Excellence in Catholic Publishing finalist!

Faith Meets World: The Gift and Challenge of Catholic Social Teaching is a finalist for a 2014 Excellence in Catholic Publishing Award! These are awarded annually by the Association of Catholic Publishers.

Faith Meets World coverFaith Meets World is a finalist in the “General Interest” category. Winners will be announced next month.

My thanks to the ACP, and also to the good folks at Liguori for submitting the book to the awards. More information on the awards and the other impressive finalist books here.

Categories: my books & articles | Leave a comment

“Blood on his hands”: Don Blankenship

Overlooking Williamson, West Virginia – the Mingo County seat and the town I called home for two years – there is a tall house built in the middle of a bald spot at the top of an otherwise forest-covered mountain. From almost anywhere in town you can look up and see that house, and the house surely affords a complete, nearly map-like view of the entire region. From our first days in Williamson, well before we knew who lived there, my kids took to calling that house “the castle.”

“The castle,” it turned out, belonged to Don Blankenship, a name that we would come to know well. You don’t live in central Appalachia without knowing it well. Until very recently, Blankenship was the CEO of the largest coal company of the region, Massey Energy, and one of the most powerful people in central Appalachian business and politics. Vanity Fair once called Blankenship “the Snidely Whiplash of coal, a larger-than-life figure so swaggering and creepy that his each next outrageous claim as chairman and C.E.O. of Massey Energy makes wonderful copy.”

One thing you have to understand is that coal is just about the only source of real jobs in Mingo County. If you don’t work in coal — or, if you’re lucky, in one of the tiny schools or hospitals of the area — you’re probably not making a living (and many, many people are not). There are several — though fewer all the time — coal companies in the area, but the titan among them was Massey. And Blankenship was the very prominent, very powerful face of Massey. Living up at the top of that hill, Blankenship was regarded among many local people as a sort of heavy-handed but benevolent Santa Claus, and by a few as a malevolent overlord. Like him or not, though, you knew he held the county in the palm of his hand.

Blankenship was responsible for crippling the United Mine Workers union in central Appalachia in the 1980s. More recently, he has been the most prominent and vocal defender of mountaintop removal mining (by which the coal is extracted from a mountain not by digging into it, but by blasting the top off of it). He was caught vacationing on the French Riviera with a WV Supreme Court justice who was in the midst of deciding a major suit against his company.

Finally, as Massey CEO, Blankenship presided over the most horrific mine disaster in living memory, the fourth anniversary of which fell this weekend. It happened on April 5, 2010, at Massey’s Upper Big Branch mine in Raleigh County, WV, killing 29 miners.

I was living in Mingo County at the time, and I remember the day (it was the day after Easter) well. I remember the fear and the discouragement and the heartbreak that gripped the region that day and those that followed.

What we did not know in those first awful days that we know now is that the Upper Big Branch disaster was the result of a reckless approach to safety practices in the name of maximizing profits. This is the conclusion of a federal report on the matter, and Laurence Leamer’s fascinating book, The Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption, makes clear that the impetus for that business culture came directly from Blankenship himself. Indeed, the same practices led to an earlier accident at Massey’s Aracoma mine in 2006, which killed two men (10 others barely escaped with their lives), and also to Massey’s pumping billions of gallons of toxic material into the water supplies of thousands of West Virginians over a period of many years.

As it tottered under the weight of multiple law suits brought on by all of this, Massey Energy was purchased by one of its competitors, Alpha Resources, in 2011, just before Blankenship took a multi-million-dollar retirement package and moved to Las Vegas (though I believe the house on the hill over Williamson still belongs to him).

Now I see that Blankenship has produced his own little documentary defending himself. There’s also an ABC News report on the still incomplete federal criminal investigation. (The video at the link there is worth a look.)  Most striking is the comment from WV Senator Joe Manchin: “I believe that Don has blood on his hands. And I believe that justice will be done.”

This is interesting to the casual observer, I suppose, but if you’ve lived in coal country over the past two or three decades and known first hand the way Blankenship has dominated the economy, culture, and even the mythology of the place, it’s a stunning couple of sentences to read.

Categories: Appalachia, books, politics | Leave a comment

Follow-up: More on Mass at the border

Nice collection of photos from the Archdiocese of Boston. More from Al Jazeera

Interesting: The USCCB worked in advance with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency to ensure that Holy Communion could be distributed through the border fence during Mass.

Fox News helpfully offers Arizona state Senator (Republican) Al Melvin’s take on the event: “Frankly, and I am a Catholic, I think this is irresponsible of these bishops to be down there,” Melvin said. “They are not bringing stability to the border.  They are adding to the chaos of the border. And it’s not helping to save lives. If anything, I believe it will contribute to more lives being lost. We need to secure the border to protect lives.”

Philip Lawler’s Catholic World News (at CatholicCulture.org), in an article five paragraphs long, spends one paragraph repeating Melvin’s observations.

Arizona Republic columnist rightly observes of the bishops’ visit to the border: “If you’re them, that’s where you should be.”

A must-read for background: Ananda Rose Robinson’s 2009 Commonweal article “Borderline: Stranded in Nogales.”

Categories: human dignity, immigration, politics, solidarity | Leave a comment

Mass on the Border

A dramatic event today at Nogales, Arizona, on the U.S./Mexico border — what has been called “America’s Lampedusa.” Here’s how the USCCB described it in advance:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, joined by bishops on the border, will travel to Nogales, Arizona, March 30-April 1, 2014, to tour the U.S.-Mexico border and celebrate Mass on behalf of the close to 6,000 migrants who have died in the U.S. desert since 1998.

The Mass will be celebrated at 9 a.m. on April 1, followed by a press conference at 10:30 a.m.

The following U.S. bishops plan to travel to Nogales for the April 1 Mass:

His Eminence Sean Cardinal O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston

Most Reverend Eusebio Elizondo, Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Chairman, USCCB Committee on Migration

Most Reverend Gerald F. Kicanas, Bishop of Tucson

Most Reverend John C. Wester, Bishop of Salt Lake City

Most Reverend Mark Seitz, Bishop of El Paso

Most Reverend Oscar Cantu, Bishop of Las Cruces, NM

Most Reverend Ricardo Ramirez, Bishop Emeritus of Las Cruces, NM

Most Reverend Luis Zarama, Auxiliary Bishop of Atlanta

Whispers in the Loggia has the video and the full text of Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s homily. A snippet from that homily:

The hard work and sacrifices of so many immigrant peoples is the secret of the success of this country. Despite the xenophobic ranting of a segment of the population, our immigrant population contributes mightily to the economy and well being of the United States.

Here in the desert of Arizona, we come to mourn the countless immigrants who risk their lives at the hands of the coyotes and the forces of nature to come to the United States. Every year 400 bodies are found here at the border, bodies of men, women and children seeking to enter the United States. Those are only the bodies that are found. As the border crossings become more difficult, people take greater risks and more are perishing.

Last year about 25,000 children, mostly from Central America, arrived in the US, unaccompanied by an adult. Tens of thousands of families are separated in the midst of migration patterns. More than 10 million undocumented immigrants are exposed to exploitation and lack access to basic human services, and are living in constant fear. They contribute to our economy by their hard work, often by contributing billions of dollars each year to the social security fund and to Medicare programs that will never benefit them.

The U.S. bishops should be applauded and thanked for this courageous and dramatic effort to call attention to the dignity and the needs of some of the poorest among us and to continue and intensify their advocacy of immigration reform.

Categories: human dignity, immigration, politics, solidarity | 1 Comment


I love it when we are reminded –as we have been again – of how much there is in God’s big universe about which we are utterly, stupendously, fantastically clueless. We don’t even have the slightest idea about how remarkably clueless we really are. And of course that’s the case, because the Lord God, who is infinitely beyond us, made it all, and it all proclaims God’s glory. How embarrassingly disappointing it would be if we could grasp it.


Categories: uncategorized | Leave a comment

Marking the Romero anniversary 2014

If you’re planning on observing the 34th anniversary of Oscar Romero’s assassination this Monday, you’re already behind folks in El Salvador. An article posted at Vatican Insider reports:

The country began its commemoration of Romero’s assassination [last] Monday and will continue to do so for the entire week. Carlos Ayala Ramírez, who runs the Central American University radio station Radio Ysuka, led a meditation titled “The pastor must be where there is suffering”, in the crammed crypt of the city cathedral. Processions and vigils followed and will continue until Monday 24th. The week’s events are being attended by numerous visitors from countries across Europe, the US and Latin America.

Numerous Salvadorian social organisations will mark the exact moment on Monday 24th when the bishop was shot in the hospital crape of the Divine Providence, by marching from various locations around the city to the point where a solemn mass in going to be celebrated.

The article also includes information — well, speculation might be the better  term — on Archbishop Romero’s sainthood cause. Seems that some in high places are expecting to see his beatification in 2017, the hundredth anniversary of his birth. The full article is here.

And there’s a fine song and video called “Romero” from a band called The Project here. (Includes actual audio recording of the gunshots that killed the Archbishop!) Well worth watching and listening to (not to mention reflecting and praying over) this week.

Categories: Oscar Romero | Leave a comment

“Not a second chance at New Year’s resolutions”

naked andSomeone handed me a copy of Naked, and You Clothed Me: Homilies and Reflections for Cycle A last week at the Mid-Atlantic Congress. I paged through it and ended up reading the final homily of the book, which happened to be a reflection by Fr. Greg Boyle for the Feast of Christ the King. (Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries, an intervention and rehab ministry for gang members.) I knew immediately that I would be reading more of this book.

I read the homily for Ash Wednesday, written by Christine Valters Painter, this morning. Another gem.

“Lent is not second chance at New Year’s Resolutions,” Painter writes, “so I encourage you to consider continuing to eat chocolate.” A compelling way of looking at it, to a guy who has often turned to giving up chocolate for Lent.

Rather than the giving up the sweets, Painter suggests we engage in some prayer of lament this Lent — to refuse to just be “fine” while trying to push past what hurts us in order to focus on “getting over it.” She suggests we lament for the sorrows of our own lives, of those we love, and of those with whom we share this big world. That, Painter notes, is an act of resistance and an act of solidarity with those who are suffering. A very Lenten attitude, I would say.

I recommend getting a copy of Naked, and You Clothed Me, edited by Deacon Jim Knipper and published by Clear Faith Publishing. Proceeds from the sale of the book are donated by the publisher to clothing the homeless and those in need.

God bless your Ash Wednesday and your Lent.

Categories: books, liturgy & eucharist, solidarity | 2 Comments

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