{mosimage}Could Francine Lalonde be thinking that the third time is a charm? It certainly appears that way as the Bloc Quebecois MP announced recently that she intends to table in Parliament, once again, a bill to legalize assisted suicide in Canada.

Lalonde’s first two attempts failed and never really were a threat to pass. And it could be said this time around that her efforts are bound to meet the same fate. After all, she is introducing her legislation as a private members’ bill, and it is very rare, almost to the point of impossible, for such a bill to pass.

{mosimage}Each year at the beginning of Lent, my family receives a “Lifestyle Awareness Calendar” in our parish bulletin from the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace. The idea is to set aside small sums of money which accumulate for the Share Lent collection. Each day there’s a different donation suggestion, such as “15 cents for each glass of unpolluted water you drink today.”

My children go around counting the number of appliances, light bulbs, books or other items in our house, then we calculate how much to deposit in our collection container that day. On Sundays there’s a social justice issue to pray about — for example, South African women who struggle for just working conditions.

{mosimage}The first weekend of February found me, like scores of other North American presidents of Catholic universities, in Washington, D.C., for the annual conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and because I sit on the board I arrived a day earlier. Just in time to get the very beginning of the Williamson imbroglio.

Bishop Richard Williamson is the controversial British bishop whose excommunication along with three other schismatic bishops has been lifted by Rome. A member of the traditionalist Society of St.  Pius X ,  he was excommunicated because of his illicit ordination by a presiding bishop who was warned by Rome not to proceed with his intended act of defiance. The followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre are nothing if not obdurate. No doubt they preferred to call it holy stubbornness. The end result was the same: schism.

{mosimage}I’m really not a true believer. I learned this at a recent workshop. People like me who receive the host at Communion-time but walk past the cup are showing that we really don’t believe God is present in both species.

I’m not a germ-phobic person. I shake hands at the Sign of Peace, even in cold and flu season. I don’t use hand sanitizers obsessively. I even dip into those 1950s-style sponges in Holy Water fonts (even if they look as though they’ve been there since the ’50s, gathering bacteria). However, something just stops me from drinking out of the same cup as family, friends and strangers.

{mosimage}It strikes us as very Orwellian, the scenes found on many of the university campuses across Canada these days.

These supposed bastions of free speech look more and more like they come right off of the pages of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Remember how in Orwell’s classic novel, which reflects on the ills of the Soviet era of Joseph Stalin, that all animals on the farm were to be equal, none above the other. Yet as time goes on, we find while all animals are equal, some really are more equal than others.

What we know for sure is that the economic crisis that began perhaps as long as two years ago and began roiling the stock markets and the real economy in the summer-fall of last year is real. We know it is causing huge amounts of real pain, provoking increasing amounts of real fear and causing consumers, producers, politicians and pundits to assume the position of a deer caught in the headlights. There is no shortage of advice, most of the same in deep conflict with each other. And the other thing we know for sure is that we don’t know how bad it will get or how long it will last.

What we don’t really know, but seem to argue about nearly ad nauseum, is how it all started. The immediate cause cited by most is mortgages to Americans who couldn’t afford houses. The underlying cause is argued to be the greed of the banks making the loans and the cupidity and greed of the borrowers. And the poster image that encapsulates the entire mess is bankers spending $1,800 on waste baskets while earning tens of millions in bonuses and corporate executives flying in on private jets to plead for public dollars to bail them out.   
{mosimage}If there is something that history can show us, it’s that barring the gate and looking inward to ease the economic pain of this recession is not a wise route to take. One need just check the history books and see how taking this path only worsened the Great Depression back in the 1930s, when the United States brought in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act to protect its economic interests. Global trade fell off by two-thirds, turning a recession into a full-blown depression, the worst economic crisis the world has ever experienced.

Yet that appears to be part of the solution the United States is banking on to get out of the current recession. The multi-billion-dollar stimulus plan proposed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate is heavy on its “Buy American” details, shutting the doors on other nations and some of their goods in an effort to stimulate the American economy. A controversial provision of the House’s version of the bill would bar virtually all foreign iron and steel from the stimulus plan’s infrastructure projects, while the Senate’s version, still to be voted on by The Register’s press time, would extend the U.S.-only requirement to all goods paid for by the plan (though it appears President Barack Obama is attempting to water down these provisions).
{mosimage}Frederick Olmstead’s design of the 19th century’s Central Park in New York during the Industrial Age was meant to act as a place to breathe and relax amidst the pollution of an emerging manufacturing colossus. The park was a respite for the weary factory worker who could not afford the more pleasant surroundings of upstate New York. No doubt, the park was also a place to socialize and be with family.

Sociologists of the time suggested that the sudden rush to dense urban living was contrary to social evolution and the maturation of the human condition; while the body would accept the changes, the human soul would be hard pressed to acclimatize. This seems a paradox; more togetherness creates a cloak of invisibility around persons whom, to coin a new saying, were not in our calling circle. The paradox employs anonymity, the cold rapidity of technology and the theft of time’s true meaning.

{mosimage}When it comes to economics, Catholic social teaching is pragmatic, not ideological. While popes in the last 150 years have recognized that capitalism beats socialist economic systems in terms of human freedom and effectiveness, they have been under no illusion that, unless carefully managed, free market economics can inflict terrible pain and injustice.

That’s why successive encyclicals on political and social matters have emphasized the “preferential option for the poor” and insisted that governments have a duty to protect the most vulnerable from the vagaries of the market while working for the common good of all.

{mosimage}If U.S. President Barack Obama thought the hard slugging was through, overcoming centuries of oppression for  blacks in the United States to make history as its first African-American president, just wait for what the future will bring.

As Obama took his position as leader of the world’s only superpower Jan. 20, he assumed control of a nation mired in crisis, on so many fronts. The economy is in the tank, facing its worst financial crisis in eight decades. The United States is in deep in not one, but two major wars, with a third conflict in the Middle East never far beyond U.S. parametres. The rich-poor divide is widening, too many Americans do not have proper health care coverage, action is needed to combat climate change and, yes, despite his election, racial tension is always on the radar — just see the reaction to the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white transit police officer in Oakland at New Year’s for evidence.

{mosimage}The face of poverty and homelessness is often hidden in Canada. Unlike the stark faces of children and families that stare at us from photos in stories about the millions huddled together in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere, we do not see the same faces here.

They are hidden away in shabby apartments or isolated rural areas. They are not gathered together in camps as in Darfur but they still shoulder the burden of poverty and homelessness made more stark and bitter because it occurs in a land that is bountiful and abundant.