This week the glass is more than half empty for me!
After the devastation caused last week by natural disasters, Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and by the student stabbings in the Bronx, I, like so many others, am deeply pained.
I spent a good part of this week working on how Catholic Charities of NY might be of support for the individuals and families suffering in Puerto Rico. Some of my time was spent talking with elected officials and staff in Washington D.C., other time with nonprofit and business leaders. Both the sadness and resolve was intense.
Particularly strong prayer and solidarity goes out to one of our NY Catholic Charities affiliates, the NY Foundling. The destruction in Puerto Rico hits especially close to home for this agency that serves nearly 1,500 children through Head Start and Early Head Start programs at 42 locations throughout the island. I have spoken with them and heard the sadness, hurt and concern for “our families” and also the immediate response and action they are taking. We are committed to figuring out the best way to lend our support. Fortunately, we have a well-established relationship with Catholic Charities – (Caritas) of Puerto Rico. While suffering themselves, they are there on the ground and positioned to help. We have talked with them and are arranging help and support through a number of partnerships.
On this week’s episode of JustLove, Monisgnor Sullivan speaks with two guests focused on the Closing of Riker’s Island and issues surrounding Prison Reform:
Calling into the studio, JoAnne Page, President CEO of The Fortune Society a New York City-based non-profit that advocates for and provides services to the formerly incarcerated. On the show Msgr. and JoAnne talk about recent discussions surrounding the closure of Riker’s Island – New York City’s 413 acre facility administered by the Department of Corrections where on any given day 9,500 people – the bulk of the city’s prisoners. They also discuss how feasible the plans to close Riker’s Island are, and what priorities should drive this initiative if it is truly to benefit and rehabilitate those behind bars.
Poet, Playwright, and Educator, Liza Jessie Peterson joins Monsignor in the Studio. Liza Jessie Peterson has dedicated over 15 years of her life to teaching creative writing and poetry to incarcerated youth, including those held on Riker’s Island; Liza is also the writer and performer of the one-woman play “The Peculiar Patriot” – which is now playing at the at the National Black Theatre in Harlem. The story follows’ the protagonist – Betsy LaQuanda Ross – over a series of visits to incarcerated friends where she shares family milestones and neighborhood gossip while revealing a shrewd indictment of the criminal justice system. Msgr. Sullivan and Liza talked about her inspiration for writing and performing “The Peculiar Patriot” which sprung from her own experiences and observations from working in and around the prison system.
On this episode of JustLove Monsignor Sullivan will discuss both the recovery efforts taking place in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, as well in Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. He will speak about the changing context of marriage and family.
Calling in to the studio is Kim Burgo Vice President for Disaster Response Operations for Catholic Charities USA. She will be talking about the impact that Hurricane Harvey has had on coastal Texas and its surrounding areas as well as the impact that Hurricane Irma has had on the Florida how Catholic Charities USA is helping local Catholic Charities agencies respond to the storms, and how listeners can help as well.
Joining in the studio is Fred Parrella, a Professor of Moral Theology in the Department of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. Msgr. Sullivan and Professor Parrella will be talking about the changing context of marriage and family.
Before moving onto the addendum, I say a genuine word of thanks to our partners in these three visits: Maestro Cares, GOYA and Altagracia Apparel. Without them the trip could not have happened. More importantly we will deepen these partnerships as Catholic Charities celebrates our Centennial and launches our next century of providing help and creating hope. Above all, I salute and recognize the excellent work of Catholic Charities’ Director of Government and Community Relations, Luz Tavarez, who organized, coordinated the whole trip so effectively and also documented it in video, audio and photo. Special thanks to Catholic Charities Communications & Marketing team, especially Paul Costiglio and Fanny Gomez, for their hard work to make sure these visits were well documented and posted. Gracias!
Now to an “addendum” that are my broader musings – not very definitive or fully developed. They do seem to me worth sharing to continue much needed conversation and dialogue about important topics of family, work, business, charity, etc… A diverse trip like this re-enforces some, modifies others and above all surfaces new questions and complexities and hopefully spurs renewed energy to positively deal with them.
The day began with three generations of the Hodge family, 11 of us, and luggage, crowded into a mini-bus for a two and a half hour trip from La Romana to Villa Altagracia in San Cristobal, located outside of Santo Domingo. The driver had an interesting approach that included driving ten miles in the wrong direction, slowing down on open highways and speeding up in crowded city streets. Oh well.
Today, we spent the day with 36 boys and young men who now call Niños de Cristo and their dedicated staff their home. We were joined by Donnie Hodge and his wife Ana. Donny is the owner of Altagracia Apparel. I’ll write more about this tomorrow after we visit his “fair wage and working conditions” factory in Villa Altagracia and talk with some of the families whose lives have been changed because of these jobs.
Sadly, some children cannot be raised and nurtured safely with their own families for many different reasons. Niños de Cristo provides the “family” for about 40 of these youth in the Dominican Republic. This home is located in the countryside of La Romana, about 1 hour west of Punta Cana. The home is only 4 years old and took the place of a much more crowded and outdated facility. This one is simple, clean and warm with a great amount of open outdoor space. (This is not what we New Yorkers are used to.) Speaking of New Yorkers, the facility’s current psychologist, Karina, is a transplanted New Yorker – Dominican Republic born, but New York raised and educated. Two years ago she returned to the Dominican Republic and is now the on-site psychologist trying to help these youth that have experienced hurt and scars rebuild lives. Karina guided us through the facility and she demonstrated knowledge, competence, and compassion. These same qualities were present in the home’s program director, Franklin, who oversees the day-to-day life of the home. He clearly knew everybody by name and they knew him. He was not a distant administrator but a caring professional that understands the individuality of each young person under the care of Niños de Cristo. This sense seemed to flow through all the staff we met at the orphanage.
Our generous partner in feeding hungry New Yorkers, GOYA Foods, invited us to tour its plant in the Dominican Republic. This provided an opportunity to see one of their busy factories that employs about 500 people. In addition to seeing the hard working men and women on the floor of the plant we also met the factory administrators. We also saw the finca (land) where gauyabas (guava) are grown.
I was accompanied on the tour by the director of quality control, a chemical engineer, charged with complying with regulations of both the Dominican Republic and the United States. He said most of the product from this factory is shipped to the United States. He also proudly spoke to me of the care that is taken to ensure no contamination enters into the products. And he shared with me the sad reality of the added precautions required to protect against intentional poisoning as a terrorist action.
In partnership with Goya Foods and Maestro Cares, singer Marc Anthony’s non-profit organization that works to improve the quality of life for
orphaned children throughout Latin America, Catholic Charities visits the Dominican Republic to learn more about the children and the work of Maestro Cares. Msgr. Kevin Sullivan illustrates his first day on the island.
Stay tuned throughout the week for more updates from the trip.
These are very good weeks to remind others and ourselves that society is broader than government and politics. Sometimes rather than engage its best to “shake the dust from our feet.” There is plenty of room and need to concentrate on family, work, self, friends, relationships and anything or anybody that can advance love, faith, peace, hope, reconciliation, goodness, growth, happiness, etc. You get the point. We can’t always avoid confronting what is wrong, yet, sometimes the best approach is to pause, take a step back, not get caught up in the nonsense and possibly risk the contamination of distraction from what is really important. I’m thinking this is one of those times.
One aspect of the administration’s executive order on the travel ban against nationals from certain countries merits special 4th of July attention, viz. what is a bona fide family relationship?
After the recent Supreme Court decision, the administration issued guidelines that interpreted a bona fide (real) family relationship to include parents, children and siblings. They left out grandparents, grandchildren, uncles, aunts and cousins. They also initially excluded fiancées, but then subsequently included them. By that action alone, the administration demonstrated that there is discretion in the interpretation of a bona fide family relationship.