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Short Takes: Jimmie Briggs

Jimmie Briggs Profile.jpg

Photo via Lynn Savarese

Bio: Jimmie Briggs is an award-winning journalist and author of Innocents Lost, a book giving voice to child soldiers. In 2009, he co-founded the Man Up Campaign, a global effort to engage youth to stop violence against women and girls, and currently serves as executive director of the U.S. branch of Leave Out Violence (LOVE).

1. Let’s talk about LOVE. What issues does your organization address? LOVE’s focus is to engage young people who have been affected by violence of all kinds. This includes not only gender-based violence, but also issues such as gun violence, witnesses of domestic violence, and trauma- processing in schools where violence is the reality. LOVE uses media arts coupled with a trauma-informed response. We have a social worker for one-on-one counseling, and our teaching artists use media arts to provide pathways for young people who have been affected by violence—survivors and witnesses, even perpetrators—to express their voice and ultimately to process their pain, their trauma, and sometimes their guilt from the violence.
At the same time, LOVE creates a stage for them to speak about their experiences and advocate among their peers about conflict resolution and violence prevention. The arts offer a way to heal and process the violence you’ve experienced, but also for you to reach your peers and mitigate violence from happening in your schools, your home, and in your communities.

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Bear Mountain

FATHER PAUL DROVE US in one of the two parish cars. There were five of us boys. The parish cars were Buicks, and they were huge and black. It was late September. All five of us were 13 years old.

Now that we had achieved the age of reason we were allowed to visit the seminary to begin the process of discernment. Father Paul had high hopes but low expectations. If even one of us expressed serious interest in a second visit to the seminary, he would count the weekend a roaring success and no mistake, as he told the pastor.

They were leaning against the car as we climbed in. The pastor was a monsignor. A mon-signor was halfway between priest and bishop. We had a choice of seminaries, said Father Paul to us as we drove off. We could visit the Capuchin seminary or the Franciscan seminary. They were in the same town up on the river, and both in his experience were excellent in shaping good priests.

One of us voted for the Franciscans because he had a dog and Francis loved animals, and three of us voted for the Capuchins because the word Capuchin was cool. I voted for the Capuchins because my dad’s best friend was a small hilarious Capuchin, so as far as I knew the Capuchins were small and hilarious and cool.

We drove through the Borough of Queens, through the Borough of the Bronx, and then north along the mighty Hudson River, which is not its original name, of course, said Father Paul. The first people here had many names for it, among them the Shatemuc, the River of the Pelicans, and Mohicanhitheck, the River of the Wolves. I have seen pelicans here but I have not seen wolves as yet. We stared out the window at the river and saw gulls and crows and herons and ducks and maybe a hawk but no pelicans or wolves.

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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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COMMENTARY: Cardinal John O'Connor Would Have Made a Great Rabbi

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres and New York’s Cardinal John O’Connor on Sept. 19, 1986. RNS file photo: Chris Sheridan

In April 1908, Dorothy Gumple, a 19-year-old Jewish woman living in Connecticut, converted to Roman Catholicism. Less than two years, later she married a Catholic immigrant from Ireland. They and their five children lived in Philadelphia where her husband was a lifelong trade union member. It is not exactly the stuff global news stories are made of.

Except this: Their fourth child became the world-famous archbishop of New York, Cardinal John J. O’Connor, who served in that position from 1984 until his death in 2000.

Last month, in the Catholic New York newspaper, the cardinal’s 87-year-old sister, Mary, revealed the story of their mother’s conversion for the first time, and claimed she and her brother “did not know [our] mother was Jewish.” The O’Connor children “presumed that she had converted from another Christian religion.”

Supreme Court to Consider Religious Prayer At Government Meetings

Photo courtesy of RNS

Supreme Court building in Washington, DC (2009). Photo courtesy of RNS

WASHINGTON — In a case that could determine restrictions on expressions of faith in the public square, the Supreme Court on Wednesday will consider religious prayers that convene government meetings.

At issue in Greece v. Galloway is whether such invocations pass constitutional muster, even when government officials are not purposefully proselytizing or discriminating.

Can a town council, for example, open its meetings with prayers invoking Jesus Christ, as happened repeatedly in the town of Greece, N.Y.?

“There’s a whole lot at stake here,” said Ira Lupu, a law professor at George Washington University who specializes in the First Amendment’s religion clauses.

“This case is about first principles: whether the government of a town, acting through its town board, can advance a particular brand of Christianity or any other faith,” said Lupu.

On the other side of the question, Jeff Mateer of the Texas-based Liberty Institute invokes free speech rights and hopes the court will reason that government has no business parsing the words of those who wish to pray in a public forum.

'American Promise' Film Documents Two Black Families Navigating Education in America

American Promise spans 13 years as Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, middle-class African-American parents in Brooklyn, N.Y., turn their cameras on their son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, who make their way through one of the most prestigious private schools in the country. Chronicling the boys’ divergent paths from kindergarten through high school graduation at Manhattan’s Dalton School, the documentary presents complicated truths about America’s struggle to come of age on issues of race, class, and opportunity. American Promise is aOfficial Selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.

Stephen Colbert on Pope Francis, Cardinal Dolan and (of Course) Stephen Colbert

New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan (right) and Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert. RNS photo by David Gibson.

The great and the good — and lots of politicians and TV pundits, too — gathered Thursday to hear comedian Stephen Colbert roast and toast everyone from Pope Francis to his host for the evening, Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

The 68th annual Al Smith Dinner, named for the first Catholic presidential candidate in American history, at the Waldorf Astoria hotel raised $3 million for New York’s neediest children.

Colbert is a lifelong Catholic, a man who is, as Alfred E. Smith IV said in introducing him, “serious about both his craft and his Catholic faith.” The cardinal — who is also pretty funny — and the comedian first met last fall, and Colbert had Dolan on his show last month. So the archbishop of New York returned the favor by having Colbert headline the dinner.

A Controversial Broadway Play on the Virgin Mary closes Why?

Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production

Fiona Shaw in a scene from 'The Testament of Mary.' Photo by Paul Kolnik/courtesy The Testament of Mary production

NEW YORK — A Tony-nominated play that offered a controversial take on the Virgin Mary reflecting on her life held its final performance on Sunday, closing after only two weeks as poor ticket sales never matched high expectations.

Now the question is: Why?

Shows fold on Broadway all the time, of course, and as The New York Times noted, just 25 percent of them ever show a profit. But was there something about The Testament of Mary that doomed it to failure?

After all, biblically themed shows are all the rage on television and especially on cable; the recent History Channel miniseries The Bible generated huge ratings, and a host of shows and films are trying to explore — and perhaps exploit — similar territory.

An American Pope?

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz.

NEW YORK — Walk the streets of Manhattan, especially around St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and ask passersby about Cardinal Timothy Dolan and two things stand out: one, they know who you’re talking about, and two, they like him. Often love him.

Both responses are unusual in the U.S. today: generally, Catholic churchmen are either interchangeable faces to the public, or, if they are known, it’s because of an unflattering headline.

Now Dolan’s extraordinary visibility and popularity are being cited as factors that could make him the first American with a realistic shot at being elected pope when the College of Cardinals gathers in March to elect a successor to Benedict XVI.

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