Bishops Facing Death Threats

18 March 09 | Posted in Global Catholic, Social Justice

They avoid taking buses, make sure friends know their schedules, and rarely go out when it’s dark. For the three foreign-born Roman Catholic bishops under death threat in Brazil’s northeastern state of Para, speaking out against social ills that plague this often-lawless area at the Amazon River’s mouth has come at a price.

Yet they still noisily involve themselves in rights issues here, part of a tradition of Catholic priests who came to Latin America with their views formed by 1970s Liberation Theology that emphasizes justice for the poor and oppressed.

One of the bishops under threat in Para is 69-year-old Austrian-born, Bishop Erwin Krautler. Bishop Krautler has had armed bodyguards around the clock for the past two years in his diocese of Altamira, from where he has denounced illegal logging and other illicit businesses as well as the handling of the Sister Dorothy Strang murder case.

Bishop Krautler remembers the first time he received a death threat. “It was the exact day I completed 25 years as a bishop,” he recalled.  Later that year, a local paper announced the day his assassination would be expected.

Bishop Krautler says there are several groups unhappy with him and with his colleagues, who are fighting to save the Amazon region from environmental destruction. The bishop has recently spoken out against the construction of  a hydroelectric plant along the Xingu River. He has also strongly opposed land-clearing by farmers and loggers in the Amazon forest and is one of the main figures in trying to bring to justice those who killed Dorothy Strang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in 2005. bishop-erwin.jpg

“These people have formed a consortium to murder those who speak out against what they are doing,” Bishop Krautler told Catholic News Service. “I believe it was a consortium of landowners who got together to hire someone to murder Sister Dorothy. Sister Dorothy Strang, a native of Ohio and a naturalized Brazilian, was 73 when she was murdered near the town of Anapu. She was known as a fierce defender of the Amazon forest.

The government was surprised by the international repercussions of Sister Dorothy’s assassination. Not wanting to worsen its image abroad, the authorities now provide limited police protection for Bishop Krautler and others.

Cynthia McKinney, Presidential Candidate

3 October 08 | Posted in Government, Social Justice, U.S. Catholic

Cynthia McKinney is the Green Party’s 2008 presidential nominee. She was not invited to participate in any debates, and outside NCR, has received little press coverage about her platform and campaign. cynthia-mckinney.jpg

A former Congresswoman, she served as a Democrat in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 2003, representing Georgia’s Fourth Congressional District. She left the Democratic Party in 2007 and became a Green.

McKinney identifies herself as Catholic and attended Catholic grade schools and high school.

“The environment is just one part of the Green Party’s focus,” McKinney said. “The party’s Ten Key Values include both ecology and social justice. We recognize that communities of color suffer the most from environmental degration. For example, waste treatment facilities or toxic chemical dumps sited near poorer neighborhoods cause both high asthma rates and and lead poisoning incidents to rise there.”

“The environmental and the social issues interrelate,” she said. “We can’t save people and not save the planet, or the reverse.”

McKinney defended herself from the accusation of being an election “spoiler,” and that a vote for McKinney will be a vote for McCain. “The only wasted vote is one that doesn’t reflect your values or conscience,” she said. 

“To say I should not run because I can’t prove I will win denies voters any real choice outside the parties funded and controlled by the corporations and the media that promote them.”

Honoring Sr. Dorothy Strang

28 September 08 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic, Social Justice, Stewardship

Call to Action’s 2008 Leadership Award will be given posthumously to Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Dorothy “Dot” Strang, shot to death February 12, 2005 in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest. Strang spent 40 years in Brazil defending the rights of peasant farmers and protecting the environment. dorothystrang.jpg

Honoring Sr. Dorothy is uniquely appropriate at this year’s CTA conference, which places “Our Earth” at the center of our efforts to “Embrace the Beloved Community.” The conference is scheduled for November 7-9, 2008 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Affectionately known as the “Angel of the Amazon,” Strang worked tirelessly to empower the peasant settlers of the Amazon. She educated them about land tenures and the importance of protecting their homes in the rainforest. Together with the Brazilian government, Sr. Dorothy and the peasants created and eventually succeeded in implementing the first viable sustainable development project – a new model for the future.

A citizen of Brazil and the United States, Sr. Dorothy worked with the Pastoral Land Commission, an organization of the Catholic Church that fights for the rights of rural workers and peasants, and defends land reforms in Brazil.

Her death came less than a week after meeting with the country’s human rights officials about threats to the local farmers from loggers and large landowners who coveted the resources on their lands.

It has been estimated that 15,000 square kilometers of Amazon rainforest are lost every year to clear cutting and cattle pasturing. This is an area about the size of the state of Massachusetts. Another 7,000-15,000 is also lost to timber harvesting. Environmental degradation of the water, soil and animal habitats accompanies the logging.

Strang was shot six times at point blank range and left to die on a muddy road. The killers were paid $40 for her murder.

Commenting on the threats shortly before her death, Strang said “I don’t want to flee, nor do I want to abandon the battle of these farmers to live without any protection in the forest.  They have the sacrosanct right to aspire to a better life on land where they can live and work with dignity while respecting the environment.”

Her brother, David Strang, and the superior of her community, Sr. Joan Krimm, are planning to attend the CTA conference to accept the award in Dorothy’s honor. Also hoping his schedule will allow him to attend is actor and Catholic peace-justice activist, Martin Sheen. Sheen is the narrator in a new documentary film, They Killed Sister Dorothy.

Equal Exchange Fair Trade Coffee

6 July 08 | Posted in Food, Social Justice, U.S. Catholic

As a member of the Social Justice Committee of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Brooklyn, NY I helped to start the “Coffee Project.” We sold Equal Exchange coffee after Masses once a month; and took special orders the rest of the time. Our parish secretary, a lovely lady, helped out to take care of people who were ill, out-of-town or couldn’t make it to Mass for some reason but still wanted their coffee. She would hold the bags in the office for people to come by and pick up.  Sales did quite well–our Social Justice Committee funded other projects and initiatives out of our $1 a bag coffee profits.

We sold Equal Exchange coffee, tea, chocolate and hot chocolate.  Everyone enjoyed the coffee, but the chocolate bars were the biggest hit. ee_coffee.jpg 

Our motto was: “Supporting fair wages and fair trade–one cup of coffee at a time.” Buying a bag of coffee after Mass made it easy and convenient to help support Catholic social justice initiatives several ways: small farmers were paid a fair price for their coffee beans and had access to credit; and the crops were planted and harvested in ecologically sound ways. Equal Exchange products are mostly organic and shade-grown, which further protects songbirds and wildlife.

Equal Exchange was great organization to work with, and I highly recommend them.  We found them through Catholic Relief Services, who maintain a list of fair trade coffee partners on their website.

Catholics Lauded in Sierra Club Book

Catholics are prominently featured in a new Sierra Club book, Faith in Action: Communities of Faith Bring Hope for the Planet. The book highlights faith-led environmental action in each of the 50 states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, DC. sierra-club.jpg

Don Conklin and Ellen Buelow, members of Holy Rosary Parish in Albuquerque, NM, helped engineer a light-bulb swap–incandescent bulbs for energy-saving compact flurorescent bulbs. Before the program was over, 3,000 bulbs changed hands.

“We did this as a Lenten project,” said Conklin, a pastoral associate at the 2,700-household parish. “And it didn’t cost us a thing. It was sponsored by the Sierra Club and PNM,” the electric company serving the Albuquerque area.

The bulbs were distributed during an annual parish awareness weekend. “We’re planning our next awareness weekend and we’re coming up with the theme of helping families,” Buelow told Catholic News Service. “We’d like to get the concept of simple living in there. Economize and save the environment.”

The Faith in Action book also included these Catholic-led initiatives:

– In Colorado, Bishops Michael J. Sheridan of Colorado Springs and Arthur N. Tafoya of Pueblo called for a unified response after sewerage spills threatened Fountain Creek, which runs through their communities. The bishops’ statement had a “significant impact” said Ross Vincent, vice chair of the Sangre de Cristo group of Sierra’s Rocky Mountain chapter. “People who wanted to believe things were OK with Fountain Creek began to pay attention and realize something needed to be done. The bishops’ statement came at a critical time and it was deeply appreciated.”

– In New Orleans, members of Mary, Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church and their pastor, Father Vien The Nguyen, were able to halt post-Hurricane Katrina operations at a landfill that was not only close to their neighborhood, but was adajacent to a protected wildlife sanctuary. More than 200,000 cubic yards of waste from Katrina had been dumped in the landfill, which still leaks toxins into a canal used by the Vietnamese community for irrigation and fishing.

– The Michigan Catholic Rural Life Coalition used the National Catholic Rural Life Conference’s “Eating Is A Moral Act” program to demonstrate the many ethical implications of consumers’ food purchases. The coalition also educates the public about the need to promote stewardship of the land and promotes a sustainable food system that nourishes people, local communities and the earth.

– In response to the U.S. Catholic bishops’ call for action on global warming, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis co-sponsored, “Global Warming: A Catholic Perspective.” One thousand people from 95 parishes attended the event to address the effects of global warming on the environment and the world’s poor communities.

Several parishes have now established their own “global warming action teams.” One of them, St. Joan of Arc in Minneapolis, launched a Green Power Campaign to encourage parishioners to purchase wind-generated energy.

-In Caguas, Puerto Rico, Father Pedro Ortiz and the Catholic parish of Nuesta Senora de la Providencia formed the Alianza Comunitaria y Ambiental en Accion Solidaria (Community and Environmental Alliance in Solidarity) in April 2007. The parish sets aside portions of its liturgical calendar for reflection on relevant social issues. Now, 100 community organizations, nonprofits, churches and universities from across the island with common concern for the environment have joined the alliance.