A social worker’s response to the euthanasia question

By Elliot Williams

VATICAN CITY — Last week, I had my first experience doing interviews within the walls of the Vatican. While attending the Pontifical Academy for Life’s conference on care for the elderly, I had the pleasure of speaking with Bishop Noel Simard of Valleyfield, Quebec, along with a few passionate professors and doctors from around the world.

Bishop Simard spoke eloquently on how the last moments of a person’s life can be moments of “serenity,” and “a chance for the person to accept and reconcile” with family members and with God. He also referred to aging as treasures of wisdom, much like Pope Francis has done in the recent past.

I then thought of another person who could provide valid information on caring for the elderly – perhaps the best source I had – my own mother, Dawn. She has worked as a social worker for the elderly in the greater Philadelphia area for over a decade. As an employee at an independent living community in Huntingdon Valley, PA, she knows the struggles senior citizens go through on a daily basis all too well. Dawn got her start, however, when she applied for a job at the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA), after taking care of her dying father during the last few years of his life.

Having just moved to the area, my mom knew very little about the city she now had to navigate in order to reach her elderly clients who were scattered throughout various neighborhoods, some more dangerous than others. Other than nurturing my grandfather, she had virtually no experience with elder care. Yet, after a long period of prayer, she genuinely felt a strong vocation for this line of work — strong enough to convince the corporation that she was fit for the position.

“It’s not that I felt I was so good at it [social work],” she says, “but being exposed to all the difficulties that older and sometimes ill seniors face made me realize this was a part of our population that needs help and attention.”

She recalled an instance that directly led her to this career path. “I remember being with my dad at the doctor’s office and the office manager spoke so rudely to an elderly patient about her medical insurance that I became upset. I felt blessed that I was able to handle all of these difficult tasks for my dad but realized that this was not the case for every older adult having to manage our current medical maze.”

My mother continued by saying that older adults who have given so much of themselves throughout their lives are somehow being forgotten, abandoned and left out. She, like the bishop, calls the aging “treasures of wisdom”, and spoke highly of the final stage of her father’s life.

“The last years of his life proved to be a blessing in disguise. These were the times he shared stories of his life that I never knew.  My father had been in my life many years before his illness but the last three are the ones I remember the most. I too shared my own stories with him, as his adult daughter, so he truly got to know me – who I grew up to be.”

Dawn helps her seniors with issues of nutrition, meals, transportation, medical insurance, government benefits, and many other modern day challenges. She’s seen many of her residents die, but they do so on a “divine timing that just seems right,” whether they go peacefully in the night or endure a great deal of suffering beforehand. In opposition to the use of euthanasia, she says, “Just like we don’t determine when we enter this world, we should not determine when we leave.”

In our current age, handing the elderly over to caregivers is a common practice, and some might devalue those who can’t work or operate a smart phone. While my mother certainly loves her residents, helping them find value in their own lives is perhaps the hardest part of her job.

She says, “They always leave my office reminding me, ‘Don’t get old, Dawn’ and I always answer back, ‘It’s better than the alternative [dying], right?’ They just laugh.”

Elliot Williams is a Communication major at Villanova University. He is originally from Abington, PA, and is studying abroad at Roma Tre University, while interning for Catholic News Service’s Rome bureau. Elliot is an avid Nutella fanatic.


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.

Bethlehem University students engage in service through Catholic Charities program

By Julia Willis

WASHINGTON (CNS) – A group of students recently arrived in the U.S. from Bethlehem University in Palestine in order to participate in a one-of-a kind program with Catholic Charities.

Fostered by a two-year partnership between the Catholic university and Catholic Charities USA, selected students travel to America every year and participate in a six-week summer internship program that allows them to use the skills they have developed within their prospective majors in Catholic Charities agencies nationwide.

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

Bethlehem University students to spend six weeks at catholic Charities agencies around U.S. (Photo courtesy Catholic Charities USA)

By learning how the organization combats the problem of poverty within the United States and developing a newfound understanding of the cultural and religious diversity of the U.S., participants are encouraged to use everything they learn throughout the experience in order to enact social change after returning home.

As many of the interns have never left Palestine before this trip, the participants were excited to experience a new culture, grow in knowledge, and gain a new form of insight into the problems that plague our world today.

One of this year’s 10 participants, Sarah Hasanat, described how the program will benefit many of the students.

“Many of us … have never been to the U.S. or even traveled outside of our home country so this is an amazing opportunity to learn about another culture.”

Dina Rishmawi explained that all 10 students escort tourists or visiting students around Palestine as part of an ambassador program through the university and being able to come to America allows them to continue serving as ambassadors who represent their own country. “It’s an amazing opportunity for us to not only work in the field we study but also to continue to serve as ambassadors of our country in another place.”

Amjaad Musleh, who will be working at the Catholic Charities agency in Camden, N.J., elaborated on how this experience will allow her to promote the culture of Palestine throughout the U.S. “Some people do not have a clue where Palestine is or even if it exists so this is an opportunity for us to share information regarding our country and our culture.”

Although the students were still unsure exactly what to expect out of the program during their initial four-day orientation in Washington, almost all of them recognized that they would be changed in some way by the experience.

Hasanat said, “A lot of people are poor and are in need and I think that, to experience that, to live with them and try to help them, will teach and help all of us as well. I know this program will definitely change my perspective.”

The program has already inspired new ways of thinking for Mariana Bahnan Nazi, who described how she was affected by a trip the students took to visit the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“After going to the PLO yesterday, I really loved the idea of serving my country as an ambassador for Palestine in the United States or in another country,” she said. “I began thinking more about how I can represent the Palestinian people and help others around the world.”

I am sure that these students will find new ways to serve those in need throughout the rest of their time in the U.S. and look forward to seeing what they are able to accomplish in the future.

SVDP handbook helps Catholics understand diversity, multicultural issues within church

SVDP coverIt’s easy to see that the U.S. Catholic Church is becoming much more diverse.

Recognizing that diversity, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul has developed a handbook to help its individual conferences — and even other Catholic groups — to better understand the multicultural face of God.

“More and more we’re encountering a diverse people, trying to understand where they’re coming from,” said Ray Sickinger, who coordinated the nearly three-year-long effort to develop the handbook.

Titled “A Vincentian Guide to Diversity/Multicultural Issues,” the handbook offers 12 sessions for groups to reflect on how God is represented by the diverse people that make up American society and how to better respond to their needs. Individual sessions address specific groups of people: Native Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, European Americans, African-Americans, Asians and Pacific Islanders, migrants, refugees and travelers, and homosexuals.

Each session opens and closes with prayer. Some include Scripture references. Reflection time is built in as well. Most of all, they offer food for thought on the people of God’s earthly creation based on Vincentian ideals.

Sickinger, professor of history at Providence College who is on sabbatical to write a book on Blessed Frederic Ozanam, the society’s founder, told Catholic News Service that the needs of poor people are the same across the country, but that often society members are unsure of how to approach people who are culturally different.

Margarita Galindo, a society member from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish in San Ysidro, Calif., along the Mexican border and second vice president for Hispanic/Latino involvement at the national level, said “the book was necessary for the world’s changing conditions.”

“Everywhere you can find diverse people around you. Sometimes we are not aware of that and we don’t know how to conduct ourselves with different people,” said Galindo, who is from nearby Tijuana, Mexico.

“We wanted something to show how we can relate to others without confrontation and misunderstanding.”

Galindo illustrates the society’s growing diversity. She was part of the group’s Ad Hoc Committee of Diversity/Multicultural Issues and Initiatives. The committee included a native Jamaican, a Native American, African-Americans and clergy.

“We wanted to really have something developed that comes from the membership itself, that comes from people with diverse backgrounds, who are not just assuming things, but who really doing a fine job serving others,” Sickinger explained.

The handbook is part of several ongoing initiatives society leaders have undertaken to strengthen the organization. Much of the work focuses on recruiting new members, moving beyond providing simple charity to helping people escape poverty and advocating for poor people.

“We have tried to, and begun to, succeed in reinvigorating our own society,” Sickinger said.

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.

Catholic Charities USA makes top 10 in Philanthropy 400

This week the Chronicle of Philanthropy published it annual Philanthropy 400, those U.S. organizations that raised the most money in the last year. According to reporters Noelle Barton and Holly Hall, who wrote the piece accompanying the list, “America’s big charities expect fundraising to rise in 2011, but the increase won’t come close to making up what they lost in the downturn.”

Philanthropic giving in the U.S. still has yet to recover from the losses in the 2008 recession. Most of this year’s gains, they reported, were seen by international charities that receive in-kind gifts and by community foundations and organizations that receive donated stock.

“When those groups are excluded from analysis, the increase in gifts was flat,” they said.

Catholic or Catholic-related organizations in the Philanthropy 400, their ranking and their total 2010 gifts are:

10. Catholic Charities USA, $793,815,584

15. American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, $659,370,821

51. Catholic Relief Services, $294,287,000

78. University of Notre Dame, 221,615,902

110. Catholic Medical Mission Board, $177,207,054

144. Christian Appalachian Project, (Ky.), $131,586,590

147. Father Flanagan Boys’ Home (Neb.), $130,737,000

159. Boston College, $120,537,000

160. St. Mary’s Food Bank (Ariz.), $119,703,302

214. Georgetown University, $90,858,000

221. Catholic Healthcare West (Calif.), $86,286,000

288. Marquette University, $60,461,194

340. Covenant House, $51,195,438

394. Villanova University, $43,483,000

Catholic institutions that made last year’s list but fell from the top 400 this year are Fordham University, Le Moyne College and St. Louis University.

According to the report, “charities in the Philanthropy 400 are an important bellwether for the state of giving, and how American donors are responding to the bad economy. The nonprofits on the list raise $1 of every $4 contributed to nonprofit causes.”