Global Issues

On a Firm Foundation

HILDA DE BOJORQUEZ holds a set of blueprints in one hand. Her other hand is pointing. At a better future, perhaps, if things go well.

De Bojorquez is the chief engineer at this construction site in a neighborhood just outside Port-au-Prince still blemished with rubble from Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. She commands respect from the all-male crew of Haitians working at the site—she tells a group of visiting U.S. reporters that her gender has never been an issue in the male-dominated world of construction, here or in her native El Salvador.

When asked about obstacles on the project, De Bojorquez goes on for 15 minutes—she’s an engineer, after all—but the point is that they’ve tackled them, one by one, and done so the right way. She extols the importance of a solid foundation and robust retaining walls. She points to the cinder blocks and the rebar, and explains how her group had to teach a company how to provide high-quality materials, with the promise that they’d buy everything the company made. And she emphasizes that she’s there not just to oversee a number of construction projects, but to train Haitians to do it themselves the next time—and to do it right.

The steel-reinforced blocks are rising into walls that will surround a new six-room school for perhaps 200 children in this neighborhood four miles east of Port-au-Prince. The narrow site is wedged between two crumbling buildings, both showing earthquake damage. Even to an untrained eye, the differences are obvious between the fragile, deteriorating blocks next door and the solid retaining walls rising at our feet.

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Pope Francis Names New Cardinals From Around the Globe, None From U.S.

Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

Photo via Andrea Sabbadini / RNS

Pope Francis nominated 15 new cardinals Jan. 4 from 14 different nations but leaving several leading U.S. archbishops off the list.

Speaking to a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square, the pontiff named each cardinal, noting they came from every continent and “show the indelible tie with the church of Rome to churches in the world.”  At least three are from nations that have never had a church member in the role.

Five of the cardinals come from Europe, three from Asia, three from Latin America, and two each from Africa and Oceania. 

The nations of Cape Verde, Tonga, and Myanmar received their first cardinals ever, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

10 Reasons Coffee is Part of My Faith Journey

Coffee grounds. Image courtesy O.Bellini/

Coffee grounds. Image courtesy O.Bellini/

Coffee — a seemingly small thing — has become a hugely important part of my faith life. It has helped me create bonds with new people and strengthen those with individuals I've known for years. Coffee has helped me build a stronger sense of community in my church in a fun way while seeking to fulfill the word of God by supporting those less fortunate than myself.

How has coffee had such a profound effect on my life? For the past eight years, I have headed the Lutheran World Relief Coffee Project at my congregation, Christ Lutheran Church in Whitefish, Montana. When we buy Fair Trade products, we are assured that the farmers who grew them are getting a fair price, and a chance at a better life. Lutheran World Relief, an international humanitarian organization, offers Fair Trade coffee, tea, and chocolate to Lutheran congregations through a partnership with the Fair Trade company Equal Exchange. Every third week, I set up tables at church, where I sell Fair Trade coffee, tea, snacks and cocoa product to my fellow parishioners. I enjoy and flourish in this ministry for many reasons. Here are 10 of them.

Church of England Names Its First Woman Bishop; Libby Lane to Assume Historic Role

Photo via St. Peter’s Hale Parish Church / RNS

Libby Lane. Photo via St. Peter’s Hale Parish Church / RNS

The Church of England announced on Dec. 17 that Libby Lane, a parish priest from Hale, a small village outside Manchester, would become its first woman bishop, ending centuries of all-male leadership in this country’s established church.

The announcement from Downing Street, the prime minister’s official residence in London, came just a month after changes to canon law making it possible for women to assume the role of suffragan and diocesan bishops.

Lane, 48, a mother of two and the wife of an Anglican vicar, will be consecrated as the eighth bishop of Stockport, in the Diocese of Chester, at a ceremony at York Cathedral on Jan. 26. Her appointment is as a suffragan bishop — a bishop subordinate to a metropolitan or diocesan bishop.

On her surprise appointment, she said: “This is unexpected and very exciting. I’m honored and thankful to be called to serve as the next bishop of Stockport and not a little daunted to be entrusted with such a ministry.”

If Rome Wins 2024 Summer Olympics, Vatican Could Host Competitions

Photo via Francis X. Rocca / RNS

The Clericus Cup, a competition between Roman Colleges, took place at the Vatican in 2007. Photo via Francis X. Rocca / RNS

Major sporting events could be held at the Vatican if Rome wins its bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2024.

Pope Francis, a keen soccer fan, is reported to be enthusiastic about the idea. He is expected to meet the head of Italy’s National Olympic Committee, Giovanni Malago, and other officials at the Vatican on Dec. 19 after a Mass to commemorate the committee’s 100th anniversary

Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, said he believed Francis would back plans to hold events such as archery in the Vatican gardens.

He told the Florence daily La Nazione that events could also be staged at the pope’s summer palace at Castel Gandolfo outside Rome.

“It seems like a good idea, I think the pope will approve,” Saraiva Martins said.

Alan Gross Release Hailed as Hanukkah ‘Miracle,’ First Step in ‘Normalized’ U.S.-Cuba Relations

Photo viaTerry Straehley via Flickr / RNS

A view to the west over the ocean and the once-posh suburb of Vedado in Havana, Cuba. Photo viaTerry Straehley via Flickr / RNS

Alan Gross, the Jewish international aid worker held on alleged spy charges in Cuba for five years, was freed on Dec. 17 — what some are calling a Hanukkah miracle on the first day of the holiday that celebrates religious freedom.

Gross, 65, of Maryland, has always claimed that he only went to Cuba to bring communications equipment to the small Jewish community left in Havana. However, the Castro government said he was part of a spy network attempting to set up a secret network for Cuban Jews. Gross was serving a 15-year sentence.

President Obama chose the Dec. 17 release as a springboard to announce a massive historic “normalization” of U.S.-Cuba relations. Meantime, in Cuba, President Raul Castro, who held a press conference in Havana at noon, was expected to release 53 Cuban political prisoners.

Obama particularly credited the “moral example of Pope Francis,” who actively encouraged Gross’ release. Francis, who held private meetings at the Vatican to secure the deal, praised the move, sending “his warm congratulations for the historic decision taken by the Governments of the United States of America and Cuba to establish diplomatic relations, with the aim of overcoming, in the interest of the citizens of both countries, the difficulties which have marked their recent history.”

Sierra Leone Bans Christmas, New Year’s Celebrations to Prevent Spread of Ebola

The Rev. Pauline Njiru, of Kenya displays a poster showing how Ebola can be tran

The Rev. Pauline Njiru, of Kenya displays a poster showing how Ebola can be transmitted. Photo via Fredrick Nzwili / RNS

The government of Sierra Leone banned public Christmas and New Year’s celebrations because they may exacerbate efforts to eradicate the Ebola virus.

President Ernest Bai Koroma said that despite immense help from the international community, the number of people infected with the virus continues to rise.

Ebola infections in Sierra Leone recently surpassed those of Liberia and Guinea.

“The illness started at the border and now is in the cities and close to 2,000 people have died from the outbreak,” Koroma told reporters. He asked traditional leaders and tribal chiefs to quit performing rituals in hopes that will help curb Ebola.

The majority of Sierra Leone’s 6 million people are Muslim, but Christmas is widely celebrated among the 27 percent of people who are Christian.

Officials said soldiers will be deployed on the streets and people are advised to stay at home with their families.

Pope Francis Is Naming New Cardinals. Will Any Be American?

Cardinal Seán O’Malley and fellow cardinals pose for a formal photo. Photo via G

Cardinal Seán O’Malley and fellow cardinals pose for a formal photo. Photo via George Martell / The Pilot Media Group / RNS.

The Vatican announced Dec. 11 that Pope Francis will name a new batch of cardinals in February, adding to the select group of churchmen who will someday gather to elect his successor.

Rome won’t reveal the names until next month, but could an American be among them?

There are a number of factors that will govern the choices, and thus the predictions:

First, there are 208 cardinals in the College of Cardinals, but at the age of 80 a cardinal is no longer allowed to vote in a conclave. That leaves 112 cardinals under the age of 80, as of now, though two more will age out in February and another two in March and April.

The customary ceiling on the number of electors today is 120 (it has changed many times over the centuries). That means that Francis could give a so-called red hat to 10 or 12 bishops.

The pope could also raise the ceiling, or ignore it, as Saint John Paul II often did during his long reign.

Archbishop Justin Welby: Anglican Communion May Not Hold Together

Photo via Claudio Divizia /

The Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, England, U.K. Photo via Claudio Divizia /

In a lengthy interview in The Times of London, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby predicted that the Anglican Communion might not hold together because of strong disagreements on the ordination of women as bishops and full rights for LGBT people.

The candid interview came at the end of Welby’s visits to the 38 provinces (or country-states) that make up the Anglican Communion.

Welby said that although individual churches remain “strong, resilient and thriving,” the differences among them remain profound.

“I think, realistically, we‘ve got to say that despite all efforts there is a possibility that we will not hold together, or not hold together for a while,” he said. “I could see circumstances in which there could be people moving apart and then coming back together, depending on what else happens.”

Rod Thomas, chairman of Reform, an evangelical network of English and Irish Anglicans opposed to women bishops and LGBT ordination or unions, agreed with the archbishop’s assessment.

“If, as an Anglican, you believe more or less the same things but you just can’t reach agreement on something that is terribly divisive, you do go your separate ways. That will mean that the heads of various Anglican churches around the world won’t be able to meet together and say ‘Look, we’re all united’ in the same way they did in the past.”

No Nukes!

IN APRIL, THOUSANDS of people from across the United States and the world, joined by activists and A-bomb survivors from Japan, will flock to New York to demand that the nuclear powers fulfill their nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) obligations to negotiate a legally binding agreement to completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

The NPT Review Conference, held at the U.N. every five years, presents an important opportunity for the 189 signatory nations and for civil society to ensure that this treaty is implemented. The treaty rests on three pillars: 1) non-nuclear states forswear becoming nuclear powers; 2) all signatory nations have the right to generate nuclear energy for peaceful purposes (a serious flaw); and 3) the P-5 nations (U.S., Russia, Britain, France, and China) are obligated to engage in good-faith negotiations to completely eliminate their nuclear arsenals.

Forty-five years after the treaty went into effect, the P-5 have yet to fulfill their part of the bargain, leading to a loss of faith by a growing number of nations and the danger that some will opt out of the treaty to equalize the imbalance of nuclear terror. With the U.S. and Russia having engaged in nuclear war exercises during the Ukraine crisis, simulated U.S. nuclear attacks against North Korea, the U.S.-Chinese arms race, and India and Pakistan again at loggerheads, April’s review conference provides a critical opportunity to press for nuclear weapons abolition and to build the nuclear disarmament movement.

How great is the danger of nuclear war? Recent studies show that a limited nuclear war—say, between India and Pakistan, which have around 100 weapons each—could kill an estimated 2 billion people from the resulting global famine. The use of significantly more weapons could bring on nuclear winter and the end of life as we know it.

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