical than spiritual. The movement shunned by the church decades ago now gets support from Pope Francis.
So immediately, the idea seems to be that (1) these priests are doing something unique by helping instead of proselytizing and (2) this is a much better way to go because it actually benefits people as opposed to, say, religion itself. Not that there’s anything wrong with that …
Speaking of the priests “hearing confessions,” is that not a spiritual exercise? But I digress.
Maybe I’m reading too much into the head and subhead. Please tell me, kind GetReligion readers, if I’m being overly critical. Or if I’m missing something obvious — wouldn’t be the first time.
Here’s the top of the story:
BUENOS AIRES — They call the slums villas miserias, or little cities of misery. Instead of names, most have been assigned numbers by the Argentine government. Father Carlos Olivero lives in a small concrete church in the middle of Villa 21-24.
On a recent gray afternoon, he sat sipping yerba mate in a cold meeting room at the drug rehabilitation center he runs nearby. He was in a contemplative mood. A young addict he knew had died the day before.
“He was 24 years old,” Olivero said. “We all loved him. Things like this happen all the time here
Olivero is part of a line of “slum priests” who have worked for decades in the sprawling shantytowns worlds away from the tango salons and Parisian cafe culture of the other Buenos Aires.
He has scuffed work boots and dirty nails and hears confession from dealers and hit men. When residents spot his trashed 4×4 bumping down dirt roads, they call out his nickname: “Charly!”
He spends most of his time addressing practical rather than spiritual problems. That means navigating governmental bureaucracy, helping immigrants obtain state identification cards and finding beds to get addicts off the street.
“If we don’t get people a home, it’s insane to think about other kinds of lives for them,” Olivero said.
So the priest addresses “practical rather than spiritual problems.” Great. But did the Times give any consideration to the possibility that practical solutions might help address spiritual problems? Or am I wrong that this story seems to give a big ole brushoff to organized religion? Not that there’s anything wrong with that …
Later in the story, there’s a mention of the priest shunning “theology from books” and focusing on “a more direct experience with his faith.”
A bit later, there’s this fascinating section: