When I met David Spotanski at a conference on leadership in the Catholic Church in 2007, my first impression of the Belleville, Ill., native was that he was like so many of the Midwesterners whom I’ve known and worked with over the years: friendly, approachable, and not in the habit of taking himself too seriously. The fact that, as a layman, Spotanski also happened to be the chancellor for the Belleville diocese — just outside of St. Louis — for all matters except canonical issues requiring a priest seemed a little unusual. But after a number of conversations over the course of the gathering it became clear to me that if this married father of three was indicative of the sort of leadership in the Catholic Church’s future, the Church was in very capable hands.
I wasn’t prepared, however, for the information Spotanski decided to share with me at the end of our meeting. Before returning home, he left me with a 10-page photocopied document that contained what was easily the most personal, honest and moving commentary I had yet to read on the sex abuse scandal. It was blunt, unsparing and deeply challenging language from someone who worked for the Church, clearly loved his Catholic faith and was deeply concerned that the Church’s leadership wasn’t able to comprehend how badly its credibility had been damaged.
An excerpt of the 2002 letter from Spotanski to Bishop Wilton Gregory:
Every evening when I arrive home from the chancery, my kids race to the door vying to be the first to declare, “I missed you most!” Once we’ve established which of the three has taken the day’s honors, I try to always stop for a moment to consider whether I’ve left our Church better for them than I found it that day or worse. For over fifteen years I’ve been able to answer that question honestly, confidently, and with the satisfaction of knowing I’d played some small part in building the Church in which my children will one day raise my grandchildren.
One of the strongest proponents for comprehensive immigration reform in the Catholic Church over the last quarter century has been Cardinal Roger Mahony, the Archbishop of Los Angeles. Busted Halo’s Fr. Dave Dwyer, CSP, had the chance to speak with Cardinal Mahony while The Busted Halo Show on Sirius XM radio was broadcasting on location in L.A. in March 2010.
As archbishop of the largest Catholic diocese in the U.S. for 25 years, Cardinal Mahony has presided over some very significant milestones, and has also seen his fair share of controversy. And yet, his work with and for migrants has become the hallmark of Cardinal Mahony’s time as bishop. It was this topic that he was most passionate about and most conversant with during this candid and personal conversation that took place in a meeting room on the grounds of the impressive new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels.
I guess I wasn’t all that different from most college freshman who get swept off their feet. Every year, scores of first-year collegians return home for Christmas break itching to try out all of their newfound wisdom on the folks back home: psychology majors suddenly become experts in diagnosing their families’ dysfunction, philosophy majors proselytize about existentialism with a new convert’s zeal.
After finishing my first semester as a theology major at Notre Dame I returned home to my Mexican-American family in El Paso, Texas, poised and ready to judge the religiosity and spirituality of any relative I came into contact with. Armed with words like hermeneutics, eschatology and praxis, my first target was an easy choice, my grandmother.
Grandma — whose name is Guadalupe but whom I affectionately refer to as La Lupe — is a feisty jorobada (crooked-backed) woman who stands 5 feet tall, and weighs no more than 90 pounds. She grew up very, very poor in Chihuahua, Mexico, got married at 22, and gave birth to eight children. When her second child (my dad) was just 3, she moved her young family to El Paso and has lived there since. She raised eight kids on next to nothing and then raised me and my 18 cousins (not to mention a lot of my cousins’ kids).
La Lupe takes her role as the matriarch of the family very seriously, especially the “educator of the faith” part. She never lets an opportunity pass to lecture about morality, work ethic or God.
On that first day home from college as I sat on her couch drinking the atole (oatmeal water with cinnamon and milk) she made for me, I looked around her home and decided that La Lupe was superstitious and her spirituality was too Mary-centric. Every room in the house had an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She has an unending number of little medals of La Milagrosa that she pins on us if we are going out of town. She always tells us that we should honor Mary …
Recent passage of new legislation in Arizona has brought the divisive issue of immigration to the forefront of the national consciousness once again. This latest salvo comes on the one-year anniversary of the debut of our Busted Borders video series, in which BustedHalo.com — along with the help of a grant from the Carnegie Corporation — began covering the issue of immigration in a unique way.
Busted Borders is an attempt to use the web’s unfiltered nature to move the immigration debate away from abstractions and statistics to reveal the deeply human dimension of the issue. Instead of contributing to the glut of coverage about immigration, Busted Halo decided to feature stories by immigrants themselves about their experience. We distributed Flip video cameras to undocumented individuals and agencies across the country and asked them to start video blogging for a period of at least three months.
Over the past year we have published a total of twenty-four segments that have been viewed by thousands of visitors to BustedHalo.com. In addition, the Los Angeles Times and USA Today have taken note of the unique way Busted Halo covers the intersection of culture, politics and faith by featuring Busted Borders in their pages.
We’ve featured the lives of nine individuals thus far, specifically highlighting the stories of:
When Anthony Dodero and two of his church friends decided to quit their jobs and head out to Thailand, it wasn’t a thrill ride they were looking for, but the truth about a very horrific modern-day crime — human trafficking.
It is estimated by the United Nations that at least 1.3 million young girls and women are sold into sex slavery worldwide. When Anthony read about this issue, he wanted to see it for himself, so he and his two best friends, Liem and Chad, set out to investigate, documenting the trip along the way. They called it The Blind Project.
“We called it The Blind Project because we were very blinded to the issue, and were hoping this trip would ‘unblind’ us,” Anthony said about their first trip to Thailand. “We were going into this blinded. We were sponges, just absorbing information.”
The three guys, who all belonged to the Journey Church in New York City, spent time in Thailand’s orphanages, AIDS organizations, and later, made an unexpected stop in Cambodia. Cambodia, as Anthony explains, was much more apt than Thailand to unveil what was really going on because they are more desperate for help. But the worst wasn’t over until Anthony and his friends decided to go undercover in a Cambodian brothel. There they found the youngest girls herded like cattle, flirting and encouraging the guys to buy them for sex.
“That was the most visceral life-changing experience for me personally,” Anthony said. “Our attempt was to purchase one of the girls to take back to a shelter. I realize now it’s not a good thing to do. If you do purchase one of the girls, you’re essentially funding the brothel for them to buy more.”
When they walked back to the hotel, Anthony reported feeling an emptiness. He contrasts it with walking past a person who is homeless and having the choice to help, whereas here he felt entirely helpless; nothing they could do.
That’s when Anthony, Liem and Chad returned home and officially started The Blind
One of the first and key places I encountered the spiritual ideas that eventually led to my baptism was Estes Park, high in the Rockies, amidst Birkenstock-wearing radical environmentalists. It was an interesting time for politics in the late 80s and early 90s and I was looking for new ideas. So were lots of people, and they were talking with each other and reading each other’s books despite divergent backgrounds. Some were grassroots activists, some academics; some were pragmatic, some utopian. There were communitarians and Greens, libertarians and socialists.
I came upon something new (to me) there, something I’d never heard of before with my atheist/Protestant upbringing: natural law. Most didn’t use the term. But the edges of the environmental movement were abuzz with fresh ideas, and two of the freshest were “deep ecology” and “ecofeminism.” (One of deep ecology’s leading lights was Fr. Thomas Berry, CP, whose The Dream of the Earth was required reading.)
It was at that conference in the Rockies that I first heard a woman argue that a pro-abortion stance was anti-woman. And though I didn’t hear the term “seamless garment,” there was a quiet respect for those Catholics and Buddhists who adhered to defense of life across the board, from anti-war and anti-death-penalty to anti-abortion and anti-euthanasia to environmental protection and reducing unnecessary deaths from starvation.
Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation
One of the first and key places I encountered the spiritual ideas that eventually led to my baptism was Estes Park, high in the Rockies, amidst Birkenstock-wearing radical environmentalists. I came upon something new (to me) there, something I’d never heard of before with my atheist/Protestant upbringing: natural law.
It was in this same time period and setting that I encountered the phrase and concept, “Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation” or JPIC. (My recollection from those times is that this was a Catholic movement and, at least within the Church, it’s an outgrowth of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, though the phrase is used by others too.) In
Gratitude and gloom colored my view of the debate over health care reform.
On St. Patrick’s Day 2009, I learned that my chronic leukemia had morphed into a much more formidable lymphoma. It was not, statistically speaking, the cancer one would choose, especially as a husband and a father with two teenaged sons and a 20-year-old daughter. But I had sound health insurance, which allowed me the best treatment at one of the nation’s best hospitals. I was, therefore, especially grateful when reminded about the tens of millions of other Americans who lack medical insurance altogether.
The gloom descended when legislative dynamics seemed to pit the demands of Social Justice against the rights of the Unborn. The conflict was no surprise. Years ago, in sadness and frustration, I left the Democratic Party, unable to abide any longer its mindless pro-choice orthodoxy. At the same time, I had no illusions about the Republican Party’s building the “Culture of Life” which George W. Bush talked about (after electorally exploiting his Texas record of capital executions but before misleading us into Iraq). And politics is politics.
No, the conflict brought no surprise. But the Uninsured vs. the Unborn had the makings of especially stark tragedy.
My sense of tragedy, I confess, was heightened at times by a laughably self-centered fear as to what major political event I would last witness (earthside). Specifically, I feared departing while watching a major affront to the seamless garment — the commitment to a consistent pro-life philosophy.
I held and hold the seamless garment precious. It sustained me during my seventeen years defending death row inmates and capital defendants in Alabama and New York. It animated my writing. It accompanied me into any voting booth I entered. It has served as my tent, my flag and my sail.
Given the depth of voter opposition to publicly funded abortion, how difficult would it have been for a unified pro-life community to lock in, as part of a universal coverage agreement, the kind of steel-trap language the Stupak
Strolling along a quiet farm road, flanked by 19th-century white clapboard buildings, Frances Carr is an endangered species in a threatened habitat.
She is one of the world’s last Shakers, a member of a pious separatist community that boasted 6,000 members and 19 settlements in the 1800s. But today only three believers remain at the last active settlement, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, nestled in a wooded, lake-fringed and white pine-perfumed swath of southern Maine.
Though she rarely grants interviews, the oldest living Shaker speaks now.
Easing her cushioned frame onto an antique bench in the waiting room of the 125-year-old brick Dwelling House, the soft-faced Carr, 82, tenderly sings an old Shaker song.
“‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free, ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be…”
After finishing, she smoothes out her long, plain blue dress and beams, remembering when she was 10 years old and how the now-almost-empty Dwelling House and 17 other buildings of the Shaker village — surrounded by 1,800 acres of verdant forests, pastures and farmland — pulsated with the vigor of 50 laughing, singing and hard-working Shaker adults and children.
Carr, 82, remembers when she was 10 years old and how the now-almost-empty Shaker village pulsated with the vigor of 50 laughing, singing and hard-working Shaker adults and children. “I miss the people the most,” she says.
“I miss the people the most,” she says, fending off a moistening of the eyes with a smile.
Since the age of 16, Carr has seen a lot of chairs once filled with old friends in the dining hall become empty, and has comforted many beloved Shakers in their last moments.
Yet, the last of the Shakers — with a mean age of 65 — aren’t feeling sorry. Like the sturdy wooden structures that surround them, which have weathered countless Maine blizzards and scorching summer days, the Shakers of Sabbathday soldier on — continuing to defend the faith, work the farm, seek recruits, honor their
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
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 “old timers” my dogs have visited. But from Granny’s family, I learned the meaning of the commonly used phrases, “respect for life” and “living and dying with dignity.” Granny’s home was clean, her bed was changed, her clothes were fresh every day, and she was surrounded by people who cared. They kept a visitors’ registry on the table, and it looked to me like not a day went by but someone came for a visit.
The kitchen table was decorated with seasonal plastic tablecloths, like the one with big Easter eggs, and they kept Granny current. Her family talked to her about the greeting cards and photos that surrounded her. Her phone sat next to her on the table. When I called to ask if this was a good time to visit, it would often be Granny who answered, “Hello, who is this?” several times. Then when Betty got on the phone I would hear her say, “Granny, it’s your friend Jessie, the therapy dog. Would you like to have her come over now?” “Oh, yes!” Granny would answer. “Okay then, here’s the phone. You tell her you want her to come.”
I could see how much easier it would have been for Betty to answer the phone, tell me to come,
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. They don’t know when they will be released — whether they will be shipped to their home country or be given permission to stay in the United States. Even if they have family in this country, many never see visitors, because undocumented family members are too frightened to show up at an ICE facility, according to immigration reform advocates. The days pass slowly.
Rose Puntel, freshman
So twice a month, a few carloads of New Yorkers travel across the Hudson River to perform a simple corporal work of mercy: visiting the imprisoned.
At 8 a.m. this particular morning Sandra Lobo-Jost, director of the Dorothy Day Center for Service and Justice at Fordham University, meets two students who are traveling to the detention facility for the first time.
“I don’t really know exactly what is going to happen or anything, but this is something that I care a lot about,” says Rose Puntel, a soft-spoken freshman who says her parents’ Catholic social justice values shaped how she views the world. “I feel like it’s important as a human being to connect with other human beings, no matter who they are, to show them somebody loves them,” she says.
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 mom’s death. Though my parents’ home of 32 years had been sold, and my family now lived in various parts of the country, I stayed behind. I was stuck in a place of denial and despair, knowing I couldn’t continue living in the past, but unable to fathom the future. Winter in upstate New York had become my personal purgatory; one is constantly waiting: for light, for warmth, for spring, and, in my case, to be someplace else.
I craved the socialization and stimulation that a book club might provide, albeit online, as much as I did the “revolutionary,” spiritual insights I would no doubt receive during the ten short weeks to enlightenment that Oprah and Tolle (Opie and Tolle forever more) dutifully promised.
When signing up, you’re required to enter a username and password. I typed in “My Assisi.” Assisi is the name of my Jack Russell/Beagle, a rescued dog with heartworm and panic disorder. My application to adopt Sisi was initially rejected. I was not a homeowner with a yard fit for a dog, just a graduate student who wanted this dog and only this dog the moment our eyes met (she reminded me of Eddie from Frasier). If there is such a thing as a soul mate, this four-legged beast was indeed mine. …
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.
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. Hear from Fr. Larry, Sam, Erin, Mary, Amy and Stephen…
1. Click here to listen further to Part 1 of the pilgrims’ evening discussion.
2. Click here to listen further to Part 2 of the pilgrims’ evening discussion.
When you are alone on the path,
What goes through your mind?
What do you pray about?
Having left the most mountainous portion of the Camino behind, our pilgrims continue along the Camino from Palas to Arzua, taking time to enjoy the Romanesque Monasterio de Vilar de Donas along the way. Stephen, Mary, Erin, Margaret, Amy, John and Fr. Larry tell us about their thoughts and prayers…
Click here to listen further to the pilgrims’ evening discussion.
Day #3: Additional Video
The Pilgrims Speak…
What did you experience today?
What did you think about?
The pilgrims begin in Portomarin en route to Palas, passing through the remainder of the region’s lush and hilly topography, reflecting on what they experience, see and think. Today hear
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 her lunch.
At first I was surprised, not believing Marie could feel comfortable alone at her table. Roughly three seconds later, my feeling turned to admiration, and then to envy.
“Cool” and real cool
In that moment I realized the difference between “cool” and real cool. “Cool” is reading Kafka in the coffeehouse, listening to Joy Division, smoking, not smiling. But true cool? Perhaps five kids in my entire college class were cool. Marie made the grade when she sat down to lunch. Beth S., too, verged on cool because she was kind to everyone — genuinely kind, in an unselfconscious way that had no hint of prefabricated “niceness” to it.
But the one person who, in hindsight, was indisputably cool? Matt L., the chemistry major who wore high-water pants and got excited about mitosis — so excited he didn’t notice the derision heaped on him. I cannot imagine Matt looking in the mirror and asking, “Am I cool?” But he was, in my view, way cool.
Cool, then, is pure engagement, untainted by self-consciousness or irony. We all swim in cool as children, but lose it by degrees — beginning when other kids laugh at us in elementary school for wearing the “wrong” shoes or pursuing the “wrong”
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 of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of Chicago, not only opened the door to a new friendship but also communicated the necessity and urgency of a partnership.
“I’m personally grateful that after 180 years of living mostly apart from one another, Catholics and Latter-day Saints have begun to see one another as trustworthy partners in the defense of shared moral principles and in the promotion of the common good of our beloved country,” Cardinal George said to 12,000 university students and faculty.
Both religious organizations have much to gain in linking arms on the causes Cardinal George highlighted in his address: providing aid to the needy, supporting families and combating pornography. Cardinal George told the group that in defending religious freedoms, “sometimes our common advocacy will make one of us the target of retribution by intolerant elements,” but emphasized that people of both faiths need to make their voices heard.
Catholics and Mormons face outdated or misinformed stereotypes; there are perhaps millions of personal stories that debunk those stereotypes. But stories like these are mostly drowned out by much more scintillating tales of people who have abandoned their faith or chosen more colorful paths.
In an era when the definition of marriage held by both faith traditions is being challenged, the Cardinal’s extended hand of partnership is gratefully welcomed by the Latter-day Saints, who felt particularly battered in the 2008 campaign for Proposition 8 in
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.