Friday, April 27, 2012

Of Spring and Biting Insects

One of the things I like best about early spring in Southeast Alaska is that the mosquitos (and other assorted biting insects) aren't out yet.  Which means being able be outside working in the yard or on a clear day sitting in the yard with a cup of tea and a book without being eaten alive. Fortunately for us in Southeast, the worst consequence of being bitten by a mosquito is a painful whelt.  But not so in those parts of Asia and Africa where mosquitos infect those they bite with malaria. 

This past Wednesday, April 25th was World Malaria Day, but its not too late to reflect on both the cause and the prevention of this deadly parasitic disease that kills the vulnerable and chronically debilitates so many people in  the developing world.  Making mosquito netting widely and inexpensively available is the key to prevention and I'm pleased to see that Catholic Relief Services (along with many other relief and development agencies) has made malaria prevention a major part of their work. To learn more about malaria prevention and World Malaria Day go to:

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Steps Forward in Banning Landmines

Angolan School Children (courtesty Catholic Relief Services)
All over the world, in countries as far apart as Afghanistan, Angola, El Salvador and the Falkland Islands, buried but deadly anti-personnel landmines continue to threaten the innocent and the unwary.  The war may have ended, but the violence, random and unintended, continues as a farmer hoeing his field or a woman carrying water from the river sets off a landmine concealed decades earlier.

I saw for myself, while in El Salvador in 1990 during the tragic civil war in that country, children and adults in the countryside who had lost limbs to exploding landmines. During that war, it was the insurgents who used the threat of landmines to harass and demoralize government forces and to restrict their freedom of movement. The rebels did attempt to mark the minefields to reduce the risk to the civilian population, but inevitably there was, to use that bloodless and deeply cynical  euphemism, "collateral damage" during the war and in its aftermath.

I'm grateful then to see our Catholic bishops have signed onto a letter urging the US government to completely eliminate the use of landmines as a weapon of war.  Although far too many civilians continue to be killed or injured by the countless numbers of landmines that were laid by various warring armies during the 1970's and 1980's, there has been real progress made worldwide in banning the manufacture and use of these indiscriminate weapons. 

You can see the letter to the President at the following link.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Of Venomous Serpents and Deadly Poison

In today's gospel for the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, Jesus sends his disciples out to proclaim the Good News to all creation.  He promises them these will be the signs that will accompany those who believe: that in his Name they will not only be able to cast out demons, heal the sick and speak new languages, but will be able to pick up venomous snakes and drink poison.  This and similar gospel passages have unfortunately been taken literally by some Christian believers as an invitation to test their faith by handling snakes or drinking poison.

But as I was pondering the gospel for today's feast, I recalled that St. Mark, who tradition tells us founded the church of Alexandria, Egypt is loved and venerated by Egyptian Christians.  For many years I have been edified by the example of the Coptic Orthodox, who have experienced 15 centuries of discrimination and at times, outright persecution, first by their Christian and then Muslim rulers.  Yet despite repeated provocations, (and inevitable lapses due to human weakness), as a community they seem not to been poisoned by hatred of their persecutors.  Nor have they violently attacked the persons, homes or places of worship of their Muslim neighbors.   Through the grace of God and their own commitment to the gospel values of mercy, compassion, forgiveness and non-violence, Egyptian Christians have been protected from the deadly poison of resentment, hatred and the desire for revenge that is so corrosive and soul-destroying.

My prayer is that Christ will continue to sustain and protect our Christian brothers and sisters in Egypt and that I might imitate their example.