Relics of Blessed Mother Teresa touring US, Canada

As we and other Catholic press outlets have reported, relics of Blessed Mother Teresa are being hosted by a number of U.S. and Canadian cities on a tour that is part of a number of worlwide events taking place this year to mark the birth centenary of the founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

One recent stop for the relics — which include Mother Teresa’s sandals and rosary, was the Cathedral of St. Paul in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Check out this slide show on the website of  The Catholic Spirit, the archdiocesan newspaper.

The debate continues on abortion and health care

Anyone who closely followed the debate in March over whether the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act did or did not leave open the possibility of federal funding of abortion will want to read this new analysis by Helen Alvare, a law professor at George Mason University who served in the 1990s as director of planning and information for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities. Alvare addresses point by point the arguments raised by Timothy Jost of Washington and Lee University School of Law in his rebuttal of the USCCB legal analysis of the health reform plan and takes Commonweal magazine to task for relying too heavily on Jost.

This is a debate likely to continue for a while. Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the USCCB pro-life committee, said recently that constant vigilance will be needed as the health reform law is implemented to be sure no federal funds go to pay for abortions.  We wrote about his comments here.

Alvare concludes that the USCCB’s stand that the health reform plan “fell morally short remains measurably more convincing than Commonweal’s and Jost’s conclusion that the bishops were too scrupulous and alarmist in their reading” of the bill. Read her full article here and see whether you agree.

Follow-up: Both Commonweal and Jost have issued lengthy responses to Alvare’s article. You can read them here and here.

Pax Christi calls for celebrations to mark Convention on Cluster Munitions

Remnants of a cluster bomb discovered in Bosnia-Herzegovina. (CNS/Damir Atikovic, Norwegian People's Aid)

The Convention on Cluster Munitions enters into force Aug. 1.

The agreement, which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions, was seen as a milestone among disarmament proponents when it was adopted by 107 countries meeting in Dublin in 2008.

Since then, countries have been formally considering the convention. To date, 106 countries have signed it and 37 more have ratified it. Noticeably missing from the list are China, India, Iran, Israel, Russia, Pakistan, Syria and the United States.

Pax Christi International is calling particular attention to the convention. The Catholic peace organization, based in Brussels, Belgium, is asking parishes and local to celebrate the historic pact by educating others about the agreement.

Proponents of the ban said that banning cluster munitions protects civilians from unacceptable harm because such weapons are inaccurate and unreliable when used. Handicap International reports that 98 percent of victims of cluster munitions are civilians.

Cluster munitions are large weapons that carry dozens or even hundreds of small bombs. When deployed from the air or the ground, the “bomblets” scatter over a wide area and do not distinguish between civilian and military targets, critics say. In many cases, significant numbers of the mini-bombs fail to explode and land in open areas where children can find them or adults can step on them, causing them to go off and inflict serious injury.

The convention culminated a long campaign coordinated by the Cluster Munition Coalition, a network of 200 civil society groups including nongovernment organizations, faith-based groups and professional organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations.

Pax Christi International is a coalition member.

The coalition continues its work to ban cluster munitions around the world through educational programs and grass-roots organizing.

Recovery progress slow in Haiti six months after powerful quake

A man prays in a cemetery affected by the Jan. 12 earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. (CNS/Reuters)

Six months since a powerful earthquake leveled a fifth of the Haitian geography and destroyed 80 percent of the country’s economy, the tent camps that sprouted around the capital of Port-au-Prince remain filled with homeless people wondering how much longer their plight will continue.

No one has an answer. Not the Haitian government. Not the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission co-chaired by Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and former President Bill Clinton, the U.N. special envoy to Haiti. Not the United Nations under which nations pledged $5.3 billion in aid this year and next (but with only $55 million delivered thus far). Not any of the relief agencies which at times struggle with the Haitian government over priorities.

Still, the Haitian people remain patient.

Some have organized leadership councils in the camps to advocate for housing, security, medical care, sanitation and education.

The more fortunate moved back into homes that survived the quake.

Even so, Jesuit Refugee Service/USA said progress is slow and estimates that more than 1 million people remain homeless in 1,342 camps around Port-au-Prince and are vulnerable to tropical rainstorms and hurricanes.

In a July 11 press release, Jesuit Father Kenneth Gavin, director of Jesuit Refugee Service/USA, called for more involvement of camp residents in the delivery of aid. He also said aid must be distributed outside of the camps “so that moving to a camp is not the only way for people to receive minimal food, water and livelihood assistance.”

Safety, especially for women, is a growing concern. Women are become increasingly vulnerable to sexual assault. However, the Haitian National Police — numbering 7,000 nationwide — hardly has the manpower to keep order.

Meanwhile, debris removal is painstakingly slow. Writing in The New York Times, Reginald DesRoches, Ozlem Ergun and Julie Swann, all engineers on the faculty of the Georgia Institute of Technology, estimated that 20 million to 25 million cubic yards of debris clog streets, sidewalks, yards and canals in the capital. That’s enough to fill five Louisiana Superdomes.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ debris management plan says it would take a dump truck with a 20-cubic-yard bed 1,000 days to clear the debris, if it carried 1,000 loads a day. However, with just 300 trucks scattered throughout the earthquake zone, the Georgia engineers estimate it could take 20 years to clear the rubble at the current pace.

Despite the difficulties, successes are mounting. Through May 31, Catholic Relief Services distributed food to 900,000 people and continues to provide food to about 100,000 children in more than 270 schools and 100 orphanages and child-care centers. Emergency shelter materials have been given to more than 114,000 people while water and sanitation services benefit thousands more. CRS has employed 6,000 people to clear drainage canals or dig new drainage channels to funnel away water during a storm.

Agencies such as CRS are developing long-term plans to address Haiti’s needs. One such effort finds CRS fabricating 8,000 transitional shelters made of wood and built on strong foundations. CARE plans 1,000 units by the end of the year.

Progress in Haiti always has been slow. A disaster of such magnitude would pose huge challenges for even the most developed country.

Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S., Raymond Joseph, told Catholic News Service in June the earthquake could have a silver lining in that it is forcing the Haitian government to rethink how the country can be redeveloped with partners around the world.

“I don’t believe the government is going to develop Haiti,” he said. “Government cannot do that. Government is there to prepare the infrastructure and provide security. But I expect the private investment and especially investors coming from abroad and the Haitian Diaspora to come in.”

For another account of the situation in Haiti, see the recent Tennessee Register piece by writer Theresa Laurence.

Pope’s book getting careful translation

VATICAN CITY — In May, Pope Benedict finished writing the second volume of his work, “Jesus of Nazareth,” and the text went to a Vatican translating team.

The first volume of "Jesus of Nazareth" was published in 2007.

The translators are being careful. So careful, in fact, that the book isn’t expected to be published before Lent of 2011, according to Vatican sources I spoke with this week.

It seems the first volume of “Jesus of Nazareth” has some discrepancies in the various language versions. To make sure that doesn’t happen this time, the translators are doing a lot of cross-checking.

The Vatican wants the book to be released simultaneously in major languages. Lent would be an appropriate time to launch Volume 2, which treats Christ’s Passion and the Resurrection. The first volume of the work, which ran more than 400 pages, was published in the spring of 2007 and covered Jesus’ life from his baptism to his transfiguration.

Meanwhile, it’s rumored in the Vatican that Pope Benedict is already making plans for a third volume on the life of Jesus, this one focusing on his infancy and childhood years. He’ll have time to work on it at his summer villa in Castel Gandolfo, where he’s headed today and will remain for most of the next three months.

Parish festival eats

Summer is the time for traditional parish festivals with their seemingly unending quantities of fried chicken, casseroles, salads and pies. Those looking for good eats and friendly crowds could potentially go festival hopping each weekend since the events are frequently posted on diocesan websites.

The Dialog, newspaper of  the Diocese of Wilmington, Del., brings a bit of these festivals home in its June 24 issue (pages 12-13) where it highlights recipes from parish cookbooks from the 1970s to more recent collections. The article features recipes directly from these fundraising books for crabcakes, ribs, chicken dishes, cakes and a pretzel salad with Jell-O and Cool Whip which likely falls under the category of either you like it or you don’t.

Rome tops most-viewed CNS stories for June

Our story on the discovery in Roman catacombs of the oldest existing paintings of Sts. Peter, Paul, Andrew and John was the most-viewed during June. (CNS/Paul Haring)

If you’re a Catholic-news junkie, June was an interesting month. Some of its biggest stories occurred during its final three days, when several key Vatican appointments were announced, when a new Vatican agency for new evangelization was formed, when palliums were presented to new archbishops, and when a leading European cardinal was chastised.

It was also a month to remind us — and you, the reader — of the value of the CNS Rome bureau, whose coverage of Vatican issues is unmatched by any news outlet, secular or religious, anywhere in the English-speaking world. You’ll see below that seven of June’s top dozen stories were from our Rome bureau writers. (We usually do a top 10 most-viewed list, but Nos. 10, 11 and 12 in June were so close that it made sense to expand to a dozen.)

Obviously there are links here if you missed any of these stories last month:

1. Early evidence of devotion to apostles found in Rome catacombs (June 22)

2. President of Turkish bishops’ conference stabbed to death (June 3)

3.  Pope says pallium is sign of bond that protects church from evil (June 29)

4. Monsanto’s 475-ton seed donation challenged by Haitian peasants (June 2)

5. Vatican clarifies Cardinal Schonborn remarks, defends Cardinal Sodano (June 28)

6. Smartphone applications integrate prayer life with daily technology (June 21)

7. USCCB committee explains direct abortion, legitimate medical procedure (June 23)

8. Off the cuff: tracking the pope’s words on celibacy (June 18)

9. High court won’t review case claiming Vatican liable for priest abuser (June 28)

10. Archbishop urges Congress not to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy (June 4)

11. Pope announces formation of pontifical council for new evangelization (June 28)

12. Knights of Columbus and Rome: Looking back at 90 years of friendship (June 11)