National Catholic Reporter

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Peace & Justice

Morality and the meltdown

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An NCR interview

What’s a Catholic to think? Americans, Catholic and otherwise, look at the economic meltdown, at Madoff, at bonus bandits, get-rich-quick-bankers and subprime mortgage packagers and ask: Where’s morality? Where are ethics, when everything appears corrupt and crooked? NCR put these and other questions to Christopher Lowney, an author with an unusual background whose latest book, Heroic Living: Discover Your Purpose and Change the World (Loyola Press), leads toward some answers. Lowney was a Jesuit for seven years, then for 17 years a J.P. Morgan banker and managing director in New York, Singapore, London and Tokyo. He left the corporate world to volunteer and write.

Trapped in a cycle of debt

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The loan cycle can be triggered by a sudden expense, like an emergency visit to the doctor, a car repair or an electric bill that must be paid before power is disconnected. Once at the lender’s office, the cash-strapped borrower tacks on a little more debt to cover gas and groceries, and leaves behind a signed check postdated for the next payday.

But other expenses always come up, said Bobbie Lison, manager of the budget counseling program at Catholic Charities in Green Bay, Wis., so instead of paying off the loan, many borrowers end up rolling it over as the interest continues to accrue.

“They just get into the cycle of not being able to pay the premium and they’re just paying the interest,” Lison said. “Before you know it, they’re paying multiple payday loans.”

Some payday loan customers who end up in Lison’s office are dealing with as many as eight loans at one time, for amounts that range from $175 to $1,500. The interest, calculated on a yearly rate, averages between 400 and 800 percent.

'Peace Team' faces minor setbacks in trip to Gaza

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Editor's note: The following is a first person account of a trip by a Catholic Worker "Peace Team" to the Gaza Strip where it hopes to distribute toys, letters and medical supplies.

Scott Schaeffer-Duffy

We prepared last night to get an early start this morning. Our Catholic Worker Peace team – Scott Schaeffer-Duffy, Brenna Cussen, Mark Coleville, Colin Gilbert, Beth Brockman, and Jenny Thomas – had a common goal of proceeding to the Rafah border, crossing into Gaza, traveling to the Rachel Corrie Center to give out toys and letters brought with us from American children, and delivering six large suitcases of medical supplies to the al Shifa Hospital in Gaza City.

Before we slept, we met with our Egyptian contact, who had arranged drivers and logistics for us, and who told us of the difficulties we may encounter in our attempt to cross the border.

Catholic Worker peace team sets eyes on Gaza visit

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CAIRO-

Six members of a American Catholic Worker Peace Team arrived in Cairo, Egypt May 9 with $18,000 worth of medical supplies donated by Venture International and with toys donated by children from Wayland, Mass., which they plan to deliver to a hospital and children's center respectively in the besieged Gaza Strip.

Access to Gaza has been severely restricted, if not completely blocked by Israel and Egypt for nearly two years, since Hamas won democratic elections in the Palestinian occupied territories.

The United Nations and the International Red Cross have faulted this closure as a humanitarian catastrophe and their objections came before Israel attacked Gaza in December and January.

The Catholic Worker group has been invited to hospitals and other centers in Gaza to assess the human cost of that assault and the continued closure. If the team is refused entry to Gaza May 10 it will consider what nonviolent methods can be employed to persuade the authorities to allow them to pass.

Editorial: Torture as a wakeup moment

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“The thought of Jesus being stripped, beaten, and derided until his final agony on the cross should prompt the Christian to protest against similar treatment of their fellow human beings. Of their own accord, disciples of Christ will reject torture, which nothing can justify, which causes humiliation and suffering to the victim and degrades the tormentor.”

-- Pope John Paul II, before the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, June 1982

“Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honor due to the Creator.”

-- “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World,” Second Vatican Council

Slow economy brings rise in homeless youth

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WASHINGTON -- The current recession has brought a sharp rise in homelessness among young people and families, said Catholic and interfaith shelter providers interviewed recently by NCR.

“In the last few months we have seen a sharp uptick” in the number of youths seeking shelter, said Kevin M. Ryan, new president of Covenant House, an international Catholic organization that serves some 70,000 teenagers and young adults across the United States and in several other countries in the Americas.

Budget should reflect Catholic sense of common good

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As Congress works to strike a deal on President Obama’s federal budget proposal, let’s take a time out from the partisan spin and cable news punditry.

The budget debate should not be about abstract economic theories or tired ideological battles. It’s about choosing our priorities as a country and restoring belief in government that serves the common good.

Catholic Charities USA and other faith-based advocates for the poor have praised President Obama’s budget for a reason. It represents a fundamental shift away from decades of policies that made life easier for elite corporate executives and much harder for the poor and working class. It also recognizes that blind faith in the free- market is a fallacy built on quicksand.

This isn’t the specter of socialism. This is about stitching together fraying social safety nets that protect the most vulnerable and making sure the economy works for all Americans. By making critical investments in decaying public infrastructure, healthcare, education and other essential programs that impact the dignity of the human person, President Obama’s budget affirms many essential Catholic values in the public square.

Canadian aboriginals hope for papal apology

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TORONTO

Aboriginal survivors of Canada’s residential school system have been granted a rare private audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, fueling hope that the pontiff will apologize for abuses in the church-run schools.

The meeting, scheduled for April 29, resulted from more than two years of diplomatic efforts between native leaders and the Catholic Church.

Benedict will express his concern for aboriginal peoples in Canada who continue to suffer the impact of abuse at residential schools, according to the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and will also present the survivors with a signed declaration of the church’s determination to work toward reconciliation with aboriginal people, the Globe and Mail newspaper reported.

For a century starting in the 1880s, the Canadian government and four churches ran some 130 residential schools. An estimated 150,000 aboriginal children were removed from their homes and forced to attend the schools in an attempt to assimilate them into the dominant white, Christian culture.

Obama as pro-nuclear disarmament president

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News Analysis
During a single week this month, Barack Obama agreed with Russian President Medvedev to negotiate a new nuclear arms treaty this year, told a big crowd in Prague that he would seek a ban on all nuclear tests as part of a global non-proliferation strategy and emphasized his goal of a world without nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, North Korea fired a rocket over Japan into the Pacific in what was widely seen as a test of a long-range missile that someday could carry a small nuclear warhead.

Obama disarmament speech 'a world changing moment'

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In a remarkable speech for any American leader,President Obama, speaking in Prague on April 5, 2009, provided new hope for a world free of nuclear weapons.

“I state clearly and with conviction,” he said, “America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” He told his audience that America, as the only country to have used nuclear weapons, “has a moral responsibility to act.”

For many years the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has been calling for US leadership for a nuclear weapons-free world, based on the understanding that if the US does not lead, significant progress will not be possible. For the past two presidential terms this leadership has been largely lacking.

During the George W. Bush presidency, the US was the leading obstacle to nuclear disarmament. Now, with President Obama, there is a dramatic shift and the goal of US leadership for a nuclear weapons-free world that once seemed far distant, if not impossible, appears at hand.

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September 26-October 9, 2014

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