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South Sudan priest: Finalize borders so people can grow crops

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By Bronwen Dachs, Catholic News Service

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (CNS) -- Sudan and South Sudan need to finalize their borders so that people in the world's newest country can get to work growing crops in the lush fertile region, said Fr. Peter Othow, coordinator of development and aid for South Sudan's Malakal Diocese.

"People who live in the border area are tense," Fr. Othow said in a July 10 telephone interview from Malakal, which is seen as one of the potential flashpoints along the 1,300 mile-border with Sudan.

"They can't settle, because they feel that anything could happen," he said, noting that during a surge of violence in May people fled from surrounding rural areas to Malakal and are afraid to go back.

Some have moved a mile south of "where they think the border will be, so that they are free to cultivate" the land, he said.

With "good security, everything can be achieved," said Fr Othow, who was born and raised in South Sudan.

He said church programs aim to help communities to be "food secure without depending on the North or neighboring countries."

We are made for music

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Born in New Jersey, Louis Sarno now lives in the village of Yandoumbe in the forests of West Central Africa with the Bayaka people, known to the outside world as Pygmies.

Sarno is a musicologist and when he heard snatches of Bayaka music on the radio, he was intrigued by its depth and raw power. He was determined to seek these people out and discover more about the music that so enthralled him.

When he first arrived in their midst,. he was given a small beehive-shaped house. The Bayaka were living in a settlement attached to a sawmill built by Yugoslavs. The ongoing destruction of the rain forest had forced them temporarily out of their millennia-old home.

Sarno lived at first on a diet of tadpoles and manioc flour. Despite offering money and gifts, all he heard from them was drunken yodeling. After months of this, one evening he lost his temper, lectured them, called them lazy drunks.

The next evening it seemed the usual banal entertainment was beginning but as the drums picked up their pace, the women began a subtle yodeling similar to the music he had heard on the radio. He switched on his recorder, listened in awe.

Stalking the wild blackberries

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A blackberry is not just an electronic device; it’s a fruit. I spent a good part of last weekend picking wild blackberries on my brother’s farm in south Missouri. It was the peak of their season. The picking task itself, on a warm, windy July morning, was not completely pleasant, with annoying little flies diving for my ears, predatory ticks lurking, and, of course, the thorn-bristling cane vines that persistently messaged “Wait a minute!” as I got tangled up in them. Puffy clouds scooted overhead. Wildflowers still brought their dots of color to the hillside. I disturbed several towhee birds, while two or three indigo buntings sang brightly in the nearby pine trees.

Last night my wife Linda made a cobbler and eight pints of jelly out of the harvest of this wild fruit that played a role in the history of the country.

The gecko in the sky

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My little altar in my home is an exercise in diversity. It mirrors a spiritual journey marked by unanticipated twists and turns along the way.

One of my favorite Robert Lentz icons, “Christ of the Desert” graces the center. A white slender statue of Mary stands to one side of the icon. Kwan Yin, the Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion, occupies the other. Filling the rest of the space are a white candle with Monarch butterflies embossing its surface, a photo of Fr. Thomas Berry and snapshots of cherished friends who have become my anam caras, soul companions, through the years.

Each altar resident has its own history but I want to tell you about one in particular: The Gecko.

Gecko is a sparkling silver pin with tiny ruby eyes and he rests at the foot of my Jesus icon.

I keep him there to remind me of the Holy One’s penchant for sending us messages through her creatures. Barely two inches long, Gecko arrived in a carefully wrapped gift box from a good friend for my going-away party. It was January, 1992, a few days before my departure from Columbus, Ohio to study at a creation spirituality master’s degree program at Holy Name University in Oakland, California.

When your exposure is gravical, you need bombproof pro

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Puppy Dome is a rock outcrop near Tuolumne Meadow in Yosemite National Park, Calif. The dome was often my weekend destination years ago when I was an avid rock climber and lived four hours away. A hunk of granite 300 or 400 feet high, it had many easy through moderate to difficult routes up its faces, great places to practice the art and technique of climbing.

Have Chinese coal plants been keeping global warming in check?

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Global warming theory predicts an overall temperature rise over decades, but slowdowns, and even brief periods of cooling are not only possible; they’re inevitable. The climate system is complex and influenced by ocean currents, wind patterns, changes in vegetation and ice cover and dust particles in the air.

The decade that just ended is a case in point. While it was the warmest ten years on record, temperatures didn’t rise as fast during the 2000s as they did for the previous 30 years or so. And while they aren’t at all surprised by this, scientists are still trying to figure out why it happened.

One culprit named in a new study is the coal plants in China, according to a new study just released. If unchecked by pollution controls, the sulfur spewing from their smokestack creates atmospheric particles that reflect some sunlight back into space, counteracting the warming effect from rising amounts of CO2.

'Great Ball of Fire' author combines Carl Sagan with Dr. Seuss

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For most of her life, Betty Kissilove hasn’t sent commercial holiday greeting cards to her family and friends. She writes her own ‘happy birthday’ messages using the medium of poetry.

So when this San Franciscan felt moved to write her own book about the universe story, the original birthday for us all – the planets, stars, galaxies, the bacteria, fungi, oceans, trees, rocks, critters, and human beings – she found herself naturally turning to verse once again. The result is a delightful retelling of creation in this frequently humorous, thought provoking work she has entitled Great Ball of Fire. It is dedicated to the late Passionist Fr. Thomas Berry, co-author of The Universe Story with Brian Swimme.

Professor proposes 'green Thomism' to reconnect Catholics to creation

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ST. PAUL, MINN. — When St. Paul Seminary professor Chris Thompson recently went searching for the top agriculture programs at U.S. Catholic universities, what he found — or, rather, what he didn’t find — shocked him: There aren’t any.

He made the discovery after receiving an invitation to present a paper on developments in American agriculture over the past 50 years at a conference in Rome in May.

“There seems to be no presence of [agriculture] as a focused discipline or professional formation in [any of the 244] Catholic universities across the board,” he said in an interview at the seminary, where he is academic dean. “That’s how I became the expert.”

Thompson serves on the board of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has lectured and participated in conferences on Catholic social thought regarding the environment. He is slated to teach a seminary course on the topic in the fall.

“How can it be that the single largest economic force in the country has no presence or standing in the modern Catholic university?” he asked. And, he added, what impact does that have, not only on Catholics interested in farming as a career, but also on society at large?

Hospitality and generosity: Opening the 'universal door'

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The people of Kazakhstan are generous in their hospitality. There’s a saying: “Kazakhs’ hearts are like the steppes – wide, kind and generous.” Regardless of the hour of arrival of guests, Kazakh women will immediately set to work to prepare a dahsterhahn – a table full of food. If guests arrive and the table remains empty, the host is greatly shamed. Each guest must sit for tea, which includes bread, fruits, nuts, sweets and cookies.

We all have our dahsterhahns, feasts of remarkable generosity that have been extended to us in our lives.

Years ago, a friend and I boarded a westbound Amtrak train in Kansas City, getting off when it made a short stop in a Wyoming town. From there we hitchhiked up to the eastern side of the great Wind River Range. We rode in the back of a VW bug with our heavy backpacks on our laps. The driver, a young woman with a German Shepherd, drove 40 miles out of her way to drop us at the trailhead we sought.

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