Bill canceling Haiti’s debt heads to White House

Congress has sent President Barack Obama legislation that would cancel $828 million that Haiti owes international financial institutions. (CNS/Reuters)

Legislation that in effect cancels more than $800 million in debt owed by Haiti to world financial institutions has cleared both houses of Congress and is on its way to White House.

The Debt Relief for Earthquake Recovery in Haiti Act, H.R. 4573, does not officially cancel Haiti’s debt. That will be the decision of international financial institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

What the bill does is direct Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner to instruct the U.S. executive directors of the aforementioned institutions to “use the voice, vote and influence of the United States” to encourage them to cancel Haiti’s debt.

It also calls for the suspension of debt service payments and for the financial institutions to provide grants for the next five years before making additional loans to Haiti. The grants would help the poverty-stricken country recover from the Jan. 12 earthquake and boost economic development.

Historically, what the U.S. wants in those institutions, the U.S. gets. So once President Barack Obama signs the bill, it will be only a matter of time before the $828 million Haiti owes is forgiven.

The bill was supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., ushered the bill through the House and made sure the Senate did not slow it down. From introduction to final passage April 14, the legislative process took less than 10 weeks.

Year for Priests: Asking students what they want from life

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking with students about life after high school.  College is a given for my students, but few really know what they want to do with their education.  Their imagination conjures lofty ideas of success, measured by objects and a level of happiness.  Like most high school students, they hope for an exciting career with stability, disposable income, family, and plenty of time for their favorite sport.

Most of the time, I simply smile and chuckle a little. But this past week I decided it was time for a different approach.  I asked my students to make a list of 15 things or events that brings them excitement.  At first, they thought this would be easy as they quickly rattled off numbers one through five . . . or six, but then it began to get tough.

Go ahead, give it a try for yourself.  Make a list of 15 things/events that brings you excitement.

Difficult?  We would like to think that it is easy, but I find that there are few things that we really get excited about.  I explained to my students that excitement requires humility.  Excitement comes with surprise.  When we expect a certain level of fulfillment or believe we are entitled to this or that — there is often little excitement involved.  Think about it — when have you been the most excited?  I would guess that it is usually when you had no idea an event or gift was coming.

So the lesson here is:  more humility = more excitement in life.

Years ago, I read an article by Kathleen McAlpin in Review for Religious where she wrote, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in the evening, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”

As I paraphrased this quote off the top of my head, I asked my students a second question:  “What are you convicted about?”

Based on the classroom discussion, I would guess 90 percent of my seniors know what they want in life, but they have no idea how to get it.  They are influenced by media-driven images of success and self-centered notions of duty; and yet, I believe their heart is in the right place.  My students, like all young adults, are a reflection of their environment, so all it takes is a different environment for them to see a different path.  As we discussed it all, my students determined that the quality of their education is not simply measured by the number of books they read, but by how many people they encounter.

I find many adults short-change the ability of young people to contribute to the world.  There are many days when my students frustrate me, but there are also days when I am amazed at their goodness and creativity.  If young people seem selfish, I wonder if it is because we, as the adults, have not empowered them to take on a challenge they feel is worthy of the risk and effort.

Father Adolfo Nicolás, the superior general of the Jesuits, said,  “We must recover our ability to dream great things.  We need dreams that cannot be sold, dreams that say maybe there is something for me to contribute.  Our lives must reflect the reality:  the only security we have is hope.”

If we are to be a model for our young people today, perhaps we can start by dreaming a little more and a little bigger than usual.  Perhaps we can share those dreams with the young people in our lives.  Perhaps the humility we are looking for will come from the excitement in their lives.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

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Rector’s Dinner: Big night at NAC

Seminarians at Mass at the Pontifical North American College. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

The Rector’s Dinner is one of the events of the year at the Pontifical North American College. It’s a fund-raiser, but it’s much more — for an evening, the college is a crossroads for seminarians and alumni, benefactors and Roman Curia officials, diplomats and Italian nobility.

Msgr. James F. Checchio, the current rector, was able to report that this year’s dinner was the most successful ever. It was a record crowd, which was fitting, because the college itself is enjoying a renaissance.

Enrollment is at a 40-year high, with 225 students at the seminary on the Janiculum Hill and 72 priests at the Casa Santa Maria in downtown Rome. A sabbatical program is about to move into a newly refurbished Casa O’Toole on the grounds of the seminary, which can accommodate 35 priests each semester.

And in these days of seminarian soccer tournaments, one should not overlook installation of the new and safer artificial turf on NAC’s impressive practice field.

The dinner featured the presentation of the 2010 Rector’s Award, which is given for dedication and devotion to the faith and support of priestly and religious vocations. There were three recipients this year:

— Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, who was rector at NAC from 1994-2001.

— Francis and Kathleen Rooney, strong supporters of the college and other religious organizations. Francis Rooney was U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 2005-2008.

As usual, the seminarian students did usher and waiter duty. Then, at the end of the evening, they wowed the crowd with a singing performance of classic American popular music. The rendition of “Duke of Earl” by the seminarians’ Doo-Wop Octet was a real slice of Americana.