BERLIN -- Merely by dint of her gender, Bishop Margot Kässmann took over the top post in Germany’s powerful Protestant church with the image of a rebel. Last year the 51-year-old theologian became the first woman ever to assume the leadership of Martin Luther’s church in the homeland of the great reformer.
One family's story
When NCR reached Monica and Michael Simonsen at their home in Baltimore, the sounds of a happy baby could be heard in the background. The sounds came from Stanley Hermane, 21 months old, who survived the Jan. 12 earthquake in Haiti and is finally in the arms of his adoptive parents.
The couple had gone through the long process to adopt Stanley, working through A Love Beyond Borders, a registered Colorado adoption agency, and were awaiting final clearance when the quake struck. Michael managed to get a seat on a charter flight when they heard the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security was granting "humanitarian paroles" to move orphans out of the Haiti. In the meantime, Monica traveled to Ft. Lauderdale with other families to wait for the children.
The process began to snarl when, as Monica says, "Groups who were helping us in Florida began to pull out due to political pressure. Her husband arrived in Port-au-Prince to more complications. Forced to sleep in tent cities at the airport, he and the others trying to get the children out finally made it to the U.S. Embassy where they were turned away without explanation.
Shortly after an earthquake devastated Haiti Jan. 12, the Miami, Fla., archdiocese offered to set up operation "Pierre Pan," a program to resettle Haitian children in the United States, modeled after a similar "Pedro Pan" program in the 1960s that found homes for some 14,000 Cuban children.
The day after he floated the idea of Pierre Pan, even Randolph McGrorty, executive director of Catholic Charities Legal Services in Miami, admitted that it is too soon to focus on relocation and adoption. Haiti's immediate needs must take precedence, McGrorty told the Sun-Sentinel newspaper Jan. 19.
A later statement by the Migration and Refugee Services of the U. S. Catholic bishops' conference retracted the offer, however, and made it clear that the safety of children and family reunification are primary before bringing children here for adoption.
TORUN, POLAND -- This medieval city in central Poland is a split-screen picture of the wider country. On one side of the city is Radio Maryja with its daily rants about the threat that Jews, gays and the liberals in the European Union pose for Poland. Across the Vistula River, less than 2 miles away from Radio Maryja, is the Higher School of Hebrew Philology founded by a Franciscan monk. Here Catholic students learn Hebrew and study about the Jewish origins of Christianity in the hope that this will bring both faiths closer.
The sharp contrasts between the nation’s progressive youth and the far-right Catholic radio station with millions of loyal listeners is evident in this city of 200,000, known as the birthplace of the astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
Haiti -- First Person
Editor’s note: Fr. Tom Hagan, 68, a member of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, is founder of a nonprofit organization, “Hands Together” (handstogether.org), which began its work in 1985 when Hagan, then a chaplain at colleges in southeastern Pennsylvania, started taking students on visits to Haiti. Out of those visits grew a network of supporters and a respected relief organization. Hagan moved to Port-au-Prince in 1997 where he oversaw a program he had begun in Cité Soleil, that city’s largest and most desperate slum. The program is widely recognized as one of the most effective educational and health organizations in that area.
Tom Roberts, NCR’s editor at large, contacted Hagan by e-mail and asked him about his experience during the quake and his assessment of the future of Haiti and the church in that country. His response arrived by e-mail Jan. 24. With minor editing, the e-mail follows.
Haiti Dispatches No. 5
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Late Tuesday afternoon, Jan. 26, I sat near the main entrance of the Haitian Community Hospital, in the open courtyard that serves as the triage area where the incoming injured are evaluated and given some initial care. I was thoroughly exhausted from crisscrossing Port-au-Prince most of the day, hunting for images of destruction and humanity. I had seen much of both.
There was one scary moment when we were in Cité Soleil, the oldest and largest slum in the capital; a convoy of trucks with food rumbled down the main street causing a scene of mass bedlam as people rushed off to wherever the truck would be stopping to dispense the much-needed food. The intensity of the starving hoard of people rushing past us was frightening.
Having survived a devastating earthquake during a 10-day mission trip to Haiti, Freedom Gassoway now savors every minute she spends at home with her family in Beaverton, Ore.
But for this 33-year-old mother of two, some of life has also lost its sweetness.
Meals no longer taste good, she said, since she's always thinking about the thousands of homeless and hungry people in Haiti. Her closet seems to have "too many clothes," she said, and she feels a duty -- by virtue of her survival -- to share Haiti's suffering with other Americans.
"I didn't even know where Haiti was before this trip," Gassoway said. "But now I feel like I have a responsibility for Haiti and helping people be aware of how they can be involved."
Haiti Dispatches No. 4
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- The hills around Port-au-Prince had become, in recent years, the neighborhoods of last resort for rural peasants who came to the city only to find there was little opportunity for work. The neighborhoods stack up upon themselves, concrete, wood and corrugated tin heaped ever higher in a rickety display of humans desperate for shelter, for somewhere to call home.
The earthquake has sent most of these shanty towns crashing down on themselves, and on Monday, filmmaker Gerry Straub made his way through the rubble of some of the neighborhoods with the help of a Haitian guide.
A French court has ruled that the St. Nicholas Cathedral in Nice, France, built with funding from Czar Nicholas II and completed just before Russia's Soviet revolution, belongs to Russia and must be handed over.
The victory is Russia's latest in a series of battles for church property around the world -- attempts by the Russian government and Russian Orthodox Church to reassert control over a widespread diaspora.
Haiti Dispatches No. 3
PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti -- In a chance encounter with a young Haitian who volunteered to drive filmmaker Gerry Straub around Port au Prince, conversation turned to the future of Haiti and what might be required for the country to rise from the ashes of the earthquake in a new way.
The young man, who came from a family of means, who had lived for a while in the United States and whose family owns a factory that employs about 750 people, began describing to Straub life before the earthquake. “He said before, there were people living in misery and who had no food and for whom every day was a struggle for food and survival and those who were wealthy,” Straub said. “After the earthquake, he told me, that line between those who have and those who don’t have has disappeared. Everyone is in the same boat, the struggle for food and everything else is really intense.”