Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Relief Services’

When did We see you Hungry…?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

When I was a much younger man – some days, especially lately, it feels like a million years ago – like many of my contemporaries I dreamed of seeing the world and traveling to far away and exotic places; my particular dream had a different sort of wrinkle however. For you see, what I really desired to do was not travel far a field to sit on a beach absorbing the local color – as wonderful as that would be! – but instead, I really longed to go someplace to be of help to those struggling to survive in what we then called the “developing world”. At that time, I always looked forward to receiving the wonderful monthly publication put out by the Maryknoll Missionaries, and I read it religiously, looking forward to the incredible stories the wonderful Maryknoll Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and Lay Missionaries that were doing so much to bring needed healthcare, resources, and education to far away places in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, acting in ways that helped alleviate the poverty of the people there and encourage development, making tangible the command that Our Lord gave to us when he delivered his Sermon on the Mount as it is recounted in the 25th Chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew. I was truly in awe of these heroic people, and of the stories they told of the incredible work they did in and among the people that they served.

 

This desire to help the poor – planted in my soul through my reading Maryknoll Magazine and elsewhere – continued to grow in me as I went on with my studies and progressed towards my still developing adulthood. I recall as I was in college and law school hearing of acquaintances of our family who were going off for summer break or a semester to work in the missions with one of the wonderful youth volunteer organizations like the volunteer corps run by the Jesuits and the Brothers De La Salle. In my heart I always admired these young people who with little thought for their own comfort and personal safety would head off and devote a portion of their lives to helping people in a far distant land that they had never actually met before. To me, this seemed the epitome of Christian love in action. I recall conversations at our dinner table at that time where I would share my admiration of this particular dedication to service of the poor of the developing world with my family. The response I got to this conversation – particularly the one from my Dad- surprised me. My Father – truly one of the most generous men that I have ever met and a native of the Fordham section of the Bronx who is an honest to goodness “small C” conservative – unlike so much of what passes in the current political debate where I think the “C’ stands for comedy instead – my Dad went on to remind me that one need not purchase a plane ticket in order to assist the poor, but that a Metrocard – or in this case, given that this particular conversation took place nearly 30 years ago, a subway token – would suffice. To find poverty, he said, one need not travel outside the confines of the United States, or unfortunately or own great city: poverty was literally right here, in front of our faces, sometimes – scandalously – in the midst of plenty; and that if it was my goal in life to try to do something to alleviate poverty I did not have to board a plane to do so, but could also work locally- here – to address it. I believe much of my Father’s awareness was born of the fact that – although a businessman and Certified Public Accountant by training – much of his business and practice was devoted to assisting local affiliates of the Catholic Charities movement address the needs of the poor – be it in the areas of housing, or heathcare, immigration services, food or social assistance – here in our own greater Metropolitain area.

 

The wisdom of my Dad’s answer to my question at that time has always remained with me, and in many ways has served as the guide star to my life’s choices – certainly as regards my career decisions. And although life has unfolded in such ways that have actually allowed me to travel to places in the developing world such as East Africa to see the wonderful work and dedication of organizations such as Catholic Relief Services to bring needed development and assistance to the populations living there, it is my Father’s instance that I not only focus on the poverty far away “out there”in distant lands, but also – equally importantly – that I look to see and work to address the poverty that exist right HERE that stands out in my mind as especially important, particularly at this very difficult moment in our Nation’s economic history. In fact – it is this reality of poverty in our midst, and particularly poverty in its most vicious manifestation: hunger – that I wish to raise up for your consideration today.

 

New York and its surrounding suburbs are perceived by many as places of unprecedented privilege and plenty, but amid this perceived veneer of abundance there is a specter of increasing poverty and hunger that is growing more manifest day by day. It may surprise you, but last year a staggering 6.1 million meals were served at soup kitchens, food pantries and senior centers in New York City and the Hudson Valley through a Federation of over 90 Agencies that are operated and supported by Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York to address growing hunger needs of families in the region, including “newly poor” families who – out of work or now “under-employed – never sought food assistance before. Many of these families include those with children, and tragically in our own Archdiocese, almost 22% of the children who live in the 10 counties – over 325,000 in number – have difficulty obtaining the nutrition they need. Due to a combination of the increased cost of food and considerably less government funding for food assistance, there is now unfortunately even less food available to feed increasing numbers of hungry families. It is because of this extraordinary situation that Catholic Charities has decided to initiate a special food campaign in order to replenish the dwindling stock at all our food pantries. Entitled the Feeding Our Neighbors: A Catholic Response, this campaign begins tomorrow – Sunday January 22nd and runs through the following Sunday January 29th; Catholic Charities is encouraging all people of good will to address this extraordinary food crisis in our midst. There are three simple ways that you can help: the first is to participate in the Archdiocesan Food Drive that is taking place this coming week – over 1,000 donation boxes for canned and dried food stuffs have been distributed to parishes, schools, CYO programs, healthcare organizations and Catholic ministries around the 10 counties of the Archdiocese. Another way is to donate a collection of money to support emergency food programs – you can do this by visiting the Feeding Our Neighbor’s webpage at http://www.catholiccharitiesny.org/make-a-donation/feeding-our-neighbors/ . Or, you can resolve to volunteer at a food pantry or soup kitchen; if you want information on how to do that, please contact Carlos Rodriguez at carlos.rodriguez2@archny.org .

 

Hunger has no season. I urge you to open your eyes and see the poverty in our midst, and – just as importantly – open your heart and resolve to do something to solve it. The solution is in all our hands – lets make sure that not one of our hungry neighbors is ever turned away!

 

“A Smile on my Soul”

Friday, October 1st, 2010

For many who work here at the Catholic Center at 1011 First Avenue and 56th Street to describe last week’s commute as a “challenge” would be an exercise in understatement. Every year at this time – because of the opening of the United Nations’ General Assembly – the area of the city were we work, known unofficially as “midtown east”, becomes a car-free zone for almost all but the important (or self-important) who are here in the city for the opening ceremonies; First Avenue transmogrifies into a corridor where the powerful, the famous and sometimes the infamous are ferried down past our building to the United Nations’ compound in Turtle Bay to the sound of blaring sirens and the honks of horns. All in all, to the native New Yorker – especially those who work in the general vicinity of the United Nations – the occasion is about as pleasant as root canal.

While I certainly share some of my fellow New Yorkers’ annoyance at this annual inconvenience, I have to admit that this year I feel just a little more tolerant of all the commotion caused by the visiting dignitaries; this is primarily because this year the United Nations dedicated its opening session to evaluating the world’s progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals: 8 specific 15 year goals dedicated to alleviating the suffering of the poor – including reducing hunger and cutting poverty in half, reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, providing universal primary education to all and reducing by ½ the number of people without drinking water -  that the developed nations of the world agreed to pursue back at the start of the new millennium, and the gathering at the United Nations this year was the world’s 10 year on “report card” on meeting these goals.

As someone who tries in his professional life to encourage the living out of the principles of Catholic social teaching (including a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable), I can hardly imagine the global body undertaking more important work, but all the more so because I have just recently seen with my own two eyes how policy vehicles like the “Millennium Development Goals” can have a real impact on the lives of our brothers and sisters in the developing world. You see, last week I returned home from just about one of the most incredible journeys I have ever been on – a 10 day visit to Africa with Catholic Relief Services to observe the work that they and their partners do in the countries of Ethiopia and Tanzania. The trip was extraordinary – not just for the breathtaking physical beauty of both the African flora and fauna (although they are beautiful!) – but more importantly for the people we encountered there: the fact that we were traveling with CRS gave us unprecedented access to meet the men, women and children in the villages and centers where CRS and its local partners do their work. Unlike the dignitaries that I mentioned earlier who hurry down avenues of power to their designated meetings, the roads that we traveled with CRS were pathways of solidarity – our destinations: embodiments of dignity whether we were visiting with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity at the homes for the destitute and dying that they run in Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, meeting with villagers at a Maasai Boma (encampment) in the Diocese of Same, Tanzania, or speaking with health care providers at an AIDS Relief Project in the Babati region of that same country.  What I witnessed in those places wasn’t just “a lot of talk” as those who assemble in that building in Turtle Bay down from our Offices are sometimes accused of; instead – though the hard work of CRS staff, their local partners and the people themselves – what I witnessed were the Millenniums Development Goals come to life, particularly in the provision of safe drinking water – overwhelmingly the most significant problem confronting the parts of Africa I visited and the thing that those we met requested the most – as well as assistance for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

One of the things that was most striking about those that we met on our trip – indeed about almost all of the people that we encountered in our travels – was the overwhelming friendliness and welcoming spirit of the African people. Whether we were traveling in the big cities of Arusha or Addis Ababa, or the rural villages of Dire Dawa or Same – in both the countries of Ethiopia and Tanzania – as you traveled down the road and waved at those that you passed by, adults and children alike, invariably your gesture would be returned with a broad smile and hearty wave. It was for me one of the most striking images I took away from my trip, perhaps because I hail from a place where everyone basically walks very quickly and avoids eye contact at almost all costs. So deep was this impression of welcome on me that when our hosts at CRS asked us on our last day to sum up our impressions of Africa a picture of a group of beautiful smiling children waving heartily formed in my mind and remains with me still, putting not only a smile on my face but – more poignantly and indelibly – on my soul as well.

Me in the Diocese of Same, Tanzania in the Maasai Region

Confessions of a Digital Immigrant

Friday, June 11th, 2010

In this post dear readers – a post that is admittedly way l-o-n-g- overdue – I am going to begin with a profound confession: to the wonderful world of media technology in which the blogosphere is only an island in a vast digital sea, I am only a very recent immigrant. You see, I was born into probably what was the last generation that could not be considered “digital natives”: when I was a kid, our family’s idea of a video game was the original Atari table-tennis (whose on-screen ball moved so slowly from the left of the screen to the right that were the white dot that it represented to be an actual ping-pong ball, it would’ve had to defy all the laws of gravity to stay afloat), and when I went to law school, the assignments I was given had to be completed on an actual typewriter (although admittedly the electric kind with the indispensable “auto-correct function” where the tape would “magically” erase your mis-strokes from the page). I was reminded recently of my “non-native” status when a good friend of mine – who at 30 is most definitely a full-fledged digital citizen – gave me an iPod Touch for my birthday because “ it really is long past the time you should have one”. Growing up in fact, the media technology that I was regularly familiar with was fairly limited: my little black & white TV, the VCR (that’s a videotape recorder for those non-historians), cassette tape player, stereo that played vinyl albums (again for those non-historians, those flat black disk shaped objects) and of course – the radio. Of all those types of media in fact, it was the radio that was ubiquitous in my life: whether in the family room on the “stereo-system”, in my hands on my “boom-box” or later in my car, the radio was a near constant companion .It was the first thing I heard upon waking up in the morning on my stereo-alarm clock, and the last voice I’d hear before falling asleep at night, and in that fact I actually find some comfort, for you see radio is a technology that actually spans the generations: it was the technology that my grandparents used to keep updated on world events as they gathered around it during Depression and is the still what my goddaughter listens to as she travels in the car with her parents today (albeit that the signal that she listens to is delivered by satellite or MP3).

With all my affection for the medium of radio, you can all imagine my delight when earlier this year I was asked to assist our Executive Director at Catholic Charities, Msgr. Kevin Sullivan, with the JustLove Radio Program that he conducts over on the Catholic Channel at Sirius XM Satellite Radio (Sirius channel 159, XM 117 http://www.sirius.com/thecatholicchannel) every Wednesday at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. JustLove is a nationally broadcast one-hour weekly interactive discussion exploring the Catholic community’s impact on American society. It features interviews with social ministry leaders, thinkers and doers and investigates the ideas that shape the Catholic social mission and explores deeds that puts that mission into practice around the nation and the world! In the past few month, the conversations on JustLove have included: on-going discussion with staff of Catholic Relief Services on the ground in Haiti on the devastating earthquake that struck the island in January and its aftermath, the recent troop increases in Afghanistan and prospects of peace in Iraq, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the on-going struggle for comprehensive immigration reform, and the continuing tragedy of the oil spill in the Gulf. Some of the guests we have spoken to on the show have included: Cesar Chavez’s son Paul discussing his father’s life and legacy on the Cinco de Mayo show, the Rev. Jim Wallis, author and President of Sojourner’s Magazine on the moral crisis that lies behind the current economic crisis, and Richard Barnes of the New York State Catholic Conference on effective Catholic advocacy in the public sphere. Through the wonders of modern technology you can listen to some recent podcasts of the JustLove show on the web at http://www.catholiccharitiesny.org/just-love/

As you can well imagine, preparing to produce a show of this caliber is exciting and rewarding and sometimes a challenge! Each show requires quite a bit of planning and editorial preparation to create a show that is timely and coherent and which incorporates themes and topics that can help to highlight the Church’s teachings regarding the important social issues discussed. To be honest, my recent concentration and emphasis on JustLove has caused my blogging here to lag a bit (a situation some of my more regular readers have not too gently but appropriately reminded me of), but in doing some of the production work for JustLove, it has occurred to me how very similar as forms of media blogging and radio really are: the format of each – as far as technical production goes – is not too complex, and yet for all their lack of complexity each is very versatile. I was reading recently an article online at The Economist that compared radio to blogging; it said the essential similarity between each – and the reason that each succeeds as a form of communication – is that the listener or reader respectively realizes that at the other end of the technology there is someone alive – speaking or typing, taking calls or responding to comments. The author noted that the German root for the word radio is derived from the verb “Funken” – the verb “to spark” and that it is this “spark” at the other end that both readers and listeners respond to.

As a consequence of living in the digital age that we do today, thanks to our more or less continuous connection to media be it television, radio, wifi, 3G, internet, telephone or text, all of us – to a varying degree – are perpetually multi-tasking. Some of us – generally the “digital natives” at the younger end of the spectrum– are more successful at navigating these new technologies then others, but this perpetual multi-taking can take a toll even on them. In fact, in a recent New York Times article, Dr. Gary Small – Professor of Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, is quoted as saying that the process of never ending multi-tasking can lead to a syndrome where we move from multi-taking efficiently to one where we are in a state of “partial continuous attention”. As a “digital immigrant”, I particularly need to strategize more effectively to negotiate this new terrain, and in the coming summer months that is exactly what I plan to do. Those of you who have been fairly regular readers may have noticed that I tend to be fairly counter-intuitive in a lot of my thinking, so it should come as no surprise that it is exactly as we approach the summer – just when the scholastic year begins to slow down – that I plan on picking up the pace of this blog by posting not just the “traditional” items, but also the guests, topics and conversations that take place on and around the JustLove show. My intention in doing so is not only post more regularly here (although certainly that would be a welcome outcome); more importantly, it is my hope that by posting on the topics dealt with on JustLove – with links so readers can listen to the podcasts as well – we can expose even more people to the quality information and discussion on Catholic social teaching and its impact that takes place there. In addition, I hope that some of this cross-pollination could – like all good media -  “spark” responses where readers/ listeners could post their impressions of the show, as well as topics that might interest them for future shows. I am always mindful that neither Catholic radio nor Catholic blogs would exist without the Catholic community, and so I urge you – whether you are a digital native or a recent immigrant like myself – to share your ideas and thoughts with us as we endeavor to share God’s Good News for the world over the airwaves through both sight and sound.

Helping Santa to do the Right Thing…

Friday, December 18th, 2009

The late autumn and early winter has always been one of my favorite times of year. Although I do miss the dwindling daylight and dread the frigid winds of the deep winter as an undiagnosed sufferer of “S.A.D.” (“Seasonal Affective Disorder” for those non-psychologists among us), the warm glow of the sparkling lights which pop up just about everywhere this time of year always serve to lift up my spirit and bring on some much needed cheer! In fact – just about the only thing I don’t like about this time of year is the proverbial “Christmas rush”. It always seems that no matter who you are talking to, people have about twice as many things to do – from shopping for presents, to visiting friends and family, to planning celebrations – then there are hours in the day. This hustle and bustle, of course, is just about the exact opposite of what the Church is encouraging us to do liturgically at this time of year: rather then the bright colors of red, white and green, the colors of Advent are a somber purple, in place of a myriad of bright lights, the Advent Wreath’s glow emanates from only four candles. Instead of mad rushes and impending deadlines, the words that Scripture speak of at this time are ones of longing and anticipation. When compared with the frenetic pace of today’s “holiday season”, in its liturgies, the Church’s wisely reminds us that these weeks before Christmas should not be “rushed” but instead should serve as a time of preparation for the coming of – not Santa Claus – but instead of the Prince of Peace.

Reminders like these are increasingly important for all of us – especially since it is so easy to get caught up in all of the seductive hoopla that surrounds the holiday; even when you work for a religious organization like Catholic Charities. In fact, when I initially sat down to write the first draft of this post, it was the Monday of the First week of Advent, but with all of the business that comes prior to Christmas Day I am only now getting around to posting it. Sadly, these days many people would not identify with the term “First Monday of Advent” as quickly as they would with another: “Cyber Monday” – a marketing term first created by the National Retail Federation to denote the Monday immediately following the more famous “Black Friday” – itself the name for the Friday that follows Thanksgiving Day in the United States, and which officially starts the Christmas “Shopping Season” when retailers see their balance sheets go from ”red” to “black”. Both of these days have little or nothing to do with spiritually preparing one’s self for the birthday of the Prince of Peace (which ironically is the reason that these two days exist in the first place); instead, they are about “helping Santa” materially fill the space under the tree with more and bigger gifts. That what was originally the season of Advent has been transmogrified into an over-marketed, commercialized, $450 billion orgy of consumption needs no further demonstration – I think – then the fact that an actual death of 34 year old at a Wal-Mart on Long Island last year was blamed directly on the fact that it was “Black Friday”: the man – Jdimytai Damour, a temporary employee of Wal-Mart – was trampled to death helping a pregnant co-worker to safety after frenzied shoppers smashed through the store’s front doors in order to buy a 50-inch flat screen television on sale for $800!

You know, it really doesn’t have to be this way, and saying no to the over-consumption that today marks the run-up to Christmas does not require a Grinch-like renunciation of any gift giving at all. That same First Week of Advent that I was preparing my first draft of posting, we in the Department of Social and Community Development here at Catholic Charities also held our Seventh Annual Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Christmas Sale, where employees here at the Catholic Center in New York had the opportunity to come and shop responsibly and thoughtfully, using their dollars to provide the benefits of “fair trade” to producers overseas while at the same time giving their loved ones unique crafts and delicious foods! The sale is always quite popular, and every year as we approach Christmas I am continually approached by people in the hallway and on the elevator to ask me when the sale is. I’m not really surprised about that – after all, by purchasing your gifts through fair trade, you not only get to do a good thing for others by buying them great coffee, delicious chocolate and unique items, you also get the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done the right thing in really supporting the producers of those goods at the source. In place of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we here at the Catholic Center have “Solidarity Thursday” and a “Fair Trade Friday”, where our purchases respect human dignity, promote economic justice, and foster global solidarity! You know, you don’t actually have to attend an actual fair trade sale to purchase fair trade goods, through the miracle of technology you can actually obtain fairly traded coffee, teas, chocolate and great “Work of Human Hands” gift items through the Catholic Relief Services website at: http://www.crsfairtrade.org/products.

So, as Advent draws to a close, won’t you too help Santa do the right thing? Take the time to check out the fairly traded items and foodstuff at the Catholic Relief Services website, and consider helping Saint Nicholas stuff your loved one’s stockings with gifts that really make a difference! Then, slow down a little, experience Advent and prepare yourself spiritually for the coming of the Prince of Peace – after all, let’s not forget that His birthday really is the “reason for the season.”