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Archive of February 26, 2011

Homeless Alaskans help run Catholic shelter in effort to leave it

Anchorage, Alaska, Feb 26, 2011 (CNA) - Last October, DeVika Rhodes boarded a plane in Philadelphia with only a few dollars in her pocket, hoping for a fresh start in Alaska.

The 42-year-old mom had battled the recession in Philadelphia — taking every available job, including temporary work in construction. She had never slept in a homeless shelter or seen a soup kitchen but she arrived in Anchorage without a home or money for a hotel.

“One of the people I was on the plane with had been on all three of my flights from Philly. He told me, ‘There’s a shelter in Anchorage.’”

Four months later, she is grateful for the lifeline that the Catholic Social Services-run Brother Francis Shelter provided through a volunteer job at the downtown facility. And she is continuing to seek full-time work in Anchorage.

No idle hands

Rhodes fills one of 49 homeless volunteer positions which keep Anchorage’s largest homeless shelter running smoothly. Volunteers answer phones, greet newcomers, monitor the premises, work in the kitchen, sort blankets and clothing donations and keep the place clean and inviting.

Darryl Payne, 42, is another homeless Alaskan taking advantage of the leg-up offered by Brother Francis Shelter’s In-House program as a kitchen supervisor. Payne has lived in Alaska most of his life but arrived at the shelter due to poor decisions and problems that included a divorce and trouble with the law.

After leaving the Wildwood Correctional Facility in Soldotna more than three years ago, Payne was determined to turn his life around. Through volunteering at Brother Francis, he now sees a brighter future.

“Brother Francis Shelter has been a good part of my change,” Payne explained. “If Brother Francis wasn’t here for me, I wouldn’t have been able to become stable.”

Dewayne Harris, program director at Brother Francis Shelter, said the volunteer program has two goals: to prepare residents for job readiness by giving them experience in the real-life responsibilities of a job, and to provide the shelter with help in operating the facility.

For example, those calling the shelter during the day may find the crisp, professional voice of Rhodes answering at the front desk.

The work comes with strict policies and procedures, which must be followed if a guest wishes to keep working. These include obeying curfew requirements and avoiding drugs and alcohol as well as performing the job efficiently.

Additionally, volunteers are required to be in case management — actively looking for full-time employment and expected to find a job within 60 days. The shelter permits schedules to be flexible enough to allow for job interviews.

“I’ll move mountains with their position here to keep them involved in their job hunt,” Harris said.

Volunteers are also required to save 70 percent of any income they receive — from salaries, disability checks or Permanent Fund Dividends.

But the in-house jobs also come with coveted privileges, including: a reserved bed, being allowed to remain in the building during the day, a personal storage locker and the right to extend the normal 30-day stay at the shelter to up to four months.

Reaping the rewards

Shelter manager Jim Stout has a paid position and works directly under program director Harris.

Stout is a Brother Francis Shelter success story. The one-time homeless Alaskan has worked his way up through the system, has his own home and oversees a staff of 55 at the shelter.

There’s a lot of competition for the 49 in-house positions, Stout said, and not everybody can make it.

“If they can’t get along with other people, they can’t hold the job,” he said. “Curfew is a challenge for many, and also alcohol.”

As a volunteer, Payne has a small bedroom in the staff quarters, which accommodates up to 10 people. He said some people “choose to use the shelter as a flophouse for a hangover” and addiction and mental health problems plague many guests.

But if you’re motivated, “this is an awesome place for people wanting to help themselves.”

Payne, like most people, never envisioned himself needing a shelter and for him, it was a last resort after burning too many bridges.

“I came here because it was cold. I had nowhere else to go. I had a sweat suit on, forty dollars in my pocket, and I was isolated from my family. All I wanted was a bed for the night.”

He now sees his decision to come to the shelter as a pivotal one for his personal growth.

Harris said approximately 80 percent of shelter guests are men, and 20 percent female. Brother Francis is an adult shelter only, and about 35 percent of the guests already have full-time jobs.

“Who knows why they walk through our doors?” Harris said. It might be as simple as having lost the roommate who made an apartment affordable. It could be the loss of seasonal work.

On a recent February night, 250 men and women — ten over official capacity — filled the facility. On many cold winter nights, more than 300 people clamor for a spot on the floor, and the overflow is directed to nearby Beans’ Café, a soup kitchen, where shelter staff supervise for the night.

Rhodes remembers vividly her first night at the shelter.

“It was a shock to my heart,” she recalls. Having grown up in King of Prussia near Philadelphia, attended Catholic school through sixth grade, and worked most of her life, she never dreamed she’d find herself jobless and in a shelter.

Now, she has her resume out all over town, and hopes to bring her daughter, who receives her First Communion this spring, up to Anchorage as soon as she finds work.

“If you show the people here at Brother Francis you’re sincere and want to get on your feet, they’ll go to bat for you,” she said.

Printed with permission from CatholicAnchor.org, newspaper for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska.

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Protests continue as Wisconsin lawmakers push budget proposal to Senate

Madison, Wis., Feb 26, 2011 (CNA) - As tens of thousands continue to protest in Wisconsin’s capitol city of Madison, Republican lawmakers have pushed controversial budget cuts through the local state Assembly and on to the Senate.

In the absence of local Democratic senators – who fled the state in order to stall voting on the budget proposal – the state Assembly voted on Feb. 25 to move the bill to the state Senate for consideration. The budget contains a controversial measure that strips public workers of collective bargaining rights and slashes funding for their individual health care and pensions.

Kim Wadas, associate director of education and health care for the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, explained that although legislative action on the measure is stalled because of the absent senators, the state assembly  “decided to hold a floor session and take up the bill.”

“Once a bill goes through its third reading – and there's a passage on that third reading – it's no longer amendable and it can be messaged over to the Senate and taken up by the Senate,” Wadas said via phone on Feb. 25.

Although today's vote by the assembly is listed as 51 in favor of sending the bill to the Senate and 17 opposed, Wadas noted that “some of the Democratic members of the assembly have raised questions on whether the rules were properly followed on that final vote.”

Protests by an estimated 60,000 demonstrators have raged on for the last week in Madison as public workers fight against proposed budget cuts from newly sworn in Gov. Scott Walker.

Gov. Walker faces a deficit of $137 million in the current state budget and the prospect of a $3.6 billion debt within the next two years.

Friday's Assembly vote came one day after the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference urged respect of workers rights and civility in public debate.

Bishop Steven E. Blaire of Stockton, California –  who serves as chairman of the conference's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development – wrote that Church teaching shows that “these are not just political conflicts or economic choices; they are moral choices with enormous human dimensions.”

In a Feb. 24 letter to Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome  E. Listecki, he underscored that the “debates over worker representation and collective bargaining are not simply matters of ideology or power, but involve principles of justice, participation and how workers can have a voice in the workplace and economy.”

Although Archbishop Listecki and other bishops around the state have not spoken in direct opposition to the proposed budget, they've reiterated the importance of protecting worker's rights in light of the Church's social doctrine.

Archbishop Listecki said in a Feb. 16 statement that even though “the Church is well aware that difficult economic times call for hard choices,” current situations “do not nullify the moral obligation each of us has to respect the legitimate rights of workers.”

The archbishop also drew from Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical “Caritas in Veritate,” in which the pontiff criticizes governments for limiting the freedom or negotiating capacity of unions. He then referenced the late Pope John Paul II's observation that unions remain a “constructive factor” of social order and solidarity.

Bishop of Madison Robert C. Morlino added to the debate in a Feb. 24 column for the diocesan newspaper the Catholic Herald.

Bishop Morlino said he believes “the final question boils down to” whether or not “the sacrifice which teachers and other labor union members are called to make” is fair.

However, he added that the “relativism of our culture and society once again does us grave harm,” since the meaning of “fair” is viewed as relative to the individual. This, the bishop lamented, gives “no common ground for reasonable and civil discourse” and leaves people with nothing but “emotions.”

Also cautioning against polarization is Dr. Constance Nielson, who serves on the local diocesan Catholic Campaign for Human Development committee.

In a Feb. 24 guest column for the Catholic Herald, Nielson said that although “the secular media might portray the unrest in Wisconsin, as 'taxpayers vs. public workers' or 'liberals vs. conservatives,' an authentically Catholic view of society would not frame it this way.”

What's “most salient for the Catholic perspective,” Nielson said, is to not view the current conflict “as a power-struggle.”

The debate, she added, “should always be aimed towards achieving justice; it should never be seen as a struggle against other people.”

“In other words, both sides of any labor disagreement ought to be working for justice and the common good, rather than to achieve their own personal victory,” she said.

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NYC billboard about abortion’s dangers for blacks removed after threats, criticism

New York City, N.Y., Feb 26, 2011 (CNA) - A New York City billboard which charged that abortion makes a mother’s womb the most dangerous place for American blacks has been removed because of criticism from local political leaders, harassment and fears of violence.

The announcement of the removal prompted strong disagreement from the billboard’s supporters.

“While this billboard causes a visceral reaction from many African Americans, it addresses a stubborn truth that 60 percent of black babies do not make it out of the womb. We must do something now,” commented Rev. Michel Faulkner of the Harlem-based New Horizon Church Ministry.

“Instead of challenging the design of the ad, we should ask why the message is true and how can we change the fact that the leading cause of death for African Americans is abortion.”

The billboard, sponsored by the group Life Always, measured 29 feet high and 16 feet wide and was erected on the night of Feb. 22. It depicted a young black girl beneath the phrase “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.”

It linked to the website www.thatsabortion.com. The site criticizes abortion’s effects on the black community, offers pregnancy help information, and charges that Planned Parenthood targets minority neighborhoods with its abortion clinics.

The billboard was Life Always’ first in the state of New York. It was put up in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan about half a mile from one of New York City’s three Planned Parenthood abortion clinics.

Pete Costanza, the general manager for Lamar Advertising, said the billboard was being taken down because an objector to the billboard harassed the waiters and waitresses in the Mexican restaurant below the sign.

The restaurant has no affiliation with the billboard company or the pro-life group.

“I don’t want any violence to happen around the buildings there,” Costanza told the New York Times. His decision was not about politics, but safety, he remarked. He said he was not inundated by requests for the ad’s removal.

Lamar Advertising spokesman Hal Kilshaw told the New York Times that Costanza was worried about the safety of the restaurant staff and also about reports of a protest against the billboard.

Before the decision to remove the ad, New York City Council member Letitia James had planned to hold a news conference under the billboard with prominent clergyman Rev. Al Sharpton on Feb. 25.

James said she was outraged that its sponsors decided to post the billboard to coincide with Black History Month.

She had directed her staff to start an online petition seeking its removal and she asked the liberal activist group MoveOn.org to publicize it.

The petition criticized the billboard’s “vitriolic language” and invoked the Arizona shootings committed by Jared Lee Loughner in January. It also cited an unnamed Planned Parenthood representative who called the billboard a “condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African-American women.”

Other elected officials also voiced criticism. City Council speaker Christine C. Quinn issued a statement objecting to the comparisons of abortion to genocide.

“To refer to a woman’s legal right to an abortion as a ‘genocidal plot’ is not only absurd, but it is offensive to women and to communities of color,” she said.

City public advocate Bill de Blasio called for the billboard’s removal on Feb. 23, while the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University also wrote Costanza seeking its removal.

New York City Vital Statistics show that 59.8 percent of black pregnancies end in abortion, which means almost 1,500 babies are aborted for every 1,000 born alive.

“The reaction to this billboard is centered on trauma; abortion is traumatic, it is the emotional and physical trauma that women face after abortion that necessitates access to post-abortive healing services,” commented Life Always board member Pastor Steven Broden, who heads the Fair Park Bible Fellowship in Texas.

Life Always said it “strongly disagrees” with the decision to remove the billboard.

“(T)he billboard's message holds true, and truth has a place in the public square,” it said on Feb. 24. “The intent of the board is to call attention to the tragedy and the truth that abortion is outpacing life in the black community.”

The group said it respects all women and encourages those in need of pregnancy care to visit one of the city’s numerous pregnancy care centers which offer “hopeful alternatives” to abortion.

In January 2011, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York decried the city’s “chilling” abortion rate. A recent report found that 41 percent of all unborn babies there are killed in the womb. The city’s three Planned Parenthood abortion clinics reported nearly 17,000 abortions in 2010.

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Oscar success for 'The King's Speech' could signal change for filmmaking, says Vatican newspaper

Vatican City, Feb 26, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - Victories for “The King's Speech” at the Academy Awards could show a “new path” in film and signal a “return to the best tradition of English cinema,” according to L'Osservatore Romano.

This year's Oscar award winners will be announced at the 83rd annual Academy Awards ceremony of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Feb. 27. “The King's Speech,” a film by English film and television director Tom Hooper, is expected to take home its fair share of the glory.

It has been nominated for awards in 12 categories, including best actor and best film.

L'Osservatore Romano contributor Emilio Ranzato called the film “beautiful” in an article released on Feb. 26 for the Sunday edition.

The film, he said, demonstrates how a movie can be great by “happily” combining at a very high level “all of the ingredients of popular cinema” and by relying on collaboration rather than the vision of one filmmaker.

The movie portrays a segment in the life of Prince Albert “Bertie” Windsor who, with the help of his speech therapist, overcomes a speech impediment and crisis in the royal family to lead the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth as king.

The triumphant and climactic moment of the film marks the beginning one of the most trying times for all Britons in the 20th century: the radio speech of King George VI to the British Empire announcing entry into the War.

For Ranzato, the “true secret of the film” is achieving the effect of portraying the “high, philosophical and symbolic” royal in a role of the “underdog” who fights to overcome difficulty.

The therapist, played by Geoffrey Rush, serves “a little as coach, custodian angel and alter ego” in helping George VI.

Ranzato said that while the film’s director was not immune to the temptation to stylize certain scenes, he does not overdo it and gives the text a “nice rhythm” that could otherwise have become verbose.

He also praised the ability of the movie’s television-trained screenwriter, David Seidler, to condense 20 years of English history into “a few, although decisive, minutes of a speech to the nation.”

The dozen Oscar nominations “might seem a little exaggerated,” he added, but “it is precisely in the context of the creative crisis of the most recent moviemaking that its unexpected exploit takes on meaning.”

To honor “The King's Speech” would be the Academy's way of choosing a “new path to follow,” he thought.

If the film receives Oscar accolades, Ranzato concluded, the victory “would be interpreted as a return to a more classic - that is, more narrative and less author-driven - result of teamwork more than the inspiration of the single person.”

That result would also show “a pact with the world of the small screen and of the television series that are so lively today,” he said.

“We'll wait and see. For now, they are qualities that confirm and renew the best tradition of English cinema.”

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