Thursday, April 28, 2011

Charity, Nuns, and an Overloaded Helicopter

My #2 daughter and son-in-law are in Louisiana today, visiting his family. We got a call from them this morning: they're fine, so's his family; and they just missed severe weather. Twice.

That's good news for this family: but not everybody's got such a pleasant story to tell. The last I heard, severe weather yesterday killed about 250 people.

Which is bad, but not as bad as it could have been. Back in 1908, from the 24th to the 26th of April, tornadoes in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, killed 324 people. Then there was the March 18, 1925, Tri-State tornado: starting near Ellington, Missouri, and ending about three and a half hours later in southern Indiana. Death toll that time was 695 people, 234 of those deaths were in Murphysboro, Illinois. (NOAA)

I could, at this point, claim that my family was spared because we're such nice folks - and that the dead got what was coming to them. That's not gonna happen. Like I wrote yesterday, "I take Matthew 7:1-5 very seriously." Then there's the tower at Siloam thing. (Luke 13:1-5) (March 15, 2011)

Here in central Minnesota, we got snow yesterday evening. Considering what was happening elsewhere, that was something of an anticlimax.

Dealing With Disasters

Storms, floods, fires, and other disasters happen. Even when something spectacular hasn't happened, some folks have a hard time 'making ends meet.' The Catholic Church can't 'make everything better,' but we do have an obligation to feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the ill, and visit those in prison. (Matthew 25:34-46) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2446)

I'm counting on my Lord not expecting everyone to do everything - and that's another topic. (1 Corinthians 12)

The Holy See: Micromanagement in Reverse, Sort of

I've noticed that the Catholic Church, for all its reputation as a top-down hierarchical organization, delegates. A lot. Let's look at some numbers:
  • Roman Catholics, world-wide, July 2011 estimate
    • 1,177,100,000
  • Vatican City population
    • 832
    (source:"Holy See (Vatican City), "World," CIA World Factbook
    (last updated April 6, 2011))
That may be part of the explanation for why you seldom read about the Vatican getting directly involved in some disaster relief project. That sort of boots-on-the-ground operation is, I think, best handled by folks whose job is not high-level administration. Anyway, here's where some of the 800-plus folks in the Vatican work:

"Pontifical Council Cor Unum for Human and Christian Development" Palazzo San Calisto V-00120
Vatican City State
  • Objectives
    • "To assist the Pope and be his instrument for carrying out special initiatives in the field of humanitarian actions when disasters occur, or in the field of integral human promotion;
    • "To foster the catechesis of Charity and encourage the faithful to give a concrete witness to evangelical charity;
    • "To encourage and coordinate the initiatives of Catholic Organizations through the exchange of information and by promoting fraternal cooperation in favour of integral human development."
The Vatican's Cor Unum doesn't work like Jeff Tracy's International Rescue. No secret island base. No astounding technology. Just - in this case - a war-surplus helicopter, two pilots, and a few nuns:
"...In Chokwe (12 - 14 thousand inhabitants) I visited the hospital run by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity, where there were 80 AIDS and tuberculoses patients. With the flooding, the Sisters carried all of them to safety on the roof of the building. The Sisters never abandoned them and remained for three days with the sick in the waters which continued to rise.

"Already at the beginning of the disaster, a Spanish benefactor had provided a helicopter to the Vincentian Sisters. The helicopter had been used in the Vietnam war. The two pilots were from South Africa. There were places for only seven people on board, but one day 45 persons were transported - in one single trip. Operating in this way for one week, they managed to save the lives of more than 500 persons. Means of transport continues to be one of the major urgencies...." (Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes (March 9-12, 2000))
Flying 45 people in a vintage helicopter designed to hold seven? It's a good thing the folks in Chokwe were dealing with Vincentian Sisters, not OSHA.

And that is yet another topic.

Somewhat-related posts:
In the news:
Background (not an exhaustive list):


Brigid said...

Tornadoes get names now? "tornadoes Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, killed 324 people."

Tri-State what? "Then there was the March 18, 1925, Tri-State:"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Found and fixed. Thanks.


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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.