Trial opens for ‘Creech 14’

Participants in the Nevada Desert Experience gathered at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada in April 2009. (Photo from Nevada Desert Experience)

The trial of 14 faith-based peace activists charged with criminal trespass for entering the grounds of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada in April 2009 to voice their concerns over the use of unmanned aerial vehicles –- UAVs — in Pakistan and Afghanistan opens today in Las Vegas.

Several individuals in the group, which calls itself the Creech 14, are longtime Catholic peace activists who have been involved in a variety of actions and prayer vigils over the years calling for peace.

Those arrested during the annual Nevada Desert Experience vigil at the base were Kathy Kelly of  Voices for Creative Nonviolence; Jesuit Fathers John Dear and Steve Kelly; Franciscan Fathers Louis Vitale and Jerry Zawada; Holy Child of Jesus Sister Megan Rice; Catholic Workers Mariah Klusmire of Albuquerque, N.M., Brian Terrell of Maloy, Iowa, and Renee Espeland of Des Moines, Iowa. Others in the group are Dennis DuVall, Judy Homanich, Brad Lyttle, Libby Pappalardo and Eve Tetaz.

Kelly told Catholic News Service after the incident that the group entered the base through an open gate and wanted to ask the pilots who operate the unmanned vehicles via a long-range communication network at Creech why attacks on innocent people were being carried out.

Jim Haber of the Nevada Desert Experience told CNS the activists’ defense is built around international law, which they say requires them to actively oppose what they consider the illegal use of the UAVs, or drones, and the First Amendment right to assemble peaceably for redress of grievance.

The group plans to ask the court to include as expert witnesses former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, attorney Bill Quiqley, legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and retired Army Col. Ann Wright, a former U.S. diplomat who has opposed the war in Iraq, he said.

Prior to the trial a series of events, prayer vigils and rallies in Las Vegas called attention to the use of drones and the role of the air force base in military activities in Pakistan.

Incidentally, the Nevada Desert Experience conducts annual retreats and activities to support personal renewal in the desert tradition through prayer, education, dialogue and nonviolent direct action in an effort to stop nuclear weapons testing and other acts of war.

Remembering the tragedy of 9/11 and a special priest

“You have no idea what God is calling you to. But he needs you. He needs me. He needs all of us,” Franciscan Father Mychal F. Judge said in a homily he delivered Sept. 10, 2001, during the re-dedication of a firehouse in the Bronx.

Father Judge (CNS photo)

It was his last homily, according to Mychal’s Message, an organization named for the beloved New York City fire chaplain. The next day he lost his life in the terrorist attacks that brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. He died ministering to victims in the rubble.

The victims of the attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pa., are being remembered on the ninth anniversary of the attacks — as are the survivors, all the families affected by the tragedy, and firefighters and other first-responders, many of whom died helping victims.

Father Judge’s last homily is being made available on a DVD by Mychal’s Message. “Father Mychal had a practical, down-to-earth approach to life,” said Franciscan Father Cassian A. Miles, who knew the late chaplain most of his life.

“His last homily goes to the heart of the Christian message about our dependence on God and how we must rely on his love and care to guide us,” Father Miles said an announcement about the DVD’s release.

Father Judge had an impact on countless people. One of those is Shannon Hickey from Lancaster, Pa. In 2002 she founded Mychal’s Message, because the priest as a longtime family friend helped her and her family members when she was struggling with liver disease. Born with a defective liver, she received part of her mom’s liver in 1991 when she was just 7 months old.

The organization collects and distributes items for the homeless. The ministry “began with a simple pair of socks,” said Hickey, who has received numerous awards for her work. Her mom, Kelly Ann Lynch, is the co-founder.

On 9/11 the organization planned to distribute “Blessed Bloomer” bundles to 300 to 400  homeless people in New York City. The bundles include an undershirt, underwear, socks and a card with a prayer by Father Judge.

USAID assessment finds vegetable seeds are plentiful in Haiti

Haitian farmers have plenty of seed for traditional crops and new types of seed should not be brought into the country unless thoroughly tested under local conditions, says a recent study by relief and development agencies funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Back in June, Haitian peasants threatened to burn any vegetable seeds showing up in seed stores that were donated by the Monsanto Co. Peasant leaders said the hybrid seed, not bred for local conditions, would upset agricultural environments and make farmers more dependent on unwanted seed varieties from outside of the country.

Monsanto defended its contribution, which included varieties of corn, cabbage, carrot, eggplant, melon, onion, spinach, tomato and watermelon, saying it came to help Haitian farmers who may have been unable to purchase seed because of shortages in the months after January’s devastating earthquake.

While the controversy has died down with no major altercations, a recently completed assessment of seed availability found that plenty of seed for traditional crops exists. The report recommended that seed from outside of the country not be introduced unless thorough testing is conducted and that local markets be allowed to function normally.

The assessment, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office for Foreign Disaster Assistance, involved 10 relief and development agencies, including Catholic Relief Services. The 124-page final report offered 44 recommendations to help Haitian farmers, including ways to invest in small farmer-driven variety, seed and agricultural marketing systems.

A key finding is that plenty of seed is available as farmers finish planting traditional crops such as corn, beans, squash and melons this month. The major challenge facing farmers, however, is household finances and the ability to afford the cost of seed.

The cash shortage among farmers is fueled by the relocation of people who fled earthquake-ravaged regions and moved in with family or friends in rural communities.

Any seed donations should be adapted to local conditions, fit farmer preferences and be “at least as good” as what farmers normally use, the report recommended.

The assessment also suggested that investing to assist women’s groups in agricultural enterprise efforts will help build the rural economy.

A USAID spokeswoman said the full report is expected to be posted soon.

Catholic colleges rate as workplace jewels

Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education issued its annual Great Colleges to Work For, 2010 issue, and a number of Catholic colleges and universities made the cut. The Chronicle surveys schools every year, and scores them as great workplaces based on the responses of faculty, professional staff and administrators. The results drew on responses from 43,000 people in 275 institutions.

Three Catholic schools made the 2010 honor roll: College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, and University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

Other Catholic schools that made the top 100 are Boston College; Canisius College, Buffalo, N.Y.; Georgetown University, Washington; Marywood University, Scranton, Pa.; Niagara University, Niagara, N.Y.; and University of San Francisco.

Among the things respondents liked about their academic workplaces are knowing their voices matter, challenging and fulfilling work, and a place that just feels like home. For Catholic colleges and universities, a dash of faith goes without saying.

North and south of the Thames, preparing for the pope

The Archdiocese of Westminster, one of two Catholic archdioceses in London, has launched a blog for Pope Benedict XVI’s mid-September visit. The colorful blog includes information about preparations for the papal visit as well as interesting facts such as how fast the popemobile can go. Visit the blog here.

The Archdiocese of Southwark, which covers London south of the Thames River, also is preparing for the pope’s brief stay in the city. The archdiocese notes that although the pope’s public events are in Westminster Archdiocese, there will be plenty of opportunities to see the pontiff in Southwark Archdiocese. For instance, the apostolic nunciature, where Pope Benedict will stay, is in the Southwark Archdiocese.

Miss any of these? Most-viewed CNS stories for August.

Quite a variety of August stories made our Top 10 list for last month. Let’s get right to it:

A story on the Islamic center near ground zero was the CNS most-viewed story for August. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

1. New York mosque controversy echoes anti-Catholicism of another era (Aug. 20)

2. Use of new Roman Missal to begin in US at Advent 2011 (Aug. 20)

3. Papal Masses in Britain will use some new English texts (Aug. 19)

4. Conversion: Ancient prison went from pagan to sacred Christian site (July 30)

5. Pope will not accept resignation of Dublin auxiliary bishops (Aug. 11)

6. Impact of Mother Teresa’s work, prayer still felt 13 years after death (Aug. 26)

7. Vatican welcomes US plaintiffs’ decision to end abuse lawsuit (Aug. 10)

8. Benedictines sue in federal court for right to sell caskets they make (Aug. 16)

9. Papal visit to Great Britain to include much more than beatification (Aug. 18 — the full trip schedule)

10. ‘God Squad’ logo may change, but priest’s mission remains the same (Aug. 19)

Archbishop signs on to keep abuser in prison

Those who read our touching story about abuse survivor Elizabeth Ann Murphy, courtesy of  The Catholic Review in Baltimore,  might be interested in a petition she is promoting to keep her abuser, former Catholic school teacher John A. Merzerbacher, in jail. Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien of Baltimore is among those who have signed on (see page 26 — signature 1268).