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Archive of November 22, 2008

Tough times on Wall Street impact local charities

Phoenix, Ariz., Nov 22, 2008 (CNA) - Though many eyes are fixed on Wall Street, others are focused on local charitable organizations as they struggle to meet the increasing needs of the community while receiving fewer donations. The recent tough economic times have forced the charities to get creative with their programming and services.

All around, the sights tell the same story: It’s tough out there right now, and likely going to get tougher.

This means two things for local charitable organizations.

"Our donations are down and our needs are up," said Steve Zabilski, executive director for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

"It’s more dramatic than we’ve ever seen before," he said. "Our 87 conferences of charity, virtually to a conference, are reporting dramatic increases in the number of people coming to them for rental assistance, utility assistance or food boxes."

Many of the St. Vincent de Paul food pantries are bare from increased demand and the society hasn’t been able to restock them from their food reclamation center quickly enough.

"The need simply has never been greater. That’s the message that I hear every day from our volunteer Vincentians," Zabilski said.

The problem is not unique to St. Vincent de Paul, either. Both Catholic Charities and Paz de Cristo — an organization based in Mesa that provides daily meals, food boxes and empowerment programs — have never seen so much need in the Valley.

Tom Egan, director of Catholic Charities’ greater Phoenix region, gave an example to show how much things have worsened in the past couple of months.

"When we had rental assistance, it used to be a client was looking for $400 to help him out," he said. "Now people come looking for a $2,000 mortgage payment."

These new clients are people who were recently middle class and maybe lost a job or took on a mortgage payment they couldn’t afford. They’re not used to relying on charity.

"You have people who don’t know the system and they’re just desperately looking for help," Egan said. "They’re looking to us as a Catholic charity, but what they need help with, we just don’t have the resources for."

St. Vincent de Paul has had to reduce its staff by 25 positions, and its management team has taken significant salary and benefit cuts to help meet the growing need. Catholic Charities has had to suspend programs that many people rely on due to insufficient funds.

Mike Boos, director of Paz de Cristo, said his organization has had to cut back the amount of food they place in each food box.

"We’ve got to do more with less," he said. "It’s hard especially when you look at the faces of the people and they’re saying, ‘How come?’ Well, we just don’t have it."

Doing more with less

Tricia Hoyt, director of the Office of Peace and Justice at Catholic Charities, said the troubling times have forced charitable organizations to get creative.

She’s starting an "Out of Poverty" initiative that utilizes what she calls "circles of support." Basically, a family stuck in poverty will have six to eight people in their circle helping them for a one-and-a-half to two-year commitment.

"They would be dedicating themselves to help that family form their dream plan and then would dedicate themselves to brokering the resources toward that family that will help them get there," she said.

These circles of support aren’t meant to assist families in crisis right now, Hoyt said. There will always be a need for somebody to write a check that can get a family out of an immediate emergency. Rather, it’s a long-term plan to help families on the edge climb out of poverty, hopefully for good.

For instance, a member of a circle might be able to help a family member apply for a community college course that would yield a higher paying job. Or, a circle member might be able to help a member of the working poor find reliable transportation to a job.

The plan realizes that in the charitable giving axiom of "time, talent and treasure," the treasure chest is at an all time low. But that doesn’t mean people can’t still help with their time or their talent.

Hoyt hopes the program will help build stable communities, where individuals can help each other out with their skills and time. Sometimes, even just listening to families can make a huge difference.

Egan said his regional center has seen a large increase in crisis counseling appointments from couples who need someone to listen to them. The fact is that when money gets very tight, a strain is put on marital and family relationships that can be difficult to overcome.

"We’re trying to make all of our counselors available," he said. "We’ve reduced a lot of fees so to make sure people can be seen. We’re doing a lot of pro bono work."

His region is also on track to resettle nearly two times as many refugees as last year, although that task has become slightly easier with the softening rental and housing market.

And even though the charitable organizations have to help more people with fewer resources, they all said they’re not going away any time soon.

Printed with permission from the Catholic Sun, newspaper from the Diocese of Phoenix, Arizona.

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Pew study finds election coverage of religion was shallow

Washington D.C., Nov 22, 2008 (CNA) - A joint study conducted the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has examined religion-focused election news coverage, finding that religion received as much coverage as race, but issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage received “minimal attention.”

After studying more than 7,500 campaign stories from June 1 (the end of the presidential primaries) to October 15 (the day of the last presidential debate), Pew found that a majority of election-related religion stories involved controversy or had an “unfavorable cast.”

About 53 percent of religion stories focused on the Democratic candidate Barack Obama, a mainline Protestant Christian. Thirty percent of election-related religion stories concentrated on false rumors that he is a Muslim.

Only nine percent of such stories focused on Republican candidate Sen. John McCain, while 19 percent focused on Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Palin's family values, church background and related issues reportedly made up one-fourth of the news coverage of religion in the presidential campaign.

Sen. Joe Biden, who is the first Catholic elected as vice-president and whose pro-abortion rights views and comments were criticized by leading prelates, received only 0.7 percent of religion-focused campaign coverage, according to Pew.

Pew reports that controversial pastors associated with a candidate were part of a “clear narrative” in campaign coverage. Revs. Jeremiah Wright, Michael Pfleger and John Hagee made up 11 percent of the religion-related stories studied.

The August 16 Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, moderated by megachurch pastor Rick Warren, accounted for another 11 percent of all religion-related election coverage.

“Culture war issues were not a driving narrative of this election cycle,” the Pew summary states. “The extent to which they were present, they emerged late in the campaign and were largely tied to the nomination of Palin. Together, social issues - including abortion, gay marriage and stem cell research—composed 9% of religion-focused campaign news but less than 1% of campaign news overall.”

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Texas pregnancy center is finalist in $25,000 internet contest

Austin, Texas, Nov 22, 2008 (CNA) - The CareNet Pregnancy Center of Central Texas is a finalist in a contest for a $25,000 office makeover from Perry Office Supply in which internet users may vote.

According to pro-life blogger Jill Stanek, CareNet would use the proceeds for a new office it is opening across the street from a Waco abortion clinic.

Perry Office Plus selected its finalists based on criteria judging how outdated and non-functional each contender’s current office furniture and equipment are, which organization has the most inefficient and unattractive workspace, and what impact the makeover will have on the organization and its ability to serve the community.

The public is encouraged to view the present standings and vote for CareNet or other finalists at http://www.perryop.com/makeover/index.htm. One vote is allowed for each person, who may also choose to enter a prize drawing.

Voting will continue through November 23, and the winners will be notified on November 26.

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Biden experiencing troubled conscience over abortion, says Bishop Aquila

Fargo, N.D., Nov 22, 2008 (CNA) - Following the Fall meeting of the U.S. Catholic bishops in Baltimore, where they pledged not to yield ground to the incoming Obama administration on the issue of abortion, Bishop Samuel Aquila has revealed that vice president-elect Joe Biden is struggling with his conscience over his support for abortion.

Bishop Michael Hoeppner of Crookston, Minnesota and Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, North Dakota are just two of the bishops who have increased their efforts to speak more forcefully and clearly on the issue of abortion over the last year.

In an interview with the Grand Forks Herald on Friday, Bishop Hoeppner explained the situation, saying, “We bishops are united in our teaching and our belief in the sanctity of all life. That’s not new, and it’s across the board, and some politicians have missed that.”

One particular threat to the unborn that the bishops are worried about is the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), which President-elect Obama said he would sign into law as his first act as president.

Bishop Aquila criticized Obama’s willingness to sign the Act in his most recent column for the Diocese of Fargo newspaper, writing that Obama “directly opposes the divine law of God concerning the dignity of each human life, and so he strongly disagrees with the position of the Catholic Church.”

Given the serious threats posed by FOCA and by Catholics with poorly formed consciences who vote in favor of keeping abortion legal, the U.S. bishops are redoubling their efforts to explain the Church’s teaching.  

In interviews with the Herald, both Aquila and Hoeppner pointed to vice president-elect Joe Biden, as an example of how some Catholics have become compromised on abortion.

During the recent presidential campaign, Joe Biden said that while he believes as a matter of faith that life begins at conception, he cannot impose his belief on others through law, and therefore can vote in favor of abortion.

Biden’s comments on NBC’s Meet the Press elicited reactionss from several bishops, one of whom was Charles Chaput of Denver.

“If, as Sen. Biden said, ‘I’m prepared as a matter of faith [emphasis added] to accept that life begins at the moment of conception,’ then he is not merely wrong about the science of new life; he also fails to defend the innocent life he already knows is there,” the archbishop said.

“Resistance to abortion is a matter of human rights, not religious opinion,” he added, arguing that law by nature involves imposing “some people’s convictions on everyone else.”

In his interview with the Grand Forks Herald on Friday, Bishop Aquila revealed that the soon-to-be vice president is experiencing pangs of conscience for his compromise.

“The nice thing about Biden, at least he says his conscience bothers him, which is good,” Aquila said.

Bishop Aquila argues that this stirring in their conscience needs to go further. “But they really should not be presenting themselves for Holy Communion because it is a scandal. And by us giving them Holy Communion, essentially what is communicated to them is that their position is fine.”

The Bishop of Tallahassee-Pensacola agrees with this as well. After a visit to his diocese by Biden during the presidential campaign, Bishop John Richard wrote to the politician and told him to examine his conscience about his support for laws that “fail to protect the unborn” before going to Communion.

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