In Port-au-Prince, closed shops and quiet streets

By Dennis Sadowski

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — The first day of a general strike designed to keep pressure on the government of President Michel Martelly to lower gasoline prices and schedule long overdue elections kept the streets of the Haitian capital eerily quiet.

Across the capital, schools did not open and most businesses were shuttered Feb. 9. A long line formed at the Eagle Supermarket on Delmas Road, just around the corner from the closed offices of Catholic Relief Services. People expressed frustration that they did not know about the closure and could not buy necessities for their families.

Boys play soccer in a traffic-free street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the capital experienced a general strike aimed at lowering gas prices and urging elections. (CNS/Bob Roller)

Boys play soccer in a traffic-free street in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as the capital experienced a general strike aimed at lowering gas prices and urging elections. (CNS/Bob Roller)

At mid-day Catholic News Service photographer Bob Roller and I ventured out with our driver and translator, Jean-Daniel Lafontant. Encountering one group of student protesters near the site of the earthquake-destroyed National Palace, we were told we were not “following the rule” to keep motor vehicles off the streets. One suggested that because we were driving around we might find a rock being thrown through the windshield of our vehicle. It mattered little that we were journalists surveying the silence on the streets.

Few vehicles were out and about, but the daily traffic congestion the capital experiences was gone. In many neighborhoods young boys played soccer on the traffic-free streets.

The National Police kept a watchful eye on the tense environment. Most officers were in groups of at least four. They held shotguns at the ready.

The two-day strike was the latest challenge to Haitian President Michel Martelly, who is being pressured on a variety of fronts. Since December opposition forces have mounted a series of demonstrations calling for Martelly to schedule parliamentary and presidential elections as planned. Some protesters have called for Martelly to step down.

A small group of senators blocked efforts by Martelly in December to schedule the elections, saying the conditions the president proposed favored his government. The impasse extended past Jan. 12, the fifth anniversary of the country’s devastating earthquake. Under Haiti’s constitution, because there was no election scheduled, the Parliament dissolved that same day, meaning that Martelly could rule by decree.

Haitians who voted for Martelly in 2011 have since become disenchanted with the former carnival singer’s governing ability. They are discouraged by his arrogant comments and by his inability to deliver on campaign promises he made to help the country recover from the earthquake.

Catholic advocates not about to forget Ferguson riots

Missouri parishioners march after riots in Ferguson, Mo. (CNS photo)

Missouri parishioners march after riots in Ferguson, Mo. (CNS photo)

Less than three months after the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, discussions about race and role of police officers may have fallen off the 24-hour-news cycle’s radar but they have not been forgotten by Catholic social ministry advocates.

During Feb. 8 workshops at the annual Catholic Social Ministries Gathering in Washington the topic of Ferguson — and all the issues that meld with it — understandably came up in a session called “Encountering Christ by Transforming Conflict and Violence,” but the topic also was raised in the workshop: “Encountering Christ in the Heart of the World on Campus.”

In the college workshop, primarily focusing on campus social ministry outreach, a student speaker said he thought he knew all about social justice from his experiences of helping the poor, but his understanding took on much deeper meaning after the riots late November in Ferguson.

Joshua Tovey, a junior political science and philosophy major at the University of Dayton in Ohio, said the riots, five hours away from campus, came closer to home when the campus ministry house and a black fraternity were both egged, and he was convinced he had to take a stand.

“That’s when it hit me what social justice meant,” he said. “When I saw students lose their dignity, I realized I had to do more.”

He joined protesters at the university holding signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and worried a little bit about what his friends or parents would think, especially since his picture from a protest was on the cover of a university publication. But ultimately, he said, he was convinced he needed to “love others the way Christ loves me” even — and maybe even especially —  if that meant taking a stand against injustices.

At another workshop at the Catholic Social Ministries Gathering, Eli McCarthy, an adjunct professor of justice and peace studies at Georgetown University’s Berkley Center, highlighted Scripture passages and words from various popes about the need for peace.

He also spoke about forming DC Peace Team, a group that teaches nonviolent conflict intervention skills, that he formed four years ago along with former prisoner Cortez McDaniel.

McCarthy told the group of social justice advocates that the growth of these types of teams is crucial in diffusing conflict and violence in the nation’s cities and stressed that there should be a national model for this work so that locals could monitor their own neighborhoods.

Cortez urged the workshop attendees to get involved. “Go home and ask yourself: ‘Am I in or not? If I’m in, I have to be committed.’”

“You can’t just hand out sandwiches” and think you are helping the poor, he said, reminding them there is much more to be done, particularly in making communities safe.

“It’s about the long haul,” he said.

Bishops must comply with child protection norms, commission says


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A tale of slavery in modern-day Italy

By Michelle Hough
Caritas Internationalis

Sunday is the first International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking.

Graffiti on the walls of the social center where Caritas Caserta assists migrants. (Michelle Hough)

Graffiti on the walls of the social center where Caritas Caserta assists migrants. (Michelle Hough)

CASERTA, Italy — Jean Konan* speaks five languages. He’s bright, articulate and knows his rights. He’s also been a modern-day slave, working in the fields for just €25 ($29) a day and sometimes for nothing at all.

“They say that slavery’s been abolished, yet it still exists but it’s invisible,” says Jean.

He left his home in Ivory Coast in 2006 when the political situation became unsettled. As a language student he thought he’d have a brighter future abroad.

After a terrible journey across the Sahara, through Libya and across the Mediterranean, Jean arrived in Caserta, near Naples. It’s a hub for African migrants looking for work in agriculture.

Caritas gave him a place to stay and food, and very soon he joined dozens of other African migrants who gathered at the town’s roundabouts at dawn, waiting to be picked up by foremen who would give them work in the fields.

In his first job picking tobacco, he got €2 ($2.2) an hour for 12 hours’ work a day. For picking oranges in the south of Italy, he got around €22 ($25) a day. He thought he’d hit the jackpot when an electrician took him on as an assistant, promising him €1,200 ($1,374) per month. He eventually got €250 ($286) after a month’s work and was let go. After that, a woman gave him work picking tobacco but didn’t pay him anything after two months.

More wall art in Caserta. (Michelle Hough)

More wall art in Caserta. (Michelle Hough)

“They knew I had no papers and they knew they could do what they wanted with me,” said Jean. “I was afraid I could go to prison if I said anything.”

With encouragement and help from a lawyer at Caritas, Jean reported his employer to the authorities. They took the woman to court, but didn’t manage to get the money owed to Jean.

“The real chains that bind Italy’s migrant workers are economic ones,” said Gian Luca Castaldi, head of the migrant office at Caritas Caserta.

He explains that migrant workers don’t report unscrupulous employers for a number of reasons. They are afraid and see their poverty as an inescapable reality; they don’t want to be seen as a traitor by the other workers; they feel as though the owe something to the informal labor network in which many migrants without documents work; and legal proceedings in Italy can be very long and complicated. In some cases, the workers don’t even realize that they’re being exploited when they’re paid too little, too late or nothing at all.

This graffiti says, "We're all illegals." (Michelle Hough)

This graffiti says, “We’re all illegals.” (Michelle Hough)

Castaldi says that the African migrant workers around Caserta risk far more than non-payment for work. Apart from physical abuse, Castaldi says that out of 101 migrants Caritas is helping because of labor exploitation, around 30 have been sexually abused. There have also been unconfirmed cases of organ trafficking in the area.

A doctor working for the medical service Caritas offers weekly to the migrants says that migrants suffer both physically and mentally. He says there are many cases of depression and alcoholism. Many of the migrants have skin ailments because of the nature of their work and stomach problems because of poor diet. There’s also a high number of previously undiagnosed cases of diabetes.

Jean got his papers when the Italian government created an amnesty for migrants and is now working as a mediator for migrants at the Caritas center in Caserta, and is part of the Immigrant and Refugee Movement of Caserta.

“It’s inhuman to treat us like this,” he says. “We need laws against exploitation and we must all work together – all people of all different races – for future generations. People must shake off their ignorance.”

“I still dream of a future. I feel I can help people change their lives and I want to use my experience with racism to help them,” says Jean.

*Name changed to protect identity

Caritas Internationalis coordinates COATNET – Christian Organizations Against Trafficking in Human Beings. It’s a network that links together 42 Christian groups which are fighting human trafficking. They raise awareness, lobby for change and help people who’ve been trafficked or abused by employers. Learn more here.

This article was made possible thanks to the support of the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See.

Author wants to give 1,000 books to pregnancy resource centers

Catholic pro-life advocate Chaunie Brusie wants college-age women facing an unplanned pregnancy to know they can continue to move forward with their life goals without turning to abortion.

Brusie knows. She faced an unplanned pregnancy as a senior in college.


She explores her experience in a book published by Ave Maria Press a year ago, “Tiny Blue Lines; Reclaiming Your Life, Preparing for Your Baby and Moving Forward With Faith in an Unplanned Pregnancy.”

The book’s title refers to the blue lines that appear on one style of home pregnancy test kits that indicate a woman is pregnant.

Now she wants to distribute 1,000 copies of her book to pregnancy resource centers around the country through Heartbeat International’s annual conference April 7-10 in St. Louis.

To help with that goal, Brusie has turned to crowdfunding through the FlowerFund website.

Her goal is to raise a bit more than $7,000 by March 31 so she can buy 1,000 copies of the book herself for distribution to each person who attends the Heartbeat International gathering.

“I really admire their mission and what they do with pregnancy centers,” Brusie said of the organization working to support pregnant women and prevent them from seeking an abortion.

Brusie and her husband of seven years and their four children, ranging in age from 6 months to 6 years old, belong to Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in Lapeer, Michigan. She said that when she was faced with an unplanned pregnancy seven years ago, she embarked on an unknown path. She persevered in finding support and assistance, completing work for her degree and giving birth to her first child, now a student at Bishop Kelley School at the family’s parish.

“I found a huge lack of information about choosing to have your baby and continue building your skills and start your career and establish your place in adulthood,” Brusie said.

“I interviewed a lot of women and talked about issues such as finishing school, delaying school, the relationship with the baby’s father and what to do on campus to support other women in a similar situation,” she said.

Brusie described her book as inspirational and practical from a pro-life perspective.

“I hope to get it in conference attendees’ hands and they can use the stories for inspiration to share with their own clients,” Brusie said.

Convent in Phoenix offering lodging for Super Bowl fans

University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.    (CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec)

“A feeling of home, plus the amenities of a hotel … Benedictine hospitality awaits you in the desert!”

That’s the welcoming message on the website of Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Phoenix. The sisters’ decision to rent out some rooms for Super Bowl fans has created a bit of a media buzz with coverage on a local TV station and in The Arizona Republic newspaper.

The monastery is 5.5 miles from the site of Super Bowl XLIX — the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. Sister Linda Campbell told The Arizona Republic that after hearing some residents were renting out rooms in their homes to football fans to make some extra income, the sisters decided to go for it, too, and use it as a fundraiser. Besides, according to the newspaper, they had tried it once before — for the Super Bowl in 2008, which brought in $12,600. “I think there are people who just like a quiet atmosphere, that seemed to be the people we drew,” Sister Linda recalled.

The monastery had eight guest rooms to rent out — two in a room for $300 — and accommodations included WiFi and a continental breakfast.

Notes on peace and justice

Ann O’Connor of Syracuse Catholic Worker dies

Ann O'Connor

Ann O’Connor

The Catholic Worker community in Syracuse, New York, lost one of its stalwarts with the death of Ann O’Connor, 81, Jan. 17.

In 1971 she became involved with Unity Kitchen Community in Syracuse, where she met her husband, Peter King. They married in 1980. Together they assumed major roles in operating the kitchen, which offered twice-weekly meals to the city’s poor and homeless residents to go along with Sunday Mass.

“She was 18 years older than me, but we met and formed an alliance,” said King, who with his wife called themselves “hospitallers,” those who provide hospitality. “We both thought the other was extremely humorous. We spent a lot of time making each other laugh. We became pretty good friends, best friends, before we got involved romantically.

“Marry your best friend, that’s my advice,” he said.

A funeral Mass was scheduled for Jan. 24 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

O’Connor was influenced by the writings of Catholic Worker co-founders Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin and brought her organizational skills to Unity Kitchen. A story in the Syracuse Post-Standard said she was attracted to the kitchen as an anti-Vietnam War activist because its founders, Bob Russell and Father Ted Sizing, were involved with sit-ins at Syracuse’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Born in Syracuse in 1933, O’Connor lived in Pennsylvania and Ohio as her father’s railroad job took him to other communities. The family returned to Syracuse in 1949, where O’Connor lived the rest of her life. About that time, at age 16, she contracted severe arthritis and was confined to a wheelchair for the next 65 years, but the disability did not stop her activism and drive to care for the city’s poor residents.

King said the meals will continue. The community provides hospitality on beautifully set tables with matching silverware and china. Each table is named for a saint. Guests are served by volunteers. King said Unity Kitchen hardly provides a soup kitchen atmosphere.

“It’s built along the idea of lavish hospitality,” he explained, referencing the monks of the Middle Ages who felt that it was important to treat the hidden Christ at their door with only best.


Pax Christi International turns 70

pax_website_bannerPax Christi International turns 70 this year and will celebrate its founding with a special series of programs in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

The Pilgrims on the Path to Peace event will take place May 13-17 with programs on the major milestones of Pax Christi’s history, challenges to realizing justice and peace in the Holy Land, and planning for the future, as the Catholic peace organization heads toward its 75th anniversary in 2020.

There also will be a peace festival holding up the work of local and international peacemakers. The 2015 Pax Christi Peace International Award will be presented at the event.

The organization said Bethlehem was chosen as a symbol of its commitment to peace and reconciliation.

Pax Christi members and others working for peace in the world are invited to join the celebration. More information is available at the organization’s website.


Education for Justice

The Education for Justice program of the Center of Concern has assembled a set of resources to commemorate African American History Month, which is observed in February.

The package includes for use by groups, classrooms or prayer groups wishing to understand the importance of the civil rights movement and the struggle still being faced by people of color in the U.S. today.

Among the items included are an interview with Donna Toliver Grimes, assistant director, African-American affairs in the Secretariat of Cultural Diversity in the Church at the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops, who shares her experiences of racism and how her faith has empowered her to end all forms of discrimination; Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message focusing on modern day human trafficking and migration around the world; a video in which Jesuit Father Fred Kammer, director of the Jesuit Social Research Institute at Loyola University New Orleans, discusses Catholic social teaching and world economic systems; prayers for racial justice; and a discussion guide to the film “Selma.”

To access the resources, individuals or institutions must subscribe. Costs vary depending on the type of subscription desired.


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