Cholera response steps up as Haiti’s rainy season begins

(CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

An upswing in cholera in Haiti has prompted health care workers and aid agencies to step up efforts to prevent the water-borne disease from spreading rapidly as the rainy season begins.

Catholic Relief Services was among the aid agencies that boosted the distribution of soap, water purification tablets and hygiene information within 24 hours of the initial spike in early April following a period of heavy rain. CRS reported reaching 22,000 families within days; in Port-au-Prince, agency workers installed or repaired sanitation stations and increased disinfection and maintenance of facilities in 12 settlements where people left homeless by the January 2010 earthquake remain in crude shelters.

In addition, Boston-based Partners in Health has embarked on a vaccination program with the goal of reaching 100,000 people. While the vaccine typically is effective 70 percent of the time, PIH has set out to show that a concentrated vaccination campaign can significantly reduce the threat of the disease as long as vaccine supplies are available, Donna Barry, the agency’s director of policy and advocacy, told a congressional briefing April 18.

Despite such outreach, several speakers said during the briefing that all Haitians are at risk of contracting the disease, which can kill in a matter of hours if left untreated.

Now some history. The first cholera cases surfaced in central Haiti in Artibonite department in October 2010. Until then, the disease had no history in the country. Investigators traced the source to a faulty sanitation system at a camp housing Nepalese soldiers, who are part of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The U.N. has declined to acknowledge it was responsible for the outbreak, sparking protest from some Haitian organizations. More than 7,050 people have died and more than 532,000 people — 5 percent of the population — have contracted the disease, according to the Haitian Ministry of Health and Population.

As the rainy season begins, those most at risk are the 500,000 people who remain in the settlements across the earthquake zone, said Luiz Augusto Galvao, manager of sustainable development and environmental health area for the Pan-American Health Organization.

He decried the lack of access to safe water and sanitation for many Haitians. Only 69 percent of Haitians can access safe drinking water and just 17 percent have access to sanitation systems.

An international coalition is attempting to address the situation, but he acknowledged it will be years before things improve.

So what to do?

Agencies such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Inter-American Development Bank, UNICEF, U.N.-Water and the governments of Brazil, Canada and France are pulling together to address the water problems facing Haiti, Galvao said. Other speakers called upon the world to make good on the billions of dollars pledged in the months after the earthquake to spur an effort to bring clean water and sanitation to all Haitians.

“For now we need to save lives,” Galvao said.

Obama joins those sending best wishes to pope

Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd in St. Peter's Square April 19, 2005, after being announced as the 265th pontiff. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

VATICAN CITY — Today was a Vatican holiday marking the seventh anniversary of the election of Pope Benedict XVI. The anniversary comes just three days after his 85th birthday.

The Vatican post office has been busy, busy, busy this week.

Vatican Radio reported today that messages have been arriving from all over the world and have come from the powerful and the meek, individuals and organizations.

U.S. President Barack Obama sent a happy birthday message at the beginning of the week. The president told the pope, “Your work and that of the Catholic Church continues to strengthen our entire human family, especially those who are most vulnerable, and your spirit reflects the love of Christ to so many.”

The president promised to pray for the pope and asked the pope to pray for him.

The anniversary of the pope’s election was marked in a message Secretary of State Hilary Clinton sent on behalf of the president.

Congratulating the pope and wishing him well in his continued ministry, Clinton said, “Pope Benedict has worked tirelessly to unite people of different beliefs through a shared faith in humanity and peace.”

Earlier in the week, the Vatican posted a dedicated email address — — that anyone can use to send a birthday and/or anniversary message to the pope.

On Blessed Kateri’s feast day in Canada, a video reflection on her life

Here in the United States we don’t celebrate the feast of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha until July 14. But in Canada her feast day is today, the date of her death in 1680.

To celebrate the feast, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned Basilian Father Thomas Rosica, CEO of Salt + Light Television in Canada, to produce this video reflection on the life of Blessed Kateri, who will be made a saint Oct. 21:

Seeing the bigger picture on health care

(CNS photo/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)

With climate change characterized as “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” Catholic health providers are working to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint. Climate change “is already negatively impacting human health” and its effects “will multiply dramatically if no action is taken,” says a new resource from the Catholic Health Association, titled “Climate Change and Health Care: Is There a Role for the Health Care Sector?” The 24-page document notes that “populations who are at greatest risk and considered most vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change” — including the unborn, children, older adults and those in poverty — “lack the ability to cope with the consequences of climate change.”

Among the negative health impacts caused by climate change now and in the future are heat-related illnesses, poor birth outcomes, malnutrition and food insecurity, degraded water quality and availability, respiratory illnesses and premature death, the document says. The resource is part of CHA’s work with the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, made up of 12 national Catholic organizations.

School supplies without end

An NCEA exhibitor displays a SMART Board April 12. (CNS photo by Gregory Tracy)

The annual National Catholic Educational Assocation convention is not just about professional and spiritual development.

It’s also about school supplies.

The exposition hall, a must stop for the 10,000 delegates at this year’s convention in Boston was filled with traditional student supplies:  uniforms, markers, books and art supplies. But vendors also were selling what schools need such as software, SMART boards,  scoreboards and desks.

Many of the booths lure potential buyers with free candy or other giveaways. The school fundraising vendors — especially those promoting candy bar sales — naturally draw a large crowd with bowls of samples on display.

Part of the success for vendors at the convention follows the real estate maxim: “location, location, location.”

Some vendors on the periphery of the hall, for example, felt they did not get enough foot traffic.

The range of products on display illustrates the immense role these educators have. There were tools for making handwriting easier and others for electronically keeping track of students’ volunteer hours. There were plenty of previously mentioned fundraisers in all shapes and sizes — promoting sales of free-trade coffee, organic products, candles, cookie dough and gift wrap — to name just a few.

Several booths offered religious items such as rosaries, holy cards and books but others highighted religious programs such as service opportunities, religious orders, missions and theology programs.

By the convention’s end two booths had a particular appeal not for their location or their giveaways. One was selling comfortable footwear and the other offered nap mats.

Oompah band, schuhplattler give Bavarian flair to pope’s birthday


Children dressed in traditional Bavarian outfits dance for Pope Benedict XVI during his 85th birthday celebrations in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican April 16. (CNS photo/Gregorio Borgia, pool via Reuters).

VATICAN CITY — The apostolic palace’s frescoed Clementine Hall became the stage for a mini-Bavarian festival today to celebrate Pope Benedict’s 85th birthday.

A small band played “oompah” music and ten children dressed in traditional outfits swirled, stomped and clapped as they performed the Schuhplattler before the pope. They were part of a large delegation of Bavarian bishops and 150 government representatives from the region who came to greet the pope and celebrate his birthday.

The pope’s brother, 88-year-old Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, also attended the festivities as well as representatives from the Lutheran church and the Jewish community in Bavaria.

The children presented the pope with white flowers and a Maypole covered with colorful ribbons. They also recited a German birthday poem.

The government delegation presented the pope with gifts of a wooden crucifix sculpted by a well-known 18th-century Bavarian woodcarver and a large Easter basket filled with traditional cakes, dark bread, ham and painted eggs.

Take a look at our video coverage of the pope’s milestone birthday:

And here’s the Vatican’s coverage from the morning Mass:

NCEA convention: Combination school, recess, faculty retreat

BOSTON — The annual convention of the National Catholic Educational Association is a busman’s holiday of sorts.

Every year thousands of Catholic school teachers and administrators take a big chunk of their Easter vacation to learn how to do their jobs better.

They attend dozens of workshops dealing with the nuts and bolts of how to get kids to write more creatively or understand math concepts. They also get tips on ways to use

Attendees and exhibitors at NCEA 2012 convention in Boston. (CNS photo/Gregory L. Tracy, The Pilot)

technology in class and suggestions for ways this technology should be curbed, if possible, by students off campus.

The educators also deal with bigger challenges: how to cope with closing schools, competition from charter schools and how to teach the faith in a world that seems to continually grow further from it.

But the three-day event, which took place April 11-13 in Boston this year, was not all learning. The 10,000 participants, most of whom were women, also just seemed to enjoy their time together. (One sign there were more women than men were the men’s bathrooms in the convention hall that were temporarily converted to women’s rooms.)

These educators, including catechists, congregated in groups in between “classes” and got together for meals that were most likely better than the usual cafeteria fare.

Although some joked that they “don’t get out much,” they seemed to know just how to get out in this city gearing up for its opening day Red Sox game at Fenway Park tonight and the upcoming Boston Marathon this coming Monday.

The regulars at these conventions know the drill. They comb through the convention program for workshops that catch their eye and then many complain that there are too many good workshops offered at the same time.

The overall mood of this group was certainly upbeat. These folks are really committed not only to their students but to the whole idea of educating young people in the faith.

Even this reporter, who has been to lots of NCEA conventions, was impressed. I was also glad my kids have had the benefit of dedicated men and women such as those in this crowd.

In no way was this a group of Pollyannas either. In discussions during some workshops, these educators expressed frustration that they sometimes feel they are lone voices stressing the importance of  Catholic schools. It seems they not only have to fight for funds to keep going but also for support.

Often people reminisce about the old days when schools were staffed by nuns and some lament how those days are over.

A photo at the NCEA headquarters from the first convention illustrates these old days: All the participants attending a general session are sisters wearing habits.

Those days are gone. Certainly there are still women religious, priests and brothers leading schools and religious education programs, but the bulk of the work is done by the laity.

And from the looks of things, these men and women are taking their charge seriously.

One workshop presenter told NCEA delegates that their schools better be ready for Monday morning when these teachers and principals return reinvigorated.

Maybe the whole Catholic Church should be ready.