Love in the Time of Ebola

bethuneSome Americans responded to the ebola epidemic in West Africa by offering to care for the victims. Unfortunately, most of us were swept up in fear of the disease’s dreadful symptoms and mortality rate. Proposals circulated to block all flights to and from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. Emblematic of the hysteria, a Catholic school teacher and registered nurse from Louisville, Kentucky was forced to resign after returning from a medical mission to Kenya, even though she was never closer than 3,000 miles from the ebola outbreaks.

Fundamental changes in how we treat African visitors and returning medical volunteers were proposed for a disease that ultimately killed only two people on US soil. One can only imagine the draconian measures that would be adopted in a real pandemic.
Continue reading “Love in the Time of Ebola”

The Marathon Bombings


April 15th started out full of hope. The weather was perfect as 27,000 men and women from 60 different nations lined up for the 117th Boston Marathon. I saw racers of every age, some in wheelchairs, some blind running with guides. There were even two dwarves. Thousands ran for special causes. The diversity and positive spirit was incredible.

I ran well until 18 miles when my quads seized up. I slowed down and eventually walked a few stretches. After training all winter, I can’t tell you how frustrating it was. To make matters worse, at the 22-mile mark, I was passed by a young man in a hamburger costume. I cried, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” But then, seeing the agony visible on my face, fans lining the course cheered like I was an elite runner. Children put out their hands for me to slap, and I felt the inherent goodness of the marathon.

Aiden & Scott moments before the bombings

At 24.5 miles, my son Aiden, clad in his high school cross-country uniform, jumped the fence to help me finish. I was afraid I’d collapse, but Aiden kept me going. Once we turned from Hereford to Boylston Street and could see the finish, he encouraged me to find the strength to sprint. We crossed the line together and had just had our picture taken, when we heard an enormous explosion. We turned around and saw the second bomb go off. Our hearts sank.
Continue reading “The Marathon Bombings”

Ash Wednesday protest: Repeal Worcester’s anti-panhandling ordinance

On Ash Wednesday, February 13, from 1-2 pm, the Saints Francis & Thérèse Catholic Worker community will sponsor a protest at Lincoln Square in Worcester calling for the repeal of anti-panhandling regulations passed last week. Signs will be held and the attached leaflet will be distributed.

Robert Peters, a long-time practitioner of Buddhist mediation, will wear a monk’s attire and hold a beggar’s bowl.

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, a one-time novice with the Capuchin-Franciscans, will wear a Franciscan habit and also carry a beggar’s bowl.

Robert will be on the sidewalk, while Scott will defy the anti-panhandling ordinance by begging on the median strip. Both of them hope to highlight the sacred place begging and giving to beggars has in all the world’s major religions.

The members of the Catholic Worker community have sent the attached letter to Worcester’s police chief, mayor, and all the city councilors describing their reasons for holding this protest. Any funds collected will be given directly to those who who continue to feel the need to appeal for help on the streets of Worcester. For more information, call Claire Schaeffer-Duffy 508 753-3588.
Continue reading “Ash Wednesday protest: Repeal Worcester’s anti-panhandling ordinance”

Mason Street Musings

From the September 2012 issue of The Catholic Radical. [PDF]. Illustration by Sarah Jeglosky, 1987.

“You are evil!” S. shouted only an hour after he called us “good people.”

In truth, I can’t really blame him. He has a bad temper, especially when he’s drinking, but he’s otherwise a decent person. He came by looking for specific help, which Claire agreed to give to him. While the details were being worked out, he talked at me, effectively slowing down my work on a garden shed behind our house. When I started losing patience, I thought, “S. is Jesus,” but that was a pretty big stretch under the hot sun. Then he told me that he had been writing letters to Jesus. I couldn’t resist asking, “Have you gotten any letters back yet?” Ignoring me, he went on to disparage his family and to praise the Catholic Worker. “They live in a house, but this is a home,” he repeated several times. I feared this was a prelude to a request to move in with us for what must be his ninth or tenth time in twenty years. Continue reading “Mason Street Musings”

Catholic Myopia

When President Obama proposed legislation that would require Catholic institutions to include contraception in their employee health plans, the hierarchy went ballistic. In our diocese, the bishop wrote a very forceful letter, which every pastor was required to read at Mass, urging all Catholics to contact the White House and express opposition to the proposal. Under a banner of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, Catholics raised such an outcry that the President backed down and moderated his proposal.

Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae, explicitly forbade artificial contraception. That ban is still part of Catholic teaching, and bishops must promote it, especially when some of what falls under the label “contraception” involves abortion, but the vigor of the hierarchy’s campaign against the Obama proposal raises serious questions of moral priorities.

The last time an episcopal letter was read in all the parishes involved the issue of gay marriage, and the time before that involved abortion. Again, the Church has clear teachings on these issues which bishops are obligated to articulate, but the degree of opposition given to them dwarfs other concerns.

A friend of mine once mused, “I think you have to pay fines for your sins to get into heaven: a half million dollars for killing, ten thousand for stealing, a hundred for lying, and a quarter for masturbation.” The hierarchy seems to be standing this paradigm on its head.
Continue reading “Catholic Myopia”

Wielding Power

Wielding power is tricky. When famine struck Ireland in 1782-1783, the English government used its power to close the Irish ports to keep local food in Ireland, a policy which caused food prices to drop immediately. Merchants protested the port closures, but the government held firm. During the Great Famine of 1845-1852, however, the government did not act, the ports were left open, and huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England while the people of Ireland were dying of starvation. Not until almost a million died was any government relief organized, and it took the form of corn meal so coarse that it often killed the constitutionally-weakened Irish who ate it. The government’s failure to save the impoverished Irish people is not surprising. Parliament’s primary constituency was the business class, which emerged from the famine wealthier in cash and property.

Rita Corbin, 1954
Continue reading “Wielding Power”

Mason Street Musings

Originally published in the April/May 2011 issue of The Catholic Radical.

Ding Dong! “Good Grief!” I grumbled as I dragged myself out of bed. “Who the heck could be at our door at 2 a.m.?” I went into our chilly hall to see a young couple on our front porch.

I asked them in and quickly learned that they are musicians from Illinois who were sleeping in their van in a Walmart parking lot until it got too cold.

“Our van died in front of your house,” the husband said gesturing toward a vehicle jutting out at an angle from Mason Court into Mason Street. “We know the Saint Louis Catholic Worker,” he concluded, as if that pretty much told all we needed to know. Continue reading “Mason Street Musings”

Speak Out Against Bigotry

In August, 1993, I found myself waiting in line at the post office in Split, Croatia. I was there as part of an international peace effort called Mir Sada (“Peace Now” in Serbo-Croatian). Yugoslavia was breaking up. Slovenia was the first to declare its independence, followed by Croatia. Bosnia proclaimed itself a multi-ethnic state and was being dismembered by Serbs and Croats. Millions of people were displaced, over 97,000 killed. The peace activists from 18 countries who made up Mir Sada hoped to set up a peace camp in the no-man’s land surrounding Sarajevo, the besieged capital of Bosnia.

Although this lofty goal was my broad purpose for being in the Adriatic port city, my specific purpose at that moment in Croatia was to buy a stamp to send a postcard to my wife. While waiting in line, I asked an English-speaking native next to me, “What’s the best way to say ‘thank you’ in Serbo-Croatian?” A stony silence fell upon the entire room until my formerly-friendly neighbor said, “There is no such language. We speak Croatian.” Fair enough. I pressed on, “So how do you say ‘thank you’ in Croatian?” “Hvala,” she replied. But I couldn’t let it go there, so I asked, “And how do they say it in Serbia?” Everyone looked a bit sheepish because the Serbs also say “hvala.”
Continue reading “Speak Out Against Bigotry”