Selected Newspaper and Magazine Articles
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BUDDHIST MASTER THE VENERABLE Chao-hwei Shih beamed at two 30-year-old brides kneeling before her in matching white strapless gowns and rhinestone tiaras as they exchanged prayer beads in her monastery outside Taipei. It was 2012 and gay marriage was still illegal throughout Asia, but Chao-hwei hoped that officiating at Taiwan's first Buddhist same-sex wedding would garner support in her predominantly Buddhist country. "In Buddhism, desire is not a sin," said Chao-hwei, her ceremonial yellow robes and red sash draped over her petite frame, her shaved head crowning a heart-shaped face.
I have a question for the next secretary of the Department of Homeland Security: Whatever happened to the case of Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, the 19- or 20-year-old Guatemalan Maya woman shot in the head last May by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent in Rio Bravo, Texas? For more than 10 months I have been waiting for answers about her death as her memory fades from public consciousness.
I cannot forget Gomez Gonzalez, who looked like a young teenager in her handwoven Maya hupil (blouse) and corte (skirt). She reminded me of my own 20-year-old Guatemalan goddaughter, Heidy Carmona Hernandez, who lives in another Maya pueblo. My goddaughter cried when she saw pictures of Gomez Gonzalez on Guatemalan television. And my goddaughter wept again when she watched hundreds of Maya walking in the pouring rain outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, calling for justice as they carried Gomez Gonzalez's white casket, the color of coffins for the young.
"Why do they hate us so much?" my goddaughter asked me during our weekly telephone call.
Irma Hernandez says Our Lady of Guadalupe brought me to Guatemala 25 years ago. We met by chance when I was a lonely 34-year-old journalist from Boston who had come to look at the weaving in a Maya pueblo at the foot of three volcanos and famous for intricate huipils (women's blouses) in vibrant reds, yellows and blues. I had missed the bus back to the colonial city of Antigua where I was staying, and Irma, a short, slender woman with long black hair and high cheekbones who looked to be in her early 20s, found me wandering aimlessly.
During the next two decades, I became known in San Antonio Aguas Calientes as the gringa "who came back." I was drawn to Guatemala like the butterflies that seemed to follow me as I walked along the dirt road to Irma's one-room house without running water.
In time, she would ask me to be the madrina (godmother) to her five young children, including Henry, a boy with spina bifida who needed a wheelchair. The church would not accept a Jewish woman in the role, I told her. But Irma did not care much what the local priests thought. The right godmother, she reasoned, was the one Guadalupe sent to help with doctors and school.
In a predominantly Catholic and evangelical town, her family had never met a Jew. They vaguely remembered a couple of sermons saying the Jews had killed Christ. And when a nearby volcano erupted, the story went, the devil was spitting out Jews. But Irma had no use for such tales of hatred.
"Guadalupe loves everyone," she told me. And whether I believed in her, Guadalupe loved me too.
"Julia, over three hundred bodies they have buried today," Ambrose Ndoinje texted me from Freetown, Sierra Leone, after torrential rains and mudslides left corpses floating down the street. Local leaders say the death count this week reached 1,000 in a country too often forgotten.
Twelve years have passed since Ndoinje drove me in his taxi during my six-week trip to the West African nation. But he still sends instant messages telling me that Jesus loves me and news of the latest disaster to befall his Godforsaken place.
"When will you come back to Freetown?" Ndoinje asks again and again.
Never, I say silently to myself. I doubt I can once again bear witness to such relentless sorrow.
ATLANTA — For two years, Archbishop Desmond Tutu listened to account upon account of burning bodies and shallow graves. He forgets many of the names he heard at hearings of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but he carries the stories like creases in a cassock.
His gait is heavy as he walks the campus of Atlanta's Emory University, where he will teach theology. Just four years ago at Emory, he bounded into rooms and often ended his anecdotes with boisterous laughter. Today the 67-year-old archbishop enters a room cautiously and sits stiffly, as if bracing for questions about prisons and pits.
"I'm vulnerable. I know I'm fragile," Tutu said, drawing out each word. "I laugh easily and I make other people laugh, but I also cry easily."