Pope Francis’ Pastoral Journey to Myanmar & Bangladesh & Hospitality at the Leo House

On this week’s episode of JustLove, Monsignor Kevin Sullivan focuses on Pope Francis’ visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh and Hospitality at the Leo House with three guests.

Catholic Relief Services Emergency Communications Director Caroline Brennan who just returned from visiting the Rohingya refugee camps run by Caritas Bangladesh,  shares her personal experiences there, stories of the refugees, and will talk about CRS and Caritas’s work in that region.

The Leo House’s Executive Director David J. Smith and Chairman and President of the Board Michael P. Coneys will be in the studio.  David and Michael will be sharing with Msgr. Sullivan stories of the Leo House, and sharing with him their plans for their first annual Inaugural Pope Leo XIII Gala and Award being held at the Yale Club on December 11th . The Leo House is a non-profit Catholic guest house – affiliated with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York – that is located on West 23rd Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan that offers affordable, temporary accommodations to travelers of all nationalities and faiths, including clergy, religious, persons visiting the sick, students and travelers from around the world.

Listen Now

Tune in to JustLove to Hear Monsignor Sullivan speak with NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli and Shari Krull of Catholic Charities Affiliated Agency Grace Institute


Left to Right: Thomas P. DiNapoli & Shari Krull


On this week’s show Monsignor Sullivan speaks with NYS Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, about his recent trip to Bangladesh to observe its garment industry conditions and also comments on the state’s current affordable housing trends. Also on the show is Shari Krull of Catholic Charities affiliated agency Grace Institute to speak about its involvement in the current Lean In movement and the many programs it offers women as Women’s History Month comes to a close.





The President Goes Shopping: What’s the Bigger Picture?

I hope President Obama was not trying to surprise his wife and daughters with the gifts he brought for them at the Gap when in New York earlier this week.

We all know the point wasn’t the gifts, but rather his desire to highlight the increase in wages that the Gap has committed to paying entry-level workers.  This certainly was a good thing to do.

It’s encouraging that some of the lowest paid workers will be getting a moderate increase.  A couple thoughts came to mind.  When I checked around, I discovered that our Catholic Charities agencies were already paying the increased new minimum to their entry-level staff and were also providing benefits (By no means did I do a comprehensive survey, but what I learned certainly corresponds to my experience).  Human service agencies, even while strapped for funds, do try to provide for their workers just as they do for those in need.

The other thought I had – and I admit I am more than a little focused on this after my recent trip to learn about the garment factories and their workers in Bangladesh – I only saw a small reference to the actual sources of the goods bought and sold in stores like the GAP.  What are the working conditions in the factories in China, Bangladesh and other places that produce these goods?  I can tell you that much progress has been made, yet much more progress is necessary to ensure safe working conditions in these factories.  We need to make sure that  American brands are part of the ongoing efforts to increase the safety and health conditions of these factories.

Good that the wages were increased.  And there are other issues both in the United States and elsewhere that need to be addressed regarding the international ready-made garment.  Let’s not lose sight of these other issues.

Bangladesh: A Step Forward Compensating Victims of Garment Factory Tragedies

Bangladesh A Step Forward Compensating Victims of Garment Factory TragediesRead the recent Wall Street Journal article. 

When I was in Bangladesh in early December 2013, the issue of compensation for victims of the fire and building collapse tragedies was one of the issues in the forefront.

(The other major issues were building safety and working conditions going forward.)

Adequate compensation for workers who were disabled and family members whose breadwinners had died was sought.

We have insurance and other compensation mechanisms in place in the United States.  These are not in place in Bangladesh.

Therefore the establishment of this victims fund and the initial contributions to it are major steps forward.

Progress does not come  easy or all at once, but progress can come with ongoing awareness and attention.

I also learned something very important,  in my meeting with the victims and family members of recent tragedies.

In this 90% Muslim country, the workers spoke to our “non-sectarian” delegation appreciatively about the essential and prompt aid they had received from Caritas (Catholic Charities) Bangladesh after their tragedy and loss.

The Christian population of Bangladesh is less than 1%  yet Catholic Charities Bangladesh was at the center of relief efforts.   I know I should not have been, but I was a little surprised.  I definitely was proud and inspired.

Let’s rejoice in the step forward, but the work toward decent and safe working conditions is long-term and complex.  There is so much more to do.


More on Bangladesh

Photo - Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Photo – Tomas Munita for The New York Times

When I visited my family earlier this week for Christmas, the millenniums and the baby boomers were all quite inquisitive about my recent trip to Bangladesh.  I showed them my cell phone pictures of the workers who were disabled by the garment factory tragedies of the last year.  Immediately, they wanted to know about the conditions in the factories there.  Their initial reaction – without even the slightest goading by me – was outrage by the unsafe conditions that led to the two recent tragedies.

They didn’t know until a little later that their Christmas gifts would further raise their awareness about the garment industry in Bangladesh – and the choice that American consumers can make to support better working conditions.  I gave them gift cards to H&M – one of the brands that has signed onto the ACCORD for better building and safety standards in the 5,000 factories in Bangladesh.

Recently, the situation there has gotten more publicity.  See the latest article from the New York Times. 

Hopefully awareness continues to be raised of the need to improve conditions for more than 3 million garment workers in Bangladesh.

My Trip to Bangladesh Continues to Resonate as We Approach Christmas

Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Last month, I was invited to visit garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh with a delegation of New Yorkers that included Tom DiNapoli, New York State Comptroller, and Stuart Appelbaum, the head of the RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.)

More than 1,100 workers’ lives were lost in the collapse of Rana Plaza nearly eight months ago, making it the deadliest disaster in the history of the garment industry.

In a front-page story published just yesterday in The New York Timesreporter Jim Yardley wrote how “inside the single room he shares with his wife and young child, Hasan Mahmud Forkan does not sleep easily. Some nights he hears the screams of the garment workers he tried to rescue from the wreckage of the RanaPlaza factory building. Or he dreams the bed itself is collapsing, sucking him down into a bottomless void.

The delegation I traveled with met with surviving workers of the Rana Plaza  factory collapse with experiences similar to those of Mr. Forkan as well as with family members of those who perished,  labor leaders and retailers tied to the factory.

As I told a Catholic New York reporter, our delegation’s trip was intended to meet with the various sectors involved in the garment industry, the workers themselves, organizers, brand names and government officials to learn about what was going on.  RanaPlaza survivors and family members of the workers killed had a number of concerns including reforming building and work space conditions along with receiving adequate compensation for the disabilities and loss of life caused by the disasters along from the disaster.

Those living after the collapse still struggle to make ends meet. Even though the Bangladeshi government, local associations and overseas retailers provided short-term compensation to survivors and loved ones, many still require financial support.

Read more about the survivors’ stories featured in The New York Times.

Tune in to This Week’s JustLove Show

Adam English_georgehorton

Left to Right: George Horton, Adam English

On this week’s show Monsignor Sullivan speaks with JustLove guest host George Horton about his recent fact finding trip in Bangladesh to learn more about the country’s garment industry. Also on the show is Adam C. English, author of “The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus” who joins the show to talk about the real St. Nicholas.

Listen to JustLove on Saturday at 10am EST on SIRIUS XM Satellite Radio on The Catholic Channel 129.