Speaking of helping the poor…

Despite the many evils that circulate on the Internet, I firmly believe that it can also be a powerful tool for good. The Kiva website is an example of what I mean.

Kiva is an example of micro-financial lending, in which participants like you and me don’t *give* money so much as *lend* it to micro-entrepreneurs who are then obliged to pay it back. Of course, by paying it back the money then re-enters the borrowing and lending cycle and can be used to help another micro-entrepreneur.

This kind of thing really tickles me, especially given my background in finance. I mentioned in my previous post how the poor are often caught in cycles of usurious loans which keep them down. These kinds of programs are a real chance to break free.

Feed people, not animals

The big headline across the new lately is the dramatic rise in global food prices. This issue touches me in a special way, because in college I once did a paper studying starvation economics, i.e. how “standard” economics changes when food availability reaches critical levels. It isn’t pretty, and experience shows that one round of starvation economics is sufficient to create structures of social injustice that can last generations.

I therefore submit to you that the main reason why food prices have risen is due to our values, and not our capacity to actually produce food.

For example, did you know that in 2004 the market for pet food for cats and dogs was $14.7 billion? And that is just cats and dogs, not fish or birds or other exotic creatures.

And then there is agricultural feed. According to this Wikipedia article, 635 million TONS of feed are grown each year as food for animals. Some of it is food we cannot eat, but is grown on land that could be used to grow food for humans. Some of it (like corn) we could eat, and by diverting that food to feed animals, not people, it actually inflates the price and makes it harder for the poorest to purchase.

Now some may argue that we actually *do* eat that corn, in the form of meat. The problem is that this is a very inefficient kind of diet. I once read that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. As long as the possibility of starvation economics reigns, plant matter is more ethical as people food, not animal food.

I am not proposing we all become vegetarians.

I am proposing that richer nations immediately impose a tax on the sale of animals and animal products (such as food that comes from animals, like meat, or food that goes into animals, like pet food).

This tax would accomplish two things.

First, the price of animal products would rise. Supply and demand being what it is, demand for such products would drop. People would have to compete less with animals, so prices for human food could drop.

Second, this tax would then be used to help those at risk avoiding the trap of starvation economics. Insurance and credit union systems could be put in place to give people options in lean times, thus avoiding the trap of falling into usurious debt (or worse, having to sell off their land and other means of production).

As a final point, I think the Church might be in a special position to help. The creation of systems of wealth transfer from animals to the poor will do no good if that wealth gets diverted through corruption. The struggle for genuine property rights regardless of so-called social status is part of the path of justice — and part of the Gospel of Christ.

Peggy Noonan captures JP2 and B16

Here is a quick line from an article by Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal, an article definitely worth the read:

Oh, you miss that old man when you are here! You feel the presence of his absence. The souvenir shops know. They sell framed pictures and ceramic plates of the pope: John Paul. Is there no Benedict? There is. A photo of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger being embraced by . . . John Paul. It’s now on my desk in New York. They have their hands on each other’s shoulders and look in each other’s eyes. A joyful image. They loved each other and were comrades.When I was writing a book about John Paul, I’d ask those who’d met him or saw him go by: What did you think, or say? And they’d be startled and say, “I don’t know, I was crying.”John Paul made you burst into tears. Benedict makes you think. It is more pleasurable to weep, but at the moment, perhaps it is more important to think.A Vatican reporter last week said John Paul was the perfect pope for the television age, “a man of images.” Think of the pictures of him storm-tossed, tempest-tossed, standing somewhere and leaning into a heavy wind, his robes whipping behind him, holding on to his crosier, the staff bearing the image of a crucified Christ, with both hands, for dear life, as if consciously giving Christians a picture of what it is to be alive.Benedict, the reporter noted, is the perfect pope for the Internet age. He is a man of the word. You download the text of what he said, print it, ponder it.

Feedback on “Catholics Come Home” Website

Here’s an update on that post about that website “Catholics Come Home”
, with those stunning videos. As you recall, the two most popular ads were “Epic” and “Movie”, where different people sit alone in a hanger and watch the movie of their lives, seeing all the bad things they did, and the good. The Catholic News Agency has just published an article about the extraordinary results of these ads. Here are a few quotes from that article:

-In less than three weeks, 3,000 Catholics returned to the Church in the Diocese of Phoenix due to the effort of a new lay apostolate, CatholicsComeHome.org

-In Phoenix, the commercials were aired on all major television networks and also ESPN, Lifetime, FOX News and others. After the first commercial campaign, not only did the diocese report a marked increase in Mass attendance, but over “31,000 unique visitors came to the website from Phoenix and other US cities plus 60 foreign countries, with questions, to look up Mass times, to read information on marriage issues, to watch testimonies or to order Matthew Kelly’s book, ‘Rediscovering Catholicism.’”

-The feedback received from the group was outstanding. Seventy-eight of the 100 participants had positive responses to the ads. In another assessment, the organization found that before watching the videos, 90% of the participants had negative impressions of the Catholic Church. After viewing ads one time, 54% had a much more favorable impression. Hearts and minds were changed after viewing these creative and inspired ads.

-The reaction to the video has been overwhelmingly positive. Viewers commented, “After seeing ‘Epic’, it made me proud to be Catholic.” Priests have noted that the video made them feel “re-invigorated about their vocation.” The video also has touched former Catholics who have said that the video showed the truth about the Church – “truth that they haven’t seen in decades.” The second commercial, “Movie” has a different effect. Peterson described the ad as mirroring the Book of Revelation which states that we will give an account of our lives at the end of time. “Most people are brought to tears when they watch “Movie,” said Peterson. It shows that though Jesus’ divine mercy, “no matter what we’ve done, we can accept the mercy of Jesus who will help us create the perfect ending to each of our lives.”

Plus the Pope has sent a video message to Americans, now on You Tube, in which he tells them about how eager he is to be with them, thanking them for the preparations and inviting them to pray, since without prayer, all that organisation ends up being pretty useless. The theme: Christ our Hope. Very exciting! This visit will be something to watch and read about.

The Journey of the Disciples

Doesn’t being A Christian mean somehow that we have met the risen Christ, that we live now not just for him, but with Him?

Every Easter season we read the passage of Luke’s Gospel about two disciples on their way to Emmaus, a town outside Jerusalem. This Gospel account is about a journey that often reflects our own lives. On this journey a man joins the two disciples of Jesus as they walk and discuss the terrible events that had just happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. They do not recognize this man but they welcome him. The stranger inquires of them why they seem so sad. And they ask ‘have you not heard what they did to Jesus the Nazarene? A prophet mighty in in deeds and word!’

And then this stranger explains the Scriptures to them starting with Moses and all the prophets.

He asks: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his Glory?”
So well did this man interpret the scriptures for them that their hearts were burning within them, yet they still did not recognize that this man who joined them was Jesus, their Lord and Messiah.
Road to Emmaus
Isn’t our faith sometimes like this? We try living with Christian values, with Christian ideals, and yet we often live our lives without recognizing that Christ is with us on our journey.

Unfortunately we as Christians often do not know our sacred story, our holy past, because of this we do not know who we are.

Questions of who I am, where do I come from, why am I the way I am, are fundamental and existential questions!
We need to ask this about our Christian identity too. We must not be cut off from our sacred past. Cardinal Ouellete of Quebec has often spoken to the youth telling them that they should know their heritage, know who they are, and who they are called to be.

This Easter, during the Saturday night vigil, after reading many passages of sacred scripture, (our sacred story of salvation), 11 people became Catholic, four were Baptized, then confirmed with five others, and two made a profession of Catholic faith. It was a beautiful celebration, it was a celebration of the light of the risen Christ we had come to encounter.

To get to this point of entering the Church each of these people had to discover the sacred story of the faith, and thus discover too who they were before God; they were called to encounter Christ who was calling them to be disciples.

Jesus gives us complete freedom however to invite him into our lives, to be Children in the Risen Son. Like the disciple at Emmaus, we must not miss our chance to invite him to stay with us. When the the three travelers arrived in Emmaus, Jesus seems to take his leave of them, but the two Disciples ask him to stay and eat supper with them. Lucky for us Jesus hesitates long enough for them to call out to him. Jesus is always waiting for us to call out to him. It is only when Jesus breaks bread with the two that they recognize him.

What does it mean to have the name of Christian? It means that our hearts should be burning within at our encounter with the risen Lord. This can only happen if we come to recognize him. Like the disciples of Emmaus we will recognize him at the breaking of the bread.
Rembrant's Breaking of the bread
Christ is risen and he is among us. Our sacred story, the history that gives us our identity, is celebrated and given full significance at the breaking of the bread, at the Eucharistic Table, where we know that Christ is manifesting himself. Christ is coming to our encounter.

The whole episode of this Gospel passage of Emmaus is a foreshadowing of our Eucharistic liturgy, of the way we are called to allow Christ to assure us of his continued work of grace in our lives. We celebrate his word and then we renew ourselves at his divine supper. Only then can we too go out and proclaim truly ‘the Lord is risen indeed, and has shown himself to us; we have encountered him, we have celebrated him together. We know who we are, we are his brothers and sisters, disciples and Children of God.