Category Archives: News

Le Chambon, USA?

If you don’t know the story of ordinary French villagers saving an estimated 2500 Jews under the noses of the Vichy police and Gestapo, check out “Weapons of the Spirit” on YouTube. Over and over, those interviewed describe how the innocent were protected by people who simply called it the “right thing to do.” Word spread on the grapevine that Jews could find shelter in the village, and they arrived there hungry, tired, frightened and desperate.

Against all odds, they found safety—not a single Jew was taken; a betrayal never happened in Le Chambon. Children could continue their educations, and they were fed as nutritiously as was possible, given strict rationing. (One French family named their pig “Adolf,” for Hitler.)

The leader of the resistance was Andre Trocme, a Huguenot pastor whose tradition knew persecution first-hand. He and his wife Magda had four children, but when the 1942 order came to deliver all Jews for deportation, he took the enormous risk of refusing to participate in fear and hatred.  Read more of their story in All Saints by Robert Ellsberg.

Why does this seem so relevant today? Of the million children orphaned in Syria, the US has taken a miniscule number. Children of immigrants, even those who’ve been here 20 years or more, are afraid to go to school because their parents might be gone when they return. Deportations of even those with no criminal history who are gainfully employed have skyrocketed, splitting countless families. ICE agents lurk outside churches.

Former President Obama praised the “quiet, sturdy courage” of people who’ve risen to the occasion no matter what the crisis. In the current circumstances, each will find a unique way to resist the administration’s vicious activity, their anti-Muslim bans on travel as well as the clubs taken to environmental policy, health insurance, Medicaid and protection of the poor.  Five years ago, Walmart heirs (ONE family, the Waltons) owned more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans, and they’ve been getting richer ever since. These are the folks Trump seeks to protect with tax breaks? It makes one want to rant like the prophet Amos. More positively, the time is ripe for the US to develop its own, unique pockets of resistance like Le Chambon.

Kathy Coffey featured on local NPR Station

Human Trafficking on KQED Perspectives

Editor’s note: Kathy Coffey did a “Perspective” this morning on the local San Francisco NPR station, KQED, focused on human trafficking.

Imagine a child named Sheila. Aged 14 now, she was first trafficked at 9 by drug-dealing parents. She lives in constant fear. Not of taking algebra or getting a prom date, the usual worries of her peers. No, she is the possession of a human trafficker, who isolates, exploits, abuses her, makes big bucks off her. Her life expectancy is 7 years. It’s unlikely she’ll turn 21. She is convinced no one knows about her private hell; no one cares. No one has ever told her she’s bright or beautiful.

You can hear the full perspective on the KQED website: Children For Sale

Catholic Update, October 2014 by Kathy Coffey

Saintly Sinners: Flawed but Faithful, Models of Holiness

The saints inspire us on our own paths toward God. They show us that everyday holiness is within our grasp. But what do we know about those saints we call upon in prayer? If we think of them as remote and out of touch, we do them and ourselves a great disservice. Knowing even a little of their stories humanizes them and draws them closer. Author Kathy Coffey helps readers appreciate the saints as models of everyday holiness—people who persevered in faith in spite of their flaws and limitations. Catholic Update Newsletter – See more at: http://www.liguori.org/saintly-sinners.html#sthash.1bVNa1Pd.dpuf

Book Review of A Shimmer of Something

A Shimmer of Something  by Brian Doyle (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014).

Roostery. Brian Doyle uses this perfect word to describe the swagger of adolescent males. His new collection of “box poems” or “proems” delights with the play, the reach, the spasm and splurge of language. His lines are graceful, lean and surprising–as if he were the G. M. Hopkins of our time. At first I rationed, thinking I couldn’t possibly appreciate more than a couple a day. (And the style IS a bit in-your-face.)

But now and then, I binged—well, it’s too early to turn on the laptop during a flight, so what else? And then I’d start noticing, as Doyle does, the little gems we so often miss. The man in the orange vest, loading luggage, waves goodbye to the flight attendant closing the plane’s door. Does he do that every day? Every flight? What a lovely farewell when this must his stultifying routine. Doyle would do justice to the odd moment.

It’s hard to name favorites, but “Father Man” is high on the list because my grand-daughter is close in age to the tiny, blustering force in the poem. And “The Thirty,” a tribute to good priests, echoes the powerful film “Calvary.” “As I Ever Saw” praises the courage of a little boy in hospital with a terrible disease, who rallies to please the therapist, does her art project, then sinks back in exhaustion. “What a Father Thinks While Driving His Daughter, Age 17, to Rehab” could never have been written by a bishop.

Doyle explores the crazy quagmire of parenting, probes the sensitive areas in friendship which we never speak aloud, roars at basketball, chortles at fun, remembers key detail, and weaves fascinating stories. He wonders why “the very best thing is the one thing that hurts the worst.” How Catholic of him, in the best sense of the word, to see the world saturated by grace, with the divine always lurking around the next bend. Recognizing that mysterious presence, he praises it, not with the mind-deadening prose of encyclicals, but with the verve and arc and joy of the fast ball.

Faith as Glue in an Unraveling World, Part 2

Beautifying

What lifts peoples’ spirits now is what always has: the arts. The people of the Middle Ages walked through squalid streets and lived in miserable poverty. But they could lift their sights to the spires of Chartres Cathedral or see Bible stories in its luminous stained glass. Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky knew the horrors of prison camp. But he wrote, “the world will be saved by beauty.” Franciscan missions throughout California were built around an inner garden, lavish with bougainvillea and roses, and often a sparkling fountain. These are only three examples of a long history. For over 2000 years, the church has offered beauty at critical times for the human family.

When depression threatens or anger overwhelms, the arts move us outside ourselves and into a realm beyond the economy. They remind us we were born not only for work, but also for joy, praise, appreciation.

If we have spent time appreciating the arts, we have strengthened the imagination. It then suggests new possibilities for a new era, new ways to live and different ways to cope. Jim Wallis says that the problems we face now are as formidable as mountains. It takes faith to change them, and fortunately Christians are in the mountain-moving business. Our times call for heroic responses. This is our moment; “now is the time of salvation.”


Some of this material appeared originally in
Everyday Catholic.

Faith as Glue in an Unraveling World

Crisis in the Ukraine, in Gaza, on the southern U.S. border. What does faith have to say in such desperate circumstances? Christians believe that we can bring the lens of faith to bear on every issue, no matter how painful. The challenge today is avoiding pious platitudes that help no one, instead finding insights to support and strengthen people enduring difficult times. The ancient Latin “adsum” means “I am here.” These are the times we are called to; this is our moment. God’s pattern placed us in 2014, not 947 or 2078. Why? Two brief possibilities:

Companioning

The church has always been a powerful voice for immigrants, and must continue to speak for 50,000 undocumented children crossing the borders. The Christian community speaks the concerns of the voiceless who might otherwise be crushed by politics, greed and irresponsibility. Faith often comes alive in times of crisis, and this era is no exception.

While Congress dithers over immigration law, the nuns are on the ground in El Paso, working. Three Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, fluent in Spanish because they’ve worked in Peru, offer food, showers and safe sleeping quarters. The children respond with large embraces, perhaps recognizing the first kindness they’ve encountered in a long, arduous journey.

To be continued…

Feasting on Thanks

Feasting on Thanks

by Kathy Coffey

Part 1 of an article which originally appeared in St. Anthony Messenger 

Often when asked to name a special family time, peoples’ responses cluster around meals: Christmas dinner, birthday parties, a vacation cook-out by the shore, a wedding banquet. Their intuition is sound: these special times are also sacred times. What better day to celebrate that connection than Thanksgiving?

It’s a holiday designed for thanks and feasting (though turkey and football have become part of the cultural accretion). The first Pilgrims who celebrated it were simply glad they’d survived a precarious ocean crossing in 1620, and had harvested enough corn to carry them through winter. They were grateful NOT for blissful, pain-free experience, but for the presence of God in whatever circumstance they met.

The Biblical Background

While atheists and agnostics celebrate Thanksgiving, people with religious ties are more likely to do so. A close connection between food and thanks is old as the Book of Wisdom: “That your children whom you loved might learn, Lord, that it is not the various kinds of fruits that nourish, but your word that preserves those who believe you!” (16:26)

Meals and gratitude are interwoven throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Apparently meals were so important to Jesus, his critics accused him of being a glutton and drunkard. When he wanted to define himself in terms of abundance, he told a hungry people who wanted the manna their ancestors had eaten: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (Jn. 6:30-35).

When Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, he first gave thanks (Jn. 6:11). He followed the practice of his Jewish ancestors at the Passover meal when he gave thanks for bread before breaking it, and for wine before drinking it. For him, eating and thanking were intertwined activities. When his disciples thought he was a ghost, he asked for something to eat, and they gave him baked fish. Because he knew the sacred context for eating, he might be saddened by how thoughtlessly we drive through and chow down.

After Paul’s startling discovery on the road to Damascus that he’d been persecuting the wrong people, Acts records his healing, baptism, and a key detail: “when he had eaten, he recovered his strength” (Acts 9:19). He then poured energy into converting most of the known world. Who cooked that meal? And what was on the menu?  To Be Continued...