Letter 6


Carmen Nanko-Fernández

Professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry Director
Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program, Catholic Theological Union
January 25, 2021

Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,

When I turned 18, a Catholic priest, Richard Guastella, sat me down because I was old enough for “the talk” about the sacred obligation of a citizen to vote. Over the years, he became a treasured friend, a cross between an older brother and a first mentor. I followed him into the “family business” by becoming a theological educator. The last time we were physically in each other’s company was Inauguration Day 2017. We struggled to make sense of what would become a legacy of “American carnage.” His last text message to me stated simply: “No fever but still coughing.” He lost consciousness sometime after that. A week later, in the early hours of Holy Thursday 2020, he died from COVID-19 on an ICU ventilator.

“The long journey toward social friendship after carnage commences with remembering and re-membering those excluded…”

To me the most haunting words in Pope Francis’ October 4, 2020 encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, are: “They did not have to die that way.” This declaration occurs in reference to the pandemic deaths of the elderly who are too often abandoned in daily life as well as in other crises. These words denounce our all too eager neglect of what the Pope calls “a ‘throwaway’ world”: those deemed most disposable as determined by race, age, disability, socioeconomic status, nation of origin, migrations, documentation. These words indict the needless deaths of migrants at our southern border and of unarmed Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives at the hands of law enforcement. Fratelli Tutti was composed from within the lived misery caused by a virus that outed the intersecting and devastating effects of a variety of parasitic social viruses, and countered the anemic, failed, and even violent responses they precipitated.

Pope Francis writes of social friendship; however such relationships do not begin with the reconciliation of enemies. He reminds us: “It is not possible to proclaim a ‘blanket reconciliation’ in an effort to bind wounds by decree or to cover injustices in a cloak of oblivion. Who can claim the right to forgive in the name of others?” The long journey toward social friendship after carnage commences with remembering and re-membering those excluded, those pushed to the edges of survival, those whose dignity was demeaned, those violated, those whose blood cries from the ground!

With cautious hope,

Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández

Dr. Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández
Professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago

the author

Carmen Nanko-Fernández is Professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry and Director of the Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. A Latin@́ theologian, her publications include the book Theologizing en Espanglish (Orbis, 2010), numerous book chapters, journal articles, and digital media on Latin@́ theologies, Catholic social teaching, im/migration, popular culture, sport and theology—with attention to béisbol/baseball. In 2018, Nanko-Fernández created “Theology en la Plaza” for the National Catholic Reporter, a monthly column featuring public theology done latinamente.