Category Archives: USA

After historic flooding, amount of parish, community support is ‘phenomenal’

Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Tennessee., talks with James and Patsy Bradley of Waverly, Tennessee, Aug. 24. The parishioners of St. Patrick Catholic Church in McEwan, Tennessee, said their home was destroyed by the Aug, 21 flooding. (CNS photo/Ka
Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Tennessee., talks with James and Patsy Bradley of Waverly, Tennessee, Aug. 24. The parishioners of St. Patrick Catholic Church in McEwan, Tennessee, said their home was destroyed by the Aug, 21 flooding. (CNS photo/Katie Peterson, Tennessee Register)

Waverly, Tennessee — Henry Kersten was pacing back and forth inside his family’s home in Waverly Aug. 21 when he saw the backyard shed being carried off by the flood waters. His wife, Leslie, was trapped inside.

“It was amazingly fast,” Kersten said. “She was trying to save some things [in the shed]. We never knew the extent that was going to come because we were going by the last flood that we had two years ago.”

The water “started to seep into the shed, and then it came so fast that she didn’t feel safe coming out,” he recalled in an interview with the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Nashville Diocese. “She called me on the phone, told me that she loved me and our children.”

“As I was pacing, I saw the shed get washed away and watched her go by,” he continued. “It took about five hours, but by God’s blessing, a former neighbor … was able to find her.”

Leslie Kersten, who was a parishioner, along with her family, at St. Patrick Church in McEwen, Tennessee, was one of 20 people confirmed dead in the flooding that washed through Humphreys County Aug. 21. Up to 18 inches of rain fell in the area in less than 24 hours, breaking the Tennessee record for one-day rainfall.

When planning for Leslie’s funeral the morning of Aug. 24, Henry Kersten said they chose a quote from the Gospel of Mark for the program cover: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:29-31)

“That’s Lesley’s life in a Bible verse. She loved the church. … The church has been so important in our life,” Kersten said. “She was the epitome of God’s greatest commandment.”

In the darkness of tragedy, Kersten still finds the light of God’s grace.

“God sends his toughest challenges for his strongest soldiers,” Kersten told Nashville Bishop J. Mark Spalding, who visited victims of the Waverly flood Aug. 24.

As Spalding visited flood victims at relief shelters and their destroyed homes, he brought with him a message: “You’re not alone.”

“In times of profound tragedy, presence is the most important thing,” Spalding said. “No matter what crisis we face in life, just knowing another is there with you and for you, especially in our context of faith, to know that God is with us and for us as well is what people need to know.”

On Aug. 20, downpours of rain reaching more than 18 inches hit Humphrey County, about 60 miles west of Nashville. By 8:30 a.m. the next day, the rapidly rising flood waters were crashing through Waverly, wreaking havoc on homes and businesses. Hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed.

“It just came in as an influx,” said Grey Collier, public information officer for the Humphreys County Emergency Management Agency. “Within just 10 to 30 minutes, people went from dry floors to having to climb in their attics.”

Barbara Hooper, flood relief coordinator for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul at St. Patrick Church and conference vice president, said this was the worst flood the community has ever experienced.

“This is like a tsunami in a foreign city, and we’re in a little town in Tennessee,” Hooper said. “Now we’re seeing what they go through all the time.”

On the morning of the flood, Jackie Tate, a middle school language arts teacher at St. Patrick School, and her family were at home and had their bags packed and ready to go.

They were keeping an eye on the back door, where they expected to see the waters rise. But after her husband, Christian, took their dog out in the front yard and saw the rising water headed their way, he rushed inside to warn them to evacuate.

The Tate family was unable to leave in their truck, so they sought shelter at their neighbor’s home on higher ground.

“We knew we might get into the flooding area, but I’ve never seen anything like that,” Tate told the Tennessee Register.

The St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Patrick helped Tate and her family secure a rental property while they wait for government aid.

“They have been an absolute godsend,” Tate said of the parish. “They’re my people.”

On Aug. 24, President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration for Tennessee, making assistance available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to supplement state and local recovery efforts, including in Humphreys County.

FEMA assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Despite the devastation, victims and volunteers said the way the community has come together with clothing and food collections in McEwen and Waverly has been overwhelming.

“The outpouring of support has been phenomenal,” Collier said.

“This is what humanity is,” said Margaret Loose, family friend of St. Patrick parishioners James and Patsy Bradley, who also lost their home.

“This is what the Volunteer State truly means,” Waverly Vice Mayor Mike Goodman added, referring to the state’s nickname.

Tate’s family has already benefited from the collections of food, clothing and supplies.

“It is really amazing to watch, but I’m not surprised,” Tate said. “[This community] will give you the shirt off their back.”

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/after-historic-flooding-amount-parish-community-support-phenomenal

‘This is just another low-paying job’ say overtaxed U.S. firefighters

Firefighters conduct a prescribed burn in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, Oregon, U.S., May 13, 2021. REUTERS/Ilie Mitaru

LOS ANGELES/WASHINGTON, – More than 17 years of fighting wildfires for the U.S. Forest Service has taken a toll on Brian Campbell.

He’s been homeless, once spending months sleeping in a van while fighting fires in the state of Idaho. He routinely is called to drive the engine he captains in Washington state across the country at a moment’s notice to support local crews.

During fire season he spends long stints in the forest without seeing his wife and young children.

Yet his salary is barely enough to get by on – $50,000 a year. Although he loves the job, he’s keeping his eyes open for other work.

“The seasons are longer, and we’re not being treated any better,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview – a view echoed by a half-dozen other current and former wildland firefighters.

As climate change strengthens, bringing hotter temperatures and worsening drought, the United States is entering what experts fear could be yet another devastating fire season.

But 20% of the federal government’s fulltime firefighting positions are currently vacant, according to Kelly Martin, president of the advocacy group Grassroots Wildland Firefighters.

Those vacancies, which Martin attributes to poor working conditions driving firefighters out of their jobs, are leaving communities around the United States more vulnerable, she said.

“With climate change, extreme heat, and drought, we’ve set ourselves up for something I’ve never seen in my career” – a depleting firefighting force at a time of worsening fires, said Martin, who retired in 2019 as chief of fire and aviation at Yosemite National Park.

“It’s too much for understaffed firefighters, with limited pay and benefits, to bear anymore,” she said.

Low pay is a big part of the problem, federal government officials admit, with President Biden calling the $13-an-hour minimum wage for federal firefighters “ridiculously low,” and promising to raise it to $15.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the U.S. Forest Service, admitted that “hiring and retaining firefighters has been complicated by our inability to offer competitive wages”.

But the agency is looking at options to “modernize” firefighter compensation, the spokesperson noted in emailed comments.

‘MONETIZED RISK TAKING’

Lawmakers from western states where the fires are fiercest have been eyeing broader changes to the federal government’s role in combating wildfires and say those on the front lines deserve proper safeguards.

“I do think we need to take a look at a range of issues on compensation, including what jobs need to be permanent jobs rather than temporary jobs and what we need to do for health care,” Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The federal firefighting force includes full-time firefighters as well as seasonal and temporary workers who are laid off during the off-season. Those firefighters are in turn supplemented by state and municipal fire crews and in some states jail and prison inmates who are paid as little as $2 a day to cut firebreaks.

For the bulk of federal firefighters, salaries tend to be lower than comparable work with other fire departments, Martin said – and only full-time workers have access to paid health benefits.

The way most firefighters make ends meet is by racking up significant hours of overtime, Martin said, setting up a perverse incentive to work too hard, and possibly get injured or burned out.

“If they pay more, firefighters wouldn’t need to be working overtime to get a livable wage,” she said. “In a perverted way we’ve monetized risk taking.”

One former federal firefighter in New Mexico, who recently left to join a municipal fire department, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that the low pay and lack of benefits forced him out of his job

“I worked for five years as a seasonal firefighter, starting at $13 an hour, and ending at $15. In the end it was just too stressful to make ends meet, ” he said, asking for anonymity to speak freely about working conditions.

Like Campbell, the firefighter also spent some seasons sleeping in his car, unable to afford rent.

WARNING SIGNS

Firefighting services in the United States have become increasingly in demand in recent years, experts say, as a combination of limited wildland management and climate change has increased the duration, extent and ferocity of the fire season.

2020 study published by researchers at Stanford University found that 50 million U.S. homes are now located in zones that are threatened by fire.

But authorities have not invested in the manpower needed to protect them, despite repeated warnings, said Donovan Lee, who spent 22 years as a federal firefighter, most recently as deputy forest fire management officer at Mendocino National Forest in California.

Before Lee quit last year he served on a task force studying staff retention issues in California. He circulated a memo warning that the Forest Service was “currently losing employees at an alarming rate to employers offering better compensation and overall quality of life.”

“Every year for the last five years it’s getting worse and worse,” he told Thomson Reuters Foundation. “You make more money at McDonalds”

One of the issues Lee spotlighted in his memo was the classification of federal wildland firefighters as “forestry technicians” which means they don’t get the same specialized healthcare provision as city and state firefighters.

In an effort to boost firefighter recruitment, a bipartisan group of U.S. federal lawmakers earlier this year introduced legislation that would require the Office of Personnel Management to reclassify the position from technician to “wildland firefighter.”

The year after Lee circulated his memo, in 2019, the United States experienced one of the worst wildfire seasons on record, with firefighters stretched so thin they, unusually, had to abandon some residential areas to fire.

This year, Washington state – hit by drought and record heat – has already seen a 56% increase in fires compared to the same point last year.

Firefighting units, meanwhile, are still experiencing dramatic attrition.

One hotshot firefighter – the term for a member of an elite firefighting crew – described seeing 16 members of his 20-person team leave over the past three years.

“All of us are concerned about the breakdown of our bodies from carrying 80 pounds and a chainsaw all day,” he said. “After a while the glamour fades – and you realize: this is just another low-paying job.”

https://news.trust.org/item/20210714093414-wpkb3/

Malaysia to review recruitment fees, agreements after U.S trafficking report

FILE PHOTO: A police officer instructs workers during a spot check at a factory, during an enhanced lockdown, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shah Alam, Malaysia July 3, 2021. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

KUALA LUMPUR, – Malaysia will examine recruitment fees charged to workers and review its agreements with the home countries of migrant workers, the Human Resources Ministry said, after the Southeast Asian nation was downgraded in a U.S human trafficking report.

The U.S. State Department last week ranked Malaysia in ‘Tier 3’ in this year’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report and said forced labour is the predominant human trafficking crime in the country.

Malaysia’s Human Resources Ministry said it viewed the issues raised in the TIP report seriously.

“The government will continue to give attention to challenges in addressing forced labour issues, especially those involving foreign workers, and will continue to implement various improvements to existing initiatives,” minister Saravanan Murugan said in a statement on Monday.

The ministry has received 4,636 complaints from workers between May and July 4 via a new mobile app, and had taken action in 3,502 cases, including investigating allegations of forced labour, he said.

Malaysia depends on about two million documented migrant workers from countries like Bangladesh, Nepal and India to make everything from palm oil to rubber gloves.

Saravanan said the ministry would review the levies imposed by private recruitment agents and check whether there were any hidden charges that might lead to risks of exploitation and debt bondage.

“The Ministry will also review the memorandum of understanding that has been and will be signed with the source countries in particular to strengthen the element of protection of worker’s rights and, at the same time, not burden employers,” he said.

A national action plan on forced labour and child labour is also expected to be finalised in the fourth quarter, Saravanan added.

Malaysia’s state-funded National Human Rights Commission in a statement said the government had taken some initiatives to address human trafficking, but more transparency, law enforcement capacity and stronger labour laws were still needed. 

https://news.trust.org/item/20210705055530-wxl4b/

EarthBeat Weekly: Record-breaking heat helps make climate change feel ‘real’

A digital sign in Seattle shows a temperature reading of 109 degrees Fahrenheit June 28, 2021. (CNS photo/Jason Redmond, Reuters)

This week, climate change was on many people’s minds in the U.S. because of the brutal heat wave that struck the country, especially the Pacific Northwest, where Portland, Oregon, set temperature records on three consecutive days, and Seattle set two in a row.

More than 60 deaths that may have been heat-related were reported in Oregon, along with 10 times that many visits to emergency rooms and urgent-care clinics. In western Canada, there were hundreds more deaths than usual during those few days, leading officials to suspect they were related to the extreme temperatures in the region.

Surveys show that exposure to hot, dry days tends to make people more likely to say that they have experienced the effects of climate change, so the convergence of events in the West, where heat is combining with drought, may lead to greater support for climate legislation.

Coinciding with the heat wave, environmental and Indigenous activists descended on Washington, D.C., chaining themselves to White House gates as they called on President Joe Biden not to weaken his infrastructure proposal that he has been negotiating with Republicans in Congress. Critics fear that the bipartisan agreement that was reached could water down measures aimed at combating climate change.

The heat wave certainly underscores the urgency of legislation aimed at strengthening the country’s infrastructure in the face of climate change, as power cables for Portland’s rapid transit system melted and electricity use strained power grids. It remains to be seen whether the extreme weather out west will move the needle in Congress, but it may become more and more difficult for skeptical lawmakers to deny the consequences of a warming climate.

This was also a momentous week for EarthBeat, as the National Catholic Reporter Publishing Co. announced that it was divesting of fossil fuel stocks.

NCR environment correspondent Brian Roewe reported on the decision by the NCR board of directors, which unanimously approved adding to the company’s investment policy statement — the document that guides financial decisions related to its $12.7 million endowment — both a screen against fossil fuel companies and an endorsement of investments in renewable energies.

Roewe has been reporting for a number of years on the growing divestment movement in the Catholic Church. In some cases, students are pushing their universities to divest. In other cases, religious groups or organizations are making the decision based on faith, and financial, convictions.

Other groups, however, continue to hold just enough shares in fossil fuel companies that they can propose shareholder actions aimed at forcing the companies to be more accountable. In May, activist shareholders gained ground with efforts targeting ExxonMobil and Chevron.

This week, Claire Giangrave at Religion News Service takes a behind-the-scenes look at how faith groups and participants in the Vatican-promoted “Economy of Francesco” project played a key role in those shareholder actions.

Activist shareholders are not the only ones taking aim at fossil fuel companies. There is a growing wave of lawsuits by cities and states around the U.S. that are based on the growing evidence that oil and gas companies have known for decades that the burning of fossil fuels was causing Earth’s climate to warm abnormally, but covered up that research.

Chris McGreal at The Guardian provides a good overview of the issue. And Sarah DeWeerdt at The Anthropocene reports on a study that indicates that climate lawsuits could be more successful in linking government or corporate actions to harm from climate change if they made better use of scientific evidence.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/earthbeat-weekly-record-breaking-heat-helps-make-climate-change-feel-real

As newly arrived immigrants move beyond US-Mexico border, sisters are there to help

Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Mary Alice McCabe welcomes an Angolan father and son to the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, in January 2020. (Courtesy of Mary Alice McCabe)
Notre Dame de Namur Sr. Mary Alice McCabe welcomes an Angolan father and son to the Humanitarian Respite Center in McAllen, Texas, in January 2020. (Courtesy of Mary Alice McCabe)

Successfully crossing the United States’ southern border is only the beginning for the thousands of migrants who don’t plan on building a home on the finish line.

Health care, legal assistance, interpretation, housing and financial aid, work — though the needs are many, migrants throughout the United States can look to women religious whose ministries focus on directing them to services they may not know how to find for themselves.

A quick rundown of Sr. Mary Alice McCabe’s many regular tasks provides some insight to the challenges that come with such a dramatic resettling, as the Sister of Notre Dame de Namur does what she can to help the immigrants who entered the country illegally and refugees in her city of Baltimore.

Lately, McCabe has been interpreting for migrants out of her car by phone, connecting them with social, legal or health services. Sometimes it’s to help them receive financial supplements and rent aid or sort out their documents; other times, it’s interpreting for their lawyers or at health clinics.

She also helps women with high-risk pregnancies who have recently arrived in the United States, accompanying them before and during the birth and, sometimes, through “really tragic situations” in which the babies have died.

When she learned of an immigrant family about to come to Baltimore, she used her personal contacts to set them up with housing. McCabe also recalled working with a Honduran woman who had broken her knee while traveling through Mexico, offering her assistance and getting her in touch with hospitals.

“If you shop around and keep going, you find out that it is possible to get free health care for immigrants in emergency situations,” she said.

Then there’s the social accompaniment, which includes attending birthday parties and gatherings at immigrants’ homes to maintain a relationship and a sense of community.

Typically, sisters find themselves ministering to immigrants who have already established a life in their new town or city rather than those newly arrived to the United States after processing at the border.

Sisters who spoke with Global Sisters Report say that perhaps newly arrived immigrants don’t connect with sisters quickly because they’re still in survival mode. The basics are their focus: toiletries, cellphone chargers, shelter, food.

“They are at various degrees of suspicion with us,” said Mercy Sr. Anne Connolly, speaking from her experience in McAllen, Texas. Exchanging just a few words with them, however, can ease their “angst.”

Their lingering trauma, too, makes it difficult for them to open up. But once they do, sisters are there to help.

As a counselor at Holy Cross Ministries in Salt Lake City, Sr. Verónica Fajardo of the Sisters of the Holy Cross hears her fair share of heartbreaking stories from migrants who have been referred to her for their mental health needs. Some of the migrants are victims of labor trafficking, sexual assault, abuse or being held captive; others have witnessed the death of family members or describe vividly a grueling journey to the United States from South or Central America.

Often, she witnesses post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and/or anxiety and gets immigrants in touch with crisis clinics if they are suicidal. The increase in numbers of newly arrived immigrants in the city has led to a waiting list for Holy Cross Ministries’ counseling services, though the ministry also offers case management and health services.

“I can empathize with their experience of trying to leave war or violence because it’s my own story,” said Fajardo, who is originally from Nicaragua. “So, having come to the United States as an immigrant in a totally different time period but with similar circumstances, there’s an understanding of that kind of difficulty of resettling in a new place, having a lot of questions, having difficulties in the new place.”

Her clients who are new to the United States, she said, often wind up living in neighborhoods with high levels of crime, leaving them vulnerable to robberies and physical assaults.

“It’s difficult, so I feel that it’s great that we can provide the services and accompany people as much as we can … supporting them and helping them deal with their symptoms,” she said.

Ministry to ‘our sisters and brothers’

Located in 49 states with more than 380 organizations, the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc. (CLINIC) is the country’s largest charitable legal immigration network, training nonprofit immigration lawyers to provide affordable representation.

In Miami, Mercy Sr. Rosemary Sabino, an emeritus member of the CLINIC board of directors, said the increase in demand has led the local CLINIC office to be appointment-only rather than accepting walk-ins as usual. But with their help, immigrants receive the legal assistance necessary to help them stay in the United States or facilitate any other documentation they need. One of their tasks included attempting to reunite mothers with their children after they were separated at the border.

“It hasn’t been very successful,” she said. “We’ve reunited some, but we have a long way to go, and it’s only going to get done through legal work.”

Now, Sabino said, CLINIC is also helping immigrants who have been picked up for criminal offenses, most of whom have mental illnesses and/or are experiencing homelessness, particularly by helping them with paperwork to access the mental health services or housing for which they qualify. (Thanks to a grant from Sabino’s Mercy sisters, which a corporation matched in donations, Miami’s CLINIC now has $30,000 for this effort.)

Typically, these immigrants are made homeless as a result of not having work permits, she said — exactly the kind of thing that CLINIC can help with.

“It’s not as difficult as you would think because we need workers,” said Sabino, who has been with CLINIC for 20 years. “That’s a true statement all over the United States, but I don’t think a lot of states are willing to admit that. Here in Florida, we admit we need workers.”

Outside Chicago, Mercy Sr. JoAnn Persch leads longtime ministries on behalf of migrants, advocating for those in jails and detention in her city and organizing efforts such as public protests and mass prayers while sending money to those locked up.

Lately, her advocacy has included a project called Harper Hospitality, in which Persch and her fellow organizers work with churches and religious communities to sponsor housing for those newly released from detention, helping them establish a community while also offering a case manager if they have pending legal needs.

Persch’s and her volunteers’ presence is made known almost immediately to those arriving in Chicago by bus. When they learn migrants are about to arrive, a team arrives at the bus station as early as 4 a.m. with backpacks and basic necessities for the newly arrived migrants, who often have nothing but plastic bags on hand with their few items.

Throughout the pandemic lockdown, Persch said their programs never ceased running.

“We are committed to our immigrants, our sisters and brothers,” she said.

Like Persch, Mercy Sr. Judy Carle and her community in Burlingame, California, respond to migrants’ needs however they can, teaming up with local groups to form an interfaith solidarity committee. One of their more regular focuses has been accompanying migrants to their immigration hearings.

Now, their advocacy includes what they call a “freedom campaign.” Carle said the group connects with immigrants who did time in jail for crimes they committed as teenagers but who, upon release, are then put into detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“We’ve been involved with many of these cases; we know who they are, we know their families, and we’ve gone to their hearings on a regular basis,” she said, adding that some cases do end in deportation.

Finding sponsors for housing is also on the group’s radar. They use their interfaith network to find congregations or parishes willing to take in new immigrants.

McCabe said ministering to new immigrants also entails reaching the larger population to educate them on the importance of these new arrivals to the nation.

“They’re good people. They’re family-oriented, they’re workers, and they just want a chance. They’re respectful of the country and are so grateful for anything,” she said.

“Those who know the immigrants up close and see their faces and hear their stories, they have no problem whatsoever in saying, ‘Welcome.’ It’s those who don’t know, who don’t get close to them, who have a different attitude.”

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/ministry/news/newly-arrived-immigrants-move-beyond-us-mexico-border-sisters-are-there-help

Black American families strive to build a town free from racism

People camp out on land in central Georgia where organizers hope to create a new town of Freedom, seen July 2020. Handout photograph by FGI2020, LLC.

WASHINGTON, – Haunted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on Black people and reports of police violence against their community, a group of families in the southern state of Georgia have banded together to create a town called Freedom.

“We were watching the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and all of the other people we can name,” said Ashley Scott, one of the effort’s organizers, referring to Black victims of police violence killed last year.

“My friend and I were just depressed and feeling like we needed to be able to do something to protect our husbands and sons.”

They found a 96-acre (39-hectare) property for sale in central Georgia, and came up with a 10-year-plus timeline and a vision of using the land to build intergenerational wealth, something financial experts say is key to closing the racial wealth gap.

The families purchased the property in August 2020, and after some social media and news coverage, “we went viral,” Scott, 34, a realtor in Atlanta, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.

“We had thousands of people reach out saying they wanted to move to Freedom.”

Today, the group’s 19 founding Black families has amassed more than 500 acres in two parcels.

Aiming to be a model for equity, energy efficiency, local food production and more, the Freedom project has drawn political support as an opportunity to build a community from the ground up.

“It’s truly a situation where we’re taking our destiny in our own hands,” said Democratic State Representative Mandisha Thomas, whose district does not include Freedom but who sits on the project’s advisory board.

Even as they wade through the logistics of how to set up the complex systems an incorporated city would need, Scott and the others behind the initiative are planning to break ground by next year, starting with a visitor and conference center.

Speed is important, Scott said: “We don’t know when another George Floyd might happen. We want to move as quickly as possible to create this safe haven, so we can replicate it.”

‘IT FELT EMPOWERING’

Physically the project is still little more than the two parcels of land, mostly located on an old lumber farm, with rolling hills, a creek and wide views.

“When I first experienced the land, touched the land, it felt surreal – it felt empowering,” said Aqeela Reyad, one of Freedom’s founding members.

There are still fundamental obstacles to creating Freedom, the organizers said.

The families will need about 100 more acres of land in order to incorporate as a city, for instance, a process that will also need to go before a local ballot and a series of political entities.

They are also fundraising to be able to access a line of credit, hoping to raise the last of the $500,000 they need during a celebration next month for Juneteenth, the holiday marking the end of slavery in 1865.

Local officials on the county board of commissioners, in the nearby town of Toomsboro, and at the local Chamber of Commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

The state Department of Economic Development declined to comment.

PRIORITIZING THE POOR

As audacious as the project may seem, it fits into a long tradition of Black Americans seeking to create havens from white oppression, said Thomas Healy, who teaches at Seton Hall University’s School of Law in New Jersey.

Most of those communities were small agricultural centers, but some would thrive for a period, amassing several thousand residents.

One of the most ambitious was in North Carolina in the late 1960s, when a civil rights activist named Floyd McKissick sought to use a federal “new towns” program to create what he called Soul City, said Healy, who wrote a book on the subject.

McKissick viewed Soul City – which would be inclusive, but predominantly Black – as the last step in the emancipation of Black people in the United States, Healy said.

And the effort went much further than most anticipated, with 3,500 acres under development for a decade, complete with infrastructure, neighborhoods and public services, he said.

But McKissick was never able to convince factories and industry to relocate to Soul City to power the local economy, and the project eventually unraveled.

As the plan to create Freedom gets underway, the country is still dealing with many of the same issues that McKissick was seeking to address, Healy said.

“If Black people weren’t worried about driving down the street and being pulled over by police and being shot, and if they had an equal stake in the wealth of this country, there would be no need for a place like Freedom,” he said by phone.

“But that’s not the world we live in,” Healy continued, pointing to disproportionate levels of police violence toward African Americans and the massive wealth and employment gaps between Black and white communities.

Government data shows white families are 10 times wealthier than Black families, while the number of unemployed Black Americans has increased 40% since March 2020 compared to 34% for white Americans.

‘BEACON OF HOPE’

Tabitha Ball, a psychologist in Atlanta, had been noticing rising levels of anxiety among her patients amid the pandemic, driven by the stresses of the health emergency and the racial tensions that gripped the country following Floyd’s death.

“It was a heavy, heavy time,” Ball said. “There were very high levels of fear.”

One of those patients told her about the Freedom initiative, and now Ball is the project’s managing partner, with a pair of two-acre plots for her and her husband.

“It really did feel like a major beacon of hope to be part of a project where we could literally build something for ourselves, and something that would offer us the opportunity to grow and thrive however we saw fit,” she said.

Owning land had long been important in her family, but it was something she had not yet gotten around to prioritizing, said Ball, who has two nine-year-old sons.

“When they heard of the land and went out there one of the first times, they said, ‘This is all ours?’ And my husband said, ‘This is our land.’ And they had big smiles on their faces,” she said.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210525080816-ni4q7/

Stopping the last tar sands pipeline will take all of us

Protesters surround construction equipment used to drill a path for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline near Haypoint, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2021. (© Keri Pickett)
Protesters surround construction equipment used to drill a path for the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline near Haypoint, Minnesota, Jan. 9, 2021. (© Keri Pickett)

PALISADE, MINNESOTA — In normal times, about 100 souls live in this small Northern Minnesota town on the banks of the Mississippi River where we are making our stand against one of the largest tar sands pipeline projects in North America. Known as Line 3, it has the potential to carry 915,000 barrels a day of dirty oil over 1,000 miles, from Alberta in Canada to Superior, Wisconsin. Palisade is the kind of place where most people know one another a couple of generations back, a town with a tiny main street and just one café. Now there are about 400 workers here — most from out of state — rolling heavy trucks and equipment down icy, windy unfamiliar roads every day.

This small town is nestled in the deep woods and muskegs of Aitkin County, the lands of the Chippewa of the Mississippi, as my people are known. Akiing, the Anishinaabe word for “the land to which the people belong,” is half land and half water. Waters deep and shallow filled with wild rice, sturgeon and muskies, and all the mysteries of the deep waters. This is the only place in the world where wild rice grows. Each year in succession the manoomin returns, the only grain native to North America. This is the homeland of the Anishinaabe.

And here Enbridge, the largest pipeline company in the world, is hell-bent on jamming through their Line 3 Pipeline, the company’s most massive project, under the cover of this COVID-19 winter as fast as they can—before we can stop them and before the world takes notice.

From the Water Protector Center at the edge of the pipeline route, Water Protectors gather. We hear the pounding all day long. The constant roar of heavy machinery as it rips through the forest and the wetlands. It’s brutal work, and dangerous as hell. Last month, Jorge Lopez Villafuerte was killed in the Enbridge Pipeyard, run over by a forklift. He came here from Utah for work. Instead, he found death. Enbridge halted work in the area for less than four hours — and then the pounding began again.

Then there’s the armed forces, the sheriff’s office, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) who have deployed here. Their wages are paid by Enbridge. That’s because Minnesota noted the $38 million bill for Standing Rock, and decided just to pay in advance. A Canadian corporation paying for the police in Minnesota.

It looks like an occupation. It feels like an occupation. With all the violence that entails.

First the big dozers came, then the excavators, backhoes and feller bunchers. That last one just sort of walks through the forest, beheads a tree, drops the top to one side, and then comes back for the rest of the tree. This is how Enbridge rolls through a forest. They are gunning for the rivers now, heading straight for them: the Mississippi, the Willow, the Shell, the Little Shell, the Crow Wing: 22 river crossings in all. They are coming with something called a High Directional Drill. So they can drill under the river, just like they did at Standing Rock, at the Cannonball River. It feels a lot like a rape.

They don’t want us to see what they are doing. Last week, they put up a fence around the drill site. They plan to shove in that 36-inch pipe, so it can move 915,000 barrels a day of the dirtiest oil in the world across 330 miles of Northern Minnesota to Lake Superior.

We have been fighting this pipeline for seven years. And so far we’ve held it off in the courts and through the permitting process. The carbon output would be equivalent to opening 50 new coal plants—more carbon emissions than the entire current Minnesota economy. And all this for a dying industry. Energy companies and investors are fleeing the tar sands. Keystone XL is doomed, Dakota Access is in a legal mess (federal courts have ruled that its Environmental Impact Statement is inadequate). Enbridge itself is putting 400,000 barrels a day less through its main lines than they did a year ago. But the company still wants to sell this last pipeline. The Last Tar Sands Pipeline. Our governor, Tim Walz, took the bait. Minnesota needs real infrastructure: water, sewer and bridges. But we’re getting a climate bomb pipeline instead.

Enbridge would like to start flooding the north country with oil, as quick as it can. The Red Lake and White Earth tribes and even the Minnesota Department of Commerce have filed suit in state courts to overturn all the permits on this pipeline. On Christmas Eve, we filed in federal court to overturn the Army Corps of Engineers’ permits to cross the rivers. There has been no federal Environmental Impact Statement. We have a pretty good chance of prevailing in court. So Enbridge wants to finish this dirty work before the law comes.

On the bank of the Mississippi in the pathway of the pipeline, there is a prayer lodge, a waaginoogan, a ceremonial teaching lodge, and we have been praying there. We’ve built lodges like this on the shores of the river for generations. We built the lodge before Enbridge.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Tania Aubid and I returned to our lodge and found a stake in it, an Enbridge pipeline right-of-way stake. That was a surprise. One of the conditions of Enbridge’s permits is that they are supposed to have cultural monitors out ahead of the pipeline. But of course they didn’t. They just put a stake in the middle of the lodge. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources issued an “exclusion order” on Dec. 5, excluding Minnesotans from public lands they had given to Enbridge. That’s public lands, handed over to a Canadian corporation. I was cited by Aitkin County for trespassing, as I left my lodge. We contend that our spiritual practice, guaranteed by the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, supersedes the ordinance. The Creator gave us a right to pray, not Minnesota. We put up a “No Trespassing” sign with the American Indian Religious Freedom Act cited on it — USC 42. The lodge is still there. And so are we.

And not just in Palisade. Indigenous people and our allies are resisting across the whole pathway of this pipeline, from near the Red Lake Reservation in the Northwest, where a new camp just opened, to the Fond du Lac reservation on the eastern end, where Water Protectors have been disrupting the destruction everyday. This past month we’ve been praying by the river, and asking others to come. And they have answered the call: legislators, friends from the cities, people of all religious faiths, relatives from South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, water protectors from all four directions to sing those Water Songs, as Enbridge drills.

When the pipeline project was one month in, 44 people already had been arrested. Forty-four good people who put their bodies on the line because they believe in water more than oil. And more are coming every day.

We are digging in for the winter. After all, we’ve got good genes and warm clothes, and being outside during the pandemic is a good idea. But, really, we are looking to Washington now. This is the Pandemic Pipeline Project, and it shouldn’t happen. It’s the end of the tar sands era, and it’s time for a just transition. A new president says he will take action on climate change; the Army Corps of Engineers needs to do an environmental impact statement; and we want the court to stay the project, so we can have our day in court. In the meantime, the movement grows, to stand for the water.

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/stopping-last-tar-sands-pipeline-will-take-all-us

Crowdfunding donations surge for homeless Texans in winter storm

A person sleeps on a chair while taking a shelter at Gallery Furniture store which opened its door and transformed into a warming station after winter weather caused electricity blackouts in Houston, Texas, U.S. February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Go Nakamura

Crowdfunding has led to a surge in donations to accommodate and feed homeless people in Austin, Texas, in the midst of a deadly storm that has left millions without power.

Within less than a week, more than $235,000 has poured in from across the United States and abroad on the fundraising platform GoFundMe, helping nonprofit Austin Mutual Aid.

The storm has engulfed much of the United States, leaving millions in Texas, the nation’s second most populous state, without power for three days, and killing at least 21 people across four states.

The homeless population in Texas is particularly vulnerable, with cities across the state scrambling to provide shelter in hotels, churches, and other buildings, and state capital Austin estimated to be home to about 2,500 homeless people.

“The funding coming in from around the world really is a huge weight off our backs,” said Bobby Cooper, who founded the volunteer-run Austin Mutual Aid in March 2020 in response to COVID-19.

He said they have received reports of people dying in the streets and local authorities should have done more to prepare shelters when they knew a storm was coming.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler blamed the power failures on a lack of preparedness and also called for reforms.

“We could have done this work before the storm hit,” Cooper said. “These were preventable deaths.”

The nonprofit is spending thousands on hotel rooms and food, often by cash and credit from local volunteers, many of whom are low income and need to be reimbursed quickly, Cooper said, adding so far they had helped more than 400 people into hotels.

Supporters in the United States are also donating thousands more through the payment app Venmo.

About 27,000 people are homeless on any day in Texas as of January 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Cooper said dozens of volunteers have been driving around the city to find and help homeless people.

But it is getting increasingly harder to find vacant hotel rooms and other spaces for people to shelter, said Eric Samuels, president and chief executive of the Texas Homeless Network, which supports homeless agencies across the state.

He said communities need to find whatever space they can, from convention centers to city-owned buildings with power.

Samuels said COVID-19 has made their efforts especially difficult due to social distancing and a lack of volunteers.

“During these times, we need more facility space than we ever would because we have to keep people separated,” he said.

The issue hasn’t affected all Texans equally.

About 37% of the homeless population in Texas is Black, according to HUD, despite making up only 13% of the total state population of about 29 million.

“The unhoused, the poorest populations, people of color – they’re at the end of the priority list with any disaster,” said Cooper.

https://news.trust.org/item/20210217220921-zdqv3/

What do we owe immigrants? Love, says Archbishop Gomez

Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA
Archbishop José H. Gómez of Los Angeles. / Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

CNA Staff, – During a webinar on human dignity this week, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles reflected on immigration and the Christian’s obligation to love.

Gomez, who is president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, spoke on Jan. 12 at the 21st annual Winter Conference for the Notre Dame de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. He highlighted the dangers a secular society poses to a culture’s understanding of human dignity, especially toward immigrants. 

“As we know, the condition of migrants and refugees has been one of the key moral concerns of [Pope Francis’] pontificate. And it is true: forced migration, mass movements of populations, is one of the signs of our times. Not since World War II has the world faced this kind of refugee crisis,” he said. 

“We are all brothers and sisters, and we need to treat others as we want to be treated. As faithful citizens, we need to work to ensure that our nation is welcoming and generous, that we never close our hearts or turn our backs on people in need.”

The theme of the conference is “We Belong to Each Other,” which is taken from a quote by Saint Mother Teresa: “Today, if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” 

Taking place Jan. 12-14, the webinar includes speakers such as noted moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, Notre Dame law school dean Marcus Cole, and California State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia.

In his talk, Gomez reflected on the Christian obligation to welcome the stranger.

“As Christians, we worship a God who has revealed himself as Love. And as Christians, we know that human beings are made in the image of this God, in the image of Love,” he said.

“We are created out of love. And we are made to love. To love as Jesus loved, and as Mother Teresa and the saints love. Whenever I hear this story, I am reminded of that beautiful saying from St. Augustine, ‘If you see love, you see the Trinity.’ This is the truth about God, the truth about the human person.”

Gomez has advocated for immigrant and refugee rights for over 20 years. He noted that the United Nations estimates that 80 million people in the world have been forcibly displaced by war, persecution, social unrest, and economic distress – including about 40 million children. 

“They are living on the run; they are exploited by human smugglers and some of them are being sold into slavery,” he said. 

“Their living conditions have been made even more desperate now, because of the pandemic and the closing of borders,” he added. “But the global refugee crisis – like so many of the troubles in the world – is more than a failure of politics or diplomacy. It’s a failure of human fraternity and solidarity. It’s a failure of love.”

The archbishop pointed to Pope Francis’s latest encyclical, Fratelli tutti. He said the pope has issued this encyclical as a missionary appeal to share God’s love in a heavily secular culture. 

Catholics must respond to this calling by sharing the truth about God’s love and the Christian family, he said.

“Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand our Christian commitments – for immigrants and refugees, for the poor, the unborn, the imprisoned, the sick, the environment. Unless we know these truths, we cannot understand how to create a society that will be good for human beings. “

“To put our challenge in its simplest terms: unless we believe that we have a Father in heaven, there’s no necessary reason for us [to] treat one another as brothers and sisters on earth,” he said. 

During his many years advocating for immigration reform, the archbishop said he has repeatedly encountered the question – “What do we owe to the migrant?” Simply put, he said, Christians are obliged to show love, recognizing that an immigrant’s dignity is not qualified by his legal or social status. 

“Love means remembering that they are souls, not statistics. They are men and women and children with dreams and hopes, no different than you,” he explained.

“Every immigrant and refugee is a child of God, made in his image. Every one of them has rights and dignity that can never be denied,” he said. “And that’s true whether they are in this country legally or not; and that’s true whether they’re eligible for asylum under our laws or not.”

Amid an atmosphere of political tension and division, Gomez challenged Catholics to remember that God is the Father of all people and to bear witness to God’s love. 

“We need to tell our neighbors about the God who is love. We need to tell them the good news that we are all children of God, that there is a greatness to human life,” he said. “That every one of us is created in God’s image, endowed with God-given rights and responsibilities, and called to a transcendent destiny.”

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/what-do-we-owe-immigrants-love-says-archbishop-gomez

Sisters adapt food ministries to cope with pandemic, surge of those in need

Hour Children food pantry participant and Queens resident Jackie Terrasi, left, receives a food package from pantry coordinator Kellie Phelan. The pantry, based in New York City, is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa
Hour Children food pantry participant and Queens resident Jackie Terrasi, left, receives a food package from pantry coordinator Kellie Phelan. The pantry, based in New York City, is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald. (GSR photo/Chris Herlinger)

In a time of uncertainty, one thing U.S. women religious and others who have been providing food during the COVID-19 pandemic know for sure is that the number of those who need food assistance has risen dramatically and continues to rise.

Officials from Feeding America, a national network of more than 200 food banks, told The Washington Post they have distributed 5 billion meals this year, and 40% of their food bank clients are people who have never relied on them before.

And food insecurity is projected to get worse: There could be 50 million food-insecure Americans by the end of 2020, up from 35 million at the start of 2020, the Post reported. But unless Congress can break its deadlock on what assistance to provide, the federal food programs supplying about half of the food that food banks distribute will end.

At a New York City food pantry that is an initiative of Hour Children, a ministry headed by St. Joseph Sr. Tesa Fitzgerald, the number of families using the pantry’s service is roughly double what it was over the summer.

Kellie Phelan, the food pantry’s coordinator, is struck by the number of new faces she sees in the lines every week. Many are young people, and many are coming from different boroughs in New York City.

“People are coming from everywhere,” she said.

Phelan told Global Sisters Report that while the number of families using the pantry’s services declined in the summer months from an early peak during the initial months of the pandemic, the numbers now are as high as they’ve been all year — about 700 a week.

The pantry, located in the Long Island City area of the borough of Queens, is open three times a week, and each day is averaging more than 200 clients, Phelan said. And she expects the numbers to stay that high or even increase in the coming months.

“There’s a lot of panic thinking right now,” she said. “Nobody knows what tomorrow is going to bring.”

Local community groups in Queens are helping restock pantry shelves through food drives in which volunteers ask shoppers at nearby grocery stores to buy canned foods and other nonperishables and donate them as they leave the stores.

Those efforts have been a huge success, Phelan said, helping to “completely restock” the Hour Children pantry shelves. “We’re beyond grateful.”

Because of social distancing concerns, the pantry earlier this year changed procedures, and clients now come to a table where they receive a prepackaged bag of food items rather than entering the pantry premises and picking items “supermarket style.” Those procedures remain in place, Phelan said, as do social distancing guidelines of people standing 6 feet apart.

But even with those guidelines in place, Phelan said, many clients are uncomfortable, particularly elderly people who are guarded about standing in line.

“It can be a scary situation for them,” she said. “They are scared, sad, but still grateful.”

The House of Bread, a 40-year-old soup kitchen in the poorest neighborhood of Hartford, Connecticut, has also seen a change in its regular patrons.

St. Joseph Sr. Maureen Faenza, one of the kitchen’s directors, said people addicted to drugs and those experiencing chronic homelessness are no longer the usual faces who come through for one hot breakfast and one hot lunch a day.

Though some still visit the kitchen, now, the House of Bread is largely seeing “neighborhood people, poor people, families who are struggling because they have lost their jobs and income,” she said.

Faenza, co-founder and co-director of the House of Bread alongside St. Joseph Sr. Theresa Fonti, said since the start of the pandemic, the city has placed their homeless clients in hotels or other housing while their daytime shelter attached to the kitchen has had to shut down because of the pandemic.

Fortunately, the House of Bread was able to maintain operations throughout the pandemic, though they have had to manage with fewer volunteers, as some were elderly and couldn’t take on the risk of exposing themselves to the virus, Faenza said.

With glass partitions protecting patrons who dine in, the kitchen is able to continue serving about 200 meals a day, with half of the visitors choosing to take their meals to go. And while the House of Bread usually delivers an additional 600 meals to children throughout the city, local schools have managed to provide those meals for the time being, though Faenza said they’ll restart that program in January.

In terms of stock, Faenza said they haven’t had a problem: This year’s annual fundraiser was done as a drive-thru Nov. 18 and was “extremely successful,” Faenza said. “We’ve been fortunate as far as donations and food.”

But just a few miles over in West Hartford, Mercy Sr. Beth Fischer’s ministry has had to make some adjustments that — while understandable and necessary — have been tough to swallow; namely, the lack of human connection between the volunteering students and the patrons at local food pantries.

Fischer oversees the community engagement office at the University of St. Joseph, where she works with students who are volunteers and those who do community clinicals and internships.

“For the 15 years I’ve been doing this work through the university, I’ve seen the transformation on the part of the students who get to meet people that they might not necessarily meet, but in a class, they might hear about it. And these experiences really touch them,” she said.

https://www.globalsistersreport.org/news/coronavirus/news/sisters-adapt-food-ministries-cope-pandemic-surge-those-need