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UN hunger expert warns of empty cupboard in 21st century

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tA sobering wake-up call about global hunger was heard Monday afternoon in the Synod for Africa, delivered by a special guest invited to address the gathering: Senegalese diplomat Jacques Diouf, director general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which is based in Rome.

tDiouf broke away to address the synod from an Oct. 12-13 FAO summit titled, “How to Feed the World in 2050.”

World population is projected to rise to 9.1 billion in 2050 from a current 6.7 billion, Diouf said during the FAO summit, requiring a 70-percent increase in farm production. Increases, he said, would need to come mostly from yield growth and improved cropping intensity rather than from farming more land. Urbanization, desertification, the ever-greater share of land devoted to biofuels and global climate change, Diouf said, all make opening up new cropland increasingly difficult.

Without such significant increases in productivity, he warned, a rising population will find itself staring at an “empty cupboard," with significant increases in global hunger and malnutrition.

Big guns in African church blast corrupt politics

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tTwo of the biggest guns in African Catholicism were locked and loaded in the synod hall on Monday, and both had the same target in their sights: politicians and political parties which they blasted as corrupt and interested only in self-preservation, a problem one of them memorably described as a “cancer eating up our continent.”

tThose big guns were Cardinal Wilfrid Fox Napier of Durban, South Africa, and Cardinal John Njue of Nairobi, Kenya. Both are widely considered among the top tier of prelates in Africa, and both have a broad regional influence – Napier especially in Southern Africa, and Njue in East Africa.

tIf the early days of the Synod for Africa have been marked by candor about the church’s own internal challenges, Monday the pendulum swung back in a strongly ad extra direction, focused on the broader political life of the continent. Fox Napier and Njue may not have offered any compelling new cures, but they certainly minced no words about the diagnosis.

tThe Synod for Africa is meeting in the Vatican Oct. 4-25.

Cardinal George congratulates Obama on Nobel

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Catholic News Service reports that USCCB president congratulates Obama on receiving Nobel Peace Prize

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WASHINGTON -- Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, congratulated U.S. President Barack Obama on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 9.

t"As he has graciously said, much of the work of realizing a more peaceful and just world for all persons and nations remains to be done; but the prize was given because, as president of the United States, he has already changed the international conversation," Cardinal George said in a statement released by the USCCB Oct. 12.
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t"In our own country, the remarkable and historic achievement of his election has changed the relationships between men and women of all races," the cardinal said.
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t"The rich diversity of United States society is now more surely anchored in a national unity that is better able to foster the peace we all are challenged to pursue. Our prayer is that almighty God will bless the president and his family," he added.


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Peace and Patience

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All the wringing of hands that surrounds President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize reminds me of a very early morning breakfast I had thirty years ago with another Nobel Peace Prize recipient.

It was January of 1979, and I woke up at five o’clock on a dark bleak Moscow morning to hail a cab outside the enormous, Stalinesque Hotel Russiya. I was a senior in college at Columbia University then, and I climbed into the taxi with my friend Mitchell. We both ran the university daily newspaper and through a series of phone calls from supposedly secure lines, we had arranged an interview with Andrei Sakharov on behalf of Ivy League student newspapers.

He had won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975 for his work on behalf of human rights in the Soviet Union. Sakharov spent his earlier years as a nuclear physicist, part of a team of scientists that developed the Soviet hydrogen bomb. That work lead him into a life of relative privilege in the USSR – but as time worn on, he could not look past the corruption and abuse that plagued his country’s political system.

Catholic schools in the news

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Catholic schools seem to be attracting a lot of media attention lately. Just today we see:

Catholic schools shift with the population in the Philadelphia Inquirer: At the same time that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia is closing two venerable Catholic high schools in the city in June, it is preparing to open a new high school in the suburbs in the fall and plans to build another in a few years.

Looking for Solutions to the Catholic School Crisis in Time magazine: He is neither old, nor a priest, nor particularly attached to time-honored traditions. At 35, John Eriksen, one of the nation's youngest Catholic school superintendents, offers a ruthless assessment of parochial education. "The biggest threat that urban Catholic schools face is nostalgia."

More on Moore

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After seeing Michael Moore’s "Capitalism: A Love Story," I wanted nothing more than to walk from the dark theater into a church to discuss with others what I had seen. Moore’s documentary, a brilliant expose of the ways the rich get richer and the poor poorer included clips of discussions he’d had with Catholic priests, both of whom called capitalism "evil."

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton also put in his two cents, explaining that the teachings and the life of Christ are simply not compatible with an economic system that puts profits before people.

The evolution of (ideas about) God

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Need a quick refresher on God? Andrew Pessin, author of a new book called The God Question, manages something few philosophers can pull off: he speaks in lucid, plain English! On this week’s Interfaith Voices, he describes the evolution of Western ideas about God from Plato and Aristotle to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas to Maimonides and Marx… all the way up to atheist Richard Dawkins. It includes a discussion of female images of God in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Then, we host a debate on the Supreme Court case of the Mojave Cross with Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Luke Goodrich, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. If you wonder about the arguments on both sides of this case (a cross as a national memorial), it’s a great review.

Finally, you can hear about a blessing of the animals that St. Francis of Assisi would love, and a chant from Soka Gakkai Buddhism. Here’s the link to the show:

www.interfaithradio.org/
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Catholic blogging

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I recently wrote about Catholic bloggers in NCR, highlighting the popular Philadelphia blogger Rocco Palmo, who writes the gossipy Whispers in the Loggia, which these days is covering the African Synod, Cardinal Francis George's new book and the Phillies playoffs.

Palmo tries to distance himself from other Catholic bloggers because too many of them are used primarily to point fingers and rant, usually at fellow Catholics. I wrote, "While it’s nice and democratic that the Internet gives everyone a soapbox (or at least everyone with Internet access), some might want to use that soap to wash out their mouths. Call me biased, but I think the majority of these mudslinging sites are by traditionalist Catholics -- perhaps because it seems more Catholic blogs slant to the right than to the left."

Botswana, where African stereotypes go to die

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Rome

tOver and over during the first week of the Synod for Africa, speakers have stressed the diversity of situations across the continent – the contrast between the Muslim-dominated north and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, or between war-torn Congo and Sudan and zones of relative calm such as Gambia.

tNowhere do generalizations about Africa go to die as readily, however, as in Botswana.

tA landlocked nation of two million in southern Africa, Botswana has long been hailed as an African success story. (Americans may be most familiar with Botswana as the setting for the novels, and now the HBO television series, “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.”)

One of the most impoverished nations in Africa at the time of its independence in 1966, Botswana today boasts a stable political system and a rapidly developing market economy.

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