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Catholic Voice

 November 8, 2010   •   VOL. 48, NO. 19   •   Oakland, CA
Commentary

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Monica Clark: Leadership, dedication to the diocese
 
Terror reigns over Haiti’s women and children
 
Monica Clark: Leadership,
dedication to the diocese

Of the 16 documents produced by the Second Vatican Council regulating the life of the Church at the end of the 20th century and into the 21st, do you know which was the first? If you answered, “The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacro-sanctum Concilium,” you would be half right. Another document was issued on that same day, Dec. 4, 1963, which, surprisingly, has probably received the least attention of all: Inter mirifica, the Council’s Decree on the Means of Social Communication.

Bishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

“Inter mirifica” literally means, “among the marvelous things,” the first words of this document. In the almost 50 years since the promulgation of this decree, the means of social communication have become all the more marvelous, not to mention instantaneous.

All of this points to the foresight and timeliness of the council fathers in issuing this statement, underscoring the need for responsible journalism and for the Church to keep current in utilizing the latest technology to spread the Gospel of Christ to the world. Ever since the council, the popes have reminded the Church of this need. Just last month Pope Benedict XVI addressed a group of journalists representing the Catholic press from 85 countries meeting in Rome at a world congress organized to reflect on the role of newspapers as faithful Catholic media. He spoke to them about the continuing importance of “the written word and its timeliness and efficacy, in a society which has seen antennas, satellite dishes and satellites multiply, becoming almost the emblem of a new way of communicating in the era of globalization.”

Monica Clark

This current issue of The Catholic Voice brings this message home in a very real way. Monica Clark, who joined the staff of the Diocese of Oakland 30 years ago, has shepherded The Catholic Voice as its editor for the past 24 of those 30 years. Monica is now retiring, and this is the last issue to be produced under her editorship.

In our highly mobile society, it is increasingly rare to find a colleague serving so loyally in such a key position. Monica has met well the financial, personnel and management challenges of running a complex operation, successfully meeting the editorial deadline every two weeks over this past quarter-century. Literally hundreds of thousands of East Bay Catholics have relied on her professional dedication in covering the history and happenings of our diocese in all of its rich diversity and creative pastoral energy, and chronicling everything from anniversaries to obituaries to milestones of Catholic life of all kinds.

On Nov. 1, Monica received the Diocesan Medal of Merit, the diocese’s highest award, in recognition of her many years of service as editor of the diocesan newspaper. This award was proposed by her staff, a true testimony to their appreciation of her leadership. As The Catholic Voice now transitions to new leadership, we all remain grateful to Monica for her role in helping to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council articulated in Inter mirifica. May God bless her and bless us all as we now strive to continue her good work, so that the Good News may go out to everyone here in the Diocese of Oakland.

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A woman carries goods through the largest tent city of Haitian earthquake survivors, located on a former nine-hole golf course that is now home to more than 44,000 people.
CNS PHOTO/paul jeffrey
Terror reigns over Haiti’s women and children

East Bay resident Jayne Fleming, pro-bono attorney for Reed Smith and director of the Legal Justice Center at the Cathedral of Christ the Light in Oakland, has made several humanitarian visits to Haiti since the country’s devastating earthquake. She is working to establish safe houses for the most vulnerable women and children in Port au Prince.

By Jayne Fleming


Erla Jeannot sells food at a stand near the entrance of one of the 1,300 tents camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
CNS PHOTO/BARBARA FRASER

It is critical to keep speaking out about the deepening humanitarian crisis in Haiti. It is a never-ending story: There is little food, no secure shelter. Mothers cannot send their children to school. Children and elders need medical care, but cannot pay for it.

The official policy is that children under six and mothers who are breast-feeding are supposed to be getting food aid while everyone else fends for themselves.

But none of the babies and tots in the safe houses we’ve established is getting food and none of our new mothers can breastfeed because they are too malnourished.

And what about the lost girls between the ages of 6-18 who are orphans because of the quake? I know of many who are trading sex for food. I met with a UN official who admitted girls all over Port au Prince are doing this. How can we turn our backs on these girls? Every time I hear of a new case of child prostitution for food I think to myself, she could be my daughter.

The women we are trying to help are living in the most dangerous tent camps in Port au Prince. There is no lighting or security in their camps. When the sun goes down, the terror campaign begins. Rapes happen in these camps every week.

Some women and girls are so traumatized by prior rapes or threats of rape that they only stay in their camp during the day. They leave the camp when darkness falls and huddle on sidewalks near buildings that have guards (banks, fire stations, the collapsed national palace). When it rains, they stand under awnings and get no rest at all. This has gone on for months.

Although the violence in camps is well known to the Haitian government and UN, so far the official response has been all talk and little or no action.

The safe house project we’ve established is apparently the only women’s shelter system in Haiti. NGOs now reach out to me for help. Yet my project is small and a personal one dependent upon donations from friends.

Tragically, I have met with more than two dozen women pleading for a room in a safe house because they have been threatened with death for helping a rape victim. There is nothing worse than telling these women I have no ability to help them.

And how can I calm the fears of their teenage daughters when we all know any one of these girls could be the next victim in a camp?

I interviewed two new rape victims, a 14-year-old and a 20-year-old. The 20-year-old lost her parents in the earthquake and has no one. She was raped by four men who then slashed her tent to pieces.

The 14-year-old was raped by three men because she rejected the ring leader’s flirtation. After the assault, she had the courage to make a police report, but the police did not arrest him. Now, the perpetrator is threatening to kill her and her family. We are keeping this child and her mother in a safe house.

People often ask why rape is so rampant in the camps. Of course there is lack of security and lighting, but the main reason is because perpetrators know they will never be punished. Impunity is probably higher in Haiti than anywhere in the world right now.

If a girl has the courage to make a police report, there is a good chance the police will mock or blame her. If they take a report, the likelihood of arrest is remote.

Money for gas


One victim told me she knew the perpetrator, but a police officer said he would not go look for him unless she gave him money for gas, which she did not have. Another was advised to find the perpetrator and bring him to the police.

If a perpetrator is arrested, he will probably pay a bribe to the police and be back on the streets in a matter of days. If not, a conviction is still unlikely as the judicial system is corrupt.

The conviction rate for rape is less than two percent.Given this, and the risk of retaliation for reporting, is it any surprise girls don’t report rapes? And because there are few reports, the Haitian government claims it has the problem of gender-based violence under control.

None of this is news; our own State Department has reported on it in annual human rights reports on Haiti for a long time.

While food and housing insecurity and no medical care plague all of our clients, their biggest concern is access to education for their children.

When school started last month, only two of the more than 150 children I have been working with since March started school. I paid their tuition out of my mother’s memorial fund. The mother of these boys is a rape survivor and widow. She was ready to drink bleach and we made a contract that if her kids could get an education, she would not kill herself. Hers is plainly a special case. Yet what about all the other children?

School costs about $400 per year for one child (entrance fee, monthly fees, books, uniform). Our clients earn less than $2 a day and most have more than one child. There is no way they can afford to pay for school this year because the jobs they had vanished with the quake.

The loss of a generation


We are witnessing the possible loss of an entire generation of young talent that could be the future of Haiti.
Indeed, the situation is tragic and the problems seem overwhelming. Yet there is reason for hope.

The poor in Haiti are survivors (they have a lot of experience at this). They are smart and determined and hard-working. They have amazing resiliency. They are not willing to lie down. They are not willing to accept defeat. We have much to learn from them.

Beyond being inspired by the people of Haiti, I am deeply inspired by the solidarity of non-Haitian friends and advocates around the world. Several weeks ago I sent out a cry for help for a young victim in Haiti who needed tongue reconstruction surgery after a rape.

Soon we were able to coordinate surgery with a plastic surgeon. She can talk again. She is gaining strength. She is getting psychological care. Perhaps what is most important is that concern for her gave her hope.

Hers is not the only story. I also met with a young widow whose husband died in the January quake. To add to her grief, she was raped in April. One day at breakfast we talked about her life before the quake.

She dreamed of becoming a singer and had been in a band that had appeared on national television in Haiti, performing music about the struggle of Haitian women. As she was speaking, I saw a flame of passion within her that I had not seen before.

It so happened that a new friend from London who works as an editor for an international media organization was in Port au Prince; he had a full camera crew with him. I asked the young woman if she might like to have him record her singing, just for her own enjoyment.

While shy, she lit up at the idea. Music is obviously her lifeline. My media friend loved the idea and a recording session was arranged. One of our interpreters later said, “This is the first time I have seen her smile” in the past six months.

This experience taught me an important lesson. We need to talk about more than hunger and homelessness and rape. We need to talk about dreams.

I applied this lesson when I learned that a 14-year-old we are placing in a safe house loves volleyball, was learning Spanish, French and English in school before the quake, dreams of becoming a high fashion model, and loves Celine Dion.

I had been meeting with this child for several days. I saw her smile for the first time when we spoke of her dreams. I could see in her eyes and hear in her voice that she has tremendous potential. I promised her a volleyball and MP3 player loaded with music, which thrilled her.

Yet if that is all we give her we are short-changing not only her, but the world. Given the chance, she could bloom into a stunning flower. If we don’t help children like her, we are not only doing a disservice to her, but to ourselves.

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