Archive of October 1, 2011

Safe at last: Bhutanese refugees find new home in Charlotte

Charlotte, N.C., Oct 1, 2011 (CNA) - Hari Chamlagai will probably never forget what it was like when he arrived in Charlotte. "I came here on March 17, 2009, with my family. It was 8 or 9 o'clock at night," he recalls with specific detail. "When we came to the airport, we get out from the airplane – everything was amazing."

Having lived in a Bhutanese refugee camp in Nepal since he was 3, Chamlagai was under the impression that all Americans lived in areas of "big tall buildings like New York City." As Ashir Haji-Mohamed, the case manager from the Charlotte Diocese's Catholic Social Services Refugee Resettlement Office, drove him and his family to their new home, Chamlagai was certain Ashir "was going to take me to one of the tallest buildings here, in downtown. And when I saw downtown it was night, and it was very beautiful." But to his dismay, he was not to live in a skyscraper – the van driver kept going.

Though Chamlagai was disappointed he would not get to live in the skyscrapers he saw in the movies in Nepal, he now takes pride in being able to "see the tallest building from my apartment."

A lot of suffering back then

Chamlagai is one of thousands of Bhutanese refugees who have been resettled in the U.S. When he was 3, his family left the small south Asian country of Bhutan and moved to nearby Nepal, into a refugee camp run by the United Nations. When the Bhutanese refugees first arrived, malnutrition and disease were common. Chamlagai vaguely remembers the beginning when "many people died. One of my brothers died at that time because no food, no shelter, no medication ... There was a lot of suffering back then."

The camps consisted of bamboo huts, and "the space was same size for all families." Each family, regardless of size, was given the same size plot, then given the bamboo and materials to build their own hut. "It is like this," he explains. "When they start, they consider one family. For example, my brother was already married when we came to Nepal so he got a different hut and I was with my father, mother and brother and sister. And when my other brother got married, we don't get another house. We have to stay in the same house. So we are living (as) two families in one house."

The refugees had no electricity. Camp dwellers cooked with small kerosene stoves, provided with rice every 15 days and vegetables once a week.

They also had no running water. Camp dwellers had to fetch water from taps, and water was available for only about two hours each morning, at noon and in the late afternoon. Each water tap was shared by 100 families.

Bhutan's refugees, a persecuted minority

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, nearly one-fifth of Bhutan's population fled the country, complaining of persecution by the Bhutanese government. In what many people believe was an ethnic cleansing, the people of Nepali origin, mainly Hindu Bhutanese, were forced to flee their homeland because of "One Country, One People" – a policy of the predominantly Buddhist absolute monarchy in the name of preserving its Tibetan Mahayana Buddhist identity, which was criticized by international human rights groups.

This meant that everyone – regardless of their ethnicity, religion or locale – had to speak the primary northern Bhutanese dialect, wear the customary northern Bhutanese clothes and practice the predominant traditions.

Tens of thousands of ethnic minorities including Chamlagai's family found relief in camps across the border in Nepal set up by the UN's High Commission for Refugees, which has been unsuccessful in negotiating with the Bhutanese government in resolving the conflict and allowing the refugees to return home.

The camps, which were set up as a temporary solution two decades ago, are now overcrowded, lack electricity and plumbing, and restrict residents from moving freely and finding work. So the U.N. is working to resettle the refugees in countries such as U.S.

“A completely different world”

Just like Chamlagai, 17-year-old Yjwal Pradhan and his 13-year-old sister Susanna relocated to Charlotte in 2009 from another refugee camp in Nepal.

They are part of a generation born in the Bhutanese refugee camps in Nepal. They lived, played and studied growing up in a camp, and though they left their camps occasionally, they never truly experienced life outside – until they moved to Charlotte.

When they arrived, they faced "a completely different world," Yjwal Pradhan says.

The plane ride from Nepal was trying: a 15-hour trip with four connecting flights. It was their first time on a plane, which was exciting yet scary.

Susanna Pradhan recalls, "I thought that America didn't exist. I thought that those people who came to America, they just disappeared."

“Everything's new”

As refugees arrive at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport from all over the world, a case worker from Catholic Social Services' Refugee Resettlement Office is there to greet them. Usually the incoming families don't have much with them – they step off the plane bewildered, disoriented, tired and unable to speak much English. Many of the planes arrive in the middle of the night.

Chamlagai remembers being very concerned about where his family was going, what they would eat and where they would work.

"We did not know where to go. We were told that somebody would come and pick us up from an agency. And we were given a bag where it is written 'IOM' ('International Organization for Migration') and somebody from the agency will recognize us, and we were given one badge which says 'I don't speak English' and has information about us. It was very scary."

The case worker comforts them and takes them to a simple apartment already furnished for them (from donations by people across the Diocese of Charlotte). Beds and sheets, dishes, tables, couches and more are there.

Chamlagai recalls, "When we get inside the apartment it was night time and there was already one Bhutanese family resettled [that] the case worker asked to prepare food for us so that the food was ready." After a long flight with unfamiliar food, it was a great comfort to find a meal they were accustomed to, "our food to eat."

That night his family showered and experienced a new standard of living.

"We have never used electricity, never used the kind of stove that we have here. Never used, never seen! And door, lock system, the restrooms, the air-conditioning – everything's new. Refrigerator, we never used refrigerator. And bed, we had bamboo beds (in the camp), and when I sleep for the first time on the bed that we have I felt very nice that time. It felt very good. And the room was full of furniture. We had one kitchen table, chairs, TV...first time I had TV."

But the case workers don't just drop them off into a new place to live. They support them for months afterwards – providing help with social services, health care referrals, Social Security cards, job leads and more. They help them navigate a grocery store, learn what insurance is for, get the kids settled into local schools, and find English language classes.

After Chamlagai had taken English classes, he began to worry about employment. "I was worried about jobs, at that time we did not know that CSS was going to help us to get the job. The CSS caseworkers told us that they are responsible for finding us jobs. I felt very secure at that time. Before I was feeling unsecure about jobs, where to go, what to do. There were different kinds of worries in the mind, but after they told me that I stopped worrying. Linda Campbell (with CSSRRO) found me a job in a warehouse, (a) distribution center."

Six months after working in the warehouse, Chamlagai learned how to put together a resume and applied for a job opening at the Refugee Resettlement Office. After a few interviews, he was offered the job.

Now – coming full circle from his experience in the camps to coming to America – Chamlagai helps other Bhutanese refugees settle into Charlotte, their adopted home.

Printed with permission from the Catholic News Herald, newspaper for the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.

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Bishop Mansour: Maronite chapel is 'special gift' to universal Church

Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2011 (CNA) - Bishop Gregory J. Mansour of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, N.Y. recently described a new chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Lebanon as a gift “for the Universal Church.”

“The Church encompasses every culture of the world,” Bishop Mansour told CNA on Sept. 30. “The Maronite Church has a certain affinity for the culture of the Middle East, the culture of Jesus himself.”

The newly-consecrated Maronite Chapel of Our Lady of Lebanon is located at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

“It’s a little chapel in the midst of many beautiful chapels in the shrine,” said Bishop Mansour. “But it’s a special gift.”

The bishop expressed gratitude for the support of everyone who helped in the construction and consecration of the chapel.

The dedication of the chapel took place on Sept. 23, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary in Washington, D.C. and the 50th anniversary of priesthood for the seminary’s rector, Chorbishop Seely Beggiani.
Almost 300 people were present for the dedication.

Bishop Mansour consecrated the chapel, and Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl of Washington, D.C. spoke to those who had gathered for the ceremony.

The new chapel was designed by Louis R. DiCocco III, the president of St. Jude Liturgical Arts Studio of Havertown, Pa.
The stone interior of the chapel reflects the design of Lebanon’s intimate stone churches.

A Syriac cross adorns the altar, as is common in ancient Syrian and Lebanese churches. Behind the altar is a crucifixion scene, as well as icons of the four evangelists and the Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus.

The chapel also contains images of St. Maron and Our Lady of Lebanon. The floor features a Cedar of Lebanon design.

Construction of the chapel was part of a three-year project undertaken by the Eparchy of St. Maron of Brooklyn. The eparchy also sought to renovate its Brooklyn cathedral, strengthen the missions and provide financial support for seminarians and retired priests. 

The Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn is composed of 40 parishes and missions in 16 states along the East Coast. The eparchy also contains a seminary in Washington, D.C., a convent for religious sisters and a monastery for contemplative monks.

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Military's gay wedding rule 'seems to ignore' federal law

Washington D.C., Oct 1, 2011 (CNA) -

The head of the U.S. Military Archdiocese says that a new set of rules, allowing chaplains to perform same-sex “marriages” on military property, seems to disregard federal law.

“The Pentagon’s new policy, as outlined in these two memos, appears to ignore the Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law 15 years ago and remains in effect,” said Archbishop Timothy P. Broglio in a Sept. 30 statement provided to CNA.

The archbishop's comments came in response to a pair of memos issued on Sept. 30, just 10 days after the official end of the military's “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy against open homosexuality.

In one of the memos, Defense Department Undersecretary Clifford Stanley states that “a military chaplain may participate in or officiate any private ceremony, whether on or off a military installation, provided that the ceremony is not prohibited by applicable state and local law.”

Both Stanley's memo, and a separate document issued by Defense Department General Counsel Jeh Johnson, sought to distance the department itself from a controversial use of its personnel and facilities.

“Private functions are not official activities of the Department of Defense. Thus, the act of making DoD facilities available for private functions, including religious and other activities, does not constitute an endorsement of the activities by DoD,” Johnson wrote.

Similarly, Stanley stated that “a military chaplain's participation in a private ceremony does not constitute an endorsement of the ceremony by DoD.”

Archbishop Broglio, however, expressed dissatisfaction with the apparent attempt to sidestep the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage in federal law as the union of a man and a woman.

“Undersecretary Stanley cannot say, on the one hand, that chaplains may take part in any private ceremony as long as it is 'not prohibited by applicable state and local law,' and on the other, say nothing of the federal law,” said Archbishop Broglio.

“Nor can DOD’s general counsel say that determinations regarding use of military facilities should be made on a 'sexual-orientation neutral basis, provided such use is not prohibited by applicable state and local laws' while neglecting to take DOMA into account.”

Archbishop Broglio said the use of military bases and personnel, for an activity regarded as invalid both by federal law and that of 44 states, would serve to “undermine the will of the American people,” even if performed only in states in which legislators or judges have redefined marriage.

“It cannot be forgotten that the 1996 enactment of DOMA was due to the efforts of a substantial, bi-partisan majority in Congress and to then-President Clinton,” the military archbishop recalled. “As a nation, we walk down a dangerous path when appointed officials are allowed to thwart the will of the people.”

“The women and men I am privileged to serve place their lives on the line every day to defend the Country whose government is of the people, by the people, and for the people,” he stated. “Let us pray that the millions who have died to ensure those liberties did not die in vain.”

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My 'granddaddy' John Wayne, actor and Catholic convert

Rome, Italy, Oct 1, 2011 (CNA/EWTN News) - John Wayne, for many, was a Hollywood legend who symbolized true masculinity and American values. To Fr. Matthew Muñoz, though, he was simply “granddaddy.”

“When we were little we’d go to his house and we’d simply hang out with granddaddy and we’d play and we’d have fun: a very different image from what most people have of him,”  Fr. Muñoz told CNA on a recent visit to Rome.

Fr. Muñoz was 14 years old when his grandfather died of cancer in 1979. In his lifetime, “The Duke” won an Oscar, the Congressional Gold Medal and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Of all those achievements, though, Fr. Muñoz is most proud of just one – his grandfather’s conversion to the Catholic faith.

“My grandmother, Josephine Wayne Saenz, had a wonderful influence on his life and introduced him to the Catholic world,” said 46-year-old Fr. Muñoz, a priest of the Diocese of Orange in California.  

“He was constantly at Church events and fundraisers that she was always dragging him to and I think that, after a while, he kind of got a sense that the common secular vision of what Catholics are and what his own experience actually was, were becoming two greatly different things.”

Fr. Muñoz’s grandparents married in 1933 and had four children, the youngest of whom – Melinda – is his mother. The couple civilly divorced in 1945 although, as a Catholic, Josephine did not re-marry until after John Wayne’s death. She also never stopped praying for her husband’s conversion – a prayer which was answered in 1978.

“He was a great friend of the Archbishop of Panama, Archbishop Tomas Clavel, and he kept encouraging him and finally my granddaddy said, 'Okay, I’m ready.'”

As a result of a change in Panamanian leadership, Archbishop Clavel was exiled from his native land in 1968. Three years later, Cardinal Timothy Manning, then the Archbishop of Los Angeles, invited Archbishop Clavel to Orange County, where he served as pastoral leader to half of Orange County's 600,000 Latinos.

By the time of Wayne's request, however, Archbishop Clavel was too ill to make the journey to the film star's residence.

“So Archbishop Clavel called Archbishop McGrath,” Fr. Muñoz said, explaining that Archbishop McGrath was the successor to Archbishop Clavel in the Archdiocese of Panama. 

“My mom and my uncle were there when he came. So there’s no question about whether or not he was baptized. He wanted to become baptized and become Catholic,” Fr. Muñoz said. “It was wonderful to see him come to the faith and to leave that witness for our whole family.”

Fr. Muñoz also said that his grandfather’s expressed a degree of regret about not becoming a Catholic earlier in life, explaining “that was one of the sentiment he expressed before he passed on,” blaming “a busy life.”

Prior to his conversion to Catholicism, though, John Wayne’s life was far from irreligious.

“From an early age he had a good sense of what was right and what is wrong. He was raised with a lot of Christian principles and kind of a 'Bible faith' that, I think, had a strong impact upon him,” said Fr. Muñoz recalling that his grandfather often wrote handwritten notes to the Almighty.

“He wrote beautiful love letters to God, and they were prayers. And they were very childlike and they were very simple but also very profound at the same time,” he said.

“And sometimes that simplicity was looked at as naivety but I think there was a profound wisdom in his simplicity.”

Fr. Muñoz summed up the hierarchy of his grandfather’s values as “God coming first, then family, then country.” It’s a triumvirate he sees repeatedly reflected in his grandfather’s films. He believes those values are much needed in Hollywood today and, if “the Duke” were still here he’d be leading the charge.

“My grandfather was a fighter. I think there would be a lot of things he’d be disappointed and saddened over. But I don’t think he would lose hope. I think he would look at the current time as a moment of faith. People are in crisis and they’re looking for something more meaningful, more real,” Fr. Muñoz said. 

“So I think he would look at the situation and say – don’t get discouraged! I think he would say get involved. Don’t go hiding in a shell and getting on the defensive from Hollywood. Get involved and be an agent for the good. I think he would do that. That’s what he did in his time.”

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