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Mexicans respond to quake with generosity, concerns about aid distribution

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Catholic News Service

CUERNAVACA, Mexico — Donations from Caritas chapters across Mexico started streaming into affected areas after an earthquake rocked central Mexico Sept. 19, claiming more than 300 lives, leveling homes and churches and leaving thousands homeless.

Bishop Ramon Castro Castro of Cuernavaca, Mexico, celebrates Mass Sept. 24 outside the city’s cathedral, which dates to the 1500s and was badly damaged by the Sept. 19 earthquake in Mexico. (CNS photo/David Agren)

Some of those donations being trucked into Morelos state, just south of Mexico City, were stopped, however, and diverted to government-run collection centers, said Bishop Ramon Castro Castro of Cuernavaca. He sounded the alarm in a short video — and set off a scandal.

“This surpasses any minimal moral logic,” Bishop Castro said in an online video, which described how three trucks with Caritas supplies were detained, then diverted by police. “I ask those who have the authority and ability to stop this to do so.”

Bishop Castro’s video went viral in Mexico, where people have responded to the earthquake with generosity and rushed to rescue those trapped in rubble, even risking their own lives and working without sleep in the process.

But his comments have come to embody the country’s fatigue with politicians, some of whom have been chased away or jeered by irate locals while visiting disaster areas. Some politicians have put their promotion or logos on supplies or made assistance in poor areas conditional on recipients showing an electoral identification.

Mexico’s Catholic leaders have joined in the condemnation of the country’s political class, while also accompanying a population often distrustful of their authorities and depending on each other in a time of crisis. In a homily Sept. 24, Bishop Castro called for citizen vigilance to avoid corruption and crass politicking.

“I would ask the government to honestly distribute this money, this disaster fund to reconstruct the country and that no percentage of it ends up in anybody’s pocket. That we as citizens observe and denounce any abuse,” Bishop Castro said in a Sept. 24 homily.

“We hope this tragedy serves to humanize our political class,” added an editorial published Sept. 24 in the Archdiocese of Mexico City publication Desde la Fe. “Mexicans are fed up with the excess of politicians and public officials, the corruption, scandalous salaries, benefits and frivolities … politicians’ ostentatiousness, which insults the more 50 million poor people living in our troubled country.”

The magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck central Mexico especially hard, with the epicenter about 45 miles southeast of Mexico City on the border area of Morelos and Puebla states. In Morelos, served by the Diocese of Cuernavaca, at least 73 people died. Some towns reported more than half the homes there damaged or destroyed.

The citizen solidarity and generosity in Morelos has been overshadowed somewhat by concerns state officials and politicians are trying to use the tragedy for political purposes and to promote themselves ahead of the 2018 elections.

To prevent abuse, Caritas Mexico has developed an application that allows people to identify the disaster areas with the greatest needs, but also to track the delivery of donated supplies.

The application, still in its test phase, allowed the Diocese of Cuernavaca to spot a Caritas truck carrying relief supplies from northern Mexico being stopped by state police as it entered Morelos. Caritas officials rushed to the scene so the truck would be allowed to continue to its original destination, said Oscar Cruz, diocesan communications director.

Bishop Castro told Catholic News Service the Morelos government issued a directive to have all aid arriving from out-of-state distributed by state agencies.

“They want to distribute (church aid) because later they put a label on it, ‘Government of Morelos,’” he said. “This is support from many other people, and (labeling it otherwise is) a total lack of honesty.”

The diocese reports 111 parishes were either damaged or destroyed, while 13 parish residences were left uninhabitable, leaving those priests homeless.

“Some of these churches are 400 years old,” Bishop Castro said at the Cuernavaca cathedral, which dates back to the 1500s. The cathedral was undergoing renovations, but suffered such damage that services could no longer be celebrated inside. “These buildings were still standing after previous earthquakes, storms, but didn’t survive this. That tells you how powerful this was.”

The Diocese of Cuernavaca has focused on “accompanying people,” Bishop Castro said, meaning Masses and funerals were celebrated at all parishes, outside of the buildings.

The diocese also established three collection centers, which were swamped with donations and offers of assistance. One of the centers in the diocesan seminary had as many as 800 volunteers working at a time.

“People are showing a lot of solidarity,” said Father Israel Vazquez, seminary director. He said people sent donations to the church because they thought the church would distribute the aid to those most in need.

Some in the state went straight to the disaster areas. Otilia Diaz and four relatives collected clothing and shoes they no longer needed and drove to the town of Jojutla, which was hit especially hard.

“We collected all we could find in the house to give,” she said. “One woman asked us for shoes because her husband only had sandals and was clearing the rubble of their home.”

In a Mass celebrated outdoors for the victims of the earthquake, Bishop Castro called for change after the earthquake and expressed hopes the disaster, with its expressions of solidarity and demands for better from Mexico’s political class, would lead to a better country.

“Concern yourself with your country, a more just and honest society, that there’s justice. Concern yourself with defending the truth,” Bishop Castro said. “You’re leaders in this story. You’re a protagonist in a new Mexico. It’s the opportunity for change.”

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Lent provides opportunity for Catholics to focus attention on homeless

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Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON —Almsgiving is a Lenten tradition and Washington resident Ron Van Bellen says his volunteer work feeding the homeless honors his Catholic faith as he prepares for Easter.

The real estate agent and parishioner at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown was one of several volunteers dishing up dinner for homeless men and women lined up March 8 for the weekly St. Maria’s meals program sponsored by Catholic Charities each Wednesday evening.

Van Bellen took time to greet each man and woman who went through the food line before they made their way along the downtown Washington sidewalk to eat their dinner.

“Every time I volunteer I reflect on how my day went and how it related to my relationship with God,” he told Catholic News Service. “It does relate to Lent. We have to sacrifice and serve our brothers and sisters.”

Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria's meals program run by Catholic Charities. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Able Putu, a homeless man in a wheelchair, eats a meal on a Washington street March 8 prepared by volunteers of the St. Maria’s meals program run by Catholic Charities. (CNS photo/Chaz Muth)

Van Bellen’s example of helping the homeless during Lent is a Catholic value that Washington’s Catholic Charities president and CEO, Msgr. John Enzler, would like to see spread across the U.S.

It’s clear in the Scriptures that fasting and penance goes beyond not eating meat on Fridays and giving something up during Lent, Msgr. Enzler told CNS. “It’s about making someone else’s life better with your service and your commitment.”

The homeless are among the world’s most vulnerable people and providing service to them during Lent is an ideal way for Catholics to live out their faith in a way that will make a real difference, he said.

Concerted efforts by religious and governmental organizations to address the U.S. homeless situation appear to be making a difference.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported a 3 percent drop in the national homeless rate from 2015 to 2016 and a 12 percent drop in the last five years.

HUD reported the 2016 national homeless population to be nearly 550,000.

However, the homeless rate rose from 2015 to 2016 in the District of Columbia and a few states, including Alabama, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Oklahoma and Washington.

With more than a half million people still considered homeless, it’s an issue that all U.S. cities confront and there are varying solutions being employed to raise money necessary to address it in a consequential way, Msgr. Enzler said.

In its effort to fund anti-homelessness programs, Los Angeles County placed a proposal called Measure H on its ballot during its March 7 election.

If passed, Measure H would raise the sales tax a quarter cent. Ballots were still being counted as of March 16 to determine the outcome of the measure.

“There doesn’t seem to be a secret sauce, if you will, about how to completely eradicate homelessness,” Msgr. Enzler said. “But, it seems to me that we just don’t have enough case workers and social workers.”

He believes more people need to serve as navigators, mentors or coaches for individual homeless men and women.

“We don’t have enough people who can really step in and say, ‘I’m going to help this one individual,’” Msgr. Enzler said, “and say ‘it’s my job to help just that one person get a job and get a place to stay and stay with them. Mentor them through that process.’”

He has been encouraging volunteers in his Catholic Charities’ programs to make the homeless their focal point during Lent.

Pope Francis has long urged governments and Christians to recognize the dignity of the homeless and help ease their suffering.

Homelessness became more complicated in the nation’s capital this Lenten season, since the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library shut down March 4 for a three-year, multimillion-dollar renovation.

Many D.C. homeless men and women used that library branch as a day resource center, a place to get out of the elements during the daytime hours, to use the computer lab to look for work and to use the public restrooms, Msgr. Enzler said.

That closure inspired him to explore a partnership between the District of Columbia and other charitable groups to fund an official day resource center for the homeless, complete with a meal program, laundry and shower facilities, as well as job counselors, case managers and social workers.

It’s an idea that is still percolating with no commitments yet realized, Msgr. Enzler said.

It’s also an idea that Able Putu, a 37-year-old homeless Washingtonian who uses a wheelchair, would like to see come to fruition.

Putu said the library closure left him without a place to rest, use the lavatory and made him more vulnerable to being robbed during the daytime hours.

“I know a lot of people think the homeless are scum and aren’t worthy of anyone’s help, and maybe that’s true about some of them,” Putu said, “but it’s not true about most of us.”

Van Bellen said he had been one of those people with a negative opinion of the homeless before he started his volunteer work.

“I found out that those were misperceptions,” he said. “What I’ve discovered is the homeless people I’ve encountered here are sweet and definitely misunderstood. I wouldn’t have figured that out if I hadn’t exposed myself to them.”

 

Follow Chaz Muth on Twitter: @Chazmaniandevyl.

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Annual Catholic Appeal helps the homeless and jobless become self-sufficient

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For The Dialog

Annual Catholic Appeal helps support diocesan ministries for homeless young mothers and for the jobless

Neither Kelly Adams nor Arden Johnson ever imagined they would become homeless until each of their lives unraveled, about a decade apart.

Adams, 25, had studied at Delaware Tech in Dover, with the hope of becoming a nurse, when her financial aid ran out. She had a job and her own place to live until she lost her job last June and later her residence. She started living with friends and relatives on a rotating basis. Later that summer she learned she was pregnant. Read more »

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‘No justification whatsoever’ for lack of housing, pope says

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Catholic News Service

 

WASHINGTON (CNS) — “We can find no social or moral justification, no justification, no justification whatsoever, for lack of housing,” Pope Francis told an audience of about 200 clients of Catholic Charities gathered at St. Patrick Church.

“I want to be very clear,” Pope Francis told the crowd, many of whom have low incomes, are immigrants, and receive medical care or clinical and mental health services from Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington. Read more »

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Pope: Plight of homeless is a disgrace in ‘civilized’ cities

September 18th, 2015 Posted in Featured, Vatican News Tags: , ,

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — It’s a disgrace that children live on the streets and young girls and women are forced into prostitution, especially in societies that claim to be highly developed and cultured, Pope Francis said.

A homeless man searches a trash can for bottles and cans to redeem for money in New York City in 2014. Ahead of Pope Francis' apostolic visit to the United States in September, some are bracing themselves for more criticisms from the pope, this time directed specifically at the U.S. culture and economy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

A homeless man searches a trash can for bottles and cans to redeem for money in New York City in 2014. Ahead of Pope Francis’ apostolic visit to the United States in September, some are bracing themselves for more criticisms from the pope, this time directed specifically at the U.S. culture and economy. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

“Every child abandoned or forced to live on the streets, at the mercy of criminal organizations, is a cry rising up to God,” he said.

It is a cry of accusation “against a social system that we have criticized for decades but that we struggle to change,” he said in an audience Sept. 17 to participants of an international symposium on the pastoral care of people on the street. The Sept. 13-17 symposium was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers.

“It is troubling to see the increasing number of young girls and women forced to earn a living on the street by selling their own bodies, victims of exploitation by criminal organizations and at times by parents and family members,” he said.

Such a situation “is a disgrace in our societies, which boast of being modern and having achieved high levels of culture and development,” he added.

The pope said Christians must be involved in helping innocent people forced onto the streets by safeguarding their dignity and bringing “the goodness and the tenderness of God” to them.

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Papal official invites homeless people to tour of Sistine Chapel and dinner

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Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY — The papal almoner, an archbishop who distributes charitable aid from Pope Francis, planned a special afternoon for about 150 homeless people: a walk through the Vatican Gardens, a visit to the Vatican Museums, private time in the Sistine Chapel and dinner in the museums’ cafeteria. Read more »

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