Keep Haiti in the headlines, advocates urge

Some of the most vulnerable Haitians have been overlooked during the distribution of aid because they have not relocated to official camps in earthquake-stricken areas of the country. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Headlines in the media about the Haitian earthquake have fallen to a trickle now that the disaster is more than three months in the past. But that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten, advocates working on Haitian relief efforts believe.

Several concerns about the lack of involvement of Haitians in recovery efforts as well as the falloff in media coverage of the disaster were aired by representatives of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA and the TransAfrica Forum during an April 28 program at the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington.

The concerns have arisen as plans are being made for housing hundreds of thousands of Haitians left homeless by the Jan. 12 quake as well as for rebuilding the wide swath of the impoverished country that remains decimated, said Nora Rasman, a program associate at TransAfrica Forum.

Among the concerns Rasman cited: planning meetings being carried out by the United States and the United Nations that are conducted in English, with minutes kept in English. Haitians in attendance understand the English-only proceedings, Rasman said, but would better get a grasp on the discussions if they would be translated into Creole, the language of Haitians.

Shaina Aber, associate advocacy director at Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, said her agency works to empower women to have an equal voice in the governance of the seven camps with an estimated 23,000 residents that the agency coordinates.

“We want to ensure that women have a voice in the camps, in security, in government, in planning for the future,” she told an audience of more than 100.

The distribution of food and shelter supplies only to people in “official” camps also was mentioned by both women. While there are several hundred camps where aid is distributed, there are thousands more unofficial ones on street corners and in neighborhoods where the most vulnerable –- the elderly, pregnant women and children -– remain and are bypassed by aid workers.

As for the media, Joia Jefferson Nuri, TransAfrica Forum’s chief of staff, suggested the Haitian story can pick up steam as long as American political leaders talk about it. She urged the audience to contact legislators to remind them to keep talking about Haiti to anyone and everyone.

Writing and calling media outlets will help, Nuri said, but unless people of more prominence keep the issue before the public, the Haitian earthquake story will fade further into history.

Prayers for expectant mothers

The Denver province of Redemptorists has created an online prayer list for Mother’s Day specifically for women who are experiencing physical or emotional difficulties related to pregnancy.

The Redemptorist priests and brothers will intercede to St. Gerard Majella — the 18th-century Italian Redemptorist brother and patron saint of expectant mothers — between now and Mother’s Day, May 9.

To add names to the list, go here and click on the Mother’s Day banner.

Baltimore newspaper, parishes mount effort to end gun violence

Gun violence in Baltimore is a major problem that poses serious dangers for the city’s residents.

In response, two of the city’s parishes are joining with The Catholic Review, newspaper of the Baltimore Archdiocese, in another “Gun Turn-In Day.”

The day is set for May 1 at St. Gregory the Great Parish on the west side of town and St. Wenceslaus Parish on the city’s east side.

A story on the newspaper’s website provides details about the program.

People who turn in weapons will receive cash: $100 for a workable automatic or semiautomatic handgun or assault rifle and $50 for any other workable gun. And no questions are asked.

All of the guns are turned over to law enforcement authorities.

The Catholic Review provided grants for the program.

Turning off the comments spigot

This struck a nerve with me too.

Deacon Greg Kandra, the Brooklyn, N.Y., uber-blogger and director of news for the Brooklyn Diocese’s cable TV channel known as NET (for New Evangelization Television), announced last night that he was turning off comments on his Beliefnet blog, at least temporarily, after a reader noted how coarse the comments have become since he moved from the less-formal Blogger over to Beliefnet, a leading site for religious news and discussion. The key comment by the reader:

They (the comments) are no longer uplifting or Gospel-centric. Indeed, the anger and the backbiting are childish — and arguably sinful.

Many in the mainstream media, including some of us at CNS, have been debating the role of comments sections for news stories and blogs. While we want to hear from readers in a Web 2.0 world, many of those who comment only want to spread vitriol. We moderate our comments and sometimes have to edit out the name-calling and other uncharitable drivel.

Deacon Greg’s rationale for turning off his comments — “Maybe a week. Maybe more,” he says — in the second half of his blog announcement is worth reading by any Christian media professional concerned with how we discuss church topics and the church’s interaction with the wider world.  As he concludes:

Among the deacon’s first words in the Mass are “Lord have mercy.”  His last are “Go in peace.”  As those words frame the celebration of the Eucharist, I want them also to frame my work here.

So, for now: Go in peace …

What do you think? Should we just drop comments altogether as Deacon Greg has?

Displaced Haitians begin moving to safer ground

Life in a tent camp at the Petionville Club in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, is not easy for an estimated 40,000 people displaced by the Jan. 12 earthquake. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Some of the thousands of Haitians staying at a makeshift camp on a Port-au-Prince golf course since the country’s devastating Jan. 12 earthquake are beginning to move to safer ground.

An estimated 3,000 people –- out of an estimated 40,000 — have left the hilly, flood-prone grounds of the Petionville Club for a U.N.-run site known as Corail Cesselesse about 17 miles north of the city.

CNS reported on life in the camps in the days shortly after the earthquake (here, here and here).

Operated by the U.N.’s Office of International Migration, the camp provides displaced people with sturdier tents and has sanitation facilities, drainage for rain water and access to health care, said Tom Price, senior communications officer for Catholic Relief Services, which oversees the golf course camp.

An estimated 6,780 people eventually will move to the camp in the first phase of the relocation of earthquake survivors. Plans call for expanding the camp to include thousands of other homeless people in prefabricated shelters that offer more protection than nylon tents and plastic tarps.

“It’s a planned camp, not spontaneous, like Petionville,” Price told CNS. “It has drainage and it’s not going to be a problem in the rainy season.”

CRS also is shoring up hills on the golf course by building retaining walls to prevent mudslides that might endanger residents who remain, Price explained. Haiti traditionally experiences heavy rains that peak during May. Then comes hurricane season, which runs through November.

Although some people are moving to more secure ground, hundreds of thousands of others throughout the earthquake-battered region are facing dire circumstances in makeshift tent cities. Aid workers fear that the hundreds of camps around Port-au-Prince and elsewhere will become muddy quagmires and that rains will wash raw sewage into living areas, increasing the danger for massive outbreaks of disease and water-borne illnesses.

Why would any man want to be a priest today?

That was the provocative question retired San Francisco Archbishop John R. Quinn put to priests at the recent meeting of the National Federation of Priests Councils in Houston.

“The cataclysmic avalanche of the sex abuse scandal is a profoundly troubling experience for every priest,” he noted. “It touches not only the perpetrators and those so gravely hurt by them. But it is now engulfing the papacy itself and eroding the credibility of the bishops in the church. …

“How can an American priest persevere in the midst of such a shattering trial? How do we priests and how do the church persevere in time of severe trial?”

Archbishop Quinn praised today’s American priests as “a body of men who do not seek praise or acclaim and who walk faithfully with the Lord in a time of searing and seismic testing.”

The deepest and most enduring reason a man would want to be a priest today, the archbishop said, is “the person of Jesus Christ. … If our love for Jesus Christ is truly genuine, then there must stir within us the desire to be like him.”

Despite this “moment of humiliation and some degree of helplessness”  for priests and the church, “I firmly believe that this one of the best times to be a priest,” the archbishop said.

“We priests and the whole church are being called to evangelical humility and to a purer faith. It is time for us to embrace this providential call with robust generosity and with a solidarity that bind us together as priests in a uniquely difficult period our our history.”

We liked the archbishop’s talk so much that we put it in this week’s issue of  the CNS documentary service, Origins (www.originsonline.com).

But if you are not an Origins subscriber, you can read the archbishop’s complete text on America magazine’s blog, In All Things, or on Commonweal’s dotcommonweal.

But Origins subscribers can also access Msgr. Stephen Rossetti’s NFPC presentation, based on data from two studies he conducted of 4,000 priests between 2002 and 2010 that show “priests like being priests; they find great satisfaction with their lives.” Rather than “dispirited, discouraged and disintegrating,” today’s priests are becoming stronger, he believes.

Msgr. Rossetti, now a professor at The Catholic University of America, is a licensed psychologist who spent 17 years at the head of the St. Luke Institute in Silver Spring, Md., a residential treatment center for priests and religious with addictions or psychological disorders.

“As the public negativity rises and the chorus of naysayers crescendos, I believe our priests and church are actually the better for it,” he said.

People in a hurry can access CNS stories about the Quinn and Rossetti speeches here and here.

But wait, there’s more! Origins subscribers also have complete coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent visit to Malta. And all of it in 16 pages!

Publisher apologizes for defending Father Maciel

Father Owen Kearns, a member of the Legionaries of Christ and the editor-in-chief and publisher of the National Catholic Register, apologizes in the April 25 edition of  the paper for defending his order’s founder, Father Marcial Maciel, when sexual abuse allegations against him first surfaced.

Father Kearns said he publicly defended Father Maciel when he was spokesman for the Legion of Christ in early 1997 and as publisher in the National Catholic Register in November 2001 and May 2006. “On each of these occasions I believed completely that the allegations against Father Maciel were false. I trusted him and his profession of innocence. I know now that I was wrong,” he wrote.

In 1997,  religion reporter Gerald Renner broke the story about allegations by seminarians against Father Maciel in The Hartford Courant daily newspaper. The accusations were brought to the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998. Pope Benedict XVI called on Father Maciel in 2006 to renounce public ministry as a priest and spend the rest of his life in prayer and penitence.

At the time, Father Maciel was 86 years old, and the Vatican did not publish the results of its investigation. The priest died in 2008.

Father Kearns said he regrets that in his defense of Father Maciel he “took to task” Hartford Courant writers Renner and Jason Berry, along with the paper’s editors. “They didn’t get everything about the Legion right but they were fundamentally correct about Father Maciel’s sexual abuse and I ask forgiveness — too late for Gerald Renner, who is deceased.”

Berry co-authored the 2004 book, “Vows of Silence: The Abuse of Power in the Papacy of John Paul II,” which looked at how the Vatican handled allegations against Father Maciel. The book was made into a documentary film.

In March, top officials of the Legionaries of Christ acknowledged that Father Maciel sexually abused young seminarians and asked forgiveness for failing to listen to his accusers.

Father Kearns similarly addressed these victims, saying: “I’m sorry for what our founder did to you. I’m sorry for adding to your burden with my own defense of him and my accusations against you. I’m sorry for being unable to believe you earlier. I’m sorry this apology has taken so long.”

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