Flood stories of survival, resilience

Debris from flooded homes is seen along the curb in a Nashville, Tenn., neighborhood May 10. (CNS photo/Rick Musacchio)

As the floodwaters recede in Nashville, Tenn., the cleanup efforts show no sign of abating nor does the resiliency of  local residents.

This week’s issue of the Tennessee Register, Nashville’s diocesan newspaper, gives a behind-the-scenes look at what some people faced in the torrential rains of early May and how they are now coping with loss. The stories — of  people wading through water, helping nuns by rope reach dry land, delivering a baby by flashlight or grabbing photos before rushing from their homes — paint a vivid  picture of those surprised by rapidly rising waters.

The response of many, to pitch in and help or to try to save others, is to say the least,  impressive.

Those who were spared from water damage counted their blessings, and if not, their mothers reminded them to do so.

As one woman told her son whose house was not flooded: “You  better never, never stop going to church” to give thanks.

Cross your fingers — and vote — for San Miguel School

The polls are almost closed, and eighth-graders at San Miguel School in Tulsa, Okla., will find out tomorrow whether they have won an all-expenses-paid trip to Orlando, Fla., in a contest sponsored by NBC’s “Today” show. The 19 students at the LaSallian private Catholic middle school are hoping a last-minute shoutout through Catholic Internet sites will put them over the top in the program’s “Extraordinary Schools” contest, which would send them to Universal Orlando Resort for the opening of a new Harry Potter-themed section. Their teacher, Anna Sullivan, explained why she entered her class in the contest:

“San Miguel School and the families that attend the school, operate on very low budgets leaving very little or no money for just plain fun. The majority of the eighth-graders have never been on an airplane or stayed in a hotel and certainly have not attended a giant theme park. Although they’re only 14, they have to complete many adult tasks for their families: cooking, cleaning, baby-sitting, translating in court or at doctor’s appointments, etc. They rarely get a chance to just be kids. Because of this, when I heard of the ‘Today’ show competition, I knew I had to at least try.”

You can go here to see videos from the four finalists and to vote.

More people continue to seek help from Catholic Charities nationwide

Catholic Charities agencies nationwide continue to see rising numbers of people seeking emergency food and assistance with rent, mortgage and utility payments (CNS/Dennis Sadowski)

Even though the economy seems to be recovering — ever so slowly — the economic crisis is just beginning for some, Catholic Charities USA reports.

New people continue to walk through the doors of Catholic Charities sites nationwide, according the agency’s latest Snapshot Survey covering the first quarter of 2010.

From St. Vincent Center in Yakima, Wash., to Catholic Charities in Virginia Beach, Va., the 36 programs that responded to the survey are seeing many more newcomers from working middle-class families seeking emergency food and assistance with rent, mortgage or utility payments.

Sizable increases in requests for assistance also were reported by agencies from among the homeless, senior citizens and children.

The result: waiting lists are growing, agency staff are distressed and discouraged and food vouchers are disappearing.

Combined with cuts in state and federal funding, things don’t look good for a quick recovery, the survey concludes.

World Communications Day theme challenges us

Don’t forget that this Sunday is the church’s observance of World Communications Day, a time to reflect on the challenges of spreading the Gospel in the modern world. (The date for the observance is always the Sunday between Ascension Thursday and Pentecost.)

This year’s theme is especially challenging to clerics: “The priest and pastoral ministry in a digital world: New media at the service of the Word.” As our story when the Vatican released Pope Benedict XVI’s statement for this year’s observance said:

Pope asks priests to get online, spread the Gospel

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In a message embracing the evangelizing potential of digital media, Pope Benedict XVI asked priests around the world to use Web sites, videos and blogs as tools of pastoral ministry.

“The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more St. Paul’s exclamation: ‘Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel,'” the pope said in his message for the 2010 celebration of World Communications Day. (Full story)

Here’s an excellent video reflection on the theme from one of North America’s foremost priest-communicators, Basilian Father Thomas Thomas Rosica, the CEO of Salt + Light Television, Canada’s national Catholic network. (Hat tip to the Knights of Columbus’ Headline Bistro site, where I found the video.)

And as you consider the challenges of modern communications, don’t forget that we had two other reflections on this blog that are worth your consideration:

— A blog post, Responding to the pope’s challenges on ‘new media,’ by Basilian Father Chris Valka, part of our Year for Priests blog series,  in which he reflects on the pope’s charge to priests and gives an example of how he was able to use a podcast to help answer a high school student’s doubts about God.

— A second post by Father Valka giving his fellow priests (and any of the rest of us who want to listen) some practical ideas and applications for meeting these new media challenges. It’s an excellent primer if you’re looking for ideas on breaking into this new field.

What about you? Any other ideas as we contemplate the pope’s challenge? Feel free to comment below.

Catholic Charities’ Father Snyder calls for new values base in American economy

Father Larry Snyder (CNS/Paul Haring)

One of the more interesting blogs in cyberspace rolling out recently is that of Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA.

His “Think and Act Anew” blog offers food for thought on the status of poverty in the United States today.

The blog is part of Catholic Charities’ campaign to cut U.S. poverty in half by 2020.

In his latest post, under the headline “Collateral Damage,” Father Snyder calls for a new values base in the country, one where the common values of caring for one another replaces the “greed is good” mantra that has existed on Wall Street for the last 30 years. 

Quoting from Pope Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical “Caritas in Veritate” (“Charity in Truth”), Father Snyder reminds American society that “the social element must be embodied in the economic one so that the market becomes an instrument of civilization once again. We need big, innovative ideas about how to meld our market economy with the common good so as to avoid collateral damage in the future.”

Inspiring words to ponder and act upon as the economy slowly emerges from a long, deep recession.

One-third of Goldman Sachs shareholders call for greater transparency

One-third of shareholders at Goldman Sachs May 7 voted in favor of a resolution seeking greater transparency in the bank’s derivatives trading ventures.

The resolution was the third offered at major banks in recent weeks by representatives of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, a coalition of 275 faith-based institutional investors.

Although unsuccessful, the resolutions at Citigroup and Bank of America have garnered the support of at least 30 percent of votes, indicating some concern among shareholders for the way the banks conduct business.

Traditionally, shareholder resolutions receive single-digit support the first time they are offered.

ICCR representatives earlier told Catholic News Service that such efforts are aimed at holding major banks accountable in packaging investment packages.

Goldman Sachs, one of the country’s largest banks, has come under fire from politicians and regulators for the way it packaged and sold mortgage-related securities before the 2008 collapse of the housing market.

“The resolution on disclosing collateral policy gave shareholders the chance to use their voice and vote to challenge Goldman Sachs to increase transparency and disclosure,” said Cathy Rowan, corporate responsibility coordinator for the Maryknoll Sisters, in a statement. “I am hopeful that shareholders will continue to feel empowered to seek greater corporate accountability.”

Next up for ICCR: JPMorgan Chase May 18.

The targeted banks are four of the five financial institutions that reportedly account for 96 percent of all derivatives trading in the United States.

Flying to Portugal, pope says abuse crisis “terrifying”

ABOARD THE PAPAL FLIGHT TO PORTUGAL — Pope Benedict XVI said the priestly sex abuse scandal is a “terrifying” crisis that comes from inside the church — not from an outside attack — and requires purification and penance to overcome.

The pope made some of his strongest remarks to date on the sex abuse cases during an in-flight press conference May 11 on his way to Portugal for a four-day visit that was to include the Marian shrine of Fatima.

Asked if the message of Fatima, which foresaw times of trials and suffering for the church, could be applied to the sex abuse crisis, the pope said essentially that it could.

“Among the new things that we can discover today in this message is that attacks on the pope and the church come not only from the outside, but the suffering of the church comes from inside the church, from sins that exist inside the church,” he said.

“This we have always known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way, that the biggest persecution of the church doesn’t come from the enemies outside but is born from sin inside the church,” he said.

“And so the church has a profound need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn on the one hand forgiveness but also the necessity of justice. And forgiveness does not substitute justice,” he said.

“We have to relearn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance,” he said.

The pope, who helped explain the third secret of Fatima when it was published in 2000, said the Fatima messages extend in time to apply to the church’s continuing journey, which is accompanied by suffering.

The pope also spoke about the economic crisis that is shaking Portugal and the rest of Europe, saying it illustrates the need for a greater infusion of ethics and morality in the market.

“I would say this economic crisis has a moral dimension that no one can fail to see,” he said. “The events of the last two or three years have demonstrated that the ethical dimension must enter into the world of economic activity.”

Pure economic pragmatism will always lead to problems, he said.

The church’s social teaching has a big role to play, seeking to create a serious dialogue with the financial world and highlighting the moral responsibilities of economic systems, the pope said.

“So here we need to enter into a concrete dialogue. I tried to do this in my encyclical, ‘Caritas in Veritate,’” he said.

The pope said secularism was not a new problem in Portugal or Europe, but had taken a more radical turn in recent years. He said here, too, the church needs to engage in bridge-building and dialogue, making sure its voice is heard and helping to restore an openness to transcendent reality.