Anchorage, Alaska, Oct 3, 2009 (CNA) - The chill of fall is descending on Anchorage, along with bright yellow birch leaves – signs of a disappearing summer. But for the hundreds of city residents without a home, these are harbingers of their own dying season. This year, 11 men and one woman have died — living homeless in Anchorage. As winter looms, Mayor Dan Sullivan is rushing to stem the tide, while advocacy groups and the public chime in with ideas, too.
But largely missing from the discussion is mention of the deep spiritual problems that often lie at the heart of chronic homelessness.
Based on the city’s annual, snap-shot survey, on one day this past January, there were at least 755 homeless people — including 147 with chronic substance abuse issues — in temporary shelters, like Brother Francis Shelter, which is run by Catholic Social Services. At the same time, the city identified at least 209 unsheltered people, including 52 who were chronic substance abusers.
Across a year, Brother Francis Shelter provides temporary shelter to more than 3,000 people. Roughly 300 of those are chronically homeless, and most have substance abuse problems.
Mayor Sullivan plans to combat homelessness by coordinating with community nonprofit groups to identify solutions. Also, using the state’s involuntary commitment law – Title 47 – Sullivan wants to move the chronically inebriated homeless temporarily off the streets and into rehabilitation programs. And under a new city ordinance in the works, the municipality plans to quickly shut-down homeless camps, where drinking and deadly violence go hand-in-hand.
Some have proposed establishing a “tent city” where the chronically homeless could legally camp in the city. The Cook Inlet Tribal Council suggests sending social workers into the camps and the downtown bus station. Others support first providing the homeless with permanent housing, then helping them grapple with substance abuse.
Source or symptom?
But often, substance abuse is just the tip of the iceberg of chronic homelessness, said Catholic Social Services’ executive director Susan Bomalaski in an interview with the Anchor.
“A lot of times, it’s a symptom of a deeper problem.”
“Behind some of these behaviors is a hopelessness and meaninglessness,” she explained.
And many times, “that hope is tied with something bigger, deeper — a more spiritual look at how you fit into the cosmos,” Bomalaski added.
So, in November, at the direction of Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Brother Francis Shelter is bringing in newly ordained Catholic Deacon Mick Fornelli to help address some of these spiritual issues.
The first step, Fornelli said, is to develop trust and a relationship. He plans to wear his clerical collar, which he believes will bring a “little quicker level of acceptance” among the homeless than would jeans and a T-shirt.
“I just want them to develop a sense of comfort,” he continued, and to know that God is close to them. That’s important, he said, because when one allows God in, “miracles happen.”
Recognizing Christ’s presence and power gives a person – including the chronically homeless – the ability “to take the next step, to go beyond what we feel we can do, knowing that Jesus is walking there right beside us,” Fornelli explained.
Needing Christian hope
Holly Lawson, executive director of the nondenominational Christian Downtown Soup Kitchen on Fourth Street, has seen the homeless find spiritual hope – and then homes.
The Soup Kitchen’s motto is “a full stomach and a hand up in the name of Jesus.” Daily, it serves 350 cups of soup with sandwiches to the hungry – including many homeless.
As to how some become homeless, “there’s obviously some spiritual warfare in their lives,” commented Lawson, who has a background in counseling.
Being displaced from family, losing a job, missing mortgage payments are like “arrows” in life, she said.
“The only thing I know about life is that it’s a battle – everyday, in some way,” Lawson said.
When hard times hit those who are not so well braced by faith or family, the struggles can “consume them, they lose themselves in them,” she added.
Spiritually-speaking, “without a shield, without a sword, without a helmet,” Lawson said, one is vulnerable to addictions, homelessness and a paralyzing hopelessness.
So beyond a hot meal, Lawson said the homeless need Christian hope — specifically, to know that “one, this is temporary and two, you have a better home waiting for you that’s eternal, so in the meantime, hang in there, you are loved, you are cared for.”
Lawson said that by embracing that well-founded hope, clients are freed to work on a new future and pursue sobriety.
For instance, she said, one man, who had been homeless through several Anchorage winters, has just secured an apartment with Alaska Housing Finance Corporation. “Last week, he moved in.”
“For him, it was recognizing that he had too much on his shoulders as a man,” Lawson explained. “He needed to let go and let God.”
Body and soul
The conversation on homelessness must begin with the truth about the human person, explained Dominican Father Dominic DeMaio of Holy Family Cathedral, a parish where many homeless attend Mass.
“As Christians, especially as Catholic Christians, we always consider the human person in his full dimension – mind, body, spirit and emotion,” explained Father DeMaio. “Those are always going to be completely interconnected.”
For years, every Sunday, after Mass, 50-70 homeless people have come to the Catholic cathedral for coffee, doughnuts, companionship – and occasionally, spiritual songs in Yup’ik.
According to parishioner Tim Walsh, who serves the coffee, these homeless are from “every village,” like Barrow and Point Hope. Having worked in the Bush for three decades, Walsh knew some of these men “when they were kids.”
Each work day, about a dozen homeless people visit the church office.
“It’s the candy that brings them in – and the fellowship,” explained receptionist Teri Perez with a smile. She keeps a dish full of sweets at her desk – along with a resource list for food, shelter and clothing.
“I hope they come for the fellowship,” she added earnestly, “because I like their friendship.”
Food, housing and blankets aren’t enough for the homeless, explained Father DeMaio. He believes any approach that does not address “the fullness of the person is never going to completely address the problem.”
There is a need to heal the core spiritual problems, he said – self-hatred, the fear of being unlovable and alienation – that come from broken homes, abuse, disinterest from the world.
“We’re seeking, as Christians and Catholic Christians, communion with one another and communion with God,” Father DeMaio explained. Many of the homeless are “deeply hungering” for that, he added.
The solution, he said, is in “primarily, the encounter with the living Christ in his members.” For instance, Mother Teresa, he said, lived as “Christ to those people who are untouchable.”
“When they start to become touched by others,” he said, “they may start to awaken and realize, ‘Oh, okay, there is the warmth of love. There is God. God does reach out to me.’
Washington D.C., Oct 3, 2009 (CNA) - Fr. David M. O’Connell, C.M., president of the Catholic University of America, has announced that he will step down as president in August 2010 after 12 years in office. Catholic leaders praised his “devoted service” and what they said was his “notable success” in strengthening the Catholic identity of the school.
The Vincentian priest was elected as the 14th president of CUA in March 1998, becoming the second youngest president in the school’s history. He is now the school’s second longest serving president.
In April 2008 Fr. O’Connell hosted Pope Benedict XVI at CUA during his pastoral visit to the United States. The event was “the highlight of my academic career,” he said.
He has lived on campus throughout nearly all of his tenure and has been highly visible. He has made a point of interacting with undergraduates through listening to their concerns, accompanying them to events, and visiting them when they are sick, a CUA press release says.
CUA reports that under Fr. O’Connell the school has witnessed “record growth” in enrollments, funding and endowment. He has also overseen construction projects, renovations and the introduction of new technologies in classrooms on campus.
Under his presidency CUA purchased 49 acres of new property on the west side of campus, increasing its size by more than a third.
“That I have had the privilege of serving as the 14th President of The Catholic University of America is an experience that I shall treasure as long as I live,” Fr. O’Connell remarked in his monthly newsletter to the university community.
“As I reflect upon my tenure and service at the helm of the national university of the Catholic Church in our country, I feel a profound sense of gratitude for what we are and have become and what we do — thanks to the dedication, commitment and hard work of so many people here — and for the many lives we have touched in so many ways over the years.”
In his inaugural address, CUA says, Fr. O’Connell committed himself to reinvigorating the school’s Catholic identity, strengthening campus ministry and student life, and pursuing the recruitment of leading faculty who are committed to the university’s mission.
The priest has also made media appearances, giving more than 60 interviews to TV and radio outlets.
Archbishop of Washington Donald W. Wuerl commented that Fr. O’Connell has served “exceptionally well” and remarked that he has renewed Catholic identity on campus while bringing a “high level of academic achievement.”
“I rejoice that he also focused on the quality of student life, promoting the appreciation of students for their faith,” the archbishop said.
Communications strategist and CUA alumnus Edward Gillespie, founder of Ed Gillespie Strategies, called Fr. O’Connell the “most consequential president” in 30 years.
Archbishop of Detroit Allen H. Vigneron, chairman of CUA’s Board of Trustees, said the trustees are “highly indebted” to the outgoing president for his “devoted service.”
“He has achieved notable success in advancing the university's mission of truth as it is known by faith and disclosed to natural reason. He will leave CUA a stronger and more vibrant institution, poised for a great new chapter in its history.”
The Board of Trustees met in Denver earlier this week to discuss strategies to search for a successor. Archbishop Vigneron will chair the search process and will be assisted by fellow trustee Paul Chiapparone of Palm Beach, Florida. The board hopes to have a new president by September 2010.
Fr. O’Connell reported that he is considering several opportunities for the future but has no specific commitments at present.
, Oct 3, 2009 (CNA) - Bishop Ratko Peric of Mostar-Duvno in Bosnia and Herzegovina has sent letters to the pastor and a parochial vicar in Medjugorje, emphasizing that the town's parish is not a “shrine” and specifically directing them that they and the parish are not to promote the alleged Marian apparitions.
The separate June 12 letters from Bishop Peric to Friar Petar Vlasic, the parish priest of Medjugorje, and Friar Danko Perutina, its parochial vicar, said that alleged messages of apparitions and commentaries on them are not to be published. Italian translations of the letters were posted by the diocese on its website on September 26.
According to Bishop Peric's letter, the prayers from the apparitions are not to be used publicly. Alleged seers must not be invited and must not present themselves in the parish church to promote their messages.
Foreign priests may not give conferences or retreats in Medjugorje without permission of the bishop, he explained, adding that foreign priests wishing to offer Mass must present a “celebret” document from their diocese or religious order and that such information must be recorded.
He repeated that a privately built church should not be used by the faithful and has been closed by the diocese.
In his letter to Friar Perutina, Bishop Peric noted that the priest had published some commentaries about alleged messages from apparitions. He emphasized that the friar is not authorized to comment upon and publish the alleged messages, either in his own name or under a pseudonym.
Writing to Friar Vlasic, Bishop Peric explained that the parish of Medjugorje cannot be called a shrine publicly or privately because it is not recognized by the relevant ecclesial authority. He instructed that such a description must not appear on the website of Medjugorje, where it was still being used in June 2009.
“As the local Ordinary, in this present letter, I declare that the so-called ‘shrine’ has no mission to declare itself a ‘Shrine’, nor to present (the parish) with that title, because it has no ecclesiastical mission to present itself in the name of Medjugorje, nor to spread or interpret the ‘apparitions’ and ‘messages’ of Medjugorje,” wrote Bishop Peric.
Friar Perutina, the bishop told Friar Vlasic, is presenting messages from the alleged seer Marija, commenting on them, and publishing them.
“This is contrary to the decision and request of this Curia,” Bishop Peric said, emphasizing that, "These are private messages to private people for private use."
The prelate said it is not permitted for intentions received in an alleged Medjugorje apparition or message to be introduced during the Rosary. He explained that there are sufficient official intentions from the Pope, the bishop and the missions, and therefore there is no need to mix such messages with the Church’s public prayers.
Manila, Philippines, Oct 3, 2009 (CNA) - As another major storm approaches the typhoon-battered Philippines, the national government has declared a “state of calamity” and Archbishop of Manila Gaudencio Cardinal Rosales has announced a special Sunday collection for victims of Typhoon Ketsana.
“This coming Sunday, October 4, a special collection will be made at all Sunday Masses, including the anticipated Masses, in Parishes, Chapels and Malls for the victims of the Ondoy disaster,” he said, using the local name for the typhoon.
At least 293 were killed by the storm and the floods which accompanied it. Ketsana dumped a month’s worth of rain in six hours, Bloomberg reports.
Cardinal Rosales challenged the country’s Catholics to come to the aid of those heavily affected.
“A destruction as large as this becomes a call to all of us to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are out there literally still wet and cold—homeless,” he said in a statement from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
Fr. Anton Pascual, Executive Director of Caritas Manila, said that donations for flood victims may be sent to any nearby parish or diocesan social action centers. These will coordinate with Caritas Manila to distribute the aid to the nine affected dioceses, which include the Archdiocese of Manila.
“We want our brothers and sisters to feel some comfort to ease their pain and suffering when they receive the relief goods,” Fr. Pascual said.
The CBCP reports that Caritas Manila, which is the social action arm of the Archdiocese, has already distributed relief goods to almost 21,000 families since relief work began last Sunday.
As of Friday, forecasters predicted that Typhoon Parma, a Category 4 storm with measured winds of 138 miles per hour, would make landfall on 8 a.m. Saturday.
“It is almost unprecedented for any region to experience so many disasters over such a short period of time,” United Nations Under-Secretary-General Noeleen Heyzer said in a statement, according to Bloomberg. “The disasters of the past week remind us that the Asia Pacific is the worlds’ disaster hot spot.”