Nicaragua is latest country to stop training at U.S. Army school

A participant holds a cross with the name of Maryknoll Sister Maura Clarke, who was raped, tortured and murder by military troops in El Salvador in 1980, during a 2009 vigil at the gates of Fort Benning in Georgia, home of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. (CNS/Jim West)

Add Nicaragua to the list of countries no longer sending soldiers for training to a U.S. Army school in Georgia.

School of the Americas Watch reported that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega decided to end his country’s participation in the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas.

The institute trains troops in state-of-the-art security practices and provides human rights education.

A delegation of SOA Watch activists, including founder Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, met with Ortega this week to push for the withdrawal. The organization announced Ortega’s decision Sept. 6.

SOA Watch was founded in 1990 to call for the school’s closing amid claims that the U.S. Army officials teach the Latin American soldiers tactics to suppress civilians. The effort began a year after the army in El Salvador murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the University of Central America in San Salvador.

“We’re very encouraged. This has energized our movement,” Father Bourgeois told Catholic News Service this morning from his home just outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., WHINSEC’s home.

“To have Daniel Ortega … say that Nicaragua will not participate in the future is a big deal,” Father Bourgeois said.

Nicaragua joins Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela in withdrawing from the school.

Lee A. Rials, WHINSEC public affairs officer, downplayed the announcement.

“It’s a choice the country made and they can choose what they like to do,” Rials told CNS this morning.

He said Nicaragua’s involvement in the school had dwindled in recent years — sending just a few trainees during fiscal year 2011 and none in 2012 — and will have little impact on the school.

“It’s not at all significant in the fact that we have this year more students than we’ve ever had before (at more than 2,200),” Rials said.” I think throughout the hemisphere we’re pretty well known for what we offer and what people gain by coming here.”

Rials attributed the decision to an apparent change in leadership of the Nicaraguan army, saying that just a few years ago the top military leader in the Central American nation told a visiting WHINSEC official “we need this school.”

SOA Watch activists plan to continue visiting officials in other nations. Next on tap, Father Bourgeois said, are Brazil and Peru.

Religion has big impact on how America gives

If you ever wondered whether religion makes a big impact on American generosity, wonder no more. It does.

Sister Mary Maloney, a member of the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor, chats with a guest in the cafeteria of a nonprofit charitable organization administered by her order in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2010. The charity serves hot meals to the poor, needy and homeless and provides transitional housing for young mothers. (CNS/Gregory A. Shemitz)

According to a new study released in the Aug. 23 issue of The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not,” reports Ben Gose in an exclusive study, “How America Gives.”

“Two of the top nine states — Utah and Idaho — have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church. The remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.”

The top 10 states in terms of giving were, in order, Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina and  Maryland.

Of America’s 50 largest cities, Salt Lake City took the No. 1 spot with citizens there giving an average of 9 percent of their household income to charity. Rounding out the top 10 are Memphis, Tenn.; Birmingham, Ala.; Nashville, Tenn.; Atlanta; Charlotte, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Washington; Dallas-Fort Worth; and Jacksonville, Fla.

Of U.S. regions, the South gives a greater percentage of its household income to charity, 5.2 percent on average. The West follows with 4.5 percent. Midwesterners give on an average of 4.3 percent, and Northeasterners give the least, 4 percent of average income. But when faith comes out of the equation, the trends flip. “People in the Northeast provide 1.4 percent of their discretionary income to secular charities, compared to those in the South, who give 0.9 percent,” the report said.

Gose also reported some other surprising findings of the study:

The rich aren’t the most generous. “People who make $50,000 to $75,000 give an average of 7.6 percent of the their discretionary income to charity, compared with an average of 4.2 percent for people who make $100,000 or more.”

It matters were you live. “Rich people who live in neighborhoods with many other wealthy people give a smaller share of their income to charity than wealthy people who live economically diverse neighborhoods.”

Tax incentives make a difference. “State policies that promote giving can make a significant difference and in some cases are influencing the rankings. In Arizona, charities are reaping more than $100-million annually from a series of tax credits adopted in recent years.

To see how your state ranks,and even your city of county, the report has a great interactive map. It also profiles giving and its challenges and victories in four cities: Phoenix, ranked No. 22; Minneapolis-St. Paul, ranked No. 30; Providence, R.I., ranked at the bottom at No. 50; and Washington, No. 8.

You can also find how the data was gathered and analyzed.

Pope videos, Vatican Radio on your Android

VATICAN CITY — With a couple quick taps, users of Android smartphones and tablets can listen to Vatican Radio programs — in 40 different languages, including Esperanto — access the pope’s daily schedule in English or Italian, read the texts of his speeches at those events and watch papal events live on video.

The app has been available since Wednesday from Google Play.

As for the fine print: The app is free. The papal agenda and text-news functions work on devices running Android 2.3 and higher. To access the radio broadcasts and live streaming of audio programs, you need Android 3.0 or higher. And Android 4.0 or higher is required to view the video streaming.

Vatican Radio said it is working on a similar app for iPhones and iPads, which should be ready soon. And another app for the Windows Phone is in the pipeline.