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Peace & Justice

'Machine Gun Preacher': What would Jesus do?

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As I watched director Marc Forster's new film, based on a true story, memories of other movies about men of faith caught in extreme moral dilemmas made my memory, moral imagination and conscience collide. It also evoked contemporary documentaries and feature films about Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and other countries in conflict where kidnapped children become soldiers.

"Machine Gun Preacher" is the story of reformed alcoholic, drug addict and felon, Sam Childers (born 1962), who has lived as a Christian mercenary-like fighter in conflict areas of Africa since 1998. This is a powerful, raw experience of a preacher who is comfortable saying, "I am a soldier for Christ."

Sister, just freed from custody, speaks with civil disobedience

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Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch’s voice is soft, with a little bit of a nasal tone. To hear her, you have to learn forward in your chair, and turn your ear in her direction.

Yet, Lentsch, a member of the Presentation Sisters of Dubuque, has for many years spoken loudly against nuclear weapons. Set to be freed from custody after three months in prison today for an act of civil disobedience, she has spent much of the past 22 years opposing the Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Complex near Oak Ridge, Tenn.

When the federal government started to put together plans for a new $7.5 billion nuclear weapons manufacturing facility at the site, Lentsch joined 12 others in July, 2010, to witness opposition for the plans. Climbing over a barbed-wire fence onto the property of the current facility, they were immediately arrested and found guilty of trespass in federal court this May.

Lethal injection drug overcomes court challenges

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TALLAHASSEE, FLA. -- How are prisoners on Florida’s death row and unwanted dogs and cats in a city pound alike? They are put to death using the same medication. Last month, the Florida Supreme Court ruled pentobarbital -- a barbiturate used most regularly to euthanize unwanted animals -- can be part of the lethal cocktail used to execute inmates.

American Dream becoming unreachable for more Americans

WASHINGTON -- Jon Proctor knows the road to self-sufficiency is a long one. It's even longer when the weekly paycheck totals a little more than $200.

"We're trying to get back on our feet," the 55-year-old divorced father of six says, explaining how he's scheduled only about 30 hours a week stocking shelves at a Safeway supermarket on the overnight shift.

Colombia's Uribe not to testify in human rights case

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Alvaro Uribe, the controversial former president of Colombia, does not have to testify in a case before a U.S. court that alleges his administration knew of human rights abuses, a federal judge ruled Sept. 8.

The decision, handed down by Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, is one of the first to determine immunity for a former head of state since a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year broadened the scope of incidents for which foreign officials could be subject to prosecution in U.S. courts.

Uribe, who served as president of Colombia from 2002 until last year, had been subpoenaed to testify in a case brought against the U.S. coal mining company Drummond over its ties with a Colombian paramilitary group designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department in 2001. Drummond had hired the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia to protect the company’s property in the country.

Archbishop: Action needed to fight trafficking

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GENEVA -- Human trafficking is such a lucrative business that as soon as laws are passed to counter the practice, traffickers find new ways to continue the modern-day slave trade, a Vatican official told the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Vatican's representative to U.N. agencies in Geneva, said an estimated 3 million people fall prey to traffickers each year and their trade generates more than $30 billion annually.

International action rallying governments, law enforcement agencies, human rights organizations, faith groups and people of good will are needed to combat human trafficking, which primarily involves poor women and children, the archbishop told the council Sept. 14.

As the world's economy has globalized, he said, so has the trade in human beings, which "exploits the extreme poverty and vulnerability of many women and minors who try to escape intolerable conditions of misery and violence."

Lured by the hope of jobs and a better life, they become "bonded to their masters as slaves with passports and personal documents seized and a sense of identity destroyed," he said.

Peace activists make 'strategic withdrawal'

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Don’t call it surrender. It’s a “strategic withdrawal,” longtime peace activist Rachel MacNair told supporters Sept. 1.

Following a decision to end what appeared to be a lengthy and costly legal battle to push for a citywide vote on construction of a major new nuclear weapons facility, MacNair told fellow activists: “Let us do be clear on this. We are now in better shape than we’ve ever been before.”

Philly Catholic high schools close over strike

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PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia archdiocesan Catholic education secretariat announced Sept. 13 that its 17 high schools would close Sept. 14 and not reopen until a settlement was reached with teachers on strike since Sept. 6.

The high schools opened Sept. 7 and were staffed by administrators and nonunion employees. The first few days of school were primarily devoted to orientation sessions.

In a letter to parents, school officials said continued reduced staffing could jeopardize student safety. They said missed days will be made up when the school year resumes and parents would then receive adjusted school calendars.

Both sides in the dispute met Sept. 8, 9 and 11 but were unable to reach an agreement, though the education secretariat's announcement reported "some progress in the negotiations."

A statement from the archdiocesan communications' office said the Secretariat for Catholic Education was "making every effort to minimize disruption to the academic year and bring a speedy resolution to the strike. We are anxious for our teachers to return to the classroom as soon as possible."

Poverty figures: Hispanics, children hard hit

WASHINGTON -- As the median U.S. household income declined, more Americans dropped below the poverty line, with Hispanics and children taking a particularly hard hit, according to statistics released Sept. 13 by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The bureau's report on "Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2010" put the nation's official poverty rate at 15.1 percent for the third consecutive annual increase. It was up from 14.3 percent in 2009.

In the first full calendar after the December 2007-June 2009 recession, the real median household income went from $50,599 in 2009 (in 2010 dollars) to $49,445 in 2010. The decline was felt across all races and age groups, among Hispanics and non-Hispanics and native-born and foreign-born Americans.

But the data showed that the poverty rate among blacks and Hispanics of any race was nearly identical in 2010, with 27.4 percent of blacks and 26.6 percent of Hispanics living below the poverty line. The poverty rate was 12.1 percent for Asian-Americans and 9.9 percent for non-Hispanic whites in 2010.

The poverty threshold for a family of four was $22,113 in 2010.

Budget ax threatens hunger programs

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WASHINGTON -- Anti-hunger advocates are racing to save federal programs that feed needy families from being automatically slashed if Congress can't agree on a deficit reduction plan this fall.

As Congress resumes deficit-reduction talks this month, advocates for the poor worry that programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will suffer drastic cuts and hurt families that are already struggling.

One in five Americans receives SNAP benefits.

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September 26-October 9, 2014

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