The Haiti Spectacle

January 31, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments
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Well, the amazing outpouring of concern and money for Haiti continues. As economists Paul Collier and Jean-Louis Warnholtz reported in the New York Times a few days ago, nearly half of American households have contributed money to help Haiti recover from the devastating earthquake that hit it almost three weeks ago. My own parish here in Flatbush, Our Lady of Refuge, is hosting a fundraiser next Saturday night, an orchestra and chorus performing Brahms’s  Requiem. Fifteen dollars at the door. Maybe you’d like to join us?

Yet I have to confess that there’s something about all this outpouring of support that I find deeply disturbing. What is it with us that we need a catastrophe–a spectacle–to motivate us to act? In his 1997 book The Bottom Billion,  Paul Collier, the same economist whose recent op-ed piece explains what’s needed to rebuild Haiti, reported that approximately fifty failing states around the world, totalling a billion people, were sinking deeper and deeper into poverty, and what was needed to reverse it. Seventy percent of this “bottom billion,” according to Collier, were in sub-Saharan Africa. Another chunk of them, I’m willing to bet, were at the time in Haiti, though now their share of that “bollom billion” has been reduced by 200,000 or so.

I mention this because, as that radical socialist David Brooks noted on the PBS News Hour not long after the earthquake, the devastation in Haiti was the  result of poverty, plain and simple. A similar magnitude earthquake in San Francisco in 1989 resulted in about 60 deaths. But Haiti, a nation within spitting distance of the richest country in the history of the world, was permitted to construct its capital city out of such inadequate  materials that 200,000 human beings, more or less, were crushed to death when a similar earthquake hit them. 

Meanwhile, the US Congress seems on the verge of cutting back substantially on global warming legislation. No cap and trade. Too difficult in a recession, when the American people are so angry at government. Maybe a little money for green jobs. Of course, if the United States doesn’t provide substantial leadership on global warming, entire communities in the South Pacific and elsewhere will be wiped out in the  not too distant future by rising seas. After which perhaps we generous US citizens will pledge ten bucks apiece on our cellphones or have a benefit concert to raise money for those who managed to escape the flood in rowboats.

Infallible Holiness

January 23, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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In his op-ed piece in the Times last Sunday, the religion journalist David Gibson highlighted something that had escaped my attention: all four of the previous popes –Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul II–are now in the canonization pipeline. Is every pontiff a saint, he asks? 

Gibson begins by reviewing the recent controversy over the beatification of Pius XII, especially the harm it has done to Jewish-Catholic relations. He  goes on to question whether any pope should be made a saint, suggesting that to do so dilutes the meaning of sainthood. Following Notre Dame theologian Richard McBrien, Gibson suggests that more saintly lay-people ought to be canonized, not popes.

I sympathize with Gibson’s position, as I intimate in a previous blog recommending the beatification of the Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri instead of Pius XII. But I have to tell you, David, that your proposal hasn’t got a prayer. The Vatican will go right on beatifying and canonizing previous heads of the Vatican as the sun is going to go on coming up in the morning.

So I offer an alternative proposal: why don’t we canonize all popes at the time of their election? The canonization process is lengthy and expensive and if the church is going to go ahead and proclaim the heroic virtue of all popes anyhow, why don’t we/they just do it right off and get it over with? All other considerations aside, such an approach would save the Vatican the embarrassment of announcing that the archives from the reign of a pope half a century ago aren’t yet in good enough order to be open to scholars.  

And would canonizing popes at the time of their election actually change very much? Bear in mind that the pope is already referred to as “Your Holiness.”  

Finally, automatic canonization would offer a new and thought-provoking experience for Catholics in the pew whose relationships with the saints up until now are limited or perhaps we could say diffused by the fact that those saints are dead.  Now we would know that the living breathing person we are speaking with or listening to actually is a saint. Consider the great certainty such an experience would afford us in this time of crisis and confusion.

A Prayer After the Earthquake

January 19, 2010 at 11:47 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments
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As I said yesterday, the connections between Haitian New York and Haiti demolished are emphatic these days. This morning a holy card with a picture of the Port-au-Prince Madonna and Child and a prayer appeared on the bulletin board in the lobby of our apartment building. A little research indicates that a slightly longer version of the prayer was written by Diana Macalintal and appeared first on the webpage of the Catholic Diocese of San Jose, California. It’s copied here with permission:

A Prayer After the Earthquake in Haiti

Lord, at times such as this,
when we realize that the ground beneath our feet
is not as solid as we had imagined,
we plead for your mercy.

As the things we have built crumble about us,
we know too well how small we truly are
on this ever-changing, ever-moving,
fragile planet we call home.
Yet you have promised never to forget us.

Do not forget us now.

Today, so many people are afraid.
They wait in fear of the next tremor.
They hear the cries of the injured amid the rubble.
They roam the streets in shock at what they see.
And they fill the dusty air with wails of grief
and the names of missing dead.

Comfort them, Lord, in this disaster.
Be their rock when the earth refuses to stand still,
and shelter them under your wings when homes no longer exist.

Embrace in your arms those who died so suddenly this day.
Console the hearts of those who mourn,
and ease the pain of bodies on the brink of death.

Pierce, too, our hearts with compassion,
we who watch from afar,
as the poorest on this side of the earth
find only misery upon misery.
Move us to act swiftly this day,
to give generously every day,
to work for justice always,
and to pray unceasingly for those without hope.

And once the shaking has ceased,
the images of destruction have stopped filling the news,
and our thoughts return to life’s daily rumblings,
let us not forget that we are all your children
and they, our brothers and sisters.
We are all the work of your hands.

For though the mountains leave their place
and the hills be tossed to the ground,
your love shall never leave us,
and your promise of peace will never be shaken.

Our help is in the name of the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
Blessed be the name of the Lord,
now and forever. Amen.

Haiti There and Here

January 18, 2010 at 11:11 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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It’s difficult not to be thinking about Haiti these days, but when you live in the middle of Brooklyn, it’s downright impossible. My parish, Our Lady of Refuge, on Foster Avenue, has a substantial Haitian membership, and the pastor, Michael Perry, was on the verge of tears throughout the five o’clock Mass on Saturday.  At various parts of the liturgy he paused and commented in light of the disaster: it’s hard to sing a hymn of gratitude to God at a time like this, he told us, but it’s precisely now that we must do so. During the sermon he went a bit off the deep end about Pat Robertson’s statement that the earthquake was a result of Haitian sin, and then apologized to the congregation later. He also mentioned that a number of Haitian priests who stayed in the rectory from time to time died in the quake. And we prayed the Our Father on behalf of the Haitian dead who could no longer say it for themselves. I have rarely been more grateful to be part of Our Lady of Refuge.

An article in yesterday’s New York Times offers more detail about the suffering of members of a majority Haitian parish here in New York, St. Joachim and Anne in Queens. One thing that comes through clearly is that in this age of global travel, Haitians in New York and Haitians in Haiti are every bit as much connected to one another as, for example,  members of a family like mine in Philadelphia and New York are.  One person mentioned in the article had flown back to Haiti the day before the earthquake; a child’s mother lived in Queens, his father in Port au Prince. With connections like these, it almost seems that the earthquake took place here as well as in the Caribbean. 

It’s deeply moving to see the many ways in which individuals and groups are responding to this disaster. On all sides people are donating money, contributing desperately needed supplies, holding benefits, prayer services, you name it. A local bank, Astoria Savings and Loan, has a sign in the window announcing that it will match dollar for dollar any donation made to the Red Cross at one of its branches.

Still, I wonder a bit why it takes something like the Haitian earthquake of 2010 to get us mobilized. The situation of very many people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America is catastrophic day by day by day. A child dies of a water-borne disease every fifteen seconds in the Global South; this means a hundred and eighty such children died since I started writing this article. And then there’s out-and-out starvation to be considered. Some people do  work steadily to offset these and other forms of ongoing suffering. But by and large, it seems to take something really dramatic like an earthquakes or a tsunami to get us in gear…

Grief, Haiti, Steroids

January 15, 2010 at 10:45 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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From what I’ve read about blogging, you’re never supposed to vanish, but that’s what I did lately. I apologize. I think my mother’s death finally hit me, and my brain has been in a fog, not to mention my poor body, which seems to be expressing its grief by knotting up in various ways. Ugh.

You know I”m in bad shape when all I have to comment on is something I saw on the television, but here goes. In the midst of the early reports about the horrific earthquake in Haiti, the local news actually included a segment on Mark McGwire having finally admitted using steroids. Picture me screaming “I don’t give a @#$%!” at the screen.

But as part of the coverage of the scandal, the news ran a series shots of other athletes who have either confessed to or are strongly suspected of using steroids, human growth hormone, etc. I paid attention to this part, because all the athletes were male except one, the Olympic runner, Marion Jones. And what do you think? Marion Jones, a woman of color, was the only one of them who went to jail for her behavior. Apparently she lied when she was interviewed by the authorities and was prosecuted for it. McGwire, however, when he was called before Congress and asked about his steroid use, simply changed the subject, and they let him get away with it. No doubt his lawyer coached him. The moral of this story is, if you’re a woman of color, do not use steroids, or you’ll go to jail.

And on that happy note, I leave you.

Color for the Winter Season

January 2, 2010 at 10:18 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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So it’s winter here. Seriously. We wake up to the sound of our building super shoveling. And it’s often quite gray outside, when it’s not downright dark. 

If, like me, you struggle with the emotional implications of all this cold and  darkness—and if you’re not at the moment in Sydney or Oaxaca—I have a suggestion. Take a look at the web page of my friend the painter and printmaker, Mary Shea. Mary and I became friends when she was studying at the Studio School here in New York several lifetimes ago, and we’ve remained friends ever since. My apartment is filled with her luminous work.

Since Mary lives in Seattle, where it rains a lot,  she began dealing with the grayness already in November. Her solution? Yellow! She quotes Bonnard: “One can never have too much yellow.” And then Itten: “Yellow is the most lightgiving of all hues…Golden yellow suggests the highest sublimation of matter by the power of light, impalpably radiant, lacking transparency, but weightless as a pure vibration.” 

 The really effective antidote to the blahs, however,  are the paintings and prints on Mary’s webpage: ones with lots of yellow, but also paintings of her garden (in warmer times!) and my own current favorites, her airport pictures, which, for me, call to mind the wonderful feeling of imminent escape without having to endure a full body scan to do so.

Mary’s web page isn’t very large ; you can just smile at the pictures for a while and then go back to work. Or put on your coat and forge out into the cold.

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