Busted Halo

Busted Halo distributed Flip videocameras to undocumented individuals and agencies and asked them to start videoblogging. We hope Busted Borders gives a personal glimpse into the humanity of these strangers in our midst.

Click this banner to see the entire series.

January 29th, 2010

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


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 Belly of the Beast, came to the attention of the writer Norman Mailer in 1981. Impressed with Abbott’s talent, Mailer involved a number of other literary figures in a successful effort to get Abbott paroled, and for a brief while Abbott became a sort of poster child for redemption through literature — until, just a few months out of prison and living in a halfway house on New York’s Lower East Side, Abbott stabbed and killed an unarmed stranger over a trivial misunderstanding outside a restaurant. Ironically, the young man he killed, Richard Adan, was also a writer, an aspiring actor and playwright in his twenties who had just gotten married.

In the aftermath of the killing, it became clear that no one involved in gaining parole for Abbott understood the extent of his pathology, or the difficulty of taking a man who had spent almost his entire life behind bars and reintroducing him to civil society. Yet the warning signs had been there for anyone who took the time to stop and look: Abbott had grown up in a series of foster homes and juvenile reformatories, and had spent most of his adult life in high-security prisons, with frequent intervals in solitary confinement for violent behavior. His skillfully written memoir described …

January 22nd, 2010

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

January 20th, 2010


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 was first posed in a Gallup Poll in 1995 more Americans (51 percent) consider themselves to be “pro-life” than “pro-choice” (42 percent) with respect to the abortion issue. While I am heartened by the information, I don’t have the same optimism that some pro-life groups have that this will suddenly change the law. And, whether it’s rooted in my own cynicism or in my basic distrust of politics, I don’t think that simply “voting pro-life” will do the trick either.

Before I go any further, let me insert a disclaimer. I personally can never vote for a pro-choice candidate when a comparable pro-life candidate is also running. However, I have lived through the presidency of three pro-life presidents, as well as a Republican-led Congress. As far as abortion is concerned, not much has changed. With a track record like that, I can understand my peers who don’t get the logic behind voting for pro-life candidates as the answer to the abortion debate.
Changing the reality regardless of Roe v. Wade

Most women must pass a church on their way to have their abortion. I wonder what the symbol of that church building is communicating to each of those women?

While Catholics receive information from their bishops urging them to vote pro-life, I don’t ever remember hearing with as much emphasis other ways that we can …

January 15th, 2010

haiti3-insideLast 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” are choking my family right now. Since Tuesday we don’t even know how sad to be.

There is a distinct difference between mourning for a country and mourning for a beloved niece or cousin, and in my family’s New York City home we’ve been vacillating between both of those states. My father, an emotional guy by nature, started crying Wednesday morning. We got an e-mail about the village he grew up in; it had a church with a kindergarten attached. Both structures collapsed killing everyone inside. His aunt with lung cancer was pulled out of the rubble of her home, with her life and not much else. My mother has a cousin and sister living in Port-au-Prince that she speaks to at least once a week. Both women have several children. She hasn’t heard anything. Over the past week my mother, who is a quiet person, has become even more silent. My siblings and I are worried.

Meanwhile I’m supposed to be studying for a Neurology exam, working at my school’s library and finding bloggers for “Busted Borders.” Instead I’ve been watching CNN, MSNBC and the local news in hopes to see someone we know in the footage of a ruined hospital—it hasn’t happened. Somehow, I am supposed to be living life …

January 14th, 2010

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

January 14th, 2010

haiti-insideEarlier 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 we have failed them and guide us in ways we can serve.

January 12th, 2010

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

December 31st, 2009

cronkitebwinsideLong before Twitter or Drudge or Huffington or Gawker, there was another one-word media monolith, bigger and more influential than any one else.


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 he was the face in front of the most respected broadcast news outlet in the world.

CBS News.
His voice, my words
In 1982, fresh out of college, I landed a job in CBS’s Washington bureau, as a Production Secretary. I typed and answered the phone and learned how to work a newfangled thing called a fax. They paid me 11-thousand dollars a year. I considered myself rich.

It was a great time to be there. Just one year earlier, Cronkite had retired from the CBS Evening News, replaced by Dan Rather. When I arrived on the scene, the place was still very much in transition. The ground had shifted. The Evening News was changing its style and focus. Walter, meantime, was mentioned, but never seen. It was understood that Dan wanted it that way. Cronkite popped up from time to time on television – hosting the Kennedy Center Honors, or narrating something for PBS – but rarely on his old network.

But in 1986, I got the opportunity to play a small part in one of those appearances.

“The world has splintered into Googles and Facebooks and Politicos; there are a thousand little

December 31st, 2009


Quick — can you give me the latest on the divorce drama between Jon & Kate Gosselin? Or why Paula Abdul isn’t going to be judging this year’s American Idol? Odds are you can answer those questions but you can’t tell me the name of the man who died recently after saving more than a billion lives.

I’ll give you another hint: He was one of only six people ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.

You can probably name most of the other five recipients of this trio of honors — Martin Luther King, Jr., Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi — but odds are you’ve never heard this man’s name.

You’ve never heard of him, yet when he died he was lauded as history’s “greatest human being.” You’ve never heard of him, yet he changed your life.

Author Dr. Christine Whelan, Dr. Norman Borlaug and author's mother, Dr. Elizabeth Whelan

Dr. Norman Borlaug, who died September 12, 2009, at the age of 95, was humble and kind, and devoted his intelligence not to getting rich himself but to transforming the lives of those who needed help the most.

We spend so much of our time focusing on the goings-on of celebrities and reality TV stars — and that’s OK; it’s only human — but occasionally it’s important to give tribute to a person who is really changing our world, quietly, with no spotlight or paparazzi documenting their journey.

Dr. Norman Borlaug: An American Hero

Born in 1914 in rural Iowa, Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his work that contributed to ending the India-Pakistan food shortage of the mid-60s. Until Dr. Borlaug’s discoveries, rot and infestation could decimate wheat crops and reduce entire countries

December 31st, 2009

Nicole, a U.S. citizen, prepares to move her four children to rural Mexico to be with her husband who has been barred from reentering the United States.

In this segment, Nicole explains how her husband was barred from returning to the United States. Because of this, she is planning on moving with her kids to Mexico.

In video two, Nicole talks about the difficulties she’s facing uprooting her four kids and moving to a foreign country.

In video three, Nicole and the kids begin the process of leaving their home for Mexico.

In the fourth and final video, 24 hours before their move to Mexico, Nicole and the kids say goodbye.

Originally published on September 9, 2009.

December 31st, 2009


Growing up just south of Los Angeles, Sr. Bernadette (Mary) Reis would see her cousin Paul Mages when her family took vacation trips to visit his family in the Milwaukee area. For the first 25 years after she entered the convent with the Daughters of St. Paul at the age of 14, Sr. Bernadette and Paul saw each other only at a couple of family gatherings.

Having reconnected over the past two years while living near each other in New York City, Sr. Bernadette and Paul have developed a deeper friendship. This has forced them to bridge the very different worlds they inhabit: Paul’s as an openly gay man and Sr. Bernadette’s as a member of a traditional Roman Catholic religious order.

During their wide-ranging discussion they confront issues ranging from how Sr. Bernadette reconciles the Catholic Church’s teachings regarding homosexuality with her relationship with her cousin and his longtime partner, to how being gay deepens Paul’s commitment to his Christian faith.

BustedHalo: I’d like to start by asking from both of you, what do your friends think about your relationship with each other?

Paul Mages: Well I know that the first time I invited my cousin Mary over to where I live there was a Fourth of July cookout, my landlady and her daughter, who’s about 32, both live in the building and the daughter pulled me aside and said, “You never told me your cousin was a nun.” So I think people, I don’t know — they just don’t assume that you’re friends with religious, but she’s just another person in the world.

Sister Bernadette: I came pie in hand, and it was the best pie that they had there. So yeah, and it was just very normal, it felt very comfortable.

PM: Right, they expect religious to be in their own cloistered community.

BH: What was it like for you, Sister Bernadette, when you found out Paul was gay?

SB: I figured it out before he told me. I knew

Pages: 1 2 3
December 31st, 2009


The uproar over Notre Dame’s honoring President Obama in late May exposed the fissures within American Catholicism that will no doubt be on display following the President’s July 10 visit to the Vatican.

But while it is no secret that American Catholics have been publicly bickering with one another since the end of Vatican II (and well before then, if one reads a little history), what we are seeing now is more disturbing than a simple clash of ideologies.

It is a culture war — but not the broader, endlessly discussed “culture war” between blue- and red-state America. Rather, it is a more specific, more intense, intramural Catholic culture war. It is not pretty and, more importantly, its viciousness serves only to confirm to those outside the Church that, while we call ourselves Christians, we are unable to live out the most basic precepts of Christian compassion and charity.

Vitriol and name-calling

As Catholics who write and debate from a conservative perspective, we’ve witnessed this clash close up. The vitriol and name-calling has been raging online, all too often anonymously, for quite a while. But what was previously regarded as fringe or extreme, and confined to heated exchanges on web forums, has increasingly seeped into the Catholic mainstream. The verbal abuse among fellow Catholics has gotten out of control, and Catholics need to address it if they care about healing the Body of Christ.

The verbal abuse among fellow Catholics has gotten out of control, and Catholics need to address it if they care about healing the Body of Christ.

Just about all of us involved in the Catholic culture wars — especially those who write and blog — have, at one time or another, been guilty of rhetorical excess, or transgressed Christian charity in some way. We often rationalize our behavior by emphasizing the gravity of the situation — After all, what could be more demanding of severe rebuke than life-and-death issues like abortion and war? — or by telling ourselves that this is just the culture we live

December 31st, 2009

Eunice Kennedy Shriver poses with an athlete at the 1999 Special Olympics World Summer Games in North Carolina.It’s difficult now to grasp what a radical thing Eunice Kennedy Shriver was undertaking in the 1960s, when she founded the precursor of the Special Olypics, then fostered the later event’s success. We sit, after all, in a time — thank goodness — when we have largely lost the ability to flinch in the face of physical or mental hindrance in our brothers and sisters. We prefer to take people as they are, and our world is better for it.

This is due quite directly to Eunice Shriver, who began her work in a vastly different era when handicaps were something to be hushed up about, or hidden from view. After all, she caused a minor scandal in America in 1962 when she penned an article in the Saturday Evening Post acknowledging that her sister Rosemary, one of the nine Kennedy siblings, was developmentally disabled. This was considered a taboo for any family at the time, even one whose members included the President and Attorney General of the United States.

Shriver by all accounts was the sort of person who never blushed, and never backed down. As important as she considered it to force into the public conscience an awareness of Rosemary and others like her, she put a far greater priority on the work that caused much less instant fuss, but that has had much greater, lasting effect. In the same year she introduced the world to her sister, Shriver hosted a camp for the handicapped during summer days on the grounds of her farm. The idea for “Camp Shriver” was simple: allow those with disabilities the chance to enjoy each other’s company and take part in friendly competition — without judgment, without spectacle. It sounded so small, but the humanizing effect of sportsmanship was enormous.

December 30th, 2009


When I was ten, my favorite movie was Mary Poppins. As it begins, British siblings Jane and Michael Banks write an advertisement listing their requirements for a new nanny. Their father — a curmudgeon who prefers investment banking to parenting — shreds the heartfelt proposal, throwing it in the fireplace and into infinity. His children’s wishes reach Mary anyway; she sits perched contentedly in the sky, as if waiting for them. With the snap of her fingers, Mary Poppins could transform a routine bunch of chores on a mundane Monday into an eternal summer Sunday afternoon at the carnival. Truly, Mary was capable of the miraculous.

Twenty-five years later, I found myself seeking Mary again. This time, it wasn’t Disney’s bohemian nanny that I yearned for, but Mary the Mother of God, who is capable of making miracles happen in real life. I hoped I’d find her in France.

As I sat in the San Francisco airport waiting to board an eleven-hour flight to Paris, I thought back to the many events that led me to be embarking on eight days of volunteer service in Lourdes, along with 15 strangers and a priest. As the North American Lourdes Volunteers brochure stated, “Volunteer pilgrimages are profound spiritual journeys in which one experiences the Gospel message of Lourdes and then lives the message in service to others.” Help! I imagined that my first solo European trip would be more along the lines of a Contiki tour for thirtysomethings seeking all-inclusive drinks, museum passes and a date. Instead, I had reluctantly chosen what was to be a serious pilgrimage for serious Catholics. I was bound not to fit in.
Though I attended thirteen years of Catholic school and a Jesuit University, my faith had waned in early adulthood. I spent my 20s in New York City and California, chasing my dream of becoming a writer and an actor. I became the type of Catholic that shows up on December 24th and Easter Sunday. My relationship to the Church had become akin to my subscription to The

Pages: 1 2
December 20th, 2009

christine_change_thanks-flashWow, you guys are amazing!!

With the outpouring of support from Busted Halo readers earlier this month, on December 16 we found out that Tiyatien Health won the grand prize in the Ashoka Changemakers’ “Rethinking Mental Health” global competition. The competition drew over 340 submissions from 42 countries and sought the “best solutions to improve mental health in communities around the world.”

Dr. Patrick Lee, a friend of mine who is heading up this important project, said, “We were overjoyed by the outpouring of support from people around the world. You — our community of friends, families and colleagues — rapidly mobilized a global network of concern around our work and the Changemakers competition. Your response was incredible. We could not have achieved this without your support.”

Thank you, Busted Halo — and Merry Christmas!

December 16th, 2009


We were waiting for the bus. We were in Iowa for a month. We were there for the Iowa Writing Festival. My mom and dad were teaching classes. It was the third day of camp. My little sister had a friend to play with that lives in Iowa. It wasn’t fair! I had nobody to play with. This is my story.

It was a boring day as usual, with Chris and Tomas cracking jokes, Lauren and Taylor babbling their heads off to their friends about the daily gossip, and my friend Sarah silent like me. Then the yellow bus drove up with “Camp Otter” written on it in dark green letters. “All aboard!” screamed Alexander, the 26-year-old bus driver. All the little girls always blushed when he said “Hello, girls.” We got on the bus.

We were going to the great Hawkeye Recreation Complex to play freeze tag. We got the seats in the very back. Then Sarah said, “I went to that Hawk camp last week, ” reading my mind. Then out of the blue she said the thing that shocked me — three words that changed my life forever. She spat them out as fast as you can imagine. “Are you Jewish?” For a minute there, time stood still.

Then I replied, “Yes, I am Jewish.” Her face looked excited and dumbfounded.

“Cool, I am too, fist bump.” She stuck out her fist.

I said, “Okay.”

In an awkward silence I said, “What holidays do you do?”

Sarah replied, “I celebrate Hanukkah (of course), Shabbat, and Yom Kippur.” Then she said, “Are there a lot of Jews where you live?”

I replied quickly, “No, I live in North Carolina.”

“I was born in New York.” she said.

“Cool. I was too.” I replied.

We knew each other for a week. At first we didn’t know who the heck each other were. On the third day we knew each other pretty well. Little did I know we had a lot in common. We are both Jewish, like tennis,

December 11th, 2009

In this video, Benita discusses her background and the difficulties she faced growing up.

December 9th, 2009


As the former city editor and senior religion writer for Newsday, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Moses is well aware of what it takes to get the facts right on an important story. But when the story you’re researching is 800 years old, things can get pretty complicated. In the wake of September 11, Moses discovered a little-known episode in St. Francis of Assissi’s life in which he attempted to end the crusades by crossing enemy lines to gain an audience with the Sultan of Egypt.

In The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace, Moses — now a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate School — combines his skills as a reporter with his formidable storytelling abilities to recount a remarkable mission of peace in which Francis himself was deeply transformed through his encounter with his enemy. Though the story takes place in 1219, this early encounter between the Christian West and the Islamic east resonates down through the centuries in ways that many Americans will recognize today.

BH: Where did the idea to write about this obscure part of Francis’ life come from?

PM: I was reading The Little Flowers of St. Francis just for some kind of light inspirational reading. It was written in the 1300s and it’s still a very popular book. It had a chapter on Francis and the Sultan that was really interesting because I read this in the period after 9/11. So I was wondering if it was really historical; I looked into it. I read some histories and some biographies that have been done on Francis and realized it was a real event, so I started looking into it.

BH: Obviously there was a relevance to it that hit you specifically after 9/11…

PM: Definitely, because we all know the stories of how poorly Christians and Muslims have gotten along but here’s one that says it could

Pages: 1 2
December 2nd, 2009


There was something very Miracle on 34th Street about Peoria’s new mall. Opening just before the holidays, the “open-air lifestyle center” promised to recreate the feel of shopping downtown. Separate strips of stores, like city blocks, angled about a plaza and a kids’ play park. Department store anchors mixed with eateries and boutiques, selling everything from three-piece suits to little girls’ camis, from bone china to Corelle ware, from gourmet coffee to chili dogs. You could even come out at night for dinner and a movie. Just like downtown.

I was visiting family after living five years in a small town in Louisiana, where I learned what downtown is. Downtown is Bertrand’s Printing, where the clerks find you the right size manila envelope — and sell you just that one. It is St. Landry Homestead Bank, locally owned all of its 90 years, where your favorite teller cashes your check. It is the two-story municipal building (it has an elevator) where you take your cash to pay your sewerage bill, and if you time it right, can buy bags of real, fresh-off-the-hog pork skins from a cooler-toting, roaming vendor.

The mall was not downtown. It was an outpost of excess sprawled over I-don’t-know-how-many acres of prime Illinois farmland, annexing it to the city and the repeating pattern of townhomes in the northwest suburbs — a sacrifice of thousands of bushels of corn, with the world food supply strained under the twin demands of population and biofuels. It was an ant trap drawing people away from downtown, from the independent bookseller and music shop, leaving downtown for regentrified, $200,000 loft living. And the Hooters.

The mall was commerce without community or conscience. It was unfair-trade chocolate raspberry truffle coffee and Royal Doulton china at seven hundred bucks for a service of four. (No, I don’t know how long that would feed a family of four in Somalia.) It was Wonderdogs with onion rings, and jelly wedges made in China — which I suspected cost more than the $14.99 marked on the

powered by the Paulists