Imagine being a mom and having to choose between purchasing safe drinking water or enough food for your family. If you opt for adequate meals, everyone -- including yourself -- gets sick from intestinal parasites. This is the plight facing thousands of women living in the impoverished Colonia Fuerzas Unidas neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
NAIROBI, Kenya -- By now, Americans are inured to seeing war portrayed as televised theater, replete with accompanying cable news theme music, television banners and the like.
Not so for Kenyans, who are experiencing what they call "Kenya's first war" -- the first cross-border military incursion since Kenya's 1963 independence into border areas of Somalia.
The purpose? Rout out al-Shabaab, the radical Islamist group that rules much of Somali territory and is blamed for terrorist strikes within Kenya.
"It's a very unsettled time for us as Kenyans. You don't know who is al-Shabaab," a Kenyan Catholic Relief Services worker told me during a visit to Kenya and Ethiopia to report on the drought and other humanitarian problems affecting both countries. "We've never been to war. It's a very new thing for Kenyans."
While an external war may be something novel, crises within Kenya are hardly unusual -- Kenyans still talk about the lasting effects of a political crisis that erupted in late 2007 and early 2008 and resulted in massive violence throughout the country.
We’re back in Ireland at Róisín’s kitchen table (NCR, Oct. 14), though I’m really back in Maryland pondering my notes. In Dublin, tea and sandwiches are still a half hour away.
What was my takeaway from my recent trip to Ireland?
The 21st century is unlikely to see a fundamental conflict of political ideology in the way the 20th century was dominated by it. But it might well see a clash of religious or cultural ideology.
The reason the study and understanding of religion matters today more than ever before is this: The world is undergoing rapid and tumultuous change. Globalization, accelerated by the communications revolution, is driving much of it, breaking down boundaries, altering the composition of whole communities, even countries. The changing circumstances create new overlapping challenges that can only be met effectively together: terrorism, financial crises, climate change, even how we respond to the Arab Spring.
DUBLIN, IRELAND -- Catholic Ireland has its woes (see story), yet the life of the church goes on -- particularly where the religious are concerned.
Pragmatic nuns, brothers and priests simply do whatever it takes.
Charity Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy began her religious life begging in the streets. Supplicants with bowls on street corners, Kennedy and her sisters went door-to-door.
She hated it. As a young novice, begging companion to an elderly nun, she had no choice. It was an era when some women’s congregations raised money for the poor that way.
There were, however, lessons to be learned from her elderly companion, said Kennedy, now known throughout Dublin as “Sr. Stan.”
“When the money was enough to purchase children’s clothes for some poor families, we went only to Dublin’s finest stores.” The elderly nun “bought only the best quality clothes, beautiful clothes -- I’d nothing like them as a child.
“Then she brought the families in, one by one. I saw the respect she had for the poor. She’d say, ‘We must give to the poor what the rich can buy with money.’ It marked me for life,” Kennedy said.
Popes rarely get a “do-over,” an opportunity to make something right that didn’t exactly work out as planned the first time around. Yet Benedict XVI’s Nov. 18-20 trip to the West African nation of Benin, his second visit to Africa, represents just such a chance to tee the ball up again and see if this time he can avoid the rough.
The Protestant theologian Stanley Hauerwas is well known for his view that Christians must be uncompromising in their dealings with the political order. He refers positively to Christian "fanatics" and spiritual "terrorists." There is certainly a place for this sort of prophetic stance in Christian tradition, but it is not one that has typically been embraced by Catholic Christians. By contrast, Catholic tradition has sought to work pragmatically with political leaders to secure the common good, while not compromising core beliefs.
This is why the ongoing conflict between the Obama administration and the U.S. Catholic bishops is so disheartening. The most recent dust-up is over the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services not to award a federal grant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Migration and Refugee Services office to continue its work with the victims of human trafficking. Apparently the decision of HHS was influenced by the fact that MRS does not refer trafficking victims for contraceptive or abortions services.
The phrase is used 22 times in the 11 pages of the recent "note" from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace urging reform of the international financial and monetary systems.
The document also speaks of "common dignity," "common vision," "common decisions" and of "universal brotherhood." In fact, the needs of the latter, of "universal brotherhood," say the writers, transcend considerations of the marketplace.
FRIBOURG, Switzerland -- The patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt blamed Islamic fundamentalists for the increasing number of attacks on Christians and criticized a growing division between Muslims and Christians since the country's February revolution.
Speaking Oct. 30 at St. Nicolas Cathedral in Fribourg, Switzerland, during a day of prayer for persecuted Catholics, Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Coptic Catholic patriarch of Alexandria, said the links between Muslims and Catholics that were reinforced in the period just after the revolution have deteriorated.
"Today, Islamic fundamentalists have come out of the woodwork, and there are recurring attacks on Christians," Cardinal Naguib said.
The attacks left dozens dead and "created a gulf between Muslims and Christians, which is being continually widened under the influence of fanatical leaders," he said during the event organized by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
The cardinal said the unity that existed during the revolution, which saw Christians and Muslims praying together in churches and mosques for peace and a return to order, has virtually ended.
TEPOZTLAN, Mexico -- "Dia de los Muertos," the traditional Mexican commemoration of deceased loved ones, has taken on a deeper meaning in light of drug-related violence in recent years.
Drug-related killings have been on the rise since 2006, surpassing 15,000 in 2010, according to a study commissioned by the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.
"We're living in a barbarian age," said Argelia Barcas Bello, a teacher at Santiago in Tepoztlan, a town built on Tepozteco Mountain near Mexico City. The town receives many visitors who come to see a nearby ancient pyramid.
Barcas and other merchants set up shops, selling items for "ofrendas," altars set up to remember deceased loved ones for the annual Day of the Dead observance.
"We're seeing many more deaths because of the delinquency," Barcas said, adding that those who died accidentally or due to violence are remembered in her town Oct. 28.
Alejandro Alvarez, another merchant, said Mexico has many ways of representing death -- the skull, or "calavera," and "Catarinas," dressed-up female skeletons, are two such ways.
"Since the Aztecs, we've been laughing at death," Alvarez said.