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City tells of two Polands

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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.

'I am humbled by these people'

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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.

Homeward bound: Haiti Dispatches

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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.

Haiti missionaries ask: 'Why (not) me?'

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."

A huge tragedy made startlingly personal

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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.

Court says French cathedral belongs to Russia

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.

Line between haves, have nots has disappeared

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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.”

Haitians bury their archbishop, church leaders

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PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- Amid the rubble of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, Haitians celebrated the lives of the archbishop and vicar general of Port-au-Prince, both of whom were killed in the country's earthquake.

Church officials -- including some from the United States -- joined ordinary Haitians Jan. 23 for the funerals of Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, who died when the impact of the Jan. 12 quake hurled him from a balcony, and Msgr. Charles Benoit, the vicar general whose body was pulled from the cathedral debris.

The outpouring of compassion is amazing

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Haiti Dispatches No. 2

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti -- On the second day of his stay in Haiti, filmmaker Gerry Straub was able to get a view of the vastness of the devastation in Port au Prince, a spectacle that he had heard about and witnessed on television via aerial shots and close-ups, but the reality of which was beyond his imagining.

And he continued to witness close up the courage and endless work of medical volunteers -- doctors, nurses, physicians’ assistants -- from around the globe, as they attempted desperately in the worst circumstances to treat endless streams of patients, not always successfully. When they weren’t working in the jury-rigged operating rooms and emergency rooms and makeshift wards out on sidewalks and lawns, he saw them working on fixing a door and loading and unloading supplies. There is no medical hierarchy in Haiti, he said, everyone pitches in to do whatever needs to be done.

'Organized chaos' as help reaches Haiti

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Haiti Dispatches

Editor's note: Gerry Straub, a filmmaker who has placed his art "at the service of the poor," is in Haiti and will be reporting by phone when possible during the next week. More than 15 years ago, Straub gave up a lucrative career producing daytime television to explore the interplay between creativity and spirituality. He underwent a deeper conversion while doing a book on St. Francis of Assisi, and for the past 12 years, he has documented the plight of poor people around the world.

In early December, he traveled to Haiti to begin filming a documentary titled "Angels of Compassion: the Luminous Force of Intentional Kindness." He spent time filming work being done in Haiti's Cite Soleil, described as the worst slum in this poorest country in the hemisphere. He returned Jan. 21.

PORT AU PRINCE, Haiti -- When Gerry Straub landed at the airport at Port au Prince the morning of Thursday, Jan. 21, he described the scene as "organized chaos," with countless people seeking treatment for all manner of injuries and planeloads of supplies arriving regularly.

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April 11-24, 2014

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