Busted Halo
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April 13th, 2010
My visit to Mumbai's red light district

So this is where my work for Catholic Relief Services had led me: to a brothel. I was in the middle of a red light district in the go-go city of Mumbai on India’s west coast. The social worker we were with strolled casually into a shed-like doorway and starting chatting with one of the women. I stood tensely, aware that in the metal cubby right behind me a young woman in a spangled sari was sleeping soundly.

It was midday and there was no “activity” going on. But the tiny, sardine-tin brothel — its walls painted an incongruous robin’s egg blue — was appalling enough. Each woman slept and worked in a metal room that was perhaps eight feet by six feet, far smaller than walk-in closets I’ve seen in America. A footlocker was on a shelf above the narrow plank-like bed. Sometimes, my guide told me, the women’s children were kept under the bed at night — occasionally drugged so as not to make noise that would disturb clients.

When the social worker — a Catholic Relief Services partner — walks through this neighborhood, she’s focused on how to get the women’s kids in school. She’d seen it all. I hadn’t. It was unnerving to think how many women were in the brothels that honeycombed these alleys.

Worst of all was thinking how many were there against their will. My guides and I walked out of the brothel quietly — it seemed easy enough. A few children and older women on the side street stared at us. We kept on for a few blocks until we reached our car.

Hundreds of young women can’t walk away. “There are henchmen hanging around to catch any prostitute who tries to escape,” says Priti Patkar matter-of-factly. For twenty-five years, Priti and her husband have worked to save the thousands of teenage girls who are brought to the red-light district under duress, often tricked by acquaintances or even family members. The girls are held for years, working as unpaid prostitutes to make money for owners who buy and sell them. The Patkars head up Prerana — “Inspiration” — a CRS partner that helps girls who are rescued.

April 9th, 2010
A 103-year-old woman, a therapy dog and a friendship

My dog Jessie is a therapy dog — meaning she is trained to bring comfort and companionship to those who need it. We visit a lot of nursing homes and hospitals in our mountainous part of western North Carolina, and also, sometimes, homebound individuals. At one point I was bringing Jessie once a week to the home of a woman known as Granny.
Granny was 103 years old when we met her. Despite that, she got around well with a walker. She was always groomed, dressed, and seated at the table eating something — often ice cream — or sitting in front of the TV watching cooking shows. She was pretty bright. She seemed to digest both food and information well.
I’ve learned a lot about life and living from all the…

April 6th, 2010
Accompanying undocumented immigrants who are in prison

On a recent Saturday morning a minivan weaves through the warehouse district of Elizabeth, New Jersey, a port city an hour south of New York. It pulls to a stop beside a nondescript building where the Corrections Corporation of America — a private company — holds hundreds of immigrants in prison conditions. The firm is one of seven nationwide that contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) to house immigrants awaiting deportation or applying for asylum. ICE also operates eight facilities itself and contracts with 300 county and state jails to hold immigrants. For the tens of thousands of detainees nationwide, time in immigrant detention is lonely and frightening.…

March 30th, 2010
A Lenten Lament

I’ve never been to an AA meeting, but feel like the mantra is appropriate here in admitting to the world, “My name is Carolyn and I am a recovering Oprah-holic.” Though I was able to put the brakes on my problem before it became an addiction, I was headed in that direction two years ago during Lent, when I sought solace in self-help and self-pity. I was one of thousands of people who joined Oprah’s Book Club featuring A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose… by Eckhart Tolle. I joined for a couple of reasons. One, I was experiencing a particularly brutal winter of Seasonal Affective Disorder while editing a book of Iraq War narratives and living in my hometown in the aftermath of my

March 24th, 2010
Travel along the Camino de Santiago with our Busted Halo pilgrims without leaving your home

Day #5: Journey’s End
The pilgrims complete their Camino and arrive at the 11th century St. James Cathedral, burial site of St. James the Apostle, to place their hands on the left foot of the statue depicting the Trinity, the traditional end-point of the Camino. Hear final thoughts and reflections from Fr. Larry, Erin, Stephen, Sam, Amy, and Mary…
Click here to listen further to the pilgrims’ final group discussion of the last day of the pilgrimage.

Day #4:
Reflections on “Waking”
A poem by Theodore Roethke
From Arzua, the pilgrims head to Arca. They will cross a number of bridges built by local farmers over the centuries to accommodate feeding their growing flocks of livestock.…

March 24th, 2010
There's "cool" and then there's real cool

One of the odd and unusual places I find the presence of God is in cool. Yes, cool.
I’m not talking about Don Draper charisma, exactly. And I’m not talking about rock star arrogance, either. I’m thinking of one day during my first semester of college, when I spotted an acquaintance, Marie N., walking across the school cafeteria, lunch tray in hand, looking around for a place to sit. I knew how it felt to scan the room in search of a familiar face. In fact, I planned my lunchtime so that I’d have a few friends to sit with.
But before I could catch Marie’s eye so that she might join my friends and me, she spotted an empty table and, with no visible sign of hesitation, sat down and started eating…

March 4th, 2010
Cardinal George reaches out to Mormons in a visit to BYU

Catholics and Mormons haven’t always clung to each other as partners in faith. In the early 20th century, for example, Mormon tradition held that “the great and abominable church” spoken of in The Book of Mormon… represented the Catholic Church. On the other hand, Catholic Church members have published tracts and now websites promoting the falsity of Mormonism since the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830. Historically, neither organization has worked to bridge doctrinal differences. But the speech delivered at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT, on Tuesday by His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., president of the United States Conference

February 26th, 2010
'What happened to the plan?"

In this episode, Benita talks about the story of Esther and God’s plan.
In episode one, Benita discusses her background and the difficulties she faced growing up.
In episode two, Benita describes how a routine traffic stop has turned her life upside down.…

February 18th, 2010
A look at Washington, D.C.'s 'Snowpocalypse' through the eyes of the homeless

Roland's encampment under the bridge

It’s a winter wonderland that nobody asked for and a biting cold that pierces layers of clothes. Cars line the streets submerged in snow. Stacks of the white stuff reach nearly 5 feet high in certain areas, towering over the recently plowed pavement. The nation’s capitol was pummeled last week by nearly 3 feet of snow in five days, the largest snowfall in the city’s history. Digging out will take time. But time is a luxury that people like George Jones can’t afford. He has worked literally nonstop to keep the doors to the Catholic Charities emergency shelters open. They have never closed on his watch. It’s times like these he’s needed most. But despite his best efforts, there are still those who remain outside, sleeping, surviving, in the frigid night air.

According to a 2009 census conducted by The Community Partnership to Prevent Homelessness, there are about 6,200 homeless individuals in Washington DC, almost 1,500 of them children. These people are in emergency shelters, long term shelters, transitional housing or on the street. With only 2,000 shelter beds available (including those at emergency shelters) and an additional 300 units for families, it seems no surprise many shelters have been operating at or above capacity for the duration of the snowstorm and its aftermath.

February 12th, 2010
"We had to start all over."

In this episode, Rishi discusses his family’s move back to Trinidad.
In episode one, Rishi talked about his family’s move to Canada from Trinidad.…

February 9th, 2010
O'Keefe arrest shows dangers of conservatives' love affair with Rules for Radicals

Conservatives have long criticized the lingering effects of the 1960s, and not without reason. The legacy of the “Love Generation” — or, as renamed by some disaffected ex-members, the “Destructive Generation” — is decidedly ambiguous. Not unlike Woodstock itself — “three days of peace and music” which turned Yasgur’s farm into a 600-acre latrine — the era’s idealistic youth, having rocked the world with some positive transformations (particularly in civil rights), left a cultural morass for future generations to clean up. Among the era’s gifts to posterity is the continued popularity of the in-your-face tactics…

January 29th, 2010
"This is so much more than just numbers."

Benita describes how a routine traffic stop has turned her life upside down.
In episode one, Benita discusses her background and the difficulties she faced growing up.…

January 27th, 2010
Reflections on a good deed gone awry

No good deed goes unpunished.
How many of us have used that phrase at one time or another? Sometimes it means that we secretly wanted more gratitude than we got in return for our trouble. Sometimes it’s a preemptive excuse for not going to the trouble in the first place. In general, it is a lousy phrase, and I hate it when I hear myself using it.
Nevertheless, I have learned that there are genuine risks to trying to help others, and it is best to stop and anticipate those risks before leaping into situations we may not fully understand. Otherwise, the results can be the very opposite of what we intended to achieve.
I think of Jack Henry Abbott, the self-educated career criminal whose book on life behind bars, In the …

January 22nd, 2010
"Into the mouth of the lion."

Giselle discusses the incident that forced her to look at the immigration issue.…

January 20th, 2010
On the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a nun reflects on the abortion debate

This past January 22 was the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the legalization of abortion in the United States. There aren’t very many other days in the United States that manifest such division. I can’t think of any other anniversary that has consistently been celebrated with public demonstrations of opposing beliefs and emotions. Some, including such high profile figures as Alan Keyes, have compared the abortion debate in this country to the debate regarding slavery in the 19th century. That’s a pretty serious comparison considering that that debate was resolved by a civil war.
The latest Gallup Poll conducted between May 7 and May 10, 2009, found that for the first time since this question…

January 15th, 2010
A Busted Halo contributor with family in Haiti shares her thoughts

Last September my mother returned to Haiti after a seven-year absence from her home country. It was a brief trip involving minor family matters and she came back telling us how amazed she was at the economic growth she had seen. Many families had personal computers or cell phones. Some of the small villages had better roads and bridges. After the tragic events there this past week the country my mother visited just a few short months ago no longer exists. In the wake of the earthquake I keep thinking of the “what if’s:” What if my mother had traveled last week instead? What if I had gone to visit her? What if my sister had finally found the money to spend Christmas, New Year’s in Port-au-Prince? The “what if’s”…

January 14th, 2010
A Haitian man and his family wait to see if he is deported and if their family is torn apart

Jean Montrevil and his family, from whom he is currently separated while in an ICE detention facility awaiting deportation to Haiti

Jonathan Freed hasn’t eaten since New Year’s Eve. The South Florida immigrants’ rights activist is one of six people who say they will not eat until President Obama puts a stop to deportations that separate immigrants from their American families. (Download the letter to the president.)

After a few days he stopped being hungry or thinking of food, he said. Instead he is consistently queasy, and his head is a little foggy.

The hunger strikers are part of a increasingly impatient immigrant movement that wants to see a moratorium on deportations until comprehensive immigration reform is enacted by Congress.

So Freed and his companions are camping on the grounds of St. Ann’s Mission in Naranja, Florida. Naranja is a community filled with Mexican, Guatemalan and Haitian immigrants, too many of whom, Freed said, are at risk of deportation either because they are in the country illegally or because they’ve committed crimes ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) deems worthy of exile.

“In our community the amount of enforcement is ripping families apart,” he said Wednesday. Freed, who is executive director of We Count!, a immigrant rights organization, acknowledges that the hunger strike is a dramatic step — and one that could fail. But more traditional forms of protest haven’t worked, he said.

“People have marched, written letters, held rallies and vigils. We’ve done all that. The situation has become so critical we felt we had to do something dramatic,” said Freed.

So for thirteen days now Freed and five others — among them undocumented immigrants with American children — have slept in a tent on the church grounds and spent their days explaining their action to visitors, keeping each other company and praying.

“It’s a political action, but it’s also a spiritual action that you try to get God to intercede and change the hearts of those in government,” Freed said.

A senseless policy — a family suffers

That is exactly what Jean Montrevil is praying for as well. The 41-year-old Haitian immigrant, Brooklyn, New York resident and father of four is in a jail in York County, Pennsylvania, awaiting deportation to the country he left when he was 16. Tuesday’s devastating earthquake offered an odd sort of reprieve, temporarily suspending deportations to Haiti, but Montrevil is still in detention, three hours away from his family and could be deported as soon as ICE deems conditions in Haiti stable.

January 14th, 2010
How you can help

Earlier this week a devastating earthquake rocked Haiti and we are learning only now of the complete destruction that has fallen on the Haitians. Early estimates are putting the death toll at 50,000. Here are ways to help:

Follow the lastest developments on the Catholic Relief Services site and blog.
Catholic News Service has this list of ways to help.
Tips For Funding Haiti Earthquake Relief Efforts from Charity Navigator
You can even donate with your mobile phone via Red Cross, by txting “YELE” to 501501 for a donation of $5, or “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10. The charge will show up on your cell phone bill.

May God comfort and be with the Haitians, and may He be merciful to us for the ways…

January 12th, 2010
"It started 21 years ago."

Rishi talks about his family’s move to Canada from Trinidad.…

December 31st, 2009
A former CBS employee recalls the most trusted name in news

Long before Twitter or Drudge or Huffington or Gawker, there was another one-word media monolith, bigger and more influential than any one else.
Walter.
Television viewers didn’t call him Cronkite. Or even Mr. Cronkite. To America, he was just Walter. Everyone knew who you were talking about when you uttered that name. When I was growing up, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, he was part of an American ritual: come home, have dinner, watch Walter. He told us “that’s the way it is,” and we know he was right. Occasionally, people would also sit down to Chet and David (over at NBC) or Harry and Barbara (at ABC). But Walter was it. Nobody could touch him. He was gravitas, and veritas – gravity and truth – and…

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