Church in Trinidad advocates planting crops to boost food security

Sustainable food advocate, Charlene Woo Ling, harvests okras planted among other edibles and ornamentals of varying heights and functions in front of the main entrance of Archbishop’s House Oct. 30, 3030, in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. CNS photo/CNS photo/Laura Ann Phillips

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CNS) — Archbishop Jason Gordon of Port of Spain has been calling on people to grow more food in recent months.

His encouragement has been particularly urgent following widespread job losses in Trinidad beginning with a state-ordered lockdown in March in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Thousands of new clients have flocked to Catholic food distribution centers for months, signaling the scale of the pandemic’s economic impact. For them, growing their own food is a viable option.

For families not so severely affected, the idea of planting food seemed to be a suitable remedy to cabin fever.

“My husband was home,” said Francine Johnson, a Society of St Vincent de Paul volunteer in Maraval, an urbanized valley in the forested foothills northwest of Port of Spain. “We were having problems with our yard and decided, instead of planting a pretty garden, we (would) plant food. It was interesting that many other people (also) started talking about food.”

Food security has been on Archbishop Gordon’s mind for some time. In March 2019, the archdiocese partnered with a community organization committed to mitigating hunger by planting 300 breadfruit trees throughout the country. At the project’s launch, Archbishop Gordon noted, “We are planting less and less, importing more and more, which means, any little imbalance in the world and we are going to be caught out on the wrong side of food security.”

Then the pandemic hit, highlighting the island nation’s unsustainable and costly level of food imports. In 2019, the country located off the north coast of Venezuela spent the equivalent of $160 million on imported cereals, fruit and vegetables.

In turn, the government in October began urging a return to growing food locally.

A proposal that once might have been resisted in a society accustomed to decades of oil wealth because agriculture has long carried the haunting stigma of long-ago plantations and subjugation turned out to be not such a bad idea as the pandemic continued.

On the feast of Corpus Christi in June, the archdiocese distributed seeds to anyone who wanted to plant food. The day is traditionally associated with planting in Trinidad.

The church also engaged the services of Charlene Woo Ling, an advocate of syntropic agroforestry, the practice of growing of fruit and nut trees, vegetables and timber in the way nature works to replenish the soil. She has since transformed every square inch of manicured lawn at Archbishop’s House, Archbishop Gordon’s residence, and chancery offices into a forest-inspired food garden.

Archbishop’s House, one of a line mansions known as The Magnificent Seven that faces one side of the Queens’s Park Savannah, is 15 minutes from the center of Port of Spain. Woo Ling also was allowed to plant food crops along the natural area’s perimeter fence.

Homeless people who regularly sleep at night in the 260-acre savannah or at another nearby park have been allowed to pick the produce to eat. “The idea is to share,” Woo Ling said.

Tonia Gooding, a mother of six, revived gardening in June at her Santa Cruz home in another semi-forested valley five miles northeast of Port of Spain. She has shared her excess limes, mangoes, peppers and okra with visitors, family and friends.

Two of her children, including the youngest at 6 years old, were interested in the garden. Such bonding opportunities are among the experiences Gooding has treasured despite the challenges of the pandemic.

“You really felt God’s presence, especially when you saw the first blossom,” she said. “Everyone should have a little garden in Trinidad. I really believe soon we can actually go back to bartering.”

Already, about 100 families exchange seeds, sweet potato slips, produce and gardening advice.

Both the garden at Archbishop’s House and a smaller one at a diocesan office compound in central Trinidad are demonstration sites for training anyone interested in growing food.

“We’re really trying to target young families so children could get accustomed to growing things, not just academics,” said Woo Ling, a former IT engineer and hospitality management professional.

But she also wants to train poor people, particularly those who are homeless, to grow their own food.

“It’s not just about giving, it’s about helping them also … give back by learning how to grow. Yes, we want to help poor people, but also get poor people to come out of that sense of dependency which, to me, is greater.”

The work is labor intensive, Woo Ling admitted, but necessary.

“Unless a society, a nation can feed itself, it’s heading down the wrong road,” she said. “It’s heading down to decline, it’s heading down to dependency, it’s heading down to loans, it’s heading down to being in the clutches of other persons and doing what they want, rather than doing what is right.”

USCCB president calls for unity after Biden is projected as election winner

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden joins vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris onstage at a rally in Wilmington, Del., Nov. 7, 2020, after news media declared they had won the presidential election. CNS photo/Jim Bourg, Reuters

WASHINGTON. Horns blared near the White House just before noon Nov. 7 as major U.S. news organizations projected Democrat Joe Biden will be the 46th president of the United States, making him the second Catholic in the country’s history to be elected to the nation’s highest office.

The projection came following the announcement from Pennsylvania officials that Biden had won the state’s cache of 20 electoral votes, putting him over the 270 electoral-vote-threshold needed to secure a victory. Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris becomes the country’s first female vice president-elect.

A few hours after the projection of Biden’s victory, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said it is “time for our leaders to come together in a spirit of national unity.”

They also must “commit themselves to dialogue and compromise for the common good,” he said in a statement issued late Nov. 7.

“We thank God for the blessings of liberty. The American people have spoken in this election,” Archbishop Gomez said, congratulating Biden and Harris on behalf of the USCCB.

“As Catholics and Americans, our priorities and mission are clear,” he said. “We are here to follow Jesus Christ, to bear witness to his love in our lives, and to build his kingdom on earth.”

Archbishop Gomez said he believes “at this moment in American history, Catholics have a special duty to be peacemakers, to promote fraternity and mutual trust, and to pray for a renewed spirit of true patriotism in our country.”

“Democracy requires that all of us conduct ourselves as people of virtue and self-discipline,” he added. “It requires that we respect the free expression of opinions and that we treat one another with charity and civility, even as we might disagree deeply in our debates on matters of law and public policy.”

The archbishop asked Mary, as “patroness of this great nation,” to “intercede for us.”

“May she help us to work together to fulfill the beautiful vision of America’s missionaries and founders – one nation under God, where the sanctity of every human life is defended and freedom of conscience and religion are guaranteed,” Archbishop Gomez said.

Sister Donna Markham, OP, president and chief executive officer of Catholic Charities USA, also congratulated Biden and Harris on their election.

“Now that the long and tense election process is over, it is time for us to unify as a country,” she said in a statement. “In the throes of the pandemic and significant economic insecurity, too many families and individuals continue to experience great hardships. We look to your administration

and to Congress to address escalating unemployment, food insecurity and the looming housing crisis. Most especially, we call upon you to focus attention on people barely able to get by in these painful times.

“As our newly-elected president, we trust you to work with Congress in a bipartisan manner and prioritize helping those who are most vulnerable,” Sister Markham added. “Clearly, we as a nation will be measured by how we have responded to the ‘least of these brothers and sisters.’

On the morning of Saturday, Nov. 7, four days after election day, media organizations including CNN, The Associated Press, The New York Times and Fox News announced Biden and Harris had won the race.

Though President Donald Trump’s campaign launched legal battles over votes in some electorally rich states and made allegations of fraud in vote counting, even the president’s supporters, such as Fox News, said in a newscast after the race was called that they hadn’t seen evidence of widespread fraud.

According to AP VoteCast, the presidential candidates split the Catholic vote, with 50 percent backing Trump and 49 percent Biden, with Latino Catholics, the second largest ethnic group in the Church, overwhelmingly casting votes for Biden.

Some Catholics said they could not support the Biden-Harris ticket because both support legalized abortion.

In reaction to announcement of the Biden win, Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said the president-elect and his vice president “support radical abortion policies.” She expressed regret their administration is expected to roll back “protective legislation such as the Hyde Amendment” and support taxpayer funding of abortion.

But many Catholic organizations were tweeting or released statements of congratulations for Biden shortly after news of his win.

Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, who is head of the Catholic social justice lobby group Network, said Catholics had voted for a range of issues.

“Catholics are not single-issue voters,” she said in a statement. “Catholics rejected racism, hatred and division and embraced the politics championed by Pope Francis – a politics of love and inclusion.”

Faith-based organizations that closely work with the Catholic Church on immigration issues, such as Hope Border Institute in El Paso, urged the presumptive president-elect to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to stop the building of the border wall, end a policy that keeps asylum-seekers to the U.S. in Mexico as they wait for their cases to be settled in U.S. immigration courts, and end family separations among migrants.

In a letter the organization released Nov. 7, signed by Jesuit Father Sean Carroll, executive director of the Kino Border Initiative, Sister Norma Pimentel, executive director or Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley, and Dylan Corbett, the institute’s executive director, they asked that special attention be given to immigrant issues along the border.

“What we need now is moral leadership to bring us together and reject hate in all forms. As a fellow Catholic, we urge you to embrace the oppressed and vulnerable in our midst, who we believe are no less than the Christ knocking at our door,” the letter said.

Tennessee’s bishops again appeal to governor to stop upcoming execution

UPDATE: Governor grants temporary reprieve to Pervis Payne


The bishops of the three dioceses in Tennessee, Bishop J. Mark Spalding of Nashville, Bishop Richard Stika of Knoxville, and Bishop David Talley of Memphis, in conjunction with the Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission, have again appealed to Gov. Bill Lee “to stop another needless execution.”

In a letter to the governor dated Oct. 27, the bishops wrote that they “clearly state our strong opposition to the state carrying out the death penalty in the case of Pervis Payne scheduled for Dec. 3, 2020. Carrying out this execution does not serve the cause of justice and bucks the national trend of moving away from capital punishment.”

On Friday, Nov. 6, Gov. Bill Lee granted a temporary reprieve to Payne, an intellectually disabled man who has maintained his innocence for more than 30 years.

“I am granting Pervis Payne a temporary reprieve from execution until April 9, 2021, due to the challenges and disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee said in a written statement released Nov. 6.

It’s the second time this year Lee has granted a reprieve because of the pandemic.

Payne’s attorney, assistant federal public defender Kelley Henry, welcomed the news, saying in a statement that “this additional time will allow us to investigate Mr. Payne’s strong innocence claim, together with the Innocence Project.”

In their letter, Tennessee’s bishops note that “nationally, we have seen more than 165 people released from death row after they have been found to have been innocent of the crime for which they were convicted. Based on a human system as it is, there is always the chance that the state executes an innocent person. But even when guilt is certain, execution is not necessary to protect society.”

The bishops point out that Pope Francis as well as St. John Paul II have called for the end to the death penalty as both cruel and unnecessary.

“It is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws,” the bishops write. “Rather than serving as a path to justice, the death penalty contributes to the growing disrespect for human life and continues a cycle of violence in society.”

In the letter, the bishops also offered their prayers for victims of crime and their families and friends, “that they might find peace and healing in God’s boundless love. We pray particularly for Charisse Christopher, a vibrant 28-year-old, and her 2-year-old daughter, Lacie Jo, whose lives were tragically cut short in 1987. It is for their deaths that Mr. Payne faces execution. We also pray for Christopher’s then 3-year-old son, Nicholas, who was seriously injured in the same attack but survived.”

“We pray also for Mr. Payne that he, like all sinners, might find mercy in God’s eternal judgment,” the bishops wrote.

“We pray for the people of Tennessee, that through our elected government, we might turn to the path that respects and defends human life from its beginning at conception to its end at a natural death,” they concluded.

Payne, a Black man with an intellectual disability, was accused and sentenced to death for the murder of Christopher and her daughter in 1988, and has spent 32 years on Tennessee’s death row, during which time he has maintained his innocence.

Supported by The Innocence Project, a national organization that works to exonerate the innocent through DNA testing, Payne is still appealing for DNA testing in his case.

The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission sent out an alert on Oct. 18 calling attention to some of the problems with Payne’s case, including the lack of DNA testing. “The office of the Shelby County District Attorney has resisted forensic examination of DNA evidence from the crime scene that has never been tested. Testing of that evidence recently ordered by a Shelby County Criminal Court Judge has not been completed. Those tests could well help prove Mr. Payne’s innocence.”

The CPPC alert also noted that, “Mr. Payne has serious and documented intellectual disabilities calling into question the very notion of justice in the way that we treat the mentally disabled. His prosecution and sentencing echoed the all too often refrain of bias in the death penalty process.”

The Tennessee Catholic Public Policy Commission alert reiterated the bishop’s message that the death penalty is always wrong, because “it violates the sanctity of human life and is simply not necessary as the only means to protect society while still providing a just punishment for those who break civil laws.”