Anniversary

VIDEO: Water Everlasting?

In 2014, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) premiered Water Everlasting? The Battle to Secure Haiti’s Most Essential Resource, a documentary film addressing concerns about Haiti’s public water system.

Government agencies and charitable organizations have spent decades attempting to provide clean water to Haiti, but administrative weaknesses often impede these efforts. The 2010 earthquake exacerbated the problem. Suddenly, millions of people lacked access to safe drinking water, and waterborne diseases reached epic proportions.

Yet, despite the many instances of lack, there is good being done in Haiti in various capacities. Read “On a Firm Foundation” to learn of the many positive accomplishments of Haitians working in their own neighborhoods. 

What will it take to keep water flowing in Haiti? How can Haitians take charge? These are a few of the questions explored in the film. See all 25 minutes of it here. 

See the trailer to Water Everlasting? below: 

 

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The Public Private Life of Thomas Merton

IN OCTOBER 1968, the renowned Trappist monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton set out for Asia on what would be his final pilgrimage, desiring “to drink from [the] ancient sources of monastic vision and experience.” From his monastery in Kentucky, he had long dreamed of meeting with Buddhist teachers face to face, close to the sources of Eastern mysticism, and fulfilling what he believed to be the vocation of every Christian: to be an instrument of unity.

Three times during his journey Merton met with the young Dalai Lama, who would later say, “This was the first time that I had been struck by such a feeling of spirituality in anyone who professed Christianity. ... It was Merton who introduced me to the real meaning of the word ‘Christian.’”

After Merton’s sudden death in Bangkok on Dec. 10, 1968—the result of an accidental electrocution—his body was returned to the U.S. in a military transport plane that carried the bodies of soldiers killed in Vietnam, a war he had condemned forcefully. His body was laid in the earth on a hillside behind the monastery, overlooking the Kentucky woods where he lived as a hermit the last years of his life. Pilgrims from all over the world continue to visit the Abbey of Gethsemani and pray before the simple white cross that marks Merton’s grave. Why? One hundred years after his birth, the question is well worth asking. What particular magic draws seekers of every generation and of such remarkably diverse backgrounds to Thomas Merton?

SON OF A CENTURY

Merton’s appeal to postmodern sensibilities may be explained in part by his own renaissance background. Born in France in 1915 to an American mother and a New Zealand father, itinerant artists who had met in Paris, Merton spent much of his youth traveling between Europe and America. By the time he was 16, both of his parents were dead. He enrolled at Cambridge, but his raucous behavior there quickly prompted his godfather to send Merton back to the U.S., where he enrolled at Columbia University and soon thrived among an avant-garde group of friends.

More and more he found himself drawn to Catholic authors, devouring works by William Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, James Joyce, and Jacques Maritain. As he later described this period, something deep “began to stir within me ... began to push me, to prompt me ... like a voice.” To the shock of his friends, Merton announced his desire to become a Roman Catholic and was baptized on Nov. 16, 1938, in New York. Two years later Merton began teaching English at St. Bonaventure. After spending Holy Week of 1941 on retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in the hills of rural western Kentucky, Merton decided to become a Trappist monk, part of a Catholic religious order of cloistered contemplatives who follow the 1,500-year-old Rule of St. Benedict.

It was the publication in 1948 of his autobiography,The Seven Storey Mountain, set against the shadow of World War II, that established Merton as a “famous” monk and a wholly unexpected literary phenomenon. In addition to publishing spiritual meditations, journals, and poetry, during the 1960s he published penetrating essays in both religious and secular venues on the most explosive social issues of the day, the religions of the East, monastic and church reform, and questions of belief and atheism.

As a model for Christian holiness, Merton was far from perfect. In fact he took pains to distance himself from his early, more pious writings, and insisted on his right not to be turned into a myth for Catholic school children. He was a restless monk, and often chafed against his vows of stability and obedience. In 1966, during a hospital stay in Louisville, Ky., he fell in love with a young student nurse, and for some six months they had a kind of clandestine affair. 

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The First Year of the Pope’s Revolution

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com
Pope Francis greets people in St. Peter's Square in the Pope mobile. giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

A year ago yesterday — March 13, 2013 — Pope Francis officially became pope. Since then he has fascinated the world. 

He didn’t don the snazzy red shoes and fancy papal attire. He chose a humble apartment rather than the posh papal palace. He washed the feet of women in prison. He touched folks that others did not want to touch, like a man with a disfigured face, making headline news around the world. He has put the margins in the spotlight. He refused to condemn sexual minorities saying, “Who am I to judge?” He has let kids steal the show, allowing one little boy to wander up on stage and stand by him as he preached. 

At 77, Pope Francis Keeps a Busy Pace, and Aides Keep Their Fingers Crossed

Pope Francis passes news photographers in St. Peter’s Square. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

When cardinals gathered in the Sistine Chapel a year ago to choose a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, a frail 85-year-old who had become the first pope in six centuries to resign, many of them had one non-negotiable for the next pontiff: that he not be over 70 years old.

So what did the cardinals do? They elected 76-year-old Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Argentina — a man who had part of a lung removed in his 20s and who today “walks kind of crookedly,” as a former aide once put it, because he wears orthopedic shoes to help alleviate chronic lower back pain.

All in all, though, Pope Francis, now 77, seems to be doing quite well at the one-year mark of his papacy, despite maintaining a nonstop pace of liturgies, meetings, public appearances, and hours of prayer throughout a day that starts before 5 a.m.

“He eats works, it’s true,” said the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit priest — like Francis — who conducted a book-length interview with the pope last year and knows him well.

On Anniversary of Resignation, Benedict XVI Has No Regrets

Pope Benedict XVI leaves Christmas Eve Mass in 2012. RNS photo by Paul Haring/Catholic News Service

After a tumultuous year that saw the first papal resignation in nearly six centuries, the election of Pope Francis, and a dramatic reshaping of the church’s style and tone, the man who set those wheels in motion has no regrets.

Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI, now retired and living in seclusion inside the Vatican, is at peace in his new role and believes history will vindicate his difficult eight-year papacy, his closest aide said in a rare interview.

“It is clear that humanly speaking, many times, it is painful to see that what is written about someone does not correspond concretely to what was done,” Archbishop Georg Ganswein said in an interview with the Reuters news agency on the anniversary of Benedict’s surprise announcement on Feb. 11, 2013, that he would resign.

Memories of the March

Rep. John Lewis. Photo courtesy RNS/the Office of Rep. John Lewis.
Rep. John Lewis. Photo courtesy RNS/the Office of Rep. John Lewis.

Don Cash had graduated from high school in June 1963 and decided on the spur of the moment to join the March on Washington when he finished his work shift at a nearby warehouse. The Baptist layman is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union’s Minority Coalition and a board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the NAACP. 

“I think we got a long ways to go but I do think that there’s been a lot of changes. I don’t think you’ll ever see what Martin Luther King dreamed in reality, in total. I think we’ll always have to strive for perfection. The dream that he had is a perfect world and I think that in order to be perfect, you have to continue to work at it.”

From the Archives: May 1990

IN THE summer of 1969, then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson was on a conservation speaking tour of the West when he visited the beaches of Santa Barbara, at that time despoiled by one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. The devastation affected him deeply. Later, while reading an article about the teach-ins organized by anti-Vietnam War activists, Nelson asked himself, Why not have a day for a nationwide teach-in on the environment? Thus was born Earth Day 1970.

The original Earth Day was marked by a massive public outpouring of concern for the environment. Earth Day helped spawn new laws such as the Clean Air and Water Acts and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, but it did little to staunch the more serious wounds of our dying planet. ... Much of the activity during the 20th-anniversary celebration of Earth Day this April 22 will focus on individual acts. ... But there is a danger in an overemphasis on personal acts, when the most grievous assaults on the natural world come from corporations and nations whose self-interested policies of acquisitiveness and greed have brought us to the edge of ecological cataclysm. ...

The chair of Union Carbide, one of the planet's most notorious despoilers, understood the stakes when he said, "An aroused public can put us out of business, just like it put the nuclear industry out of business." Polluters be warned: Such work is becoming everybody's business. 

Jim Rice was an assistant editor of Sojourners when this article appeared.

Image: Planet symbol on Earth Day, justaa / Shutterstock.com

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The Anniversary of My Father’s Death

Photo: Clock gears, © Vitaly Korovin/ Shutterstock.com
Photo: Clock gears, © Vitaly Korovin/ Shutterstock.com

“After the first exile, there is no other.”
—Rosellen Brown, The Autobiography of My Mother, 1976

The great wheel of the year has turned once more, and I find myself back at the beginning again. Not at the start of a brand new year, but rather, at the anniversary of my father’s death.

I was eight years old when he died, on January 8, 1977, after six long months of decline from lung cancer. In the family’s last-minute midnight scramble to the King’s Daughters Hospital to offer a final farewell, I was adjudged too young and too asleep to wake up for the ride.

I found out that he had died when I crawled from bed at dawn the next morning, yawning and jonesing for cartoons, only to find a bath robed neighbor stoking the fireplace, and my father disappeared into ether.

That singular fact has been the still point of my turning world in the decades since.

50 Years Ago, Vatican II Changed the Catholic Church — And the World

RNS file photo
Religious dignitaries from around the world fill St. Peter's Basilica on Oct. 11, 1962. RNS file photo

Fifty years ago hundreds of elaborately robed leaders strode into St. Peter's Basilica in a massive display of solemn ecclesiastical pomp. It signaled the start of a historic three-year assembly that would change the way members of the world’s largest Christian denomination viewed themselves, their church and the rest of the world.

It was the first day of the Second Vatican Council, more popularly known as Vatican II, which was designed to assess the church’s role in a rapidly changing world. Leading the prelates was Pope John XXIII, who said frequently that he convened the council because he thought it was time to open the windows and let in some fresh air.

For many Catholics, the air came in at gale force.

As a result of Vatican II, priests started celebrating Mass in the language of the countries in which they lived, and they faced the congregation, not only to be heard and seen but also to signal to worshippers that they were being included because they were a vital component of the service.

“It called for people not to have passive participation but active participation,” said New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who chairs the Committee on Divine Worship for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “Prayer is not supposed to be a performance. We’re supposed to be actively participating.”

Is Osama Bin Laden in Hell? (and Other Stupid Things Christians Argue About)

Bin Laden image/meme that's making the rounds in the blogosphere today.
Bin Laden image/meme by Jim LePage that's making the rounds in the blogosphere today.

I’m sipping on a root beer at Barnes & Noble as I work on my revisions for Forest Life. In the meantime I’ve noticed a handfull of debates raging over this photo that has been spreading around the Internet today. This makes sense given that today is the one year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Of course thinking people know that his death did not bring about any worthwhile social change.

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