Signs of the Times

Houma-Thibodaux Diocese Severely Hit by Storm

Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans reported on Sept. 2 that of Louisiana’s seven Catholic dioceses, the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux was battered the hardest by Hurricane Gustav. Hughes, who rode out the storm at the St. Louis Cathedral rectory after helping hundreds of residents evacuate the city on buses, said he spoke briefly late on Sept. 1 with Bishop Sam G. Jacobs of Houma-Thibodaux. “I suspect the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese suffered the greatest damage” among Louisiana’s dioceses, Archbishop Hughes said in a telephone interview with The Clarion Herald, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Meanwhile, local Catholic Charities agencies are opening community resource sites throughout the affected region where families can access food, water, toiletries, cleanup supplies and other resources provided by partner agencies, according to Shelley Borysiewicz, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities USA’s disaster response team has been on the ground in the Gulf Coast area since before the storm hit, helping local agencies implement their disaster response plans, she said.


Positives and Negatives in Biden Abortion Record

Senator Joseph R. Biden’s nomination for vice president will likely raise many of the same questions that trailed Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts four years ago about a Catholic nominee whose voting record on abortion conflicts with Catholic teaching. Like Kerry’s record, Biden’s legislative history includes opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion and to legislation that would make it harder for minors to cross state lines to obtain an abortion. But Biden has also voted in favor of some limits on abortion, including voting for a ban on partial-birth abortion and against federal funding for abortions. He has said he accepts the church teaching that life begins at conception. During the campaign in 2004, a handful of Catholic bishops issued statements saying they would refuse to give Senator Kerry Communion if he presented himself to them during Mass because of his pro-choice position.

Census Bureau Reveals Increase in Poverty

Figures released Aug. 26 by the U.S. Census Bureau revealed an increase in the number of Americans living in poverty in 2007. “We have 800,000 more people living in poverty, including 500,000 more children” and 200,000 more senior citizens, said Candy Hill, senior vice president for social policy and government affairs at Catholic Charities USA. The data also showed that the poverty rate for Hispanics climbed from 20.6 percent in 2006 to 21.5 percent in 2007, and for children younger than 18 the poverty rate rose from 17.4 percent to 18 percent. Hill said that despite Catholic Charities’ campaign to cut U.S. poverty in half by 2020, “we’re stuck.” The new figures call for a “redoubling of our efforts,” she added.

Gertrude Morris, Grail Catholic Leader, Dies

Gertrude Morris, a leader in the black Catholic community for decades died Aug. 18 in San Francisco. She was 83. Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Dec. 20, 1924, Morris joined the international Grail movement in 1957 and formally dedicated herself to the community of vowed lay members in 1961. As a Grail member, Morris served as the director of evangelization for the National Office of Black Catholics in Washington and was the editor of Free in the Spirit, a national publication for black Catholics. As a leader in the black Catholic revival movement, Morris coordinated more than 20 revivals, became the first black recipient of the U.S. Conference on Evangelization’s award for evangelization and helped establish the organization “I’m Black and Catholic—and I’m Proud.” A memorial Mass was celebrated at St. Paul of the Shipwreck Catholic Church in San Francisco Aug. 24. A national memorial Mass will be held at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 28 at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Missouri Execution Delayed for 30 Days

After the Catholic bishops of Missouri and other religious leaders urged clemency in the case of Dennis Skillicorn, the Missouri Supreme Court granted a 30-day stay of execution for the inmate who had been scheduled to die Aug. 27. In an appeal to Missouri’s Gov. Matt Blunt, the religious leaders said Skillicorn “has turned his life around, becoming a model of rehabilitation and service to others” and “a model prisoner who is a positive influence on other inmates and the prison environment.” “Dennis Skillicorn is not the same person who was arrested 14 years ago,” they added. “He is no longer a threat to public safety. His execution would be senseless.” The stay was granted to allow Skillicorn’s attorneys to gather information from prisoners and prison staff for a clemency petition to the governor. The attorneys are asking that his sentence be commuted to life in prison without parole.

Accusations of Religious Repression in Vietnam

The bipartisan, independent U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued a report documenting persistent violations of religious freedom in Vietnam. Religious freedom “continues to be mixed, with improvements for some religious communities but not for others,” the report said. “The U.S. government still needs to press Vietnam’s leaders to make immediate improvements to end religious freedom abuses, ease restrictions and release prisoners,” said Felice Gaer, one of the commissioners. According to AsiaNews, Communist authorities in Hanoi have recently launched a campaign of repression against lay Catholic leaders who have demanded that the government return land seized from the Vietnamese church and its parishes.

Missile Plan Denounced in Rome

The Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has said that the U.S. plan to install a missile shield in Eastern Europe could seriously threaten U.S.-Russian relations and the future of global disarmament. The front-page story, under the headline, “Multilateralism and Disarmament at Risk,” appeared Aug. 21, the day after the United States and Poland signed an agreement to place 10 interceptor missiles on Polish territory. “The signing of the missile shield agreement...has produced a dynamic that seems able to threaten multilateralism and the process of international disarmament,” the newspaper said. In July, the Czech Republic agreed to station a U.S. radar system, another part of the missile shield, on its territory. Russia has strongly objected to the plan, saying placement of the missile shield would endanger its own security. The United States has said the shield is not aimed at Russia but at potential rogue states, like Iran.

Georgia Confronts Humanitarian Needs

As a result of the recent Russian intervention, 128,000 people have been displaced within Georgia, according to Catholic Relief Services. “Concern is mounting about what will happen to those who can’t go back, who’ll need housing, vocational training and a new start in life,” said Laura Sheahen, an information officer for C.R.S., upon her return from a tour of the affected areas. Sheahen also noted that while many people had returned to western Georgia, they would face hardships obtaining fuel and repairing their homes during the coming winter. Sheahen said C.R.S. is cooperating with other humanitarian organizations to supply food and medicine. The Rev. Witold Szulczynski, head of Caritas Georgia, said humanitarian aid was reaching the people of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, and that life appeared to be “returning to near-normal” in the war-damaged city of Gori. Caritas Georgia is the local affiliate of Caritas Internationalis, an international umbrella group of Catholic aid agencies.

Mexico City Abortion Law Upheld by Court

The Supreme Court of Mexico has upheld a Mexico City law legalizing abortion. Catholic officials across Mexico expressed sadness at the decision, but also promised to focus their attention on better serving pregnant women who might be considering abortion. Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera of Mexico City said in a statement that the court was endorsing “an immoral law that not only decriminalizes abortion, but also hurts and infringes the fundamental rights of being human.”

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