Current Comment

Cuban Immigrants Favored

Cubans stand apart in notable ways from other Hispanic groups in the United States, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center. What especially distinguishes them is that U.S. policy has been much more welcoming to Cubans than to immigrants from the Caribbean and Central and South America. As the report notes, virtually all Cuban migrants have been admitted under a special parole power exercised by the U.S. Attorney General that immediately grants them full legal status and puts them on a path to U.S. citizenship. The fact that they can stay without being challenged stands in painful contrast to the situation of Haitians who also try to reach our shores, but whose treatment at the hands of immigration authorities here is vastly different, with many being incarcerated before being returned.

In an understatement, the report speaks of the unique welcome accorded Cubans by our immigration policies. This welcome frees them from the fears of deportation that haunt people in other Hispanic groups who have lived and worked peacefully in the United States for years. The favored immigration status of Cubans is also reflected in their success. Their household income, the report points out, is higher than that of other Latino groups, with 61 percent owning their homes, in contrast to less than half of other groups. In education, too, their rate of college graduates is more than twice the rate among other Hispanic people. What difference the eventual shifting of power from Fidel Castro will make in the lives of those still in Cuba will appear in the perhaps not-so-distant future. Those now in the United States will continue to exercise political influence far out of proportion to their numbers. The 1.5 million Cubans make up only 4 percent of the Hispanic population in the United States.

Hunger in Africa

Oxfam International, a confederation of 12 organizations that focuses on finding lasting solutions to poverty and especially to hunger, issued a report in July called Causing Hunger: An Overview of the Food Crisis in Africa. The report argues that more innovative approaches are needed besides emergency interventions that are only short-term solutionswhat the report calls short termism. Emergency food aid delivery has nevertheless remained the primary means used by the international community to address food insecurity in developing countries. Although some of the major food donors have taken steps to purchase a portion of their food aid locally in the poor nations themselves at less expense, most food is still imported. Delivery can take five months, and the cost is 50 percent more than it would be if food were purchased on site.

Conflicts are a primary cause of the increasing food emergencies. Darfur is a classic exampleover three million people depend on imported food aid. The H.I.V./AIDS crisis is another cause, as more and more agricultural workers succumb to the disease. It is estimated that by 2020, a fifth of the agricultural workforce in Southern Africa will have died. Most food supplies are shipped from abroad in the form of heavily subsidized farm commodities. Where food markets are still functioning, as in Zambia and Malawi, aid agencies could make use of cash grants to enable people to buy their own fooda step that would not only help local economies, but also maintain people’s dignity by not making them the passive recipients of relief.

A Crisis of Non-Faith

The "tyranny of relativism," which has been a source of concern to Pope Benedict XVI, may be losing its control over contemporary minds and hearts. In a provocative lecture given in Sydney, Australia, on Aug. 27 (an abridged version can be found in The [London] Tablet of Aug. 26), the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, called attention to what could be described as a "crisis of non-faith." Despite the many advances in science and technology, more and more people seem to be searching for a deeper source of meaning. "Our society seems to be losing its faith in no faith. What is in decline, properly speaking, is the certainty of uncertainty." In Britain and in Europe, more and more young people are exploring various forms of spirituality and pursuing courses on religion. If not a revival in religion, "it would be safe to describe [such activity] as a revival of the religious sense," Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor suggested.

How can the Catholic Church respond to such seekers? The Archbishop of Westminster proposed three kinds of experience that could help our contemporaries on their journey to finding God in and through our Catholic lifethe experiences of family, silence and contemplation. The pastoral challenge for the local parish, it would seem, is to provide access to such experiences for both observant Catholics and those seeking faith, so that all can discover, in the archbishop’s words, that religious silence is a search tool that is even better than Google!

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