Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Quilts for the Homeless

Girl Scouts - Quilts for the Homeless

Mary Cotton Richard, a lifetime member of Girl Scouts is going to make a friendship quilt for the homeless and invites any girl or troop to consider making a quilt or blanket to be given away during November, December, January or February to the homeless. Throughout our Girl Scout communities, there will be hundreds of people seeking shelter from the cold.

Quilts or blankets can be made for a girl, boy, man or woman and will not only warm their bodies, but also their hearts. Quilts/blankets and questions can be sent to Mary through the GSNENY Albany Service Center, 8 Mountain View Ave., Albany, NY 12205.
(518)489-8110 or 1-888-447-6963.

Quilts/blankets can also be delivered to the Catholic Charities Housing Office, 41 North Main Ave, Albany, NY 12203.

Monday, December 29, 2008

After Christmas

A Christmas Poem

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.

-Howard Thurman

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Advent Series -- Part Four

By Barbara DiTommaso

This is part one of an Advent series prepared by the Commission on Peace and Justice, which was printed in The Evangelist.

The deep emotions that many associate with the Christmas season is more than our need for light during the darkest time of year in the Northern Hemishpere; more than our need to express to others through the gifts we give them how much they mean to us; and more than our own need to receive their expressions of love. I believe that we are so open emotionally because at the deepest level we believe that God shares and so understands our humanity, especially as a helpless baby, and inspires our confidence that we are loved unconditionally, forgiven freely, and affirmed in the goodness of our humanity.

God’s unquenchable dream of a redeemed and renewed humanity are mirrored by Father Joseph Philippe. Starting with nothing but a dream and unshakeable faith in his people, this Haitian priest started Fonkoze (pronounced fahn-ko-ZAY), a foundation to empower poor Haitians so that their hard work, determination and resilience could result in a better life.

Fonkoze provides banking services such as money transfers from Haitians living abroad; almost 159,000 savings accounts that now total over $11 million; 55,000 loans that enable street vendors, primarily women, to increase the stock of what they sell and so increase their small profits; literacy and business skills training (including arithmetic); education in health, human rights and environmental protection; and home improvements such as a concrete floor, tin roof and latrine. In a place as destitute as Haiti, these facts constitute nothing short of a miracle.

This grassroots microcredit builds on people’s experience and strengths: As soon as a loan is repaid, the borrower qualifies for a larger loan, then an even larger one, etc. Such economic investment and human development have proven to be more effective than large-scale projects where it can be difficult to see immediate improvements in people’s lives.

But it also has its costs. Fonkoze’s success has deprived the loan sharks who profited from people’s misery by charging up to 400% interest, and they know who is responsible. About six years ago, Father Joseph was in Albany to meet with the Friends of Fonkoze, a small group that raised funds to pay for the training in literacy and business skills. He was asked about his safety. He said, “I try to work in the shadows, but my life is in God’s hands, and I’m ready to go at any time.” He was 47 years old. Since then he has had to go into hiding twice.

But the achievements of Fonkoze clients motivate him to go on, clients such as Agathe Poncet. When she received her first loan of $70 nine years ago, Agathe purchased sugar, rice and vegetables to sell at market. Today her loan is more than 20 times that amount, enabling her to sell tennis shoes, t-shirts, pens and other high-end merchandise. Her children all attend school, her home has been expanded and the thatched roof has been replaced by cement.

Would you consider making a donation to Fonkoze in the name of a family member or friend, or in memory of a loved one who has died? This gift would honor the recipient by expressing your confidence that he or she cares about people who would otherwide have no opportunity for a life free of hunger, continual anxiety and disease.

The need is especially great now in areas struck by four hurricanes and tropical storms in less than a month. For many, everything they had was swept away in the rain, winds and mudslides, including the rickety shacks that were their homes. Fonkoze has already recapitalized 18,000 loan clients who lost their businesses as the best way to help people return to improving their situation. Please become part if this success story.

Barbara DiTommaso is Director of the Commission on Peace and Justice. She works with Fonkoze and a small rural training school to improve methods of farming and animal husbandry in Haiti.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Advent Series -- Part Three

By Sister Francine Dempsey, CSJ

This is part one of an Advent series prepared by the Commission on Peace and Justice, which was printed in The Evangelist.

On Advent’s third Sunday we are called to “rejoice always.” Jesus is soon to be born. But where? In the poorest of circumstances. In the dark of a stable, surrounded by the dirt, smell and sounds of animals. Mary and Joseph are alone, far from any support of friends and family.

Most of us who read The Evangelist were, we must admit, born in much richer circumstances than Jesus. And in anticipating Jesus’ birth, almost upon us, we rejoice, Isaiah reminds us, not just over this about-to-be-born babe but also over the mission that is integral to Jesus’ life among us, integral to our life with Jesus.

“Rejoice," Isaiah says in this Sunday’s first reading, because the Lord has anointed and sent Isaiah first, and then Jesus, and then each of us, “to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and release to prisoners.” Once again we rejoice that Love has come among us; once again we are called to live the mission of Jesus in our own lives, our own world.

A child is born in a broken-down shack in Haiti, the poorest of countries. Adeline is her name. Seven younger siblings are born. The family’s only income is from their mother’s begging. Sometimes they go for a week at a time without lighting a cooking fire. When Adeline is 14 her mother dies.

Rejoice. More than 2000 years after Jesus’ birth, his love, his mission reaches even the remote region of Haiti where Adeline lives. She is invited to participate in Chemen Lavi Miyo (Pathway to a Better Life). The volunteers who work with Fonkoze, this program’s sponsors, have a mission of love in the form of a ministry called ”micro-financing”. Fonkoze empowers very poor people to pull themselves out of poverty, using traditional skills and entrepreneurial instincts, with small loans to start, establish or expand very small self-supporting businesses. Fonkoze focuses on rural women who use the profits they make to send their children to school and improve their living conditions.

Rejoice. Adeline receives extensive training in the care of goats and chickens and also receives seven chickens and three goats, assets that give her the potential for a small business.

Rejoice. Adeline receives coaching in business methods and lessons in nutrition, health, and literacy. A stipend of $1 a day frees her from begging and allows her time to care for her animals and attend school. She saves $1.50 each week to further develop her business stock and earn a sustainable income. She and her siblings are now able to eat a meal each day. Slowly, she repairs their home.

On Advent’s third Sunday we are called to rejoice and rejoice again. The reading from Isaiah says, “I rejoice heartily in the Lord;” in the Psalm, Mary, pregnant, sings out, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior;” and in his letter Paul writes, “Brothers and sisters, rejoice always.” Finally, in the Gospel, speaking some thirty years after that first Christmas, John the Baptist proclaims that Jesus’ public ministry of love is about to begin.

We need not puzzle over this inclusion of John’s announcement of Jesus’ public ministry as part of the Advent season, as part of our preparation for the birth of Jesus. We know that we can rejoice in anticipating Christmas year after year only if we also recognize that Jesus’ new birth is simply another call to all of us to bring good news, glad tidings, to the poor and unfree year after year after year. Rejoice.

To make a tax-deductible gift to cover the cost of teaching a market woman how to read and write or learn arithmetic and basic business skills, a check can be made out to Fonkoze USA and sent to the Commission on Peace and Justice, 40 N. Main Ave., Albany NY 12203-1481.

Sister Francine Dempsey, CSJ is Professor Emerita of American Studies at the College of Saint Rose and a member of the Commission on Peace and Justice.

Advent Series -- Part Two

Waiting and Advent
By Jeff Peck

This is part one of an Advent series prepared by the Commission on Peace and Justice, which was printed in The Evangelist.

Scripture reminds us that something is happening and we must make ourselves ready. We are not very good at waiting, even if we are waiting for things we want, for good stuff. New brakes to stop our car safely, birthday presents, even a dentist’s examination. How fortunate we are that even most of the unpleasant things we wait for can bring us goodness.

People in other places are often more patient than we are. They are good at waiting. When you have little, there is little to become impatient about. Your expectations are not great, but the results of waiting are often a matter of life and death. In Haiti, life expectancy is 57 ½ years. Waiting is a lot more costly for them than us in terms of life span. In a country where a majority of the population has difficulty obtaining water fit to drink, waiting for water trucks to deliver drinking water when available is an accepted part of life. For us, it is bothersome to deal with boil orders when our water systems have problems and we easily get impatient waiting for the order to be lifted but we have the assurance of pure water returning.

We wait in dread for the coming of winter storms because the snow will make driving difficult, cleaning up a nuisance, and potentially cause a change in our plans. We do not live in the hurricane belt waiting for the next hurricane to wash away our crops or blow away our homes. In less than a month’s time, the people of Haiti have been subjected to the devastation of four major storms, Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike. One million people became homeless and food has become more difficult to obtain.

As we wait for Christmas and prepare for our customary gift giving, family gatherings, and communal liturgies, it’s important to remember that John the baptizer’s charge to prepare the way of the Lord is our vocation as well. We can extend our waiting and preparation to those in Haiti, where 80% of the population live in dire poverty.

Fonkoze is a multifacted organization that prepares those in abject poverty to enter a micro-lending program. When they are ready, they become part of a solidarity group that qualifies for a loan and then for a larger loan each time they pay off their earlier one. Ultimately the program provides its participants with loans large enough to start businesses and create employment for others. Ninety-nine percent of the participants are women who use the increased income first of all to feed their families and send their children to school.

Melanie Mertyle entered the Fonkoze program for those in extreme poverty. She and her three children had no tangible assets, were unable to earn a living, and experienced great difficulty obtaining food. Nine months after entering the program, the family has a place to live with a cement floor and a tin roof, their first ever latrine, access to clean water, and some health care. Melanie and 149 others were able to enter this program as a result of an investment of only $1,000.00. Now Melanie owns goats and runs a small store in her community. Additional information about Fonkoze is available at the organization’s web site Its literacy and business skills are limited only by the resources available.

Would you consider making a donation to Fonkoze to pay for a woman to learn to read and write ($25) or to learn arithmetic and business skills ($50); to receive a small loan to increase the stock of her vending business ($25-75) or allow her to improve her home with a tin roof, cement floor and latrine ($350)? Given in honor of a loved one or friend, or in memory of a dear one, these relatively small amounts can lift a family from misery to poverty. Tax-deductible donations made out to Fonkoze USA may be sent to the Commission on Peace and Justice, 40 N. Main Ave., Albany NY 12203-1481.

Jeff Peck, a member of the diocesan Commission on Peace and Justice, is a member of St. Joseph’s Parish in Greenwich and an emeritus professor of political science.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent Series -- Part One

Prepare the Way of the Lord
By Barbara DiTommaso

This is part one of an advent series prepared by the Commission on Peace and Justice, which was printed in
The Evangelist.

This beloved Advent refrain reminds us that we each have a role in the coming of Christ into the lives of others, as well as into our own. I invite you to begin the holy season of Advent by considering Haiti. Haiti? Perhaps the image that comes immediately to mind is ‘the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere’. But that is only because you haven’t yet met Father Joseph Philippe, a man who believes in miracles.

When this member of the Spiritan Fathers (formerly called the Holy Ghost Fathers) looks at his fellow Haitians, he sees tremendous potential that only needs a little assist to succeed. “Join us,” he urges, “not because we are weak, but because we are strong.”

His ambitious dream a mere 14 years ago has become Fonkoze (pronounced fahn-ko-ZAY), an acronym for the Creole meaning The Shoulder-to-Shoulder Foundation. Modeled on the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, whose founder won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, Fonkoze provides banking services to impoverished people who would be turned away by ordinary banks. But why would a poor person even need a bank?

In Haiti, most economic activity is carried on by women street vendors. Rising before dawn, a typical rural vendor walks on steep mountain paths to the nearest town to buy goods such as clothing, soap or food items. She then carries the these back on her head, or if she is lucky, on a donkey, and tries to sell them at a tiny profit. Father Joseph saw that with a small loan and a few more skills, these ‘little merchants’ and their families could lead dignified lives free of hunger and disease.
A group of at least five vendors forms a solidarity group, and as a group, they are given a loan of as little as $75. The money is divided equally among them, and the first thing they must do is to open a savings account with a small deposit. This starts a habit of saving which not only helps them to accumulate resources, but also relieves them of the gnawing dread of always being at the end of their rope and have nothing to fall back on when the unexpected happens.

With the loan comes responsibility: to learn to read and write (using a game created by Father Joseph that simulates market situations) and to learn business skills appropriate to their conditions. Members of the group hold each other accountable for repaying their share of the loan, and for a member who experiences an unexpected difficulty, the others will temporarily cover her repayment until she can manage again. The loan is used to expand the amount and diversity of goods a vendor can purchase, and so increase her profit. As soon as the loan is repaid, the group qualifies for a larger loan, with which the group members can purchase yet more stock, with no limit to the number of times they can qualify.

Fonkoze’s promise is: If you continue as a responsible member of Fonkoze for 5 years, you and your children will have a meal every day. You will know how to read and write. All of your children will be in school. Your home will have a cement floor, a tin roof, and a latrine. You will have assets that you can see accumulating, day by day. You will have the confidence to face your future, no matter what it holds.

This is not only economic development, but human development as participants feel self-worth and experience success for the first time in their lives. It is also building the economic foundation for democracy in Haiti. Previous failed attempts relied only on elections, and that was not enough.

Another Advent refrain is Come, Lord Jesus! Jesus has already come; it is our openness to his presence that we are asking to have increased. In the coming weeks, you will read more about the miracle of Fonkoze, in which Christ lives in the least of our brothers and sisters and ministers to them through people such as ourselves.

Barbara DiTommaso, Director of the Commission on Peace and Justice, has been to Haiti 4 times. Read more about Fonkoze at

Labels: ,

Friday, December 19, 2008

Benefit for Community Maternity Services

On Sunday, December 28, there will be a special night at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany to benefit Community Maternity Services, 7 p.m., featuring “Striking 12,” a new musical based on the fairy tale “The Little Match Girl.” Tickets are $40.

For tickets or more information, please call Anne Marie Couser, 482-8836.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Centering Prayer

Bruce Gardiner, a member of the Commission on Peace and Justice, also is the local contact person for Contemplative Outreach in the Albany and upper Hudson Valley area. He will present a Centering Prayer Morning Retreat on Saturday, December 20, 9 a.m. to noon at The Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary, 959 Madison Avenue in Albany.

Bruce has completed the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany Formation for Ministry Program and has been a FMP retreat leader and staff member; he also has been commissioned by Contemplative Outreach and Fr. Thomas Keating to teach Centering Prayer and Lectio Divina.

A moment of silence in the midst of the Holiday Whirlwind...

9:00 -- Opening Prayer
9:15 -- First Period of Centering Prayer
(also introduction to Centering Prayer for 1st time attendees)
9:40 -- Second Period of Centering Prayer
10:00 -- Break
10:15 -- Video with Fr. Thomas Keating
"The False self in Action" and discussion
11:35 -- Centering Prayer
12:00 -- Adjourn

Please come in the back door of Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary.

FREE WILL OFFERING to cover food and rent.

Peace in the Holy Land

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in partnership with Churches for Middle Eawst Peace, provide the following Advent resource for Peace in the Holy Land:
Advent is a time of waiting. During this season, we look with eager anticipation to the coming of Christ into our lives and our world. Our longing for what will come can awaken us to the yearning, in the hearts of many Israelis and Palestinians, for a lasting peace in their land. During Advent, as Christians in the U.S. we pray for a just peace for the Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the Holy Land.
. . .
Christian leaders and congregants from across the country are joining together this Advent and New Year season to urge the next president to make Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking an immediate foreign policy priority. American Christians, together with Jews and Muslims, have an important role to play in praying for peace and in raising their voices with elected officials and with the wider public.
You can learn more here.

Labels: ,

Friday, December 12, 2008

Rural and Migrant Ministry

Our friends at Rural and Migrant Ministry sent the following:
There is still time to buy the 2009 Bilingual Calendar entitled "Gracias por los Amigos", celebrating friendships with and within our nation's farmworking community. It's the creation of Celia Roberts, a professional photographer/artist who photographs special populations in developing countries and the U.S. She has photographed for Habitat for Humanity and for UNICEF.

The 2009 Calendar includes the Introduction by our own the Reverend Richard Witt, Exec. Director, Rural & Migrant Ministry. The cost is $10.00 each. Please make checks payable to Rural & Migrant Ministry, P.O. Box 4757, Poughkeepsie, NY 12602.
Learn more about the farmworkers here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Promote Peace in the Land of Jesus' Birth

As we await the coming of the Prince of Peace this Advent season, Bishop Howard Hubbard, in his new role as Chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), invites us to promote peace in the land of Jesus' birth.

Bishop Hubbard is among a group of prominent Christian leaders urging President-elect Barack Obama “to make achievement of Israeli-Palestinian peace an immediate priority” during his first year in office.

You also can sign a letter to President-elect Obama, which will be delivered to him around the time of his inauguration. This link explains the letter and its purpose and provides a link to the letter itself and a way for you to add your name to the signatories.

Labels: ,

Monday, December 08, 2008

National Migration Week

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops announces National Migration Week in January.
Renewing Hope, Seeking Justice is the theme of 2009’s National Migration Week, held January 4-10. The observance began over 25 years ago by the bishops to be a moment for Catholics to take stock of the wide diversity of the Church and the ministries serving them. As the face of the local churches continue to change, these materials are becoming more and more necessary. The materials created for National Migration Week also provide an important educational resource that can be used by individuals, families, schools, and parishes to learn about the complex issues surrounding migration phenomena.

We hope that you will use these materials as a resource for further reflection on these very important issues. A wide variety of resources is available through USCCB publishing to assist you in this endeavor. Contact them at 800-235-8722 or visit their website at to browse Migration and Refugee Services material.

More information is available here.


Thursday, December 04, 2008


A little late, but still worthwhile.


God of all nations, Father of the human family,
we give you thanks for the freedom we exercise
and the many blessings of democracy we enjoy
in these United States of America.

We ask for your protection and guidance
for all who devote themselves to the common good,
working for justice and peace at home and around the world.

We lift up all our duly elected leaders and public servants,
those who will serve us as president, as legislators and judges,
those in the military and law enforcement.

Heal us from our differences and unite us, O Lord,
with a common purpose, dedication, and commitment
to achieve liberty and justice in the years ahead for all people,
and especially those who are most vulnerable in our midst. Amen.

This prayer is excerpted from Catholic Household Blessings and
Prayers, revised edition (USCCB, 2007)